A Tally of What Cuba Owes the World

A Tally of What Cuba Owes the World
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(AP photo)

Since Castro brought it up...

Cuban leader Raul Castro has presented to U.S. President Barack Obama a set of conditions to re-establish diplomatic relations. Among those conditions, Castro demands compensation for the damages caused to Cuba by the U.S. commercial embargo.

How much are the damages? According to the punctilious economists in the Cuban government, the figure is exactly $116.86 billion. I have no idea how they arrived at such a considerable, but for the purposes of this column, we will accept it as accurate.

This leads us to an inevitable question: How much have the incompetence and the interference of the Cuban revolution cost the world? After all, Cuba's claim carries an implicit acknowledgment that there exist rights of property and lost profits, and that punitive damages should be levied against those who violate those rights or harm innocent victims.

Let me jot some hurried notes.

First, of course, come the ill-treated Cubans. In 1959, Cuba had a population of 6.5 million. In addition to 1.8 million dwellings, there were 38,384 factories, 65,872 businesses, and 150,958 agricultural establishments. All were seized by the government without real compensation, provoking the sudden impoverishment of Cuban society.

What does that plunder amount to? The state probably owes the Cuban people 30 times what Raul Castro demands from Obama today. Cuba went from being one of the most developed countries in Latin America to one of the least.

United States: The Americans very conservatively assessed the value of properties confiscated on the island at $7 billion assessment. That bill doesn't include (among other forgotten items) the enormous cost of integrating 2 million Cuban refugees in the United States - 20 percent of the island's population - or the damages caused by the thousands of criminals deliberately removed from Cuban jails and sent to the United States during the Mariel exodus in 1980.

Nor does it take into account the U.S. copyrights on books, music, movies, television, medicine, computer programs, and objects of every kind copied or utilized limitlessly by the Cubans. Were the cost of these violations tallied, the resulting figure would be astronomical.

Spain: "Society 1898" was established in Madrid to protect the interests of Spaniards who were hard hit on the island - they owned much of the retail trade in Cuba. The Society says that the 3,000 Spanish families it has managed to locate are owed about $8 billion in today's U.S. currency. 

The Soviet Union: According to Russian economist Irina Zorina, Soviet subsidies to Cuba, without even counting massive weapons donations, exceeded $100 billion. In the summer of 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin forgave Cuba 90 percent of an irrecoverable debt of $35 billion that Cuba acknowledged to the Paris Club it had received from Russia. The remaining 10 percent, which Russia won't get back either, would hypothetically be invested in the island.

Venezuela: Economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago estimates the value of Venezuelan subsidies to Cuba at some $13 billion a year. Ernesto Hernandez-Cata, another luminary, puts it at $7 billion. Either way, such enormous outlays are among the many reasons for Venezuela's socioeconomic meltdown.

Argentina: The original $2.4 billion debt contracted in the 1970s remains unpaid and today exceeds $11 billion.

Japan: Cuba owed the Japanese $1.4 billion. Tokyo forgave 80 percent of this debt and postponed payments on the remaining 20 percent for 20 years. Naturally, they canceled all the Cubans' lines of credit.

Mexico: Like it did Japan, Cuba owed Mexico ($487 million). And as Tokyo did, the Mexican government forgave $341 million and postponed payment on the remainder for 10 years.

Now let us approach the topic of Cuban political interference. This topic elicits more questions than answers, because as far as I know, nobody has put a firm estimate on the costs of Cuban meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.

What was the cost to Venezuela of the landing of Cuban guerrillas in the 1960s, and the Castro brothers' support to Venezuelan guerrillas and terrorists for more than a decade? What is the cost of the harebrained political advisory that has plunged Venezuela into ruin?

What was the cost to Bolivia of the attempt by Che Guevara and Cuban gunmen to overthrow that country's government?

What was the cost to Chile of the radicalization of the government of Salvador Allende, motivated mostly by the presence in that country of Cuba's special troops and by Havana's suicidal advice?

What was the cost to Central America - in human lives and economic resources - of Cuba's creation of and support for guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua? (Nicaragua still has not regained the indices of economic development that it had in 1979, the year of the Sandinista victory.)

What was the cost to Colombia of Cuba's links to the ELN, Jaime Bateman's M-19, and the FARC?

How much did the Argentines spend fighting the People's Guerrilla Army, organized by Cuba and led by Jorge Ricardo Masetti, as proved by journalist/historian Juan Bautista Yofre in his book "It Was Cuba"? Or the mindless attack on the La Tablada barracks, with Cuban weapons, during the administration of Raul Alfonsin?

Why go on? The small island of Cuba, led by a madman who thought he was Napoleon Bonaparte, has been a catastrophe - not only for the Cubans but also for half the world. A catastrophe that has cost everyone a huge amount of money.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. His latest book is the novel "A Time for Scoundrels."

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