Cuba’s Economic Problems

Elio Delgado Legon

Havana street. Foto: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — I frequently come across the comments and articles written by those who are always criticizing the Cuban revolution, pointing out Cuba’s economic problems time and time again. These are partly right: no one can deny that Cuba has economic problems. Now, I ask you: is Cuba the only country in the world with economic problems? Is Cuba the country with the most economic problems?

In a globalized world in which one country’s problems invariably affect others, the economic crisis that began in the United States in 2008 and has not yet ended has had an impact on the entire world (hitting some countries harder than others). And even though Cuba is subjected to a blockade with the declared aim of bringing its people to its knees through hunger and disease (in order to make its political and economic system fail), it is making much more progress than the majority of countries in the Third World.

What critics always pass over in silence is that the UN places Cuba among the countries with the highest human development in the world, that infant mortality on the island (4.2 for every thousand live births) is the lowest in the continent (lower than that of the United States and Canada), and that it has one of the highest life expectancies (79 years).

These critics also ignore – some even deny – that Cuba is a leader in terms of its healthcare system, not only regionally, but internationally as well. The country has the highest number of medical doctors per inhabitant in the world and also exports medical services to over 70 countries, offering these free of charge in poor countries that are unable to pay for them (as is the case of Haiti).

No mention is made of the fact that Cuba has given sight back to 3.4 million Latin Americans who were blind or visually impaired because they had been unable to pay for a simple cataract operation.

Cuba’s scientific development in all fields is also ignored. The country has made particularly noteworthy strides in the fields of biotechnology and medicine: 80 percent of the medications used in the country are manufactured domestically. These (some of which are only produced in Cuba) are exported to several countries and have a significant impact on human health in general, as is the case of Herprot-P, used to treat ulcers on diabetic feet (speeding up scarring and preventing amputations). In 2012, according to the yearly statistical report, ten percent of Cuban exports consisted in medicines and medical products.

Over the past 50 years, art and culture have seen a degree of development that no other country has witnessed during this time. These areas also generate considerable incomes for the country abroad.

Last but not least, Cuba has developed its tourist industry, a sector that hasn’t stopped growing, despite the fact that the world economic crisis has reduced the possibilities that the citizens of developed countries have to engage in tourism.

One fact clearly tells us that Cuba’s economic problems are not as serious as those of other countries: the first source country in terms of tourism in Cuba is Canada, but the second is Cuba itself. In 2013, more than 300,000 Cuban tourists stayed at hotels in the Varadero beach area.

I could mention many more examples, but I don’t want to make this post too long. I believe this suffices to enlighten those who are always talking about Cuba’s economic problems.

Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

17 thoughts on “Cuba’s Economic Problems

  • I’ve just come back from visiting Cuba as a tourist and I have to say I tend to agree with Moses Patterson. The media and free public debate are conspicuous by their absence. For example, I saw no newspapers except dusty copies of Granma. Entrepreneurs are frustrated and want change. Cuba may be better off than Haiti but that isn’t saying much. The time is overdue for the Castros to organise the peaceful transfer to a multi-party social democracy.

  • WOW!!!!!!…… what is this????!!!!!
    There are still so bad indoctrinated people inside Cuba?????!!!!!……
    ha ha ha ha….. this “comrade” brought to my mind the great Cuban comedian actor and imitator Eddy Calderon who uses to imitate fidel castro in an spectacular way….. Calderon uses to imitate a way of talking that castro uses often …… it is like:

    – Yes, yes, the revolution goes through difficulties…….. we recognize that we are going through difficulties……. yes, yes, we will not deny it, we are not going to deny it……….. but it is also truuuuue that our difficulties are hisssstoricallll ones, are rrrrrrevolutionary onessssss!!!!”

  • Mr. Delgado,
    It is refreshing to read someone else’s post about Cuba then mine that share the positive aspects of the Revolution that normally gets drowned in the propaganda to bring about regime change in Cuba. Continue spreading the positive you know exist to balance all the negative propaganda from the Right.

  • Elio has a point on the eye surgeries. That is true. Otherwise he wears rose-tinted spectacles. For example the Cuban tourism sector can only grow while global capitalism is successful and produces enough excess money to be spent on holidays in Cuba. As soon as global capitalism falters Cuba will falter. Cuba lives of the breadcrumbs of the Western world.

  • …and anyone lauding the “accomplishments” of the revolution should be ethically bound to acknowledge the complete failures of a communist system that creates the physical and social ennui that brings about this migration, the risking of life an limb to escape a situation Elio say aint that bad. The “revolution” is a failure of central planning, a police state that controls all aspects of your life.

    And stop it with this “attempting to build socialism” crap. What you really have in Cuba is a Fidelista brand authoritarianism (mixed with all the ugly parts of communism) with the Castro family holding key economic, political and military positions, a sort of mafia draining the Cuban people of what little they already have. It’s their own little fiefdom. Why you fail to acknowledge that is beyond me!

  • Migrants from different countries come for different reasons. The Cubans who continue to come to America do so for economic and political reasons. The Cuban migrants say so themselves.

  • Contrary to Elio’s claim, Cuba did not build up their tourism sector. Foreign hotel operators invested the capital to build up the Cuban tourism sector. Cuba’s contribution was to sell cheap Cuban labour to the foreign corporations, while the regime pockets the lion’s share of the money.

    Defenders of the Castro regime blame the US embargo for any and all of the economic problems the island faces. One can debate the extent of the negative effects the embargo has had, but it is not the main cause of Cuba’s economic woes.

    The inefficiencies of a central planned economy must take a major share of the blame. So to the the wild schemes and dreams forced onto Cuba by the quixotic leadership; the 10 Million Tonne Harvest being just the worst example of that madness. The corruption which necessarily breeds in the shadows of the totalitarian single party police state has also harmed the economy, diverting revenue and resources from legitimate projects.

    However, the central issue of Cuba’s chronic economic malaise is the lack of capital formation. For decades, Cubans could neither buy nor sell their homes. It was illegal. Nor could they even borrow money on the equity of their homes to fund renovations or repairs. Larger buildings, facing even higher costs for renovations & repairs, but with Cuba’s vague property ownership laws, no Cuban would spend their own money fixing the roof of an apartment building. As a consequence, buildings aged, decayed and crumbled. The value of the buildings was locked up in the bricks and plaster, but without any way to borrow against it, the equity was lost as dead capital.

    This principle was present throughout the Cuban economy, in agriculture, industry, infrastructure and so on. The dearth of capital and the inability to borrow money on the collateral of equity has starved the Cuban economy for 5 decades. This chronic condition is the the direct consequence of the Marxist ideology of the Revolution. By essentially outlawing property ownership, capital formation became illegal and impossible and slow withering demise of the Cuba economy was inevitable. Only the external subsidies provided by the USSR, and Venezuela have allowed Cuba to survive. Tourism and the sale of cheap medical workers abroad keeps the regime afloat a little longer in a perpetual state of economic parasitism.

    Yes Elio, other countries have economic troubles, from time to time. But only the Cuban people have been forced to survive for 55 years under such senseless misery as the Castro regime has inflicted on the island.

  • I have only one question for you, Elio: Have you ever been in Canada, or the US, or anywhere else in the world outside of Cuba?

  • The fact that 300,000 lucky Cubans could stay in Varadero thanks to remittances from family in Europe and the US is hardly a sign that the economy is going well.
    The Cuban economy is a mess. The only “profitable” parts are abusive or tiny. The main source of foreign currency is the income from the slave labor of thousands of medical and other professionals. Remittances – in some way moral blackmail – are second.
    Tourism brings in cash, but nets very little as nearly all inputs have to be imported.
    Bio-tech is negligible in size. What is left: tobacco, sugar and rum.
    Agriculture is a disaster, transport a nightmare and industrial production nearly non-existent.
    Yes, Cuba’s economy is a disaster area.

  • Walter, “the Cuban example? There is NOTHING about Cuba, at least that part of Cuba impacted by the Castros, that anyone with a half a brain would want to imulate. In public health, most northern European countries offer far better examples. Heck, even Canada does a better job than Cuba. In education, there is Japan, or Germany. In sports, the good ole’ USA still dominates in terms of structure and results. Even when it comes to culture, most of Europe outshines their Cuban counterparts in terms of exposure and access. At best, and write this down Walter, you can probably say that despite the drawbacks imposed by the Castro regime, these areas of Cuban life merit kudos for having survived the dictatorship. Your comments always reflect a Cuba that it seems you would hope existed but the real Cuba, the one that is driving out migration in record numbers is not even close to the Cuba that you describe. It is does not make me a “hater” to reflect the reality of Cuba today. It makes me a realist.

  • The reference to how many Cubans stayed at hotels at Varadero in 2013 raises a couple of questions:
    1) Who supplied the figures?
    2) What was the figure in 2012?
    The reason for many including myself, criticising the Castro family regime economic problems is that they are largely self inflicted and reflect gross incompetence. Cuba is a country with substantial economic potential. The Castro family regime chooses to leave huge areas of good agricultural land to revert to bush, when its proper use would reduce the massive food imports and provide productive employment for many thousands of people.
    If you want to buy a chicken in Cuba, you go to a shop – probably owned by Gaviota (CEO General Rodriguez, representing the Castro family as son-in-law of President Raul Castro Ruz) where if fortunate you can obtain a frozen chicken from Brazil, Mexico, Canada or the USA. Why is Cuba incapable of producing more chickens? Why are eggs rationed? Why can a provincial capital be without any supply of coffee for five months? Why is it possible for Mexico and Holland to be able to supply beer to Cuban Government owned and operated shops when Cuba is unable to supply Buchanero or Cristal? Is it wrong to criticize these failures? The reality is that after fifty five years of Castro family total control, the economy of Cuba is a mess!
    To answer Senor Delgado Legon’s question, Cuba is not the only country with economic problems. However few of the others would have squandered the opportunities which occur in Cuba. We who criticize the Castro family regime are lovers of Cuba and the Cuban people unlike those who support the regime and its power over and repression of the Cuban people. Love is about liberty and about freedom. Hate is about control, dictatorship and oppression – of the type offered by the Castro family regime. Why not accede to the United Nations definition of human rights? Why not have an independent free press? Why not have access to the Internet for all citizens?
    The answer is short and obvious! Provision of such rights and freedoms would spell the death knell of the Castro family regime.

  • Gawd. Are you people still perpetuating that line of bull? Anyone who goes off on the “poor, desperate Cubans risking their lives in the shark-infested waters of the Florida Strait to escape horrific communism” should be ethically bound to acknowledge (a) the Cuban Adjustment Act which fast-tracks citizenship for any Cuban who makes it to U.S. shores (conveniently updated from the early 1990s, when balseros picked up in the water were given the same right – something that changed when economic conditions led the colour of Cuban migrants to take on a decidedly non-white aspect, which the U.S. certainly didn’t like – see the treatment of Haitian boat people as an example) and (b) that the already-existing flood of human misery heading north from Central America to the U.S. would become an unstoppable torrent if all Latin Americans were covered under legislation like the CAA.

    Migration toward the U.S. is not a uniquely Cuban phenomenon. Desperate migrants – some of them children as young as six years old – are flooding northward from Central America to flee violence, hardship and seek economic opportunity or family reunification.

    Cubans are not seeking escape from the horrific conditions of state and gang violence their fellow Latin Americans suffer. They are seeking economic opportunity and family reunification. But to portray them as suffering a fate worse than death simply because their political-economic system is attempting to build socialism, well, that’s simply disingenuous. And it’s getting tired.

  • Really Walter! I wonder why I ever left Cuba to begin with.

    You are willfully blind to the oppression of a totalitarian state that still denies it’s people free and unfettered access to the internet or any meaningful political participation. It is unfortunate those in Cuba can’t conduct the same “research” you urge new readers of Havana Times to undertake.

    Know that those of us in the Cuban diaspora hate Castro, not Cuba (which I occasionally visit). They are not the same thing. So I am not sure what “oppressors” you are talking about. Are you referring to the Castros? Because it doesn’t appear that you are very “oppressed” in any of your many activities.

  • This overview by Elio Delgado-Legon shows up on Yahoo News and other sites reporting on Cuba and it is welcome – not only is he reporting as a supporter of the revolution and efforts to survive and improve in Cuba, but in spite of the snide efforts of haters, these facts are easily researched on the web and I urge people new to Havana Times, to do so. Elio is a supporter, the haters hate, so do your own research. Given the history that Elio points out, what is really impressive is that Cuba has not only survived, but done very well in many areas of culture, science and social services. Compare not only to the worst cases such as Haiti (US and France did everything possible to destroy that revolution and the Haitians pay the price till today) and “North” Korea (which the US is still at war with today), but compare to the other countries of the Caribbean and all of Latin America. There are lots of pluses and minuses, but clearly Cuba’s record is outstanding and respected widely. The real issue is that the haters and the US government don’t want the Cuban example to inspire other peoples to throw out their oppressors, local and U.S., and attempt to create “socially” just governments and economies. Notice that the haters almost never bother to express any regrets for the terrible years of oppression that the US government and corporations forced on most of these countries. Cuba is a threat to those who still want to oppress politically and economically.

  • Now lets hear from other everyday Cuban citizens on how they live and what they think of their everyday situation.

    YOUTUBE: DOCUMENTARY: “Cuba and the Elephants” – Full version w / English Sub-titles: A Look at Cuba, in reality beyond its tourist attractions. A documentary that takes us to reflect on the achievements of the socialist system and how truly the common Cuban people live.

  • It’s interesting to note that despite all the “human development” (as Elio puts it) Cubans are still leaving in Droves, risking their very lives in shark infested waters. Perhaps they aren’t aware of all the benefits of living under the Castro regime

  • Elio is at it again. He is putting “lipstick on a pig” as we say. No one who criticizes the Castro regime (different than criticizing Cuba or Cubans) believes that Cuba is the worst country in ALL categories. In Internet connectivity, Cuba exceeds the connectivity that exists in North Korea and two other countries. There are a handful of countries worse with regards to press freedom and human rights abuses. Clearly, if Elio’s goal is to state that Cuba is not the WORST, he is correct. On the measure of infant mortality and human development, Cuba’s data is self-reported and should be taken with a grain of salt. Healthcare in Cuba, despite what Elio and Michael Moore would like for you to believe is not very good and getting worse every day. The WHO report ignores so many necessary factors in assessing healthcare delivery, it is barely worth the paper it is written on. Still, if being better than Haiti is important, then 55 years of Castro tyranny has been a success. If not living in buildings which may collapse is a measure of success, then the Castros have failed miserably.

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