Former Political Prisoner: Today’s America Has Lesson to Learn From Cuban Socialism

December 21, 2020 Updated: December 21, 2020

The United States is teetering on the edge of socialism, and the pattern of events is similar to what happened in Cuba when it fell from being a prosperous capitalist country into socialism, according to a former Cuban political prisoner.

“I am sure that at this time, there are strong forces inside the United States pushing hard to turn to socialism,” said Luis Zuniga, who was imprisoned for his opposition to communism in Cuba.

He warned that, like what has been experienced in Cuba, those who are pushing the ideology may claim not to be socialists, but it’s only because “they don’t tell you.”

Cuban socialist dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez didn’t say they were socialists when seeking the people’s support for power, Zuniga told The Epoch Times’ “Crossroads” program in a recent interview. But they both imposed socialism on their countries.

A few months after Castro seized political and military power in Cuba in 1959, the dictator told the American media, “I have said very clearly—we are not communists.”

Castro also claimed at the time during a CBC interview: “Our opinion is that … everybody has the right to think as they want [and] this is a democratic principle. We have no reason to forbid any kind of opinion, the opinion is a principle of democracy, that is the only reason for that we don’t forbid any idea.”

“We are not afraid of an idea because we have our idea and we believe in our idea.”

The U.S. Embassy in Havana reported to the State Department that Castro, in his 1959 speech broadcast on radio and television, said that he isn’t communist and “neither is revolution.”

In 1959, Castro seized power and promised Cubans that within 18 months, he would establish free elections and restore the Cuban constitution of 1940, which was considered one of the most democratic in the region. None of his promises were delivered.

Two years later, Castro abolished the election, saying: “The revolution has no time for elections. There is no more democratic government in Latin America than the revolutionary government,” according to the BBC.

In December 1961, Castro finally revealed in a televised speech, “I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall be one until the end of my life.”

Zuniga said that while Castro and Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez didn’t admit they were socialists when seeking the people’s support for power, they both materialized and implemented socialism.

“And when you realize that you are under the grip of a socialist regime, you’re done,” he warned America. “Take care of your democracy, because once you lose it, it will take decades—hunger, prison, misery, all the same experiences that all socialist countries have lived—will come over you.”

How Socialists Maintain Power

The socialist regime in Cuba has maintained its power using two means, Zuniga said. The first is violent repression against the populace, such as long prison terms and firing squad executions. Anyone can be sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison just for speaking against the regime, he said.

The second means is keeping the society in poverty at the level of subsistence, Zuniga said. Many Cubans make ends meet because of remittances from their families living abroad, he added.

Epoch Times Photo
Alexandra Villoch, president and publisher of the Miami Herald Media Co., hands out a special edition of the Miami Herald with the headline “Castro Dead,” in front of the Versailles Restaurant in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, on Nov. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

“The socialist economic system is a failure,” Zuniga said. “A centralized economy is a failure because it’s contrary to human beings efforts, wills, and purpose to have a better standard of living.”

In 1958 before Cuba became a socialist country, it ranked fifth in the region in per capita GDP, outpaced only by Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, according to United Nations statistics.

“Castro immediately started taking over the army, which is the real power. And with the support of a new army created by himself, he took over all the institutions, confiscated private property, and fulfilled all the tenets of the communist doctrine,” Zuniga said.

Epoch Times Photo
Cuban First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and President of the State Council Fidel Castro (4th-R) poses under a portrait of Lenin before his meeting with General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Leonid Brezhnev (4th L) in Moscow on April 5, 1977. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Upon full application of the socialist system, the country survived for about six to seven years drawing from the huge resources it inherited from capitalist Cuba. After all that wealth was exhausted, Castro was reliant on the Soviet Union for support, Zuniga said.

And from that point on, Cuba fell under Soviet domination. Soviet experts were advising ministries in the Cuban government, Zuniga said.

The total Soviet economic assistance to Cuba from 1960 to 1986—comprising trade subsidies and development aid—was estimated to be around $40 billion, according to a 1986 report released by the CIA (pdf). Cuban statistics showed that Havana depended on the Soviet Union for about 70 percent of its total trade. Moreover, Soviets paid artificially higher prices for Cuban products “while pricing its exports to Cuba below world market levels,” the report stated.

Without Soviet aid, Cuba would have had difficulty meeting its “basic consumption and investment needs,” the report stated.

“As Cuba has become an increasingly important Soviet military partner on a global scale and as Washington has increasingly focused on Havana’s proxy actions in the Western Hemisphere, Moscow has sought—and gained—greater influence over Cuba’s decision-making apparatus,” the CIA stated.

Socialism in Western Europe

Some socialists present Sweden, Norway, and Denmark as examples of successful socialist countries. But those countries operate on the capitalist system led by social democratic political parties, Zuniga said.

A true socialist system “means centralized economy and one-party system in a political system,” Zuniga explained.

“In reality, the Nordic countries [Sweden, Norway, and Denmark] practice mostly free-market economics paired with high taxes exchanged for generous government entitlement programs,” Jeffrey Dorfman, a professor of economics at the University of Georgia, wrote for Forbes.

Debunking China’s Socialist Economy

Epoch Times Photo
A television screen at a restaurant in Beijing shows Chinese leader Xi Jinping speaking during a broadcast from Shenzhen, at an event marking the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone on Oct. 14, 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

Many people also believe that China has adopted capitalism and achieved great success this way, Zuniga said. However, the Chinese communist regime only established several Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the country after seeing the Soviet Union’s economic collapse, he explained, adding that the Soviet Union was “a military power without an economy to support that military structure.”

The SEZs in China are capitalist enclaves that attract foreign investments and are separated from the rest of China, where the state-controlled economy dominates, Zuniga said. Even Chinese citizens need “a special passport” to move to those zones, he added.

The regime uses the income from those special zones to fund the Chinese military and build its nuclear power, according to Zuniga.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at a press conference held by the communist China’s rubber stamp legislature in May: “There are still some 600 million people earning a medium or low income, or even less. Their monthly income is barely 1,000 yuan ($153). It’s not even enough to rent a room in a medium Chinese city.”

That is more than 40 percent of China’s population, which is estimated to stand at 1.4 billion by Worldometer.

Zuniga’s Message to Americans

“The United States is the beacon of freedom [and] democracy,” and that’s why other counties turn to the United States for help if they are in peril or need any assistance, Zuniga said. The United States is also often the first provider if there is a national disaster anywhere, he said, and this is why the forces that push for global socialism want to target the United States.

“If Americans want to live in poverty, all they have to do is proclaim socialism and vote for socialist people,” Zuniga said. But he warned Americans to first consider the lived experiences of those living under socialism to truly understand what it would mean for America, because “later, it doesn’t matter that you say: ‘Oh my goodness, I didn’t know. Oh my goodness, nobody told me.'”

“We [Cubans] warned Venezuelans, ‘Don’t vote for Chavez, Chavez is a socialist, Chavez will become a dictator,'” he said.

But the Venezuelans said: “No way, we are strong. We are a great country, we are a rich country. Nobody can impose socialism on us.”

“You know what, Chavez imposed socialism on them,” Zuniga said. “And I told them, you are no different from Poles, Germans, Czechs, Cubans … We all came under the grip of socialist regimes.”

“So don’t [overlook] this warning. Please, take care of your democracy,” he said. “There is no system like democracy with the freedoms, the rights, the opportunities to decide and attain whatever you can attain with your talents, your capacities, and your hard work. That’s only a privilege of democratic systems and the economic capitalist system. Socialism is a disaster.”

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