Thursday, April 28, 2016

This is the future - Cuba – broken country Malema wants to replicate in SA

This is the future: Cuba – broken country Malema wants to replicate in SA

Before relocating to Germany, Melanie Sergeant was one of South Africa's
leading financial journalists. Sister to famous investigative writer and
author Barry, she now writes under her married name of Haape, Melanie
visited Cuba this month – partly to see what lies in wait for South
Africa should the EFF's Julius Malema have their way. She discovered
that as Cubans have experienced, the EFF's utopian dream is nightmarish.
Those who can leave the country; those who can't jostle each other to
acquire tourist-generated CUCs by serving tourists as waiters, maids or
taxi drivers. Cuba's socialist agenda has stagnated economic growth and
delivered its highly educated population to financial penury. Haape
urges Malema and anyone else who buys into the EFF's economic claptrap
to follow in her footsteps. Like nearby Venezuela, Cuba is a broken
country. And a breathing example of what awaits South Africa if it
allows the failed Castro/Chavez example to be repeated. – Alec Hogg

By Melanie Haape*

During US President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba last month, a glimmer
of hope shone: talk focused on the Castro era seeing an end, and being
superceded by a younger, more market-driven leadership. But hopes were
dashed this week when the revolutionary vanguard announced that
84-year-old Raul Castro (Fidel's younger brother) is holding onto his
post of party secretary for a second term, and several of the other aged
revolutionaries will keep their top posts too.

So if the Economic Freedom Fighters' (EFF) Julius Malema is serious
about his threat to "crush white monopoly capital", there's still time
for him to see the results of capital flight up close – both monetary
and human.

Mr Malema will get a nasty shock. As romantic and nostalgic as the
island is, it's also broken in every way. And the slide has been long
and slow. Cubans have learnt to queue for hours in the searing heat for
bread, potatoes, or to get into their 50's-style non-computerised banks;
it's very few South Africans that I know who will show such patient
resignation if supplies of their own staple foods dry up.

Cuba is rife with shortages, smuggling, and bribery which is also
fuelled by its confusing "dual" economy. Wages and basic foods are paid
in Cuban Pesos (average wage is about $20/month with cleaners at about
$15 and doctors around $35) and the CUC – the "convertible Peso"
equivalent to $1 is used to charge for hotel rooms, "tourist"
restaurants – and everything else that the government can scrounge to
foot its forex bill – or to pay for the massive bureaucracy needed to
spy on citizens and on foreign companies who have joint venture deals to
operate there.

It's more than 50 years since Che Guevara, Fidel Castro & co. took to
arms, and rapidly overthrew the Batista regime, quickly turfing out
foreign oil companies and sugar barons. Yes, bad luck came in chunks –
like the high sulphur content of Russian oil which damaged the
refineries, the absence of spare parts for farm equipment which
relegated thousands of tractors to the scrap-heap.

Nuts and bolts didn't even fit because Russia's metric system wasn't
compliant with the US's Imperial system. Not to mention the mass exodus
of its citizens. Cuba has had spells of needing to import even sugar.
While SA is not a single-product economy, it's focus on building
shopping malls instead of factories is not indicative of an economy
striving to move past being a supplier of raw materials and into more
self sufficiency.

Cuba boasts free education for all: SA does not. It was a world-beater
in the medical field (boasting the highest average life-expectancy of
all third world countries), and medicine is free for all, but today its
doctors are emigrating to earn proper salaries while medicine shortages
are commonplace. Locals queue for hours on hard benches in dark halls at
hospitals which have "tourism" entrances for sick foreigners. The latter
boast clean rooms and VIP service – all payable of course in CUC along
with the meds from "international" pharmacies.

Cuba's government still spends heftily on fighting its many foes, and
home Internet is forbidden. Scarce public Wi-Fi hotspots offer an hour
online for 2CUC so that young teachers and lawyers are waitering to earn
CUC tips rather than working for pitiful Peso salaries. Doctors drive
taxis after-hours to earn CUC tips to supplement their pay cheques.

Housing may be cheap, along with water and electricity, but most homes
are broken – along with their sewer systems, water pipes and electricity
cables. Tap water has been undrinkable for two decades. Since the Raul
Castro-led government has allowed citizens to house tourists for meals
or overnights, some have managed to patch-up and paint – or they have
done it on dollars sent from foreign relatives. But even then bribes for
building permission are commonplace and materials are hard to come by as
all imports are handled by the State. Raul's promised economic reforms
have been slow in materialising and their benefits hardly show. Even the
hype around Obama's visit last month got less people on the street than
the Rolling Stones concert a few days later.

Cities like Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba or Cienfuegos are clean and their
inner "old-cities" are painted, statues and buildings partly-renovated.
But move a few streets out of the touristy, CUC-financed core, and the
housing is shanty-style, decorated only by spaghetti cables overhead and
filth underfoot.

Thanks to UNESCO's generosity in many parts of this land, its legendary
mix of architecture is being restored, but the sheer anomaly of seeing
grand mansions long-ago converted into smelly, over-crowded, ghettos
where the homeless live in fear of the building collapsing over their
heads, can hardly be Mr Malema's answer to housing South Africa's
homeless – or indeed his panacea for a nation which has not concentrated
enough on building a solid, educated middle-class. Cuba's legendary
brain-drain is evident, and even Castro's stricter rules on doctors'
emigration hasn't halted the flow of educated 20-40-year-olds fleeing to
Spain, Ecuador or the US. The Island now has a negative population
growth rate thanks to falling birth rates and emigration.

Another factor which Mr Malema will note is that Cuba has never tried to
scrub out its history. Whether that of its aboriginal Taino Inhabitants,
Christopher Columbus or the Spanish conquistadors. Even the oldest
statues, monuments, churches and street-names are intact and mostly
shining today. Che's "renaissance" 15-years after the Russian melt-down
25 years ago now shines through with billboards and flags, statues and
slogans dotted throughout the land reminding everyone of this
revolutionary spirit.

But while school kids are still taken to work on farms as part of their
curriculum and to remind them of that revolutionary spirit, many young
farmhands are turning their backs to the fields in favour of the mighty
CUC. Cowboys are itchy to find jobs at the massive hotels on the Cayo
Coco and other islands. These forex-earning factories which cater
largely to visa-friendly nations like Canada or Spain, have become home
to Castro's new army: thousands of waiters, cleaners and bartenders are
transported daily from their squalor to these glitzy "Fronts" in
old-timer buses spewing the worst kinds of gases into the tropical Cuban

It's now common for Cuban teenagers to listen to the same music played
in the discos of Barcelona, while families have old-style CD-players to
beam US and Spanish sit-coms – all available cheap on the black-market –
to replace the boring state-beamed propagandist news.

In the first quarter of this year, Cuba attracted well-over 1-million
tourists. Hotel, coffee and meal prices are comparable to or higher than
those in Berlin while state-owned car-hire is way more expensive and
almost as unreliable as the inland flights. The state realised 15 years
ago that tourism was its cash-cow, but how long it can pay workers less
than $20 a month to serve this often overweight, luxury market and
expect ill-paid farmers to produce coffee, sugar and tobacco is

Photographing is banned in the tobacco factories and one has "Brave New
World" flashbacks as propagandist news and readings are blared from loud
speakers to rows of poorly-paid cigar-rollers 8-hours a day. Just as the
massive scar-faced nickel and cobalt-mining area in the lush rainforests
of Moa are no-stop and no-photography areas for braver tourists wanting
to travel inland. Cuba has its half-century of brain-washing propaganda
and control firmly entrenched in its population: SA has not. Cuba is
forced to allow its citizens to travel in dangerous buses, trucks and
cars where SA has seat-belt and other regulations governing its road-users.

If Mr Malema wishes to look further and compare Cuba's development with
that of the former East Germany, he may also get some surprises. At the
end of the Cold War, Russia's rapid retreat from Cuba's economy, along
with the US's heightened sanctions (eg forbidding relatives to send over
cash) were dark-years indeed for the island's inhabitants. The former
DDR, by comparison, received more than €400bn in renovations,
modernization and other aid from the former West Germany.

Today, I live near Berlin, in the old DDR and have witnessed the
regeneration of cities and towns in this area which hosted almost the
same population number as Cuba's. The most modern telecoms networks,
highways and sewerage systems took over from the broken post-WWII relics
left behind. The ex-DDR has, nevertheless, still battled to compete with
job-creation for youngsters and only after more than two decades sees
some areas coming into their own.

And even the old DDR has not attempted to blot out its history. Streets,
statues and buildings are restored. Festivals and traditions which the
communists introduced are still practiced today. West Germany did not
need to "chase" big money anywhere: the money and the keen kids followed
the markets. Smart, high-tech factories built in the DDR to replace
their dilapidated forbears were soon dismantled and auctioned to
companies in the West which had educated labour forces to run them. Big
money, as SA has seen itself, finds its own way to "move", and while the
jury's out on how long the Castros can hold onto Cuba's status quo, the
population has started voting with its feet – either through emigration
or by serving tourists to earn "hard-currency" CUCs.

Born in Zambia, Melanie Sergeant-Haape grew up in Botswana before
studying at Wits and doing the Argus Cadet Course and joining The Star
Finance (where she worked with Biznews's founder). After writing and
editing at Business Day, the FM and several other leading publications
in SA and overseas, she left for Germany where she has lived and worked
for 20 years. Today she travels widely and remains an astute observer of
environmental and international affairs. She is the sister of
incomparable investigative journalist Barry and wrote this piece for
Biznews during her visit to Cuba this month.

APRIL 28, 2016

Source: This is the future: Cuba - broken country Malema wants to
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