January 5, 2008
Only Change Can Save CubaBy John Mendez
If one believes he is still alive, January 1st marked the 49th anniversary of the uninterrupted, uncontested, tyrannical rule of Fidel Castro. Five decades in power might just be enough for the perpetual revolutionary. Granma, the state-run and not coincidently, only newspaper on the island, quotes the dictator as saying he will not cling to power. The monumental sarcasm of his statement is, unsurprisingly, lost on the "Commandante." He will now impart grandfatherly advice to the young leaders of the revolution. Exactly why anyone would care to listen to the architect of one of histories great failures isn't terribly clear. But such delusions are common in advanced stages of "megalomania."
As Tenzin Gyatso (aka The Dali Llama) says, ""We each create our own reality and for that we are solely responsible." And no one has created a more demented sense of reality than the bearded one, who along with his many apologists, has a sense of reality that departs radically from...well, reality.
In his five decades of absolutist rule, Castro has created nothing short of an utter disaster of which he is solely responsible.
During his tenure as Maximum Leader, Cuba has become an economic sinkhole. Just ask the Russians, no experts themselves, whether Fidel knows anything about running an economy. They doled out billions of dollars annually in hard currency to supplement Fidel's command economy totaling 35% of Cuba's annual GDP. Tack on another billion or so in remittances from hard working Cuba Americans to family back on the island prison and the financial windfall equals more than 40% of Cuba's GDP! All generated outside its borders! Yet, Castro still managed to indebt Cuba to the tune of US$36 billion.
No thanks, Fidel, but outside of Hugo "El Burro" Chavez, a moniker that is not a reference to Shrek's lovable sidekick, no one is going to be seeking economic advice from the man singularly responsible for the devastation of a once flourishing economy. The irony is that Castro himself seems amazed by Chavez's infatuation with the Cuban system; a puzzled astonishment evident in most photos with the Venezuelan populist.
It truly says something about the US, that the American Marxist movement is not rooted in poverty or deprivation but instead in privilege. It is an ideology that appeals mainly to the affluent that are unable to find fulfillment in their world of materialism, more often than not, the spoils of a previous generation. Those who know real oppression rarely seek answers from dictators even the mythical benevolent kind.
In the US, it seems, there are far more communists in the bourgeois class than there ever was or will be in the proletariat. It is these elitist communists who make up the bulk of Castro's apologists and they perpetuate the misconception, however ridiculous, that the embargo is the root cause of Castro's monumental failures. Some, of course, will concede that it isn't but want it rescinded because it gives Castro an excuse for the island's misery. Let's dismiss with the absurd by stating the obvious: Fidel Castro doesn't rule by excuses. He rules through the use of one of the world's most repressive command and control structures. You don't need excuses on an island prison where you have executed, imprisoned and tortured thousands. His is a rule by fear and repression not consent.
The catastrophe that has befallen Cuba is rooted squarely in the very structure of the command economy instituted by Castro, where private property, individual rights and any semblance of freedom are non-existent. Without fundamental changes in the economic and social structure of Cuba, absolutely nothing would change on the island with the lifting of the embargo. The people of Cuba are penniless serfs who would remain economically paralyzed because capitalist ventures are outlawed. Hard currency is tolerated but only in the strictest sense, and at Castro's whim, criminal. Most of the slight liberalizations undertaken immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union have been rescinded with the advent of Castro's new welfare donor, Chavez. Gone are the small neighborhood restaurants that were only marginally profitable since Castro's thugs, much like street criminals, were constantly coming around for shakedowns.
Employment with hotels and foreign ventures are done strictly through a national agency run by Raul Castro and his military in order to screen employees and siphon hard currency as employees are paid only a fraction of what is charged to the foreign entity. Employees are then paid in worthless Cuban pesos while, ironically and quite tellingly, Castro demands payment in US dollars. Cubans are also constitutionally forbidden to travel, even within the island and are strictly forbidden to enter tourist areas. Unless, of course, you happen to be a prostitute since that has become a cottage industry for Raul's military units. Quite ironic, when you consider Castro's 1950s admonishments that Cuban women would never again be forced to prostitute themselves to foreigners. But when Fidel and the boys are strapped for cash there are no depths to which they won't force everyday Cubans to stoop.
For decades, Castro has been clinging to a failed ideology that has impeded Cuba's development and savagely impoverished its population. It's easy for the Danny Glovers and Charles Rangels of the world to idealize the worker's paradise from the comfort of their American homes, quite another to live under Castro's tyrannical misery. So while these apologists, who exhibit nothing but distrust and disdain for the democratically elected government of the US, can somehow hypocritically bring themselves to point to the unsubstantiated statistics of a dictator as proof of his accomplishments, realists understand that the collapse of the Soviet block exposed totalitarian figures for what they are; completely worthless.
Yet nothing has stopped embargo opponents from continuing to promulgate the misguided propaganda that engagement through economic activity leads to an open, democratic society. The US has had unfettered economic dealings with dictatorial regimes including the many thugs that run the Middle East autocracies and yet the fortunes of their people have absolutely not changed. We've been sun-shinning dictators for decades to the detriment of their enslaved populations as liberals banter on about soft power persuasion. The conspicuous silence from the left when it comes to the lack of freedoms in Cuba is called hypocrisy.
While it is true that the embargo has failed to remove Castro from power, it has been far from ineffective. In fact, the Cuban ambassador to the Philippines recently claimed that the American embargo has cost the island US$222 billion over its lifespan. Though, the figure is an obvious over exaggeration given Cuba's economic activity throughout that period (the figure is probably closer to US$80-90 bln), it's clear that the embargo has been a stark success.
The embargo forced the Soviets to fund Fidel at a time when they were fomenting unrest throughout Latin America attempting to establish repressive regimes similar to those imposed on Eastern Europe. The embargo was extremely effective in that it took Soviet monies that would have otherwise been used to foment Cuban style revolutions and forced the Soviets instead to spend hard currency to keep the Castro regime in power.
The same remains true today where a temporarily oil-rich Chavez must siphon billions to support Castro that he would otherwise use to create Bolivarian dictatorships through insurgency, political intrusion as appears to be the case in Argentina or buying political favors at home. Castro himself does not deny that he was responsible for fomenting "revolutions" throughout the Americas and Africa; to the contrary, he relishes it. He openly admits he tried to topple governments. It's been estimated that a lifting of the US embargo would add only US$1.8 billion to Castro's coffers annually, the vast majority coming from tourism. While it is hardly enough to fix what ails Cuba, it is however significantly more than the nations of Latin America spend on their military, allowing Castro to receive those funds would be disastrous and irresponsible.
Ultimately, the embargo is in place because of Castro's many sins and the danger he poses to the region. He has murdered tens of thousands; imprisoned an entire population; funded and fomented Marxist revolutions throughout Africa, Central and South America; given safe haven to terrorists from FARC to the PLO to the IRA to the Weathermen; been complicit in narco-trafficking with the likes of Noriega; and repressed religion, individual freedom, and freedom of speech. Human Rights Watch has dubbed his tyrannical government the repressive machinery and Amnesty International has condemned him for his reprehensible treatment of the Cuban people.
Yet those clear facts seem obscured as Castro, a gifted manipulator, brilliantly plays upon the guilt and susceptibilities of the liberal left in Europe and America where sanctimoniousness has replaced reason. What else would justify the demonization of the Cuban exiled community? Somehow Castro is excused and the hard working exile community in Miami is denigrated; A community that for all its perceived faults has been an integral part of reshaping the American landscape making far-reaching contributions in business, science and the arts. If they have reached a level of success here it because of hard work and stands as a testament of what could have been accomplished in Havana if not for the misguided policies of a deluded dictator.
The problem in Cuba is not a US embargo; it is Fidel Castro's failure to produce a free and democratic society where there are no rights, no freedoms and no rule of law. Blaming embargos or anyone other than Castro will never change that fact. Few tyrannical governments fall from the weight of economic pressure simply because they don't rule by providing economic comfort to their people. But while Cuban leaders scramble to find yet another handout, the rest of Latin America doesn't need to worry about paid mercenaries toppling their elected governments.
Ultimately, the new Cuban leadership, along with their many apologists, can no longer escape the reality that a communist-style command economy simply doesn't work. There can be no economic prosperity without reforms and liberalizations. Cuba has a "roadmap" for the lifting of the embargo and the prerequisites contain nothing objectionable. Merely, free elections and the freeing of political prisoners.
For the new leaders in Cuba, the only advice worth listening to is........."Cambio!"