In Cuba, socialism or death

Myriam Marquez

October 28, 1991|By Myriam Marquez

At a time when Cuba's 11 million people are having to scrape and scramble for the most basic of necessities, their fearless leader, Fidel Castro, with his cry of "Socialism or Death," has delivered on his promise. No doubt death is on the way.

Death for communism, that is.

If what I say sounds like an optimistic exaggeration, consider what happened when Cuba's Communist Party Congress met last week to decide where to lead the nation now that it has lost its old benefactor, the Soviet Union.

The people of the Soviet Union have exposed communism for what it is: a parasite that sucks the lifeblood from individual initiative. But Cuba's communist leaders apparently can't tell Castro that truth. Which is why this congress -- only the fourth in Cuba's 32 years of communist rule -- was such a flop.

Creating farmers' markets would have been the smartest thing Castro could have done to instill some hope in his people. These markets proved quite successful in the late 1970s, before Castro decided that the overwhelming increase in food production wasn't good for the nation because it had people -- imagine this -- profiting from selling food on the open market.

Never mind that for once in Cuba's post-communist history, agricultural production was actually surpassing quotas set by the government, which, in effect, was helping Cuba's communist system. No, for Castro and his die-hard communists, profits are not to be had, even if that incentive has shown to be the best way to keep the Cuban economy running.

So what bones did the congress toss to the Cuban people this time? Well, they can directly elect representatives to the nation's legislature, which should have been happening all along. On the economic front, the congress decided to allow repairmen and mechanics to do free-lance work that's not government-controlled. Sounds truly capitalistic, except that there's still not enough food to feed either the repairmen or the people who need their old gadgets fixed.

But perhaps the biggest mistake this congress made is to say the government would start channeling even more money and resources into Cuba's medical and biotechnological industries.

There aren't enough medicines to treat the Cuban people, yet the communists decided that selling medicines to other countries, like Brazil, is more important. Meanwhile, Cuban doctors who have recently defected tell horror stories. Many of these doctors are experts in their fields; they studied in some of the best universities abroad. They held high-ranking positions within the Communist Party and handled the most sensitive information about Cuba's failings.

What they know is appalling: Cubans are dying of diabetes because they can't get insulin. They are dying from complications to diseases that could be wiped out with antibiotics that the Cuban government prefers to sell abroad. The sterilization equipment is so old and the lack of medicinal alcohol so alarming that the incidence of post-operative infections and death are at an all-time high. In the emergency room of one of the biggest hospitals in Havana, Hospital Calixto Garcia, dirty sheets smeared with blood are often left on beds for new patients because there isn't enough soap to clean up after each patient.

Here's a country that has people riding bicycles because it doesn't have enough fuel for buses; where the government is experimenting with how to prepare rat as a tasty food because it has failed dismally to produce enough vegetables and meats for its own people; and now this country, with one doctor for every 300 citizens, can't even treat the sick.

Instead, the Communist Party leaders, with their state-of-the-art hospital safely tucked away from the masses, are prepared to let Cubans die so that Castro can make some bizarre claim that Cuba is the biotechnology whiz kid of the Third World.

Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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