Why Is UN Praising the Castro Regime?
Whether due to institutional constraints or to intellectual empathy, or to both, UN bureaucracies have on more than one occasion shown a lack of any real critical thinking toward anti-market regimes and policy prescriptions. Throughout the Cold War, it was not by reading UN reports that one could discover the disaster of central planning in the Soviet bloc and the ordeal of the peoples of Eastern Europe. Those reports reproduced, and based their analyses on, the triumphalist rates of growth and advances in social services that communist regimes fraudulently claimed to have achieved. These same UN would often fawn over the dirigiste, anti-market policies of such regimes, as well.
A first example relates to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based in Santiago, Chile. In the 1960s, that agency, then headed by the Argentinian economist Raúl Prebisch, advised developing countries to impose protectionist trade barriers so as to promote an inward-oriented industrialization through import substitution. That strategy led nowhere; it proved to be inferior to the pro-market, export-oriented industrialization that made the success of the so-called "Asian Tigers" (Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan).
Latin American countries ultimately put aside ECLAC's recipes, adopted export-oriented policies and some of them -- Brazil, Chile and Peru, to mention a few -- have become able competitors in the globalized world economy.
The Vienna-based UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) had its anti-market spree in the 1970s, when -- acting like a central planning bureau -- it launched a state-induced "plan of action" aimed at relocating 25 percent of world industrial production in developing countries.
Developing countries are not far from reaching that targeted percentage. But this achievement has nothing to do with the UNIDO plan, which soon fell into oblivion. The success is due, instead, to the fact that a growing number of developing countries have played the game of the market by aggressively competing in the globalized world economy.
A third example of counter-market tinkering relates to the Common Fund for Commodities, an idea put forward, also in the 1970s, by the Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The Fund, in which governments were to play an active role, would attempt to curb market-led volatility in the world prices of primary commodities by purchasing such commodities when their prices were on the downside and selling them at their peaks.
The Fund never got off the ground and ultimately joined the dustbin of failed, and costly, initiatives engineered by the United Nations.
All these institutional setbacks should have blown the whistle on market-bashing initiatives. Nonetheless, to judge from the eulogies chanted on Cuba by the present head of ECLAC, Ms. Alicia Bárcena, it seems that the lesson has not yet been fully learned.
In a visit made to Havana earlier this month, Ms. Bárcena declared that Cuba "has left behind" many Latin American countries in the implementation of the socioeconomic "structural change" proposed by ECLAC.
Ms. Bárcena's praise of the Cuban "model" appears even stranger when compared with non-triumphalist statements made by both Fidel and Raúl Castro. In late 2010, the former admitted that "socialism doesn't even work for us," while the latter acknowledged that the Cuban economy was on the "verge of a precipice."
Be that as it may, the mere fact that an utterly failed economy such as Cuba's is leading in the implementation of ECLAC's "structural change" says a great deal about, and against, the nature of the policies that the body is calling for nowadays. One can thus safely bet that the ECLAC-promoted "structural change" will not have a better fate than Prebisch's import-substitution, UNIDO's plan of action or UNCTAD's Common Fund.
This is not the first time that the present head of ECLAC has gone out of her way to hail the Castro regime. In February of last year, Bárcena pontificated that Latin America had "much to learn" from Cuba in equality promotion.
Not even the president of Uruguay, José Mujica, despite being a former Marxist guerilla fighter and an admirer of Fidel Castro, is unaware of the counterproductive effects that the reckless search of equality has had on the Cuban economy. Indeed, Mr. Mujica had asserted that "the championship of redistribution in Latin America has been largely won by Cuba," before adding cynically that Cuba, "now has nothing to redistribute."
What is more, empirical evidence doesn't support Bárcena's plaudits on Cuba's alleged achievements in equality promotion.
For instance, after conducting an inquiry on racism in Cuba, a journalist at the BBC, Fernando Ravsberg, reckoned that Afro-Cubans "have inferior jobs, earn lower incomes, occupy the worst housing and represent the majority in the prisons and the minority in the universities." In the same vein, in a review carried out in 2011 by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the rapporteur on Cuba noted that "people of African descent were underrepresented in decision-making bodies."
Discrimination also affects women and the youth, as reflected in the composition of Cuba's 15-member Politburo, the highest decision-making organ in the country. Only one woman forms part thereof, whereas the mean age of its members is 68 and the median 71.
And yet, just like during the days of the Cold War -- when UN bureaucracies closed their eyes and ears to the reality of life in the Soviet bloc -- all of these inglorious features of Cuba's society and power structure go unnoticed by the UN and its various agencies.