Monday, September 20, 2010

Cuba and the death of communism

Cuba and the death of communism
Even the government can't deny its failures
Steve Chapman
September 19, 2010

Communism has been proclaimed dead more than once in the past couple of
decades. But today, it's safe to say, it is really dead. Irreversibly
dead. Cemetery dead.

Consider this comment from a knowledgeable Cuban observer who was asked
if the country's brand of socialism, created by Fidel Castro after his
1959 revolution, could be of use in other countries: "The Cuban model
doesn't even work for us anymore." That remark would have gotten him in
trouble with authorities, if his name were not Fidel Castro.

There may yet be admirers of Cuban communism in certain precincts of
Berkeley or Cambridge, but it's hard to find them in Havana. The
84-year-old Fidel (who later said he didn't meant to say that) has
turned control over to brother Raul, whose faith in the shining power of
Marxism-Leninism has also dried up.

Last week, the regime said it will dismiss 500,000 people from
government jobs, which account for 84 percent of the work force.
Reflecting ruefully on the perils of sheltered bureaucracy, Raul Castro
declared recently, "We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the
only country in the world where one can live without working."

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As a blanket indictment, that statement is grossly unfair. Many Cuban
government employees put in long hours — working in the black market.

That option is not necessarily optional, since the average Cuban makes
only about $20 a month — which is a bit spartan even if you add in free
housing, food and medical care. For that matter, the free stuff is not
so easy to come by: Food shortages are frequent, the stock of adequate
housing has shrunk, and hospital patients often have to bring their own
sheets, food and even medical supplies.

For a long time, Cuba enjoyed the generous support of the Soviet Union.
But when communism collapsed in Moscow, Cubans had to confront the
deficiencies of their system.

Admirers of Castro point to his alleged success in eradicating
illiteracy and improving health care. But even these fall short of
impressive progress.

Roger Noriega, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise
Institute in Washington, D.C., notes that before communism arrived, Cuba
"was one of the most prosperous and egalitarian societies of the
Americas." His colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has documented that
pre-Castro Cuba had a high rate of literacy and a life expectancy
surpassing that in Spain, Greece and Portugal.

Instead of accelerating development, Castro has hindered it. In 1980,
living standards in Chile were double those in Cuba. Thanks to bold
free-market reforms implemented in Chile but not Cuba, the average
Chilean's income now appears to be four times higher than the average

The regime prefers to blame any problems on the Yankee imperialists, who
have enforced an economic embargo for decades. In fact, its effect on
the Cuban economy is modest, since Cuba trades freely with the rest of
the world. How potent can the boycott be when we're the only participant?

Cubans have had to pay for their meager economic gains by surrendering
their political liberties. In its latest annual report, Human Rights
Watch says, "Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that
represses virtually all forms of political dissent."

The latest instrument for strangling dissent is a law allowing the
arrest of people exhibiting "dangerous" un-socialist tendencies even
before they commit crimes. "The most Orwellian of Cuba's laws, it
captures the essence of the Cuban government's repressive mindset, which
views anyone who acts out of step with the government as a potential
threat and thus worthy of punishment," says Human Rights Watch.

But even economic failures and political tyranny have been not enough to
deprive Castro of Western admirers. On a 2000 visit to Havana, U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan asserted, "Castro's regime has set an
example we can all learn from." His lieutenant Che Guevara has been
endlessly romanticized. Movie director Oliver Stone once marveled of
Fidel, "I'm totally awed by his ability to survive and maintain a strong
moral presence."

Cubans may differ. About 1.5 million of them have fled since Castro
arrived, many in rickety boats that put their lives in peril. And the
government, for some reason, doesn't let ordinary citizens decide if it
remains in power.

That's the grisly fate of modern Cubans. Communism is dead, and they're
shackled to the corpse.

Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at,0,4342554.column

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