I find nothing amusing about foreigners who regard Cuba as a menagerie, even if an "enchanting" one which "gets under your skin." Scabies also gets under your skin. That expression sometimes means no more than that — an itch that must be scratched. If it purports to be more than that, which it rarely is, then I expect some degree of empathy with the plight of the Cuban people and certainly no attempt to balance the interests of the oppressor with those of the oppressed under the guise of reportorial "objectivity" (really moral vacuity). When, instead, this supposed fondness for Cubans hides a real detachment from them as human beings, and substitutes condescension for understanding, bemusement for indignation, and the reporter's story for theirs, as if living in Cuba as a foreigner bears any relation at all to living there as a Cuban, then I consider it neither impolite nor impolitic to question the foreigner's motivations for this attachment to a country whose people he claims to like but does not respect. [See Anita Snow the Hunger Artist, or The New York Times' "Snow Job" ].
No doubt his extended residence in Cuba was the seminal event of Tracey Eaton's career and perhaps even his life. A correspondent for the Dallas Morning News whose reportage from the island was always vastly accommodating and never confrontational in the least, it was certainly not an unconquerable addiction to telling the whole truth that abruptly ended his tenure there in 2005.
In one article of his last articles in the DMN, published on February 11, 2005, Eaton affirmed among other enormities that he was "convinced that Cuba was the safest country in Latin America," though, "the government doesn't publish crime statistics." Odd, because it publishes statistics of every other kind. That's like the old syllogism that "Castro would win an election if elections were held in Cuba." That one, at least, was retired with Castro. Eaton also reported, again on his own authority, that "hate crimes are another rarity in Cuba, one of the most intermixed nations in the world." I suppose it is a coincidence that 90 percent of prisoners in Cuban jails are black though only 34% of the population is. That inverse ratio is higher than in the U.S., where prison demographics are considered prima facie evidence of racism. Nevertheless, Eaton writes that he "[didn't] see any deep racial tensions" in Cuba.
He also bought into the myth of Communist probity, crediting Castro loyalists who claim that "Cuba is free of serious government corruption" but not Forbes Magazine which calculates Castro's personal fortune at $1 billion (Raúl will outstrip him in the next survey of the World's Richest Leaders). Eaton quoted the Portuguese ambassador to the effect that "Cuban elites are refreshingly innocent." The proof: "One night," according to the ambassador, "he and two of Fidel Castro’s middle-aged sons went to the Habana Cafe nightclub to hear salsa star Issac Delgado. The doorman told them the club was full, and they turned to leave. Suddenly, someone yelled, 'Hey, it’s the Portuguese ambassador!' and the doorman immediately let them in. Incredibly, no one recognized the Castro sons. Nor did they try to use their father’s name to get a table." Comments a stupefied Eaton (who is Gracie to anybody's George): "I can’t imagine that happening anywhere else in Latin America." Well, I can't imagine it happening anywhere in the United States. But, above all, I can't imagine it happening in Communist Cuba.
That Eaton can, after more than 30 trips to the island, believe such a story confirms what a gold medal dupe he is. In fact, he just keeps stacking those medals up: "Even when police stop and search vehicles without cause, few Cubans complain," Eaton marvels. Imagine that! What a well-regulated police state (if you exclude the whiners, which Eaton is more than happy to do): "Human-rights activists occasionally report cases of police abuse, but the officers I’ve seen have been polite and professional." In fact, finally speaking from personal experience, Eaton admits that he "can’t complain. Cuban authorities have always treated me with respect." Eaton obviously confuses respect for consideration. I doubt that his hosts ever "respected" him as they did Gary Marx, the Chicago Tribune reporter who was able to see through their artifices and was eventually expelled from Cuba because of it.
Tracey Eaton left Cuba in early 2005 when the Dallas Morning News closed its Havana bureau. He was then reassigned to cover the U.S.-Mexican border, which obviously held none of the endearments of his beach house at Tarará, Cuba. He returned to the island a year later to write a series for the Houston Chronicle and is now a communications professor at Flagler (FL) College.
His new blog Along the Malecón reminds me of Phil Peter's The Cuban Triangle, only more superficial and less calculating. There can be no doubt that Eaton patterned his blog on Peter's. Like Peter's it is filled with photographs from his trips to Cuba, which lean heavily on the caricatural and try as much as possible to avoid the "local color," that is, the abject misery of the Cuban people as seen on their faces and in their squalid surroundings. "We happy people," as Bloody Mary said in South Pacific. Both Eaton and Peters represent themselves as well-wishers and even benefactors to Cubans though both advocate an Obamist rapprochement with their henchmen as their best hope for the future.
Now that Eaton no longer has direct access to Cubans on the island, he derives his information about Cuba from three of the most anti-Cuban bloggers ever to give aid and comfort to the regime (none of whom, incidentally, happens to be Cuban): Walter Lippman/leftside (Matthew Glesne); Mambo Watch (Paul Benavides), who recently reactivated his blog; and the pervasive Peters (the media's favorite "cubanologist").
If it is from Peters that he has borrowed his approach (or "spin"), it is to "Walter Lippman" (Matt Glesne) that Eaton is most indebted for the content of his blog, as he himself acknowledged. In fact, he devoted a post to CubaNews, a Yahoo! group maintained by Glesne, which he entitled "A Valuable Archive for Cuba Stories," including his own. He called Glesne "passionate about Cuba" and vouched that he knows "a heck of a lot about the island." Eaton also claims to "have appreciated Walter's comments [about his work] over the years." I wonder if he "appreciated" this comment by "Walter" from 2005: "Reporting on Cuba is about to improve significantly with the departure of Tracey Eaton of the Dallas Morning News. He is possibly the laziest and most clueless of the entire US press corps in Havana (which is considerably larger than a "handful"as claimed by the AP in this story). Tracey Eaton must be sad; he might have to go back to working for a living."
Eaton would argue that because both "Walter" and I find his reporting objectionable that it must be objective. This is the kind of cliché that one would expect of him and others who are attacked from all sides. But because the Junkers and the Communists both hated Hitler does not make him lovable or right. To be generally condemned is no more an indication of being right than to be generally applauded.
Can I say anything positive about Along the Malecón? Yes, it made me laugh at times especially when it didn't try. Eaton is not maniacal like Glesne; vindictive like Benavides; or opportunistic like Peters. He simply has no judgment, which does not prevent him from applying himself to a subject he knows nothing about. That is the essence of humor but also of tragedy. A dog lover, Eaton has a post about "Puppy Tales from Cuba" where he gives the most original reason yet for "normalizing" relations with Communist Cuba: "If the U.S. and Cuba had normal relations, I wonder how many Cuban dogs would be adopted and sent to America." In another post about "An Unprecedented Lawsuit by Martha Beatriz Roque," Eaton inveighs that "Cuba is a country of laws in many respects." He fails to comprehend, however, that laws are meaningless when the Rule of Law does not prevail. There were laws in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, too.
But his humor (if humor it be) does occasionally turn black if not outright vile. Quoting the recent WSJ article about Armando Valladares, Eaton objects to this sentence: "The Castro government has been a killing machine since it took over in 1959." He calls it "a general statement with no supporting evidence or attribution. That looks like bias to me." When reminded by Marc Másferrer in the "Comments" about the firing squads, the 13th of March tugboat and Caimar River massacres, Eaton replies: "There's a difference between a firing squad death and the death of a rafter or the death of a hospital patient. If we say Cuba is a killing machine because of deaths that occur because of Cuba's flawed society, then why not call the United States a killing machine for the tens of thousands of murders, gang killings, drug overdoses and DUI deaths that occur every year?" Really, is it necessary to say anything more? Someone who makes no distinction between accidental deaths and those which are the result of state policy, who cannot see the difference between a man killed on the Autobahn and another killed in a gas chamber, is so much beyond reality that it bears no relation to his existence.