Americas, Cuba, Politics

Cuba 2020: Cold War Relic or Rumblings of Change?

Cuba – There’s one thing we can all agree on about Fidel Castro: The fact that not everyone will ever view him the same way. Musicians and public figures lauded him for his revolutionary spirit; Tom Morello comes to mind here. But then again, when is the Rage Against the Machine guitarist NOT saying something controversial? Even the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t have too much bad to say against Castro; he said little of the horrific human rights violations committed under Castro’s regime.

Cuba: Raul’s Rule

Raul Castro has taken the reigns from his brother as Fidel grew older. Cuba’s economy was not doing well, by any means. Over 70% of food had to be imported, the country relied on other countries to provide assistance, and the industrial production capacity was far below standard. Under Fidel Castro there were very slight reforms of the state monopoly; all public services of note were owned by the state and private business was highly stigmatized. Cuba was (and still is not) a good place to set up shop. Any kind of shop at all.

The problem was that the state took away everything of note from the people as far as business was concerned. But the state had little to no idea how to run all of this in any meaningful way, so the result was poverty and unemployment. Raul Castro’s expansion and integration of the private sector has been one of the most beneficial moves of his career. Some sectors have seen a 500% increase (from about 100,000 workers to about 500,000 workers in small private industries) and that number continues to grow.

1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back

Communism under Castro was a fascinating case of 1 step forward, 2 steps back. Increased education meant that more and more of the population was literate; indeed the literacy rate in Cuba is one of the best in the world. But they could only read things in line with the Communist state, defeating a good deal of the purpose of literacy in the first place. Medicine saw a great expansion as well; my father works as a doctor and he worked with several Cuban physicians on an exchange trip. These physicians were excellent and talented and did medicine for love because they didn’t get paid that much to do it. But although the care is excellent, you have to bring in your own supplies like bandages and syringes if you get hurt because the hospitals can’t afford to keep them on hand. There have been great strides forward on paper, but in reality, Cuba has not moved very far forward because of the massive government interventions.

Stand Back and Let the Experts Handle It

One benefit that recent Cuban congresses have started using in recent years (since about 2011-13) is the use of market-oriented experts. These experts have a stronger grasp on prices and values and macroeconomics than most government officials. This has caused a price shift where things are priced more according to their value; this has caused a rise in prices in some sectors and a fall in others, but the overall effect is that prices are starting to stabilize in a more natural way, more outside of government intervention.

So… What Gives? Why Isn’t It Working?

The reason that things have not stabilized and resulted in lots of prosperity for everyone is that the government still holds on to antiquated ideas of what “communism” and “socialism” should entail. Capitalism and Socialism both have flaws. Capitalism often results in a small portion of the elite owning all the capital. Socialism doesn’t work without someone forcing people to give up their stuff; the government is usually the weapon here. And if there’s one thing that history teaches us, one thing that never changes, it’s this: governments NEVER surrender their power over people once they get it. Ever. Socialism works once the means of production are seized by (supposedly) the people, but the government never gets around to giving those to the people.

They just keep it.

The Soviet Union.

North Korea.

Cuba.

Cuba and the countries that arose with it will likely hold them and their people back because they will not, they cannot, give up their power. Cuba’s government has power over their people. That power is growing less and less with the internet age, but it will still always be difficult to convince a government that owns everything to give it to the people.

The Future of Cuba as a Nation

The idea of communism is not a bad thing! The problem is that it has never been truly workable in the long-term because of the way governments work. Will Raul’s reforms really work? If I could see the future, I’d tell you. I’d love to know too. Democracy is not on the near horizon for Cuba, and that is for sure. But a freer economy and better living conditions just might be. And it’s in Raul Castro’s best interests that he makes sure that happens because otherwise, he will be the ruler of a land where no one is healthy and everyone has nothing. These reforms are a start, but Cuba’s government has proven itself. Are the small benefits worth the people that have died at the hands of a regime?

One thing we can count on: technology is the great equalizer. Oppression is harder to maintain when everyone can know about it. So one way or another, Cuba will be freer. The only question is how.

About Caleb Smith

Caleb is a freelance writer and music student from the United States, with a passion for comic books, reading, and punk rock. He loves writing about often overlooked and under-reported stories to help raise awareness.

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