by Marcelo Fernandez-Zayas

Benito Mussolini, in the decades of the 1920's and -30's, attracted worldwide attention with his marches and public demonstrations. That was an era when a leader had to show his capability for organization and a strong political machine in action. These demonstrations were tools used mainly to impress national and international public opinion. A long time has passed since.

Today, the average person in the streets is not impressed by these "old-fashioned" propaganda tricks. In a society with a free press and a productive economy, as in the United States and Europe (now both east and west), public demonstrations of any group follow certain rules or criteria. First of all, these activities have to take place on a weekend or holiday to facilitate attendance and reduce costs to participants. To analyze the factors involved in a demonstration we have to take in consideration:

- The time of promoters and staff involved in organizing the event.

- Costs of transportation for participants to the place of the event.

- Nature of the call to the gathering.

If the organization of the event were to take a minimum of time, we have to assume the existence of an efficient infrastructure. At the same time, it is essential that the participants are willing to cooperate with the organizers. If participants are paying for their own transportation and lodging, we have to think that they have the economic capacity to do so and the desire to incur these expenses. The reason for the call plays a significant role in the evaluation of the event.

The counting of participants in an event is always a matter of controversy. The best way to count the participants in an outdoor public event is to use aerial photographs. A grid of overhead images can be used to come up with a fairly reliable estimate of attendance. But even in Washington, crowd estimates often become a topic of controversy.

In societies governed by autocratic or totalitarian regimes the analysis is different. When demonstrations take place on weekdays, we have to think that these events have little effect on the economy. Let's examine Cuba as a model. The major sources of revenue are: tourism, the seasonal sugar crop and money transfer from Cubans abroad to their families.

Cuba depends for its frequent public demonstrations on young students and workers employed in government offices or non-productive government enterprises. Cuba claims to have full employment, but it is known that most employees are idle or absent in most industries. The government, when it announces a public demonstration makes attendance at the events mandatory.

Government organizers select employees from marginal economic enterprises to participate in the gatherings. Government sponsored acts of protest are useful as a tool to analyze state priorities and gage the economy of the nation. In recent months, the many public acts of protest to demand the return of the child Elian Gonzalez to Cuba could be described as gatherings of unemployed or underemployed employed employees. At most, government expenses for these events are limited to transportation and propaganda items like banners and T-shirts. No rule of lost revenues or decreased productivity applies in the case of a socialist economy.

From the political angle we can notice that Fidel Castro has used the demonstrations over Elian to burnish his personal image. From the economic point of view, these demonstrations did not make a dent in Cuba's revenues.

It is notable that the world media has not paid much attention to these government sponsored acts of protest in Cuba. Maybe, they consider them worthless from the journalistic point of view. Perhaps the press has come to the jaundiced view that any demonstration in Havana is just another "rent-a-mob." In general, state organized protests under autocratic regimes appear to be in decline; seen as an ineffective tool for political propaganda.

However, a significant political aspect of these acts of Cuban government sponsored rage is to observe that they continue to take place. Castro, with his antiquated political propaganda machinery seems not to be aware that he is showing the world the failure of his economy. For those who wonder how Cuba can afford these massive multiple protests, we have to say that the analysis of a free market economy and a socialist bankrupt society are very different.

Foreign tourists in Cuba and relatives of Cubans abroad ignore these protests and do not seem to be bothered by them. However, if Cuba had a productive market economy system, these protests couldn't take place. Participants would have to pay for their own expenses and their employers would suffer. Paradoxically, only a bankrupt economy seems able to afford the luxury of mass protest.

One might ask if Castro will ever come to realize that every time he calls out his demonstrators what he really is showing the world is the sad condition of the Cuban Economy. And that he mentally lives in Mussolini times.


Marcelo Fernández-Zayas

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