Jake Gordon

Socialism, The Cuban Way

24 August 2003

The fight was quite an exception, or so I hear. In general, Cuba is extremely safe, particularly for tourists because if someone does something against a tourist then they get a hefty charge. That’s because Cuba needs its tourist dollars. There’s a dual economy: the local ‘socialist’ economy, where everyone gets paid about $20 per month; and the tourist dollar economy, where those working in the tourist industry (including prostitutes and illegal guest houses) can earn well over $20 a day. It puts an extreme skew on things.

Cuba’s got the best health system in Central America, with a huge number of doctors throughout the country. Also, there’s very little (at least visible) poverty, because everyone gets food and money and accommodation, it would seem, even if not that much. And everyone seems happy enough, living in not particularly amazing conditions. For example, to look at many of the houses you would think they were derelict, totally run down on the outside, never had any paint work, bits falling off here and there (come to think of it, a bit like my student house for next year!!!). But… people don’t appear to mind.

This, however, is probably partly because they’re not exactly allowed to mind. Or think outside the box, against Fidel, against socialism. On every street there’s an office of the CDR, Centre for the Defence of the Revolution. Basically, its like Big Brother in the 1984 sense. Everyone’s being watched and listened too. People in the tourist industry are not allowed to denounce Fidel and socialism (although they do, if noone is watching), and people not in the tourist industry aren’t allowed to talk to tourists.

A few locals I talked to told me how they saw the good and bad points of their socialism. They’re not allowed to leave their country - that really frustrates them. Its very hard to run a business, because they’re so heavily regulated and taxed, with new rules coming out every day. But at the same time, crime and poverty are low and health is good. People living in ‘poverty’ in the UK have much more money than the Cubans who aren’t in ‘poverty’, but the Cubans, I would say, enjoy their life more. They have less wants, aren’t constantly having to keep up with the Jones’.

But importantly Cuba should be compared with Mexico and Central American economies. Mexico has an unemployment rate of around 15% and no social security. Poverty is rampant and extremely visible in most major towns. In Mexico City I saw thousands of shanty towns an scores of beggars. Guatemala City is very similar to Mexico City, and both have huge crime problems (as does London and many UK towns, for that matter). Cuban cities don’t.

I guess the important question is whether or not capitalism will work in the long run for Mexico/Central America and the rest of the world. My answer is resounding ‘no’ due to my theory on excessive unemployment in the years to come. But simiarly, I don’t think Cuba’s got it right. There’s just too much supression, too little freedom.

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by Jake Gordon, some rights reserved