In this month’s issue of Foreign Policy , journalist Michael Moynihan  writes a scathing put-down of Lonely Planet and Rough Guides for “bending over backwards to excuse the world’s most thuggish regimes.”
Thankfully Moon  wasn’t mentioned in Moynihan’s radioactive critique, called “Leftist Planet: Why do so many travel guides make excuses for dictators?”
Moynihan says: ”The problem with guidebooks to countries like Cuba … [is] that they consistently misinform tourists about the exact nature of these countries.”
Perhaps Mr. Moynihan should read more guidebooks before tarring us all with such a blanket remark.
The tone of Moynihan’s feature amounts to little more than a defense of American exceptionalism —the notion, as defined by Wikipedia , “that the United States is different from other countries in that it has a specific world mission to spread liberty and democracy.”
No doubt that’s why Moyhinan frequently cherry-picks his quotes from what he terms “a new generation of lefty guidebooks,” and/or presents such quotes out of context. For example, at face value, Moynihan has a point when he decries Lonely Planet’s Brendan Sainsbury in his praise for the island’s “refreshing preserved quality,” which Moyniham points out, with some justification, is a euphemism for “Cuban penury.”
Yet anyone who has visited Cuba  will implicitly understand that the term “refreshing” is far from ill-chosen, and is being used in the context of being “unique.” I can’t fault LP for enthusing (Moynihan’s term) that Cuba , “almost completely cut off from the maw of McDonald’s ”, is “a country devoid of gawdy advertising.”
No argument there. Compare it to Puerto Rico , which has been ruined (my word) by an overwhelming surfeit of U.S. fast-food giants and other U.S. commercial trappings, so that relatively little authentic Puerto Rican culture remains. Of course, we have to tip our hats to Moynihan in acknowledging that in Cuba  “gawdy advertising” has been replaced by a ubiquity of socialist, often anti-imperialist, slogans… but that’s all part of what makes it so fascinating to visit.
Amazingly, this is the same writer who earlier in his critique of "leftist guidebooks" asks: “Why all the bending over backward to excuse the world's most thuggish regimes?”
General Pinochet, you will recall, led the 1973 CIA-backed coup d’etat that toppled Salvador Allende ’s democratically elected socialist government…. ruled for 17 years as the head of a military junta that murdered more than 30,000 people for political reasons and tortured thousands of others (see the Rettig Report )... and assassinated many opposition leaders abroad, including Orlando Letelier , the former Chilean Ambassador to the U.S. murdered by a car bomb in Washington, D.C., in September 1976.
The readers’ comments make for entertaining grist as critiques of Moynihan’s defense of American exceptionialism. Says one: “Guidebooks have an obligation to be accurate. They have no obligation to pretend that, in totalitarian regimes, absolutely everything is bad, including the weather.”
On that note, here’s my own reply:
”It’s a pity that Michael Moynihan slanders all travel guidebooks and guidebook authors by referring solely to two publishers. Moon Handbook Cuba  (which I author, along with three other guidebooks to Cuba, including for National Geographic ), for example, is hard-hitting in its critique of Cuba ’s failed economy and anti-democratic government. But the Cuban government’s accomplishments in education, health, and the arts (among many other positives) are also very real. That may not sit well with those who desire to “put down” totalitarian, especially leftist, regimes, but I believe it represents unbiased journalism, reporting on the good and the bad in equal measure. True, the Cuban government will never permit Moon Handbook Cuba  to be sold in Cuba , as it does the Lonely Planet guide. That’s a trade I’m happy to make to retain my integrity. But it saddens me that Moynihan quotes LP out of context, omitting the LP author’s critiques of the ‘Cuban system,’ while he also praises Pinochet’s economic successes without reference to the brutality of his military regime. You can't have it both ways, Michael!”
Fortunately, Moynihan doesn’t have a problem with people actually visiting Cuba. “So go to Cuba ,” he says. “Try to get that visa to North Korea. Visit the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Just make sure to throw your Lonely Planet and Rough Guides in the trash before you do.”
Heck! I couldn’t agree more. Buy Moon instead!
If you’re now excited and ready to visit this fascinating Caribbean island, buy my Moon Handbook Cuba —the most comprehensive, information-packed, traveler-friendly, and unbiased guidebook out there.
For further information on Havana, buy Moon Spotlight Havana .
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Learn more about Christopher P. Baker .
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker