March 29, 2016


The Cuba we saw (Madeline Zavodny, March 29, 2016, AEI)

People repeatedly told us about the triumph of the revolution, yet their hustle for tourists' dollars revealed a tremendous capitalist spirit. They value the free universal health care, high levels of education and egalitarian society the revolution created, but they yearn for material goods and greater means to travel abroad.

Obama saw newly paved roads and freshly painted buildings in Old Havana. Meanwhile, three buildings collapse each day elsewhere in the city, and not even the locals can drink the water. Whether to blame the revolution or the embargo is debatable, but there's no question that living standards there are low. We weren't able to meet with dissidents, but we certainly heard lots of dissent from people on the street.

The economy is based on tourism and agriculture. There's no credit market, and no wholesale markets either. People hoping to take advantage of recent liberalizations allowing them to start private businesses in some 200 low-skilled occupations need relatives abroad to provide start-up capital and supplies. Meanwhile, high-skilled sectors that hold more promise for long-run growth, like biotechnology, remain under government control. Businesses can't lay off low-productivity workers.

We spent lots of time doing things that Obama didn't need to do and that would be inconceivable to most Americans. We waited in line for an hour to buy cards to access the wi-fi only to learn they were out. We were unable to change our dollars into Cuban currency because the hotel was out. We hoarded bottled water to make sure we didn't run out.

Posted by at March 29, 2016 7:29 PM