Misery, Poverty & Violence: A Portrait of Socialist Cuba

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By Tami Gomez

43% of Americans say socialism would be a good thing for the country.

When I read this Gallup poll, my heart ached. Socialism is a trendy topic, particularly among people in my age bracket. Perhaps many socialist sympathizers are simply unaware of the misery socialism has caused. Maybe they have not heard about the deaths, shortages, theft and labor camps in socialist countries. The numbers bear this out; Gallup also reported that many are confused about what socialism even is. Only about 27 percent of Americans have some grasp of the definition of socialism.

This data is particularly agonizing to me because I come from a household of Cuban immigrants. After the socialist Cuban revolution in 1959, my grandparents were determined to flee Cuba. As a result of Cuba’s oppressive policies, it took about a decade of living under tyranny before they were finally allowed to go to the United States. My grandparents were forced to leave everything behind; they could only carry one suitcase and were not allowed to bring money or anything of value. When they arrived in the United States, they each held two or three jobs and struggled to make ends meet for their families. But why were they willing to undergo such difficulty just to leave Cuba?

Socialism promised equality and harmony, but it delivered hopeless misery and poverty.

Life in Cuba

When Fidel Castro and the socialists took power of Cuba in 1959, they quickly expropriated (stole) and nationalized farms, land and businesses in the name of social justice.[1] These actions were intended to “level the playing field” and spread the wealth of land and business owners to those who were not as privileged. Despite these seemingly noble intentions, this tyranny for the oppressed had catastrophic results for all. Dissenters were routinely rounded up and executed on the orders of militant revolutionary, Che Guevara. As you might expect, an atheistic, Marxist worldview that justifies covetousness and theft did not benefit Cuban society. Once there were no private businesses or farms, productivity took a nose dive.

These socialistic policies caused widespread shortages across the island nation. In a 1969 letter, my great grandmother, Braulia, wrote that people spent their lives in lines waiting for food. On Christmas Eve that year, my grandmother, Ana, was, “making lines from 6 a.m. until late in the afternoon.” Food and supplies were scarce; Braulia wrote, “You don’t know how [Ana] struggles, how she invents recipes so her girls won’t go hungry. This morning, she was able to get a very tough, small piece of beef; she made soup with it.” My parents recall times in which their parents went without food to make sure they would have enough to eat. Even basics were hard to find. “We have run out of pens, and combs, and razor blades. There are none to be had,” she wrote. “It has been over a month since anyone has had even the smallest bit of soap… [Ana] goes out every day to see what she can find.”

To try and ease the severity of the shortages, socialist Cuba developed an answer: forced labor camps. Braulia wrote, “Most of the population is working out in the fields in camps… they are taking everyone out to do the farm work.” One of my grandfathers, Lorenzo, was sent to work in sugar cane fields under the blazing Caribbean sun. My other grandfather, Romulo, was shipped off to the zoo to work for the government without pay. The food situation was even worse at the camps, and workers returned emaciated from hard labor and meager meals. It wasn’t just adults sent to these camps. My aunt was ordered to a work camp when she was just thirteen years old. Children worked from sunrise to sunset, and the government fed them little and provided no hygiene. My grandmother would travel to visit my young aunt a few times a month to bring her fresh clothes and food and to try and get lice out of her hair.

Freedom Is Worth the Struggle

Having been brought up with these and so many other stories, you can imagine my horror when I hear people my age have a favorable view of socialism. (For a modern-day view of what socialism can do to a country, look up Venezuela and the horrors they have endured.) Despite their hardship, my parents and grandparents made it clear that living under socialism, as they had for over 10 years, was worse than working multiple jobs and living from paycheck to paycheck. Socialism promised equality and harmony, but it delivered hopeless misery and poverty. Capitalism in America allowed them to work to improve their place in society, for themselves, for their children and for me. Freedom was worth the struggle. It still is.

[1] Per the 1979 Constitution, Cuba did, in fact, undergo a socialist revolution, not a communist one. The goal was communism, but socialism was the first step.

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  • communism
  • current events
  • economics
  • socialism
Tami Gomez

Tami Gomez is a student at Southeastern Seminary, happy wife and freelance writer with a heart for bringing Christians into the arenas of politics and culture.

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