More than half a century of building socialism; billions of dollars in aid, first from the Soviet Union and later Venezuela; decades of repression in the name of socialist idealism. Yet Cuba is still such a mess that tens of thousands are risking their lives to get out. The NYT reports that skyrocketing numbers of Cubans are attempting to flee their country in unsafe, homemade boats headed for the United States. It’s the largest attempted migration we’ve seen since the 1994 rafter crisis:
More Cubans took to the sea last year than in any year since 2008, when Raúl Castro officially took power and the nation hummed with anticipation. Some experts fear that the recent spike in migration could be a harbinger of a mass exodus, and they caution that the unseaworthy vessels have already left a trail of deaths.
“I believe there is a silent massive exodus,” said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, an exile leader in Miami who has helped families of those who died at sea. “We are back1994 to those times, like in 1994, when people built little floating devices and took to the ocean, whether they had relatives here or not.”
On the whole, the Coast Guard has reported sighting 3,722 Cubans fleeing their home country for America in 2013, which is twice the number of would-be immigrants intercepted in 2012. Many of these people will die trying to make the crossing. If Fidel Castro had been more like Lee Kuan Yew, he’d be leaving a prosperous and dynamic country behind. If he had been more like Augusto Pinochet, he would still have done more good for Cuba than he has. Even a leader as repressive as Francisco Franco in some ways left Spain better off than he found it. But Castro was wrong about how the world works, about what makes countries prosperous, and how Cuban nationalism could best be secured. One thinks of the lines about Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in London: “If you seek a monument, look around you.” The Castro brothers’ monument is also all around them, and untold thousands have died trying to escape from it.
Fidel Castro was a man of great personal, political and intellectual gifts, but he was dead wrong about social development and the direction of history. Now, a third generation of Cubans is paying for his mistakes.