Cuban Illusions & Reality

First Published: 2007-05-25

Fidel Castro in Cuba is faithfully following today the course of Russian Communism of the last century. And like the Russia of the past, Cuba enjoys widespread international sympathy and support despite the tyranny it imposes on its own people. For instance, the recent Bahamian administration seemed eager to lend Cuba support; and most tourists experience the country's warmth and hospitality without ever perceiving the reality of Cuban life. It takes a keen observer to do this.

Tony Mendoza, an Associate Professor of Art at Ohio State University, left Cuba with his parents in 1960 and graduated from both Harvard and Yale before moving into the arts. In 1997 he returned to Cuba as a tourist and wrote "Cuba – Going Back". It is based on 200 interviews and is an accurate portrayal of Cuban reality.

The economic problem. "While issues dealing with the absence of the most basic freedoms came up often in conversations, the problem that continually grates on people is more fundamental: it's not possible to eat two meals a day for one month with the monthly salary the state pays. There is food available…but state employees, who make up a large majority of Cuban workers don't make enough money to buy there." (All quotes are taken from "Cuba – Going Back" by Tony Mendoza, University of Texas Press, 1999.)

This situation is created by low economic productivity and is seen in the two currency system, a system where the government sells in U.S. Dollars at its dollar stores and in Cuban pesos at its peso stores. In this system the U.S. dollar is worth 22 Cuban pesos as of 1999. A member the Communist Party's Central Committee stated in an interview with Frontline, India's National Magazine, that "edible oil, fruits, coffee, fish, eggs and other essentials are rationed. These rations may be enough for just 20 days in a month. Supplies for the remaining 10 days have to be bought in the free market." One should deduce from his statement that the free market prices were much higher.

According to a retired doctor, "what you have to understand…is that there is a very repressive system…There are 75,000 plainclothes spies in the streets, and we have the largest army in Latin America. It costs money to maintain a repressive system like this. That is the main priority…Before tourism, money was spent on sugar…actually billions of Soviet dollars in aid was spent on sugar. And the sugar industry is in shambles. And before that, millions were spent on cattle, and the cattle industry is in shambles. Before that, money was spent on coffee, and nothing has worked. We now produce less sugar, a lot less than what was produced before the revolution. We have fewer cattle than we had in the fifties, and now we have twice the population."

According to a mid-level government economist, "Fidel ruined everything in 1968 when he nationalized all the small businesses. Up to then, only the land and the big enterprises, like the sugar mills, had been nationalized. But the bars, restaurants, stores, repair shops, small businesses-all those were individually owned. You could find anything, not as before, but you could find any kind of food, and have anything repaired. But Fidel has a problem. He wants to control everything. So he nationalized all the small businesses, even the vendors who sold food by the side of the road. When he did that, he ruined Cuba. This place has been a mess ever since."

"The only possibility is for us to produce more by allowing a free market of goods and services to function. Our problem is simple. We are not producing food because there are no incentives to produce. Everyone gets paid the same inadequate wage. And Fidel won't allow a real free market. Historically, whenever farmers in Cuba have been allowed to sell their own produce, they've produced plenty of food. But you can count on Fidel to resist any attempts to free the markets. Castro has always exhibited an irrational hatred toward market mechanisms, entrepreneurs, capitalism, small private business, you name it. There are some free markets, but they are overloaded with restrictions to prevent them from thriving."

Fidel Castro allowed two periods of economic liberalization, one in the late 1970s and the other in the early 1990s. During both periods production and private enterprise grew significantly.

"But starting in 1982, Fidel became disappointed in these policies and started denouncing the self-employed workers and the farmers…He felt too much capitalism was corrupting Cuban socialism and what proved to be the fatal sin, too many self-employed workers and farmers were making too much money…Hundreds of self-employed workers were arrested for becoming too rich, and the taxes for independent workers were doubled. But the Cuban entrepreneurs persisted. In 1986 Fidel put an end to it all when he announced the Process of Rectification of Errors [PR]….The free farmers' markets were eliminated, as well as self-employment" In the end "it was another disaster. The purified socialist economy was incapable of producing the products and services eliminated by the PR."

In 1991 the Fourth Party Congress again allowed self-employment with restrictions. "Undermining the whole idea of self-employment is the law of May 1994 that states that any excessive accumulation of riches is illicit. Thus anyone making too much money through self-employment is breaking this law and can be put in jail and have their assets seized.

Tyranny. Every Cuban is clear about human abuses. "If you are vocal in your opposition to the regime, you end up in jail. It's that simple" The Penal Code prohibits disrespect, insult or abuse to the dignity or honor of the authorities, enemy propaganda, resistance to authority and any special proclivity to commit crimes as demonstrated by behavior that manifestly contradicts the norms of socialist morals.<./p>

The Cuban people are watched by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution located on every residential block. The Singular System of Vigilance and Protection watches the streets and buses; government labour unions watch the workers, the Cumulative Dossier registers the academic record, political tendencies and voluntary activities of students; the Ministry of Interior watches and infiltrates work and play, the Police and Military Guard are stationed throughout the country; and the Rapid Response Brigades put down illegal activity without a military appearance.

What does the future hold? In the short run no one expects a popular uprising…"no one wants to be a martyr and no one wants to end up in a Cuban prison." In the longer run Cuban Marxism will likely collapse as it did in Russia.

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