Your average income is $15 a month. Your meat ration is 3.3 pounds a month. Owning a car is forbidden unless you are among the ruling elite. Computers are illegal. So is Internet access.
The prices of the basics you need to live on are low. A decent-size urban apartment rents for $10 a month. But everything is also extremely scarce — food and gasoline to bicycles and bank loans. To get by, you must supplement your income by moonlighting, working in the black market or getting remittances from relatives abroad. Bath soap, shampoo and chicken are luxuries.
Welcome to the Republica de Cuba, the 1950s police state and time warp that Fidel Castro and his fellow goons have spent the last 47 years “perfecting” for the 11.3 million souls who’ve had the misfortune to be born there.
Welcome to the politically abused country American leftists have slavishly adored, defended and given excuses for since Fidel took absolute power in 1959.
One of only five communist anachronisms left on Earth, Cuba today is a nice place to visit but unless you subscribe to The Nation magazine or belong to the Communist Party you don’t want to live there.
One political party, Partido Comunista de Cuba, runs the government, owns everything of importance, sets wages and prices, controls all the media, makes all the plans, writes all the rules, puts up all the candidates, wins all the elections and kills or jails the dissidents.
Fundamental human freedoms — to speak, act, own property and trade — are paper promises or nonexistent in Fidel’s paradise of government-coerced equality and shared misery. In a form of apartheid, Cubans are forbidden to mingle with tourists.
Cuba’s command economy is overtaxed, over-regulated and pathetically unproductive. The Cuban peso — equal to about 4 U.S. pennies in Havana — is worthless beyond Cuba’s shores.
Fidel and his fellow travelers in America blame Cuba’s sorry state on the trade embargo the United States slapped on the country in 1959. And they never fail to point out that though Fidel isn’t perfect, at least he’s made sure everyone gets free health care and a good education. And that’s more than any U.S. president has done, the casual socialists sniff.
Last week, when word broke that Fidel was sick and had handed off control to his brother Raul, Cuban exiles in Miami were dancing in the street and planning their returns. If the Cuban people get lucky, by now the favorite dictator of the American left will be dead.
But unless the Bush administration’s neocons have prepared an expeditionary force we aren’t privy to, Fidel’s death isn’t likely to immediately bring freedom or capitalist prosperity to Cuba. Some experts think it’s more likely that Cuba under Raul will slowly evolve into a communist-free market hybrid like China or Vietnam.
Anything would be better than what Fidel has created — an impoverished, crumbling, living museum to the evils, idiocies and inefficiencies of unfettered Soviet socialism. The more you read about daily life in Cuba, the more obvious it becomes that it is a victim of too little Yankee imperialism, not too much.
Unfortunately, Fidel’s demise may not be enough. What Cuba’s beautiful people desperately need to liberate them and vault them into the 21st century — political and economic freedom, billions in American investment capital, Nike factories, Wal-Marts, a Major League Baseball franchise in Havana — may still take decades to arrive.