Cuba’s six-decade fiasco
By Andres Oppenheimer
Published: Saturday, August 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
On July 26, Cuban President Gen. Raul Castro celebrated 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
have marked six decades of Latin America’s biggest political, economic
and social fiasco.
Cuba’s revolutionaries toppled one dictatorship to install another, and
the cold statistics of the past six decades tell a story of thousands of
senseless deaths, massive emigration that split Cuban families, and an
economic collapse with few parallels anywhere.
In 1958, the year before then-guerrilla leader Fidel Castro took power,
Cuba had a per capita income of roughly $356 a year, one of Latin
America’s three or four highest, according to Carmelo Mesa Lago of the
University of Pittsburgh, co-author of “Cuba under Raul 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 World Bank data:
• South Korea today has an annual per capita income of $22,600; Costa
Rica’s is $9,400, Cuba’s is $5,400. And according to Mesa Lago, Cuba’s
real per capita income is probably lower, because the island’s
government has manipulated the figures.
• South Korea has 276 cars per 1,000 people; Costa Rica, 135; Cuba, only 21.
• In South Korea, 37 percent of the population has broadband Internet
access, compared with 9 percent in Costa Rica, 4 percent in Cuba.
While South Korea has become a world industrial powerhouse and Costa
Rica has high-tech factories for companies such as Intel, Cuba is an
industrial basket case.
It has not even been able to continue producing sugar or cigars at its
1958 levels. According to Cuban government figures cited by Mesa Lago,
over the past six decades, sugar production per 1,000 people has fallen
from 859 tons to 106 tons, and cigar production per 1,000 people has
fallen from 92,000 cigars to 36,000.
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 on the former Soviet Union, lately on Venezuela.
Today, Cuba’s life expectancy of 79 years is the same as Costa Rica’s
and below South Korea’s 81 years. Cuba virtually eliminated illiteracy
sooner than most other Latin American nations, but its higher education
is far from what it used to be.
A new ranking of Latin American universities by London-based research
firm QS places the once-prestigious University of Havana 81st, way
behind universities in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, 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 standing next to Gen. Castro during the July 26 celebration 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 free elections.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.
Source: “Cuba’s six-decade fiasco | TribLIVE” –