Cuba: Survival of Castro's socialist state
HAVANA-- Long before Fidel Castro led a revolution to overthrow
the pro-US government of Fulgencio Batista, Cuba was just another
Caribbean banana republic run by the New York-based Italian mafia
and American multinational corporations.
was bled white by mobsters such as Meyer Lanksy, Lucky Luciano,
Frank Costello and Vito Genovese who turned Cuba into a veritable
"Latin Las Vegas" dotted with casinos and night clubs.
Only 22 miles
from the city of Miami in the state of Florida, Cuba was also a
playground for American celebrities.
of the past are still visible in the baronial Hotel Nacional-- a
more lordly version of the Galle Face Hotel -- whose walls are plastered
with photographs of some of its regular Hollywood guests of the
1950s, including Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Ginger Rogers, Betty
Grable and Edward G. Robinson.
symbolic reflection of the American past is the endless stream of
50-year-old vintage American automobiles in the streets of Havana,
including boxy Pontiacs, Fords and Chevrolets.
most enduring political legacy is its continued defiance of neighbouring
United States -- and its resourcefulness in surviving a rigid 42-year-old
American economic and trade embargo that has damaged the infrastructure
and cost the country about $72 billion.
Castro is the last of the world's truly socialist leaders who still
commands a standing ovation at international conferences -- and
who continues to be mobbed by the media.
US economic blockade, Cuba still ranks high in education, health,
literacy and life expectancy beating out some of the more advanced
In the latest
human development index compiled by the UN Development Programme,
Cuba is ranked 55 out of 173 countries, way ahead of Sri Lanka (ranked
89), the Philippines (77), Saudi Arabia (71), Malaysia (59) and
even Russia (60).
which measures advances in several fields, including health, education,
literacy rate and population growth, is the basic yardstick for
a country's social and economic progress.
1959, Cuba's life expectancy was 60 years compared with the current
76.2. Cuba also had only one medical school and 6,000 physicians
during the corrupt Batista regime.
Today, it has
21 medical faculties and 66,325 physicians. According to UNDP, Cuba's
adult literacy rate is 96.7 percent, one of the highest in the world.
Perez, UNDP's director of communications in Havana, describes Cubans
as "the healthiest, best educated, most culturally cultivated
people in this hemisphere."
embargo, Cuba was more recently devastated by the collapse of the
former Soviet Union, its longtime ally and trading partner. Currently,
Cuba has little ties with the successor state, the Russian Federation.
the global recession has severely affected Cuba's sugar industry,
the victim of falling international prices compounded by the industry's
So, Cuba now
depends primarily on tourism (which brings in about a $1 billion
annually) and expatriate remittances (about $500 to $600 million
annually) for its economic survival.
But since Americans
are barred from travelling to Cuba (under threat of imprisonment
and confiscation of passports), the Cubans depend on French, German
and Canadian tourists to fill in the state coffers.
Even Sri Lankans
with American passports are barred from Cuba. The exceptions include
journalists. The only Americans and Cuban-Americans who are permitted
to visit Cuba are those who get advance clearance from the State
Department and are "licensed" to travel to Castro country.
its economic advances, Cuba's per capita income is still very low.
The average wage earner survives on a monthly salary of about $20.
The highest income earners are in the country's tourist industry.
and education are provided free while food and transport are subsidised.
The hotels, run mostly by European companies, are as good as those
in the US and Western Europe.
Central Hotel, run by a Spanish chain, has advertised a New Year's
Eve Dinner priced at $85-- over four times the monthly salary of
an average Cuban. The menu includes goose liver, lobster, roast
lamb, international cheeses, almond sweet and Cuban coffee. But
only tourists can afford such prices in a low-income society.
At a more realistic
level, there are two worlds existing side by side in Cuba. The high-spending
tourists who are pampered by the government desperately in need
of hard currency and the average Cuban who is provided for with
only the basic necessities of life.
A country with
an ethnic mix of blacks and whites, Cuba has no visible signs of
racial discrimination. But yet, virtually all of the performers
in the Cuban ballet staged at the national theater in Havana are
whites. On the other hand, the performers at the exotic Tropicana
night club are all blacks or mulattos of mixed black and white parentage.
Although a socialist
state has no place for institutionalised racism, one longtime resident
confesses that a white Cuban would readily embrace a black Cuban
and proclaim in endearing terms: "You are my comrade and you
are my brother -- but you will never be my brother-in-law."