Castro's dupes
by Lawrence Solomon, National Post, Feb 1, 2003

Fidel Castro worked miracles after leading the Revolution that liberated Cuba from the dictator, Batista. The statistics are there, for any fool to see. Soon after Castro came to power in 1959, he decided to eliminate illiteracy in the island nation. As he stated in an address to the United Nations the following year, "Cuba will be the first country in America that in a few months' time will be able to say that it does not have a single illiterate person." Castro was as good as his word. He launched his Great Campaign for literacy in January of 1961 and ended it in victory in December that same year. Cuba is a "territory free of illiteracy," he declared, triumphantly announcing an end to "four centuries of ignorance."

In a mere 12 months, Cuban government data demonstrated, socialism had given the gift of learning to the Cuban people. This eradication of widespread illiteracy is widely regarded as one of his Revolution's two stupendous social policy successes.

The other stupendous social policy success came in health care, where Castro gave his people the gift of health and a long life. By investing in doctors, hospitals and other medical services geared to the poor, Cuba's official statistics show, Cuba achieved one of the world's best performances in terms of broad statistical indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality. In controlling AIDS, Cuba also has one of the world's best showings. Among Castro's most celebrated medical successes was the absolute eradication of dengue fever*, a dreaded disease transmitted by mosquito that has plagued Cuba and other tropical countries through time immemorial.

To these two stupendous well publicized successes must be added a third, even more stupendous accomplishment, albeit little appreciated outside Cuba. Castro's accomplishments are a hoax; his statistics have been fudged or fabricated; his admirers abroad, from heads of state to movie makers to social activists, have been duped, dazzled by a beard in a military suit.

Castro's regime has excelled in only one area, as seen in statistics from independent agencies such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The government claims it takes no political prisoners. The numbers provided by human rights agencies -- an estimated 500,000 since 1959, with thousands executed -- tell a different story. In Castro's Cuba, it is a crime to meet to discuss the economy, to write letters to the government, to report on political developments, to speak to international reporters, to advocate human rights, to visit friends or relatives outside your local area of residence without government permission. Cubans are arrested without warrants and prosecuted for "failing to denounce" fellow citizens, for general "dangerousness," and, should some crime not be covered by these criminal code provisions, for "other acts against state security."

The courts, under Cuba's constitution, are formally subordinate to the governing elite and cannot protect the innocent. Neither can lawyers, who lost their right to work in private firms in 1973 and have been forced to work either for the government or in collectives. Lawyers who had defended dissidents were refused membership in the collectives.

Cubans found guilty under this criminal justice system -- and their fate is rarely in doubt -- often serve 10 to 20 years in jail for political crimes. But most Cuban criminals are not political. A large proportion of the estimated 180,000 to 200,000 common criminals in Cuba's 500 prisons are people who broke the law by killing their own pigs, cattle and horses and selling the excess meat on the black market.

To maintain discipline inside prisons, prison guards appoint hardened prisoners to "prisoners' councils." Reports Human Rights Watch: "The council members commit some of Cuba's worst prison abuses, including beating fellow prisoners as a disciplinary measure and sexually abusing prisoners, under direct orders from or with the acquiescence of prison officials."

Despite this appalling human rights record, Castro has been courted and condoned by a fawning international intelligentsia that includes Harvard lawyers and statesmen who have made their reputations defending civil liberties. These include former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau -- Castro was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral, no less -- former South African prime minister Nelson Mandela, and, more recently, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. One world leader who has not been duped is Czech President Vaclav Havel, himself a political prisoner before the fall of communism in Europe, who sponsored a resolution condemning Cuba at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Although Castro forbids collective bargaining or even independent unions, Western labour leaders endorse him. Although Castro makes the top 10 "Enemies of the Press" list produced by the Committee to Protect Journalists', journalists such as Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters have covered him uncritically. Although artists in Cuba must toe the government line, Harry Belafonte and others who should understand the importance of artistic freedom hold him up as a paragon.

Those who cavort with Castro forgive him his transgressions, reasoning that his feats outweighed his faults, or that human rights abuses were necessary to achieve his towering accomplishments in literacy and health. But there were no great ends that justified his brutal means. Castro's feats are all modest or non-existent.

Literacy did improve under Castro but the tale is hardly heroic -- illiteracy was neither high prior to the Revolution, as Castro claimed, nor was it much changed after Castro's Great Campaign. In fact, since Castro came to power, other Latin American countries made far greater gains in literacy than Cuba, largely because Cuba didn't have as far to climb -- it already had one of Latin America's highest literacy rates.

Neither can Castro's health claims be taken as credible because the health system, like the legal system, is subordinate to his regime's need for propaganda. In 1997, a major epidemic of dengue fever, which causes hemorrhaging, broke out in Cuba. Patients were bleeding from every orifice of their bodies and choking on their own blood. Public health authorities and the government's Institute of Tropical Medicine called the disease "an unspecified virus" and denied its existence, partly to protect the reputation of Castro, who had personally declared the disease's extinction, and partly to protect the tourist industry, which was becoming a major earner of foreign exchange.

One physician, Dr. Dessy Mendoza Rivero, recognized the disease as dengue fever and tried to alert the authorities, only to find a cover-up underway. Dr. Mendoza, the president of a medical college, blew the whistle by calling a Miami radio station and telling the outside world of the disease. "There are approximately 13 dead, 2,500 hospitalized patients and 30,000 afflicted," Dr. Mendoza revealed. Soon after, the Cuban State Security police arrested him. He was sentenced to eight years in prison for "disseminating enemy propaganda," leading Amnesty International to declare him a "prisoner of conscience." Ironically, one week after his sentencing the government admitted that the epidemic was dengue fever.

Anecdotes abound of the government cooking the books to prove the glories of the Revolution to the world, with many academics distrusting the official government figures. A demographer from the National Academies of Sciences found that the Cuban government's own data was at odds with official overall statistics for child mortality: If anything, it indicated a growing, not a falling, infant mortality rate, a suspicion supported by other statistics from the Cuban Ministry of Health which showed high rates of several childhood diseases that generally correlate with high infant mortality. Other scientists doubt the claims made over HIV, noting the many Cubans who had served in African wars, the many African students in Cuba, the rampant sex trade in Cuba, and the high rate of HIV among Cubans who escaped from the island. A secret 1987 Cuban Communist Party survey of 10,756 respondents showed 88% of the public in one province to be disappointed with their health-care system. When the Cuban suicide rate skyrocketed -- it's now twice the typical rate in Latin American countries -- the Cuban government stopped reporting suicide statistics in a way that allowed international comparisons.

To the extent that the Cuban government's health claims are credible, the results often came at a price no civilized society could countenance. Patients with AIDS were forcibly removed from society and isolated in sanitaria. Expectant mothers with AIDS were coerced into aborting their babies. Abortions were similarly used to improve infant mortality statistics in general -- Cuba has twice the abortion rate of most countries -- by terminating high-risk pregnancies. To obtain co-operation from doctors, their compensation was tied to their patients' infant mortality rate. Many Cuban mothers claim that their doctors killed their baby at childbirth -- babies who die at birth do not show up in Cuba's infant mortality data.

At the same time that some of Castro's admirers deny claims that the medical system is failing Cubans, other admirers admit to the disastrous health outcomes, but blame them on food, drug and other shortages caused by the Cuban embargo. One such study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, lamented "several public health catastrophes [including] more than 50,000 cases of optic and peripheral neuropathy ... A 1994 outbreak of the Guillain-Barré syndrome in Havana was caused by water that had been contaminated with Campylobacter species because chlorination chemicals were not available for purification."

The American embargo on Cuba did harm the Cuban economy, but to a modest extent -- the most comprehensive study of its economic effects showed a mere US$84-million to US$167-million a year in lost exports. The real harm to the Cuban economy was self-inflicted: The economy collapsed shortly after Castro took power, partly because Cuba lost a staggering number of managers and professionals who fled the country and partly because Castro's central economic plan -- The First Economic and Social Plan of a Socialist Nature of 1962 -- was ruinous, as Castro would later admit. Food rationing began the same year.

Cuba, once an important rice producer, now produces less than it did before the Revolution, its rice fields half as productive as those of neighbouring Dominican Republic. Cuba also produces less sugar than before the Revolution because, admits Castro, it costs more to produce than it's worth. Because Cubans can no longer efficiently grow food -- not because the United States won't provide Cuba with food exports -- Cubans consume less food today than before the Revolution, and less food than citizens of any other Latin American country.

Castro and others who argue that the embargo hurt Cuba point to Cuba's shortage of food, medicines and other necessities, as if these could not be readily imported from Canada, Europe and other nations. These economically confused people, perhaps, are the greatest dupes of all.

*Note to readers: Orwell got dengue fever at the end of his last year in Burma. He'd been there five years without a break and for his last posting he was way up north in the jungle. He was the lone policeman overseeing a large, remote area. It rained constantly and the mosquitoes were horrible. After returning to England on leave he handed in his resignation to the British Imperial Government. He had never intended to go back, but the dengue fever had finally clinched it.

Forgotten Cuba (Cuba's revolution once inspired the world, but political stagnation has left it a poor, hungry backwater)
by Stephen Kinzer, Guardian, Jan 7, 2010
Last week, to mark the 51st anniversary of Fidel Castro's revolution, a couple of thousand Cubans assembled on a plaza facing the American diplomatic mission in Havana. They danced to amplified salsa music and paid little heed when a man on stage tried to excite them with shouts of "Viva Fidel! Viva Raúl! Viva la Revolución!" It was a far cry from the days when vast crowds gathered to hear Castro deliver extended rants against imperialism and promise his people a glorious future. Today Castro is frail and out of sight. His elderly brother, Raúl, did not turn out for this year's anniversary either. Their sclerotic immobility aptly reflects the collapse of hope that defines Cuba today. Vestiges of revolutionary enthusiasm survived into the 1980s, when I last visited Cuba. Millions had already lost faith in the promise of Caribbean communism, but millions still clung to it. Today believers are hard to find. People I met told me that they had a burst of hope two years ago, when Castro retired from active politics and turned the regime over to his brother. But life remains much as before, and the island has slipped into paralysing lassitude. "Finding enough food for our families and a roof over our heads is the extent of our dreams these days," one man sighed.

Who would have imagined that Cuba would become an importer of food – even importing sugar, of all things, from the United States, of all places? Or that an entire generation of Cubans – those born in the early 1990s, when the end of Soviet subsidies brought a plague of hunger to the island – would be born malnourished and grow up stunted? Or that the birth rate would plummet, leaving the prospect of an aging population without working people to support it? Or that most groceries would be for sale only in hard currency, which is unavailable to most Cubans? Or that fishing would be all but forbidden because the regime fears that anyone with a boat will make straight for Florida? Or that the country Americans once treated as a giant bordello, a hotbed of degradation that Castro set out to wipe away, would once again become the hemisphere's leading destination for sex tourists? Cuba's tragedy is different from the one that envelops nearby countries such as Haiti or Honduras. This country has both the human and natural resources to become happy and prosperous. What stands in its way is the regime's stubborn insistence that private enterprise is by nature evil. "We have three successes: education, health care and social equality," one Cuban told me. "And we have three big problems: breakfast, lunch and dinner." Another put it more directly. "In 51 years of revolution, we have not learned that agriculture is what keeps a country alive. "Most Cubans are desperate for work, and vast amounts of land lie fallow. If allowed to plant food and sell it freely, people here could once again feed themselves. The regime, however, realises that this would be a profound capitulation to history. Better to let a nation waste away than to compromise the principle that the state must control everything....

Reader Sue asks for help applying "1984" to Cuba

Zimbabwe police arrest 9,000 traders (violently removing Zimbabweans to make way for the Chinese). Guardian, May 26, 2005 & Zimbabwe's new colonialists (Mugage has "yellow fever"). Weekly Standard, May 26, 2005. Go to ZIMBABWE GOING RED CHINESE

Reader now understands about life in Cuba after Castro's communism

CHINA'S SLAVE WORKERS & USA watches China woo Carribean (Beijing's growing economic clout is tipping scales in Western Hempishere). ABC News, Feb 23, 2005. Go to USA APPLAUDS CHINA TAKE CARRIBEAN

China, Cuba seek closer ties (behind the scenes it is also expected that military ties will be strengthened). BBC, Nov 23, 2004. Go to 7.Systems of Thought & JFK ICH BIN FREE HAVANA

Cuban librarians sent to prison (for lending out Animal Farm). WorldNetDaily, Jan 14, 2004. Go to 20.Thought Police & 16.Minitrue

Cuba's prisons hold 100,000 (people thrown into prison for anything, including expressing their views). Miami Herald, Oct 25, 2003. Go to 34.Ministry of Love (Torture)

Castro's anti-Europe rant (China using Cuba as base for espionage against USA). National Post, Jun 15, 2003
...Castro, who is 76, has been planning for years to crack down on his opponents, and found an opportune moment during the Iraqi war, when the world's attention was diverted elsewhere... In the process, he is making some powerful enemies abroad, and increasingly surrounding himself with anti-Western regimes, such as those in China from which Cuba now depends for the bulk of its desperately needed food aid and trade credits. Western countries, including Canada, are increasingly wary of offering trade credits to the country because Mr. Castro consistently refuses to pay them back. Cuba's debt is estimated at US$12-billion... In addition to China, which has become Cuba's leading trade partner, Castro has also forged strong alliances with Vietnam, Iran and Latin American countries that have recently elected leftist regimes. These include Brazil, Venezuela and lately, Argentina. For years, Mr. Castro supported the regime of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. For its part, China is using the island as a base for espionage against the United States. Many analysts say Mr. Castro likely does not care about the loss of Western support. Governments are not his friends, they say. Big business is.


Castro's friends in Canada (taxpayers give mucho-millions). National Post, Apr 22, 2003. Go to 7.Systems of Thought

Cuba cracks down on dissidents (while world watches Baghdad). Radio Netherland, Apr 8, 2003. Go to 7.Systems of Thought

Castro luxuriates in Vancouver (during stopover from Asian tour). CanWest, Mar 5, 2003. Go to 10.Rulers

China's changes astonish Castro (Cuba increasing ties with Communists). Guradian, Feb 27, 2003. Go to CORPORATE COMMUNISM

* Castro offers former Russian spy base to China. Insight Mag, Jun 17, 2002
Cuban leader Fidel Castro has offered the sprawling Soviet-built electronic intelligence-gathering base near Lourdes, Cuba, to the Chinese government for operations against the United States, the Russian newspaper Izvestia reports. Last October, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would shut down the 26 squre-mile facility, the largest outside the former USSR. But Castro, citing Moscow's unpaid debts to his regime, reportedly seized some of the eavesdropping technology the Russians were readying to ship back home. Only about two-dozen Russian intelligence officers and technicians remain at the Lourdes base, where they are serving as caretakers until both sides can reach an agreement on shutting down the facility. Until recently, Moscow had about a thousand personnel at the site. According to Izvestia, "Castro's offer to China to utilize Lourdes has been positively received by Beijing. Last autumn, a Chinese military delegation visited Cuba. The possibility of operating an electronic espionage center was discussed with Castro during the visit. According to sources, China responded positively in principle to the offer and, in fact, the Chinese have been offered a set of buildings in the Lourdes complex upon the final departure of the Russians."

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~