FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Sanders is Right About Cuba

by

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is being pilloried by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and others for uttering a truth widely understood in Latin America—Fidel Castro’s government instituted many reforms undeniably beneficial to Cuba’s poor.

Clinton pounced on Sanders’ Univision debate comments, and her website condemns Sanders’ “troubling history of admiration for the Castros,” providing a list of allegedly incriminating Sanders quotes praising Cuba’s health care and educational systems.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, Cuba—a small island with scant natural resources—has a life expectancy rate equal to that of the US, and higher than that of almost any other Latin American nation. Cuba’s infant mortality rate of 8/1,000 is the lowest in Latin America, and near that of the US. Patricia Danzon, a professor of Health Care Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, asserts “[Cuba] does remarkably well in terms of infant mortality and life expectancy, and on those metrics it is comparable to the U.S.” In fact, according to the WHO, Cuba recently became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

The 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign was a massive effort to educate Cuba’s poor peasantry, and it succeeded in raising Cuba’s literacy level from 65% to 96%. Its biggest beneficiaries were Afro-Cubans, who had been kept at the lowest level of society and were victims of Jim Crow-style segregation. Castro abolished segregation soon after coming to power.

A 1957 survey by the Agrupación Católica Universitaria found that two-thirds of rural Cubans lived in “bohíos” – thatched hovels with earthen floors. Today that figure is less than 5%.

There is no question that, as in most underdeveloped countries, life is hard for the average Cuban. Moreover, planned, collectivized economies have often been plagued by low-quality consumer goods and shortages, and Cuba is no exception. But according to the World Bank, Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product per capita is better than that of most comparable countries—higher than Jamaica’s and the Dominican Republic’s, over seven times Haiti’s, double that of several Central American nations, and even higher than oil-rich Ecuador’s. Americans unrealistically portray Cuba as an economic failure by making a ludicrous, apples-to-oranges comparison between Cuban and American living standards.

In attacking Sanders, Clinton says that the Castro regime “oppress[es]…disappear[es]…imprison[es]…or even kill[s] people for expressing their opinions.” Sanders was more realistic, calling Cuba “an authoritarian, undemocratic country.”

The Castro regime is certainly repressive, and regularly violates its citizens’ human rights. Dissidents and protesters aren’t killed or disappeared, but they are spied upon, harassed, temporarily detained, and sometimes roughed up by security personnel. But some perspective is needed. According to the Associated Press, human rights groups say “about 70 political prisoners remain in the country.” That’s unjust, but it hardly makes Cuba the Latin gulag Clinton claims it is. Many US-backed regimes in Latin America and elsewhere have been far worse than the Castros, killing or “disappearing” hundreds of thousands.

Cuba is ruled by a bureaucratic elite that wishes to stay elite, and does so by monopolizing political power. But America’s expectations of democracy in Cuba have long been unrealistic. For decades the US government and Cuban exile groups committed terrorism and economic sabotage in Cuba, and tried numerous times to assassinate Fidel Castro. The US enforced a punitive trade embargo and has sponsored numerous attempts to organize Cubans against their government, several of which were initiated under the Obama Administration. Cuba was for decades under the threat of US military action. The Castros can rightly be condemned as caudillos (strongmen), but Thomas Jefferson would have had a hard time operating a democracy under such conditions.

In fact, Jefferson and other American revolutionaries committed similar and widespread acts of political repression during our Revolution. At the Continental Congress’ urging, all 13 states passed laws banning any publication or proclamation criticizing Congress or the state assemblies. “Committees of Censorship” destroyed the printing presses of loyalist and even neutral publishers, often exiling or imprisoning the publishers. Those who refused to swear loyalty to the new government often lost their civil rights or were exiled. Roughly 100,000 loyalists fled the American Revolution—a higher percentage of people than fled most of the 20th century communist revolutions.

The Clinton campaign and the Republicans will pillory Sanders, but he is correct in condemning America’s one-sided view of and punitive actions towards Cuba.

Glenn Sacks has a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies, has traveled in Cuba, and has published columns in dozens of America’s largest newspapers.  

More articles by:
May 26, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Stage of Capitalism: Germany’s Assault on the IMF
Pepe Escobar
Hillary Clinton: A Major Gold-Digging Liability
Sam Pizzigati
America’s Cosmic Tax Gap
Ramzy Baroud
Time to End the ‘Hasbara’: Palestinian Media and the Search for a Common Story
José L. Flores
Wall Street’s New Man in Brazil: The Forces Behind Dilma Rousseff’s Impeachment
Patrick Cockburn
The Battle of Fallujah: ISIS Unleashes Its Death Squads
John Feffer
The Coming Drone Blowback
Alex Ray
The Death Toll in Syria: What Do the Numbers Really Say?
Richard Pithouse
We Shall be the Prey and the Vulture
Binoy Kampmark
Trump and the Polls of Loathing
Manuel E. Yepe
A Cruise Ship Without Tourists Arrives in Havana
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt Negotiations: Will the IMF Exit the Troika?
Ajamu Nangwaya
Pan-Africanism, Feminism and Finding Missing Pan-Africanist Women
Howard Lisnoff
Israel, a Palestinian State and Anti-Semitism
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail