La Cuba cambiante

Published on Axis of Logic, by Paul Richard Harris, Feb 26, 2009.

So, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend the United States is a just and fair society. You might have to stretch your imagination, but that’ll be good mental exercise for you. Now suppose that nearby the United States there is another country, one so inherently evil as to be off-limits to people from the US. Naturally, the United States also feels obligated to encourage the rest of the world to have nothing to do with this nation – because it is such a bad place. You’d have to assume, given the might of the United States and its considerable powers of persuasion both subtle and gross, that the bad country would soon enough be forced to straighten up and fly right. You would be wrong.

About 90 miles south of the peninsula of Florida, lies the largest of all the islands in the Caribbean. Cuba has just about 12 million people, and somehow those people have managed to incur the wrath of the United States more than almost any other nation. Despite that the United States has a long history of supporting some of the most brutal regimes and hideous dictators, Cuba seems to have a special place of loathing in Washington’s eyes …

… The future:

This remains hazy at present. Fidel Castro stepped down from office in February 2008 due to ill health, with his brother Raul later being elected to take his place. Changes have been tentative, so far, although it is not at all clear if that is out of respect for the elder brother, who still remains mentally vibrant and very much alive.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy was reduced by more than 80%. As a result, some limited private enterprise was tolerated and the tourism industry was marketed heavily. The country doesn’t appear to see any reason to reduce tourism, but the tolerance of private enterprise was intended to be temporary. It is beginning to appear that it is permanent, and expanding. This may not be bad, but it gives the government less of a grip on the economy and makes it harder to fund the astounding array of services provided to Cubans at little or no cost.

Like it or not, it appears some measure of a market economy will expand in Cuba. Although many Cubans might be anxious for both political and economic reforms, it is hard to know what price they will be willing to pay for it. It is surely very attractive to them to derive greater benefit from their substantial talents, and to have a greater opportunity to express themselves politically both within and without Cuba.

But no one I met suggested for a moment that they would be willing to accept reforms that would threaten all the great achievements of the revolution. They have gained for themselves universal health care, excellent schools, a thriving pharmaceutical industry, an astounding level of literacy, longevity better than many First World countries, and a nearly total elimination of distinction based on race or class.

Cubans did pay a price for their revolution, perhaps most in having divided families as people fled to the US in the early 1960s. And they continue to face scarcity. But they do enjoy benefits like guaranteed medical care, housing, education and food, albeit not as much as they might have enjoyed while the Soviet Union still stood.

Like virtually everyone else, Cubans are facing the turmoil of a rapidly collapsing (or at least tottering) world economy. Their ability to manage when they’re starting from a position of weakness will surely test their mettle.

But these are a resilient people. Their story is far from over. (full text).

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