My Visit to Cuba
To Family and Friends
Please do not ask me about the beaches or sunsets – The goal was to stare Communism in the face, to see and learn about a country and its people who have lived with government mandated “equality” in exchange of liberty for 55 years. Actually, before his death, even Fidel Castro finally acknowledged that his centrally planned and controlled economy (Communism), is unsustainable. His mission of creating equality, resulted in a country where everyone is poor, with the exception of those directly connected to his corrupt regime. Ironically, his estate when he died was estimated to be worth almost a billion dollars – it’s hard to avoid human nature. Raul Castro (Fidel’s brother and successor), no longer uses the word Communism. Several free market reforms are now taking hold by necessity. For the 1st time in more than 55 years, Cubans have a very controlled and limited ability to work on their own behalf – Capitalism.
Meanwhile millions of American college students are attending Bernie Sander’s rally’s protesting the very freedom Cubans yearn for, and in many cases have died in search of.
Our friend and guide, we will call him Ernesto, had an acute knowledge of Cuban history, including its relationship with the United States.
In this city of about 3 million people, every beautiful building, engineering marvel, or landmark we saw was completed prior to Castro’s communist takeover in 1959. Since then, Cuba has been pretty much frozen in time, less the accumulated depreciation of a once thriving city.
U.S. influence – I returned disappointed that despite U.S. television not being allowed in Cuba, the Cubans we met seemed more knowledgeable about our current events and politics than most of our own citizens. Many Cubans receive a thing called the “Cuban Package.” That is a black market service where someone downloads several U.S. news broadcasts, political programs, and current movies, puts them on a “thumb drive,” and exchanges them weekly. Though delayed, they pay close attention to us, especially our politics.
8% of Cuban households own a car – and most who do are connected to the government. Since 2011 Cubans no longer need permission from the government to purchase a car newer than 1959. The bad news – a $20,000 Peugeot costs about $100,000. With an average salary in Cuba of less than $30 per month, unless you have family in the United States sending money back to you, or are politically connected, your opportunity to own a car is remote.
Healthcare – is free. Ernesto’s wife is going back to school to become a pharmacist which pays about $25 per month, so their family can be more connected to the healthcare system. It is a great benefit. The best way to have a procedure authorized, or an appointment set, is to be connected to the system. Doctor salaries are about $40 per month – but hey, their education is free.
Education – free. The difference is the government decides if you qualify for the education you are seeking. With education too it is very beneficial to be connected to the government that gets to make the decisions ruling your life.
Homelessness – We did not witness a lot of homelessness. Why, because you are not allowed to live on the streets of Havana. You will be brought to your family and they will be told they will lose their home unless they keep you there
Drugs – not a visible drug problem. When drug dealers are imprisoned for life, or killed in the public square, the problem is minimized. I guess in Cuba the punishment acts as a deterrent.
Food – each member of your family receives government food rations each month. If you bring your certificate in early enough to the government store, you will receive; ½ chicken, 5-eggs, 2lbs. of rice, a pound of beans, 1-cup of cooking oil, etc. Cubans are fortunate if they are able to eat meat more than a couple times per month.
Enterprise – the best paying jobs outside of Cuban government are jobs where you receive tips or cash from tourists. You need a government permit for jobs, and they are not easy to get. Ernesto is technically a photographer. He must walk around with a camera, and not get caught discussing Cuban history, landmarks, or especially the oppression caused by equality. His brother spent time in jail for selling wood carvings on the street, without the proper permit. Just about everyone in Cuba who is motivated works Por la izquierda, which means under the table, in addition to their government salary.
Banking – enterprising Cubans prefer mattresses and coffee cans in the backyard to banks. Ernesto said he keeps less than 5 Dollars in his bank account. He saves his money in Euros, Canadian Dollars and U.S. Dollars. Amazingly, he was already aware of Donald Trump’s intention to devalue the American Dollar, and was acting accordingly. Cuban’s level of sophistication was inspiring.
To my Cuban friends that would prefer no one travel to Cuba and support this oppressive regime, I say this; We did not stay in a government hotel, rather a small 6 room hotel where I am confident the government will never see our money. Ernesto received cash and does not employ Cuban banks. The restaurants were small, local restaurants that pay a monthly fee to the government, per seat. We were sure to tip them well in CUK (Cuban Exchange Currency). I believe that our time in Cuba helped the Cuban citizens directly and intentionally. There is a large, underground economy in Cuba that is empowering its citizens. I welcome the discussion and want to learn.
I am hopeful that as the citizens gain wealth, they will have the resources to rise up and fight for the freedoms we as Americans take for granted.