Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Castro's False Claims of Success

It's true that many Latin countries are now governed by the left, but
few subscribe to the Cuban model.
By Jorge Castañeda | NEWSWEEK
Published Jan 3, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Jan 12, 2009

The Cuban revolution turned 50 years old last week, and its founder and
undertaker was still around to celebrate the anniversary, though not in
the best of health or spirits. This makes it a good opportunity to
summarize what the revolution has brought to Cuba and what is has meant
for Latin America.

There is only one indisputable success the Castro regime can claim for
the country. Cuba was the last large territory in Latin America to
achieve independence from Spain (in 1898), and that freedom was diluted
almost immediately, when in 1905 Cuba became a virtual American
protectorate under the Platt amendment. This neocolonial status lasted
until 1959, creating an enduring challenge to national identity. Castro
and the revolution addressed that problem by giving the Cuban people a
sense of statehood and pride. One can rightly wonder whether, after 30
years of dependence on the Soviet Union and nearly another decade of
reliance on Venezuelan aid, this great national dignity is justified.
But there's no doubting the strength of the sentiment.

As for the other, oft-touted successes of the regime, these tend to
deteriorate under inspection. Take education. Yes, the country made huge
gains during the first two or three decades of communist rule. But it
started from a relatively high Latin American standard, and has barely
treaded water ever since, producing tens of thousands of graduates in
"historical materialism" and "culturology." Lacking most modern tools
such as computers, Web access and current textbooks and a connection
with the real economy, Cuba's supposedly excellent education system
would probably compare much less well to those of other Latin American
countries in a survey that didn't depend on the government's own
statistics. Cuba would probably turn out to suffer the same ills as the
rest of the region: formal universal education up to junior high or high
school, but terribly mediocre quality and a total disconnect from the
country's needs.

Much the same is true of the country's famed health system. Its is
undeniable that during the initial years of the revolution, Castro
managed a colossal feat: he sent most of the country's best physicians
(Cuba had perhaps the best doctors in the hemisphere in 1959, as well as
the lowest infant-mortality rate) into exile, yet almost simultaneously
delivered decent first-level health care to millions of peasants and
urban poor. But standards plummeted with the end of Soviet subsidies in
the early 1990s. With no money, no access to technology (other than a
few highly praised but untested biotech institutes), very little foreign
training and the mass export of doctors to Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua
and Paraguay, it is very unlikely that the Cuban health system today is
much better than the rest of the region's. Cuba's system may still be
more egalitarian (no mean feat in Latin America), but it is hardly more
competent, cost-effective or sustainable.

But what about the revolution's legacy for Latin America, and
particularly for the left? There is no question that Castro's triumph
five decades ago reinvigorated an obsolete and submissive left in Latin
America, and introduced innovative changes in tactics (armed struggle
instead of elections), in strategy (country versus town, workers and
peasants versus the national bourgeoisie) and in theory (fighting for
socialism now, not later). And it brought youthful sex appeal to
politics that had become old-fashioned, bureaucratic and often corrupt.

Unfortunately, the cost of Castro's innovations were immense. Thousands
of students and activists across the hemisphere lost their lives in
foolhardy guerrilla wars, repression was unleashed even in Latin
America's most democratic countries (such as Uruguay and, for additional
reasons, Chile) and nothing ever came of all these undoubtedly heroic
efforts. The only victory was in Sandinista Nicaragua in 1979, and
everyone knows that was ephemeral and pyrrhic. The best result was the
stalemate the FMLN achieved in El Salvador in 1992.

It's true that today, many of the region's countries are governed by the
left. But with a few exceptions (Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and
perhaps Ecuador), none of their leaders subscribe to the Cuban tenets of
the past or the present. If anything, leaders like Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva in Brazil, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay
and Alan García in Peru resemble a modernized version of the pre-Castro
reformist left. They are not the descendants of Che Guevara or the
Sierra Maestra.

Taken together, then, the revolution's accomplishments look meager
indeed: a fierce national pride that is both arguable and anachronistic
in today's globalized world; an education and health system that will
end up disappointing many of Cuba's fans; and a regionwide legacy of
blood spilled in vain. Perhaps Castro's greatest success has been his
own long career—but that's the sort of accomplishment he and his
comrades would have vehemently repudiated in their own revolutionary days.

Castañeda is the former foreign minister of Mexico, Global Distinguished
Professor at New York University and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

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