Socialism Starves the People: Cuba Edition
What were the three greatest successes of the revolution? Education, health, and defense. What were the three greatest failures? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. — Cuban food joke
The radio program The Splendid Table recently featured a story about the rediscovery of good food in Cuba. One of the segments featured an interview with writer Tamar Adler whose piece “Why Cuba Is Becoming a Serious Culinary Destination” explains how the gastronomic life of Cubans is beginning to recover from decades of socialism.
You can listen to the segment and read excerpts from Adler’s interview by clicking here.
Adler explains how Castro’s revolution and regime drove the populace to the brink of starvation. Following the revolution, Cuba’s international trade slowed to a crawl. In response to the question of how Cuba’s isolation effected Cuba’s culinary identity, Adler replied:
Severely. The worst of it really started with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Cuba, like the U.S., was a petroleum-dependent, highly industrialized, agricultural society. It lost all of its oil imports when the Soviet Union collapsed, which resulted in just short of starvation nationwide.
In her written article Adler elaborates:
Back before the island’s food markets and restaurants were nationalized in 1959, Cuba’s large upper middle class ate well. Then, private enterprise was forbidden. Food rationing began in 1962 and remains, via the libreta de abastecimiento (supplies booklet), which the journalist Patrick Symmes, who has been reporting on Cuba since the 1990s, has called “the foundational document of Cuban life.” The collapse of the Soviet Union around 1991 marked the beginning of the most artfully euphemized epoch I’ve heard of: Fidel Castro’s Special Period in Peacetime, during which Cuba lost up to 85 percent of its imports and exports. Farms went fallow. Cubans lived on sugar water until dinnertime. Stories abound of dairy cows eaten for meat, of street cats and zoo animals going missing. The weight of an average Cuban decreased by 30 percent.
While the program segment happily focuses on the recovery of the Cuban culinary scene after Fidel Castro’s stepping down from power and the subsequent opening of Cuba, it also reminds us of how socialism actually impoverished the people by making their mundane, ordinary lives much more difficult to live. The Cuban socialist episode is another negative example of how socialism hurts the masses, the very set of people it promises to help.