In his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick has a chapter named “The Tale of the Slave” in which he explains the nine phases from the most restrictive to more liberating states of slavery. He writes that even though enslaved people have certain forms of self-rule, they are still enslaved. He asks: “Which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?”
Nozick’s question highlights that there is no difference between people under indentured servitude and people who have certain liberties that an owner can take away at any time. Both are enslaved people who must respond to a master; it is just a matter of degrees of serfdom.
Nozick could be describing current Cuban political phenomena and social intercourse. Although Cubans have rights under a constitution, these are always called into question. Politicians and bureaucrats, not surprisingly, are greedy, looking out for their own benefit and taking advantage of situations for their own advancement.
Thus, it should not be difficult to understand that tyrants seek to put chains of servitude on their populace. Some have argued that though these chains are truculent and wanton, the reprimand must succumb to the rulers and not the system itself. The pretension of this essay is nothing more than to expound on how Nozick’s argument, albeit controversial, is fruitful in explaining Cubans’ abnormal conditions.
Cuba’s discrete slavery is exemplified by the economic circumstances laborers encounter. According to Bloomberg, inflation in Cuba finished at 71 percent in 2021 amid reforms to get rid of currency duality. This figure takes on more meaning if the reader assumes that inflation is a form of taxation. When Cuba’s government pays its citizens by printing money instead of using sound currency and real profits, the state levies extra taxes upon its citizens. No one can cover their expenses when 71 percent of their income is taken away by central planners and corrupt public officials. After the currency has undergone devaluation, not much is left.
Likewise, “tiendas moneda libremente convertible,” or free convertible currency stores, play a massive role in discriminating against citizens. According to Reuters, the Cuba-based economist David Pajon said that the stores are a source of inequality. To put this in context, only people who have foreign currency can shop at these stores, which means that only Cubans with relatives outside the country who send them money can shop in them. Furthermore, while the government promotes policies to help the less fortunate, they open stores that are not accessible to regular workers. This Machiavellian scheme engenders a hierarchy in which those who have relatives abroad are privileged, while the rest are left behind.
Cubans cannot even complain about these economic misdemeanors because freedom of speech is restricted. Human Rights Watch states:
The government has repeatedly imposed targeted and arbitrary restrictions on the internet against critics and dissidents, including as part of its ongoing systematic abuses against independent artists and journalists.
The elite is constantly threatening individuals who express what they think on social media, and the government has stated that only authorized journalists have the right to cover news on the island.
Contributing to the freedom of speech issue is that journalists lack tools to do their job. Suzanne Bilello argued in a 1997 report:
Those in Cuba who are trying to establish a free press face significant internal obstacles, including a lack of rudimentary supplies, such as pens and notebooks, inadequate financial resources, and virtually no exposure to the workings of independent media.
Even if it were possible to publish in spite of all the harassment endured, journalists struggle to get supplies and pay for a stable internet connection. Although these issues are very noticeable when searching for a newspaper that does not support the regime, few international organizations have covered them properly.
Traveling to another country is not an alternative for Cubans. If someone is caught making a raft or leaving the island other than by air, they are severely punished and even imprisoned. However, the regulations upon national citizens are minuscule compared to those placed on foreigners.
For example, last year, Cuban journalist Karla Pérez González was prevented from coming back to the island because of her critiques of the Communist dictatorship. Another remarkable example was the case of the Cuban YouTuber Ruhama Fernández, who was barred from traveling outside the island even though she had a visa to visit the US to attend conferences.
The state’s national security agency tracks all dissidents’ locations, meetings, and actions, somewhat like Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four. To further decimate the reader’s morality on this subject, dissidents are always arrested under subjective interpretations of what the agency considers is against the motherland.
Independent journalists argue that while the system regulates all the previously mentioned elements, its administrators are corrupt. Such an innocent assumption breaks apart using Nozick’s logic. Even if the administrators were removed and substituted by angels, Cuba’s condition of slavery would not change a bit. Maybe the lower-class conditions could be better, but people would still be slaves of the state: what Spencer also called “the Coming Slavery.”
Cuba’s issue is not a problem of administrators, angels, or even devils: it is like a tree with poisoned roots. Either a new seed must be planted or the rootstock affecting the tree must be cut. Because it is impossible “to plant” a new Cuba, although Miami could be considered a cultural extension of Cuba, curing Cuba’s wound might be a more reasonable approach. So, now a question arises: How can Cuba be cured of the putrescent tyranny that it is suffering?
Such a question requires more depth than a mere essay. Despite that, an excellent starting point would be to assume that Fidel Castro’s system is condemned and needs to be replaced by a system that rewards individualism as a core social value. This could manifested as opening markets, granting individual rights, and restricting despotic legislators.
Liberty is an essential element in the construction of every respectable society. Jose Martí, the national hero of Cuba, said perceptively: “Liberty is the right of every man, to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.” If a man cannot act, speak, or think as he pleases, he is no more than an indentured servant.
This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.