I Want to Live Like Fidel! The Hidden Life of Cuba’s Multimillionaire Dictator
EspañolIt is no surprise that life in Cuba and Venezuela is not going very well. When the leaders of a country are paternalistic, totalitarian, and militaristic character, they plant the seed of a bad example of corruption and money wasting. It is then predictable that regular citizens will emulate this approach and seek to improve their standard of living through the privileges of power.
In his book, The Hidden Life of Fidel Castro (La vie cachée de fidel castro) French journalist Axel Gýlden reveals the luxuries that the Cuban dictator surrounds himself with. He learned these details from Juan Reinaldo Sánchez’s mouth, a former member of Castro’s personal security for 17 years. Luxury yachts, exclusive islands, mansions with sports fields and bowling alleys, and Mercedes-Benz cars were some of his pleasures, according to Sánchez.
The security guard says that while he worked for him, Fidel acted like the island belonged to him. “He was like a god. I swallowed all his words, believed everything he said, followed him everywhere, and I would have died for him,” Sánchez confessed.
According to Forbes magazine, Fidel is one of the ten richest political leaders in the world. As of last year, the Cuban dictator’s assets had reached US$900 million. As part of his income, he has the Havana Convention Palace and Medicuba’s earnings, which is a service that sells vaccines and pharmaceuticals made in Cuba.
Fidel’s wealth has rightly generated a firestorm, since it is well known that regular Cuban citizens do not have access to everyday products, have precarious job opportunities, and do not have the necessary freedom to ensure economic stability for their families. There are millions of testimonies from people like Yoani Sánchez that have shared how hard it can be to find even a craved fruit or baked bread in Cuba.
However, the real damage of his millionaire hypocrisy is that the role model becomes rooted in the society that sees him governing. I would not be surprised if Cubans were to say, “I want to live like Fidel!” The logic of corruption and absolute power is that to live well, one has to trample and free-ride on others and pursue easy money that allows the life of a parasitic king.
Cubans have a reputation in Latin America as very greedy: one has to be careful with them, because they will find a way to persuade you to hand over your cash. I do not believe that is true, or that is in the Cuban genes. However, the social system they live in teaches them, again and again, that corruption is a valid lifestyle, and it guarantees success.
Chavismo Picking Up Where Fidel Left Off
Unfortunately, I see this conduct growing in Venezuela too. While socialist speech adorns the swanky and wasteful lifestyles of those who hold the power, the new bolibourgeoisie cronies fill their pockets with predation on the rest of society.
It is the pedagogy of corruption. Everyone looks for his share of power and privileges as a route to profiteering. This is what the Bolivarian government teaches: to have great cars, to buy properties, to work less, and to rob more. Those who cling to power end up being wealthy in proportions beyond what is possible on an honest salary.
The strangled economy, as the one that Cuba has as well, is a breeding ground for this phenomenon, since the opportunities to achieve subsistence get fewer with every devaluation. Neither in Venezuela nor in Cuba does a college degree lead to a decent job in which one can get ahead. “One has to be Chavista,” a lot of young people say, regarding the possibilities for buying a house or a brand new car someday.
21st Century Socialism promises easier access to the things that are difficult to find, but only through welfare, subsidies, or corruption. It has never offered us real equality.
My perception is that in Venezuela, very few people wish for equality, even though many talk about it. They would rather have the tools to be able to get closer to power from where they will look down. If equality were a genuine wish, the privileges the state offers would be rejected, and we would work honestly — like millions of Venezuelans still do — on a level playing field.
A peddler cannot ask for equality if he sells products at the same price as the one who pays taxes and has his own shop. Also, a public worker cannot ask for equality if he gets three times greater benefits than the one who works in a private company.
Of course, there are always the bread-and-circus gestures to distract the people, such as the state subsidy on gasoline. Venezuelans literally boast of that benefit as better than anywhere else, as they fail to notice the failure all around them from those in power: no good roads, no medical services, and poor education.
It is up to the people in both societies, the lesson they are going to draw from 55 years of Cuban totalitarianism and 15 years of Chavismo. One option is to keep fighting for privileges and corruption — to be more like Fidel and look down on our citizens from the top; another ensures space for freedom, where familiar and economic development depends on the work of the people.