Corrupción – Cuba – Corruption
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March 2008
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Castro’s Cuba was no place for a socialist like me

Castro's Cuba was no place for a socialist like me
Neil Clark
Wednesday, 20th February 2008

Neil Clark says that he went to Havana in search of a left-wing Utopia
and discovered instead an island fortress of poverty, corruption and
currency apartheid

It's a country where the vast majority live in poverty, while a tiny,
corrupt elite live in luxury. It's a place where, 14 years after South
Africa abolished apartheid, a form of it still operates. And it's a
country where you can be threatened with prison not just for criticising
the country's leadership, but also for querying a medical bill.

Welcome to Cuba, the 'socialist' paradise built by that great
egalitarian , who after 49 years at the helm has finally
decided to hand over power — in the manner of a true democrat — to his
brother Raúl.

My wife and I, as unreconstructed paleo-lefties who support Clause Four,
free meals and NHS dental provision, had long wanted to visit
Castro's Cuba. All the people whose views we respect had said that the
Caribbean island was a progressive model whose policies on education and
healthcare ought to be copied throughout the world. We went there last
April desperately wanting to like the place — after all, if George W.
Bush and other right-wing nasties hated Cuba so much, then the country
must be on the right tracks.

But we returned home terribly disillusioned. Neither of us had been to a
country which was so utterly decrepit.

Stay on the officially approved trail round the newly renovated
streets of 'Old Havana' and you'd get the impression that Cuba was a
tropical version of Switzerland. There are smart restaurants, designer
shops and modern hotels. Wander a few streets away, however, and you'll
witness scenes of incredible dereliction. Dilapidated buildings with
wires hanging out, streets that haven't been resurfaced for more than 50
years, balconies that look like they're going to fall down at any
minute. In my travels in the Middle East and Asia, I've certainly
witnessed squalor, but nothing prepared me for the back streets of Havana.

The average wage in Cuba is a pitiful $17 a month. The monthly ration
which includes 283g of fish, 226g of chicken, ten eggs and 1.8kg of
potatoes is barely enough for a fortnight, meaning most Cubans need to
work the black market to stay alive. Things that we in Britain take
totally for granted — such as toilet paper, toothpaste and pens — are
luxury goods in Cuba. I'll never forget the look of joy from an old lady
when I handed her a couple of old marker pens and a coloured pencil.

For Fidel's chums, life is somewhat easier. Despite its calls for
further belt-tightening, the Cuban government last year ordered Series
1, 3 and 5 BMWs for all its ambassadors and a Series 5 model for Raúl
Castro, who had taken charge of the country after his brother's

The heartbreaking consequences of Cuba's currency apartheid were bought
home to my wife and I on a Saturday afternoon visit to Havana's Coppelia
'Ice Cream' park. To the right of the park gates was a long queue of
Cubans who had only Cuban pesos. They have to wait on average two hours
every weekend to get their weekly scoop of ice cream. On the left, there
was walk-in access to tourists and the lucky locals who had convertible
pesos. Fifty years on, the Cuban revolution has turned full circle in a
truly Orwellian fashion. Once again the locals find themselves excluded
from the best beaches in their country, as they were under Batista. And
prostitution, so rife in pre-revolutionary days, is back — the jineteras
being the only group of Cubans allowed to enter the new purpose-built

US sanctions are routinely blamed by Cuba's defenders for the country's
plight. But while sanctions are harsh and morally indefensible, there's
little doubt that they have been used by the regime as a smokescreen to
cover up inefficiencies and corruption. Four years ago the head of the
country's largest tourism company, Cubanacan, was fired after millions
of dollars went missing — the loss only coming to light after all state
enterprises were ordered to transfer their US dollars into convertible

The totalitarian nature of Castro's Cuba is no right-wing myth, but a
reality. And you don't have to be a political agitator to fall foul of
the authorities, as my wife and I discovered. We had been told by our
holiday rep that the 's resident nurse would administer free basic
medical care, but if we required the call-out services of a local
doctor, we'd have to pay. After a day's snorkelling I had a touch of
ear-ache, so I popped along to the nurse's office to ask if she had any
medication. The nurse was a man, who after the most cursory examination
of my ear pronounced that I had an infection which required antibiotics.
How much would the antibiotics cost, I asked. About £60, he replied. As
we were returning home later that day, I told him that I'd leave it till
I got back. 'Yes, but you still have to pay me £30 for this
consultation,' he replied. 'But the services of the nurse are free,' I
said. 'I'm a doctor,' he replied.

Furious at being taken for a ride, my wife and I refused to pay and
headed back to our room. But on trying to check out of the hotel later
that morning, we were astonished to be told by the receptionist that if
we did not settle the medical bill, she would 'call state security' and
we would be arrested. We would not be allowed out of the country —
'state security' would apprehend us at the airport. The 'doctor' then
reappeared to say that the rate — which had been set in stone — was
after all negotiable, and that he'd accept £25. Forced into the corner
and threatened with a night (at least) in a Cuban jail, we reluctantly
paid up. 'It's nothing more than theft,' I said to the 'doctor' as I
handed over the money. 'It doesn't go to me,' was his response. 'It goes
to the state.'

If the money from such scams really did go to the state — and towards
improving the lot of the Cuban people — I wouldn't have been so upset.
But I strongly suspect that a share of my £25 will go towards the next
fleet of BMWs for Castro's cronies.

After the stress of our final day in Cuba, my wife and I were hugely
relieved to leave the country. And when we were safely airborne, we both
reflected that if any country was in need of a revolution, it was Fidel
Castro's Cuba.

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