In Cuba, everybody’s equal—politically, economically and socially speaking. Unlike the U.S., Cuba prides itself on being an egalitarian society. Since Fidel Castro’s Revolucion in 1958, Cuba has embraced a socialist ideology in which the government owns virtually everything and the Cuban people equally own nothing. Let’s not forget, Cuba is still a Communist dictatorship run by the aging Castro brothers.
Fidel Castro overthrew the former Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, known for pandering to the rich and oppressing the poor. While in office Batista openly “enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle from money generated by the influx of tourism and American corporations to the island, while the country’s poor became even more impoverished.”
Batista allowed Cuba to become a playground for America’s rich. Just fifty miles from Florida, rich Americans would fly out to Havana to gamble and to enjoy the good life. —C.N. Trueman
With travel restrictions to Cuba eased, the question now is, “Will the influx of American tourists with money to spend change Cuba?” Recommended before travelling to Cuba— educate yourself about Cuba’s history. Cuba is not like other Latin American countries in the hemisphere. Cuba has been barred from participating in the global economy for the past 50 years. This has taken a huge socio-economic toil on the country that is visible almost everywhere you look.
During a recent visit to Cuba, I saw Cubans living in substandard housing, much of which was dilapidated. Although obvious poverty exists among the Cuban people, they probably don’t see themselves as poor compared to each other. As part of the Cuban government’s socialist care package, Cubans receive free education, free medical care and monthly food rations. For the most part, Cubans seem resigned, if not content, with their lives and the way things are under Castro.
As more American tourists descend on the island in the coming months, Cubans will realize even more so how the rest of the world lives. Incomes are likely to increase for some Cubans because of the increase in tourism. Although this may seem like a good thing, it does have a downside. There’s the potential for Cubans to experience economic disparity for the first time since Fidel Castro came into power as a result of some Cubans benefiting more than others from the tourist trade.
For instance, Cubans who work the streets besieging tourists for money for posing for pictures, providing directions, performing music or dances, selling food and souvenirs will likely earn less money than the Cubans who work in hospitality or transportation where they receive wages and generous tips from tourists. These jobs likely provide a path to upward mobility and a better future. As Cuban tourism breaks records, one thing is already quite noticeable—
Racial mixes in many settings, such as professional schools or in the tourism business, the light skinned Cubans hold the preponderance of jobs that pay in hard currency.
Cuba’s diverse population seems to blend in well together from what I observed. Being African-American, I was naturally curious about whether racism exists in Cuban society. The official answer I received from my light-skinned Cuban guide was “We don’t have racism like in America.” In Cuba, about 65 percent of the people self identify as “white” while the remaining 35 percent is divided between Afro-Cuban (10), Mulatto (24) and Asian (1). But the reality is there are no pure blooded Cubans.
Doctor and geneticist Beatriz Matcheco recently conducted a study among Cubans of all colors and absolutely all of them had both European and African genes.—AfroCubaWeb
As a society in general, Cubans don’t appear to subscribe to any notion of racial or social superiority of any one group. This kind of thinking left with the wealthy white Cubans who fled to Miami after Castro took over. For the most part, all Cubans are pretty much in the same socio-economic boat, except for Castro. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if racism were to trickle back into Cuba as tourists from America and other countries interact with the locals.
During my visit, it was hard not to notice how some Caucasian tourists treated light-skinned vs dark- skinned Cubans. In fact, a dark-skinned Cuban friend, who escorted me back to my hotel, told me that he was not allowed to go inside the Hotel Nacional de Cuba where I was staying. Earlier that same week, I was visited by light-skinned Cuban friends who waited for me in the hotel lobby. I’m not sure why my visitors’ experiences were so different.
My other questions concerned unemployment and illegal drugs in Cuba. My guide said that any Cuban who wants a job could have a job. It may not pay well but it’s a job. Apparently, since there is no private enterprise in Cuba, everybody works for the government in some way. There’s a government office that puts people to work. With Cuba’s crumbling buildings and potholed streets there’s plenty of work to do for anyone who wants it.
Some blame the decrepitude on the U.S. economic embargo that has blocked travel and the flow of goods to the island for nearly 45 years in an effort — through nine U.S. administrations — to starve Cuba into abandoning what Washington sees as a ruinous adherence to communism.—Carol J. Williams
As for a drug problem in Cuba, according to my Cuban guide, it’s limited to marijuana, no hard drugs. That could change as drug traffickers from outside Cuba get wind of a potential new market. Hopefully, Cuba can do what the United States has failed to do all these years after thousands of deaths and incarcerations—maintain its drug free society.
Clearly, Cuba needs a complete overhaul of its entire infrastructure, including roads, bridges, buildings, etc. Large stretches of Cuba have fallen into disrepair from years of not having the capital investment, equipment or materials to make needed repairs. Finding any new construction underway in Cuba is like finding a drop of rain in a desert. Renovations to some existing properties, like hotels and restaurants, are being done solely for the tourist trade.
Cuba is falling apart — literally.
When they see conditions in Cuba, the first thing American tourists say is that American business needs to come to Cuba, put their marque on everything and bring the country back into the 21st century. Wishful thinking. The current Cuban government has turned the tables on America by putting up its own blockade against the invasion of American capitalism. Cuba desperately needs the help and capital investment, but any foreign companies wanting to play will be required to accept Cuba’s terms and conditions, which means that the Cuban government will own, in part or whole, whatever they build. And to that I say—
Viva la revolucion
Note: Recently, the government eased restrictions on ownership. Cubans can purchase homes, and operate small businesses.