The End of Castro's Cuba

Cuba once was among the most prosperous nations in the Western Hemisphere, before Fidel Castro overthrew its government in 1959 and replaced capitalism with a communist dictatorship that turned this beautiful Caribbean island poor, with an average monthly salary equivalent to $31 today.  Fidel died in 2016 at age 90.

The Castro dynasty ends this week when Fidel's younger brother, former head of the secret police Raúl Castro, retires after ten years as Cuban president.  (He will remain head of the Communist Party.)  His handpicked successor is reported to be Miguel Díaz Canel, who turns 58 this week, a committed communist whose past is almost unknown to the press.

This is the way most revolutionary dictatorships have slid into the dustbin of history.  The charismatic founder holds his new government together by invoking the self-sacrifice the rebels shared during the revolution.  When this leader passes, sometimes a family relative with his last name takes over, but soon it devolves to a battle to the death among top lieutenants – such as Stalin versus Trotsky – fighting to seize power.

Charismatic competitors for public applause, such as Che Guevara and Leon Trotsky, are killed or sent abroad to die.  After them, only the uncharismatic third-generation Yes-Men survivors such as Nikita Khrushchev and Díaz Canel are left to take charge.

Cuba's new dictator faces difficult challenges.  His island survives mostly through free oil from the communist dictatorship of Venezuela, also a sinking, basket-case economy kept in power by more than 14,000-strong Cuban secret police.  If it collapses, Cuba quickly may do likewise.

Havana: Photo by Pedro Szekely.

A United States embargo of sorts remains in place, but Cuba has always been able to trade with Canada, Latin America, and Europe.  Its problem is that it has repeatedly failed to pay for goods and thus has terrible credit with many nations.

Castro also bet his slave island's future by making it a colony of the communist Soviet empire, which failed and died before he did.  The new dictator may offer Cuba as a colony of China rather than free the enslaved Cuban people.

I remember being in Cuba in late 1977, doing a piece for the Los Angeles Times.  Cuba long ago was Spain's administrative center in the New World, populated mostly by business-savvy Spaniards from Barcelona.  Cuba's population is white and black, from African slaves imported to do the labor.  But it is not brown; Spain exterminated the American Indians who lived there.  I quickly noticed that everyone with real power whom I met with in the Marxist society was white.

I remember being taken to a Potemkin school shown to foreigners, where children studied half of each day and then spent the other half burning their hands on acid by assembling batteries at an adjacent factory – a throwback to child labor that liberal journalists never questioned. The school's principal was black, the only non-white I met in even a symbolic position of power.  The liberal media has also ignored that white-skinned Fidel Castro had overthrown a mulatto socialist Cuban President, Fulgencio Batista.

Then as now, ordinary Cubans could not enter resort hotels. I remember the panic on the face of a Communist Eastern European apparatchik who began chatting with me in the hotel pool; then, when he realized I was American, he tried frantically to get away from me before anyone noticed.

"We used to watch I Love Lucy, too," said my Cuban Communist Party guide, "but we saw it differently."  How many Americans knew that when Desi sang "Babalu," he was invoking a deity from the Santeria voodoo religion that African slaves had brought to Cuba?

My guide proudly boasted that Cuba's flag was based on the red, white, and blue tricolor of the French Revolution.  Was he aware, I asked, that the American Revolution came first, and that French revolutionaries might have modeled their flag colors on America's?  He was surprised at this idea that he never had been taught.

At the time, I was also an editor at Skeptic Magazine, which presented opposing views on issues.  "This is foolish and a waste of energy," my guide said.  "In Cuba, the Party decides the proper view of all issues."  Under the Castros, only one party was permitted.

I expected constant communist propaganda, and it came as no surprise that my hotel radio had only push buttons, not a knob that might let listeners tune into Miami stations 90 miles away.  It surprised me that in Havana, they aired the Cuban refugee musicians Miami Sound Machine – but only under the name "MSM," and never playing certain of their songs such as Cuba Libre, "Free Cuba."

As to propaganda, it was back then a revelation to see almost no political signs or billboards.  Coming from a culture of capitalist choice and competition, I, like other Americans, was accustomed to seeing the brand name Coca-Cola 140 times a day.  After a week in Cuba, I began feeling decompression from a lack of advertising.

The reality was that communist values were imposed on every Cuban every day – largely by the absence of competing views.  It was the leftist dream of political correctness we see today on college campuses, where no other views are permitted to be discussed at all.  What's the definition of a "diverse" university faculty in America today?  A black Marxist, a transsexual Marxist, a Latino Marxist, a lesbian Marxist, an Islamic Marxist...

And just to make sure, a Cuban government watcher lived on each city block who reported any non-compliant or non-conformist speech or behavior.

I loved embarrassing my guide by asking why he always locked his car wherever he parked in this workers' paradise...which he did because the only source of spare parts to repair a car was to steal them from another car, most of which were American-made.

Why, I asked him, did cigarettes for Cuban domestic consumption carry health warnings...but not cigarettes made for export?  Why was Cuba's economy based on things that harmed people, such as tobacco and sugar?

Cuba was easily adapted to Marxism, he said, because these major agricultural industries were already "collectivized" into huge estates.  Communism, as Marx said, could be summed up in one sentence: abolish private property.

The richest capitalist plantation-owners built six mansions for themselves.  Fidel Castro expropriated all six for his own personal use.  That is equality under Marxism, as the Yugoslav Tito official Milovan Djilas explained in his 1957 book The New Class.

The Castros then created a slave island where no freedom of speech or the press was permitted, and non-conformity could get one assigned to work for the rest of his lifetime in the sugarcane fields for 10 Cuban Pesos (around $3.20) a month. Such workers risked deadly skin cancer, but Cuban hospitals were available to all who could afford the bribes, and the patients were expected to bring light bulbs and bedding. Gays were often beaten, imprisoned, or killed.

How many left-of-center American politicians helped the Castros?

John F. Kennedy withdrew promised air support, leaving Cuban freedom fighters to be killed or captured at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron). Bill and Hillary Clinton violated the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child by sending commandos to snatch Elian Gonzalez so the boy could be returned to Castro as a trophy after his mother died bringing him across shark-filled waters to the United States.

Barack Obama ended wet-foot/dry-foot asylum for Cubans reaching the U.S. as refugees from Communism; escaping Cubans who were caught got sent back to the Castros. Cubans who are American citizens understand the evils of Communism and tend to vote Republican, unlike the millions of Democrat-voting Latinos from south of our border whom Obama allowed to flood illegally into the U.S.

Others, like retiring Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, visited Cuba in a servile effort to make trade deals with the Castros, thereby helping to keep their sinking dictatorship afloat.

Under the Castros, young Cuban men and women routinely survived by selling their bodies to European tourists. Cubans could be hired by foreign companies, but their wages would be collected by the government in hefty foreign currency payments to the Cuban government, which then paid the workers a pittance in Cuban pesos.

We need to remember why so many Cubans risked their lives by fleeing from the Castros to find economic and personal freedom.  A post-Castro Cuba may find a communist dictatorship difficult to sustain after its historic failures and the Marxist murder of 100 million people worldwide, on a planet where no sane person believes in its utopian dreams anymore.

Lowell Ponte is a veteran think-tank futurist and author or co-author of eight books.  His latest, co-authored with Craig R. Smith, is Money, Morality & The Machine, available free and postpaid by calling 800-630-1492.  Lowell can be reached for interviews by email at

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