Mises Wire

Fidel Castro: Hero or Cold-blooded Murderer?

Fidel Castro is dead, and the mainstream media in the US and elsewhere are beside themselves with grief over their fallen hero. If you are not sickened by the disease of Castrophilia, it is obvious that there is nothing good to say about this mass murderer, except that he was lucky enough to live into his 90s.

I’ve been to Cuba several times. Everything worth looking at was built either under the Spanish or Batista (including highways, bridges, and big universities). The complete lack of reliable statistics makes it impossible to offer any exact numbers on the state of the Cuban economy. I’ve traveled to over 80 countries and can compare Cuba only to Malawi or Lesotho in standard of living by visual approximation. Guatemala with its $3,800 per capita GDP looks like a superpower in comparison with the prison island. In the same manner, the proper central planning system of the economy makes it impossible (even in theory) to analyze its production in monetary value.

Wages in Cuba increased to a whopping 687 CUP (Cuban peso)/month (US $26.5) in 2015 from 584 CUP/month (US $22.03) in 2014 according to official Cuban stats.

Castrophiliacs at the World Bank came with absurd numbers claiming that Cuban GDP per capita is $6,156.62 and the Cuba GDP per capita by purchasing power parity is $19,950.28. Castrophiliacs at the CIA estimate Cuban GDP — per capita (PPP) at an equally implausible $10,200.

Boston Consulting Group surveyed the purchasing power of Cuban households and found that about half the Cuban population lives with a median household income of $300 to $400 a year while another half of Cuban consumers — in urban areas — had a household income of $1,000 to $2,000 a year.1

Cuba 1
“Store” for the masses: rationing norms displayed


Cuba 2
Not much to buy

Since late 2000, Venezuela has provided petroleum products to Cuba supplying nearly 100,000 barrels per day. Cuba has been paying for the oil with the services of their forced laborers including some 30,000 medical-trained slaves.

Pre-Castro Cuba of Afro-Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista was no paradise, but there were economic opportunities. People owned themselves.

People could get actual jobs, producing and selling goods and services people wanted to buy: rum and sugar, cigars, tourist vacations. The system was as corrupt as Chicago, but corruption is a source of opportunity for those willing to take it. The Castro system monopolized wealth and power in the hands of a tiny minority consisting of Fidel and his flunkies. Sure, he gave them free education — or rather Marxist indoctrination — and free healthcare on par with America in the 1950s. Of course, in a country where many people earn only $2 per day, the major health problems are starvation and malnutrition.2

Pre-Castro Cuba maintained a stable developing economy well incorporated in the international markets, second in per capita income in Latin America. At that time, the Cuban peso and the US dollar shared the same values. National and international financial institutions cooperated in incrementing its lending operations to Cuban businesses and foreign investors willing to invest their capital in the island.

Cuba 3
Fading remnants of the past

The economic system established in Cuba by the murderous Castro brothers is nothing but a regime of public slavery where a Lockean self-ownership was replaced by the government ownership of the populace. In 1959, a meltdown was felt when Fidel Castro began a massive program of nationalization. The Soviet Stalinist model of government and central planning was introduced and caused an enslavement of the populace and radical change in the country’s economy. 

Cuban masses are not only physically separated from the elites, but there is complete socio-economic apartheid between the slaves and their masters with separate monetary systems, retail facilities, and health care and educational systems. Copied from the USSR in the beginning of the 1960s, Castro implemented a system in which some comrades became more equal than the others and separated themselves from the gray masses with checkpoints and fences, and different currencies and rationing cards.

The masses are being paid in the Cuban Peso (CUP), whereas their owners — the government elite — use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The CUC is worth about 30 times the value of the CUP on the black market, and Cuba’s “special stores.” Tourist areas, restaurants, and other attractions for elites and foreigners do not accept Cuban pesos, effectively keeping the workers out of the “workers’ paradise” so much adored by Jesse Jackson, Michael Moore, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, and the like.

Cuba 4
Cuba 5

Like at the height of apartheid in South Africa the Cuban people are banned from the beaches, where the elites and foreign tourists have the white sand all to themselves. There are actual walls around these beaches. On the other side of the wall, the people have nothing.

During one visit to Cuba, my students befriended a joyful Afro-Cuban teenager with a Russian name, Yevgeny, and invited him to a beach at our hotel. He was arrested in our presence and all my attempts to release him from custody failed. I tried to explain at the police precinct that Yevgeny is our friend. The police thug asked me what his last name was, which, unfortunately, I did not know. They escorted me out and threatened to deport me.

Cuba 6
Cuba 7

In the cities, the people live in squalor of communal apartments literally falling apart as they have not been properly maintained since 1959. In many old high rises that I have visited, elevators and indoor plumbing was gone and the buildings were surrounded by primitive outhouses. Under socialism, the Cuban government, with help from Moscow, built Soviet-style pre-fabricated housing units known as “Khruscheba” — Khrushchev’s slums — which look like slabs of concrete with windows. The lifeless grey barracks are similar to the same visual pollution that we see in all ex-socialist countries from Russia to Kazakhstan to the Czech Republic. I visited one of these complexes, and the number who lived there well exceeded the numbers of comrades squeezed in similar buildings in the USSR. There were about 10–12 people living in a small studio apartment, including small children and old age very frail looking seniors. The stench was excruciating.

The countryside looked as devastating as that in the Soviet Union. There were dilapidated pre-revolutionary houses, rusting agricultural equipment left from the “oppressive” days of the Batista regime, and the people — like in Malawi — were traveling on foot (often barefoot) or in a hot crowded “Camel” trailer bus pulled by a conventional truck. Like in Malawi, the Cubans have to endure frequent police checkpoints. The only successful part of the Cuban economy — the tourism sector — is off limits to ordinary Cubans.

Fidel Castro and his Communist Party cronies trumpeted that everyone in Cuba would have free health services, and the system would eliminate “waste” stemming from “unnecessary duplication and parallelism”; i.e., market competition. Communist Party officials and their intellectual servants found it, however, expedient to exempt themselves from the egalitarian medical system that they created and controlled for the gray masses. They provided themselves with an elite medical system to go along with their elite social positions. While ordinary Cuban “workers and peasants” — which is how their masters see them — died in state-run hospitals. Equipment and medicine that could have saved their lives were in the elite facilities out of ordinary Cubans’ reach.4

The clinics for Cuban elites and foreigners were pristine and well equipped. They were portrayed in the infamous propaganda video “Sicko” concocted by a Castro maniac Michael Moore in 2007. I did not get to visit a clinic or hospital for the Cuban people, but the conditions were indicated to me by my Cuban friend who told me that “excellent” the health care system would have room for improvement if only it had real doctors, medicines, clinics, and ambulances.

Cuba 8
The “ambulance” for the masses

To enforce socialist slavery, more than a 100,000 were murdered and millions squeezed out. There are 4 million Cubans living outside of Cuba. The estimates of Cubans killed range from 35,000 to 141,000 (1959–1987) according to a renowned demographer R.J. Rummel. More estimates of death tolls are listed below:

Non-Combat Victims of the Castro Regime (January 1, 1959 to December 31, 2007)

Documented Cases5
Firing squad executions: 4,074
Extrajudicial killings not in prison:1,334
Missing and disappeared: 219
Other, including deaths in prison: 2,215
“Balseros” (estimate to 2003): 77,833

Total: 85,675

My Polish friend Krzysztof Ostaszewski came to the right conclusion that I wholeheartedly share:

Socialist policies are often proclaimed by their opponents to be well-intentioned, but producing unintended consequences. Given nearly two hundred years of vast experience with those policies, and their unqualified and undisturbed record of producing slaughter, misery and poverty, isn’t it time to conclude that the “unintended” consequences are actually fully intended by socialism’s proponents?

Yuri N. Maltsev, Senior Fellow of the Mises Institute and professor of economics at Carthage College, worked as an economist on Mikhail Gorbachevs economic reform team before defecting to the United States in 1989. He has testified before the US Congress and appeared on CNN, PBS News Hour, C-Span, CBC, and other American, Canadian, Spanish, South African, and Finnish television and radio programs. He has authored and co-authored fifteen books and numerous articles. He is a recipient of the Luminary Award of the Free Market Foundation. Contact: email.

Image Source: Agência Brasil commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Fidel_Castro#/media/File:Castro_2.jpg
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
What is the Mises Institute?

The Mises Institute is a non-profit organization that exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian School of economics, individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. 

Non-political, non-partisan, and non-PC, we advocate a radical shift in the intellectual climate, away from statism and toward a private property order. We believe that our foundational ideas are of permanent value, and oppose all efforts at compromise, sellout, and amalgamation of these ideas with fashionable political, cultural, and social doctrines inimical to their spirit.

Become a Member
Mises Institute