by J. Christoph Amberger
This past January marked the 17th anniversary of a prediction I made as a young assistant editor at Taipan... that Castro would join the big Party Congress in the Sky sometime during the 1990s. And that prosperity would once again move into Cuba. In the decade and a half that has passed, I’ve had opportunity to temper my optimism: Not only does Fidel seem to be as tough as shoe leather, I’m also not at all convinced that the transition from totalitarianism to a free society would be smooth at all.
After all, we’ve had plenty of not-so-encouraging examples recently. And not just in Iraq. In Germany, even those conservative nationalists who had ardently advocated reunification since 1949, now can be heard muttering about the good ol’ days when West Germans were sending care packages with bananas, powdered milk and chocolate to their poor eastern relations, who otherwise left them alone. East Germans engage in “Eastalgia,” an irrational longing for the time when the price of a static and modestly comfortable socialist life was the occasional neighbor or relative who disappeared at four o’clock in the morning in the company of men wearing leather jackets.
Russians associate the collapse of communism with the traumatic hunger years of the early 1990s -- and the wave of organized crime, the forerunner of any good capitalist economy. Many of them still aren’t convinced that they are better off; we’ll see exactly how many when president Putin’s term in office is over. Will the 11.4 million Cubans on the island be better prepared?
I doubt it. You see, communism and its pale, domesticated cousin, socialism, wreak havoc not just on the economy, infrastructure and building substance of a country. After 49 years, its influence on the spirit and mentality of a people is like mercury poisoning. Communism conditions and habituates people to poverty. It purposefully reduces expectations at life, stifles ambition and creativity, instills passivity and reinforces bad habits.
In Cuba, it may take a generation or two to overcome its long-term symptoms.
But if the fall of communism in Eastern Europe is any indicator, Cuba is in for a rough ride. Any power vacuum that may arise after the demise of the Castro brothers and the lifting of the American embargo will be quickly taken advantage of by the corrupt layers of officials and apparatchiks who managed to prosper even in communism... and by U.S., Latin American and Caribbean organized crime -- drug cartels and arms runners, prostitution rings and assorted shady businesses.
Let’s not forget that now we also have a freshly anointed dictator in Venezuela... who hates America, loves Castro -- and would love nothing better than having a battery of Russian-made medium range ballistic missiles pointing right at downtown Miami.