Cuba 1980, Embargo stamps hint at a red dawn

Cuba was the only country in the Americas to go full bore Marxist Leninist. The USA did not like that and decided to end all trade even postage stamps. That does not mean that farm out stamps were not being produced for the international collector. The stamps now get out and we can see some of our fears reflected. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Todays stamp shows a Cuban participant in the sport of shooting in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Some of the Olympic sports like competitive shooting arise from the nineteenth century skills of a gentleman soldier. Today the sport still exists but is the province of Middle Eastern petro states. So where does that leave Cuba. The rich quickly left after the revolution and the remaining worker class is not allowed guns. The exception of course was the greatly expanded Cuban Army. This is where the team came from.

Todays stamp is issue A618, a 2 Centavo stamp issued by Cuba on February 20th, 1980. It was part of a six stamp issue in various denominations that celebrated Cuban participation in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. There was also a higher denomination single stamp souvenir stamp released. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 25 cents whether it is mint or cancelled to order.

The Cuban revolution occurred in 1959. Pre 1959 Cuba was typical of Latin America. There was some prosperity in the capital but much poverty in the countryside. The revolution started in the countryside but was coopted by urban Marxists as was typical of the era. Part of the change in government was grudge settling with the previous hierarchy and this lead to the emigration in mass of the upper class. For example, over half of the doctors left for Miami.

The Marxists somewhat succeeded in Cuba at least in terms of the lower classes. Food was cheap and plentiful and rents were token. The Soviets invested much aid in Cuba and education increased, soon Cuba had amongst the highest rate of doctors.

There was a price for this aid. The Army was greatly expanded. Expeditions of Cuban troops were sent to Africa to fight in favor of Soviet client states such as Angola and Ethiopia. They were functioning almost as colonial half black Askari troops where deployments of Soviet white troops were not justified. In Angola they came up against the apartheid era South African Army and were much bloodied. The all too serious theory at the time at the time was one Cuban soldier in Africa was worth 5 African soldiers. One white South African soldier was worth 10 Africans. Not sure when the Cuban people signed up for that. Indeed the communist Cubans have never been able to provide much more than basic subsistence, especially after the end of Soviet aid. The people have voted with their feet and over 10% of the population has emigrated to the USA. That is about average for a Caribbean country, but before the revolution Cuba was better off than the black Caribbean, and communism was to make it better still.

We can see how this stamp plays into then USA fears over Cuban militarism. In 1984, the movie “Red Dawn” prophesized a Soviet invasion of the USA using mainly Cuban troops. Cuba did have many troops relative to its population but the movie failed to recognize that if one arms embargo addled South African soldier was worth 2 Cubans, how many Cubans would be needed to match up to the USA army.

Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to toast the Soviets. If their investment in Cuba had gone better, the country really might have been a model for South America, with all its inequality and migrant caravans. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

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