Castro the Bigot

Via comes an I-can’t-believe-she-wrote-this memo telling journalists to be nice to Castro. One particularly delicious passage:

Please note Fidel did bring social reforms to Cuba — namely free education and universal health care, and racial integration. in addition to being criticized for oppressing human rights and freedom of speech.

In addition to questionable grammar — people and movements are subject to oppression, abstract concepts cannot be oppressed — part of this is flatly wrong. It’s true that Cuba provides plenty of state-paid doctors (although little in the way of actual care) and also true that it has a public school system. So, yes, Cuba has “free” education and health care. But racial integration? Bah. Although about 65 percent of Cuba’s population would be thought of as “black” in the United States, almost all positions of true political power are held by people of distinctly European appearance. A 2005 report from the University of Miami describes the real state of blacks living in Cuba.

Even more complicated, nearly all of those blacks who do achieve positions of power are “mulattos” in the Cuban counting of things. (In his excellent book about Cuban music, Last Dance in Havana, The Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson, who describes himself as African-American, describes meeting a “mulatto” Cuban cabinet minister darker than he is. (Robinson, it should be noted, has also written a very interesting book about Brazil’s complex racial dynamics.)

Those Cubans who actually identify as black (negro) almost always occupy the very lowest rungs of society in every case. Essentially none of them occupy true positions of power and, unique in the Western hemisphere, Cuba practices a sort of Jim Crowe by denying all but a few Afro-Cubans the passes they need to enter the island’s tourist areas where all the good jobs are. If anything, this is actually worse than the pre-Castro days when self-described negros but not mulattos were banned from some private beaches and clubs as a result of private action but were never the subject of formal state oppression.

In fact, I seriously wonder if the Cuban state’s racist policies are a major reason why it has fallen so far economically. The American South, after all, remained dirt poor in good part because Jim Crowe laws stopped a large percentage of the population from taking part in the economy.

While centrally planned communism has never helped any nation’s economy in the long run, Cuba seems to have had it particularly bad: Between World War II and the 1960s, indeed, communist Eastern Europe rebuilt at roughly the same rate as the West only to see economic growth nosedive after that. Cuba, on the other hand, has seen its living standard drop from the third highest in the Americas (after the U.S. and Canada) to one of the lowest. It may be that central planning PLUS racism can help explain Cuba’s long-term economic malaise.