The Cuba that the tourists do not see

We wrote last year about JZ going to Cuba and walking around with a cigar and a Che shirt.  It was disgusting.

Michael J Totten has just written an article that every tourist to Castro's Cuba should read.  It makes points worth sharing with all AT readers: Cuba's two economies. It is the Cuba that the tourists do not see:

"Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins."

A friend in Dallas went to Cuba 3 years ago and told me the same thing.

His next point is one that I've heard from my parents and those who lived in pre-Castro Cuba:

"Cuba was one of the world’s richest countries before Castro destroyed it—and the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. “Contrary to the myth spread by the revolution,” wrote Alfred Cuzan, a professor of political science at the University of West Florida, “Cuba’s wealth before 1959 was not the purview of a privileged few. . . . Cuban society was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.” In 1958, Cuba had a higher per-capita income than much of Europe. “More Americans lived in Cuba prior to Castro than Cubans lived in the United States,” Cuban exile Humberto Fontova, author of a series of books about Castro and Guevara, tells me. “This was at a time when Cubans were perfectly free to leave the country with all their property. In the 1940s and 1950s, my parents could get a visa for the United States just by asking. They visited the United States and voluntarily returned to Cuba. More Cubans vacationed in the U.S. in 1955 than Americans vacationed in Cuba. Americans considered Cuba a tourist playground, but even more Cubans considered the U.S. a tourist playground.” Havana was home to a lot of that prosperity, as is evident in the extraordinary classical European architecture that still fills the city. Poor nations do not—cannot—build such grand or elegant cities.    

But rather than raise the poor up, Castro and Guevara shoved the rich and the middle class down. The result was collapse. “Between 1960 and 1976,” Cuzan says, “Cuba’s per capita GNP in constant dollars declined at an average annual rate of almost half a percent. The country thus has the tragic distinction of being the only one in Latin America to have experienced a drop in living standards over the period.”"

Then there is something that Michael Moore did not understand:

"As for the free health care, patients have to bring their own medicine, their own bedsheets, and even their own iodine to the hospital. Most of these items are available only on the illegal black market, moreover, and must be paid for in hard currency—and sometimes they’re not available at all. Cuba has sent so many doctors abroad—especially to Venezuela, in exchange for oil—that the island is now facing a personnel shortage. “I don’t want to say there are no doctors left,” says an American man who married a Cuban woman and has been back dozens of times, “but the island is now almost empty. I saw a banner once, hanging from somebody’s balcony, that said, DO I NEED TO GO TO VENEZUELA FOR MY HEADACHE?”"

What happens when you open a business in Cuba?   The answer is that you are participating in the exploitation of Cuban workers:

"The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Before accepting its contract, Meliá said that it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The Cuban government said fine, so the company pays $8–$10 an hour. But Meliá doesn’t pay its employees directly. Instead, the firm gives the compensation to the government, which then pays the workers—but only after pocketing most of the money. I asked several Cubans in my hotel if that arrangement is really true. All confirmed that it is. The workers don’t get $8–$10 an hour; they get 67 cents a day—a child’s allowance."

A workers' paradise?   I don't think so.

Finally, Cuba has two economies, one for the elites and one for the rest of Cubans:

"Cuba has two economies now: the national Communist economy for the majority; and a quasi-capitalist one for foreigners and the elite. Each has its own currency: the Communist economy uses the Cuban peso, and the capitalist bubble uses the convertible peso. Cuban pesos are worth nothing. They can’t be converted to dollars or euros. Foreigners can’t even spend them in Cuba. The convertible pesos are pegged to the U.S. dollar, but banks and hotels pay only 87 Cuban cents for each one—the government takes 13 percent off the top. The rigged exchange rate is an easy way to shake down foreigners without most noticing. It also enables the state to drain Cuban exiles. A million Cuban-Americans live in south Florida, and another half-million live elsewhere in the United States. They send hundreds of millions of dollars a year to family members still on the island. The government gets its 13 percent instantaneously and most of the remaining 87 percent later because almost every place that someone can spend the money is owned by the state."

I don't like to tell people where to go for vacation.  However, it would help the Cuban people if you would stay away from Cuba and tell your congressman to keep the embargo in place.  

Bringing the Castro communist dictatorship down is the best thing you can do for the people of the island.

P. S. You can hear my chat with Brian Lloyd French, Canadian author, about understanding Cuba & follow me on Twitter @ scantojr.