CBS May Day Bouquet to the Castros

Everything's coming up roses in Cuba, if CBS's Elizabeth Palmer has it right.

Covering the May Day celebration in Havana, capital of the Western Hemisphere's last old-fashioned communist dictatorship, Palmer touted a laundry list of economic reforms initiated by Raul Castro since he took over for ailing brother Fidel. 

With a largely empty reviewing stand in the background, Palmer sounded a bit glum as she noted Fidel Castro's absence at the parade. 

“These celebrations in Fidel Castro's time were some of the biggest of the year, drawing a million people. But on the reviewing stand behind me there is no sign of Fidel.  Instead it's his younger brother Raul who is front and center. It's a sign that he has taken over the reins. Very convincingly he's in charge and he's ready to push ahead with more of the reforms that he's already begun.

Cut to Palmer's pre-filmed tape, in which she sounds a bit more chipper as she recites a list of Raul's reforms:

    As of last month, Cubans are now permitted to own cell phones, though “few can actually afford to buy.”  Cubans are now allowed to stay at beachfront resort hotels, previously reserved for foreigners.

Palmer notes that, “None of this would have been tolerated by Cuba's revolutionary hero, Fidel Castro, but when he was sidelined in 2006 by ill health, Raul, his slightly younger brother, knew it was time for change. Cuban discontent was growing with the average national salary of $20 a month.” Castro the younger appears on the screen to say, “It is our goal to advance until people's jobs pay them a living wage.” 

The living wage will have to wait until Castro can, as Palmer puts it, “rebuild Cuba's battered economy, which will take time.  Meanwhile, he's focused on improving workers' lives.”

Back to the list of reforms:

    Improving public transportation by purchasing “a fleet of shiny new Chinese buses, cutting commuting time in half.” Boosting food production by “paying farmers more for their harvest and paying them on time.”

Palmer's 2½ minute piece concludes in front of the reviewing stand, where she acknowledges that the Castros are not quite ready to give up power.  “Now Raul's been liberalizing the economy, but so far there's absolutely no sign that he's going to introduce the political reforms, especially the democratic reforms that the United States would like to see. So anyone who is hoping that this might herald a thaw in U.S./Cuban relations is going to be disappointed.” 

Palmer ought to have interviewed a Cuban who has a different take on the Castro rose parade.

Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.