Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Fairwell Fidel (and good riddance!)
Fidel Castro: A Litmus Test of American Political Thinking
Paul Roderick Gregory ,
MIAMI, FL – NOVEMBER 26: Miami residents celebrate the death of Fidel Castro on November 26, 2016
Fidel Castro is dead at age 90. In power for more than a half century, his regime ruled the last planned socialist economy. (Unless we include quirky North Korea). In 1957, when Castro launched his Cuban revolution, Cuban GDP per capita equaled the Latin American average. On the day of Fidel’s death, it has fallen to less than half that average. Over the fifty years of Castro’s communist rule, Cuba went from being among the more prosperous countries of Latin America to being among its poorest. When Fidel marched victoriously into Havana, it had fifty-eight national newspapers. Now it has six, all published by the Cuban communist party and its affiliates.
When Communism fell in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, advocates of Communism throughout the world shrugged. They argued that the Communist system is sound. The problem is that Communist countries have had the wrong leaders. Communist true believers, the world over, had to put their faith in Fidel and to hope that his example would spread Communism beyond Cuba’s shores – to countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua. Communist true believers looked at Fidel’s Cuba and praised its health-care and education systems, its income equality, and the fact that Cuba survived the U.S. embargo. They ignored the fact the Fidel remained in power thanks to repression of political opponents, his willingness to lose his most ambitious citizens as boat people to the US, and cheap oil as a client state of the USSR and then Venezuela.
Two decades back, only ten percent of Americans viewed Cuba favorably. On the day of Fidel’s death, more than half of Americans have a positive view of Cuba. The party divide is enormous: Three quarters of Democrats and one third of Republicans hold positive views of Cuba. In the 1960s, the New Left, with its ubiquitous Che posters, was enraptured by Castro and the Cuban model. More recent assessments by socialists fret that Cuba is not striving for a true form of socialism.
The American Left views Fidel as a veteran, battle-scarred in his battle against a US imperialism, bent on Cuba’s destruction. Despite all these obstacles, as stated by Bernie Sanders in 1985, people “forget that Castro educated their kids, gave their kids healthcare, and totally transformed society” in a “revolution of values.” The American Right sees Fidel’s Cuba as an oppressive one-party state that permits no dissent. It is managed by a regime that has run the economy into the ground, despite accomplishments in education and health care. Equality in Cuba means an equal right to poverty.
An oppressive dictator who imprisons opponents and forces his best-and-brightest to flee or a heroic leader thumbing his nose in the face of the global hegemon while providing his people with education and health, one thing is clear: The Castro planned socialist economy has doomed the Cuban people to lives of poverty. If Cuba had simply matched the lackluster performance of Latin America, the Cuban people would have double the living standard they have today.
The rise in favorable American opinion about Cuba, especially among Democrats, reflects the leftward tilt of their thinking, and a naïve belief, as expressed by the Sanders campaign, that Democratic Socialism is possible. If so, let them give one real-world example, and not the phony Scandinavian model. Fidel knew otherwise and did not tinker with democracy, and he died in power. Gorbachev did not, and he was unceremoniously dumped from power. I imagine Raul Castro is aware of these facts.