Dr. Thomas Swan studied cognition and culture at Queen's University Belfast. He enjoys exploring the interplay between politics and culture.
Due to a plethora of misinformation and political propaganda, Cuba is one of the most misunderstood nations on Earth. The Cold War led to socialism being demonized around the world by the United States and its allies. As a result, it can be difficult to find a neutral perspective on Cuba.
Despite the fall of the Soviet Union, this anti-socialist bias still permeates the United States, contributing to the dismissal of proven socialist schemes such as public health care. Cuba bears the brunt of American antipathy, having suffered from a US-enforced trade embargo for more than half a century.
How Has Socialism Benefited Cuba?
It's worth ignoring the bias and condemnation for a moment to explore how Cuba spends what little money it has. After all, actions speak louder than words.
- Cuba provides free health care for its people. As a result, life expectancy for Cubans (79.13 years) is higher than for Americans (78.64 years).
- There are 23 medical schools on the island, meaning Cuba has the highest doctor-to-resident ratio in the world (1:155).
- Skilled doctors are sent to countries where they're needed, such as El Salvador, Haiti, Venezuela, and even the US (see video below).
- Cuba spends 10% of its entire national budget on education. As a result, education is free for the whole population at all levels of advancement (including university tuition). School uniforms and meals are also free.
- The Cuban literacy rate for over 15's is 99.8%. This is higher than in America (99.0%).
- Class sizes in primary schools are kept below 25. Secondary schools have around 15 per class. A majority of teachers have more than 5 years of university education.
- Cuba has a constitution and judicial system that is accepted by the people and followed by its leaders.
- The constitution guarantees Cubans the right to recall their politicians. If they want their leaders out, they can vote them out.
The Cuban Embargo (1961–Present)
Despite these achievements, Cuba is still one of the poorest countries in Latin America with wages averaging 17–30 dollars per month (though the cost of living is comparatively low). This is largely due to a trade embargo that has been in place since 1961.
When the Cuban people overthrew President Batista in 1959, they became an enemy of the United States. Batista was a dictator who terrorized Cubans with violent oppression, military rule, torture, and public executions. He also created widespread poverty by supporting the exploitation of workers by wealthy American sugar-exporters. In return, the US supported his tyranny with weapons to crush dissension. When the Cuban people rose up and removed Batista from power, the US responded with a trade embargo.
The 1961 Cuban embargo confiscated Cuban assets in America and severely restricted trade between the two countries. A travel ban was also introduced, destroying any income available to Cuba from tourism. Importantly, President Kennedy managed to secure himself 1200 Cuban cigars before the embargo came into effect.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost its main trading partner. The country entered a deep depression and was forced to allow some foreign investment in order to survive. Even though the communist threat was over, US politicians saw an opportunity to crush Cuban socialism once and for all. This began with the 1992 Torricelli Law that banned subsidiaries of US companies from trading with Cuba.
The 1996 Helms-Burton Act followed. This threatened anyone who invested in Cuba with a ban on doing business in the United States. As such, the Helms-Burton Act was an attempt to control how other countries trade with Cuba. The United Nations declared it a violation of international law.
US Aggression Against Cuba
Since the Cuban revolution, there have been as many as 638 attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro (the Cuban leader from 1961–2011). Many of these attempts involved collaboration between the CIA and various mafia bosses. Despite their own abhorrent methods, the United States audaciously branded Cuba a "state sponsor of terrorism" in 2011.
In 2002, a Swiss bank was fined 200 million dollars for handling Cuban accounts. Indeed, since 9/11 there have been more US officials watching Cuban banking transactions than are watching the dealings of genuine terrorists. Furthermore, Cubans trading in dollars routinely have their wealth confiscated by the US government. This theft is apparently justified under the terms of the Cuban embargo.
As technology advanced, America has ensured that underwater communications cables do not pass near Cuba’s shores. Instead, Cubans have to connect their phones and computers via satellites that are expensive and slow. Thankfully, Venezuela has agreed to set up a cable into Havana which will improve capacity.
Criticism of Cuban Socialism
Despite the Cuban government's dedication to the welfare and education of its people, the US has stated that the Cuban embargo will continue until there is:
"democratization and greater respect for human rights".
The demand is unusual because the Cuban people support their government and have the right to remove their leaders if they choose. Nevertheless, it's worth exploring Cuba's human rights record, and why America pretends to care after endorsing the murderous Batista regime.
When the Cubans deposed Batista, many from his government were sentenced to death for war crimes. Batista himself fled with over 300 million dollars that he had amassed via corrupt dealings with the mafia. The heavy sentences were characteristic of how the international community treated the remnants of murderous regimes. For example, many Nazis were executed following WW2. Since the 1980s, relatively few people have been executed in Cuba and, much like in the US, only the most serious crimes receive the death penalty.
Censorship exists in Cuba for those who propagate anti-socialist material. For example, in the 1980s, the US government financed a propaganda outlet called Radio Marti to incite a rebellion. This was followed by TV Marti in 1990. These stations were justifiably censored by the Cuban regime. Many media outlets and dissidents receive the same treatment if they are shown to be receiving funds from the United States. Given that the United States wants to topple the Cuban government, these precautions may be necessary. Indeed, most countries (including the United States) prosecute individuals who work with foreign powers to undermine state interests.
The United States routinely submits evidence of human rights violations by Cuba to the UN. Votes on subsequent resolutions are typically divided. Many see the apparent evidence as an attempt to justify US policy towards Cuba, and an offensive manipulation of the serious issue of human rights.
Has Cuban Socialism Been a Success?
Cuban socialism was not a success, but there was no way it could have been. Cuba's socialist experiment was always going to be a fight to see how much could be achieved in the face of overwhelming hostility from their imperialist neighbors.
Despite the trade embargo, the benefits of socialism in Cuba are significant and telling. The government has dedicated a significant fraction of its limited budget to providing people with free healthcare and education. The welfare of the Cuban people is clearly a high priority for the government.
Unless the United States lifts its embargo, we may never know how successful Cuban socialism could become. With the Soviet Union long gone, one has to wonder why the embargo is still in place. Is Cuba a threat to America, or are they a threat to the economic system that America represents?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2013 Thomas Swan
Monica Davenport on February 03, 2020:
I think you are spreading misinformation. Watch turning point USA and see their trip to Cuba. You will be awakened to the truth about socialism.
Gorm Winther on April 18, 2019:
Having visited both Jamaica and Cuba it became evident to me that the pride of their country and the dignity the people show is a sign of the superiority of socialism - and that even though Cuba supposedly is "a poor country". Yet, measured with a Caribien yardstick Cuba is at the same level as most economies in that region.
Human welfare and human development is not something that can be measured with US dollars and a purchase power index alone. Human welfare is free health care and free education and a chance to unfold individual capabilities. In that sense Cuba is a rich society!
The revolution is not a tea party - Cubas achievements despite the blockade and the retreat of Soviet socialism is still impressive. An economy aiming at maximizing the welfare of its citizens and an economy where the people share what is available is nevertheless ten folds better than imperialism and a globalized Capitalism aiming at maximizing profits at the expensive of the millions that earn less than a dollar a day!
Frank Hale on April 13, 2019:
I strongly encourage visiting Cuba. Air BnB lists good ( and cheap) places to stay and events and tours offered by regular Cuban entrepreneurs.
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on September 04, 2017:
I would love to visit Cuba.
Jean Bakula from New Jersey on November 30, 2016:
It would be interesting to see you write a hub about your thoughts now that Castro has died and Obama has made changes in the embargo. You wrote a great hub here.
Whenever I see Cuba on the news I see the old cars and worry about Americans ripping off the Cubans for vintage ones like that. Or Sandals taking over and homogenizing their island like everyone else's, so they all look the same and their natural beauty is ruined.
Guest on August 22, 2016:
Gee, Mklow1, namecalling others isn't going to advance your points one bit.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on January 03, 2016:
Thomas, this is an interesting hub on Cuban socialism and on how well advanced they are in school and nurses. This was well-written and well laid out. Congrats on HOTD!
Mklow1 on September 22, 2013:
f hruz said: "Yes, they DO have the freedom to use amateur radio to talk to people around the world and practice many other forms of cultural exchange through UNESCO, etc. ."
Oh, wow! I didn't think of that. They can use amateur radio, so that makes all of the lack of freedom ok! lmao. You don't realize how silly you sound. How can them being able to use amateur radio make up for all of the other freedoms they don't have? Every human deserves the right to come and go as they please. What excuse can you have for them not able to leave the country? I would like to hear that.
f hruz said: "but you wouldn't know a thing about it, being busy spewing hate all the time!"
I am Cuban, cabron. Did you not read what I wrote? What do you know about Cuba, since you are way up there in Canada. You show your ignorance on the subject every time you speak, so give it up.
"You may have noticed, American style capitalism is in decline ... so better think twice before posting your questionable comments next time!"
What does this compare and contrast with America have to do with the failure of communism? Cuba is on the decline, too and that is saying a lot because one wouldn't be able to think they could sink any more. So what is your point?
f hruz said: "The fact, they provide better education than you seem to have received, may make you jealous,"
This statement shows the type of person I am dealing with because you have no idea who I am or what my education is.
f_hruz from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 22, 2013:
Mklow1, you made your point! It's clear, you have nothing positive to say about Cuba.
Yes, they DO have the freedom to use amateur radio to talk to people around the world and practice many other forms of cultural exchange through UNESCO, etc. ... but you wouldn't know a thing about it, being busy spewing hate all the time!
The fact, they provide better education than you seem to have received, may make you jealous, but try your best to contain your irrational anger and learn how to get a better perspective on reality.
You may have noticed, American style capitalism is in decline ... so better think twice before posting your questionable comments next time!
Mklow1 on September 21, 2013:
f hruz said: "do some reading before posting more irrelevant misinformation about nothing of substance"
I find it very funny that you make that statement seeing as your answer was as relevant to the article as a ham sandwich is.
I didn't take a position on what you said because what you posted had nothing to do with the article nor with what I said. I mean, your answer made absolutely no sense and you addressed nothing that I wrote, so I felt no need to address your nonsensical rambling. I went to the links. What does police brutality in the US have to do with the above article or what I said? What does the amateur radio have to do with the article except that they are in Cuba? Nothing.
As for your comment on religion, well that is obvious. You seem to like to go on anti-religion rants, but it has NOTHING to do here, so you should go to the religion section and try to troll there for an argument.
f_hruz from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 21, 2013:
Mklow1, I gave you a detailed reply ... why don't you take a position to what I just posted?
Follow the links and do some reading before posting more irrelevant misinformation about nothing of substance ... ahahaha
Mklow1 on September 20, 2013:
F hruz said: "Maybe Mklow1 only wants to keep spewing hate towards Cuba because Science Education has beaten out Religion?"
What in the world does science education and religion have to do with what I talked about? Did you even read what I wrote or are you making assumptions?
f_hruz from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 20, 2013:
How come Radio Amateurs in the Republic of Cuba can make HAM contact with the rest of the world and have their own web pages?
Maybe Mklow1 only wants to keep spewing hate towards Cuba because Science Education has beaten out Religion? Maybe he wants to look at conditions in Haiti instead and idealize the freedom the US gives them?
How about the US invasion of Granada just because Cuba helped them build a larger, modern airport at the time?
Anyone who likes to research the topic of police brutality and why nothing gets done about it can read up about it right here ... let's see what Mklow1 has to say now:
No god will open the eyes for Mklow1 ... unless he gains a more balanced perspective of reality ...
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on September 20, 2013:
Thanks for commenting Mklow1.
Mklow1 on September 20, 2013:
I know your political and religious articles are blatantly one sided, but this one takes the cake. I understand your views are liberal, but to say this is a politically right or left issue by you and the others that commented in this article just means you guys have your head completely in the sand. You did absolutely no research on this article, did you?
You said: "Yes, it becomes very difficult for the right to criticize Cuba when told about what Cuba does for their people."
My family is from Cuba, my wife is from Cuba, most of her family still lives in Cuba. We have had members murdered by Castro. Arrested by Castro. Lives threatened by Castro. What Castro "does" for their people is keep them in line by fear.
How can you completely ignore the fact that they are not even allowed to leave the country. My wife, her parents, and her brother had to falsify documents just to sneak out of the country to Spain. Her cousin swam to Guantanamo Base. Another cousin had his plane stopped and he was put in jail because he falsified documents to leave the country. Why do you think people risk their lives on the 90 mile journey between Cuba and the US on a homemade raft? What does this tell you? This is such a great country? No. If you or I felt so strongly against our countries' governments, we could just pack up, get on a plane and renounce our citizenship.
Did you know that the "citizens" of Cuba cannot even sell a chair from their home to a neighbor if they want to? Did you know "citizens" have to take turns with a neighborhood watch and report everything they see their neighbors doing? Even the children? Did you know that children are sent to a "summer camp" unwillingly where they are forced to chop sugar cane for the government and brainwashed with communist propaganda?
You said: "Additionally, Cubans trading in dollars consistently have their wealth confiscated by the US government."
Did you know that the US dollars sent to families in Cuba is whittled down to nothing after the currency exchange, which was created by Castro for this reason. If you did ANY research, you would have found this out, so that means that you either didn't do research and you are only sharing your personal feelings, or you conveniently left it out on purpose.
Thomas said: "Skilled doctors are exported to countries where they are needed, such as El Salvador, Haiti, Venezuela, and even the US"
Yes, they send them to these countries against their will. Luckily, we were able to get my cousin out of Venezuela that way literally the day Chavez died, which was a stroke of luck because the country went on lock down after that.
You said: "Batista was a dictator who had terrorized Cuba with violent oppression, military rule, torture, and public executions. He also created widespread poverty by supporting the exploitation of workers by wealthy American sugar-exporters."
This is an exact description of Castro except he now exploits workers for the export of sugar for his own personal gain. Castro is a murdering, lying, manipulator that will never relinquish his power. Castro lined people up and killed them like they were nothing. Che Guevara, who I see some Americans idolizing, was so bloodthirsty that it even made Castro squeamish. For this, he told Che that he needed to exit Cuba immediately. Trust me, this was not some "people's revolution".
You said: "Censorship exists in Cuba for those who propagate anti-socialist material."
Ha ha ha. That is a very naïve point of view. If you consider complaining about your current conditions as being "anti-socialist" then yea, ok. This freedom you seem to take for granted has allowed you to write all of the content on your Hubpages, so you should think about that.
Recently, I had some family members in Cuba that were taken to an isolated location and put on their knees with soldiers pointing guns at the backs of their heads because they were spreading "anti-socialist" rhetoric. Do you know what they were actually doing? Getting drunk and complaining about Castro. Not really a good reason to be executed, don't you think?
I understand you have ill feelings towards America and what it's government does. I do not condone all of its actions, but that does not mean that Cuba is a good guy. Maybe your distorted point of view is because you are located across the pond, but I suggest you do more research and try to be more objective before writing such grand claims.
Rock nj said: "Socialism has a better chance of working when everyone is on board, including those who publicly advocate it."
I would agree. But there lies it's biggest fault. Everybody gets on board, but those in power take advantage. When people get into power in this type of regime, they never let that power go. These manipulator use this "ideal" to get into power an put a stranglehold in the people. One criticism of the trade embargo is that we are "making" the Cuban people suffer in poverty. Their homes, their schools, their hospitals are in poor shape because we will not trade with them, therefore their economy suffers. But do you think Castro and his allies live in poverty? Do you think they go to the same doctors? Do you think their children go to the same schools? No, they do not do without, unlike the citizens of the country.
It is easy for you all to sit back and complain when you have the freedom to do so because you have the right to do so. Too bad the Cuban people don't have the ability to speak up for themselves.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on September 19, 2013:
Thanks for that perspective Rock_nj. I wonder if that grandfather experienced his poverty under Batista or Castro. Things were difficult for a while after Batista was gone. Batista grew wealth inequality by supporting the wealthy sugar plantation owners. That's why the communist movement became a popular revolt. Castro worked to improve the conditions of the masses, though it took time. Regardless, moving to America would have certainly highlighted Cuba's ongoing situation.
The problem is a lot of medical equipment is produced by American companies. So again, they come up against the embargo, though some humanitarian aid is allowed through. One has to wonder if this extends to such equipment, or if Cuba could afford it.
I agree that the Democrats are not socialists by any stretch. They are figureheads who make promises to get votes. I see a lot of that in British politics too. It's as if politicians are trained to not have any principles of their own. They just swing to whoever can win them the election, and whoever pays their campaign the most money.
John Coviello from New Jersey on September 18, 2013:
The family I lived next to were not rich Cubans by any measure. The grandfather described to me the utter poverty of his childhood in Cuba. It was rather shocking and sobering to hear about it (poor as dirt), as I live in a fairly comfortable suburban community. He is also a doctor, so he provided a lot of insight into the Cuban medical system; which he generally liked, but noted it was lacking in a lot of technology we take for granted in developed Western countries.
But, what you say is true to some degree, there are many displaced Cubans who didn't like the Fidel Castro regime or the current regime because it took their property. They were living a good life in Cuba on the higher end of the scale and weren't happy to see it end.
As a life-long political liberal and supporter of social spending, I have to say that in my country at least, the supporters of American-style socialism (the Democrats) do not always practice what they preach. You can't advocate higher taxes to pay for social programs, as the Democrats do, and then avoid paying your own taxes, as too many Democrats in political office have been caught doing. Socialism has a better chance of working when everyone is on board, including those who publicly advocate it.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on September 18, 2013:
Thanks for commenting syzygyastro. It certainly is sad how bankers pull the strings on these government war machines. I just hope Cuba survives long enough for public opinion to swing in their favor. If the embargo ever ended, we might see what Cuba is truly capable of. Thanks for the information on their food production and green profile.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on September 18, 2013:
Thanks f_hruz. Yes, it becomes very difficult for the right to criticize Cuba when told about what Cuba does for their people. They usually find a way though. I think America knows that if the embargo was ever lifted, Cuban socialism would become so successful that America would end up being forced into a similar system by its people. That's why they have to drum up support for the embargo via their propaganda campaigns and a lack of education regarding how to survive without capitalist exploitation of the masses. The brainwashing is very sad indeed.
William J. Prest from Vancouver, Canada on September 17, 2013:
The embargo continues, because Cuba is one of the few places where the IMF, WB and WTO do not dominate the economy with murderous and unpayable debt. The other two countries are N. Korea and Iran. Iran faces an imminent war with the US, Israel axis. N. Korea has recently been witness to a show of a US and allies military war game where nukes were figured in the exercise. Cuba stands as an affront to the US hegemony in the western hemisphere. Castro et al overthrew the US backed Batista regime and the US has ever since attempted to get back "their" tropical playground where gambling, prostitution, drug running and sugar cane were once the norm and most of the population were illiterate and extremely poor.
The embargo and blockade have been in place for 62 years and counting. Cuba now boasts an almost 100% organic and local food production system as a result. They were forced to become green due to a total lack of fertilizer. One benefit of the blockade is that Monsanto can't get their GMOs into Cuba. These are in addition to all the other advances. Some people in Canada go to Cuba on an annual basis in the popular international work brigades to assist in agriculture and cultural exchanges.
f_hruz from Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 17, 2013:
Very interesting perspective on a system which provides free medical education to people from other countries, especially when they get to take along a profound understanding that not everything should be marketed and distributed according to the interests of multinational corporations.
Unfortunately, too many Americans have no idea about how to create alternative co-operative, citizen based production and distribution systems not so much focused on profits for the few but employment and social development for the people, because anything sounding the least little bit of Socialism is being labeled as anti-american ... and the brainwashing goes on!
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on September 17, 2013:
Thanks rock_nj, I knew I was missing something. I've provided sources for those statistics now.
The most obvious example of a worse regime would be the Batista dictatorship that came right before Castro. It's amazing how the hypocrisy of the US government goes so... unchallenged. Right now they're condemning Syria for chemical weapons when 30 years ago they were voting against condemnation of Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Iran!
The thing with Cuban exiles is they're all going to speak against Castro's Cuba. After all, that's why many were exiled. I believe many were also from wealthy families who had their property taken away. That doesn't mean their words should be ignored, but sometimes I wonder if Americans think all Cubans hate socialist Cuba in the same way.
Cubans are indeed poor, though one has to factor in the cost of living, especially when so many social services are free. Ultimately though, the embargo can be blamed for some or all of Cuba's lack of funds. When the biggest economic power in the region doesn't want to trade with you, there's not much you can do.
John Coviello from New Jersey on September 17, 2013:
Interesting article, but what is the source of the statistics cited? I think ending the embargo against Cuba is long overdue with the Cold War 25 years in the rear view mirror and the moral foundation for such an embargo ridiculous since the U.S. and its allies routinely have supported far worse regimes than the ones that have existed in Cuba over the past fifty or so years.
I used to live next door to a Cuban family that left at the end of the Cold War, and they were no fan of the current government in Cuba or the circumstances there. For the most part, the people of Cuba are still quite poor. Literate and well taken care of from a medical point of view, but quite poor and yearning for more economic and political freedom, including the freedom to travel freely.