4 – He Helped Ruin Cuba’s Economy
Guevara helped Castro oust the U.S.-backed dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista in 1959. There’s no question that life under Batista was awful for Cubans as he murdered thousands of people and oversaw torture and public executions. But the notion that life improved after Batista is a complete myth.
As bad as things were in Cuba during the 1950s, its economy actually worsened during the 1960s and thereafter. For example, industrial and agricultural wages rose significantly in the 1950s and were not far behind wages in Europe. Workers were protected by an 8-hour workday, they were entitled to a month’s annual leave, and mothers were given 6 weeks off before and after childbirth. There were almost 60 different daily newspapers, and Cubans had high levels of car, radio and telephone ownership.
Things changed for the worse once Guevara was handed the roles of Finance Minister and President of the National Bank. One of his first acts was to nationalize banks, factories, and businesses in a bid to eliminate social inequalities. While he admittedly led by example (he worked insanely long hours), Guevara removed the protections workers previously enjoyed. During his reign as Finance Minister, Cubans had to meet specific quotas and had their pay cut if they failed to meet their targets. Those who exceeded their targets only received certificates of commendation.
Overall, his programs were a complete failure. Productivity dropped while absenteeism increased markedly. One of his former deputies said Guevara was: “ignorant of the most elementary economic principles.” Cuba was reliant on huge money transfers from Moscow and in return, the island nation became a beachhead for Soviet nuclear weaponry. By diverting resources to industries that ultimately failed, he helped destroy the Cuban economy. In just two years, he managed to halve the nation’s sugar harvest.