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The British view of Fidel Castro

Martin Rosenbaum | 15:31 UK time, Monday, 20 November 2006

What did our man in Havana think of Fidel Castro and life in Cuba?

Paul Hare, Britain's previous ambassador to Cuba, reported back to the Foreign Office on his view of Castro as follows: 'His regime has shown no one man can provide the right answers for 45 years ... Few countries have been held back so obstinately by their leader.'

This is revealed in documents released to the BBC by the Foreign Office following a freedom of information request.

In his valedictory message (Part 1 and Part 2) when he ceased to be ambassador in 2004, Mr Hare provided his Foreign Office bosses with a bleak and depressing picutre of Cuban society.

'Cubans remain dependent on a government which seeks to minimise their freedoms and pay them a pittance,' he wrote. 'Few can survive without breaking the law. Most see trying to become a waiter, practising petty corruption or leaving the country as the most rational solutions.'

He criticised the ability of Castro's government to improve matters. 'Noone gets promoted in Cuba for showing initiative. Those who do, like the Tourism and Health Ministers in 2004, are fired', he said.

And he was not impressed by those policies which are sometimes claimed as Cuban achievements: 'Castro's widely praised education and health are less substantial than is supposed. No Cuban statistics are internationally verified. Most Cubans are either too bored or resigned to care.'

As for the Cuban economy, 'it is seriously underachieving'.

He added that his first impression in 2001 when he took up his post that Cuba was 'on course for positive natural evolution' was wrong.

He did however predict there could be a better post-Castro destiny for the country: 'The future - whenever that starts - should be bright for Cuba.' This future may now be imminent, given that Fidel Castro has been badly ill, having 'temporarily' handed over power to his chosen successor, his younger brother Raul.

Mr Hare is now the British government's project director for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. His successor as our man in Havana is the current ambassador there, John Dew.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:22 PM on 21 Mar 2007,
  • Robert Clark wrote:

Paul Hare describes the Cuban government in fairly damning, negative terms but perhaps that's unsurprising. He still has his career to think about and espousal of pro-Castro views probably wouldn't boost his promotion prospects at the Foreign Office, which more than ever appears to take its orders from Washington. Hence the UK ambassador in Uzbekistan who criticised human rights abuses (eg boiling prisoners alive) was sidelined by the FO because the Uzbeks are "our guys" in the "war on terror" and are therefore above criticism.

A few further points:-

1.) The vindictive US trade embargo against Cuba is glossed over but is at least mentioned (most articles, including, sadly, the Beeb's, don't bother to trouble their viewers with such minutae). The US embargo has a serious impact, 47 years on and has been tightened. For its full effects, see - or visit Cuba and talk to some locals. What gives the US government the moral authority to interfere in the domestic affairs of any foreign country?

2.) "No Cuban statistics are internationally verified". Au contraire - the WHO regularly praises Cuba's health and education systems as being the best in the Third World and among the best in the world. And all free at the point of need. I understand that UNICEF and other UN bodies have been similarly complimentary. Paul Hare must know all that. One basic statistic speaks for itself - Cuban life expectancy has risen from 58 (just before the 1959 Revolution) to 78 today. Something must be going right, despite all the setbacks and the Soviet-era bureaucracy.

3.) Cuban import capacity fell by 70% between 1989 and 1992 following the withdrawal of Soviet subsidies, while GDP growth went into freefall (Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott, p 288). The Cuban economy has since more than recovered the lost ground, while social cohesion has been maintained (implying a certain level of "buy-in" on the part of at least some of the Cuban people). I wonder how a Western economy / society would cope with such a deep trauma?

4.) Who are these "bored and resigned" Cubans too apathetic to care about their country, and how does this square with Paul Hare's assertion (in the full version) that most Cubans "do not want free market capitalism or an imported US solution"?

5.) It's correct that "no one man can provide the answers for 45 years" but the fact that the Cuban government has been functioning without Fidel since July 2006 indicates a degree of succession planning / handover. Hanging all hopes on the demise / incapacitation of one individual could be an unwise ploy for opponents of Fidel Castro's regime.

6.) It is also worth mentioning, as an aside, that key decisions involving major social changes such as the closure of sugar mills were carried out after extensive public consulation and discussion within Cuba - not quite the action of a "totalitarian regime" and rather a contrast from the neoliberal pattern whereby the IMF, World Bank or some other unelected body imposes draconian policies on hapless countries without any democratic consultation whatsoever.

  • 2.
  • At 05:00 AM on 20 Aug 2007,
  • Aramis de la Nuez wrote:

As a Cuban who fled Castro's horrible tyranny I can only say that Castro's government has produced nothing of value in 50 years of totalitarianism. What is all the hooplah about education? In Finland and South Korea there is education. Medicine? What medicine? The hospitals are falling apart and their doctors are worth crap. Human rights abuses? Plenty! The Western world should not turn a blind eye to the horrors of countries such as Cuba, Myanmar, and North Korea. Read MAO by Jung Chang and Johnny Halliday for the real inside story of communist dictatorships. Cuba is simply a HELL where a doctor makes $20 a month and professional women subsidize their income via prostitution while Castro holds more than $1 billion dollars in Swiss accounts. Yes... COMMUNISM works but only for the Castro brothers.

  • 3.
  • At 05:18 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Brian wrote:

Why is the US trade embargo mentioned so often? Is it a right of every country to have free trade? What would Cuba be doing 400 years ago without trade from the USA? What ever happened to taking care of yourself, by yourself, without international aid? Once again, a very poor way of blaming the world's problems on America.

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