"Everyone has nothing, and the people are afraid"

So says Nilda Garcia, a Cuban refugee now living in south Florida.

This week, Cuba celebrated 50 years of Communist Revolution — 50 years of poverty, squalor, sickness, paranoia, abuse, and hopelessness for the average Cuban.

Cuba’s roads are deteriorating. Its buildings are crumbling. Its streets are filled with broken down automobiles from the 1950’s, probably the biggest outward sign that something there is terribly wrong. The anomaly of Cuba’s cultural time warp is intriguing, particularly since Cuba enjoys open trade with most of the rest of the world, save for the United States. Yet the jalopies remain, a persistent reminder that despite its intelligent, hardworking people and ample cash crops of sugar and tobacco, Cuba is perpetually broke. It remains to this day largely a welfare state, propped up by aid from Russia and China.

But not all of Cuba is run down. Fidel Castro and his cronies built a luxury vacation paradise on the beaches of Havana, a playground for rich Europeans and the elite (party members and so on) from Communist nations. There, the filthy Yankee Dollar is eagerly accepted.

Liberals who refuse to acknowledge the abject failures of Communism repeatedly point to Cuba’s “free” health care system. In fact Cuba boasts health spas, hospitals, and medical research facilities that are the envy of Europe. But like everything else in Cuba, it’s wonderful if you can afford to pay for your treatment in dollars or euros. For the native population, it’s hell. And if you have HIV, you are locked away in a squalid sanitarium until you die.

Average Cubans, who were promised an egalitarian society free from the disparity of rich vs. poor, can only watch in disbelief, because if they voice their displeasure they are harassed, arrested, imprisoned, and “re-educated.” Cuba has the most political prisoners per capita of any other nation. In Cuba today, owning a computer without government approval is a crime. You can also be arrested for owning an undocumented camera of any kind. Books and newspapers not published by the government are forbidden. If you are a foreigner, a Cuban “guide” will accompany you everywhere you go, and will cut your visit short if you are spotted talking to average Cubans on the street. A few years ago, when Czech model Helena Houdova toured Cuba, she set off on her own in an effort to document the effectiveness of international charity efforts. She was detained by the police, but she was able to smuggle pictures out of the country by hiding the memory chip of her digital camera in her bra.

One of the reasons for Cuba’s continuing poverty is the corruption of its Communist leadership. During the past 50 years, Fidel Castro has managed to accumulate a net worth of nearly $1 billion. It must be utterly humiliating for a Communist to be exposed as nothing more than a greedy bastard, and after he was “outed” by Forbes Magazine in 2005 he was furious. The size of Castro’s fortune indicates that he has stolen more wealth per capita than any other dictator in modern times.

Today, hundreds of thousands of Cuban expatriates live in the United States. Most of them reside in south Florida. Tens of thousands have escaped Cuba on rickety rafts and boats, braving the unforgiving stretch of sea between Cuba and Florida in a desperate gamble for freedom. Tens of thousands more were not so lucky. They either lost their lives at sea or were repatriated back to Cuba, where they faced imprisonment or death.

Perhaps the best way for us to remember the Cuban Revolution would be to read this heartbreaking piece from (of all places) The New York Times, which chronicles the anguish of Cuban Americans like Nilda Garcia, who grieve for their loved ones still in Cuba and for those who have perished while attempting to escape Fidel Castro’s hell on earth.

ADDED (and fixed) : I replaced the link on “hell” with another one that more graphically illustrates the decrepit condition of Cuba’s medical facilities. – fixed –

The New York Times Buries the Lede (and Truth) Again
Comes around, again