Cuba is a curious topic of conversation, and one that has come up again as Obama seeks to "normalise" relationships with the communist island state after nearly nearly 6 decades of a trade embargo.
The country has cultivated an image of being a sort of nice, slightly eccentric left wing enclave, run by Fidel Castro for decades who was a funny bloke with a beard - could have been an art teacher or some sort of liberal journalist, and now has now been handed over to his brother, who was also part of the revolution along with the dashing Che Guevara. This mythical land is well run with world class healthcare and is only poor because of the wicked Americans and their sanctions, according to this view, but they stand their ground and stick to their principles, and earn the admiration of middle class western liberals throughout the western world for it.
It's all complete rot. Cuba is by any measure a nasty dictatorship run by a cabal of gangsters who exploit and even sell their own people, who are essentially prisoners not allowed to leave the country, living on meager rations, paid in a worthless currency and isolated from the outside world. It was propped up for years by the evil Soviet regime as a strategic and symbolic dig at Washington, and Castro's request for Soviet nuclear missiles brought the world to the brink of an all out nuclear war.
On it's apparent merits, in particular healthcare if the statistics are to be believed and anything read into them it proves the lack of any link between health spending and outcomes, but little else. If Cuba has a good healthcare system then fine. It doesn't excuse political repression, forced labour and the myriad other abuses the Cuban regime visits on it's population.
People will tell you that you should go and visit Cuba to see it for yourself rather than just relying on the news. I'm all for this but there's only so much a holiday there will tell you even if you do get off the beaten track and into the "real" country. Try instead to express any criticism of the Cuban government, try to earn a living there or try to communicate with your friends and family overseas, not from an international hotel but as if you were a normal Cuban. These things are every bit as real as the friendly people and the timba music which persist in spite of, not because of the despotic regime.
The US is far from blameless, and it seems likely that it's interference in Cuban affairs has only served to increase the determination of the Cuban regime to defy Washington. The right also have their pet dictatorships and they're not generally any better, but they tend to be seen, wrongly in my opinion, as a necessary evil rather than something actually desirable. You don't see students with Georgios Papadopoulos T shirts.
I'm generally against sanctions because I don't believe governments should tell private citizens what they can buy from whom abroad, and because they are usually counter productive anyway and actually strengthen oppressive regimes hold over their population. While I do think the sanctions should go, it should be made very clear that this is not an endorsement of the Cuban government.