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A reader from Pittsburgh’s Edgewood district had the best and most concise response to my column last week on the unrelenting repression of the Castro regime. “In Cuba,” I wrote, “the crime of ‘disrespect’ is anything that might irk a bureaucrat, like asking why there’s a fish shortage in a country surrounded by water.” The reader’s entire e-mail – four words – referred to Pittsburgh’s biggest seafood distributor: “They need a Wholey’s.”

Exactly. Put a good capitalist company like Wholey’s in charge of getting the fish to market and it’s a sure bet that the days of Cuban consumers waiting six months for a piece of swordfish will be over. It’s all about incentives. Without the prospect of profits and losses, how do you get a government worker in Castro’s state-run fishing industry to jump out of bed in the morning, year after year, with the same enthusiasm and gusto as an entrepreneur who has his own money on the line?

Capitalism, in other words, delivers the goods – and without the firing squads. Castro might be proficient at supplying the hot air about fairness and brotherly love but, at the end of the day, it’s greed that works best to supply the fish. Walter Williams, economics professor at George Mason University, explains:

Look at New York City. Every single day there’s meat delivered and available to Big Apple residents. Why? Is it because Texas ranchers love New Yorkers? You know it isn’t. Many Texans may even hate New Yorkers. But the ranchers are greedy. They want more for themselves. And this can be accomplished by satisfying New Yorkers’ needs with meat deliveries.

Adam Smith wrote the same thing in 1776:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self love.

Bottom line: It’s about money, not brotherhood. Or, as Tina Turner puts it, “What’s love got to do with it?” Fords and Lincolns, for instance, run better today because of the competition from Honda and Lexus – not because the corporate owners at Ford care more about us.

Capitalism, says Williams, is essentially a “please-the-people fight,” a winning combination of self-interest and competition where the more you please others, the more you have for yourself. “The important thing about greed is that for it to do you good, you must usually please others,” he explains. “Most of the well-to-do got that way because they worked hard and pleased more people than their competitors did. In fact, the richest people in the world are those who’ve done best at pleasing others, especially the common man. Henry Ford became richer than Bentley.”

None of that matters to the Castro government. More fish would be nice – along with more poetry and chicken – but not if it comes at the price of the regime giving up its virtual monopoly on jobs. It’s that monopoly that allows Castro’s autocratic thugs to exercise totalitarian control over the nation’s workforce and to suppress dissent. The bottom line: No obedience, no work.

Article 144 of the Cuban penal code, for instance, defines the crime of desacato, or “disrespect.” Verbally or in writing, it’s illegal to offend the dignity of a public official, or outrage an authority. The prison term for an act of disrespect that’s directed at a senior official is one to three years.

Resistencia and desobediencia, i.e., “resistance” and “disobedience,” are also crimes, and vaguely defined. As is peligrosidad, or “dangerousness.” It’s up to four years in the gulag if the authorities believe you might have a “special proclivity” to commit a crime, even if you’ve done zero wrong. Broadly defined, “dangerousness” refers to a person who engages in “anti-social behavior” or acts in a manner that contradicts “socialist morality.”

Taking it one step further, Article 75 targets people the authorities deem to be in danger of becoming “dangerous,” i.e., folks who aren’t yet “dangerous” but who have “ties or relations with people who are potentially dangerous to the social, economic and political order of the socialist state.”

And what about the basic right to free speech, the right of association, the right of assembly? All canceled if you have anything bad to say about collectivism: “None of the freedoms recognized for citizens may be exercised against the provisions of the Constitution and the laws, nor against the existence and ends of the socialist state, nor against the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism.”

And, finally, it’s illegal to get out. An attempt at an “illegal exit from the country” brings up to three years in prison – and up to eight years if any intimidation is involved – plus a strong dose of jailhouse reprogramming. The obligatory prison re-education program requires prisoners to shout pro-government slogans, including “Long Live Fidel,” “Commander-in-Chief, Give Us Your Orders,” and “Socialism or Death.”

It’s a crazy country, in short, and it’s illegal to say it. “Freedom of speech and the press are recognized for citizens consistent with the purposes of socialist society,” says the Cuban Constitution. “The press, radio, television, the cinema and other mass media are state-owned or socially-owned and can never be privately-owned, which ensures their use exclusively in the service of the working people and in the interest of society.”

That says society is best served when the state has monopoly control of the media. No fish? Only one bar of soap per person every three months? A shortage of tobacco leaves that’s cutting the export earnings of cigars? Well, don’t say a peep about socialism being a flop … at least not until you read it first in the state-run newspaper.

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