To understand why throngs of jubilant demonstrators took to the streets in to celebrate the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is to understand the immorality of communism — a system that has left poverty, misery and repression in its wake. The joy was a celebration of liberty over tyranny.
It was also personal for many. Among those celebrating Castro’s death included the sons, daughters and grandchildren of relatives tortured, jailed and beaten for speaking against the Castro regime.
Unfortunately, Castro’s passing does not mean that the story is over. Although Castro’s death provides fresh hope for a Cuba Libre — a free Cuba — there is scant hope that things will improve for the millions that call Cuba home as long as the political leadership on the island remains intact.
This is a fact missing from the eulogies from heads of state and dignitaries celebrating the life of a man that ruled the Cuban island with an iron grip. Far from the perches of presidential palaces in Ottawa and elsewhere, the Cuban people are hurting. A reality we have known for some time especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union that kept the Communist island afloat until its demise.
Consider that the vast majority of Cubans live on a wage of nearly $20 a month. Basic food supplies are limited, which helps explain why Cuba’s caloric intake fell dramatically between 1989 and 1995, and why the aid group Oxfam reported that the average Cuban lost twenty pounds in that time period.
There is scant hope that things will improve for the millions of Cubans as long as the political leadership on the island remains intact
Food shortages, hunger, poverty and misery are all tragedies to be sure, but there is also something deeper and more profound that has been happening in the Caribbean island ever since the Castro regime installed itself more than half a century ago: the Cuban people have been stripped of their ability to dream and live out their lives as they see fit. Opportunity has been crushed for generations.
Examples abound, but one that stands out is that despite having some of the most fertile lands in the Caribbean, Cuba produces very little. That’s an injustice of imaginable proportions, considering that Cuba has given the world some of the best rum, tobacco and sugar.
Today, around half of all Cuban farmland goes unused while the Communist government spends around $2 billion every year importing rice, meats, grains and other food supplies. Local farmers’ pleas to produce more at home fall on deaf ears. Castro’s death will likely do little to change this backward and unnecessary policy.
As American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks has rightly noted, work is the secret to dignity. And in Communist Cuba, dignity is missing in the lives of the vast majority of the people that struggle to make ends meet and unable to get the government’s blessing to start a business or run a farm.
Finally, the story of Cuba is also of what could have been — what advances in technology, commerce and the arts might the Cuban people have engineered free from despotism and tyranny? This is the helpful mental exercise novelist Joel Hirst compels us to wonder in a recent blog post:
Forget the gulags and the concentration camps and the firing squads… No – the most important part of this tragedy is not what happened, but what didn’t happen. The novels that were not written, stories of beach and mountain and freedom and loss; the beautiful paintings that did not come to be, which in turn did not inspire abounding love… None of these things have been imagined — for six generations — in Cuba.
For those of us who are writers, the unwritten story of Cuba is the saddest of all.
Castro’s death provides a temporary reprieve of the injustice, immorality and cruelty of a failed political economic system, but it remains. And until there is greater moral outrage from the free and developed world, it’s hard to see how the Cuban people can truly break free from a regime that has brought a once powerful and proud country to its knees.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.