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Are Cubans Satisfied With their Government?

Economist/blogger Michael Stastny has recently returned from a trip to Havana, Cuba, where he was surprised by the extent of the "misery and decay" that he found (hat tip Arnold Kling). He has some interesting observations for those who still believe that Castro's Cuba is a paradise for the common people. It's worth keeping in mind, also, that Havana is likely to be far better off than the most of the rest of Cuba. Like other communist regimes, the Cuban government pours a disproportionate share of its resources and public investment into the capital and areas likely to be frequented by foreigners. Other parts of Cuba are likely to be much worse off - especially those where foreigners are not allowed to go.

Stastny is no apologist for Castro. But I think he may be somewhat misguided in this passage from his post:

Unfortunately, Cubans don't have access to "world news" (no foreign newspapers, no internet, no satellite dishes), so the people I talked with were actually quite happy with their situation ("We don't earn much, but as opposed to other countries education and health care is for free!" (translation mine)) and couldn't see that people in developed countries who are considered as dirt poor have a way higher living standard (I didn't have the impression that they were afraid to speak openly).

There is no way to know for sure whether these particular Cubans were genuinely ignorant of the higher standard of living in other countries. However, I doubt that such ignorance is generally prevalent in Cuba. After all, if they didn't know that life in many other nations is far better, why would thousands of Cubans be risking their lives to flee the country? Not only for the wealthy United States, but even for much poorer destinations, such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and even Haiti.

If the Cubans Stastny spoke too were not as ignorant as they seemed, why would they lie to him? Perhaps because Cuba has an extensive secret police that regularly tracks down and punishes dissenters, especially those who air the regime's dirty laundry to foreigners. As the Black Book of Communism notes (pp. 655), Cuba's DGCI has "thousands" of agents and anyone coming into contact with foreigners is particularly likely to be monitored; there is even a special division of the agency specifically tasked with monitoring foreign visitors (a standard practice in communist states, which the Cubans likely copied from the KGB).

I'm not saying that the DGCI is so efficient that it can detect and punish any Cuban who says anything critical to a foreigner. But even a small chance of being caught and punished is likely to be enough to deter many people from expressing dissent. How many Americans would be willing to openly criticize their government if doing so carried even a 5% chance of arrest and imprisonment by a brutal secret police?

It's true that Stastny had the "impression" that the people he spoke to were "not afraid to speak openly." But people living under a highly repressive regime learn to be skillfull liars and to keep their innermost thoughts to themselves - especially around foreigners or in other situations where the secret police are likely to be watching.

Stastny's understandable error is part of a more general problem that Westerners have in assessing the statements of people living under oppressive governments. Too often, they take parroting of government propaganda at face value.

None of this means that there aren't lots of Cubans who genuinely support Castro's regime. Even the most oppressive government has its beneficiaries. Moreover, fifty years of communist indoctrination has surely left its mark on Cuban public opinion. Just as there are Russians who even today remember Stalin fondly, there are probably Cubans who feel the same way about Fidel.

Be that as it may, it is important to be very cautious in interpreting pro-regime statements by Cubans and others who live under repressive governments. Some may genuinely love Big Brother. But others are only saying they do because they know Big Brother is watching.

Gordo:
One thing to remember - Cubans are fed incessant propaganda about what monsters ruled them before 1959 - and those monsters or their ideological descendants are located in South Florida, ready to pounce and reinstate Batistism.

And, from what I understand, there are indeed quite a few in South Florida who long for the Batista glory days. It would be almost as much of a disaster to reintroduce them into Cuba as it would to keep the Communist regime.
2.25.2008 2:14am
Gordo:
In fact, one of the ironic benefits of Castro's 50 years of despotism is that he has outlasted all of the Batista losers who would have tried to take back the country if Castro had made a big misstep. Latin American politics has made a quantum jump in quality since 1959.
2.25.2008 2:17am
MXE (mail):
I went to Cuba a few years ago, and I also got the impression that people felt free to speak candidly in private discussion about the government. Many people expressed ambivalence or even mild to moderate dislike toward Castro and didn't seem to feel in any particular danger in the process.

The fact that many Cubans flee the country seems like fairly poor evidence to me that all Cubans are aware that their conditions are lousy. Lots of Mexicans emigrate legally to the United States -- does that mean that the majority of Mexicans wouldn't rather live in Mexico? It's not obvious.

Incidentally, it's true that Havana is quite a bit richer than other parts of Cuba. AFAIK you're right about the government putting more resources into that area, but for what it's worth, Havana has always been the richest, most white/Spanish, and most cosmopolitan part of the country. That fact far predates Castro.
2.25.2008 2:41am
Ilya Somin:
One thing to remember - Cubans are fed incessant propaganda about what monsters ruled them before 1959 - and those monsters or their ideological descendants are located in South Florida, ready to pounce and reinstate Batistism.

I do remember about the propaganda, which is why I noted it in the post. On the other hand, I'm skeptical that very many Miami Cubans want to restore a government similar to Batista's (which, BTW, as I noted in my first Cuba post, was fairly good by 1950s Latin American standards, and even by some contemporary European ones).
2.25.2008 2:41am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Also remember that when speaking to a foreigner there is always the element of national pride that can come into play.
2.25.2008 4:20am
Visitor Again:
Also remember that when speaking to a foreigner there is always the element of national pride that can come into play

Funny, I've noticed that among non-foreigners, too, especially the ones on this blog.
2.25.2008 7:20am
andrew4321 (mail):
I've spent time in Puerto Rico, and had lunch with a man there whose family fled Cuba at a young age. He said he still remembers the tremendous feeling of being controlled. It was decades ago, but it haunts him still. One thing he remembers vividly - when his family was making preparations to leave, they tried to sell their TV. But they weren't allowed to do that without permission, because their TV belonged to the state.
2.25.2008 9:06am
rarango (mail):
It is worthwhile noting that the Cuban communist party has their neighborhood "protection of the revolution" cells in each local area. The cuban government looks very much like Hannah Arendt's description of a totalitarian society that has succeeded in atomizing the population. Of course thats a small price to pay for increased life expectancy and better infant mortality statistics.
2.25.2008 9:08am
andrew4321 (mail):
Rarango, I'm not familiar with Arendt's description of "atomizing." I can presume a little about what it means, but could you say more?
2.25.2008 9:24am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

The fact that many Cubans flee the country seems like fairly poor evidence to me that all Cubans are aware that their conditions are lousy.


The notion that enough people were aware of the difference to fuel the massive exodus of the Mariel Boatlift, and the more rare escapes of desperate people now, but that the information is not generally known, seems like a poor bet.
2.25.2008 9:32am
rarango (mail):
Arendt's book that came out in the 1950s, among other things, took issue with the notion that totalitarian states relied on mass mobilization. She argued (effectively IMO) that totalitarian states succeeded because they eliminated collective action on the part of the citzenry by reducing all ties the individual had to any other networks in the community (family, church, associations etc). By so doing they created a situation where it was the individual against the "state," with no intervening social networks. The committees of revoluation in cuba assist in that function by serving as a conduit for collecting information on "subversive" activities; anyone can report a fellow citizen to the committees; thus isolating the individual from other contacts for fear of being reported.
2.25.2008 10:03am
andrew4321 (mail):
Thanks, rarango. Very interesting.
2.25.2008 10:58am
Elliot Reed (mail):
After all, if they didn't know that life in many other nations is far better, why would thousands of Cubans be risking their lives to flee the country? Not only for the wealthy United States, but even for much poorer destinations, such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and even Haiti.
This seems like an issue that would be most easily resolved by simply asking the Cuban expats. What kind of information did they have about other countries, and what was it that induced them to leave? How much better did they think life in other countries was, and have their expectations been borne out?
2.25.2008 11:19am
ramster (mail):
This is a minor point but the claim that Cubans would prefer Haiti is incorrect. It leaped out as hyperbole when I read it and sure enough, when you follow the links, you get a BBC story that goes like this:

"They were picked up by a Haitian boat when their vessel sank more than 300 km (190 miles) from their intended destination - the United States."

The "They" in question are the Cuban refugees. They ended up in Haiti because their boat sank before they got to their intended destination, the USA. To be fair, one of them did say "We would prefer to die than be sent back to Cuba." But they never intended to go to Haiti. Cuba's problems notwithstanding, Haiti still holds the title of least desireable place to live in the Western Hemisphere.
2.25.2008 11:21am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
"satisfied"?
Who is satisfied with his government, whichever one it might be?
Seems any question along that line might end up with about 99% "no".

The real question is whether the government is unnecessarily repressive, aggressively incompetent, brutal.
And who's going to ask/answer those?
2.25.2008 11:21am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
"satisfied"?
Who is satisfied with his government, whichever one it might be?
Seems any question along that line might end up with about 99% "no".

The real question is whether the government is unnecessarily repressive, aggressively incompetent, brutal.
And who's going to ask/answer those?
2.25.2008 11:21am
liberty (mail) (www):

This seems like an issue that would be most easily resolved by simply asking the Cuban expats. What kind of information did they have about other countries, and what was it that induced them to leave? How much better did they think life in other countries was, and have their expectations been borne out?

- Elliot Reed.

This is a good point. The only caveat is that you will have a slanted sample, since all of the interviewed will be people who at least knew enough to know that they wanted to escape.

If, for example, only those near Havana know anything true about the world outside Cuba, and all your expats of course came from there, you might not find this out from them. They might or might not know the extent of ignorance outside of where they had lived in Cuba, and certainly if you ask only about themselves, they would report knowledge that those other Cubans did not have.
2.25.2008 11:34am
andrew4321 (mail):
It should also be mentioned that Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic (unlike Haiti) are hardly undesirable locales. They may not be as wealthy as the U.S., but compared to Cuba they are thriving economies. Many Cubans have done quite well in both places.
2.25.2008 12:44pm
stevelaudig (mail):
"Haiti still holds the title of least desireable place to live in the Western Hemisphere."

and, unless, I'm mistaken, most invaded place by the Americans. Cause, effect, or merely evidence of something.
2.25.2008 12:49pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
Lots of Mexicans emigrate legally to the United States -- does that mean that the majority of Mexicans wouldn't rather live in Mexico? It's not obvious.


Its not? The economist in me scoffs. Now if you mean they wouldnt rather live in an uncorrupt Mexico with a vibrant and free economy, well sure. But thats not an option in the immediate future. People vote with their feet based on real circumstances, not fantasy scenarios.

I'm a little confused at the idea that thousands of Cubans literally risking their lives on flimsy rafts to escape isnt a pretty clear indication that they dont want to stay in Cuba.
2.25.2008 12:52pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
For that matter i've never heard an adequate explanation from the apologists for why communist regimes feel the need to fence people IN (fencing strangers out being the far more common practice historically). How unappetizing does a nation need to be to imprison its own population lest conditions become even worse?

That little detail is so obvious (and often pointed to granted) that is seems to have lost its full impact on the argument. Seems like a pretty big trump card to me.
2.25.2008 1:02pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Puerto Rico is not a "less appealing" destination than the U.S. It is part of the U.S., and a Cuban reaching land there is entitled to the same immigration rights as if he were in Florida. He also has the right to move to another part of the U.S. if he is permitted to remain.

Nick
2.25.2008 1:11pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):


I met a lot of people in Havana through a program, and they greatly enjoyed their Cuban life and were proud members of the Communist parties. We had several Q&As with law professors who believed that Americans- while good, decent people- were deluded by their government and ignorant of its repressiveness. They expressed incredulity that any clear-thinking American might admire the American government.

The people we met outside of the program were less enthusiastic about the communists, but, as previously surmised, exhibited national pride. Notwithstanding their impatience with their government, they seemed to me less outraged than their pre-1989 Eastern European brethren; maybe home grown totalitarians are less brutal than invading Russian totalitarians.
2.25.2008 1:11pm
ithaqua (mail):
"Be that as it may, it is important to be very cautious in interpreting pro-regime statements by Cubans and others who live under repressive governments."

True enough. It's also important not to go too far in the other direction, as some do, and dismiss all pro-regime statements (or any statements at all) as lies and further evidence for the evils of the regime in question.

I remember, back in 2004, when certain claims Kerry made about his service in Vietnam were heavily criticized (not the Winter Soldier crap; I think the Swift Boat types were claiming that his Purple Hearts were fraudulent and that he wounded himself to get out of service), there were some reporters who flew to Vietnam and found some Vietnamese eyewitnesses to the events in question who corroborated Kerry's claims. The conservative response? Vietnam is a repressive Communist regime; nothing out of that country can be trusted; if these riverbank peasants seem to support Kerry, it must be because the interests of this repressive regime are best served with Kerry as President and what does that tell you about Kerry?

[And on a total side note: I am so very, very happy that Vietnam hasn't been an issue in this campaign cycle. Your time is over, boomers. You're done. Go away. :P ]

Moreover, it's a terribly convenient way to dismiss criticism of or evidence against your position with regard to said evil regime. It dehumanizes the people involved, making them habitual liars and tools of the evil regime (and so complicit in its crimes, and no longer 'innocent civilians' - in some people's eyes, that justifies any measure taken); it makes any negative claim against the regime credible (because any evidence to the contrary is assumed to be a lie or a cover-up); and it allows one to make any ridiculous claim about the true feelings of the population, eg, that the Iranians would greet American troops as liberators, without any possibility of contradiction.

And it's also a good idea not to underestimate the human desire for stability and security. The New York Times had a piece today quoting some of the responses to its earlier piece about repression in Putin's Russia, eg, “Russia has always needed to have a czar who tells people how to live and condemns things that are not right.”

But maybe Putin made him write that...
2.25.2008 1:12pm
ithaqua (mail):
Also, in re fleeing Cuba: I'm inclined to think that illegal immigrants from both Cuba and Mexico are probably driven by economic hardship and the "American Dream" more than that they're fleeing political repression per se. On the other hand, economic hardship in Cuba is probably much more closely linked to politics (both Cuba's Communist lunacy and the United States' obsessive trade blockade) than it is in Mexico, where the politics is, usually, merely (heh) excessively corrupt rather than actively working to hurt its citizens. So I dunno.
2.25.2008 1:20pm
ejo:
there is no one I would trust more, if I had anti-regime thoughts, than a western academic.
2.25.2008 1:43pm
Dave N (mail):
[And on a total side note: I am so very, very happy that Vietnam hasn't been an issue in this campaign cycle. Your time is over, boomers. You're done. Go away. :P ]
Um, unless I am mistaken, John McCain is a Vietnam Vet. I thought I remember something about a plane being shot down and the Hanoi Hilton and him refusing to meet with anti-war activists during that period. But I could be mistaken.
2.25.2008 2:21pm
whit:
"I went to Cuba a few years ago, and I also got the impression that people felt free to speak candidly in private discussion about the government. Many people expressed ambivalence or even mild to moderate dislike toward Castro and didn't seem to feel in any particular danger in the process.
"

they are also well aware that there is no such thing as a "private discussion" when you are a subject of a totalitarian communist regime.

you may THINK they were being open and straightforward, but it's simply much more difficult than you think. thousands of people in cuba have been imprisoned. tortured, andor killed for what they said (especially to foreigners) in what they believed were "private discussions"
2.25.2008 2:22pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Although Cubans may lack access to foreign newspapers, the internet, or satellite TV, they do have radio receivers and television sets. The US has been broadcasting news and information to Cuba on AM and shortwave since Cuba went communist, and on TV since 1990. The stations are located in the Florida Keys*, and are currently called Radio Marti and TV Marti. Interestingly, the TV transmitter and antenna are mounted on a blimp, and provide Grade A coverage to Havana.

However, the Cuban government deliberately causes interference to these transmissions, so I don't know how much news of the outside world Cubans actually receive.

*The studios are in Miami, to have more access to on-air and off-air talent.
2.25.2008 2:30pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Obviously, Ilya's points about the difficulty of measuring support for the Cuban dictatorship are valid.

That said, is there no room in Ilya's universe for people who actually LIKE Castro-- and not because they were brainwashed? Remember how the anti-Castro Cubans ASSURED us that when Juan Gonzales, Elian's father, came to the US, he would see what a great country we had and defect? In fact, he saw our country and said he just wanted to get back to Cuba with his son.

At bottom, a true anti-communist can tell him- or herself that ANY expression of pro-Castro opinion is not the real thing, how they must be pressuring the person's relatives or the person doesn't know about conditions in the rest of the world or whatever. That doesn't mean that is accurate.

And I would also caution Ilya, again. His evaluation of Batista is totally ahistorical. For millions of dark-skinned peasants, life under Batista was certainly worse than it has been under Castro. Indeed, they were basically enslaved. Economic performance doesn't mean anything if you have to be either rich and white or have Mob connections or be a foreign corporation to benefit from it.
2.25.2008 3:06pm
ithaqua (mail):
McCain served in Vietnam, but, unless I'm utterly misinformed, he's running on his Senate record, not on his military record. (Compare that to Kerry, whose platform was basically (1) being a war hero, (2) protesting the war, and (3) not being Bush.) Similarly, his critics are attacking him for his accomplishments (and failures) as a politician, not trying to prove that he faked his war injuries or cut a deal with North Vietnam or went AWOL from his unit or so on and so forth. It's refreshing :)

(yes, I promise, no more thread drift)
2.25.2008 3:11pm
anon non-cuban (mail):
Nick M, while Puerto Rico is an American commonwealth, Cubans who get to that island often choose to stay because it is more reminiscent of Cuba than going to the mainland.
2.25.2008 3:31pm
anon non-cuban (mail):
stevelaudig says:

"Haiti still holds the title of least desireable place to live in the Western Hemisphere."
and, unless, I'm mistaken, most invaded place by the Americans. Cause, effect, or merely evidence of something.



Evidence of a dysfunctional society that the U.S. has tried to help from time to time?
I'm sure you're not saying that if the U.S. had never intervened at any time, that Haiti would be a successful and appealing place.
2.25.2008 3:34pm
Gringo (mail):
Dilan Esper
And I would also caution Ilya, again. His evaluation of Batista is totally ahistorical. For millions of dark-skinned peasants, life under Batista was certainly worse than it has been under Castro.

Did you realize that Batista was a mulatto?
A half-century later, whites such as Fidel, the son of a Spanish soldier, are still on top.Are you aware of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, an Afro-Cuban physician imprisoned in Castro’s gulag?

Here is some information on inequality.From The New Comparative Economic History: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey G. Williamson ( by Williamson et al, 2007, MIT Press) we find a graph on page 294. From Figure 12.1 b p 294: Inequality Indices in Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico ( 1913= 1), we can get the following trends. From 1940 to 1958, while inequality indices in Brazil and Mexico are increasing, they are decreasing in Cuba. ( Mexico: 1 to 2, Brazil: 1.6 to 1.9, Cuba: 0.90 to 0.65) These figures are not exact, as they are read off a graph, not taken from a table. From this inequality index, Cuba was moving in the right direction, before Caudillo Fidel took over. This improvement did stagnate during Batista’s time in power, however.

From Renaissance and Decay, here is some information on the perhaps the most basic indicator of equality.
The UN’s Statistical Yearbook, 1960 (pp. 312-316) ranked pre-revolutionary Cuba third out of 11 Latin American countries in per capita daily caloric consumption. This was in spite of the fact that the latest available food consumption data for Cuba at the time were from 1948-49, almost a decade before the other Latin American countries’ data being used in the comparison.

Unless you think that the top 20% were eating 8000 kcal per day, compared to the average of 2730 kcal/day, this is a valid measure of inequality/inequality. The higher the average caloric consumption, the lower the inequality, and Cuba pre 1959 comes out third in Latin America.

Also note in that from the 1950s to the 1990s many countries had substantial increases in per capita daily caloric consumption, such as Colombia which went from 2050 calories in 1954-57 to 2800 calories in 1996. By contrast, Cuba went down 370 calories in daily consumption during this time. I guess that shows the superiority of Socialism: Skinny Rules! ( Unless you are in the Nomenklatura: then you get all you can eat.)
2.25.2008 5:42pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Did you realize that Batista was a mulatto? A half-century later, whites such as Fidel, the son of a Spanish soldier, are still on top.Are you aware of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, an Afro-Cuban physician imprisoned in Castro’s gulag?

Gringo:

This is the worst kind of essentialism. The issue isn't how white Batista was. The issue is what life was like to dark-skinned workers on the sugar plantations, i.e., the people who supplied the support for Castro's revolution. And life was just awful for them.

Indeed, when the plantation owners came here after the revolution, some of them established sugar plantations in the United States that actually maintained similar labor practices, and used their lobbying to shield them from regulation. There was a nice expose from Vanity Fair on the Fanjuls and their sugar empire a few years back.

Here is some information on inequality.From The New Comparative Economic History: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey G. Williamson ( by Williamson et al, 2007, MIT Press) we find a graph on page 294. From Figure 12.1 b p 294: Inequality Indices in Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico ( 1913= 1), we can get the following trends. From 1940 to 1958, while inequality indices in Brazil and Mexico are increasing, they are decreasing in Cuba. ( Mexico: 1 to 2, Brazil: 1.6 to 1.9, Cuba: 0.90 to 0.65) These figures are not exact, as they are read off a graph, not taken from a table. From this inequality index, Cuba was moving in the right direction, before Caudillo Fidel took over. This improvement did stagnate during Batista’s time in power, however.

Those last 2 sentences contradict each other. In any event, even these inequality statistics are aggregates. Brazil, bear in mind, has perhaps the most amazing inequality in the world-- a large population that ranges from people who can casually use helicopters to commute to work in Sao Paolo to the poorest of the poor in Amazonas and the favelas. So saying "it wasn't as bad as Brazil" isn't really saying anything.

What actually happened is that despite your statistics, millions of Cubans joined Castro and supported the overthrow of Batista, because they were enslaved on sugar plantations and elsewhere, while foreign investors, the Mob, gambling and prostitution and alcohol-related businesses, and government officials made off like bandits.

If Cuba was this island paradise for peasants that you and Ilya portray, there would have been no Cuban revolution and Castro wouldn't have lasted 49 years.

The fact of the matter is that this is a great example of conservative and libertarian anti-communists being unable to admit the limitations of their ideology. Non-control economies do much better, but distribution is important and you can't simply espouse the theoretical justification for transfer payments-- you have to make the transfer payments. Not only did Batista not make the transfer payments, but he did nothing for the millions of effective slaves in his country. Castro, in contrast, despite being a murderous dictator, built them schools and hospitals.

The fact of the matter is while Ilya is right to be skeptical of claims of how popular he is, at least some of his popularity is very real and it resulted from the fact that there are a lot of Cubans who know damned well that they and their families had no chance under Batista. You guys ought to stop defending the prior regime and instead learn something from Cuba's history.
2.25.2008 6:50pm
Queenss:
All the Cubans and Mexicans can excape right into Hudson Country, NJ, (across from lower Manhattan) where representative of a single corrupt political party will deliver them into propsperity. That would be Fidel's critic, bribe taker, mobster and extortionist in one, congressman Bob Menendez.

However, beside of propaganda (paid for by the taxpayers), those already there do not have any health insurance, and can't read or write for most part. Unlike in Cuba.

I think, that by force feeding propaganda, you can even have VC crew believe, that Fidel eats aborted Christian fetuses for breakfast.
2.25.2008 9:31pm
Gringo (mail):
@ Dilan Esper
This is the worst kind of essentialism.

You brought up the issue of color, not I.

You guys ought to stop defending the prior regime and instead learn something from Cuba's history.
Have you read C. Wright Mills’s Listen Yankee, Montaner’s Secret Report on the Cuban Revolution, Cabrera Infante’s Tres Tristes Tigres and Conversations with Fidel, Hugh Thomas’s Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom and his Cuban Revolution, Halperin’s Castro’s Cuba, Rene Dumont’s Cuba: Socialism and Development and Is Cuba Socialist, Valladares’s Against All Hope, Georgie Ann Geyer’s Guerrilla Price, and Bourne’s biography on Castro? Have you consulted statistical yearbooks, such as various ECLA publications and the Statistical Abstract on Latin America? I have.

It is interesting that while I cite sources, you cite none, and have the gall to state that “you guys ought..to learn something.” Interesting.

Castro, in contrast, despite being a murderous dictator, built them schools and hospitals.
If you had bothered to read Renaissance and Decay, which I cited, you would find this gem.
Including governmental, municipal ,and private hospitals and clinics, Cuba had about 35,000 beds for 6.6 million inhabitants—an impressive one bed per every 190 inhabitants.
That translates to 5.3 beds per 1000 inhabitants in the 1950s. By comparison, today South Korea and Italy have 5.5 and 4.9 hospital beds per capita. In other words, Caudillo Fidel didn’t have to do much hospital building. They were already there.
Renaissance and Decay also points out that the number of large hospitals in Cuba doubled between 1933 and 1958. The hospitals went along with Cuba’s high number of MDs per capita.

Here we have equality, Caudillo Fidel style.
The average wage in Cuba is a pitiful $17 a month. The monthly ration which includes 283g of fish, 226g of chicken, ten eggs and 1.8kg of potatoes is barely enough for a fortnight, meaning most Cubans need to work the black market to stay alive. Things that we in Britain take totally for granted — such as toilet paper, toothpaste and pens — are luxury goods in Cuba. I’ll never forget the look of joy from an old lady when I handed her a couple of old marker pens and a coloured pencil.

For Fidel’s chums, life is somewhat easier. Despite its calls for further belt-tightening, the Cuban government last year ordered Series 1, 3 and 5 BMWs for all its ambassadors and a Series 5 model for Raúl Castro, who had taken charge of the country after his brother’s hospitalisation.
The heartbreaking consequences of Cuba’s currency apartheid were bought home to my wife and I on a Saturday afternoon visit to Havana’s Coppelia ‘Ice Cream’ park. To the right of the park gates was a long queue of Cubans who had only Cuban pesos. They have to wait on average two hours every weekend to get their weekly scoop of ice cream. On the left, there was walk-in access to tourists and the lucky locals who had convertible pesos. Fifty years on, the Cuban revolution has turned full circle in a truly Orwellian fashion. Once again the locals find themselves excluded from the best beaches in their country, as they were under Batista. And prostitution, so rife in pre-revolutionary days, is back — the jineteras being the only group of Cubans allowed to enter the new purpose-built resorts.
Yes, increased equality under Caudillo Fidel, such as a reduced food supply, as previously documented.
I will say this for Caudillo Fidel. He is a very astute politician to have lasted 49 years, with all his mismanagement. Recall Caudillo Fidel’s slogan: Los deiz millones van, and all that. You DO realize what that refers to, don’t you? After all, you are so knowledgeable about Cuba, compared to “us guys.”
While Cubans were glad to see Batista go, would Cubans in 1959 have voted for the totalitarian system that Caudillo Fidel imposed?
2.26.2008 1:03am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
That translates to 5.3 beds per 1000 inhabitants in the 1950s. By comparison, today South Korea and Italy have 5.5 and 4.9 hospital beds per capita. In other words, Caudillo Fidel didn’t have to do much hospital building. They were already there. Renaissance and Decay also points out that the number of large hospitals in Cuba doubled between 1933 and 1958. The hospitals went along with Cuba’s high number of MDs per capita.

Gringo:

You are ignoring where those hospitals were and who could use them. Before Castro, there was no universal right to health care in Cuba. If you were a poor peasant, and you got a disease, you died. Period.

Under Castro, if you were a peasant, and you got a disease, you got free health care.

Similarly, under Batista, the children of those peasants got a terrible education or none at all. They grew up and became slaves like their parents. Under Castro, they got a free education and some of them went on to achieve positions of power and influence, not only in Cuba but in some cases in the US.

You are citing sources, but they are AGGREGATE sources. The aggregate wealth of pre-revolution Havana isn't the issue here. The issue is the slave-like conditions of the plantations. And Batista didn't do crap for those people, and Castro did.

I understand where Ilya comes from-- he is so overwhelmed by the evil of communism given his background in the former USSR that he can't see that for some people some forms of government are much worse. I am not sure where you get your BS.

But the bottom line is, Fidel was definitely a caudillo-- indeed, I think he was worse than that (Hugo Chavez, for instance, is a caudillo, but he is far better than Fidel). But you simply have no sense of what it was like to work on a Cuban sugar plantation in 1955, and how likely it was that any such person would receive any of the country's wealth, or medical care, or an education. Do you hate those people? Do you think they deserve their fate while the upper classes maintained their rightful status in Havana? Or do you just not care about them?

Whatever, your argument is kind of like arguing how prosperous the antebellum South was. Sure, but not for the slaves.
2.26.2008 1:24am
Mark Buehner (mail):
Sorry, but i wasn't born until 1976. I feel no need to lionize Batista in order to demonize Castro. None at all. Both were terrible dictators, and I will be pleased to see one join the other in the ground. Plenty of fascists have come and gone in the last 50 years... but sadly Cuba hasnt evolved as almost every other nation has- politically, morally, and economically. That is the real story here, and it doesnt take a genius to do the math.
2.26.2008 2:55am
the most important thing about pre-Fidel Cuba (mail):
Just remember this, about Cuba before Fidel:

"I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart!"
2.26.2008 3:45am