I just got back from a business trip to Mexico. While there, I met with some Mexicans who had recently traveled to Cuba. What they told me was shocking. The Cuban people are being held on the edge of starvation.
According to my Mexican friends, ordinary Cubans are not allowed to eat beef. Instead, what beef there is in Cuba is reserved for the nation’s rulers and for tourists who can pay for it with foreign exchange while staying at the all-inclusive resort hotels. It is in fact illegal to sell beef to a Cuban — not that any of them outside the ruling class would be able to buy much, since the average wage in Cuba is about 50 cents per day, or one-tenth of the minimum legal wage in Mexico. With this pittance, Cubans must subsist on the subsidized rations made available to them by the government. These comprise 5 pounds of rice, 5 pounds of sugar, 1 pound of salt, 10 ounces of beans, 8 ounces of cooking oil, 0.15 ounces of coffee mixed with unknown stuff that isn’t coffee, 6 ounces of very-low-quality fish, and 1 pound of a disgusting product made from unsalable animal parts, per month. No fruits or vegetables are included. I repeat: These rations are not free, but must be paid for, with the total bill consuming most of a Cuban’s monthly salary. This leaves almost nothing to spend on additional food, which is available on the black market or in “dollar stores,” where reasonably good food, donated by Western aid agencies, is sold at (non-Cuban) supermarket prices to foreigners or government elites holding dollars or euros.
When Cubans found out my friends were Mexicans, they would frequently beg them for food.
I should add, by the way, that my Mexican informants are not right-wing Cuban émigrés looking to badmouth the Castro regime. On the contrary, they are individuals of generally left-leaning sentiments who voiced nothing but praise for the Cuban school system. Yet they saw what they saw, and they were willing to bear witness.
After hearing their report of North Korean–like enforced hunger in Cuba, I decided to search the Internet to see if I could find confirmations from others. I found several. Apparently this situation has been going on for some time. An excellent account reporting many of the same observations was published by the intrepid Canadian blogger-traveler Ruby Weldon in 2009. A study published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in 2005 reported that 41 percent of patients encountered in Cuba’s hospitals suffered from malnutrition, and 11 percent were “severely undernourished.”
Yet such is not the dominant account given by the global media. Far from it. If you search the Internet for “malnutrition in Cuba,” you will see innumerable postings citing favorable reports from UNICEF and the World Health Organization that go so far as to claim that Cuba is leading the developing world in the complete elimination of malnutrition. “Cuba has no such problems,” trumpets Pravda.ru. “It is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean that eliminated severe malnutrition due to the government’s efforts to improve people’s diet, especially those most vulnerable.” Such “big lie” blanket denials remind one of the international left-wing media’s willful blindness to the genocidal famine, or Holodomor, that the Stalin regime imposed on Ukraine in 1932–33.
While denying the existence of Cuba’s mass starvation, many regime apologists don’t hesitate to simultaneously blame it on the United States. This is nonsense. The U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is almost completely ineffective, as many other countries, including the European Union, do not honor it. The goods of the world market are available for Cuba to purchase, but all the foreign exchange is monopolized by the regime, which uses it for its own power and pleasure. This allows the government to enforce starvation wages on the enslaved populace — who have no choice but to work on such terms as the regime dictates, because the rulers ban private enterprise, and the country has no other employer.
Yet even more shocking, perhaps, than the deniers are certain current Western commentators who actually acknowledge the government-organized starvation but praise it. Some say that “the Cuban diet” is a great way to lose weight. Others see it as a key step forward in the fight to save the planet: “[T]hey have created what may be the world’s largest working model of a semi-sustainable agriculture, one that doesn’t rely nearly as heavily as the rest of the world does on oil, on chemicals, on shipping vast quantities of food back and forth,” wrote environmental ideologue Bill McKibben in his 2005 Harper’s article “The Cuban Diet: What you will be eating when the revolution comes”: “They import some of their food from abroad — a certain amount of rice from Vietnam, even some apples and beef and such from the United States. But mostly they grow their own, and with less ecological disruption than in most places. In recent years, organic farmers have visited the island in increasing numbers and celebrated its accomplishment.”
Indeed, organic farmers are not the only ones celebrating. In 2006, the international “Living Planet” report of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Global Footprint Network declared: “Cuba is the only nation to achieve sustainable development.”
However, such glorious strides can be accomplished only under socialism. As the Pulitzer Center’s Kassondra Cloos put it in her glowing April 2013 Huffington Post article:
[F]arming won’t significantly change for the better, until the world is forced to reckon with the diminishing supply of nonrenewable resources that power the engines that transport food across scores of time zones before it hits the dinner table. It’s cheaper to burn gas using machines to plow, plant, harvest, and haul food than it is to sit down and think about how to more efficiently manage resources.
Under a dictatorship like the one in Cuba, change can be forced or necessitated overnight. . . . In a democracy, there’s great freedom to choose the easy way out — but it has hidden costs for everyone along the way.
Such endorsements place their authors beneath contempt. The Cuban government’s brutal food-denial program is not a benevolent attempt to fight obesity, save the environment, or demonstrate the wonders of organic farming. It, like Stalin’s Holodomor, the Nazis’ “Hunger Plan” for the territories they occupied during the war, and the current North Korean regime’s enforced starvation policy, is an effort to destroy the will of a population to resist tyranny through denial of the most essential substances necessary to maintain life and strength. The use of hunger as a weapon of political control is a crime against humanity. The well-stuffed slave masters currently gorging themselves in Cuba’s halls of power need to be held accountable.
—Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy of Lakewood, Colo., and the author of Energy Victory. The paperback edition of his latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, was just published by Encounter Books.