TCS Daily

Waiting Out Castro

By Melana Zyla Vickers - September 15, 2006 12:00 AM

As the summit of the non-aligned movement of countries continues in Havana today, those hoping for a reappearance of 80-year-old Fidel Castro may have to content themselves with the news that he reportedly gave UN's Kofi Annan and a few other worthies a glimpse of his pajamas. The ailing Communist hasn't been seen in public for months, and clearly hangs by the eyebrows somewhere between intestinal bleeding and death.

Of course, his squadron of apologists ranging from fake Guatemalan war victim Rigoberta Menchu to fake Venezuelan democrat Hugo Chavez, have in recent weeks assured the global public that the Communist dictator will be back to fleecing his people in no time.

He'll be back "in a few months," says one officially sanctioned Cuban writer. "In a few weeks," says the vice president. He's "almost well enough to play baseball," says Venezuela's Chavez, adding that Castro in his meeting with Kofi Annan Thursday was walking and singing -- a disturbing sight, for sure. And the vice president again: "Fidel's going to be around for another 80 years."

Another 80 years -- that seems like an exaggerated claim about the quality of communist healthcare even for a Cuban government official. Yet the real shame is that there are American democrats among Castro's funereal wailers. Wasting little breath on anything but sycophancy, these supposed Cuba experts and frequent Havana travelers have for years focused their support on the Cuban authoritarian rather than the Cuban people.

Yet by contrast to Castro's few weeks of intestinal hardship, the tiny island's 11 million people have been surviving on life support for decades. Among the features of the tropical worker's paradise:

Shriveling Economy: In the last 15 years alone, Cuban GDP has been almost halved, according to a 2004 U.S. government-commissioned report on Cuba. The decline was precipitated by the fall of Cuba's patron, the Soviet Union. And despite lots of brave talk from European politicians, Cuba has few other foreign patrons, with corruption and other obstacles leading almost half of the European and other foreign joint ventures started since the mid-80s to leave the island, with only 300 remaining.

Worsening Infrastructure and Lifelines: Cuba's healthcare system, schools, and food sector, along with its roads, ports, and bridges are in grave disrepair, causing widespread hardship. At least 700,000 Cubans are fed by UN emergency food programs. The only parts of the infrastructure that have been fixed up in recent decades are those visible to foreign tourists, whose travel dollars (along with gifts of Venezuelan oil from Socialist Chavez) form the lifeblood of the Cuban economy.

Theft by the Communist State: Besides oil from Venezuela and dollars from tourists, Castro's regime "siphons off hundreds of millions of dollars for itself" from foreign humanitarian programs and the money and parcels sent to relatives by Cubans in the U.S., according to the U.S. State Department report. In addition, the state steals from foreign investors and local workers, keeping 95 cents on every dollar those multinationals pay the workers in salary.

None of the resulting human suffering appears to be of much consequence to American public figures who share the views of Cuba's communists and Latin America's leftist elite. Leading the pack is American Albert Fox, a Democratic candidate for Congress from Florida. He is a paid lobbyist and president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, which fosters "better political, economic and cultural relationships between Cuba and the United States" and pays for "taking religious, business, and Congressional leaders on fact-finding trips to the Republic of Cuba." Fox was paid $50,000 in consulting fees by the group in 2004, and the foundation has annual revenues and expenses each in the $300,000 range, according to its tax forms. In at least one year half of the expenses were for Cuba trips. The source of the Alliance's revenues is not disclosed. The Alliance did not return a phonecall for comment.

Not surprisingly, the Alliance has on its board Joan Campbell, former executive director of the World Council of Churches best known for aiding the Castro regime in getting its hands back on six year-old Elian Gonzalez, who escaped Cuba with his mother in 2000. Fox, too, appears to be a fan of repatriating escaping Cubans to their Socialist motherland and of showcasing the Castro regime's delights -- he's proud to point out he attended Gonzalez's PR-show birthday party after the boy returned to Cuba.

Fox and Campbell aren't the only Americans who might dust off their funeral outfits for Castro's last goodbye. Add in members of the Congressional Black Caucus as well. The Caucus co-administers with the Cuban government a program under which low-income Americans attend medical school in Cuba. Prominent Caucus member Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) reportedly amended an ethics-disclosure report to reveal he let the Cuban government pay for part of a trip he and his son took to Cuba in 2002. He ended up repaying $1,922 of the money to the Cuban government and a New York businessman, according to the New York Post.

Between the $300,000 budget of the Cuba Alliance and the Rangel plane ticket, sounds like the Castro regime gets its U.S. support at Caribbean fruit-stand prices. Here's how Rangel sang for his supper in a TV interview a few weeks ago: "If you want to talk about the inhuman human rights that Castro has... hey, we're doing the same thing."

And Fox, on his campaign website, argues that U.S. Cuba policy is "driven by Miami-Cuban extremists." He goes on to promise wildly that ending the embargo with bankrupt, decaying Cuba will bring the Port of Tampa $200 million dollars in one year.

Cuba's no economic paradise and Castro's no capitalist. But he goes to his grave knowing how to buy useful idiots dirt cheap.

Melana Zyla Vickers is a TCS Daily contributing writer.



Great Article.
Dante could imagine a level of hell miserable enough for that piece oif debris, or the fawning sycophant cheerleaders like the ones mentioned in the article, or that twit BaBa WaWa.

We report-- you decide
MZ Vickers: "In the last 15 years alone, Cuban GDP has been almost halved, according to a 2004 U.S. government-commissioned report on Cuba."

The CIA World Factbook (Cuba):
GDP- real growth rate 8% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate 1.9% (2005 est.)

US Growth Forecast Lowered (by Gillian Wong, The Associated Press)-- The IMF revised downward its forecast for US economic growth to 2.9 percent for 2007 from an estimate of3.3 percent in April. This year the US economy is expected to expand 3.4 percent, the fund projected in its semiannual World Economic Outlook.


Cuba should learn to adopt our system. They're only doing 8%, down from an apparent 15% some 15 years back (according to MZV anyway).

Meanwhile China, with their centrally controlled economy, is holding steady at ten percent each year (per the IMF report). Communists.

Roy - are you actually trying to imply that the Cuban economy is better than ours??
Is your point in quoting a stat that Cuban GDP grew by 8% last year, that the Cuban economy is better than ours? If so, then congratulations on being one of the useful idiots mentioned in the article.

By the way, we have two different govt sources, but it doesn't mean that they are mutually exclusive. Cuba's economy could have shrunk by almost 50% over the last 15 years (without the welfare from Russia) and still have grown by 8% last year. When you have a small base, an 8% growth rate is not that great.

Also, you confuse GDP growth rates with overall GDP when you state that the GROWTH rate was 15% fifteen years ago. Vickers is saying that the study shows that the overall Cuban GDP (NOT growth) was almost twice as big fifteen years ago than it is now.

Let's examine some facts
"Is your point in quoting a stat that Cuban GDP grew by 8% last year, that the Cuban economy is better than ours?"

Let's not misstate the way the numbers work. If economic engine "A" has increased by a rate of 8%, that figure is in relation to its own size the previous year. It does not imply any relationship to economic engine "B".

But yes, it describes an economy that is growing vigorously. A projected rate of 2.9%, on the other hand, implies an economy that is growing more sluggishly.

Regarding your other comment, you are taking MZV's position that the Cuban economy in 1989, before the Soviet breakup, was twice the size of the Cuban economy in 2004. This is something of an exaggeration. In fact, it's an outright fabrication.

During the period 1989-1993 the Cuban economy contracted by 35%, due to the loss of Soviet trading partners. But the government was able to turn things around by instituting market reforms, to wit...

"To alleviate the economic crisis, the government introduced a few market-oriented reforms including opening to tourism, allowing foreign investment, legalizing the U.S. dollar (since delegalized, but other hard currencies remain legal), and authorizing self-employment for some 150 occupations. These measures resulted in modest economic growth. The liberalized agricultural markets introduced in October 1994, at which state and private farmers sell above-quota production at free market prices, have broadened legal consumption alternatives and reduced black market prices."

-- to the point that there was an upturn in the years 1994-1998.

"Havana announced in 1995 that GDP declined by 35% during 1989-93, the result of lost Soviet aid and domestic inefficiencies. The drop in GDP apparently halted in 1994, when Cuba reported 0.7% growth, followed by increases of 2.5% in 1995 and 7.8% in 1996. Growth slowed again in 1997 and 1998 to 2.5% and 1.2% respectively. One of the key reasons given was the failure to notice that sugar production had become dramatically uneconomic. Reflecting on the Special period Cuban president Fidel Castro later admitted that many mistakes had been made, “The country had many economists and it is not my intention to criticise them, but I would like to ask why we hadn’t discovered earlier that maintaining our levels of sugar production would be impossible. The Soviet Union had collapsed, oil was costing $40 a barrel, sugar prices were at basement levels, so why did we not rationalise the industry.[1]’’

Feel free to check the sources provided for verification of the information. We can summarize events thusly:

Cuba had a severe economic dislocation. Cuba changed their game plan. Cuba came out of what was a temporary tailspin. Cuba is at present quite viable and vigorous-- and is presently growing its economy at a faster clip than is the United States.

I understand your eagerness to heap calumnies on a tiny nation whose independence is offensive to the mightiest of world powers. But let's let some facts stand in the way of our patriotic impulses-- shall we?

the stats on Cuba
I think Roy's trying to be cute here. Probably he's trying to use these CIA stats as an example of how incompetent the CIA is. Also, there could be a big jump in the growth rate since everyone knows that Cuba is now one of the preminent sexx tourism hot spots in the world.

The CIA: front for Cuban disinformation?
You're saying that the CIA's World Factbook is knowingly publishing false information showing Cuba in a favorable light? I really, really doubt that.

But follow your instincts, by all means. Google "cuba gdp" and read the first ten articles that come up. That should give you a fuller picture of Cuba's econometrics.

I was trying to joke by saying that it wasn't on purpose, but rather by incompetence, as everyone accuses them. In any case, you must have been taking to my old granny who said that if you can't say something good about somebody, then don't say nothing at all. You really have to try clutch at straws to find anything good to say about Cuba since it's one of the most pathetic dictatorships left. In fact I'll bet that if the border was open to other crappy countries like Haiti, or dominican rep. Cubans wouldn't hesitate to also do to those places. I'm still patiently waiting for Castro, the Ceaucescu of the Caribean to die, or hopefully be knocked off. Then i'll be more happy than when that other billionaire terrorist yassar Arafat finally died.

Roy: Explicit question; do you think the Cuban economy is better than the US?
Since you state the Cuban economy is growing "vigoursly" and the US economy is growing "sluggishly", please answer the question with a simple yes or no.

Do you think the Cuban economy is better than the US economy?

When everybody has a "job". Calumnies
Its wonder that they don't have 100% employment. The Cubans were running steam locomotives in great number until 2000 and are famous for their ability to keep 50 year old automobiles running.

I understand your eagerness to heap praise on a massive dictatorship whose socialism is attractive to the weakest of minds. But let's let some facts stand in the way of our seditious impulses--shall we?

By all means go there if its such a paradise-they might even be able to find employment for a useless crackpot.

full employment
The cubans operate on the same way the other old commies did: "we pretend to work, they pretend to pay us". I also wonder if they count the guys that spy on their own neighbours for their 'commitees for the defence of the revolution" an organ of the govn't like the old Stasi, denouncing anyone they don't like. I wonder if they count in all the hookers, the 'gineteras' that Castro uses to get foreign currancy. He has the honour of turning his country into one of the main sexx-tourism capitals of the world.

The Ceausescu of the Caribbean?
If you like, we can laugh it off. But I wouldn't compare Castro to Ceausescu, who was one of the world's truly despicable turds until they had the good sense to shoot him on Christmas Day. Castro is an autocrat, and it's possible to mouth off in Cuba and get thrown in the dungeon. But he's far, far from the worst.

Cuba is certainly poor by our standards but has very good social services. And if they're showing a current 8% growth rate they have to be doing something right. Friends who have been there like it, but offer that living in Cuba does still involve plenty of hard work and some doing without.

It would be a lot better without the sanctions. As for what comes after Castro, that's not for us to say.

Whose way of life is better?
In terms of an absolute standard of living, the US is doing much, much better than Cuba. We're just levelling off though, while Cuba looks to be starting a growth spurt.

In terms of which would be a nicer place to live, that would be in the eye of the beholder. Cuban life has better music and a better vibe than most of what you find here. Of course my Spanish has never been good (simple laziness) so I've never been tempted to move. Trinidad would be cool-- good beaches, good cooking, pretty women and the English language. American suburbia gets pretty bland.

Seeking employment in Cuba
I'm with you-- we should by all means let some facts stand in the way of our ideological blind spots.

By all accounts from people who have been there, or come from there, Cuba today is far from being a terrible place to live. Assuredly it is much poorer than the US. And we put forth a lot of effort to make sure it stays that way.

Everyone in south Florida who hates Castro has a good reason for doing so. He stole all their stuff and they left to find a new life here. Had I been one of them, I'd probably hate Castro too.

Likewise, all native Americans have good reason to hate the white man. He stole all their stuff including their land and in many cases their children, who he sent to white boarding schools and punished if they spoke anything but English. I'm thinking this was a worse crime than anything Castro did. What do you think?

Personally, I think it would be too much trouble to pull up stakes and move to Cuba. I'm happy where I am.

Thanks for the answer - if you'll indulge me, another question on political freedom
In which country would you be more likely to be arrested for printing negative things about the leader. I don't mean threatening to kill them, but printing all the terrible ways they are doing their job.

An American printing negatively about Bush or a Cuban printing negatively about Castro?

quality of life
Cuba's growth spurt, if it is in fact real, probably has more to do with the subsidized oil it has started to receive from Venezuela.

At the current growth rate differential, it will take Cuba approximately 150 years to catch up to the US.

life in Cuba
Is not that bad, providing you don't mind living in run down shacks. Or going to hospitals that are short on medicine, and require patients to bring their own bed linens.

The people who are allowed to visit Cuba, are not allowed outside the areas that have been spiffed up for visitors.

I guess you don't mind that reporters who disagree with the govt line usually land in jail.

Raw Numbers
The best raw numbers I can find show:
1990 - $27 billion
2005 - $37.24 billion

Not exactly the explosive growth roy seems to be pushing, but not the desolation the article seems to point to.

Looks to me more like stagnation (I'd guess the numbers look pretty flat once you plug inflation into the game).

Watch what you publish-- speaking & thinking still OK
One of the nice things about living in the US is that we have a long tradition of press freedom. And another long tradition of trashing our political leaders in print. Theoretically this would seem to lead to their attenuating their behaviors, but in reality it doesn't work out that way.

In the UK the laws are quite strict on slander and libel. You have to be more careful what you say. In Australia I believe it is even more the case (correct me if I'm mistaken). In most other countries a newspaper can be shut down for flouting the censor.

In some, like Colombia, journalists get killed for exercising freedom of speech.

Cuba is better than that, but not by a lot. Reporters Without Borders says Cuba has jailed one journalist for a twenty year sentence, that 21 journalists were imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown and that two have been imprisoned since.

Freedom of speech by nobodies mouthing off doesn't seem to attract the attention of the Cuban authorities, yet undeniably there is an atmosphere of repression there, while in the US the atmosphere is very permissive.

The answer? If I were living in Cuba I'd find it prudent to watch my words when speaking to a large crowd. Here in the US I'd still want to ensure that nothing of a seditious nature winds up on my hard drive. You never know what things are going to be like next year.

place to live
Sure Cuba is far from terrible....for western left wingers like George Clooney say, or Barbara Streisand, but they live in conditions that are very different than ordinary cubans. Same for the socialits media people, and it was the same for the 'useful idiots' that went to the soviet block before too, like bertrand Russel, etc. Indeed, not only are conditions different for those groups, and also normal tourists, and all the sexx tourists, but it's also differnt for the cuban elite as well; they don't have the ration books, and misserable conditions normal people have to suffer under. Also, Garcia Marquez the nobel author also says he lives there, but really only spends a certain amount of time there. He also doesn't have the same conditions. We all know that most cubans would escape to the US if they could, but my challenge is that they would also escape to a place like Haiti even, or the domican, no services, no welfare no nothing but some kinda freedom.
You're also wrong re the red indians in america. You can't say the whites stole them everything because when the indians stole white people's stuff they always said that indians don't believe in private property, they're just sharing common property. Thus they can't complain because they didn't own any land or anything else. Also you're mixing up conditions in different centuries, in 1959 cubans did believe in private property and some kinda rights, which were stolen away by Castro who originally said he wasn't a commie, till he took power, then revealed his true colours.

good vibrations, man
I haven't looked it up on (I'll trust you to do tha tfor me) but there seem to be more people rafting from Cuba to Florida than flying the other way. That might tell us something about which are "nicer places to live".

But don't settle for bland suburbia - go away and don't come back.

full employment
Cuba had full employment 150 years ago - when most people were slaves. Castro brought those glory days back.

I agree
Venezuelan assistance, not just their oil, probably has a lot to do with the boost to the Cuban GDP.

Over 15 Years
It would be a nominal 2.17% growth rate, accounting for inflation, probably negative.

Taking the middle ground
If you're looking for relevant numbers, the important one would be GDP per capita. And by that measure Cuba is not in good shape. If we could separate the effects of our punishing sanctions from Castro's dreadful economic policies, we'd find his rule hasn't been all that good for the country.

But it seems currently to be getting better in some areas, relative to itself a year ago. They are, for instance, on the way to becoming self sufficient in oil.

Much of this progress is not trickling down to the people yet, it's true. I don't know whether the World Factbook's GDP growth has been adjusted for inflation (it should be) but consumer prices rose 7% over the year in question (2005). It's not yet a great place to live, for a variety of reasons.

What punishing sanctions?
The US doesn't trade much with Cuba, but every other country in the world does.

Cuba's a mess, because that's what communism always does to a country. Socialism does the same, only slower.

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