What Cuba needs

Posted: May 31, 2009 12:00 AM

A week or so ago, the Obama administration sent up a smoke signal. The administration appears willing to re-establish closer communications with the Cuban government. Across the hemisphere, there is increasing talk about letting Cuba into the Organization of American States.

Good? Bad? Indifferent? No matter. Whatever Barack or Raoul say has already been trumped by a joker in front of a camera, making faces.

A viral video is making the rounds in Latin America. You can find it on YouTube. It’s an interview with a man on the street, and another Cuban man walks up and steals the show. He points to his open mouth. In island slang he says he’s hungry, and that “what Cuba needs is food.”

Too many people blame America for Cubans’ hunger. In Latin America, the video is popular for that very reason. Further, the video is timely, since our government is now considering removing its embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962.

Feeling sorry for the Cubans is easy, of course. Even the man, hamming it up in the video, inspires sympathy. He is almost certainly right. Cuba needs food.

But we should all ask ourselves why Cuba needs food.

Would removing the embargo help?


But dropping the embargo should be done — or not — for reasons that have nothing to do with the “Cuba needs food” meme.

Think about it. Cuba can trade with the rest of the world. On a cash basis, Cuba can even trade with the United States. The U.S. has managed to become one of Cuba’s major trading partners, despite the embargo (or, at least because of its “loopholes”).

Cuba has plenty of opportunities to produce and purchase food. The trouble is: Cubans don’t.

The distinction is important. The main problem, as in most cases of major malfunctions on this planet, is with government.

Consider: The resorts in Cuba are well stocked with food. Canadians and Europeans and Arabs and others visiting the island don’t complain about a lack of food.

But the common folk do.


Well, Cubans suffer from a kind of apartheid. Everyday citizens get ration cards, and yet their food shelves are bare. Until fairly recently, most were not allowed to visit tourist beaches, shop at tourist supermarkets, or eat at tourist restaurants. They had to make do with the meager provisions they’ve been rationed by the benevolent hand of their much-lauded leaders. Meanwhile, the waiters, hotel maids, and musicians earned 30 times or more in the resorts than they would had they “worked” for the government. Like most Cubans.

So much for the abolition of the class system by Castro!

In a sense, the resorts are free trade zones, the kind of things we used to talk about in America 20 years ago. But Cuba is stuck on socialism, and any time you set up a free trade zone, it doesn’t take long to see the utility of spreading the zone out, to cover the whole country.

To feed Cubans, just one thing is needed: Freedom. That is, an end to socialistic apartheid. Allow trade in anything peaceful, starting with ration cards and tourist goods. Let markets spring up wherever people have goods to offer. The tourist apartheid just shows the superiority of trade to socialism. The socialist country needs trade — and dollars, which were legalized with the tourist industry — because socialism just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Can’t. It’s time to ’fess up to socialism’s failure, and allow markets to do what they do best: Feed the people, build civilization.

What Cuba needs is a new revolution. It’s the government that must change. This has little to do with the United States, and everything to do with the ruling family, the Castros. They should allow freedom. Or they should be gotten rid of.

There’s no reason to wait for the U.S. to come flying in, like some cargo cult concierge-in-chief.

It may be that were the U.S. to let free trade flower between the two nations, the growth of market activity would spur the population to oust the men who, now, make their lives such misery. There are good reasons why former Secretary of State George P. Shultz called the modern era’s longest running embargo “insane.” The embargo sure seems to have had the opposite effect to what was intended. Could it be keeping Cuba polarized against the U.S., and in that way helping Cuba’s tyrants maintain power?

Whatever we North Americanos can do or attempt to do, what Cuba needs remains obvious: An end to all vestiges of Communism, of the Castros, and of anything else — beginning with “c” or not — that prevents a return of private property and the rule of law.

It’s a pity that a video that could be used to such good effect against the Castro regime is being used (by some) against the United States. Not because we can’t take it, but because there is just no reason to let Cuba’s so-called leaders off the hook. 

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