I am taking a bit of an interest in Cuba, partly driven by my impending holiday there. As you know, Cuba has an authoritarian socialists government and has also been subject to a long trade boycott organised by the United States of America. I understand that Cuba is also pretty poor, when compared to first world countries like the one I live in. But comparing Cuba with first world countries is problematic – more appropriate are comparisons with its neighbours in the Caribbean and in Central America, as they are the countries from which it diverged when it embraced socialism.
Writing in the Guardian, Stephen Kinzer makes such a comparison: Caribbean communism v capitalism. It is a short article, but Kinzer is able to throw out a couple of statistics suggesting that the mass of people in Cuba lead more materially comfortable lives than those of neighbouring countries. He also says that while Cubans have their political rights curtailed by their government, these rights are often a bit notional in neighbouring countries – if a Cuban were to try and set up an oppositional newspaper, they would be thrown in jail, but if a Guatemalan were to set up a stridently oppositional newspaper they might well be killed by a death squad.
Now, Kinzer does pick and choose his indicators, but I reckon it would be interesting to do a more thorough analysis of different levels of human development statistics across the Caribbean basin to see how the country ranks. If Cuba were to rank ahead of the others, then this would raise troubling questions. Generally speaking, we tend to assume that freedom associates with prosperity, with people in authoritarian countries living materially poorer lives than their freer fellows. Now, if Cuba were to buck this trend then we would have to wonder whether its relatively better condition was a product of its authoritarianism or something merely coincidental. Put another way, would Cuba acquire the less savoury characteristics of its neighbours if it were to open up politically?
I may at some stage trawl through the statistics myself. If so then I will be back to you.