“”This guy makes more in one day than a doctor makes in a month, and he's a taxi driver. Well, he's actually a trained engineer, but engineers make even less than doctors. Welcome to the Cuban economy.
|—Vox, the capitalist machine|
Originally a Spanish colony, Cuba was captured by the United States in 1898 at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. It was then controlled for a good many years by US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Since 1959 it has been run for almost fifty years by Fidel Castro, who gave up power on February 24, 2008, to his brother Raúl Castro. The older Castro survived numerous assassination attempts by the CIA. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba was the latter's major Western Hemisphere ally.
Located ninety miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba has been under a trade blockade by the U.S. since 1962.
Cuba was America's playground in the Caribbean, a holiday destination with casinos (before Las Vegas became a thing) where US corporations were able to do as they pleased with a compliant banana republic government doing their bidding. Once the revolution turned Communist and you had the combination of the wealthy exiles and nationalization of American assets, it was a perfect storm for the embargo to be put in place. Arguably, Castro might not have embraced Communism had the US reacted more cooperatively with the new reality in post-revolution Cuba. Instead, Cuba's isolation pushed them into the Soviet sphere of influence, leading Castro to fully embrace Communism as the only means of ensuring the long-term success of his revolution. However, this scenario is unrealistic as people tend to dislike having their possessions taken from them.
As a result of the excesses by the Castro regime, a massive number of their victims fled to become full-fledged US citizens in one of the few true swing states in the country. This has given rise to two special interest groups in the US who are vehemently against the normalization of relations: the corporations that lost their assets and the Cuban exiles. The former has since moved on, but the latter is still influential—many still refuse to vote Democrat because Kennedy didn't lend aid to the counter-revolutionaries. Note, though, that if Cuban refugees all settled in a non-swing state then they would have a lot less say in national politics. Florida is essential to the electoral math.
Multiple diplomats, US military officials and businessmen are now calling for easing (or even lifting) the embargo, which has been condemned by the United Nations every year since 1992. On August 14, 2015, the United States reopened its embassy in Havana, officially reinstating diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Today, the (Raúl) Castro regime has engaged in some capitalist reforms, the kind of privatization mainland China and Vietnam undertook. He allowed for limited markets and enterprise in small industries, but the Cuban government still controls the commanding heights of the economy.
However, Cuba is, unfortunately, taking a step backwards, as, among various other regulations, it's enforcing licenses that restrict individuals to operating one business at a time (for example, a bed-and-breakfast owner can’t also run an in-house restaurant, because if they could then the free-market would take over, turn Cuba into a banana republic, and destroy the workers' utopia!) and the requirement that anyone operating a private business have an official bank account. Needless to say, many
neoliberal corporate shills experts and institutions are concerned about this.
Cuba and Terrorism
From 1982 to 2015, Cuba had been on the United States Department Of Defense "State Sponsors Of Terrorism" list, which claims that these countries have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism" along with (at the time) four other countries, due to their quite open support and armament of revolutionary movements in several different Third World nations. The U.S State Department itself claims that:
"Havana openly advocates armed revolution as the only means for leftist forces to gain power in Latin America, and the Cubans have played an important role in facilitating the movement of men and weapons into the region. Havana provides direct support in the form of training, arms, safe havens, and advice to a wide variety of guerrilla groups. Many of these groups engage in terrorist operations".
Conversely, the US has in the past supported Cuban terrorist exiles, such as Luis Posada Carrilles. He was implicated in bombing Cubana Flight 455 along with Orlando Bosch, murdering all 73 passengers and crew onboard. Declassified documents reveal the CIA did not directly participate in the plot, but knew about it beforehand and took no steps to stop the attack occurring.[note 1] In particular, it did not inform the Cuban government. Both men were also convicted for numerous other acts of terrorism against Cuba, but given safe haven by the US. This posed a problem for the (younger) Bush administration's counter-terrorism policy.
Cuba and democracy
The United States and opponents of the Cuban communist government accuse the Caribbean country of being a dictatorship and violating human rights. Supporters of Cuba disagree and argue that there is no United Nations determination for what is the right model of democracy and no requirement for a multi-party system and say the nation is a grassroots popular democracy, where political processes are taken to the lowest level of social organization. The idea of a single-party system was not conceived by the communists, but in 1892 by José Martí, liberal independence leader, to unite Cubans against foreign domination and was approved by the Cuban people in 1976, when more than 97% voted for in favor of the new constitution, after exhausting grassroots discussions that involved millions of citizens and changed several articles. Since 1992, opposition parties are also permitted and legally, the Communist Party and any of its possible opposition does not control the electoral process and is not allowed to campaign or endorse anyone. Any Cuban over 16 is allowed to run for elections and vote in a secret ballot. Candidates are nominated by local assemblies and any person has the right to suggest a nomination. Cubans are politically active and elections usually have over 90% turnout, although voting is not mandatory.
However, the US State Department and the Human Rights Watch state that Cuban elections are neither free nor fair. Although voting is not legally required, citizens are pressured to vote by the Committees for Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), state organizations closely aligned with the police and security services, which along with them monitor electoral meetings. Additionally, the media is state controlled and uniformly supports the government-approved candidates. All opposition political activities are effectively outlawed, with numerous dissidents imprisoned, making attempting political change peacefully a dangerous prospect. The legislature, even if it was freely elected, is also virtually powerless. It meets only a few days each year, with most business conducted by a government-controlled standing committee. In practice, higher offices require Communist Party membership.
Healthcare in Cuba
The nation offers health coverage to all of its citizens, including opponents to their government. However, the program (as well as the economy overall) was vastly weakened by the United States embargo, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the fact that collective planning is terrible for providing services that private capital would usually cover (e.g. not health care).
Moreover, the United States imposed a tight prohibition on subsidiary trade in food and medicine to Cuba in 1992 with the passage of the Cuban Democracy Act (which obviously failed to live up to its name). The Act forbade ships that dock in Cuban ports from docking in U.S. ports for six months. This drastically inhibited shipping, and increased shipping costs about 30%. Because of the nature of the trade prohibited, this embargo has been accused of violating international law. Restrictions on medicinal imports are so extensive that it is nearly impossible for Cuba to import medicines from the US. Some of these restrictions include provisions that Cuba must make all payments in cash and in advance, cannot obtain credit, either public or private, and that Cuba cannot use its own merchant vessels to transport the goods.
After the end of USSR subsidies to Cuba, there was a period of economic shock and turmoil; this greatly affected the quality the national health care service. However, in recent years, it has seen surprisingly substantial recovery and ample improvement. For example, Cuba became the first country to develop and market a vaccine for meningitis B, and its hepatitis B vaccine is being exported to thirty nations worldwide. In addition, according to the World Health Organization, Cuba provides a doctor for every 170 residents (ahead of the US where the ratio is 1 to 188) and does fine on infant mortality and life expectancy rates.
In 2015 Cuba successfully eradicated the transmission of HIV and syphilis in utero. In 2019 they began a scheme to deliver PrEP (pre-exposure prophylactic) free of charge to at-risk citizens - the drug remains prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of Americans.
From late 2016, US and Canadian government workers, particularly CIA agents, in Havana reported mysterious feelings of headaches, dizziness, memory loss, sleeplessness, and other problems; many described feeling as if they were "bombarded by waves of pressure in their heads" or like "concussion without concussion". As it became clear these were more than just isolated incidents, it began to be referred to as "The Thing" or "Havana syndrome". A variety of conspiracy theories circulated about the cause, most focusing on the Cubans - although since Cuba was in the process of opening up diplomatic relations with the USA, it didn't make much sense for them to be harming the diplomats they were negotiating with. An alternative theory blamed it on the Russians, who might have wanted to disrupt US-Cuban relations. But similar symptoms were reported in Canadian diplomats, despite Canada not having the same fractious relationship with Cuba that the US did.
Theories included a "sonic weapon" (infrasound or ultrasound) or microwaves or some other kind of electromagnetic beam or weapon. A recording device in the US embassy picked up a mysterious chirping noise, similar to crickets or cicadas, which was suspected of being the cause. One idea was that multiple sounds, maybe from different security systems, could be interfering and modulating to create destructive sound. Or maybe it involved the Frey effect, where low-energy microwaves directed at the ear can create an acoustic effect. Mass hysterial or psychological contagion was also suspected. James Giordano, head of neuroethics studies at Georgetown University, blamed "some form of electromagnetic-pulse generation and/or hypersonic generation that would then utilize the architecture of the skull to create something of an energetic amplifier or lens to induce a cavitational effect that would then induce the type of pathologic changes that would then induce the constellation of signs and symptoms that we’re seeing in these patients."
Michael Hoffer, an otolaryngologist at the University of Miami, examined some of the workers and found evidence of physical injury to their ears. Charles Rosenfarb, a senior medical official in the State Department, reviewed the findings, and affected people were sent to the University of Pennsylvania, which again found evidence of harm. In August 2017, the US government expelled 15 Cuban diplomats in reprisal for the alleged attacks. In March 2018, a US Commerce Department worker in Guangzhou, China reported similar symptoms, and gradually others did too - but when tested at the University of Pennsylvania, 14 out of 15 were cleared and one was judged "indeterminate", sufficiently different from the Cuban cases to probably have another cause. This again raised the possibility of psychological contagion.
In 2019, a Canadian study, which was able to use baseline medical data taken before people were stationed in Cuba, put the blame on pesticides used against mosquitoes, with the Zika epidemic in Latin America causing an increase in spraying in 2016-18; levels of cholinesterase, an important enzyme in the nervous system, were abnormally low in the patients, and some pesticides inhibit cholinesterase.
- Never interrupt an enemy when he's making a mistake. Never assist an enemy in trouble. This seems to be the motto here.
- Havana Times. Covers news in Cuba and the rest of Latin America, and features several editorials focusing on ordinary life in the country.
- Why Cuban cab drivers earn more than doctors (hint: central planning)
- "the capitalist machine that is Vox"
- Negroponte Leads Group Urging Obama to Ease Cuba Embargo, Bloomberg
- Raúl Castro to allow Cubans more private sector jobs, The Guardian
- Cuba moves backwards: New regulations likely to impede private sector growth. Brookings Institution
- Cuba set to tighten screws on private sector
- You Won’t Believe Where the Only McDonald’s in Cuba Is.
- US Officially Removes Cuba From State Sponsors Of Terrorism List
- The current list, which lacks Cuba.
- Guillermo Farinas was released from prison to be hospitalised, despite the fact that he was using civil disobedience in an attempt to provoke reform.
- Health Situation Analysis and Trends Summary: Cuba, Pan American Health Organization
- An Evaluation of Four Decades of Cuban Healthcare, SUNY Buffalo
- BMA must voice its opposition to Cuban embargo, British Medical Journal
- Assembly Again Seeks Repeal of Extraterritorial Measures Like United States Helms-Burton Act Against Cuba, UN
- Medical know-how boosts Cuba's wealth, BBC News
- Country Comparison: Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy at Birth, CIA
- Anti-HIV PrEP remains $2000/month in the US, two years on from generic FDA approval. In Cuba it’s now free., Ruairi Wood.
- The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome, Adam Entous and Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, 19 November 2018
- The real story behind the Havana Embassy mystery, Vanity Fair, Feb 2019
- Mosquito fumigation may have caused mystery 'Havana syndrome', study says, The Guardian, 19 Sep 2019