K. L. Billingsley is a journalism fellow at the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles.
The United Nations development agency recently rated nations on how they combat poverty, thereby providing valuable lessons in economics, politics, and even diplomacy.
At the head of the list stands Trinidad and Tobago, a tiny Caribbean nation noted mainly for tourism. The islands’ economy cannot provide enough jobs for its citizens, who emigrate in search of work. How the U.N. developers came up with Trinidad as the model poverty fighter remains mysterious but their second-place ranking, Cuba, provides some clues.
Before the demise of the Soviet Union, the Marxist-Leninist Cuban regime of Fidel Castro, the world’s longest-running dictator, fought even the communist reforms of glasnost and private activity and political dissent. Alone in the hemisphere Cubans suffered rationing and true deprivation. By Cuban statistics, the country’s GNP has fallen by about 20 percent, with the true figure likely much worse. The average Cuban worker, according to the island’s government, earns 203 pesos a month, which at official rates translates to about $140 per year.
For a time they had used various walls in Havana as a posting board for classified ads. But when this proved too popular, Cuba’s communist government banned the practice as a “vestige of capitalism.” Most recently, the regime has declared Havana off-limits to those streaming in from the countryside in search of work and food. Contrary to what the regime’s foreign apologists maintain, the U.S. embargo does not explain the island’s plunge into an abject poverty rivaling that of Haiti.
There is nothing the United States makes that Cuba cannot freely buy from other nations, which have lately been investing in Cuba in defiance of U.S. policy. Canada’s Sherrit International Corporation has invested $675 million in Cuba. Of the annual $10,000 Cuba gets for each Sherrit worker, the government keeps $9,784, a tax rate of 97 percent. Yet Cubans, now desperate to survive, line up for the jobs.
Any sober analysis reveals Cuba as a destroyer of wealth and a creator of poverty. A regional economic power before Castro, the regime has caused its citizens to flee by the thousands, often risking their lives to do so, leaving loved ones behind. That should come as no surprise because Marxism-Leninism is history’s greatest creator of poverty, misery, and mass death. Nations that are barren of liberties are also barren of groceries. Yet the United Nations development agency ranks Cuba ahead of Chile, Singapore, and Costa Rica, which far outstrip it in wealth.
According to the U.N., nations can eliminate poverty by “combating gender inequality,” and “narrowing the differences between genders and social classes,” along with “reforming trade policies,” areas in which Cuba apparently ranks high. But those countries that have increased national wealth and actually lifted people from poverty have done so by the very means rejected by Cuba, the free market, individual responsibility, privatization, and low government regulation.
If the U.N. truly wanted to help nations lift their citizens from poverty, it would advance these proven measures and oppose the statist dictatorships. Instead, the U.N. offers tired political and bureaucratic solutions, proving once again that the socialist dream can thrive even when the evidence against it stands stronger than ever.
For the world’s poor that is a tragedy and there seems little reason American policymakers should support an international bureaucracy which rewards dictatorships for having created poverty while downgrading productive democracies that have created wealth.