Debunking Progressive Cliches, Entry 2: “Cuba is actually really good”

Is it really that surprising that the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders has led to progressives openly defending the Cuban regime? Cubans fled across 100 miles of shark infested waters to escape the Castro regime by the hundreds of thousands. You would think this isn’t something we need to argue about. You’d be wrong.  

Before I address the two most common arguments used to defend Cuba, let me make a few preliminary points. 

1. Statistical accuracy. All the statistics being peddled around by regime defenders come from the Cuban government. We are expected to take them at face value but we know their data generation process isn’t honest. For example, Cuban doctors manipulate data to lower infant death rates and increase life expectancy.  

2. “Nuance”. I keep seeing comments about how it’s okay to have a nuanced take on Cuba. No. No it’s not. We wouldn’t accept someone saying “Hitler was bad BUT he did help improve aeronautics.” We shouldn’t be okay with other dictatorial regimes being nuanced. The Cuban regime has impoverished millions, killed thousands, and put many others in work camps. It is an evil regime and that is where any commentary should stop. 

3. The same handful of talking points. It’s super telling that regime defenders have to keep going to the same set of talking points. Almost like you can count all the “good” things the regime did on one hand. 

4. Stupid Cubans. Implicit in the argument that Cuba is actually pretty good is the idea Cubans are really stupid. In the several decades since the revolution, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled Cuba for other countries– primarily America. They lived and experienced the Cuban regime first hand yet American progressives that live outside its repression know it as a pretty good place. 


Cuba-tankies like to bring up Cuba’s 99% literacy rate as vindication for the regime. The problem is, it’s not that great of an accomplishment. Colombia (95%), Bolivia (95%), Paraguay (96%), Chile (97%), Argentina (98%), and Uruguay (98%) all have similar achievements. In fact, if you look at how literacy rates changed since 1950 (right before the revolution), Cuba’s change is middle of the pack. It went from 78% to 99% while countries like Bolivia (32% to 95%), Paraguay (66% to 96%), and Colombia (62% to 95%) all made much bigger leaps. The story of Cuban literacy increases is actually a story seen through South America and even throughout the developing world. 

But, if they are going to bring up literacy rates, then it’s more than fair to counter with what Cuban’s have to read. Newspapers and books in Cuba are heavily censored. Cuban’s don’t have the opportunity to read what they want– their only reading choices are approved government propaganda. There is even an old Cuban joke that says “everyone can read, but there is nothing to read.” 

Lastly, even if you take the improvements in literacy at face value that doesn’t change the all-encompassing poverty of the island. I’m willing to bet Cuban’s would be happy to shave a few points off their literacy rate in order to shave a few points of their poverty rate.  

Life expectancy 

Cuba-tankies also like to bring up Cuba’s life expectancy. Like with literacy, the story of Cuban life expectancy is actually a story seen throughout other South American countries and even throughout the developing world. For example, both Chile (79.6 years) and Costa Rica (79.6 years) have longer life expectancies while Uruguay (77.4 years), Colombia (76.5 years), Ecuador (76.1 years), and Brazil (75 years) all have similar life expectancies. If we look at how life expectancy changes since 1950 we’ll see Cuba was not even middle of the pack in improvement. Both Chile (53.9 years to 79.6 years) and Costa Rica (55 years to 79.6 years) started behind Cuba but are currently ahead. Similarly, Cuba’s position relative to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean deteriorated. In 1950 Cuba’s life expectancy was 15% greater than the Latin America and the Caribbean average, but is only 4% greater now. 

We shouldn’t be surprised Sanders has nice things to say about evil regimes like the one in Cuba. He has a long history of doing so. Personally, I’m just excited for when we get a “well actually” on the record of Stalin. 

Exit quote: “Wherever there is a jackboot stamping on a human face there will be a well-heeled western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy.” -John Derbyshire

Debunking Progressive Cliches, Entry 1: “We need more Democracy”

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