When the U.S owned oil refineries in Cuba stopped processing oil, they were expropriated, and the diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S soured. As a result the Cuban government signed a variety of agreements with the USSR, which included buying oil and receiving military and economic aid. As Cuba traded millions of tons of sugar in return for financial aid, that ran into billions, and agricultural machinery, the economy started looking up.
While the Soviet Union gave Cuba the initial push, before it collapsed in 1991, Castro took some steps to wipe out social and economic inequality within the nation. It started with the first agrarian reform law (1959) which limited property rights to 1000 hectares per person. At the same time the property of many wealthy individuals was nationalized for redistribution to the poor. Also, the state owned farms permanently employed seasonal labour, as a result these labourers enjoyed social security, education and free medical and day care benefits. The overall loss of the wealthy, due to inadequate compensation, was, however, less than the overall gains of the poor. The aim was to increase the purchasing power of millions of poor Cubans to encourage industrial growth. The second agrarian reform law (1963) which reduced private property rights to 67 hectares per person aimed at promoting agrarian co-operatives through which people can benefit from modern infrastructure, which the majority was oblivious to, such as housing with toilets, even schools.
Though it was a self-sustained economy that Castro had envisioned for Cuba, he opened a previously closed market economy to foreign investment. He also encouraged tourism to bring in revenues from other nations. Another reason for increased tourism was the supply of good quality doctors, due to availability of top notch education. These medical services were also sold to nations such as Venezuela in exchange for oil.
In recent times Cuba has formed strong trade deals with countries like China and Venezuela, the value of the Cuban peso has appreciated due to certain fiscal measures taken by the government, oil has been discovered in the Cuban waters and overall economic conditions are looking good with new housing and state salary hikes expected in the future.
There is no doubt about Fidel Castro’s contribution in uplifting the have-nots of Cuba and improving its economic condition. This self proclaimed Marxist-Leninist had a vision: a self-sustained nation with equal social and economic opportunity for all. Albeit all his achievements, one cannot completely agree that he has realized this vision. Though reforms in the agriculture sector rendered economic independence to millions, the richer landowners were unfairly compensated and gained nothing. Allocation of resources by the state did not reflect equality, also state owned land was inefficiently managed. Nationalization of property also forced former owners to flee to the U.S and generated ill will against Castro’s communistic regime amongst the same.
Ownership of inputs by state, in case of independent producers, has led to these producers being dependent on the underground economy, which is also thriving as a result of the trade of unwanted consumer goods which have been rationed, for a little extra money.
Free education and medical care sound good, but not when citizens can acquire these ‘free’ medicines only if they get remittances from relatives abroad to pay for medical facilities, and when children are forced into child labour in return for ‘free’ education. The government seems to have turned a blind eye to the sex tourism too, which is rampant in the name of tourism. Also, it is shocking that a country which was dependent on the USSR for oil is now an exporter of it. The reason however is not the latest discovery of petroleum deposits in the Carribean water bodies but a supposed barter deal with new friend Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president, who supplies 100,000 barrels of oil to Cuba, daily, thus unjustly appropriating his own citizens’ birthright to their country’s resources.
All this and his military and leftist regime have been criticized by many. Some critics have called him power driven and his reforms have been interpreted as strategies to garner mass appeal and a majority support. Everything said and done, Fidel Castro, soon to be former president of Cuba and close associate of the iconic Che Guevara has achieved Cuba’s economic independence and freedom from one of the world’s superpowers-the United States of America, and made his mark on the world. He does, and will eternally remain in the hearts of millions as a revolutionary and charismatic leader who led Cuba into the 21st century.
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