By Kevin D. Gomez
In the one area Cuba has the wherewithal to come out on top, it has failed. Cuba’s socialism is no healthcare unicorn. Instead, we have a raging bull rearing its ugly head. The island nation’s leaders know it and are cracking down with predictable force.
In response to the #SOSCuba protests, the Cuban administration led by President Miguel Diaz-Canel delivered a statement on national television. In addition to threats of criminal prosecution for those he considers “anti-revolutionaries” or “anti-communist,” much of the speech was spent making excuses for the various shortages of essential resources such as energy, food, and medicines.
In standard bureaucratic fashion, the Minister of Energy and Mines nervously fumbled through an assorted list of statistics explaining these shortages. In short, he claimed, COVID-19 and the current protests are to blame for the disruptions in these areas.
Though COVID-19 disrupted supply chains around the globe, countries with free markets were able to adjust to these changes much more rapidly.
As a wholly planned economy – meaning all the means of production are calculated and dictated by the government – Cuba should have been poised to outperform most of the world in combatting the pandemic.
Bureaucracies can work well in sterile, predictable social environments. The goals are explicit, the tasks are unambiguous, and the knowledge needed to obtain the desired outcomes may be easily accessible and centralized.
Indeed, the Cuban administration efficiently locked down the nation and prevented the spread of COVID for most of the last year.
The deadly shortages that triggered the mass protests in Cuba, however, are not due to bureaucratic error. Instead, they are a consequence of embracing bureaucracy over markets to provide key services and serve basic needs.
Market-oriented economies, of course, are also plagued with error. Consumers often pay more than they want to, and sellers end up having higher costs than expected. However, a market economy allows those folks to adjust by responding to prices. They seek out alternatives in the marketplace. That market process produces the better overall outcome in an unsterile environment.
The more economic freedom a country has, the easier it is to access productive resources.
Centrally-planned Cuba bars individuals from engaging in this market process of seeking alternatives. As a result, the island is more susceptible to shocks, ends up stagnating, or worse, people die.
Cuban officials are quick to point fingers at the US for the country’s limited capacity to secure financing and better trade deals. But Cuba’s lack of transparency and posturing with trading partners have hurt their reputation. Moreover, the one thing Cuba is transparent about – extremely low levels of economic freedom – fails to make Cuba an attractive investment by any account.
Cuba’s refusal to adopt market-oriented institutions and silencing of all political contestation will continue to keep the country in the dark.
Cubans are done with being kept in the dark. Thousands of Cubans across Florida are not waving flags and using #SOSCuba as a smoke signal for more help. Rather, it is about shining the light on the alternative – freedom.