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Change For The Worse By: Stephen Brown
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 12, 2008

He’s gone from revolutionary firebrand to cantankerous old man.

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro lashed out after two of his country’s best young baseball players defected in late July at a world junior tournament in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In a column that he wrote for the Cuban newspaper Granma, the 82-year-old Castro unsurprisingly blamed everyone except himself for the young athletes’ defection.

El Comandante rebuked the tournament’s host country, implying Canada stole his players, as well as the United States and Japan for “luring” the young Cubans with big salaries. As expected, Castro dragged out the tired, old canard of the American economic blockade, indicating his thinking has become as ossified as Cuba’s economy under his leadership.

Japan and the United States are big countries,” he petulantly wrote. “They do not have to deal with an economic blockade. Both countries have great resources. No one steals or plunders their athletes.”

Castro is also angry previous defections may cost Cuba five gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. But his bile was specifically reserved for the two young Cuban ball players, calling their decision not to return “a despicable betrayal.”

Despite Castro’s choleric name-calling, other Cubans, like boxer Erislandy Lara, a world amateur champion in 2005, are still fleeing Fidel’s “socialist paradise.” A speed boat picked Lara up from Cuba’s shore and whisked him away to Mexico. Lara now plies his trade out of Germany with several other Cuban fighters who also deserted the Marxist-Leninist cause. Ironically, Castro, the head of Cuba’s gulag, accused the promoter who signed Lara of “human trafficking.”

Mexico is the destination now of many ordinary Cubans who are tired of Fidel’s island prison and desire a better life. By going first to Mexico, they avoid Florida’s Coast Guard patrols and can still reach the US border. Unfortunately, such refugees face still face violence and danger using this land route. Thirty-three Cubans, for example, were believed to have been kidnapped by a human smuggler gang in Mexico last June.

The fact Cubans are still escaping the communist state shows that no real improvements have occurred in Cuba after Castro’s much ballyhooed “retirement” last February. He was replaced as president by his brother Raul, whom Humberto Fontova, author of Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant, called a man “more swinish and bloodthirsty than his brother Fidel.” True to family tradition, Raul quickly dashed Cubans’ hopes for any changes for the better.

In his Revolution Day speech last July before a huge portrait of brother Fidel, Raul told Cubans they should expect things to get worse economically. After blaming rising oil and commodity prices rather than finding any fault with the ruling Communist Party and its Marxist-Leninist ideology, Raul said there would not be any deviation from the socialist path. In other words, it is still rice, beans and ration cards as usual.

Foreign circles regarded the government’s decision last spring to allow the legal sale of kitchen appliances, cell phones, DVD players and computers as a sign that Cuba’s finally opening up to the world. It was announced as well that Cubans would be allowed to stay in luxury hotels and rent cars.

Most Cubans must have found this laughable, since the average Cuban salary is about $20 a month, making such luxuries unaffordable. The Chinese-made computer (possibly equipped with stolen American software) now available in Cuban stores alone costs $750, and most will never be hooked up to the internet. One German report stated that only trusted government officials and journalists get home internet access - although ordinary Cubans do buy email access on the black market.

Besides the incentive of consumer goods, the Cuban government hopes the elimination of the equal salary policy, announced in June, will improve the country’s bleak economic situation by rewarding more productive workers. Under the old, egalitarian wage policy in force for decades in Cuba, good workers received the same pay as inefficient ones.

A similar incentive for the flagging agricultural sector was also introduced. To increase production there, farmers are being offered unused state land for private cultivation.

But Cuban communists have obviously learned nothing from the Soviet Union’s demise. In attempting to save Soviet communism, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced similar reforms to reinvigorate a moribund economy. Like Gorbachev’s, the Cuban measures are also doomed to failure, since the core problem, the state’s controlling 90 per cent of the economy, remains unaddressed.

Rather than Gorbachev, the Castros should be imitating their fellow Cubans in Miami, whose 125,300 privately owned companies, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1997, generated $26.5 billion in revenues. The legal and human rights environment that made this prosperity possible should also be introduced.

Last spring’s measures, some believe, were introduced solely to influence the European Union to drop its diplomatic sanctions against Cuba that were imposed in 2003 because of the regime’s persecution of dissidents. It is presumed this is why Raul Castro commuted numerous death sentences to life imprisonment last May (though he said capital punishment will be reintroduced in the future) and why in May a large gay rally was held in traditionally homophobic Cuba. The fact that Mariela, Fidel Castro’s niece, led the rally and Cuban state television showed a homosexual-themed, American film, “Brokeback Mountain”, indicates high government backing and a political purpose.

These superficial steps succeeded in their goal. The EU canceled its sanctions in June despite the fact no real societal reforms, such as an easing of restrictions on travel abroad, had taken place. The Cuban government’s repression against dissidents also never ceased, a fact President Bush confirmed himself in a 45-minute telephone conversation he held with Cuban dissidents living in Cuba last May.

Cuba’s biggest cosmetic change, however, occurred last February when Fidel gave up the presidency, but not his powerful posts as first secretary of Cuba’s communist party (Raul is second secretary) and in the politburo. And with no real transfer of power away from a cranky, complaining Fidel, Cuba’s people will continue to suffer or leave for the prosperity and freedom of America. And in a Cuba under the Castros, that, one can rest assured, will never change.

Stephen Brown is a contributing editor at Frontpagemag.com. He has a graduate degree in Russian and Eastern European history. Email him at alsolzh@hotmail.com.

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