Sunday, August 31, 2008

Blog Review: Along the Malecón

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.

http://alongthemalecon.blogspot.com/

23 comments:

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

A throwaway line from the post:

There is also more than a touch of magical realism in Eaton's reporting on Cuba. His "true" story about Ana Rosario Pérez, who fed 18 people with 2 eggs, should be anthologized in a book of fairy tales. In fact, all his reporting from Cuba out-grimms the Grimms.

Tracey Eaton said...

Manuel,
I can’t say I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but thanks for reading Along the Malecon. Until now, I didn’t know blog reviewers existed. Hey, maybe this is the pinnacle of your career.
In any case, I know that Cuba brings out strong opinions in people. I respect all points of view – right, left and in between. I believe in tolerance and understanding. The debate over Cuba doesn’t have enough of that.
Thanks again for reading my fledgling blog, which has gotten 1,291 visits from readers in 55 countries since I started it on Aug. 11, according to Google Analytics.
Best of luck.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Tracey:

That is the problem: "[You] respect all points of view." May I suggest to you that there are some points of view that should not be respected. Read the biographies of Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews for more insights on that subject.

I really don't know if you are a dupe or just masquerading as one. It boggles the mind to think that in almost five years in Cuba you remained from beginning to end impervious to reality. And yet, you are so consistent in your blindness that I find it difficult to believe that it is an affectation.

I did not invent the blog review; but I am not surprised that you think so. There are Cuban-themed blogs that have been waiting an eternity for me to review them. You should be very proud that Along the Malecón got its review practically out of the gate.

A dog lover can't be all bad. So I wish you good luck in your efforts to rescue Cuban canines and give them good homes in Canada. Perhaps some day your concern will extend itself to humans.

Cari said...

Manuel;

Thanks for the review.

I can't read the drivel these foreigners put out. Since I AM Cuban, why is it bad when I am intolerant of those that abuse and imprison my countrymen? Are the Jews tolerant of Hitler?

I have totally given up on these "moral equivalent" types. If they don't get by now, and especially after having lived on the island, then they will never get it. *Actually they WOULD get it if the regime had done something to them.

I see these people as both intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Como dice el dicho es "la revolución del cayo"...nos les interesa hasta que no les pasa algo a ellos.

Anonymous said...

He likes dolphins, too.

Julio Rey said...

I just made my one and only visit to Eaton's blog.

He made a post about Porno Para Ricardo's mashup of the Young Communist's logo and translated the word "CARNE" into "FLESH," As in the type of flesh you get some of.

Mr. Eaton, the "CARNE" means "MEAT" as in the kind you get to "Eat on" but they don'...

Vana said...

Cannot he see that "even when the police stop and search vehicles without cause" that it is a POLICE STATE, I would like to see that happen here, the law suits would fly, to live in Cuba with all the comforts of home while a foreigner does not an expert on Cuba or Cubans make you.

Anonymous said...

Later this afternoon I'll be saying goodbye to summertime by grillin' two packs of superb Nathans Bigger-than-the-Bun Kosher franks, burgers and some bratwurst. I'll be washing them down with some fine Kirin Ichiban beer (my new favorite beer).

Posted by George L. Moneo at September 1, 2008 12:17 PM

Agustin Farinas said...

Manuel,
as the saying goes:
"No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver"
Tracey Eaton probably would have spent 5 yaras living in the Soviet Union and would have reported that the Soviet people were all happy and no one dissented and nobody was in prison and everyone loved and adored Stalin.
"One cannot expect peaches from an elm tree"
BTW, that was great line about the concern for dogs and the hope someday it extends to the humans in Cuba. As usual your pen is mordant and cuts like through flesh like a knife through butter. Touche.

Fantomas said...

Another Agustism


Tracey Eaton probably would have spent 5 yaras

Agustin Farinas said...

Rubber Head,
get ready to eat a good meal of crow in November. Your Barack Hussein Obama is toasted.
He is going down to a humiliating defeat just like the other leftist candidates the Democrats have been putting forward for the last 48 years. Remember Huber Humphrey, McGovern, Carter (second version) Mondale, Dukakis,Gore, Kerry, and now the Annointed One. Get ready for a good night in Nov. 4th when your "Obie" goes home to Chicago to
do some more "community organizing" and skim more money from the Federal Govt. It may even affect your food stamps eligibility in P.R.

Fantomas said...

Agustin te equivocas conmigo de una manera espectacular soy REPUBLICANO DE CORAZON , mi ultima votacion fue por Bush padre cuando vivia en EEUU.. Jamas he votado por un Democrata aun pudiendolo haber hecho por el agradecimiento de que Carter me haya dejado entrar a este pais

Yo lo unico que deseo es que MC Cain tenga una politica menos cerrada para Cuba, Creo que tiene la oportunidad en estos meses que le quedan de ser mas especifico a ver si puede acomodar mis necesidades

Si el hace eso yo NO TENGO NINGUN PROBLEMA EN REGRESAR AL CORE DE MI PARTIDO REPUBLICANO

Recuerda yo quiero al candidato que mas rapido acabe con la tirania se llame Hussein o Mc Cain

Que te quede claro todo esto que yo te digo , para que nunca nunca mas te vuelvas a confundir con un fantomas

Agustin Farinas said...

Rubber Head,
I stand by what I said in my previous comment. If it quacks, has water proof feathers,swims in a pond, does not get wet, has a beak and flies in a flock, it is a duck.
You are as much a Republican as Fidel Odinga is. Don't try to confuse us now with your lies after cheering for Obama for months in several blogs that talk about Cuba. I have seen your wild chering for the Messiah everywhere including in MAT's blog. We all know what leg you are limping from and is not the right one. Get it?
When you post videos demeaning McCain's choice for VP, mocking and insulting her in other blogs, you show your true colors. You are not fooling anyone. We know what you are, in spite of your denials.

Anonymous said...

Increible que aun despues de tantas mentiras y promesas falsas los Cubanos todavia sigan con los republicanos. Pero como dice mi gente, no hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver.

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