Newsweek magazine just hailed Cuba among “The Best Countries in the World,” quality-of-lifewise. “Cuba outdoes its fellow middle-income countries in quality of life,” explains the 1993 “National Magazine Award for General Excellence” winner who recently fetched one dollar on the auction bloc.
Some perspective: Between two and three hundred people (out of an average population over the decades of 18 million) died trying to breach the Berlin Wall or otherwise escape East Germany—no runner-up in the “quality-of-life” awards, even by Newsweek standards.
Well, between sixty-five and eighty thousand people (out of an average population of 8 million over the decades) have died trying to escape Castro’s Cuba, Newsweek’s “quality-of-life” winner.
German Stalinism is now happily asunder and mourned nowhere. Cuban Stalinism is alive and kicking and lavished with economic succor by many of the same governments who celebrated the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Castro’s fiefdom is also glorified by everyone from PBS to the Congressional Black Caucus to Michael Moore to Newsweek.
"A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in... And how many want out," famously quipped Tony Blair. Well, prior to Castro’s Stalinist coup in 1959, Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than did the U.S., including the Ellis Island years. In the 1950’s, when Cubans were perfectly free to emigrate with all their property and U.S. visas were issued to them for the asking, fewer Cubans lived in the U.S. than Americans lived in Cuba.
“I can see that Cuba is much more impoverished than Haiti,” observed Gelsy Lavéque, a recent Haitian visitor to Cuba. “People here in Cuba are all sad. I watch on Cuban TV how they say Haitians are all poor. But in reality we’re less poor than Cubans. Yes, my family is poor but we have a car. We’re never hungry and were free and generally happy. Cubans, come to Haiti, we have a country much better and happier than yours.”
Fidel Castro converted a nation with a higher per capita income than half of Europe, the lowest inflation rate in the Western hemisphere, a larger middle class than Switzerland, a huge influx of immigrants and whose workers enjoyed the 8th industrial wages in the world into one that repels Haitians. And this after being lavished with Soviet subsidies that totaled almost ten Marshall Plans (into a nation of 7 million) - an economic feat that defies not only the laws of economics but seemingly the very laws of physics.
Most tragically, I daresay that many of the Cuban freedom-seekers died more horrifically than the German freedom-seekers. He'd be loath to admit it, being a Che-T-shirt-wearer and all, but Eric Burdon of the Animals wrote a song that resounds with many Cubans: "We gotta get outta this place -- if it's the last thing we ever do!"
The last thing, indeed, for an estimated one in three of the desperate Cuban escapes during the '60s, '70s and '80s. This is according to a study by the late Cuban-American scholar Dr. Armando Lago. This hideous arithmetic translates into those tens of thousands of estimated deaths at sea over the past half-century.
A consistently hot item on Cuba's black market is used motor oil: poor man's shark-repellent, they call it. Perhaps for a few minutes. I suppose we all cling to false hopes when desperate. And people get no more desperate than when striving to flee the handiwork of Newsweek’s “Quality-of-Life” winner.
A seventeen-year-old named Orlando Travieso was armed with only a homemade paddle when he was machine-gunned to death in March 1991. His crime was trying to flee Cuba on a tiny raft. Loamis Gonzalez was fifteen when he was machine-gunned to death for the same crime. Owen Delgado was fifteen when Castro's police dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy where he sought asylum and clubbed him to death with rifle butts.
After so many machine-gun blasts kept disturbing their coastal subjects, the Castro brothers hit upon the scheme of having their Soviet helicopters hover over the escaping freedom-seekers, and rather than machine gun them to death, simply drop sandbags onto their rafts and rickety boats to demolish and sink them. Then the tiger sharks and hammerheads could do the Castroites' deputy-work.
Four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Newsweek Magazine’s faves were machine-gunning desperate Cubans who tried to swim into our Guantanamo Base, then retrieving their corpses with gaffing hooks. "This is the most savage kind of behavior I've ever heard of," said Robert Gelbard, deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America during the Clinton administration (no less!). "This is even worse than what happened at the Berlin Wall!"
So what's the alternative if you can't flee Cuba? Well, in 1986, Cuba's suicide rate reached twenty-four per thousand -- making it double Latin America's average, making it triple Cuba's pre-Castro rate, making Cuban women the most suicidal in the world, and making suicide the primary cause of death for Cubans aged 15-48. At that point, the Cuban government ceased publishing the statistics on the self-slaughter. The figures became state secrets. The implications horrified even the Castroites.
But apparently the implications did not faze Newsweek.