The Cuban paradox

Socialism at its finest and worst, all in the same country

Cuba is truly a dichotomy. On one hand, Cuba’s leadership has gone through a gradual decline since the revolution, which has harmed the reputation of socialism, eroded the credibility of leftist philosophy, and constrained the ability for the left to make headway into Western politics.

On the other hand, Cuba has also set some bars for humanity that no other country has yet achieved.

Why is this?

When the Cuban Revolution overthrew Fulgencio Batista’s American-backed dictatorship in 1959, it served as an inspiration for the exploited around the world. But 50 years later, the dream has seemingly collapsed on itself, and only parcels of what the revolution originally stood for remain.

Interestingly, the revolution was actually not a wholly communist one. Although some of the revolutionary army’s inner circle were Marxists (such as Che Guevara) – contrary to popular belief, it was actually a broad mix of anti-Batista fighters who shared a wide variety of political beliefs.

Only after Fidel Castro assumed power did Cuba become distinct politically as an official socialist state.

Initially, amazing changes happened in Cuba. As minister of industries, Guevara implemented land reforms immediately, which confiscated all American owned property – having totalled $1 billion US at the time.

The Cuban government also implemented a universal literacy program, which has ensured that Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the world; 99.9 per cent of its population can read and write. 

Cuba also sends 30,000 doctors overseas each year to work in developing countries, the highest donation of medical personnel of any country in the world and also Cuba’s most valuable export. 

Cuba also has the lowest environmental footprint per capita of any nation on earth. Castro has contributed regular columns in the international media about the need for action on climate change.

At the same time, however, Cuba has deprived its population of many basic civil and basic rights since the revolution. Political dissidents and journalists are jailed or executed, and the government owns all forms of domestic media.

The internet is largely banned in Cuba, and to leave the country, extraordinary special permission must be granted from the state. It also has the highest incarceration rates of any Caribbean or South American country.

Socialist scholars around the world have tried to ignore Cuba for quite some time because it operates as a dictatorship. Although it calls itself a socialist republic, that is a lie.

Elitism has corrupted the state, one which is supposed to provide equal welfare for all its citizens.

Contrary to popular practice, socialism isn’t about disappearing people that don’t agree with you. Cuba’s elites are insecure, and due to their power they have become corrupted.

Still, Cuba should not be completely disregarded. Whatever fear most Westerners have of socialism, the policies that are working in Cuba should be worthy of higher praise and respect. 

The country’s poor human rights record is horrible, but the leadership is to blame for that. Collectivism, nationalization and land reform shouldn’t be disregarded because Cuba has committed itself to those policies; the positives should be picked out and the flaws condemned. 

By doing so, we can acknowledge the high points of what Cuba does do well. The key is to convince Canadians not to believe their government’s fear-mongering about socialism. 

After all, 10.8 per cent of Canadians live below the international low income cut-off. Our economy is the 10th most foreign-owned in the world (foreign direct investment amounts to $494.6 billion).

Our federal government plans to spend billions on new prisons, even though our crime rate is dropping, and we have the worst commitment to climate change of any industrial country in the world.

And, our largest export is petroleum – not doctors.

Matt Austman is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 25, 2010)

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