Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz died in Havana, Cuba last week at the age of 90, his body and mind wasted after a long illness and his dreams of importing socialism throughout Latin America long since abandoned. At the end, Fidel Castro’s Revolución was exposed as just another military dictatorship, its six decades in power propped up by the devices of all tyrants, including firing squads, purges, and prison camps for an estimated 20,000 Cubans who challenged Fidel’s Soviet-style rule.
After seizing power in January 1959, Castro promised reform and democracy, including elections. The Cuban people are still waiting for those promises to be fulfilled, while struggling to survive. Only a block from restored “Old Havana,” the Washington Post reported, impoverished Cubans live in crumbling apartments on rationed food. Many use buckets in their kitchens as toilets. Teenage prostitutes openly sell themselves to tourists.
Castro boasted that he had eliminated illiteracy in Cuba, but ensured that Cuban schools were centers of Marxist-Leninist indoctrination and not knowledge. Cuba’s vaunted health care is in fact a two-tier system with inferior and often non-existent care for the majority of Cubans and golden care for the less than ten percent who are Communist Party members.
To publicly question Fidelismo is dangerous. Nevertheless, each Sunday after church, “Ladies in White” don their white dresses and display the photographs of their husbands, fathers and sons who have been arrested or who have “disappeared” after proposing reform. In retaliation, the leaders of the “Ladies in White” have been placed under house arrest or put in jail. Since the establishment of US-Cuban diplomatic relations two years ago, the repression has increased: an estimated 10,000 Cuban dissidents will have been arrested by the end of this year.
Before the Revolución, Cuba was one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America. Castro’s forced communization of Cuban agriculture and industry reduced the Cuban economy to that of a third-world nation, propped up by a $5 billion annual subsidy from the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, a desperate Castro turned to Venezuela’s leftist leader Hugo Chávez for economic assistance. Under Castro, Cuba has been a prime example of the proven inability of a communist regime to feed, clothe, and house its citizens.
Long gone are the heady days when Cuban soldiers traveled to Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia to spread the revolution, only to be rejected and sent packing. Chávez is dead and Venezuela’s state-run economy is in intensive care, while other Marxist caudillos in Latin America are being replaced by pragmatists uninterested in ideological experiments.
Since Fidel’s 85-year-old brother Raúl took formal command a decade ago, some liberalization of the Cuban economy has been allowed. Tourists are beginning to flood Havana, and American business is eager to ply its products on the Island. The virus of freedom has been released in Cuba, and no one, including the present communist leadership, can predict what will follow.
It is imperative that the new administration take advantage of the new uncertainty to encourage and support the democratic opposition in Cuba, led by brave men and women like Dr. Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas, whom VOC hosted in Washington last year. It should undertake to inform and educate Cubans via the Internet as well as through expanded TV and radio broadcasts. It should step up the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Cuban regime to open up the country.
For those who say that real change in Cuba is not possible, I remind them that the East German communist boss Erich Honecker boasted in January 1989 that the Berlin Wall would last for at least another 100 years. It was gone before the year was out.
Fidel Castro was famous for declaring in his hours-long harangues, “Socialism or Death!” He must have known at his end that socialism in Cuba was dead. It now remains for the new US government as well as all other democratic governments, particularly those in Latin America, to do all they can to bring a new life under liberty to Cuba and its too-long oppressed people.
Note: For more analysis of Cuba under Castro, read Dissident’s Cuba Retrospective.