Fidel Castro's Legacy for Cuba / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea
Posted on August 18, 2015
14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Holguin, 15 August 2015 — For many,
Fidel Castro has been "a light in the street and darkness at home."*
Although I don't believe that either outside or inside Cuba's borders
this gentleman has illuminated a new path for humanity, I have to admit
there is some truth in such a vision of his role in history. More than
with doctors and teachers, Fidel Castro has performed an invaluable
service for Latin Americans, behaving like those knuckleheads in the
classroom who practice the sport of attracting to themselves the wrath
of the teacher.
Many countries in Latin America, if not all, have benefited at some
point from the role assumed by Fidel's Cuba against Washington. They
only had to sit at a desk and assume the face of an exploited lamb while
the fractious Caribbean big guy assumed the defense of their rights with
equal or more fervor than they themselves.
What's more, in this role, the merit belongs not to Fidel Castro
himself. It is unquestionable that he has been the first and only Latin
American leader who has seriously challenged the hemispheric hegemony of
the United States. But he achieved it for no reason other than the
fortunate circumstance of having been born in Cuba. In short, the only
merit of the Revolutionary Fidel Castro was to have been carried away by
the explosion of expansive nationalism that this people of extremes
experienced in the middle of the twentieth century.
However, as a revolutionary or as a tyrant, it is indisputable that
Fidel Castro has truly brought about a dense darkness "in our house." It
is quite possible that only Captain General Valeriano Weyler was more
disastrous for Cuba than what has resulted from this offspring of one of
the little soldiers Spain sent here to fight against the desire of our
ancestors to be free and independent.
For example, his refusal to act as a politician, that is with
responsibility, put the country at the edge of the abyss during the
missile crisis, in October of 1962. Indeed, one can admire and be proud
of the fortitude with which the Cuban people faced the threat of nuclear
holocaust, however frightened they were and opposed to the way in which
their leader was stubbornly dragging it towards them. Nor did he channel
in realistic ways the explosion of Cuban vital energy of the
mid-twentieth century. Fidel Castro behaved not as a hero, but was a
huge disgrace to his countrymen.
On assuming power in 1959, Fidel Castro took over a country that needed
to find a new base of economic to assure the level of prosperity
previously — but no longer — enjoyed, that had been shared out, with its
vagaries, for more than a century. Since 1926, more or less, the Cuban
economic model. based on the production and export of huge quantities of
raw sugar, was in crisis. Such was the magnitude of this crisis, that
from that year productive investments were not realized in the sugar
industry. Despite the general will of the nation to improve the living
standards of all its members, it was impossible to do so in the case of
farm laborers. As would be shown in the sixties, it was absolutely
unsustainable to increase the wages of the manual cane cutters, without
destroying the profitability of the entire sugar industry.
After achieving full national sovereignty in the Revolution, it was a
fundamental duty of the new rulers to put Cuba back on the path of
However, Fidel Castro, in his nearly half century of governance, did
nothing realistic with respect to it. Absolutely unable to deal with
complex and non-linear economic problems, he always thought that, as
on any feudal estate in his native Birán, the omnipotent will of the
owner was enough to advance a modern economy of the
then not insignificant size of Cuba's.
Ultimately, his solution was not to convert the sugar industry into a
modern sugar-chemical complex, as Ernesto Guevara had dreamed in the
early sixties. Fidel Castro, pathologically incapable of doing anything
good in economics, decided call on that other field that he seemed to
give himself to so well: politics. If Fidel's Cuba has experienced
anything, at least from 23 December 1972 until today, it has been the
economic exploitation of a dispute with the United States, more or less
exacerbated any time it suited him. How? By presenting himself as the
ideal ally of everyone who, in a world fill of such characters, had some
ax to grind with the Americans.
By not solving the principal economic problem he just exacerbated the
main danger to the nation: the lack of an non-precarious economic base
that would assure credible levels of prosperity in a nation that had
previously enjoyed a fairly high standard of living. Combined with very
close proximity and easy communication with the United States, 1950s
Cuba was in the same situation as a small planet that gets too close to
an extremely massive one, ending up shattered into pieces with its
remains devoured by the giant.
It was already clear in those years that, with no solution to its
economic base, the nation would confront in the '60s and '70s a massive
exodus of Cubans to the United States. Without any perspectives of work
that would assure them the level of prosperity of their grandparents, or
at least one that would compare to the neighbors to the south, there was
no doubt that many Cubans would end up leaving with their families for
the US. On the horizon, in addition, was the fear of the possibility of
a resurgence of the previously overcome tendencies to desire Cuba's
annexation to the United States.
As would be expected in someone so impetuous, a Fidel Castro was caught
flat-footed on the economic problem and tried to attack the danger
directly… and to extract some advantage. As a leopard doesn't change its
spots, he tried to politicize it.
In a complex feedback process, Fidel Castro exacerbated the internal
differences to the same extent that an ever greater human contingent
continued what was already in the 1950s a natural tendency of Cubans to
move. By 1965, a tenth of the population had emigrated to the United
States, a human capital that few nations in the world of that era would
have been able to display. Businessmen, doctors, technicians, artists
and generally a contingent of people with the values, skills and
knowledge necessary to build a modern and prosperous society.
After that, in the 1960s, we lost the sector of the population with the
least affinity to his absolute authoritarianism, and he established
immediate and complete control over the movements of the citizens who
remained. Anyone, even the most humble seller of lollipops without any
special knowledge or skills for national development, needed the express
authorization of the Castro regime authorities in order to emigrate.
And at first it was almost impossible to get, at least until the
eighties. Beginning in that decade Fidel Castro, by the confluence of
many factors, increasingly relaxed his immigration policy. The main
reason was the growing unrest.
Under his government, he had created a technical and professional sector
much larger than the needs of the island. A large sector that found no
possibilities for personal fulfillment in a country that first
experienced the gradual withdrawal of the Soviet aid, and later its
total disappearance. An extensive new opposition anticipated on the
horizon, against which he might appeal to violence, although certainly
not with the expected results, because already the international context
wouldn't support it. Alternately he could dip into the old standby of
opening the path to emigration. Thus, this became the Cuban substitute
for the Soviet gulag. Those who didn't get on well in His Cuba could
emigrate, or at least he was hoping they would, and this neutralized any
desire they might have to fight.
The result of the total politicization of the life of the Cuban nation
could be evaluated as of 31 July 2006. The day that, though he himself
did not yet know it, Fidel Castro left power forever.
By then, Cuba was (and is) without an economic base, no longer like that
prior to 1926 with regard to a level of assured prosperity, but also one
that brings some possibility of something more than survival to the
absolute majority of the Cuban people. Even the sugar industry, with a
respectable capital of accumulated knowledge of more than two centuries
of evolution and with so many possibilities in new times, was eliminated
by Fidel Castro in 2002. He tried in this way, it seemed, to avoid that
on his departure from power, someone would dare to try to exploit the
production capacity for biofuels.
But it is in the exacerbation of the danger to the survival of the
nation, provoked by this lack of a non-precarious economic base, where
we discover the darkest legacy of the half-century of the absolutist
government of Fidel Castro. This, paradoxically, stands out still more,
because Fidel Castro always presented his absolutism as indispensable to
the survival of the "homeland."
Fidel Castro's regime has promoted the desire to escape from the island
on such a scale that today, despite the enormous difficulties in doing
so, almost a quarter of Cubans live outside of Cuba. What's more, the
principal danger in this is not in the proportion, but in the particular
pattern of the Cuban migration with the flight of those people who are
From a Cuba in which initiative was a highly suspicious quality, and
therefore under close surveillance by the secret police, the best
prepared have necessarily emigrated, the most active, those least given
to respecting the opinions of authority. In other words, the problem is
not that emigrants are a quarter of the population, but that this
quarter has been systematically selected to rob the nation of its
members most likely to put themselves forward and lead a prosperous
future, and an orderly one… democratic of course.
As this pattern of emigration continues, and even has even
intensified since Fidel Castro left power, though his regime continues,
it is not so fanciful to suppose that in the near future we might see
Cuba converted into the most backward and poor nation in the western
hemisphere. A position it is not far from today, despite the fact that
in 1959 this same society only yielded to the United States and Canada
and was equated with Argentina and Uruguay.
The damage Fidel Castro caused the nation has, in the end, been so great
— a nation where in the 1950s there were only inklings on the horizon —
that today there is a strong current of furtive opinion, although not
openly expressed by hardly anyone, that suggests the only solution to
the problem of having a country without an economic base is to annex the
island to the United States.
This current, expressed only in private, remains dormant only because of
the fact that the Castro regime's propaganda still manages to be
somewhat effective in promoting nationalism. However, it is to be
expected that a nationalism without an economic base, or one in which
the remittances of those who emigrated to the United States rapidly
occupy this role, will end up eventually losing any prestige among
The main legacy of Fidel Castro is precisely this: Never before have
Cubans had less confidence in ourselves and, consequently, never has the
idea of annexation had so many followers.
*Translator's note: "Candil de la calle, oscuridad de la casa" (a light
in the street, darkness at home) is a common Spanish expression meaning
that a person is effective ("lit up") away from home and with others,
but useless ("dark") at home.
Source: Fidel Castro's Legacy for Cuba / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel
Barrenechea | Translating Cuba -