Do you remember when the U.S. started the Cuban embargo? Castro took power in 1959, promised free elections, then changed his mind. He also leaned toward the Soviet Union for aid. As a result, the U.S. established a commercial and travel embargo—that has remained ever since.
My wife and I traveled to Havana in January. We met dozens of wonderful people. They were surprisingly open about the relations between our two countries. Keep in mind that the Cuban economy is a combination of socialism and “Fidelism.” Both of which have left the people in extreme poverty.
When you pile on the Cuban embargo, here’s how the people deal with it.
—Cuba offers free medical and education to all its people. Everyone is guaranteed a job—that pays $30/month.
—Since no one can survive on $30/month, everyone works a side business
—Recently, the Cuban government allowed private business. Today, private business makes up about 35% of their economy. You find most of these jobs in B&Bs, restaurants, cab drivers, and unofficial tour guides.
—The government rations food in official stores. Again, people can’t survive on the small amounts. For instance, each family of four gets one chicken/month.
After the Cuban embargo started, things became worse for people.
—All of this led to a parallel economy alongside the official one. The Cuban government knows about it. But they realize without the second economy people would starve. So, the government ignores it.
—Because of the Cuban embargo (It also affects Canadian and European companies. If any company trades with Cuba, the U.S. sanctions the Canadian and European companies.), the Cuban people have almost nothing. Including toothpaste, aspirin, microwaves, clothing, cars, food, etc.
—The biggest source of products for people come from relatives who live in the U.S. They ship things to family members in Cuba. Once there, the Cuban people barter or sell the items for a profit. People can’t communicate through the Internet since it doesn’t exist. Therefore, they participate in huge networks with other people who pass information and goods around.
—Some call the Cuban embargo successful. It certainly caused extreme hardship for the Cuban people. However, the government elites get smuggled goods that the ordinary people can’t. That means the government people don’t suffer as much.
—Cubans are well educated and very resourceful. If the Cuban embargo were lifted, U.S. companies would find a huge market. People are anxious to buy our products.
So how do the people feel about the Cuban embargo?
President Obama visited a few years ago and promised to start lifting the embargo. People became very excited. Since President Trump clamped down on the embargo again, the Cuban people are discouraged. But they told us, they have waited decades for more freedom and more consumer goods. They can wait a little longer.
Meanwhile, they play music, dance, and enjoy their lives the best they can.