Cuba's communist regime is commemorating 55 years of existence this month. However, looking at the dismal economic situation and the contempt for human rights that prevails therein, the gerontocracy in command of the country will have little to boast about, barring one exception: the regime has invariably excelled in creating false expectations -- particularly among journalists and analysts who may regard themselves as as "progressives."
For starters, it is worth recalling how much the international media underestimated, and even turned a blind eye to, the curtailment of basic freedoms during Fidel Castro's reign. The enthusiasm surrounding the Cuban Revolution was so high that human rights infringements -- including summary executions by the hundreds -- were seen as mere transitional measures designed to eliminate the remnants of the overthrown dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Once that task was completed, "progressives" asserted, democracy would shine over Cuba.
It took less than three years for those hopes to evaporate. In December 1961, Fidel Castro revealed his Marxist-Leninist agenda, announcing that his real objective was to establish a Communist dictatorship in his country.
False expectations have arisen again and again in the economic domain.
An early bout of optimism was triggered by the decision to eliminate the so-called "monoculture" (in reference to the significant weight of the sugar sector in the Cuban economy at that time). For "progressives," dismantling the sugar industry, as Castro had embarked upon, was a sine qua non condition for reorienting the Cuban economy around the dual objectives of achieving food self-sufficiency and promoting industrialization.
Ten years later, with the Cuban economy in tatters, Fidel Castro had no other remedy but to backpedal. He placed his bets on the sugar sector and decreed that the sugar crop of 1969-70 must attain 10 million tons.
Despite an all-out mobilization of Cuba's population and resources towards that objective, the crop didn't live up to centrally-dictated expectations.
In the end, the Cuban regime has lost on both grounds. It has failed to enhance food self-sufficiency and it has failed to give a renewed impetus to the production of sugar. Today, imports represent 80 percent of total food consumption. Sugar production, for its part, hovers around 1.8 million tons, which represents less than one half of what the country used to produce a century ago.
New expectations in the economic domain arose in 1986, when Fidel Castro indulged in an exercise of self-criticism (he and his brother are the only ones allowed to criticize their "revolution") and launched a process of "rectification." Hopes were so high then that the Miami Herald -- a newspaper usually critical of the Cuban regime -- went so far as to say "dramatic changes are sweeping Cuba." The "dramatic changes" proved to be yet another flop.
The fiction of "reform" has once again been in full swing since 2010, as President Raúl Castro has introduced a new set of policy changes labeled as an "updating" of Cuba's socialism. The purpose of the exercise is to inject the economy with homeopathic doses of capitalism -- the very capitalism that the regime took so much care to wipe off.