Posted on Saturday, 07.27.13
Cuba celebrates 60 years of involution
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
Cuban President Gen. Raúl Castro celebrated Friday the 60th anniversary
of the guerrilla attack on the Moncada barracks that marked the
beginning of the Cuban revolution, but the event could just as well be
remembered as marking six decades of Latin America’s biggest political,
economic and social fiasco.
Granted, many of us, especially those born outside the island, once saw
the “Cuban revolution” with a dose of romantic admiration. But even if
you brush aside the fact that Cuba’s revolutionaries toppled one
dictatorship to install another, the cold statistics of the past six
decades tell a story of thousands of senseless deaths, a massive
emigration that split Cuban families, and an economic collapse with few
In 1958, the year before then guerrilla leader Fidel Castro took power,
Cuba had a per capita income of roughly $356 dollars a year, one of the
three or four highest in Latin America, according to Carmelo Mesa Lago
of the University of Pittsburg, co-author of “Cuba under Raúl Castro”
and one of the most prominent experts on the Cuban economy.
By comparison, Costa Rica was poorer, and Asian countries such as South
Korea were much poorer, with per capita incomes of less than $100 a year.
Consider how much things have changed since:
• According to the World Bank’s databank, South Korea, which started
welcoming massive foreign investments in the early 1960’s, today has an
annual per capita income of $22,600; Costa Rica of $9,400, and Cuba of
$5,400. And according to Mesa Lago, Cuba’s real per capita income is
probably lower than that because the figures have been manipulated by
the island’s government.
• South Korea has 276 cars per 1,000 people, while Costa Rica has 135,
and Cuba only 21, the World Bank statistics show.
• In South Korea, 37 percent of the population has access to broadband
Internet, compared with 9 percent in Costa Rica and 4 percent in Cuba,
While South Korea has become a world industrial powerhouse — its Samsung
electronic goods and Hyundai cars are exported everywhere — and Costa
Rica has high-tech factories from companies such as Intel, Cuba is an
industrial basket case.
The island has not even been able to continue producing sugar or cigars
at its 1958 levels. According to Cuban government figures cited by Mesa
Lago, Cuba’s sugar production has fallen from 859 tons to 106 tons per
1,000 people over the past six decades, and Cuba’s cigar production has
fallen from 92,000 cigars per 1,000 people to 36,000 over the same period.
Until recently, Cubans used to joke that the three biggest
accomplishments of Cuba’s revolution are health, education and the
restoration of national dignity, while its three biggest shortcomings
are breakfast, lunch and dinner.
But even Cuba’s health and education standards have fallen in recent
years, and its national dignity has been compromised by its almost total
economic dependence first from the former Soviet Union, and lately by
Today, Cuba’s life expectancy of 79 years is the same as that of Costa
Rica, and below South Korea’s 81 years. In education, Cuba deserves
credit for virtually eliminating illiteracy sooner than most other Latin
American nations, but its higher education is far from what it used to be.
A newly released ranking of Latin American universities by QS, a
well-known London-based university research firm, places the once
prestigious University of Havana at the 81st place in the region. It
ranks way behind universities of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina,
Colombia, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Paraguay.
Asked whether Castro’s latest pro-market reforms to revert Cuba’s
economic disaster will work, Mesa Lago told me in an interview that
“these are the most important economic reforms that have been
implemented in Cuba since the revolution. The problem is that excessive
regulations, bureaucratic red tape and taxes are blocking their success.”
My opinion: Cuba’s apologists will probably argue that I’m influenced by
the Miami exile “mafia”and will come up with Cuba’s own figures
purporting to show the island as a model country.
But when I heard the presidents of Uruguay, Bolivia, Nicaragua and other
countries who were standing next to Gen. Castro on Friday’s anniversary
in Santiago de Cuba praising the “achievements of the revolution,” the
first question that came to my mind was: if Cuba is such a success and
Cubans are so happy, why hasn’t the government allowed one single free
election in six decades? The answer is that Cuba’s dictatorship knows
very well that its revolution has been a fiasco, and that it would lose
Source: “Andres Oppenheimer: Cuba celebrates 60 years of involution –
Andres Oppenheimer – MiamiHerald.com” –