Former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90, according to Cuban state media (more or less the only kind in the communist country). Castro stepped down from power in 2008, placing his younger brother, the now 85-year-old Raul, in charge.
The hagiographies on their way in the wake of his death will be similar to the ones that came when he stepped down from power. The most common refrains will be about Castro “giving” the Cuban people healthcare and education.
Michael Moynihan explained why those refrains don’t work back in 2008:
What all of these pols and pundits lazily presume is that if the state of Cuban health care and education have markedly improved on Castro’s watch, surely the situation was dire during the final years of the Batista dictatorship.
Well, not exactly. In 1959 Cuba had 128.6 doctors and dentists per 100,000 inhabitants, placing it 22nd globally—that is, ahead of France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Finland. In infant mortality tables, Cuba ranked one of the best in the world, with 5.8 deaths per 100,000 babies, compared to 9.5 per 100,000 in the United States. In 1958 Cuba’s adult literacy rate was 80 percent, higher than that of its colonial grandfather in Spain, and the country possessed one of the most highly-regarded university systems in the Western hemisphere.
Cuba improved, as have most countries, on some of these indices in the years since the revolution. As reason Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin points out, “countries like Costa Rica, Panama, and Brazil have posted equal gains in literacy during the same time period without resorting to totalitarian governments.”
In his lifetime, Castro saw Marxist-Leninism fall on every continent in which it was introduced. He even lived long enough to see China’s communists largely give up on communism. In the end, he could look to North Korea for what, after tens of millions of deaths around the world, the 20th century project of communism amounted to. Cubans may have to wait for Raul to die as well before they can see communism fall in their own country.