Cuba at 50: Scarce Freedom, Scarce Fish

Member Group : Reflections

I was in Hollywood, Florida, on January 8, the 50th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s triumphant arrival in Havana after shooting his way to power and ousting the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The morning newspaper at our hotel reported that Fidel Castro had been arrested in the early morning hours, right about the time the local bars were emptying out. It wasn’t the uppermost Fidel, the seldom-seen 82-year-old who holds the record as the world’s longest-running despot, who had been patted down and cuffed.

This particular Fidel, 32, "a habitual offender" according to news report, was arrested at 1:31 a.m. in a white Ford pickup truck for driving with a permanently revoked driver’s license. "If this guy was wearing a beard and a jogging suit and was the dictator of Cuba, people around here would be glad he’s going to jail," said Miami police commander Delrish Moss.

"At least 33 Fidel Castros with different dates of birth have been arrested in Miami-Dade over the decades, court records show," reported the Miami-Herald. "The charges range from petty theft to cocaine possession to racketeering."

My guess is that all these various crooks were named in honor of the original Fidel before their parents realized that Castro’s revolution for an egalitarian paradise wasn’t going to be all that it was cracked up to be and they headed for capitalist Florida on inner tubes or whatever else they could paddle off the Cuban beaches in the dark of night, little Fidels in tow.

In 1959, the year of Castro’s collectivist conquest, Cuba was the second richest country in Latin America. Now, even after being on the receiving end of decades of massive amounts of Soviet welfare, Cuba is the second poorest, just ahead of easy-to-beat Haiti.

Wrapping up their analysis of Cuba’s 50 years of communist economics, the generally not-overly-enthusiastic-about-capitalism National Public Radio reported on January 8 that Cuba is still short of basic foodstuffs after a half century of keeping a lid on individualism and private enterprise.

"Government bodegas that sell heavily subsidized food rations regularly run out of meat, eggs and cooking oil," reported NPR. Overall, even with perfectly fertile soil, "the agricultural system on the island has declined so dramatically that Cuba now imports roughly 60 percent of its food."

There’s also a fish shortage, even though Cuba is surrounded by fish on all sides. Anita Snow, Havana bureau chief for The Associated Press, reported in 2007 that the allotment of fish per capita in Cuba via government-issued ration books, after nearly a half century of socialist development and Soviet-aided infrastructure, was 10 ounces per person per month.

Other government-dictated monthly allotments per person in the ration books included 4 ounces of coffee, 2 cups of vegetable oil, 6 pounds of rice or dried beans, 8 ounces of chicken and 10 eggs. That’s based on the optimistic assumption that all goes well in central planning and the projected eggs and fish actually turn up.

What they need are some capitalist boat owners from Miami with the latest fish-finding radar. But the success and money-making of those entrepreneurs might well produce feelings of inadequacy and resentment in those who are less successful, so it’s better, according to the egalitarian ethos, to have no fish and equal deprivation (except at the top, where there’s no shortage of lobster for Fidel and family and his key enforcers of equal scarcity).

The fish problem comes in two waves. First, there are no fish, thanks to collectivism, and then you can get dropped in a dungeon if you talk too much about it. The Committee for the Defense of the Revolution has ears in every coffee-lacking coffee shop.

"No government in the Americas has been responsible for the death, imprisonment, or exile of so many as has Castro’s," writes Cuban-born Otto J. Reich, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, in "A Tyrant’s ‘Liberation’" in the January, 16, 2009 issue of National Review.

"Batista’s jails, odious though they were, never numbered more than a dozen," explains Reich. "To house his prisoners, Castro would have to build 350 penitentiaries."

The result? Some 14 percent of Cubans have fled their homeland, providing Fidel Castro with the record of producing, reports Reich, "the largest exodus of political refugees as a proportion of a nation’s population in history."

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

Ralph R. Reiland
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15236
Phone 412-884-4541
E-mail: rrreiland@