Cuba's fate over the last half a century has been disastrous, although before that the island wasn't a Caribbean paradise, either. US government policies haven't made it easier for Cubans to escape their misery since instead of opening up the routes of free trade, the US has mostly chosen to issue penalties against the country, never mind that Cuba has done little against the USA per se to deserve most of it.
The Cold War, of course, brought forth some insane policies from many participants. One of the worst was to harden loyalties to some really insane political economic ideas, if for no other reason than sheer spite. That is to be expected from a petty tyrant like Fidel Castro, whose system was about as far from socialism, let alone communism, as was Gaddafi's. But that the US kept a policy of relentless exclusion of everything Cuban wherever it had any influence is a great shame. It is one thing to recognize a tyranny for what it is, quite another to adopt its policies tit for tat.
But all this seems to be winding down considerably now. The BBC reported back on December 20th, 2011, that Cuba is now expanding outright free market reforms across the country. Ironically, and tragically for Americans, all this is happening while in America the elites − including political leaders and their cheerleaders in the academy − are pushing for greater and greater statism on nearly all fronts. Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and the country's current ruler, seems to realize that moving Cuba in the direction of a free-market, capitalist economic system is good for Cubans. As the BBC reported, "His government plans to have up to 40% of the workforce employed by the non-state sector by 2016, compared with just 10% at the end of 2010."
One reason Cuba didn't immediately join the Soviet bloc countries in abandoning its ubiquitous socialist policies is that as an outpost of Soviet style socialism, it was too wedded to all that central planning and also simply too stubborn to make the right move. Nothing is as irrational as the ego of a dictator since service to the citizenry is not in his job description. But just as in personal relations holding a grudge is usually injurious to those who harbor that attitude, so it is with Cuba's stubbornness. And it seems that Raul Castro has realized this and persuaded Fidel to give it up finally.
So reportedly, "for the first time in decades people are allowed to buy and sell homes and cars and take out private business loans from banks." (Sadly, the term "allowed" is still appropriate as a way to characterize the relationship between government and the citizenry, just as in contemporary China! Maybe in time Cubans will begin to question how it is that their government sees itself as permitting them to do what they choose to do!) It looks like the entire country is following in the footsteps of barber shops and beauty salons, which were recently removed from state control and handed to employees. As the BBC put it, they now "work for themselves"! Sadly, though, they are still following the lead of welfare states or mixed economies, wherein governments are regarded as proprietors instead of referees! (That is, by the way, where the modern welfare and, of course, socialist state demonstrates just how reactionary those systems are, following the pattern of monarchies wherein the king was taken to own the country, including the people in it!)
Anyway, I came to praise Cuba today, not to lament that its progress toward the free society is halting and incomplete. After all, there is no country anywhere which has gone completely free!
But the fact that Cuba is emerging from its socialist dark age should be cause for celebration. Maybe, as some have suggested, it will be the former Soviet bloc countries that will take over the leadership toward a genuinely free society, with others like the USA regressing toward more and more statism. Who knows, maybe even North Korea will in time come around.