Fidel Castro died.
Praise was heaped on him from every thuggish leader around the world. China’s Xi said he was a “dear comrade and true friend” of the Chinese people who made “immortal contributions to the development of socialism around the world.” Putin said he was “a wise and strong person” who was “an inspiring example for all countries and peoples” and a “sincere and reliable friend of Russia.” Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro offered solidarity and love to the Cuban people. Pope Francis prayed for his eternal rest. Even President Obama offered tactful condolences to the Castro family and said “our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people.”
They were partying in Miami, home to those who fled Castro’s terror.
Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator who imprisoned Cubans in a hermetically sealed coffin. This belies the popular view of him as the anti-imperialist freedom fighter. He was not a benign socialist or Progressive, but rather a communist, a blind follower of Marxism-Leninism, who replicated the Russian Soviet model of ruthless state control into every detail of Cuban lives.
A centrally planned Soviet-style economy and a feared security apparatus modeled on Lenin’s Cheka (ultimately Stalin’s NKVD and KGB), enforced Castro’s ideal of a Marxist utopian communist state.
The fact is that nothing ever worked well in Cuba under Castro, including their lauded medical and education systems. Their “reforms” plunged Cuba into equal opportunity poverty. So much for his “immortal contributions” to socialism.
Like all utopian fantasies, especially communist ones, it failed because it ignored human nature and human rights. Instead of the freedoms promised by Castro the young guerilla and revolutionary victor, he brought a reign of terror and poverty.
Castro and his regime set up a brutal security apparatus that smothered the entire island. After the revolution, they rounded up and executed many members of the former corrupt Batista regime. They extinguished freedom on a nationwide scale to make sure that there was no opposition to their police state. No one knows how many have been killed by the regime, but it is in the thousands, which was a very effective way to cow a small nation of 7 million people into submission.
This is the way of all socialist systems. As Castro’s policies and “reforms” inevitably failed, they scapegoated “counterrevolutionaries”—anyone who is suspected of harboring anti-regime thoughts—who were imprisoned, executed, or put into concentration work camps.
Based on the Soviet model, each neighborhood or apartment building had paid watchers to report those suspected of deviating from revolutionary dogma. No one speaks their mind, even today, for fear of arrest and punishment.
It is claimed that one of the “good” things Castro accomplished was universal education and free medical care. The fact is that while their literacy rate was high, much of the curriculum was rote memorization of Marxist-Leninist theory and ideology and adoration of Fidel. College level education was primarily available to members of the Communist Party and their children. As El Jefe said, “The universities are only available to those who share my revolutionary beliefs.” The sad truth was that education wasn’t a ticket to success since jobs and opportunity were scarce. It is not uncommon for university professors to now work in the private economy as taxi drivers and tourist guides because the pay is much higher.
Basic medical care is available to citizens but, like every government-run system, it is of poor quality and rationed like most goods and services in Cuba. The elite have no problems getting quality healthcare. While their healthcare system is often lauded, the government fudges the data so it is unreliable. Since it is illegal to criticize the government, people are reluctant to voice their complaints. Based on on-the-ground surreptitious surveys and interviews with exiles, health care is difficult to get, drugs are unavailable, but there is a thriving black market where you can get better care if you can afford it. It is quite telling that Castro went to Spain in 2006 to have life-saving surgery done. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez went to Cuba for cancer treatment and surgery and died.
Che Guevara’s ubiquitous image on t-shirts and posters is seen everywhere in the world as a romantic symbol of struggle for the underprivileged. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Che was a member of Castro’s inner circle and a valued adviser and enforcer.
Che was a brutal enforcer, executioner, and rabid Marxist-Leninist who oversaw the establishment of Cuba’s police state and participated in the executions that followed the revolution. He was put in charge of the economy and instituted a centrally planned economy enforced by brutality. Most businesses and foreign properties were nationalized. Much agriculture, especially sugar production, was collectivized.
Cuba’s economy collapsed resulting in food shortages, rationing of basic goods, and poverty. Rationing still exists today (they get 1 lb. of beef and 2 lbs. of chicken every month) and food is hard to get without foreign currency.
After Che collectivized sugar production, harvests failed and output halved. By necessity they became puppets of the Soviet Union and supplied sugar to the Soviet empire in exchange for massive subsidies. Soviet largesse and power was the only thing that kept Castro’s regime afloat. In return, the Soviets used Castro to promote revolutionary terror worldwide.
Fidel exported armed chaos (communist revolution) to Argentina, Venezuela, Guatemala, Paraguay, Colombia, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and South Africa. All those efforts failed and, if those regimes are still in power, they are dictatorships of impoverished countries. The failed socialist state of Venezuela is just the latest example of Castro’s work.
After the collapse of the Soviet empire the welfare payments stopped and Cuba fell into economic collapse. This “Special Period” (1989-1996) was marked by famine, malnutrition, starvation, and disease. That is, unless you were a member of the Communist Party or the army: they ate well (see Orwell’s Animal Farm).
It is rumored, not without some basis in fact, that the Castros were receiving money from drug cartels for aiding the transportation of drugs through Cuba to the U.S., Nicaragua, and Panama. With limited funds available to the Castros during the Special Period, drug money augmented their slush fund and was apparently used to reward and fund top military and security personnel and operations.
As a Cuban, if you weren’t part of the elite, you lived at the whim of the State. No jobs, no hope, no future. They did what all oppressed people do: they fled. There have been five waves of emigration from Cuba since the revolution and it still goes on as Cubans risk their lives on flimsy rafts to reach our shores. The United States is home to 1,172,899 Cuban exiles, and as a group, they have thrived here.
The lesson of Cuba and Castro is twofold.
First is the obvious one that all communist-socialist regimes are corrupt, brutal, disruptive failures. And they are hard to dislodge—the Castros have ruled Cuba for almost 60 years.
One wonders why dictators like Castro hold on in the obvious light of failure. Megalomania has something to do with, but fear is even more powerful. Like many dictators, they are afraid that their regime will fail, the people will rise up, and their heads will roll. While Raul Castro slightly loosened of the shackles, he carefully monitors the results to see if it leads to unrest. Sadly, it seems the Cubans, like other oppressed people, are cowed, afraid, and resigned to things the way they are. Instead of resisting, they leave.
The second lesson is about capitalism, the only hope for Cuba.
The CNBC TV show, The Profit, powerfully demonstrates this in the latest segment, “The Profit in Cuba.” The show, starring serial entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis, takes us inside Cuba’s tiny, almost-private sector. Because of a stagnant economy caused by the failures of inefficient and inept state run enterprises, Raul Castro, taking over from his brother in 2010, allowed the expansion of private, profit-oriented businesses. There is still a complex maze of regulations to hurdle to open a business, but by opening that door just a crack, 500,000 entrepreneurs have opened small businesses, transforming Cuba’s economy.
I urge you to watch “The Profit in Cuba”. You will be inspired by the drive and ingenuity of Cubans given a chance to better themselves and their world. Once more economic freedom (capitalism) triumphs over socialism.
Fidel would have hated it. May he rot in Hell.