by Maurice Allen
As you may know, I returned from a visit to Cuba yesterday, and I said I would write a short analysis of what I saw there. I only stayed in Havana, and thus can’t speak for the rest of the country, but considering it is the capital, I imagine it serves as a fairly good reflection of the other cities (though I imagine things will be slightly different in the rural areas).
Firstly, the positives. The committment to socialism is very strong amongst the Cuban people. We spoke to many people, and over the whole of our 2 week stay, we only encountered 1 single person who told us that he wished for a capitalist system (and bear in mind that this man was the owner of a taxi business, so was a capitalist himself). Most Cubans are utterly convinced that socialism is the superior system, and are fully aware of the quality of their education and healthcare, which socialism has brought them. When asked about the potential lifting of the embargo, they all told us that they would not allow it to change their political system, as they don’t want to be like the US. Healthcare and education are still completely state controlled and socialised.
We learned about a lot of state programmes, such as a massive electrification programme that brought electricity to almost every home in Cuba, even in the rural areas, making it the most electrified country in the Third World. (I bought a book whilst there called “100 Questions and Answers About Cuba” that goes into great detail about these programmes, and how the laws and the political system work, which I will post about here when I’ve had the chance to read it).
However, there were some worrying problems we encountered. One of the most glaring and obvious things is that there is a MASSIVE prostitution problem in Havana, it’s on every street corner and you can’t get away from it. They are mainly very young girls who are being pimped out by older men, who approach you whilst you are out at night and hassle you repeatedly to go with one of their girls. From asking Cubans about the problem, we discovered that apparently these women aren’t “professional” prostitutes, as a significant percentage of Cuban women, those with jobs as secretaries, hotel receptionists, nurses, teachers, etc, sell themselves on the side to tourists.
In addition, a Cuban man told us that in recent years there’s been a massive surge in private businesses, especially restaurants, hotels, and taxi businesses, and It’s created a 2 tier system, those who work in the private tourist businesses that earn a relative fortune, and those who don’t earn nearly as much, whose wage value has been driven down by those in the tourist businesses who seem to earn a lot more. We also spoke to a guy who is a doctor. He earns the equivalent of around 80 CUC a month, which was more than enough to live a comfortable life before the rise of the private businesses. However, in the last 8 years or so, so many private businesses have cropped up that he has has to take a night job as a waiter, where he is earning the equivalent of 30 CUC a night, in order to keep his income in line with the inflation that the private businesses have caused. This implementation of free market economics and the rise of so many private businesses is worrying (though apparently they are taxed at around 60%, which is invested directly back into the local area where they are situated by local authorities).
The 2 currency system itself also seems to be problematic. For those who don’t know how it works, Cuba has 2 currencies: the Cuban Peso, which is only for Cuban citizens, and the Convertible Peso, or CUC. The CUC was implemented in 1994, specifically for the tourist market. It is meant only for tourists, and is worth considerably more than the Peso, meaning tourists can essentially get a lot more for their money, and making the CUC highly sought after by Cuban citizens, who expect all tips or purchases you make from them to be made with CUC, as it is worth so much more than their own money. Obviously the CUC was implemented to aid the tourism business and boost the economy, but it has inevitably caused problems. It is important to note though, that the Cuban government announced in 2013 that the CUC was going to be gradually phased out, by unifying it with the lower value Cuban Peso.
Fidel seems to be far more popular than Raul, as whilst some people like Raul for negotiating the potential end of the embargo, a lot seem to feel he has sacrificed too much in doing so. In several places, posters or images of Raul had been graffitied with the words “Viva Fidel” painted or written over the top of them.
The vast majority of these policies are not deliberate policies, I feel, but are in response to the embargo, which has ground the country into poverty and forced the government to accept ever more desperate measures to boost the economy. It is heartening to see that the Cubans recognise this fact though, and blame the embargo, and not socialism, for their economic problems.
My conclusion is that Cuba seems to be taking a very revisionist route, and if Cuban socialism is to be preserved and strengthened, the embargo needs to be lifted sooner rather than later. Once that is done, hopefully the government can return to a true Marxist-Leninist line.