Cuban President Raul Castro (right) lifts up the arm of US President Barack Obama at the conclusion of their joint news conference at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba, last week. Picture: Ramon Espinosa

Among the many positive attributes of a free market economic system is that it is blind. It does not care about politics. It cares less about skin colour.

Despite Marxist arguments to the contrary, it cares nothing for class. All it cares about is freedom to trade, to make a profit, to own property, a stable society where the law of contract is upheld, and there is a demand for goods to meet.

Read: Obama meets Castro in Cuba - pictures

Understanding this explains President Barack Obama’s enthusiastic visit to Cuba. After all, the US is above all capitalist, and Cuba is its exact opposite. It is one of the last countries in the world to still embrace the failed economic theories of Karl Marx and his followers.

Obama’s gamble is that by opening a crack in the door of the totalitarian Cuban state to let in a shaft of private enterprise, the market will wreak its magic and human rights will follow. It is a long shot, but such is the moribund state of Cuba’s economy (where everyone is equal, but the Castro brothers are more equal than everyone else) that the gamble could work.

Ghost of human rights

Amid all the handshaking, photo opportunities with Che Guevara posters in the background (oops) and at the official banquet, attended unseen was the ghost of human rights, of which Cuba allows virtually none.

President Obama did try to extract promises to ease up on the regime’s vicelike grip on its citizens, though he must have done so through clenched teeth, since US Democrats have long insisted that Cuba is a socialist paradise. This has not gone unnoticed by many commentators and it is worth wondering whether answers to some very serious questions will emerge as a result of the US-Cuba détente.

There are six key questions hanging in the air waiting for answers, of which the first is this: When will Cuba allow free and fair elections (promised by brother Fidel when he was masquerading as a democrat back in 1960)?

The second, a tough one, is: How many people have been executed without trial since the Cuban revolution (one estimate is 15 000)? All under the auspices, allegedly, of that hero of the left, Che Guevara.

Here is another curveball. Exactly how many political prisoners does Cuba have in jail (200 000 by some estimates, most probably on the high side)?

When will the Cuban state admit that Che Guevara was not the saint he is made out to be, having been behind the first “corrective labour camp”?

Isn’t it true that Cuba is no socialist paradise”, but a communist regime that has no press freedom or freedom of speech?

When will you allow a free market paying decent wages to ordinary workers instead of $20 (about R300) a month?

 

One could go on, but that would be enough for starters. It will take a world-class spin doctor to make the answers less than damning among those who believe in democracy (as defined in our own constitution).

During a joint press conference with Obama, President Raul Castro demanded to see evidence of political prisoners jailed by the regime.

So, here is a couple that might fit the bill: One is José Antonio Torres Fernández, who got 14 years in prison for espionage (allegedly defined as broadly as possible). Ironically, he was a member of the Communist Party in Cuba and used to write for the regime newspaper Granma. The other is Amado Verdecia Diaz. He got five years in prison for lending his car to some members of the internal Cuban Opposition.

But enough of Cuba’s undemocratic mode of government. Since the revolution, an undoubted plus has been the medical system.

For a developing country it has been highly successful, punching far above its weight, sending doctors to disasters all around the world, and running a programme (for understandable propaganda reasons), that sends doctors to similar underdeveloped countries, including our own.

There is just one catch to this Cuban philanthropy. Many of the doctors sent overseas fail to come back. The lure of filthy western lucre is the reason given by the regime, and in many cases it probably is because Cuban doctors on a foreign posting get scarcely more than $100 a month.

Feeling ill done by

So, when they find out that the country they are sent to pays the Cuban government $5 000 a month for each of them, they naturally feel ill done by, and succumb to higher offers rather than going home to a salary of $40 a month.

There are those damned market forces again.

So, it is no surprise that a couple of thousand Cuban doctors flee their socialist paradise every year.

Let a Havana dentist exile have the last word: “The salary (in Cuba) is so low that it doesn’t allow you do all the things you want to do.

For example, if you want to eat, you can’t think about buying clothes. “It (the pay) allows you to survive, that’s all.”

Roll on an open Cuban economy.

At least then the country will keep all its doctors and real freedom for the Cuban people will get closer.

Coca-Cola has been banned in Cuba by the government for more than 50 years, so maybe a “Coke adds Life” advertisements will soon appear on billboards alongside Che. Maybe.

* Keith Bryer is a retired communications consultant.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

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