Fidel Castro’s 26 July Movement overthrew the corrupt Batista regime, and took power in Cuba sixty years ago, at the start of January 1959. The early period of the Castro regime improved social provision and living standards for the poorest in Cuba. Increasingly it did that while also suppressing the independent trade unions and political pluralism which existed, even though harassed and weak, under Batista.
Sixty years later, the Morning Star is celebrating and excusing Cuba’s lack of democracy. It is pointedly silent about the economic inequality which has grown there since the Cuban government started to edge along the “Chinese road”, and created a dual economy. “There are”, admits the Morning Star, “no election campaigns where two or more political parties battle against each other to win the votes of the electorate on the basis of manifesto pledges...
“[For] the National Assembly... the number of names on the ballot paper is equal to the number of deputies that are to be elected. The fact that there is no ‘choice’ on the ballot paper is, of course, cited by many commentators outside Cuba as being ‘proof’ that Cuba’s electoral system is not democratic. However, the processes by which names are placed on the ballot paper is extensive and inclusive...”
Critics of the government cannot even publish newspapers, leaflets, or pamphlets. Their best hope is to slip something into one of the publications sponsored by the Catholic Church, to whom the government gives a little leeway.
Economically, for some time now (reports Katrin Hansing in a 2017 survey article), two currencies have legally circulated in Cuba: the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is pegged to the US dollar, and the original "peso cubano". The peso cubano is now worth only one¬25th of the CUC, and some things are available only for CUC.
“The salaries of state workers, who until recently made up 80 per cent of the workforce, are paid in pesos cubanos...”
“In the current economy, a self-employed hairdresser or hotel waiter with access to hard currency tips earns at least 20, if not 50, times as much as a state¬employed neurosurgeon...” So the doctors and the teachers resort to moonlighting, or second jobs, or whatever they can, to survive.
As early as 1970, René Dumont, a French socialist friendly to the Cuban régime, wrote: “The delegation of full powers to those whom Fidel [Castro] trusts is almost feudal... His right¬hand men have just received, free, luxury Alfa¬Romeos... that they can use for their personal needs... “
Add in the beautiful villas of the magnificent beach at Varadero, where the officials and their families take free holidays. Add in the sexual privileges of the ‘new class’, which count for a lot in Cuba. A new leading group is being constituted in Cuba, certainly benevolent towards workers and the poor people, but... the latter no longer have the right to speak out if they become too critical”.
Now inequality has come out more into the open. “There are neighbourhoods full of expensive restaurants and boutiques...
“Among economically well-off Cubans, it is also common to have... a housekeeper, nanny, gardener, and/or watchman... it has become standard for parents with means to hire private after¬school tutors for their children...”
Meanwhile, “many of the older shantytowns... in Havana and elsewhere are growing and becoming more overcrowded... “Newer shantytowns... are mushrooming... made out of wood, old bricks, plastic, zinc, or whatever people can find to use as shelter. Many of them don’t have running water, and electricity — when available — is often pirated by tapping into a public streetlight cable...
“These slums look like slums found anywhere in the Global South, except that — and this is an important difference — children go to school, people have access to health care...”
Cuba was never socialist. Authentic socialism means democratic working¬class rule.
Our assessment of Castro here.