Editor’s Note: The following piece was posted in October of 2019 as part of a ten-part series on the history of socialism. Given the ongoing mass protests against the socialist regime in Cuba, we have decided to update and repost this story to help provide further context for today’s events.
Our prayers our with the people of Cuba as they seek the freedom that has been denied to them for 62 years.
It was a beautiful morning in Havana, Cuba. The sun was rising over the island nation, highlighting the natural beauty that had drawn tourists from all over the world.
As the sun climbed higher into the sky, a father awoke to warm a bottle of milk for his daughter. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was just another routine morning for Rafael Alvarez.
Then, suddenly, the calm of the early morning was broken by the sound of falling pebbles, quickly replaced by a deafening crash. The floor that he was standing on gave way underneath him, sending him plummeting into the abyss.
Hours later, he awoke to find himself buried in rubble from the waist down. To his horror, he began to see the full extent of the damage. The entire building had caved in on itself.
Even worse, the collapse had claimed the lives of his mother, infant daughter, and two of his neighbors.
The last words he heard his mother speak were “save the babies.”
And while it was the collapsing building that ended their lives, this family have still been alive if it weren’t for Cuban socialism.
Upon taking power, one of Fidel Castro’s first promises was that he would demolish the “hellish tenements and build safe, modern housing.”
Like many other promises made by the former Communist dictator, he failed to deliver for the Cuban people.
Officials estimate that 28,000 Cuban citizens live in buildings that could collapse at any moment, and there is a shortage of 206,000 homes in Havana alone.
That is what happens when the government controls an entire economy. There is no private sector where real estate developers build housing according to what the market demands.
This is the story of Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.
Castro and the Cuban Revolution
After years of fighting, Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, and fellow rebel Che Guevara arrived in Havana to assume power on January 7, 1959.
The former Cuban leader, Fulgencio Batista, fled the country on New Year’s Day.
Castro rode into the capital to cheering crowds. The Cuban people were overwhelmed with hope as they watched their new leader take power.
However, that hope would eventually turn to despair.
Castro betrayed his people and ruled over them with an iron fist, once declaring that “History will absolve me.”
He was wrong.
To this day, there are 135,000 committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are neighborhood organizations charged with monitoring their fellow citizens for behavior that they deem dangerous to the Communist regime.
In 1961, Castro proclaimed that Cuba would from that time on be a Communist nation.
The Communist Party eliminated private property and completely took over the economy of the island nation.
The results of the government takeover were catastrophic and are still stifling the economy to this day.
According to the Council of Economic Advisors, “In Cuba, the disincentives inherent in the socialist system sharply reduced agricultural production…Because wage rates bore little or no relationship to labor productivity and [state farms] income, there were few incentives for workers to engage wholeheartedly in a collective effort…
About 70 percent of farmland was nationalized. Production of livestock fell between 14 percent (fish) and 84 percent (pork). Among the major crops, production fell between 5 percent (rice) and 75 percent (Malanga). The biggest crop, sugar, fell 35 percent. There was not a major Cuban famine, however, because of Soviet assistance and emigration.”
Between 1966 and 1970, Cuba attempted a radical experiment. Cuban leaders began to pursue a parallel construction of communism and socialism.
In the late 1960s, in an eerily similar initiative to Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” Castro proclaimed his own ambitious plan for national development. He nationalized 70 percent of the nation’s farmland.
The most famous failure of that period was Castro’s “Big Push.”
The Big Push was named for his goal of producing 10 million tons of sugar for the 1970 sugar harvest.
The initiative failed miserably.
On May 22, 1970, Castro admitted defeat and told the nation that it was not possible to complete the goal of the Big Push.
This failure was yet another demonstration of the government’s inability to produce sufficient goods and services.
A lot of the blame for the economic misery can be placed at the feet of one man: Che Guevara. Guevara was tasked with many duties in the Communist regime, one of which was serving as the head of the Treasury where he presided over the country’s socialist economic policies.
Recently, in the United States, shirts with images of Che Guevara have become “cool” and are worn by many millennials as a fashion statement…but hey clearly have no idea about the man whose image adorns their t-shirts.
Che once remarked: “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become.”
Che was put in charge of the first firing squads during the Cuban Revolution, and he was responsible for Cuba’s labor camp system that incarcerated gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims.
Not exactly a stellar record for an icon of Social Justice.
Upon taking power, Che and the Castro brothers seized control through mass killings.
The Cuba Archive states that “from day one of the new revolutionary government, January 1, 1959, he and the Castro brothers set out to take control in Cuba by sheer terror through mass killings…From January 1 to 3, 1959, Che executed or left orders to execute 25 people in Santa Clara.
On January 3, Fidel Castro appointed him commander of La Cabana prison in Havana and supreme judge of the revolutionary tribunals. In the few months, Che was in charge of La Cabana, 73 people are believed to have been executed without basic legal guarantees; the vast majority was killed immediately after kangaroo summary trials that often lasted minutes and presented no evidence of the alleged crimes of the accused.”
Eventually, the Soviet Union would fall in 1991, and Cuba no longer had the economic support of their Russian allies.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered a period referred to as the “Special Times.”
However, there is nothing special about those times. Cubans were left starving, electricity was rationed to two hours a day, and supply shortages meant products such as cars remained the same as they were prior to the Cuban Revolution decades before.
Prior to the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s, Cuba had a gross national income similar to Puerto Rico. However, by the year 2000, Cuban gross national income had fallen almost two-thirds relative to Puerto Rico.
Today, Cuba still lags far behind the standard of living in the industrialized world.
The average Cuban makes just $20 a month, food shortages are frequent, and people lack basic necessities.
The Associated Press reported that “Food stores in Cuba are government-run and sell products ranging from highly subsidized to wildly overpriced by global standards. Every Cuban receives a ration book that allows them to buy small quantities of basic goods like rice, beans, eggs, and sugar each month for a payment equivalent to a few U.S. cents.”
Fidel Castro and the socialist policies of the Communist Party had devastating consequences for the Cuban people, and yet he convinced his people that their economic troubles were the result of the American blockade of the island. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Castro allowed the Soviet Union to point nuclear warheads at the United States, leading to the international standoff that would later be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. For thirteen days in October of 1962, the world was on the verge of nuclear warfare.
In 2008, Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul, and in 2016, he died at the age of 90. His death was celebrated by many, including by immigrants and refugees who had fled to the United States.
President Barack Obama opened some diplomatic relations with the island nation in 2014, but many of those policies were reversed by President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden has indicated he plans to return to the Obama-era efforts but has not committed to any specific plan.
Raul Castro stepped down as president of Cuba in 2018 in favor of Miguel Diaz-Canel. Raul Castro is still head of the Communist Party, but for the first time since 1959, Cuba is being led by someone other than a Castro.
The economic misery in Cuba is consistent with everything we’ve come to learn about socialism. As is always the case, Socialism spreads nothing but misery and death. One need only look at the many Cuban immigrants who fled from the island and sought refuge in the United States to understand why Socialism has no place on American soil.