A guest post by Asombra:
The following was inspired by or drawn from my reading of Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959, the subject of a prior post. That book (in English, available from Amazon) is full of enlightening and documented data clearly deviant from what the Castro regime and many foreign "Cuba experts" have been repeating, Goebbels-like, for decades. Since I know many will not read the actual book, I decided to mine it further in this post. It's a long read, but I hope it will prove worthwhile.
The true nature of pre-Castro Cuba has long been persistently distorted, obscured or falsified, quite deliberately by the Castro regime and perhaps less maliciously, but still eagerly and uncritically, by foreigners sympathetic to the "revolution." The latter, wanting to believe or support the official Castro narrative, have taken it at face value, propagating and perpetuating an adulterated "history" designed to justify a totalitarian system that has always systematically denied Cubans their basic human rights.
It is not generally appreciated, let alone emphasized, that in the years of Batista's rule (1952-58), during which Cuba did very well economically and its prospects were quite bright, there was no significant social unrest and no public clamor for any kind of "revolution," only for the restoration of democracy and constitutional legitimacy. Fidel Castro himself, who was very vocal during those years with plenty of domestic and foreign media spreading his views, always focused squarely on the Batista government's illegitimacy and the need to remove it and restore a fully democratic system. In other words, Fidel, as far as Cubans could tell from his pronouncements, was only talking about resolving a political problem--he never preached or harped on a social or economic revolution. There were good reasons for his "reticence," which was obviously calculated (as was his initial denial of being a communist once he assumed power). He knew what he was after all along, so he never "betrayed" his own planned revolution, only the false bill of goods he'd sold the Cuban people as bait.
It is both instructive and necessary to look at historical and official socioeconomic data for pre-Castro Cuba, which has long been readily available to anyone who cared to seek it and pay due attention to it in an objective search for the truth. Cuba's independence (1902) came roughly 80 years later than for the rest of Spain's New World colonies, not least because Spain was hellbent on keeping it for both pride and profit, to the point that it carried out mass genocide to crush the rebellion. In 1902, Cuba was facing the loss of about 20% of its population and two-thirds of its wealth due to the preceding conflict. In the following 50-plus years, it climbed to the top 10% at the international level in almost every socioeconomic indicator, surpassing Spain in the health and wealth of its people. Indeed, there was massive Spanish immigration to Cuba, and it wasn't motivated by climate or cheap sex.
Below I list salient data in different categories to give an idea of the Cuba that existed pre-1959:
In constant dollars, Cuba's 2008 gross domestic product was barely 5% (yes, five) of its 1958 GDP 50 years earlier. Castro Inc. does not produce; it's a parasite that's always lived off external providers: the Soviets, Cubans abroad, Venezuela--anyone it can suck from, like a tapeworm.
Cuba's peso (now worthless) had parity with the dollar, and Cuba had the lowest inflation rate in Latin America.
Cuba's foreign debt was about 3% of its gross domestic product, unlike the huge foreign debt incurred by the Castro regime (much of it written off as a loss, since the regime is a deadbeat).
Cuba ranked third in Latin America for national income per capita (about the same as Italy then).
There was a strong and energetic middle class, proportionately one of the largest in the region.
Cuba went from having the highest gross product per capita in the region pre-1959 to almost last (barely ahead of Haiti) under Castro.
Cuba's electrical power generation and consumption, a good indicator of economic development, was the highest in Latin America, only to drop to less than 20% of those levels under Castro.
Cuba went from growing 70% of its food domestically to importing 80% of it under Castro, even though Cubans were eating less in quantity and quality (food rationing began in 1961).
Cuba's relative position among Latin American countries is significantly lower now than in 1958 for virtually all socioeconomic measures for which reasonably reliable data is available; the only possible exceptions are health care and education, which are both problematic areas to assess. Health care quality is substandard for ordinary Cubans, who must often resort to Cubans abroad for help, and it is clearly inferior to that received by the ruling elite and foreigners. Education is unquestionably and blatantly used for political indoctrination, not to say mind control, which is at least as important as actual academic achievement, if not more so.
Cuban workers were covered by progressive legal protection measures ahead of their time, including the right to unionize, minimum wage, 5-day/40-hour work week, paid maternity leave and guaranteed return to prior job at the end of maternity leave.
In 1958, Cuba ranked 7th in the world for salaries paid to agricultural workers, higher than France and West Germany. The sugar industry was key for the economy; Cuba was the world's largest sugar exporter and always among the top 3 producers. The sugar industry now lies in ruins.
Cuba ranked 8th in the world for salaries paid to industrial workers.
Cuban workers received a higher percentage of gross national income than those of Switzerland (closer to the situation in the US at the time).
According to even some Marxist economists, income distribution in pre-Castro Cuba was the fairest in Latin America, and Cuba had the lowest unemployment rate in Latin America.
Before Castro, all of Cuba's health indicators were in the top 3 for Latin America. Life expectancy was almost 20% above the regional average. Mortality rate was the third lowest in the world. Infant mortality rate was the lowest in Latin America and lower than that of Spain, France and West Germany. There was one physician per 980 people, the third highest level in Latin America and higher than that in the UK and France. Unlike now, people did not have to bring their own supplies to the hospital, and they did not have to procure medications from relatives abroad because they could not get them in Cuba.
Cuba's literacy rate (76%) was the fourth highest in Latin America at that time.
Cuba spent a higher percentage of national budget on education than any Latin American nation.
Cuba's rate of students going on to higher education was the second highest in the world.
The proportion of female college graduates per capita was higher in Cuba than in the US.
There was a large market for print media, with almost 60 newspapers of various sociopolitical orientations, including "socialist" (really communist). The oldest, most aristocratic and most conservative paper in Cuba, El Diario de la Marina, had a distinguished poet and intellectual as Editor-in-Chief who was black (and he didn't get that job due to "affirmative action").
Cuba was far ahead of the rest of Latin America in telecommunications. Radio broadcasts began in 1922, and Cuba was 8th in the world in number of radio stations. By 1957, it had more radios relative to population than any Latin American country except Uruguay. Cuba was the first country in Latin America to have television (1950), and color TV arrived in 1957. By then, a greater percentage of Cubans owned TV sets than people in any Latin American country, and more than people in all but four countries in the world (US, UK, Canada and Monaco). By 1959, Havana had around 150 movie houses, more than Paris or New York City at the time.
Although Spaniards were clearly the largest immigrant group, people from various countries moved to Cuba between 1902 and 1958, while very few Cubans emigrated. Fewer Cubans moved to the US than Americans did to Cuba, even though Cubans were exempt from US immigration quotas. When Castro first took power in 1959, there were 12,000 applications sitting at the Cuban embassy in Rome from Italians wanting to move to Cuba. The situation changed drastically under Castro, with a massive exodus from the island which continues apace, while not even Haitians want to go there. Obviously, there are reasons why Cuba attracted immigrants before 1959 and repelled even its own people thereafter, and they're not especially subtle.
By the 1950s, despite the political abnormality of Batista, Cuba was much better off than most of Latin America socioeconomically, and poised to continue moving to join the first world. It was definitely not going downhill as it did under Castro, and even if it had stayed at the same level relative to the region, it would now be far superior to a bankrupt, unproductive and backwards third-world mess. Pre-Castro Cuba was NOT what Castro, Inc. and its apologists have long claimed, and it's not hard to figure that out--assuming one's after the truth. The Castro regime, once Batista's rule was over and no longer a viable motive, had to come up with other (marketable) reasons for going communist and totalitarian, hence the black legend of pre-Castro Cuba as a wretched, miserable and irredeemable den of iniquity which required radical reworking.
Batista, of course, still had to be painted as an unmitigated horror (and no, I'm not pro-Batista, who I wish had never been born, at least not in Cuba). In truth, he was a run-of-the-mill Latin authoritarian "strong man" but never a totalitarian one, which is a very different and far more destructive animal. He never dreamed of the kind of power Fidel was after; he had no interest in creating a "new man" in thrall to the state, and he had no ambitions beyond Cuba (he would not, for instance, have sent thousands of Cubans to die in Angola). He never screwed with the economy, which was booming during his rule, and he didn't screw with the Cuban people's lives, traditions or culture. He was of mixed race and humble origins, far more proletarian than Fidel, the pampered white boy of a rich daddy. Batista wanted to be "The Man," but he was more interested in status and money than power per se, while Fidel was all about power--absolute power. No doubt Batista was corrupt, but he was not a megalomaniacal monster, and no matter how long he had stayed in power, he would never have done anywhere near as much harm to Cuba as Castro, Inc. Still, he was the second worst thing that ever happened to Cuba, because he made possible the worst: the disastrous and malignant Castro tyranny.
The official line is that the revolution was worth it because it gave Cubans things like "free" health care and education, but nothing is free if it costs your freedom and human rights, which Cubans on the island lost. Some also talk about "social accomplishments," whatever that means, but they don't mean (and typically ignore) revolutionary "accomplishments" like rampant prostitution (including males and minors) on a scale utterly inconceivable before Castro; people on every block of every town and city in Cuba spying and ratting on their neighbors for the state so it can completely control people's lives; defenseless women harassed and physically attacked by mobs; schoolchildren pressed to participate in "actos de repudio" against dissidents; students relentlessly indoctrinated during their entire education to believe a perversely false ideology; a culture of two-faced people playing along to get by or avoid trouble; and the widespread practice of living parasitically off relatives abroad, just as the state itself has always been a parasite.
The regime naturally "justifies" itself any way it likes, however spurious; it's never had a problem with lying (starting with Fidel's false promises of a pristine democracy before he gained power). Its foreign apologists, however, "justify" a totalitarian horror they would not want for themselves, which is not only hypocritical but effectively racist--the implicit assumption being that primitive, simple people (aka noble savages), such as little island people of color, do not need and cannot handle self-determination, and can easily do without what the first world considers basic human rights. After all, it's not as if Cubans were advanced higher life forms--you know, like Canadians.
To reiterate, 1950s Cuba had a political problem. There was no public clamor to "change," let alone revolutionize, anything else. In socioeconomic terms, Cuba was doing very well by Latin American standards, and in at least some respects doing as well or better than European countries--certainly better than Spain. Fidel knew all that, so he restricted himself to addressing and attacking the Batista problem, though he had far more in mind--but that would wait till he seized power and procured suitable foreign backup for his absolute one-man rule. Once Batista was out and could no longer serve as pretext for revolution, a different rationale was needed for radical change: demonizing practically everything about pre-1959 Cuba, as if it had been the hellish, oppressive shithole Castro would eventually make it. The fraud worked remarkably well, certainly with the outside world, and systematic internal repression and intimidation, coupled with complete state control of everything, kept the natives in line--at least until they could escape the socialist paradise, which they've been doing nonstop to this day.
I know this has been a very long read, but there are so many lies about Cuba still out there that it's a Herculean task to refute them--like cleaning up the horrendously dirty Aegean stables. Still, I trust, or certainly hope, that sooner or later Veritas nos liberabit : the truth shall set us free.