Tuesday, August 01, 2006

After Castro?

John Harris repeats some of the usual bollocks about Cuba:
"One thing should certainly be borne in mind. Cuba may look forlorn, all peeling buildings and pockmarked roads. Its economy may have long since tumbled into creaking anarchy. But unlike the old states of eastern Europe, the revolution has a few genuine jewels to defend: chiefly, its education system, and globally-acclaimed healthcare.

[Cuba has] a health system that emphasizes preventive care, locks doctors into the local populations that they serve, and is built around a simplicity from which the British NHS - particularly in its ever-more fragmented, Blairite incarnation - would do well to learn. The country's health indicators speak volumes: Cuba has an average life expectancy of 77.3 as against the USA's 77.4. The two countries' rates of infant mortality and maternal morbidity are similarly close. Their respective health spends, however, underline the Cuban miracle: in the states, the annual figure is $5711 per head; in Cuba, it's $251."
Most people taking issue with this sort of soft-left support for the decaying Brezhnevian dictatorship in Cuba try to make the case that Cuba's health care system, or its social services in general, are not all they are cracked up to be.

But this misses the point. Health indicators like longevity, infant mortality etc. tend to be more closely related to GDP per capita, rather than health care spending per capita anyway - but what if Cuba's health system is all it's cracked up to be?

Same with education. I don't understand why John Harris suggests Cuba's supposedly good system is "unlike the old states of Eastern Europe", anyway. I was under the impression that they were often rather good, although my impressions admittedly come from a very partial source. My late father, an academic who specialised in Soviet education, and was generally pro-Soviet politically himself, liked to tell the (possibly apocryphal) story about a Russian sailor eliciting gales of laughter from Liverpudlian dockers because he asked them what their favourite Shakespeare play was. He also used to make much the same kinds of points about the Cuban system that the objectively pro-Castro Guardianistas are still making to this day.

Provided you're not a homosexual, a political dissident, or something else the Cuban state finds undesirable, I dare say Cuba - replete with its fabulous education system and its "globally-acclaimed health care" - is a relatively benign dictatorship in which to live, what with the sun, the sea and Ry Cooder popping in occasionally for a wee jam.

But Cuba is a dictatorship nevertheless, and I wish people like John Harris would be honest enough to say they believe this is preferable to a democractic system that could produce a government that might be less disposed to such benevolent gestures like "locking doctors into the communities they serve" and the like. And if they don't, they should stop banging on about the wonderful welfare benefits of despotism - shouldn't they?

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