17 October 2019

Ignore the Corbynista fantasies about Cuba – this is the reality

By Peter Young

Boris Gonzalez Arenas, the Cuban independent journalist and human rights defender who was interviewed on CapX’s Free Exchange podcast last month, was arrested by Cuban State Security last week.  After a couple of days in prison and diplomatic pressure on the regime, he was thankfully released.

His arrest follows the regime’s decision last month to ban him from coming to Britain to meet with MPs and others, which meant CapX had to interview him over Skype from Havana, rather than in person. It is yet another example of the Cuban communist regime’s suppression of dissenting voices.

It is thus all the more extraordinary that John McDonnell and the leadership of the Labour Party openly proclaim that the totalitarian communist system in Cuba is a model that Britain should look up to. McDonnell pledged to the Cuban Ambassador in June this year that a Labour Government will be Cuba’s staunchest allies, saying: “We’re here in solidarity with the Cuban revolution, in solidarity with them. And I want to say this to our Cuban comrades. When the election comes and I believe when a Labour government is elected – not if – we will be your staunchest allies to support the Cuban revolution”.

Corbyn also has been a longstanding supporter of Cuba, writing in the Morning Star that “the choice that now faces Cuba is to capitulate to the gangsters in Miami who want to take over and destroy the gains of the  revolution, or to soldier on to build the best form of socialism that can be achieved in Cuba. Sections of the left attacking Cuba at the present time with all the problems it has got are, frankly, not very helpful at all”.

Cuba is a one-party state in which the constitution recognises the Communist Party as the only legal party and the highest political entity of the state. “Elections” are a fiction in which Cubans are required to ratify a pre-selected list of candidates who are chosen by government-linked organisations, based on criteria such as their “merit, patriotism, ethical values and revolutionary history”.

The government maintains strict censorship, limits academic and cultural freedom and restricts the right of peaceful assembly as well as internal and external movement. It refuses to recognise independent associations and outlaws independent trade unions.

Corbyn and McDonnell defend Cuba on the grounds of its supposed achievements in social policy. “From building a world class health and education system, to Cuba’s record of international solidarity abroad, Castro’s achievements were many”, said Corbyn, mourning the tyrant’s death. But the idea that Cuba has been successful in this sphere is a fantasy. Basic medicines are unavailable and hospital care is of bad quality, with patients being required to bring their own bed sheets, food, soap and towels. Such medicines that actually reach hospitals are often stolen and sold on the black market. The NHS it is not.

Appalling standards of healthcare are no surprise because Cuba’s centrally planned economy is a total basket case that can’t even produce enough food for Cubans to eat or enough resources to import basic necessities.  The idea that Cuba should be a model for Britain to emulate is truly frightening.

However, as in the case of Venezuela, Cuba does have something to offer Britain under Corbyn, and that is advice and assistance in running an effective police state. McDonnell stated earlier this year that he “might want to invent” a law to enable him to lock up Tory opponents. He doesn’t need to invent one, just to adapt the Cuban law which provides for a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, but with a subjective determination of “pre-criminal dangerousness”, defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms”.

This law is used to arrest and jail the regime’s critics, such as free-thinking journalists like Boris Gonzalez Arenas. There are many political prisoners who are imprisoned under the “pre-criminal dangerousness” provision of the law.

This could be a handy approach in Britain too. Just think of all those Tories who could be accused of having a special proclivity to contradict socialist norms and be shoved in jail as a consequence. The Cuban approach to freedom of the press, of assembly and association could also come in very useful to a Corbyn Government. So Cuba could indeed be a model for Britain, just not one that many citizens will enjoy.

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Peter Young was formerly Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute.