By Manuel A. Tellechea
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Insight Section, p. G-1
January 2, 1994
Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the triumph of Fidel Castro's revolution. After the sham "social achievements" of the former Communist countries were exposed for the Potemkin villages they have always been, it is no longer safe to argue that Cubans are fortunate to live in a one-party police state where a government doctor will set for free the bones that a government henchman broke, or where the regime is so solicitous of the formation of its people that it not only teaches them to read, but tells them what they can read and what they cannot.
Castro's apologists have seen the mantras of their devotions reduced to Castro's last surviving Guinness records: the longest tenure in unelected office in the history of Latin America, ancient or modern; and the creation of a Stalinist state in Cuba that has outlived its model. When all is said and done, it is the fist in everybody's face and the boots on everybody's ribs that is Castro's outstanding legacy.
For Cuba, Castroism has meant not only political repression on an unprecedented scale but the ruin of an economy which one boasted the third-highest gross national product in the Western Hemisphere, ahead of such demographic and demographic giants as Brazil and Mexico, but now vies with Haiti and Nicaragua for the subcellar of underdevelopment in the region.
Before the 1959 Revolution, Cubans enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in Latin America. Progress in social areas corresponded with the country's economy: the lowest infant mortality rate; the lowest general mortality rate; the third-highest number of physicians per capita; the third-highest caloric consumption; the third-highest literacy rate; the highest percentage of national income devoted to education; the third-highest number of university students per capita; and the third-highest number of newspapers and consumption of newsprint in Latin America (according to the U.N. Statistical Yearbook and U.S. Statistical Abstract, 1950s era).
If social progress could excuse the excesses of authoritarianism, the Cuban Revolution would never have happened. The Cuban Revolution was not predicated on the redress of social ills but on the restoration of political liberties.
After 35 years in power, Castro's greatest "social achievement" is that he has thoroughly crushed the revolutionary spirit of the Cuban people. Castro has, in effect, outlawed revolution in Cuba .
In his vision of himself, Castro is the messiah that all other revolutions presaged; and having established his kingdom on earth, he tolerates no dissent. With very few exceptions which are useful because they serve to illustrate the ugly consequences that will attend dissent of any kind in Cuba, most Cubans are content to suffer and determined to survive, certain that change will come but helpless to effect it themselves. There are too many lives now mortgaged to the Revolution and now past redemption. Others have had their lives so circumscribed that they have forgotten the natural boundaries of human existence.
How desperate life has become in Castro's Cuba may best be judged from a story that may or may not be apocryphal, but which in any case captures vividly the Cuban reality since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Before the Revolution, signs in the Havana Zoo warned against feeding the animals, as they do everywhere. Some time later, the signs were changed to read: "Don't take the animals' food." Now they read: "Don't eat the animals."
Castro is unlike any previous Cuban dictator: he is unafraid to overstay his welcome. Indeed, his final "vindication" — the only one to which he can at this point aspire — is to be the first Cuban dictator to die in office. He will then show, to contradict Martí, that one man can indeed be more powerful than an entire people. It is ironic but not surprising that he hopes to obtain his greatest victory at the expense of his own countrymen.
Contrary to popular assumption, Castro is more invulnerable today  than at any other time in the last 35 years. The United States is no longer a threat to him because because he has ceased to be a treat to anyone but his own people. Th Soviet Union can make no more demands on him in exchange for its past largesse, nor will he ever again find himself an expendable pawn in international power plays. Much of the world still indulges him, though now perhaps more as a curiosity than as a real threat, though he may yet prove that again if he can find another American antagonist to underwrite his escapades.
At home, Castro is still feared because he has taken care not to grow softer as things got harder. His greatest asset is precisely the expectation that he will fall at any moment, or, rather, the inertia that is thus fostered, which makes unbearable privations somewhat more acceptable. And because all are so firmly convinced that his days are numbered none dares to risk at this late hour the personal consequences of hastening his inevitable end. Castro, however, has made a career of avoiding the inevitable.