Castro’s Economic Legacy

The former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has died. During his long rule from 1959 to 2006, he turned Cuba into a communist country with Soviet-style central planning, a strict one-party rule, rigorous oppression of political opponents and cruel persecution of “social deviants” (prostitutes, homosexuals, etc.). Most comments I have read about his death focus on his extravagant personality and his crimes against human rights, but completely neglect to mention his economic legacy.

And that was quite disastrous. Look at this:


In 1959, Cuba’s GDP per capita was about 2000 US dollars (in 1990 purchasing power parities), while the average of Latin American countries was about 3000 dollars. Today, the Latin American average has roughly doubled to 6000 dollars. Cuba’s is still 2000 dollars. The paper from which this graph is taken estimates that Castro’s communist experiment has reduced Cuba’s real GDP per capita by 40 percent in 1974 compared to what would have happened without the 1959 revolution.

If cold numbers are not your cup of tea, see George Borjas’ memories of growing up in Castro’s regime.

2 thoughts on “Castro’s Economic Legacy

  1. I checked the data of the worldbank and compared Cuba to several latin american countries individually because taking the average, as you did, may be misleading as it probably considers countries like Mexiko.(!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_kd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:CUB:DOM:COL:JAM:HND:HTI:ECU:SLV:MEX&ifdim=region&hl=de&dl=de&ind=false). The result: Cuba is doing remarkably well compared to other countries in that region, especially to other small islands.

    One can just imagine, how Cuba would have done without the embargo and without the collapse of the soviet union – causing the only remarkable (if still tremendous) economic downturn in the last 50 years.

    This should not be interpreted as a justification or pladoyer for any detailed measures applied in Cuba in the last 50 years. I am not an expert and one clearly can see that Cuba catches up even more especially in recent years where Raul rather than Fidel pulled the strings. However, I recommend the avoidance of incomplete pictures like yours above!

    • If you want the complete picture, read the paper I was linking to. It makes a thorough attempt to construct a “hypothetical” Cuba without the revolution of 1959 and use this as a benchmark. This is where the 40% income loss I was citing comes from. Cherry picking countries against which Cuba does relatively well is not giving a complete picture.

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