Under Fidel Castro's rule Cuba bucked the historical trend--moving not toward but far away from political democracy.
Under Fidel Castro it looks as though Cuba lost two generations of economic growth--generations that other neighboring economies like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico made very good use of. The only good thing you can say about Castro is that Cuba continued to have the social indicators of a middle-income country even as it became a poor one.
It was always incomprehensible that an anti-Democratic dictator who managed to turn a middle-income country into a poor one would have fans. Yet there are still people in the class not of of stooges looking for their Stalin, but fools who have found their Fidel:
Here, on the occasion Castro's retirement in 2008, is Chris Bertram: Castro Retires:
I haven’t looked yet, but I’ve no doubt that there’ll be lots of posts in the blogosphere saying “good riddance” to Fidel Castro (especially from “left” US bloggers like Brad DeLong who never miss the chance to distance themselves).
And, of course, Castro ran a dictatorship that has, since 1959, committed its fair share of crimes, repressions, denials of democratic rights etc.
Still, I’m reminded of A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other (reference please, dear readers?) that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate.
Ditto Cuba, for a much smaller chunk.
So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who held off the US forces for a while on Grenada. Let’s hear it for Elian Gonzalez. Let’s hear it for 49 years of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!"
UPDATE: A truly remarkable number of well-intentioned people in comments who have not done their homework. They look at Cuba today, and say: "Look at how good its social indicators are for a poor country!" But Cuba back in 1957 was not a poor country.
Hoisted from the Archives from 2003:
Just because people begin their papers with quotes from Ludwig von Mises does not automatically mean that they are wrong:
The hideously depressing thing is that Cuba under Battista--Cuba in 1957--was a developed country. Cuba in 1957 had lower infant mortality than France, Belgium, West Germany, Israel, Japan, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Cuba in 1957 had doctors and nurses: as many doctors and nurses per capita as the Netherlands, and more than Britain or Finland. Cuba in 1957 had as many vehicles per capita as Uruguay, Italy, or Portugal. Cuba in 1957 had 45 TVs per 1000 people--fifth highest in the world. Cuba today has fewer telephones per capita than it had TVs in 1957.
You take a look at the standard Human Development Indicator variables--GDP per capita, infant mortality, education--and you try to throw together an HDI for Cuba in the late 1950s, and you come out in the range of Japan, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Israel. Today? Today the UN puts Cuba's HDI in the range of Lithuania, Trinidad, and Mexico. (And Carmelo Mesa-Lago thinks the UN's calculations are seriously flawed: that Cuba's right HDI peers today are places like China, Tunisia, Iran, and South Africa.)
Thus I don't understand lefties who talk about the achievements of the Cuban Revolution: "...to have better health care, housing, education, and general social relations than virtually all other comparably developed countries." Yes, Cuba today has a GDP per capita level roughly that of--is "comparably developed"--Bolivia or Honduras or Zimbabwe, but given where Cuba was in 1957 we ought to be talking about how it is as developed as Italy or Spain.