Something about this Cuba poll just ain’t right

Atrios flagged this Washington Post op-ed on the failure of President Obama’s diplomatic overtures to improve human rights conditions in Cuba. He notes the hypocrisy of the concern for human rights in Cuba when the US regularly does business with countries with human rights records that are worse than Cuba’s. In the WaPo editorial board’s defense, and I can’t believe I just typed those words, they have noted human rights abuses among American allies in the past, so they’re not being totally hypocritical here. But something else about that op-ed seems pretty off. They write:

We don’t oppose diplomatic contacts or U.S. embassies in countries such as Cuba, in principle. But the results of Mr. Obama’s initiative so far underline the opportunity he missed in not requiring even modest alleviation of the dictatorship’s repression in exchange for what amounts to a political and economic bailout of a failing regime.

Even setting aside how disingenuous it is to criticize a months-old policy shift for not achieving any progress when the decades-long previous policy (that you supported) also totally failed to achieve any progress, there’s a problem here, and it comes in the editorial board’s casual assertion that the Castro regime is “failing.” Can we get a definition here? I mean, a Castro has run that country since 1959, and there’s no indication that Raul is in immediate danger of being overthrown any time soon, so that’s not “failure.” Cuba does OK on the Fragile States Index, so it’s not in danger of becoming a “failed state.” Has the regime failed to provide for Cubans’ basic needs? Maybe; I honestly don’t know enough about Cuba to say, but its healthcare system doesn’t seem to rank all that much lower than ours and its educational system gets the occasional glowing write-up. Obviously political and social freedoms are unjustifiably curtailed, but that’s true in a lot of countries that nobody would think to define as “failing.”

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and so the Post’s editorial does offer some evidence that things in Cuba aren’t all that hot, in the fact that so many Cubans seem to want to get the hell out of there:

Visits by Americans to Cuba are reportedly up by a third, including plenty of political delegations. But in the months after Mr. Obama announced the diplomatic opening in December, there was also a 120 percent increase in Cubans seeking to flee to the United States. Many worry that once relations are normalized, the United States will stop accepting refugees; according to recent polling, more than half of Cubans would like to leave the country.

It’s that recent polling that really seems weird. The link goes to this WaPo article, reporting on the findings of a poll of Cubans done this past March. Sure enough, when you check out the poll’s full results, 55% of respondents, concentrated mostly in younger folks, say that they would like to “leave and go live in another country.” Big majorities are happy with the country’s education and health systems, but understandably unhappy with its political and economic systems (they also apparently like Obama a hell of a lot more than either of the Castro brothers). But here’s the weird part: in that same poll, 73% of respondents, fairly consistently across all age categories, say that they “feel optimistic” when “thinking about [their] future and that of [their] family.” These two responses can’t exist in the same sample without considerable overlap, which means lots of Cubans who would like to get out of Cuba and live somewhere else are also feeling optimistic about their future.

Packing up and leaving your country does not sound like the act of an optimist to me, but maybe I’m just not wired up right. Still, I’m having a hard time reconciling these two data points. I guess maybe some of them are feeling optimistic about leaving Cuba and starting over someplace else, but man, that seems like a ridiculous amount of optimism. Starting over in a new country is hard even under ideal conditions, and I doubt most of these poll respondents would be leaving Cuba under ideal conditions. This isn’t a criticism of the Post or the poll. It just would have been interesting to get more information about those particular respondents.


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