It is laudable that the Star Tribune devoted significant space to analysis of developments on the island of Cuba, because it is undergoing some of its most important changes since the revolutionary government came to power almost 60 years ago (“Differential diagnosis,” Opinion Exchange, June 3). Unfortunately, the ignorance of author Brandon Ferdig about basic aspects of Cuban reality deeply damaged his observations.

Ferdig’s claim that Cubans own “essentially” no private property is blatantly false. Most significantly, 95 percent of Cubans own their own houses and apartments, a percentage far higher than the U.S. He also fails to discuss the economic reform process underway since 2011 whereby hundreds of thousands of Cubans as individuals or in cooperatives are operating their own businesses as restaurants, hair salons and automobile-repair shops. These actions are fully legal as the Cuban government seeks to update its socialist model and preserve the social gains of the last 60 years in areas such as education and health, where Cuba outperforms the U.S. while spending far fewer resources.

Cuba still faces major economic challenges, but those are made worse by a continuing U.S. embargo and blockade that largely prohibits U.S. citizens from trading and investing in Cuba and discourages investment from other countries.

Gary Prevost, Minneapolis

The writer is an emeritus professor of political science and Latin American studies at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, and is the author of several books about Cuba.

• • •

Despite errors in Ferdig’s portrait of Cuba such as “essentially no private ownership of assets,” it’s good that he sees the need to make comparisons with the reality most Americans face, at times to Cuba’s advantage. But there is a subset of U.S. citizens that would make for a fairer comparison and, thus, avoid the apples-vs.-oranges problem.

Puerto Ricans have experienced a wrenching reality that no Cuban has to fear. A hurricane is a natural phenomenon. How a society prepares and responds to one testifies to its political priorities, whose class interests a government represents. Hurricane Maria laid bare, literally, the answer to the question. The recent Harvard study that projects almost 5,000 deaths in the aftermath of the hurricane is sobering evidence that the people of Puerto Rico do not have a government that represents their interests in their vast majority.

Cubans like other Caribbean islanders face the threat of hurricanes every season. A couple of months before the devastating impact Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans and environs in the summer of 2005 — about 1,800 deaths — Cubans too had to deal with potentially devastating hurricanes, two in fact. The total death toll was 15. That stark contrast to what took place in the U.S. is exactly why some of us were skeptical about the official report that only 64 Puerto Ricans had lost their lives in the wake of Maria.

Cuba’s socialist revolution — governmental “overdose” for Ferdig — is responsible for the very different responses of two governments to a natural phenomenon. Ask the Puerto Ricans if they could use some “overdose.”

August Nimtz, Minneapolis

The writer is a professor of political science and African American and African studies at the University of Minnesota and is co-coordinator of the Minnesota Cuba Committee.


Have we really reached a point of being dismissive of books?

I couldn’t believe I read this line in the June 3 article “Anoka-Henn. rolls up its sleeves”:

“Libraries were designed around now obsolete encyclopedias, not computers and other devices.”

Of course libraries were so designed, and for a reason that still resonates: books. But what’s that about obsolete? A well-vetted, refereed and cross-indexed reference book with bibliographies will, I hope, never go out of vogue. As for “computers and other devices,” are we talking public libraries here or coffee shops with free wireless?

I know this is the age of Twitter and Facebook, but since I don’t expect to run for president (basic literacy is my handicap there) I’d prefer my local librarians continue the tradition started in Alexandria 2,000 years ago: answering my questions, looking things up and loaning me great books, many of which I could never afford to buy myself. Maybe even pointing me toward an “obsolete” encyclopedia should I suspect Wikipedia or another online source is leading me down a false trail.

By all means change the services to meet the needs of a new generation. But if books become mere ancillaries, don’t call it a library anymore.

Thomas Henry, North Mankato, Minn.


Lessons from the news

What’s wrong with this picture? The U.S. has more job openings than unemployed workers (Star Tribune, June 6). Economists forecast a shortage of up to 400,000 workers by 2022 and warn that the labor shortage is the biggest threat to economic growth (“Nontraditional IT trainees get on the fast track to jobs,” June 3). Minnesota manufacturers worry about a looming worker shortage (“Manufacturing booms, but labor runs dry,” May 18). Minnesota currently faces a severe shortage of home health care workers, forcing people with disabilities into nursing homes (“No place for someone my age,” May 6). Hospitals and nursing homes also are dealing with a worker shortage (“ ‘Invisible workforce’ of caregivers is wearing out as boomers age,” June 3).

Meanwhile, our local Liberian community, which includes many health care workers, is facing possible deportation in another year (“Trump administration announces end of deportation reprieve for Liberians in Minnesota, elsewhere,” March 28), and a constant refrain in the political rhetoric is that immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans. We need to welcome immigrants and provide legal paths for them to stay and work. It’s not only humanitarian; it’s in our own economic interest as our population ages.

Susan Ranney, Plymouth

• • •

It was only one newspaper, but let’s count the ways. On June 7, the Star Tribune gave us several warnings (without calling them that) about the Trump administration’s threats to our well-being and even to our freedom from tyranny. No. 1 regarded Trump’s totally unsupported “Spygate” claim that attempts to undermine the FBI. No. 2 highlighted the tariff that undermines pork farmers in particular and our economy in general. No. 3 was the disclosure that the EPA’s Scott Pruitt continues to display his corruption — this time by having his government aide conduct personal business for him — and the added disclosure that Trump still enthusiastically supports Pruitt. No. 4 reminded us about the consequences of Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the withdrawal’s negative effects on our allies plus our own security. No. 5 was news of the dismantling of the Consumer Advisory Board by Acting Director Mark Mulvaney of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureau that he was clearly assigned to weaken.

We basically have two choices: Excuse or exorcise the political party that has allowed all this. November’s coming.

Jim Bartos, Brooklyn Park


Oh, man

I’m a 62-year-old male heterosexual and supporter of the #MeToo movement. And, I’m in a quandary: Do I turn in my liberal credentials because I think the Miss America pageant is making a mistake? (“Miss America ends swimsuit portion of contest,” June 6.) I like seeing beautiful, young women in bathing suits — lots of guys do. Does that make me an ancient, sexist pig? Just asking.

Joe Silbert, St. Louis Park