Ninety miles from the United States lies the Island Nation of Cuba, a case study in Socialism three hours away by Bass Boat. Those who want to learn more about Socialism might want to visit Cuba, one of the World’s most Socialist nations as it has a mostly state-run economy, universal healthcare, government-paid education at all levels, and a number of social programs. A Yahoo Contributor, Stan Stevens, on Yahoo Voices wrote, “The Teapartiers, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, most of the staff at FOX, and Americans who fear Socialism do not really know what Socialism is. Americans who fear Socialism only know it is bad because they have been told it is bad and to fear it by Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, the GOP and those like them.” Stevens is just one of a crescendo of voices touting the greatness of the Socialist system including many in the pedagogical hierarchy who mold the minds of our children.
In 1924, Gerardo Machado was elected president of Cuba. During his administration, tourism increased markedly, and American-owned hotels and restaurants were built to accommodate the influx of tourists. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to precipitous drops in the price of sugar, political unrest, and repression. Protesting students turned to violence in opposition to the increasingly unpopular Machado. A general strike (in which the Communist Party sided with Machado), uprisings among sugar workers, and an army revolt forced Machado into exile in August 1933. He was replaced by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada who was quickly overthrown by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista. A five-member executive committee (the Pentarchy of 1933) was chosen to head a provisional government. A year later Batista took over and dominated Cuban politics for the next 25 years, at first through a series of puppet-presidents. The period from 1933 to 1937 was a time of “virtually unremitting social and political warfare”.
A new constitution was adopted in 1940, which engineered radical progressive ideas, including the right to labor unions and health care. Batista was elected president in the same year, holding the post until 1944. His government carried out major social reforms. Several members of the Communist Party held office under his administration.
Batista adhered to the 1940 constitution’s strictures preventing his re-election. Ramon Grau San Martin was the winner of the next election, in 1944. Grau further corroded the base of the already teetering legitimacy of the Cuban political system, in particular by undermining the deeply flawed, though not entirely ineffectual, Congress and Supreme Court. Carlos Prío Socarrás, a protege of Grau, became president in 1948. The two terms of the Auténtico Party saw an influx of investment fueled boom which raised living standards for all segments of society and created a prosperous middle class in most urban areas.
After running unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1952, Batista staged a coup. He outlawed the Cuban Communist Party in 1952. Cuba had Latin America’s highest per capita consumption rates of meat, vegetables, cereals, automobiles, telephones and radios.
In 1958, Cuba was a relatively well-advanced country by Latin American standards, and in some cases by world standards. On the other hand, Cuba was affected by perhaps the largest labor union privileges in Latin America, including bans on dismissals and mechanization. Between 1933 and 1958, Cuba extended economic regulations enormously, causing economic problems. Unemployment became a problem as graduates entering the workforce could not find jobs. The middle class, which was comparable to that of the United States, became increasingly dissatisfied with unemployment and political persecution. The labor unions supported Batista until the very end. Batista stayed in power until he was forced into exile in December 1958.
In late 1958, rebels broke out of the Sierra Maestra and launched a general popular insurrection. After Batista fled from Havana on 1 January 1959 to exile in Portugal. Fidel Castro’s forces entered the capital on 8 January 1959. The liberal Manuel Urrutia Lleó became the provisional president.
From 1959 to 1966 Cuban insurgents fought a six-year rebellion that was eventually crushed by the government’s use of vastly superior numbers. The rebellion lasted longer and involved more soldiers than the Cuban Revolution. It is estimated that political executions range from 4,000 to 33,000.
Castro’s legalization of the Communist party and the public trials and executions of hundreds of Batista’s supporters caused a deterioration in the relationship between the US and Cuba. The promulgation of the Agrarian Reform Law, expropriating farmlands of over 1,000 acres, further worsened relations. In February 1960, Castro signed a commercial agreement with Soviet Vice-Premier Anastas Mikoyan. In March 1960, Eisenhower gave his approval to a CIA plan to arm and train a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro regime.
The invasion (known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion) took place on April 14, 1961. About 1,400 Cuban exiles disembarked at the Bay of Pigs, but failed in their attempt to overthrow Castro. In January 1962, Cuba was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS), and later the same year the OAS started to impose sanctions against Cuba of similar nature to the US sanctions. The tense confrontation known as the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in October, 1962. By 1963, Cuba was moving towards a full-fledged Communist system modeled on the USSR.
During the 1970s, Fidel Castro dispatched tens of thousands of troops in support of Soviet-supported wars in Africa, particularly the MPLA in Angola and Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia. The standard of living in 1970s grew extremely Spartan and discontent was rife. Fidel Castro admitted the failures of economic policies in a 1970 speech.
In 1975 the OAS lifted its sanctions against Cuba, with the approval of 16 member states, including the U.S. The U.S., however, maintained its own sanctions.
Things got even worse in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, when Cuba faced a severe economic downturn following the withdrawal of former Soviet subsidies worth $4 billion to $6 billion annually, resulting in effects such as food and fuel shortages. The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines, and cash until 1993 when desperation overcame pride. On 5 August 1994, state security dispersed protesters in a spontaneous protest in Havana.
In February 2008, Fidel Castro announced his resignation as President of Cuba, and on 24 February his brother, Raúl Castro, was elected as the new President. In his acceptance speech, Raúl promised that some of the restrictions that limit Cubans’ daily lives would be removed. In March 2009, Raúl Castro removed some of Fidel Castro’s officials.
On 3 June 2009, the Organization of American States adopted a resolution to end the 47-year ban on Cuban membership of the group. The resolution stated, however, that full membership would be delayed until Cuba was “in conformity with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.” Cuban leaders have repeatedly announced they are not interested in rejoining the OAS, and Fidel Castro restated this after the OAS resolution had been announced.
Effective January 14, 2013, Cuba ended the requirement established in 1961 that any citizens who wish to travel abroad were required to obtain an expensive government permit and a letter of invitation. The now-replaced travel ban dates to 1961, when the Cuban government imposed broad restrictions on travel to prevent the mass migration of people after the 1959 revolution and only approved exit visas on rare occasions. Henceforth, Cubans will only need a passport and a national ID card to leave; they will also be allowed for the first time to take their young children with them. Despite the new policy, a passport will still cost on average five months’ salary and it is expected that it will be mostly Cubans with paying relatives abroad that will be able to take advantage of the new policy. In the first year of the program, over 180,000 left Cuba and returned.
So how are things today in the Socialist Paradise? The President of North Korea rides in a 1970 Lincoln Town Car while the few Cubans who own cars drive 1950’s vintage or older US automobiles. Traffic is so sparse that a pedestrian could duck walk across the busiest street without fear of being run over. Just about every building you see is owned by the government and is dilapidated with Communist Propaganda panted on it. Outside the nicest dilapidated hotel in Havana is a statue of Hugo Chávez. Of course, bank cards, credit cards, and Smartphone’s don’t work and Internet access is virtually nonexistent. Almost every worker works for one employer, the government. Many of the jobs are “make work” jobs because Cuba produces almost nothing. If there is any running water, it is not safe to drink. The power is very unreliable and daily blackouts are a certainty. When the government hands out free commodities there are more workers handing out stuff than recipients. Through all this, 85% of the Cuban population has remained Catholic.
Cuba was once a major exporter of sugar. The late Catherine L “Kac” Burford of Fort Smith, Arkansas owned and ran a Sugar Cane Plantation in Cuba for 13 years with her husband Richard until the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Castro simply confiscated the plantation. Today, under the Socialist System where the government pretends to pay the workers and the workers pretend to work, Cuba has to import sugar and almost all of the rest of their food.
The flourishing 1950’s hotels and casinos are no longer even a faint memory. If there was an influx of tourists there would be no place to stay. Recent visitors were told that their bus driver spoke no English, however, the driver listened intently to the American passengers and took copious notes. Any itineraries must be approved in advance and strictly adhered to.
The good news is that average salaries in Cuba rose 17% during the last five years to $17 a month. There is little difference between salaries in Cuba, a street sweeper earns about $16 a month while a Brain Surgeon earns $22 a month. That kind of salary inequality might still be too much for some people. It takes about an hour to learn to be a productive street cleaner while it takes at least 14 years after high school and a lot of grueling work to become a Brain Surgeon. The Teapartiers, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, most of the staff at FOX, and Americans who fear Socialism might worry that the incentive to do all this work and preparation might not be there. Most every meager thing is free so why work to fix the plumbing system and electrical problems?
The Cuban health care system also seems unreal. There are plenty of doctors. Everybody has a family physician. Everything is free, totally free. The whole system seems turned upside down. It is tightly organized, and the first priority is prevention. Family physicians, along with their nurses and other health workers, are responsible for delivering primary care and preventive services to their panel of patients — about 1000 patients per physician in urban areas. All care delivery is organized at the local level, and the patients and their caregivers generally live in the same community. The medical records in cardboard folders are simple and handwritten, not unlike those used in the United States 50 years ago.
All patients are categorized according to level of health risk, from I to IV. Smokers, for example, are in risk category II, and patients with stable, chronic lung disease are in category III. The community clinics report regularly to the district on how many patients they have in each risk category and on the number of patients with conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma, as well as immunization status, time since last Pap smear, and pregnancies necessitating prenatal care.
Every patient is visited at home once a year, and those with chronic conditions receive visits more frequently. When necessary, patients can be referred to a district polyclinic for specialty evaluation, but they return to the community team for ongoing treatment.
Abortion is legal but is seen as a failure of prevention. I caution you not to romanticize Cuban health care. The system is not designed for consumer choice or individual initiatives. There is no alternative, private-payer health system. I mentioned Physicians’ pay earlier but there are government benefits such as housing and food subsidies and all their education is free, and they are respected, but they are unlikely to attain any personal wealth. Resources are limited, a nephrologist in Cienfuegos, 160 miles south of Havana, lists 77 patients on dialysis in the province, which on a population basis is about 40% of the current U.S. rate — similar to what the U.S. rate was in 1985. A neurologist reports that his hospital got a CT scanner only 12 years ago. U.S. students who are enrolled in a Cuban medical school say that operating rooms run quickly and efficiently but with very little technology. Access to information through the Internet is minimal. One medical student reports being limited to 30 minutes per week of dial-up access.
Cuba has developed its own pharmaceutical industry and manufactures most of the medications in its basic pharmacopeia. Even though Cuba now has more than twice as many physicians per capita as the United States, many of those physicians work outside the country, volunteering for two or more years of service, for which they receive special compensation. In 2008, there were 37,000 Cuban health care providers working in 70 countries around the world. Most are in needy areas where their work is part of Cuban foreign aid, but some are in more developed areas where their work brings financial benefit to the Cuban government.
Any visitor can see that Cuba remains far from a developed country in basic infrastructure such as roads, housing, plumbing, and sanitation. Nonetheless, Cubans are beginning to face the same health problems the developed world faces, with increasing rates of coronary disease and obesity and an aging population.
Today there is a huge Chinese presence in Cuba. Most of the TV stations received in hotels are Chinese. One of the most popular persons among Cubans is Ernest Hemingway. He wrote “The Old Man and the Sea” in 1951 in Cuba and published it in 1952. It was the last major work of fiction to be produced by Hemingway and published in his lifetime. The Monument Hemingway is pictured above.
So this is my epistle, I report, you decide if you prefer the American Dream or the Socialist Paradise. As for me, the 34 years I spent in the Armed Forces was to protect Americans and the American Dream.