May 06, 2006

Man of the people

Forbes magazine estimates the net worth of longtime Cuban strongman Fidel Castro at -- ready? -- $900 million.

Cuban President Fidel Castro was furious when Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at $550 million last year. This year, the magazine upped its estimate of the communist leader's wealth to a cool $900 million. Castro, who says his net worth is nil, is likely the beneficiary of up to $900 million, based on his control of state-owned companies, the U.S. financial magazine said in its annual tally of "Kings, Queens & Dictators" fortunes Thursday.

We estimate his fortune based on his economic power over a web of state-owned companies including El Palacio de Convenciones, a convention center near Havana; Cimex, retail conglomerate; and Medicuba, which sells vaccines and other pharmaceuticals produced in Cuba. Former Cuban officials living in U.S. assert that he has long skimmed profits.

Not too shabby, especially when his vict, er, um, subjects are on food rations.

And, it seems to the south, a few guys named Chávez and Morales (for starters) are looking to emulate him with the promise of the "socialist dream":

The indigenous population has been repressed ever since the Spanish arrived. What doesn’t make sense is the reasoning. It isn’t neo-liberal economics that has enriched the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. It’s corrupt governance. Political institutions are so weak in Latin America that regardless of whether Chavez or the oligarchs are in power, those who have it are going to steal from the people. People thought Chavez would neutralize the oligarchs and use the country’s oil to better their condition with social programs like education and healthcare. Well, he did the latter, but instead of serving the people, he’s stealing the money and creating a cult of personality. Why do they think Evo Morales will be any different? At least with the oligarchs they had something resembling liberalism. Now not only are they poor, but they’re not very free either.

Compare this to countries like Chile. It has very strong democratic institutions, a flexible presidential system that is based on two main party alliances, and transparency and a free press that ensures that corruption in the government doesn’t go unnoticed. Under the terrible, terrible neo-liberal economics first instituted by Pinochet and wholeheartedly continued under the center-left coalition, Chile has become incredibly wealthy. Sure, the wealthy have gotten wealthier. But that’s because they’re creating new businesses in their country. Meanwhile, for the first time, the country has a surging middle class, with suburban cookie-cutter homes sprawling out from Santiago. Then again, while Chile does have minor indigenous human rights issues, its community of Mapuche Indians is very small compared to a place like Bolivia, where over half the population is indigenous.

The conclusion is fairly obvious, if Latin America (and the US) want to thwart socialist dictators like Chávez and Morales: The best way to neutralize [them] is to begin enacting policies that indigenous groups were pressing for in the first place: better education, healthcare, roads, and equal opportunity.

Posted by Felix at May 6, 2006 06:51 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Interesting post, here. Chile, like Costa Rica, has a history of a fairly strong middle class, (and equitable land ownership) whereas most other Latin American countries are quite stratified, socioeconomically. These factors obviously add to political stability. The writer at Publius is dead-on in that last quote; ironically, it is almost identical to a query e-mailed to me by a recent visitor from

(I originally had written this as a post "update," but I didn't want to be perceived as stepping on your toes there, m'man!)

Posted by: Hube at May 6, 2006 07:06 PM

I guess he's more equal than everyone else.

Posted by: soccer dad at May 8, 2006 04:50 AM

Reading posts like this I can understand why you -"americans"- can be convinced to support the US international politics -ie murder, war, etc-.

BEFORE speak about Chile, Cuba, Venezuela or Boliva is better to be there and know -or at least try to know- how people lives and why they live like this.

BTW: when you write "socialist dictators like Chávez and Morales" you are wrong. Maybe you dont know but Chavez was elected twice in democratic elections (supervized by Jim Carter and his foundation!) and Evo Morales was also elected in democratic elections obtaining more tha the half of the votes. Itś funny (and not so) that every time the latinamerican -and other- countries elect presidents that are not of US convenience you inmediatly say "it is a dictator"

Funny and sad.

Bye and my apologies because my English! ;-)

Posted by: SVC at May 8, 2006 09:10 AM

SVC: Maybe you ought to catch up on current events. Yes, Chavez and Morales were *elected.* Now, however, look at what Chavez plans to do. And how long has Castro been in power? You think Morales won't plan something similar? I'll be surprised if he does not.

At any rate, if you read the end of the post you'll see that we ARE aware of the problems in those countries and that those in power before these socialists did little or nothing to help those who need it most. However, Chavez, Morales etc. won't only NOT improve their situation a whole lot, but the people will be a lot less free under these regimes.

And your English is just fine! Better than many Americans'!! :-)

Posted by: Hube at May 8, 2006 01:37 PM

Hube: I will suposse that you can read Spanish (thats the way you stay in touch about latinamerican reality, no?)
1) About "Chavez plans": you can search and read the actual words of Chaves intead or just listen what mass media (you cite Fox! change your source of information please!). Just google "chavez 2031 referendum" and read some of the available Spanish transcriptions of his speak.
2) In the same way, I also read in this blog that Iran's president says about Israel. Ok, is a copy of what you get from mass media. Anyway I can recomend you the following article (also available in other languages such German and Italian):
The article, describes how the words of Iran's president were intentionally miss-interpreted by the press.


Posted by: SVC at May 9, 2006 02:40 AM

SVC: I did Google "chavez 2031 referendum." And what was I supposed to find? A translation that refutes the fact that Chavez wants indeed to hold such a referendum? It isn't there.

I also Googled "iran president misinterpreted." One site merely notes that his comments about Israel "moving to Europe" were misinterpreted. That's about it, I'm afraid. The site your provided (in Spanish and its corresponding English) does little to back up the claim that the Iranian president was "misinterpreted." All it does is parse words.

Just ask yourself: If Iran (and the many Arab states that surround Israel) really wants peace, why don't they recognize Israel, why did they try to destroy Israel some three times, and why does the Iranian pres. (in this case) talk about the Jews as if they never existed in the Palestinian Mandate area before WW II?

Posted by: Hube at May 9, 2006 08:02 AM

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