Revolutionary, Politician, Prime Minister, President (1926-2016)
Fidel Castro was a Cuban revolutionary, Prime Minister (1959-1976) and President (1976-2008). Castro was a divisive figure; some laud him as a champion of socialism for his revolutionary efforts in helping Cuba escape from American imperialism but, on the other hand, others claim he was a dictator who abused human rights, caused the mass exodus of many Cubans and impoverished his nation’s economy.
Alright, we’ll admit, we’re cheating here. Castro was not an economist, but his ideas and actions have contributed to our field immensely.
In 1953, after rebelling against the right wing governments in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, Castro planned to overthrow the Cuban President Fulgencio Batista but failed in the attack on the Moncada Barracks. After being released from jail, he travelled to Mexico and, alongside his brother Raul and Che Guevara, formed the infamous revolutionary group the ’26th of July Movement’. Once he garnered enough political and military power, Castro returned to Cuba and played a significant role in the Cuban Revolution when he lead the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista’s army in the Sierra Maestra. Castro’s forces were successful in toppling Batista’s reign in 1959 and, subsequently, Castro became Cuba’s Prime Minister.
As the Cold War was in full-swing at the time, the United States naturally opposed Castro’s communist government and unsuccessfully attempted to remove him from power by assassination, a trade embargo and counter-revolutions. In return, Castro formed an alliance with the Soviet Union; sparking the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when he allowed Russia to place nuclear weapons in Cuba.
Centrally Planned Economy
As Cuba was allied with the Soviet Union, Castro adopted Marxist-Leninist economic policies. Cuba became a centrally planned economy and nationalized many industries. Most businesses were state-owned and employed the majority of Cuba’s labour force. Although prospects under central planning were initially optimistic, Cuba suffered dearly after the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s. Russia could no longer provide Cuba with subsidies and, more importantly, the USSR could no longer offer guaranteed prices for Cuba’s sugar crops. Consequently, since Cuba exported a significant amount of sugar crops to the USSR, Cuba’s GDP fell by roughly 30% between 1990-1993.
In response to this crisis, Cuba slightly liberalized their economy by allowing some workers to become self-employed, letting farmers sell some of their surplus production, opening up to tourism and importing new vehicles. Income distribution became move even and education and healthcare services were easily accessible for the majority of the population. But, as the economy was improving in the early 2000s, many controls were re-imposed. Castro’s revolutionary ideals of a command economy, it seemed, were more important than high living standards.
“A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”
“They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?”
“I think that a man should not live beyond the age when he begins to deteriorate, when the flame that lighted the brightest moment of his life has weakened.”
– Fidel Castro