By Dan Mitchell
Before communism arrived in Cuba, it was one of the most prosperous societies of the Americas. Now, its economy and society are both severely crippled by it.
Communism should be remembered first and foremost for the death, brutality, and repression that occurred whenever that evil system was imposed upon a nation.
Dictators like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the North Korean Kim dynasty either killed more than Hitler, or butchered higher proportions of their populations.
But let’s not forget that communism also has an awful economic legacy. The economic breakdown of the Soviet Empire. The horrid deprivation in North Korea. The giant gap that existed between West Germany and East Germany. The mass poverty in China before partial liberalisation.
Today, let’s focus on how communism has severely crippled the Cuban economy.
In a column for Reason, a few years ago, Steven Chapman accurately summarised the problems in that long-suffering nation.
“There may yet be admirers of Cuban communism in certain precincts of Berkeley or Cambridge, but it’s hard to find them in Havana. The average Cuban makes only about $20 a month— which is a bit spartan even if you add in free housing, food, and medical care. For that matter, the free stuff is not so easy to come by. Food shortages are frequent, the stock of adequate housing has shrunk, and hospital patients often have to bring their own sheets, food, and even medical supplies. Roger Noriega, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, notes that before communism arrived, Cuba “was one of the most prosperous and egalitarian societies of the Americas.” His colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has documented that pre-Castro Cuba had a high rate of literacy and a life expectancy surpassing that in Spain, Greece, and Portugal. Instead of accelerating development, Castro has hindered it. In 1980, living standards in Chile were double those in Cuba. Thanks to bold free-market reforms implemented in Chile but not Cuba, the average Chilean’s income now appears to be four times higher than the average Cuban’s. In its latest annual report, Human Rights Watch says, “Cuba remains the one country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”
The comparison between Chile and Cuba is especially apt since the pro-market reforms in the South American nation came after a coup against a Marxist government that severely weakened the Chilean economy.
Chapman points out that the standard leftist excuse for Cuban misery— the U.S. trade embargo— isn’t very legitimate.
“The regime prefers to blame any problems on the Yankee imperialists, who have enforced an economic embargo for decades. In fact, its effect on the Cuban economy is modest, since Cuba trades freely with the rest of the world.”
Since the U.S. accounts for nearly one-fourth of world economic output, I’m open to the hypothesis that the negative impact on Cuba is more than “modest.”