Guest Column: Cuba after the death of Castro

Published 11:57 am Friday, January 20, 2017

David Nelson is the owner and tour director of 4 Seasons Vacations.

I have been fascinated with Cuba as long as I can remember. I have had the good fortune to visit there three times — the most recent being one week before the death of Fidel Castro.

David Nelson

David Nelson

The Castro brothers, Fidel and his younger brother, Raul, have ruled Cuba since 1959. Most Cubans have never known another leader than Fidel or Raul. Cuba is a country that until 1959 had been ruled by either Spain or the United States for hundreds of years. The U.S. won Cuba from Spain in the Spanish-American War, but by 1959 Cuba was an independent country. However, most major businesses, hotels and oil companies were U.S. owned. The mafia also had strong ties to gambling and prostitution with direct payoffs to Fulgencio Batista, the dictator/president before the Castros. Many peasants were uneducated and had no medical care and no hope for the future of things to get better. Therefore, much of the population was ready for a revolution when Fidel Castro started to gather his band of guerillas in the mid ’50s. After successfully ousting Fulgencio Batista, Castro aligned himself with the Soviet Union. Cuba became socialist/communist around 1962. Private property was confiscated, many individual freedoms were curtailed and Russian replaced English as the second language taught in schools.

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The theory behind communism/socialism is that all efforts are for the good of the state and all people are equal with equal pay for almost all jobs. Unfortunately, that theory destroys individual incentives, and you end up with a crumbling economy and a dependent country that needs the support of another country to survive. The Soviet Union came apart in the early ’90s and quit propping up the Cuban economy. Venezuela has been the latest country to support Cuba, but that has also come to an end as oil prices have fallen and the high price of oil is how Venezuela, being an oil producing country, was able to funnel money to Havana. There was also the U.S. embargo, which choked off any real U.S. trade with Cuba and forces the economy to barely function.

President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t seem inclined to make many concessions to the Cuban government as Obama did, as he has a more traditional and conservative view of the relationship between Havana and Washington. So Cuba after Castro is going to be a real interesting situation. There have been some small changes in the way things are done there, such as allowing some small private businesses and the opening of the country to tourism — and particularly the U.S. — allowing some controlled travel to Cuba.

Raul is 85 years old and has promised to retire in 2018. There is a successor supposedly in line, but nothing is for sure. Cuba is a beautiful place with classic architecture, 65-year-old cars, lovely people and an uncertain future. For the good of the country, I hope that some agreements can be realized that will allow more freedoms and the opportunity for a better life for more people. Only the future will tell.