Fifty-five years ago — in 1953 — Fidel Castro famously defended himself in a trial by stating that “History will absolve me.” No, it won’t.
In fact, nearly 50 years after taking power in Cuba, it is clear that Fidel’s reign has been nothing but a disaster, economically and politically. And that Fidel has been the biggest con artist the world has ever seen.
Before the 1959 revolution, Fidel had promised to respect political freedom and categorically denied he was a communist. Once in power, though, he closed all opposition news media, banned opposition parties and never once held a free election or even a referendum on his rule like fellow strongmen Hugo Chavez and Augusto Pinochet.
Fidel also has been conning the world into believing that his rule at least improved health, education, and the economy. In fact, the opposite is true.
In 1957, Cuba’s real income per capita (national income divided by population) was $378, or fourth in Latin America, according to Eric Baklanoff, a research professor emeritus at the University of Alabama. Today, Cuba ranks as the fifth-poorest country in Latin America measured by purchasing-power-parity (PPP) per capita GDP, according to an analysis of CIA and IMF data for 2007.
Those old classic American cars you see all over Havana? No coincidence. Cuba’s high rate of 24 cars per 1,000 inhabitants in 1958 continued at the very same level through 1998, while Japan in the same period went from four to 251 per 1,000, according to Jose Azel, director of the Cuba Business Roundtable at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
Similar developments occurred in terms of modern communications.
In 1959, Cuba ranked third in Latin America in telephones per capita, according to British historian Hugh Thomas. Today, Cuba ranks sixth from the bottom, according to an analysis of 2006 data from the International Telecommunications Union.
Neither cell phones nor the Internet were invented when Fidel came to power, but it’s safe to say that without his communist rule, Cuba today would be among the technology leaders in Latin America. Yet, Cuba ranks last in the region when it comes to cellular and Internet penetration, according to Latin Business Chronicle.
What about health and education? Cuba’s pre-revolutionary health system was among the best in Latin America, contrary to what Fidel’s propaganda has stated. The pre-Castro rate of 32 infant deaths per 1,000 births was not only better than any other Latin American nation, but also better than that of Germany, Italy and Spain, according to Norman Luxenburg, a professor emeritus at the University of Iowa.
While the number of physicians per capita grew strongly between 1960 and 1976 in countries like the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and El Salvador, it decreased in Cuba in the same period, research by Luxenburg shows.
And today’s health system is plagued by massive deficiencies for the majority of Cubans who cannot access the hospitals and medicine of the Communist elite and dollar-paying foreign patients, according to experts such as Jaime Suchlicki, the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
In education, Cuba had a well-developed system, boasting 1 million students and a literacy rate of 78 percent, according to Luxenburg. Not the 178,000 students and 25 percent literacy rate Fidel has been telling the world existed before the revolution.
Any success in student enrollment and literacy is also weakened by the fact that Cuba has politicized its education system and doesn’t let Cubans freely use their literacy skills (freedom of expression is practically zero).
Since Cuba is a dictatorship, we can’t really know for sure the extent of key indicators such as poverty, but it’s safe to say that — based on any visit to the island — the country is plagued by misery, crumbling buildings and decay. Cuba under Castro now appears more like Haiti than the Dominican Republic.
So, history already condemns you, con-mandante Fidel.
Joachim Bamrud is the editor-in-chief of Latin Business Chronicle. He has visited Cuba twice and has covered Cuban and Latin American affairs for 25 years.
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