"Here's what she wanted me to grasp. Cuba, at the time of the revolution, was 'one of the most unjust, unequal and exploited societies on earth.' Illiteracy was running up to 40%, a quarter of the best land was in U.S. hands, and a corrupt bourgeoisie lorded it over everybody else." -- Roger Cohen, "The End of the End of the Revolution," New York Times Magazine, December 5, 2008
Roger Cohen tells us what a "top official at [Castro's] Ministry of Economics" wanted him to "grasp" and he grasps it with both hands, embraces and attempts to flesh out this enormity, which bears no relation to the facts except to contradict them. Mr. Cohen is a South African and we suppose that he would not so readily have believed a "a top official from [Botha's] Ministry of Economics" who assured him that apartheid was actually good for blacks from a socio-economic viewpoint. Cohen would have dismissed that as propaganda, though, as things turned out, blacks did in fact enjoy a higher standard of living in Botha's South Africa than in Mbeki's (and let's not even compare Mugabe's Zimbabwe to Ian Smith's Rhodesia). But whereas Cohen would have dismissed the claims of Botha's propagandist, he has no qualms about accepting those of Castro's. That kind of double-standard is not at all unusual for Cohen or for any scribe of the mainstream media.
He tells us elsewhere, without making the obvious connection to apartheid (which should be more obvious to him than to most), that Cubans were barred for 50 years from staying at "international hotels" before Raúl Castro saw fit to let them earlier this year (supposing they have a year's wages to spare for a night's stay). Where are these "international hotels" located? Madrid, Buenos Aires, New York? No, these "international hotels" are all in Cuba. So, in fact, they are not "international hotels" but national ones. It is in their own country that Cubans were prohibited from staying at, or even setting foot in, facilities and accommodations which were reserved for foreigners. Cuba's majority mixed population was excluded from venues reserved for the predominantly white tourists; but Cohen failed to grasp the class and racial implications of such a policy, which made Cubans second-class citizens in their own country as blacks were once in South Africa.
Now let us consider Cohen's "proof" for the claims of Elena Alvarez, his rapporteur at Castro's Ministry of Economics:
"Illiteracy was running up to 40%..."
According to the 1953 Census, Cuba had a illiteracy rate of 22 percent. This meant that 78% of Cuba's population could read and write. In 1953, this was the exact inverse of literacy rates in the Third World, where only 20 percent of the population was literate. Castro "Literacy Campaign" claims to have "alphabetized" 700,000 Cubans, or slightly more than 10 percent of the population at the time (6.6 million). If Cuba's illiteracy rate before the Revolution was indeed the 40% that Alvarez claims, then the Cuban Revolution left 30% of the population illiterate.
"A quarter of the best land was in U.S. hands..."
Which means that 75% of the "best lands" were in Cubans' hands before the Revolution. How much of the best land or any land is in their hands now? The regime's so-called Agrarian Reform confiscated landholdings without ever distributing one acre. For 50 years, Cuba's best lands were turned into communes or left uncultivated until Raúl Castro decided this year to allow Cubans to sharecrop fallow lands. Now would-be farmers can rent land which they are legally forbidden ever to own.
"A corrupt bourgeoisie lorded it over everybody else."
In Marxist Newspeak the bourgeoisie is always "corrupt" and always "lording it." We know, of course, that they are the engine of the economy and the key to a country's prosperity. Cuba once had the largest middle-class in Latin America. Castro preserved and expanded poverty in Cuba and created his own enclaves of the very rich and corrupt. But he completely decimated Cuba's middle class. This is why Cuba now vies with Haiti for the lowest GNP in the Western Hemisphere whereas before the Revolution it could boast the third-highest.