By Fabio Rafael Fiallo in Real Clear World:
Once Again, the Castro Regime Lies
Cuba's communist regime is commemorating 55 years of existence this month. However, looking at the dismal economic situation and the contempt for human rights that prevails therein, the gerontocracy in command of the country will have little to boast about, barring one exception: the regime has invariably excelled in creating false expectations -- particularly among journalists and analysts who may regard themselves as as "progressives."
For starters, it is worth recalling how much the international media underestimated, and even turned a blind eye to, the curtailment of basic freedoms during Fidel Castro's reign. The enthusiasm surrounding the Cuban Revolution was so high that human rights infringements -- including summary executions by the hundreds -- were seen as mere transitional measures designed to eliminate the remnants of the overthrown dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Once that task was completed, "progressives" asserted, democracy would shine over Cuba.
It took less than three years for those hopes to evaporate. In December 1961, Fidel Castro revealed his Marxist-Leninist agenda, announcing that his real objective was to establish a Communist dictatorship in his country.
False expectations have arisen again and again in the economic domain.
An early bout of optimism was triggered by the decision to eliminate the so-called "monoculture" (in reference to the significant weight of the sugar sector in the Cuban economy at that time). For "progressives," dismantling the sugar industry, as Castro had embarked upon, was a sine qua non condition for reorienting the Cuban economy around the dual objectives of achieving food self-sufficiency and promoting industrialization.
Ten years later, with the Cuban economy in tatters, Fidel Castro had no other remedy but to backpedal. He placed his bets on the sugar sector and decreed that the sugar crop of 1969-70 must attain 10 million tons.
Despite an all-out mobilization of Cuba's population and resources towards that objective, the crop didn't live up to centrally-dictated expectations.
In the end, the Cuban regime has lost on both grounds. It has failed to enhance food self-sufficiency and it has failed to give a renewed impetus to the production of sugar. Today, imports represent 80 percent of total food consumption. Sugar production, for its part, hovers around 1.8 million tons, which represents less than one half of what the country used to produce a century ago.
New expectations in the economic domain arose in 1986, when Fidel Castro indulged in an exercise of self-criticism (he and his brother are the only ones allowed to criticize their "revolution") and launched a process of "rectification." Hopes were so high then that the Miami Herald -- a newspaper usually critical of the Cuban regime -- went so far as to say "dramatic changes are sweeping Cuba." The "dramatic changes" proved to be yet another flop.
The fiction of "reform" has once again been in full swing since 2010, as President Raúl Castro has introduced a new set of policy changes labeled as an "updating" of Cuba's socialism. The purpose of the exercise is to inject the economy with homeopathic doses of capitalism -- the very capitalism that the regime took so much care to wipe off.
The "updating" looks inconsequential at best. One must suffer from acute ideological stiffness to think that it is by decriminalizing the importation and commercialization of automobiles, encouraging self-employment or exporting physicians that Cuba can revive its moribund economy.
A feature that speaks volumes about the innocuousness of Raúl Castro's reforms relates to how little effect a credit policy instituted by Cuba's Central Bank in 2011 has had.
That policy was intended to provide finance to self-employed workers. Cuba's official press, however, recently recognized that out of a total of 218,400 loans granted since the policy entered into effect, only 550 (i.e., not even one percent) went to Cubans having applied for credit with the aim of running their own businesses.
A cornerstone of the "updating" exercise relates to the creation of a "special economic zone" in the west designed to host foreign firms and expected to operate according to criteria other than those applied in the rest of the country.
These kinds of special economic zones have been tested already in a country ruled by another staunch communist regime: the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, where some 100 South Korean enterprises, staffed by 50,000 North Korean workers, are allowed to operate. The complex has not halted the continued decline of the North Korean economy, nor the recurrent famines. And there is no reason to believe that the Cuban version will perform any better.
And much like North Korea, the Cuban regime fails to realize that it is not by insulating several hundreds of square miles from the rest of the country -- so as to keep the bulk of the population immunized from the "virus" of capitalism -- that an economy can possibly take off.
Still more unfounded are the expectations that the Cuban regime is trying to nurture the political realm. While Raúl Castro proposes to President Obama to establish a "civilized relationship" between their two countries, the Cuban regime continues to repress members of the dissidence, denying them the right to express their views, beating them brutally and submitting them to recurrent arrests.
Arrests of dissidents have in fact been on the rise: 4,000 in 2011, 5,000 in 2012 and more than 5,300 in 2013. Some leading dissidents -- such as Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá -- lost their lives under strange circumstances.
Tellingly, the very day President Obama shook hands with Comrade Raúl Castro, more than one hundred dissidents were detained in Cuba. Their crime: to try to organize a gathering on the International Human Rights Day.
Did you say "civilized," Raúl?
Fabio Rafael Fiallo is a Dominican-born economist and author and a retired official of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
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