Food in Cuba

Rosa Martinez

Foto: Caridad
Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Many things can be said about what people eat in Cuba: that overall food is becoming more expensive, despite the fact some prices went down in recent days. The average worker has to work miracles; either by stealing from their workplace or having an extra income so that their loved ones won’t go hungry.

There’s hardly any variety of products, even though we live in a tropical country and therefore our diet is not rich in vegetables or fruits and, what’s worse, almost all products sold by the State and private establishments are sugary flour ones (which is why the Cuban population tends to be overweight).

Even though my story doesn’t have to do with our daily bread, this post is not about the quality of the food we eat or how we manage to make it through the month earning a mere 500 pesos (the average salary of Cubans equaling around 20 usd). I promise to tell you about this on another occasion.

Today, I will only share with you an experience I wish wasn’t real.

Carla is my younger daughter Giselle’s best friend. My little one spends more time with that classmate than with her only sister, for, in addition to being with her the 8 hours she spends at school, after doing her homework, she spends at least one or two more hours playing with her, running around, messing things up or drawing.

The little girl is like another member of our family and she eats with us frequently. On several occasions, she has slept over and has even gone with us for visits outside the city.

Owing to the beautiful friendship the girls have, the two families have had no choice but to establish an intimate relationship as well.

Recently, something very sad happened. It was certainly nothing new and is in fact a recurrent reality for many low-income families.

Carla’s 18-year-old sister arrived at our home looking a bit flustered and asked to speak to me in private.

She said to me: “Rose, my mom wants to know if you’ve already cooked supper and, if things aren’t too tight around here, that you send a bit of what you cooked over, for Carla, who’s starving, and there’s nothing to eat down there.”

“It’s ok, not a problem,” I replied immediately. “Just wait two minutes, I’ll look for a container.”

While doing this, I started thinking: “If I send a bit of food for Carla over, what will her father, mother, and sister, who’s also at school, eat?”

What’s important isn’t what I did or didn’t do, what interests me is that her parents are people who work, like I do, and, if they’re as responsible and self-sacrificing as any Cuban worker is, that shouldn’t happen to them, right?

128 thoughts on “Food in Cuba

  • The US embargo can only be lifted through Congressional action. Not very likely with this President and this Congress.

  • You know its true… Once the Blockade is lifted… The anti Cuba crowd will be no more and you know it which is why you dismiss it so easiliy…

  • Your childlike response has worn thin.

  • Even Camden and Detroit are better off. Buildings in Havana, with whole families living in them, would have long been condemned anywhere else in the world, let alone the US. The Castros have chosen to make the US embargo the whipping boy for everything gone wrong in Cuba. It seems that you have drunk the kool-aid too.

  • Javier, you keep saying Let’s lift the blockade. How do you propose doing that. Do you know something that even Obama didn’t.

  • oh you mean like Camden, detroit etc in the richest country in the world…Yet Cuba which has been under a Blockade for 50+ years continues to advance despite the economic war against it…

  • Like I said let’s lift the Blockade and see… But I think you know the answer which is why you and those that think like you want to keep the Blockade!!!

  • Well Maduro claims that Venezuela is socialist, so do you consider yourself a greater authority than the president of that country?
    The difficulty for socialists is that when there is inevitably another socialist failure, they maintain that it wasn’t the mythical ‘real socialism’ that was in practice. So I guess Javier Vargas that such is your view about the failure in Venezuela where the population is on the verge of starvation and their money is valueless.

  • You are so blind. It’s the Castros not the embargo. I have a friend who collects donated power tools to bring to Cuba. It takes him 6 months to get through Cuban red tape. By the time Cuban Customs releases the donated tools, most of the new, still in the box, tools have disappeared. The embargo has NOTHING to do with this.

  • Cuba is better off? Go anywhere in Cuba and try to buy a decent T-bone steak in the market. How many Cuban mochileros do you see spending a summer in Europe? Is Cuba doing better than Haiti? Barely?

  • Not a dump? The next time you are in Havana, go up to the restaurant on the top floor of the Focsa building and take in the view.

  • Excuses, excuses, excuses.

  • Venezuela was never Socialist! It had some socialist policies but the majority of industires remain in private hands.. The majority of the media remains in private hands… So to say the situation in Venezuela is a failure of Socialism is inaccurate…

  • yes I have and its not a dump.. Are there some hardships? absolutely! Now my point is lift the BLockade and let’s take the excuse away from the Cuban government..

  • you continue to tell lies… I speak to Cubans in Cuba everyday… and while there are some hardships due to the blockade… Cuba is better off than most Latin Americans if not all in general… As far as Cuba being able to trade freely with other countries..That’s a lie! Companies from other countries that do business with Cuba are punished by the US with fines or non access to US markets which results in Cuba having to pay higher prices or not being able to get what they need… So the Blockade doesnts just restict US business, it stifles all business with Cuba…It’s a miracle that Cuba has lasted for 50+ years and have achieved all they have achieved..

  • its prevents them from selling to the USA like medicine, nickle, cigars, rum, cement… Trade is a two way streak… you need to trade what you have in order to buy what you don’t have.. A very basic law of economics… The USA also stifles trade with other countries ..thats a fact…

  • Javier Vargas, you have now written the same point seven (7) times in discussing one article, we read it the first time.
    The embargo does not prevent the Castro regime from importing lots of food from the US into Cuba. Go into your local TRD and look at all the canned fruit and vegetables from the US, look at the frozen chicken from the US.
    The embargo (it is not a blockade – look up your dictionary for confirmation) does not prevent the importation of food. Much less importation would be necessary if the Castro regime got its act together and utilized all those hundreds of thousands of acres of good agricultural land in Cuba that are reverting to bush, for food production.

  • Which fact might that be? I just got back from Cuba. It’s a fact that buildings are crumbling and many are collapsing every week. It’s a fact that The Castros are free to do business all over the world with some of the world’s largest companies in spite of the embargo. It’s a fact that record numbers of young people are leaving or want to leave Cuba. What fact are you talking about?

  • It’s an economic blockade… Lift it and let’s see who won!!!

  • Dude you’re living in a fantasy land… You just refuse to acknowledge the facts…

  • Castro….Cuban government. Lo mismo. The Castros tax the Cuban people at greater than 95%. Have you been to Cuba? It’s a dump. They are not getting their money’s worth.

  • Lifting the embargo unilaterally will algo give the dictatorship a pyhrric victory and embolden the Castros to increase repression. In the short-term, a non-embargoed Cuba would see little change. Absent an increase in production of goods and services for export, the Cuban treasury remains poor.

  • These things don’t happen overnight. Venezuela is an example. Nonetheless, as I said, we will never know.

  • There is no blockade there is an embargo. If you actually want to know the conditions for lifting it, then read the US Cuban Democracy Act. Cuba can never prosper under the Castro family communist regime. After all, increasing pay by 5 pesos per day would exceed a 20% rise in income. Incidentally 5 pesos buys a 200 gm loaf at the State bakery!

  • Obviously your opinion is stuck in a groove. Although I am on record as regarding the embargo as a whipping boy for the Castro regime which has used it as an excuse continually for all its sins, errors, miss-management and demonstrated incompetence for so many years, I think that it would be in the interests of the people of Cuba for the regime to respond in a positive manner to Obama’s repeated offer to pursue change providing that there is reciprocal action. This was roundly rejected in the supposed Fidel Castro letter entitled: “The Man Obama” of March 28th 2016 which was read in full on Mesa Redondo broadcast on four TV channels simultaneously a 7.00 p.m.
    The following day, Bruno Rodriguez gave a speech in which he clarified that there would be no reciprocation.

  • They women who gave birth to children by Fidel Castro in 1956 were:
    Natalia Fernandez – daughter Alina
    Mirta Diaz-Balart – son Fidel Angel Castro
    Maria Laborle – son Jorge Angel
    Unidentified woman – son Ciro
    Having been released from jail by the Batista amnesty, Fidel busied himself impregnating these women, before taking off to join little brother Raul in Mexico. The women were left to look after the children on their own.
    But because Mirta Diaz-Balart had divorced Fidel Castro following becoming pregnant, Fidel later under Cuban law took possession of ‘Fidelito’ and Diaz-Balart re-married and left for Spain. There she had two daughters. After forty years and when her husband died, she moved to the US and was allowed to visit her son Fidelito in Cuba.
    The wilfully blind are too busy supporting Castro dictatorship to be bothered about his lack of morality.

  • For once Javier you accept that the embargo (the blockade was lifted when the nukes were removed by Kruschev) is not responsible for all the demonstrated incompetence of the Castro family communist regime.
    Most of your fellow socialismo admiring Castro supporters believe that all the sins, errors, omissions and incompetence are 100% the consequence of the embargo.
    You at least are demonstrating some small measure of understanding of reality – when you get to saying that the embargo is the cause of 15% of Cuba’s economic mess, you will be nearing the truth.

  • I don’t mean you personally.. I thought you were a bit smarter than that..

  • They survived 10 years without Hugo Chavez

  • Then don’t you think it would be wise for the US to completely lift the blockade to take all excuses away from the Cuban government.. And then we will see who has been selling snake oil all this time….

  • Let me put it in simple logic so you can understand… That money goes to the Cuban government not to Castro as you say..The Cuban government subsidizes almost all aspects of the lives of Cuban citizens.. healthcare, education rent, utilities,food, culture activities etc…. Cuba accomplishes all of this despite the fact the the US continues its hostile economic blockade against it… Cuba has had to take measures to offset the damage that the blockade causes …… comprende hombre!!!

  • Again Lift the Blockade completely and let’s see

  • I would.

  • I’d like to see a hybrid system – just one without American interference.

  • The Cuban people can figure things out for themselves in the absence of the Castros or even of the party.

    Just hope the U.S. doesn’t try to interfere.

    I wouldn’t bet my money on the latter, though.

  • Cuba has not gave the investors the direction they are looking for We will not dump money into Cuba but allow a more manufactured goods and foods to be trade both ways tariff free. We will ship used farm equipment trucks and some oil but we want control of those goods in Cuba and part of the food back in return. We also are demanding that 80% of the wages paid go directly to the employees.

  • Neither Canada nor Russia have shown the interest in Cuba at the level that Venezuela currently provides subsidized oil. At its peak, Venezuela traded more than 100,000 barrels of oil daily to Cuba at a cost of far less than the market price. Would they sell market price oil to Cuba? Of course. But if they were willing to do what Venezuela does, they would already be doing it.

  • You are so wrong. Many farmers in Canada would love to send older smaller equipment to Cuba and work with local coops and in return get Cuban labours for 7 mouths of the year in return. your government will not allow it.

  • Other counties like Canada and Russia will step up only if Cuba allows us to know are investments will not be taken over by Cuba.

  • A Walmart superstore would be a mistake. We need to careful opening up of the boarders for farm supplies and small coops maybe a wholesale Costco with limited lines. Truck parts from abroad ,food processing supplies, maybe batteries for power bikes ,tires used and new. fertilizers seed, cement, bike parts and some medical supplies. The Cuban country will run out of credit and be in a bigger mess than now if open up to instant US large corps.

  • The US blockade is a smaller part of the problem that the speed the current Cuban government works on allowing key imports in duty free for farmers small coops

  • The Cuban government has been very slow to allow groups like ours to bring in seeds fertilizer weed and bug sprays milk powder for farm animals to eat. We would love to get some more of the private farmers equipment and spare parts. We want a promise that the government will work with us in a timely matter. we can use more investors but at this time are being very careful and moving slowing on small projects. [email protected]

  • OK, I will use smaller words so that you can understand. The Castros have pimped out Cuban doctors, engineers, sports trainers, etc. for years. Worse yet, they sell themselves at really low prices. The going rate for a Cuban doctor abroad? About $3,000 in Brazil. That’s what the Castros get. They pay the doctor actually doing the work. … $600. If you need to read it twice for comprehension, just do it.

  • Javier, neither Moses nor I nor you nor even Obama can completely lift the blockade. Life must go on even with it.

  • Of course I know that… my argument is that it is the blockade that is the cause of 80% of Cuba’s economic problems..

  • No the reality is that any country in the world would have collapsed if it went through what Cuba did and yet Cuba didn’t collapse… Cuba went through that period starting in 1989….. Chavez didnt become president until 1999. THats 10 years and no collapse…

  • “It is cheaper for Brazil to hire Cuban doctors than it is to pay a Brazilian doctor for the same work” “Cuba has a track record of pimping itself out to the highest bidder”. Those two statement contradict each other! Wow you make no sense!

  • We’ll let’s see if you are right… I think you already know that if the blockade is lifted then Cuba will prosper…Again lift the Blockade and let’s see who is right and who is wrong pure and simple

  • Circles’ comment notwithstanding, even lifting the embargo won’t prevent food shortages and energy blackouts. If Cuba can’t increase productivity, the Castros don’t have enough money to buy more food or fuel.

  • I’m talking about the deals that Raul has made with various foreign companies. Even his medical services contracts favor the treasuries of the partner country purchasing these services. It is cheaper for Brazil to hire Cuban doctors than it is to pay a Brazilian doctor for the same work. The FACT is, not a delusion, that Cuba has a track record of pimping itself out to the highest bidder.

  • But for Hugo Chavez, we will never know what might have become of the Castro regime.

  • Javier, do you really think individuals can lift the US blockade on Cuba. Not even Obama can do that.

  • when the Soviet union fell, Cuba lost 70% of its trade and yet it didn’t collapse..

  • What are you even talking about?… you guys are really delusional

  • What makes poor Cubans fat? Congris!

  • In Cuba, it is widely known. The people realize that it is safer to ignore such things. In fact, to criticize Fidel’s lack of morals publicly is a crime that can send you to jail.

  • What does the embargo have to do with agriculture? You simply parrot the same old ridiculous propaganda without giving us the nexus between a weak US policy mango trees in Cuba.

  • You can’t rewrite history simply because the truth that Cubans sold themselves to the highest bidder does not suit you. As a matter of fact, when you consider the deals that Raul is so desperate to make these days, nothing really has changed very much.

  • hahahaha wow what nonsense… no pressure huh?

  • Still, business was business. No one was forced to do anything.

  • What can I say? It’s good to be the King!

  • You mean the market price that you set all over the world for goods

  • It doesnt matter, the fact is that they were offered compensation and they refused it because they wanted Cuba back…. 50+ years and country… Long Live the Cuban Revolution

  • “But no one held a gun to anyone’s head” Are you kidding me? The US military was in Cuba… Remember Roosevelt and the rough riders

  • Possibly the first comment of yours that I can completely agree with. Bravo.

  • Military intervention no. Sound business practices between unequal business partners yes. You can well make the argument that Cubans were desperate for capital as Griffin did in his comment. But no on held a gun to anyone’s head. Americans came to own a lot of property in Cuba because CUBANS sold it to them.

  • I agree that Cuban-Venezuelan business deals are a matter of national sovereignty. I also agree that US purchased oil revenue are a major portion of Saudi national revenues. That relationship is also a matter of national sovereignty. But you make my point. As you suggest that Saudi Arabia would struggle without its US relationship, I suggest that Cuba would implode without Venezuelan oil subsidies. Here’s the difference, the US/Saudi relationship is strong and likely to remain so. My point is that with Venezuela at the point of economic collapse, Raul must be peeing his pants in worry about what to do when, not if, their Venezuelan sugar daddy can send cheap oil.

  • Wrong again!!! keep in mind that most of the Cubans participate in the government in Cuba… That,s a fact! Another fact is that the overwhelming majority of Cuban’s support the Cuban Revolution.. And yes they might criticize aspects of it at times but they still support it…

    By the way, The America Indian wants their property back!

  • Cuba overthrew crony Capitalism because it failed to provide adequately for the masses of the Cuban people.. I don’t think they will return to it…. The future of Cuba probably lies in some form of a hybrid system much like Norway Sweden etc….

  • So through military intervention, they came to own a lot of property in Cuba?

  • Personnel that the Venezuelans urgently needed!!! Two sovereign nations that made a deal and is not the business of others. As far as market value, Saudi Arabia is a client state of the USA .. they could not exist without American support…. Talk about Human rights issues… you see it’s all


  • Wrong, The US imposed their will on the Cuban people. The Cubans did not invite the US to interfere in their affairs. … Even Jose Marti, who is considered the apostle of Cuban independence and who lived in New York for years. saw the US as a nation that had plans to annex Cuba in some form or another. He understood the dangers and even predicted that if the Americans take Cuba then they would have to take the Americans out. And it is theft and imperialism when you impose your will with military force on another country.

  • Americans came to own a lot of property in Cuba beginning with the defeat of Spain in 1898. Cuba was starved for capital investment and Americans had cash. Cuba attracted investment from American corporations and from ordinary Americans looking to make it big in a new country. Having a much larger, wealthier country, the Americans were able to buy up a lot of Cuban land, start businesses when local Cubans had little to no capital of their own. This was not theft or imperialism, but it was overwhelming to many Cubans.

    By the 1950’s the proportion of the Cuban economy owned by Cubans had started to grow again, but the US presence and influence was still huge. Many Cubans resented this fact and most wanted a better balance. But nobody was talking about kicking out all the Americans & seizing their property. Not even Fidel was advocating this, at least not publicly.

    Bonds in Cuban pesos from a Communist government are worthless to a US investor. That’s what the Americans rejected the offer.

  • I was a visitor to Cuba and I agree that although it is a tropical paradise there is only a few fruits and vegies on the menu. I would suggest to teach kids and non-working adults how to grow items that can grow in the region, perhaps create community gardens.

    The social issue of feeding your family is a tricky subject as you may need to understand the situation of the family – whilst they work they may also be providing food for their own extended family (cousins, grandparents etc) or poorer neighbours.

    Having the Government open their doors to other countries will also help – there are lots of ideas and people wiling to help.

  • We pay Saudi Arabia market price and then some for the crude we receive. Chavez gave the Castros oil at pennies on the dollar prices and allowed them to pay the subsidized price with medical, engineering and sports personnel.

  • Oil handout? I guess the USA get handouts from Saudi Arabia

  • Much of Cuba was owned by the US… In fact the Cuban revolutionary government did offer compensation in the form of bonds but the USA refused it… Now keep in mind; How did the USA manage to own so much of Cuba?

  • With respect to the hundreds of thousands who want their property back, as opposed to a few thousand wealthy ones … if this is true, it’s even worse, because most likely all these hundreds of thousands of properties are now occupied by someone else, who, if the introduction of democracy means losing their new homes, will oppose it resolutely.

    Far better for those who have lost property in Cuba to support some form of long-term compensation, bonds or the like, along the lines of big Irish landowners in the late 19th Century, or owners in many countries in the 20th Century where there has been land reform. Hopefully they will get a better deal than the American Tories who fled to Canada after the Revolution, who were never compensated, despite a vague promise, in our treaty with Great Britain, by the US government to get the states to provide compensation. Maybe, to make up for its cheating of the American Tories, the US government can underwrite compensation-bonds for Cubans.

    As for the ‘shop-worn’ “Miami Mafia” crap. I well understand why anyone advocating democratic change in Cuba would not want to be associated with that crew, who lionize a man who put a bomb on a civilian airliner. Absolute human garbage. The sooner decent Cuban-Americans repudiate these murdering scum the better, and I hope the praisers of airline bombers don’t get a centavo in compensation.

    And yes, I hope those in power in Cuba do push forward with democratic change, both economic and political. But my point is this: do you genuinely believe that every time the regime permits a new area of activity, economic or otherwise, to get out from under direct state control, and certain people respond by gleefully shouting “Ah ha!! A step towards capitalism! Capitalism is coming, capitalism, capitalism, capitalism, CAPITALISM!!!! ” that this helps the process of reform? That people within the regime — from which all change has come and will come in the foreseeable future — hear this, and think, “Oh … allowing more economic freedom is helping re-introduce capitalism? In that case, let’s speed it up!”

    I admit I don’t know much at all about the internal workings of the Cuban state, but this seems unlikely to me.

    Please consider this interesting historical symmetry: In the United States, nearly a century ago, whenever someone proposed a modest social reform — unemployment insurance, old-age pensions — certain people would scream “Socialism! Communism! That’s the first step towards a Soviet America!!! ”

    And in a certain abstract, rarefied, purist sense, they were right: a pure free-market regime doesn’t have such state provision, and (total) state provision of human needs is Communism, so, in a sense, introducing unemployment insurance is a ‘step towards Communism’.

    But only in the dessicated, detached-from-reality sense that climbing a tree, as opposed to remaining on the ground, is a step towards going to the moon.

    But this sort of attempt to torpedo social change by arguing against it not on its merits, but on the grounds that it in a logical sense “brings us closer” to a presumably bad state of affairs, was done by people who wanted to STOP the proposed social change.

    Here, we see the “This is a step towards CAPITALISM!” argument being advanced by people who actually support the steps being taken. They have put themselves, unwittingly no doubt, in a bloc with the hardline old Stalinists in the PCC who agree with them, but who see in a Havana taxi co operative the concealed claw of the Yankee eagle.

    A strange sort of Popular Front, indeed. The original Popular Front was a tragedy, and I sincerely hope this one will be a farce.

  • Four children by four different women in one year? This should be more widely known. I am sure it will cause feelings of deep moral revulsion among all men everywhere.

  • Are you trying to say that the people who are calling for more change are the ones who are holding up change? That’s ridiculous, as the ones calling for change have no power in Havana to affect the change. Those in Havana who do have power should know that the longer they delay, the greater the pressure will build and the more likely an eruption of events will sweep them from power. Those in power are in denial of the need to change. They believe all they have to do is to open the spigot a tiny bit, enough to enrich themselves, while cutting off all money and power to the people.

    No, you’re wrong. The people holding up change are the Castro regime.

    By the way, there are hundreds of thousands of ordinary Cuban exiles who want their property back, far more than the few thousand wealthy Cubans from Miramar. Don’t try that shop-worn “Miami mafia” crap here.

  • Keep in mind, you are mistaken. In Canada, you can buy Japanese cars with Cuban nickel in it. In fact, the Canadian mining corporation, Sherritt International operates the Moa nickel mine, sells their product in Canada. The reason the US bans the import of Cuban nickel is because the Moa mine was once owned by a US corporation and was taken from them without compensation.

    Cuba is allowed to use the US dollar, in fact, the US law requires Cuba to pay in US dollars for purchases from US companies. What the law bans are purchases on credit, which Cuba is notorious for defaulting on.

  • Cubans experienced an awful stage in their history known as the Special Period after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. My wife was a teenager during that time in Cuba and those are no fond memories for her. Had Chavez and his oil handout not come along when it did, Cuba as it is today would not exist. No, I am not simple. I am hopeful.

  • It’s simple…. Lift the US blockade completely and let’s see what happens..

  • It reminds me when the Soviet Union collapsed and people were so sure
    that Cuba was months away away from collapsing.. Everything was done by
    the US government to hasten the fall including the tightening of the
    blockade.. Now we know how that turned out, don’t we?

  • Wow are you really that simple.. It reminds me when the Soviet Union collapsed and people were so sure that Cuba was months away away from collapsing.. Everything was done by the US government to hasten the fall including the tightening of the blockade.. Now we know how that turned out, don’t we?

  • Yes you can buy Cuban cigars and Rum in Toronto, but you can’t buy a Japanese car with Cuban nickle in it because the USA will not allow those cars in the US Market or any market where US subsidiaries exist..And That’s just one example… Cuba is also forbidden to use the international currency which is the US dollar… Case in point , Many non US banks from other countries have been fined millions of dollars by the USA for doing business with Cuba.Keep in mind that these are not American banks for those people that keep saying that Cuba can trade freely with the rest of the world.

  • Not a fair comparison because While Israel recieves billions in aid every year fro the USA, Cuba is saddled with an economic blockade that not only prevents trade with the USA but it also stifles trade with other countries…

  • Are you Cuban? If Not What made you move to live in Cuba?

  • Yes, the economy doesn’t work very well in Cuba, to put it politely, and I’ll bet a large section of the Cuban elite know that, although the embargo hurts, were it to be lifted there would not be a Great Leap Forward into socialist prosperity.

    So why don’t they change? Well, they have been … very slowly and unevenly: that’s the whole story of Raul vs Fidel.

    Why don’t they change faster? Because for every proposed relaxation of the dead hand of the state from economic activity, there are people in positions of power who fear they will lose out. They resist change, at the nearly-invisible micro-level, and at the level of intra-party discussion, formal and informal. It’s simple materialist analysis, comrades! As comrade Lenin taught us to ask: qui bono? Or more precisely, qui fears they will not bono?

    But the process of change goes forward, despite everything. The old ones die out, or grudgingly accept change, or get silenced by those who can both see reality, and don’t think they’ll be ruined by accepting it.

    ‘However, I believe the people who simply propose, even just implicitly, a ‘Big Bang’ Transition to Capitalism red in tooth and claw, the total overturn of the existing system with Speak Bitterness sessions in reverse and the Miami diaspora reclaiming its houses in Miramar … are actually holding up the sorely-needed process of change.

  • I await your follow-up.

  • To be open with you, this seems a bit simplistic to me, Moses. However this isn’t your doing but mine. I asked for a sound bite in a comments section. I didn’t make it clear what I do and don’t know, being an economist. My bad. I will spend some time writing up what I understand to be the situation , with the holes in my knowledge. Then I’ll put it on my own personal pages and send you a link and ask you to indicate what does and doesn’t seem right. I’d really appreciate that

  • The CUP is the national currency. The CUC is the currency that Fidel invented to replace the USD also in circulation in Cuba at the time. For ideological reasons alone, the currency to eliminate is the CUC. The benefit to allowing local currency to float in value against the USD is the potential for increased buying power when the USD falls and an increase in export potential when the USD rises. Keeping a fixed exchange rate is a hedge against exchange risk but foment inflation and black market influences.

  • Thank you. I’ll stick with CUCs and CUPs until I get that picture right. I’d also line to know if you can add more on ‘informal’ payments in health care, though I realise there is no survey evidence. How widespread? Especially, how long has it been going on? I’m comparing it for reference with Eastern Europe both before and after 1989

    On CUCs, where I’ve been reading the IMF and the World Bank. What do you see as the inflationary mechanisms?

    I accept the panic of ‘money illusion’ if prices jump. Why not eliminate CUPs then?

    Jeffrey Sachs just proposed Cuba move quickly to make its currency fully convertible. Your reactions?

  • My home is in Cuba – where is yours?

  • Speaking of ‘womanizers’. How do you rate a man who had four children by four different women in one year?
    Fidel Castro achieved that in 1956. So maybe that helps to support the commonly used title of ‘El Comandante’ rather than being a mere general?

  • Answer #1 …. eliminating the CUC is inflationary. The optics of increasing prices by a factor of 25 is likely to trigger public anxiety. It also would force the Castros to allow the CUP to float against the dollar or risk a black market value which would undermine the official currency and fuel further inflation.
    Answer #2 … there are informal payments paid to the receptionists, nurses, and doctors in the policlinicos and hospitals for basic services. Additional payments are often made for special treatment. Priority test results, clean sheets, a signed note from a doctor can be had for a few extra CUC.
    Answer #3 … local “discretion”, when it exists, rests with the local head of the Communist Party.
    Answer #4 … the argument at the CENTER of the PCC Congress is of little consequence. Depending upon who you ask, less than 30% of the decisions made from the previous Congress have been implemented. It is not at all a contradiction to suggest that although the situation in Cuba will likely be worse before it gets better yet the changes will still be an improvement over the current situation. This simply means that income inequality will likely widen. Those Cubans with family and friends abroad will prosper. The majority of Cubans who do not have outside resources will see their purchasing power decrease. However, the overall economy will improve and even the poorest will have a better chance to change their situation than they have now.

  • Moses, the quip was good, but the analysis is contradictory again. It will be worse, but it will be better than the Castros?

    You are absolutely right that there is e a legacy of corruption to overcome, So if you sit on the sidelines and watch you must know it won’t be Sweden
    Maybe you think individuals like you can’t make a difference. I don’t agree. What is the harm that can come from trying instead of just quipping?

    Possibly we differ in what we see has been achieved in Cuba.despite the ‘model’ being ‘updated’. Perhaps we can debate about that?

    Perhaps we disagree about the potential for much worse ?
    I didn’t foresee what would follow the end of the USSR

    Finally, your analysis is very much from the sidelines. It is completely fatalist. Is it really true you just have to watch and accept the outcome? You wrote that you choose to spend your effort exposing the regime.

    I am struck by how simplified and ideological is the discussion about Cuba. The contribution by Doug caught that. One way out of that is to discuss specifics for a bit, including the changes

    I would very much like to know simple things like: what is the barrier to unifying the CUC and CUP right now?

    Is the health service really free at the point of use now, or are there ‘informal ‘ payments

    Who has local discretion ?

    Does the argument at the edges of the PCC Congress mean anything?

    I have many more questions but I’ll stop there

  • I accept the rebuke!
    I could have added that when Hitler invaded, the Dutch fought, Belgium and France capitulated. Now Venlo is the shopping destination for folks from Dusseldorf seeking drugs and yet possesses a Michelin Star restaurant – where there is a red wine on the list – produced in the Netherlands! True!

  • “… Holland has a population of only 17 million and exports many of its products to Cuba through a co-operative business named SPAR and Holland which would fit into the Province of Alberta 13 times, is the second largest food exporter in the world! US is no. 1…”


    1.) Carlyle, that’s one of my favourite statistics and I’ve won many a bar bet on that little piece of trivia.

    2.) One small issue though… please say the country name correctly, it’s the Netherlands, not Holland… 😉

  • Don’t know what planet you’re on but it’s already waaaaay too late, it’s already happening and has been for ages. Wake up.

  • A very well reasoned argument. Although Cuba/Iraq comparison, in my opinion, is flawed, your point is well taken (personally I think the Russia/Cuba comparison is more on target. Unfortunately I don’t believe any change will be forthcoming until the Castro’s depart the scene. To implement any meaningful change would mean to accept defeat. And the Castro’s have always had a zero sum game mentality.

  • Too late. It’s already happening. Did you hear? The Rolling Stones gave a concert in Cuba and Chanel had a fashion show. Not exactly holding the line on Marxist-Leninist principles are they? A Walmart Superstore can’t be far behind.

  • Wow what ignorance about Cuba… you need to do some research like now.

  • Its not going to happen. Keep Dreaming

  • Here’s a shot at the quip request: Cubans have a saying about themselves. They either do things too much or too little. I believe that once their economy is free of the Castros, it will be like the Wild, Wild West. There’s 3 generations of embedded corruption to overcome and it is likely that the economy get worse before it gets better. The poor will get poorer and the connected will get richer. In this respect, your experience with the post-Soviet Union and the comparisons thereto are valid. The influx of Cuban-American money is the striking difference. I am far from the decrepit “Cold Warrior” you suggest. I’m thrilled to see progress through capitalism take place in Cuba. My concern is that in the short-term, the Castros benefit the most and the repression they have foisted upon the Cuban people will worsen as they resources increase. Here’s the good news: whether Cuba achieves the gold-standard Sweden – style economy model or not, a post-Castro Cuba is a good thing and an improvement over what they have now.

  • With respect Terry, Scotland has less than half the population of Cuba. It does not have the same favourable climatic conditions. But go into your local store or look at products in the airports. Walkers shortbread, Baxters soups and all the Scots Whiskies. I personally knew the brother and sister Walker who built their father’s little bakers shop in Aberlour a village of 1500 people into the business empire it has become. I knew Gordon Baxter and his wife Ina when they had a grocers shop in Fochabers and then started to make soups from local products. My longest friend in life farming in Aberdeenshire started making Ice Cream on farm. Now that family has 540 Jersey cows and all the milk is made into ice cream, the largest producer in Scotland with much of the product going to England and exporting to South Korea of all places. Holland has a population of only 17 million and exports many of its products to Cuba through a co-operative business named SPAR and Holland which would fit into the Province of Alberta 13 times, is the second largest food exporter in the world! US is no. 1
    There is stacks of room and opportunity for Cuba to intensify its agriculture and introduce a food processing industry, but the regime will not permit the necessary conditions. I speak as one who was an international consultant in the business and who has also farmed tens of thousands of acres. It is the communist dogma that is the problem and both Vietnam and China have adjusted theirs – but the Castros have their heads buried in Marx and Lenin up to their necks. There is no shortage of potential investors in the industry, but they require continuity of employment releasing the talents of their employees and enabling those employees to improve their incomes. That is unacceptable to the Castros who will not put their prejudices aside whilst living in comfort. There is no policy in Cuba for improving living standards for average Cubans who are denied opportunity to prosper.

  • you omitted to add “as a mass, not permitted individuality by the Castros”

  • What a lot of the discussion here lacks is any concrete analysis of Cuban society: who benefits from the current arrangements, who would lose by a loosening of economic restrictions, and — moving from social layers to individuals — who among the elite favors increased ‘liberalization’ (not just economic), and who doesn’t? (Miami university has a fascinating set of biographies of the Cuban elite, now rather dated, presumably based on CIA debriefings of defectors, which if even halfway true, reveals a lot of political diversity at the top. The gossip about which generals are womanizers etc is also titillating.– thank God the West has no such leaders.)

    So the discussion here tends to remain on a very abstract — and moralistic — plane: planned economy vs free market, authoritarian rule vs liberal democracy, social provision vs care for-yourself. Everyone repeats truisms, and feels good: take THAT you Castro-worshipping apologists for despotism! No, take THIS, you concealed-Batistiano lackies of US imperialism. No one learns anything, no one changes his opinion on anything.

    The anti-Castro people just look forward to some great apocalyptic upheaval, which will bring in freedom and democracy and justice and get their uncle’s home in Miramar back. The pro-Castro people just stubbornly defend … whatever the government is doing at the moment, and point to the (abundant) evidence that US involvement in Latin America has not always promoted liberal democracy nor been motivated by pure unselfishness and kind goodwill.

    Well … Russia showed that Communism can collapse but … a lot of people there now think that maybe they should have held on to Nurse, for fear of finding something Worse .. and they’re getting a combination of the two: gangster capitalism wrapped in the banner of Russian nationalism as championed by Josef Stalin. I am sure no one wants to see a Cuban variant.

    Conservatives ought to know, as our own intellectual Father pointed out more than two centuries ago, that slow incremental change, if it’s possible, has a lot of advantages over total sweeping revolution with its attempt to reconstruct society from the ground up along the lines of a Wonderful Grand Theory — whether to conform to the doctrines of Rouseau or Friedman.

    Let’s argue — or discuss – about: how does Cuba run now? Who is open to some sort of progressive change, and who not? What should the government, short of committing suicide, do tomorrow, that could go some way to making tomatoes available on a regular basis? How does it get decided, how much soap, and what kind, gets made?

    A last point: the Americans decided, fifteen years ago, to bring democracy to Iraq. Now if you think conditions in Cuba are bad, talk to an Iraqi about like under Saddam. Surely all that was necessary was to knock him down, and the grateful Iraqis would build a model democracy, lubricated by the income from the sea of oil on which Paul Wolfowitz noted that they floated. And there were Iraqis available to validate this happy view.

    But .. wouldn’t it have been better to try to do some deep social analysis of Iraqi society? Maybe to find out what this “Shi’ite Sunni” business was about? To consider what tens of thousands of suddenly-unemployed Ba’athist military cadres might do? What Iran might do? Whether a violent rupture of the existing regime might have a downside?

    Cuba — same-same.

  • Great discussion. I replied to Moses above, but I wanted to thank you and encourage you to carry on.
    As I can see you know what you are saying, I have a few questions. I will start with one: if the regime is obdurate, is this just sclerosis, or are there losers balking all too rationally?

  • Moses, I hope you too were happy to see the, concrete, knowledgeable, discussion/debate on exactly what is wrong with Cuban agriculture — a real bonus.

    1, Can’t we have much more of this, on all topics, and even some day soon unite the English and Spanish comments sections if Circles thinks this feasible?

    2, . In Russia, from the 19th Century, it was said there were two eternal questions for people like us to debate:

    *Who is to blame?

    *What is to be done?

    Everyone knows Lenin borrowed the second great theme. As the Salvation Army said, why should the devil have all the best tunes?

    Of course we need to know the first, to answer the second. However, most people are quickly bored if we stop there.

    3. Now to return to your approach, Moses. Let us take “the worse, the better” view of how to get the change you want.

    If it did not work in the Special Period, why on earth will it work now? I myself am guilty of thinking that economic difficulties and the huge fall in the ruble might turn Russians away from Putin! I learnt rapidly from this, and so can you . No need for any of us to make the same mistakes more than 2 or 3 times.

    4. . I come to this as someone who is quite new to learning about the Cuban economy, but with quite a fair expert and direct knowledge of the Soviet and post-Soviet economies, and the way I do not want to see Cuba go

    Yes, it can go that way,. Moses. Russians in late perestroika also dreamt of Sweden and had some good lines about that. I can see the huge differences between Russia and Cuba, but also similarities.

    I want to learn so much that is not usually in the books and articles I read, in Spanish or English, because the Cuban economy is always not as it appears. It is informal and negotiated and does not follow the rule of law To learn this means we need to discuss and debate. HT is a starting forum for this.
    I do not mind seeing some good fencing with alternative energy sources, to keep you fit ,Moses, but it should not crowd out this sort of discussion.

    Don’t we need as wide and free discussion as is possible now to inform Cubans about the choices which will lie ahead. Cooperatives? Keep medical care free at the point of use, or throw it to the market? Keep it generous in principle, but see it eroded by “gifts” and privileges, or limit it and keep that free at the point of use?

    Here we had a great start: What is really wrong with Cuban agriculture? What is needed to fix it? How concretely is it related to the absence of markets and the wrong incentives?
    Isn’t this one reason for the extension of democracy, though not the only one?

    5. On a lesser point, but you care. Moses I think I see that your argument on the blockade is internally contradictory: it stopped Cuban export of revolution, and besides it has little effect. It has little effect but it will lift the economy.

    I hope you are right that the time has come for it to go, so we will see.
    We will also see a lot else. Who knows exactly yet? , Releasing the restrictions on the Soviet economy let loose inflation at near hyper-inflation levels, because of an “overhang” of savings. The IMF got this one dead wrong.

    6. Finally, In the late Soviet period, there were cold warriors, and they remained frozen that way, who could not bear to engage with Russians and other Soviet citizens. Tilting at windmills, yes. Who was right there?

    I started to write more on this, but I am already digressing too much.

    Let’s talk about each issue, and let’s mostly look forward, not back.
    We can also engage in evaluating culpability and taking abstract positions, but let’s not waste this precious time when the future is not yet fixed.
    If that sounds too saccharine, insert a little, good bitter quip, Moses.

  • What’s stopping Cuba from exporting to Europe, Asia, South America, Mexico or Canada? Not the US embargo. I can buy Cuban cigars and rum in Toronto. The problem is the moribund socialist system strangles productivity, initiative and entrepreneurship. Until the economic system in Cuba changes, and with it a democratic political system which respects human rights, Cuba will remain an economic failure.

  • Carlyle, I agree with much that you wrote, but until Cuba can freely export both cultivated crops and meats to the US market and elsewhere on an industrial scale, their tiny domestic demand will never permit them the kind of efficiencies that are necessary to be cost effective… either for domestic consumption or for export. Nor will they be able to produce a surplus for domestic consumption that is cheaper than what they can import from abroad. There comes a tipping point when a profit can be realized, and in order to achieve that tipping point, Cuba needs free access to all global markets for export… and most importantly, the US. The countries that you highlighted as the shining examples of what can be achieved are not subject to the same limitations imposed by the US government and their insane interventionist policies. You’re not comparing apples to apples with your analogy… these countries can freely export their surpluses, making it possible for them to build their domestic economies to reach the global markets…and reap the rewards of producing on a global scale. Without unimpeded free access to global markets for export… there is no domestic economy or surplus in Cuba.

  • Terry you have given a good response but the largest single cost in the production of fruit and vegetables is labour. If you examine the ways in which Israel has ‘made the desert bloom’ you will find that much of it is a labour cost. The introduction for example of trickle irrigation involves laying plastic pipes in small trenches and can be done by hand, visit Israel and see just how simple it is.
    Tell me, why is it that maize is grown in Cuba, but not sweet corn? Without divulging too much, it is factual for me to say that the largest single horticultural crop business in Europe almost instantly dismissed the idea of establishing a business in Cuba, because their employment systems – which are highly financially productive for them and their employees are not permitted in Cuba.
    As a commercial; business they would be happy to rent thousands of acres of land in Cuba if permitted to operate without government intervention other than paying tax and conforming with ISO standards.
    The same difficulties would arise for sound US horicultural producers such as Mann’s and Tanimura and Antle. Companies which maintain high standards. Cuba has the advantage of being a natural outdoor greenhouse, but has to even import canned tomatoes from Spain and the US. Improving poultry production, both eggs and chicken, could be done very easily, but the regime has to import frozen chicken from Mexico, Brazil, Canada and the US. Increasing production of fruit, vegetables and poultry could be achieved in a very short time period and increase employment opportunities for Cubans many of whom are substantially under employed. The only thing standing in the way is obduracy by the regime.

  • It is on this point that we fundamentally disagree. I will not deny that the US embargo has had a chilling effect on Cuban commerce abroad. But from personal experience I believe that the majority of Cuba’s problems are a result of the Castro-style socialist economy. Helping to remove the Castros from power, in my own microscopic way, is the best way to helping free Cubans from the Castro tyranny. Once free, I have every faith that Cubans will figure a “solution” out on their own.

  • Excellent rebuttal. Here’s my reply: I am “embittered” because of the unnecessary struggles my Cuban family must endure every day owed to the failed Castro dictatorship. As a result, I take “food off my table” to help feed my family in Cuba. For me, this is personal. I support the embargo. It has limited the Castros ability to export their ego-driven totalitarianism to other countries. As it is, one need only pay attention to what’s going on in Venezuela to see what could be taken place in other countries had the Castros had free rein. Having spent months at a time in Cuba for several years, living as a foreigner but among Cuban friends and family, I can tell you first-hand that nearly all of Cuba’s daily problems are home-grown. The embargo is easily and frequently circumvented by the Castro regime. Chinese, Russian, French, Brazilian, Venezuelan, and Mexican companies to name a few are able to buy and sell to Cuba without limit or hesitation owed to the US embargo. Cubans lack for NOTHING because of the embargo. Even US-made specialty parts and products can be purchased through straw companies set up by the Castro regime in third countries to make DIRECT purchases of these US products. The only real limit to Cuban purchases is Cuba’s lack of resources. Cuba is broke because Cubans produce less than they consume. Cuban productivity suffers because under socialism, there is little incentive to produce more. Finally, while I completely understand the challenge you place before me. Lift the embargo and prove once and for all that the problem has always been and will continue to be the Castro economy. The problem with that proposition is the lifting the embargo will indeed lift the economy. However doing so only empowers the Castros to oppress the Cuban people more and not less. I want no part in increasing the oppression that my Cuban family and friends must endure. That said, I recognize that the days are numbered for the embargo. Most Americans believe as you do and I have made my peace with that. In the meantime I will continue to tilt at windmills, if you will, to bring attention to the Cuba that Castros propaganda ministry does not want you to know about. I look forward to more of your comments.

  • Carlyle, the simple explanation is that it’s cheaper for the Cuban government to import most of their food requirements rather than to grow it themselves. Without the benefit of modern mechanized farm equipment, modern irrigation methods, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and in general, a firm knowledge and expertise regarding modern industrial style farming techniques for harvesting, storage, preserving, processing, and distribution, their cheap labor pool is really rather insignificant as part of that entire equation. What Cuba needs is investment… and lots of it… and professional consultation in all of those areas too. What they need are the assurances of new export markets that will only come once the US repeals all of their interventionist policies that are holding them back… AND holding back the other nations of the world who would be willing to partner with Cuba’s government to revive Cuba’s domestic production of everything… including a new manufacturing sector too. But much of that can’t happen until the US government makes it possible.

  • Terry, the shortage of food in Cuba is a consequence of ever declining production within the country itself. There are hundreds of thousands if not milions of acres of good agricultural land reverting to bush. Such neglect is a direct consequence of the regime’s policies. Why don’t they adopt the policies of Vietnam which has increasing levels of production? With one of – if not the cheapest labour costs in the world, it ought to be possible to not only farm Cuba’s rich soils for food, but also to manufacture many different goods. With clothing for example, India, Vietnam, China, Mauritius and others between them produce much of the whole world’s clothing – where is Cuba? The difficulty is that their laws and regulations make it impossible for international companies to operate within Cuba. Only the state can employ workers within manufacturing facilities – like the cigar companies owned by GAESA.
    The opportunities are there!

  • Thank you so much Rosa for your honesty in accurately describing the reality of life in Cuba and the pain you experience in endeavoring to provide a decent life for your two daughters. The hunger of which you speak is known to many Cubans and to assist others when you yourself are struggling to survive demonstrates great kindness and generosity.
    So many in the free world have no conception of the daily struggles of Cubans. They will instead compare Cubans with the most impoverished members of their own societies without recognition that they are comparing almost a complete population with a few. They will praise the Castro family regime and the PCC, but do not choose to pursue similar conditions for themselves.
    A wonderful contribution!

  • Moses, it isn’t necessary to support El Bloqueo in order for you to argue that most problems are home-grown. You are too smart to think that

    Surely both Cubans and outsiders will only be able to judge this question when the embargo is lifted

    Why should anyone already not in agreement with you listen to you when you clearly don’t wish them well, because you are so embittered

    I’ve been reading all you write for some time. It’s biting but it seems as if you don’t care about seeing changes, but just proving your point smugly every day to those who already think you are right

    You do that well, but can’t you put yourself in the place of those who don’t want to see people suffer just to hurt the Castros

    I used to discount the embargo effect too, so I understand this may be a natural impulse of those who understand what’s wrong with opposing the market everywhere , not just in areas like health and education, where sophticated economics can demonstrate with evidence that it works badly

    However, that was superficial and uninformed. It doesn’t mean I don’t see the home-grown problems any more, of course

    . Worst of all, your stance won’t convince anyone until it’s gone. What are you afraid of, and why don’t you try seeing if this might be the right time to push in 2016? You should be confident enough to test your assertion it will make little difference!

  • Moses, if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. Criticizing the Castros might help you blow off some steam, but it does nothing to help the innocent people of Cuba who have been unjustly used as cannon fodder by your government for far too long now.

  • indeed that is wat it is,the people in the citys struggels more than in the citys ware are farms en houses wit gardins like in the coutry places like Vinales ,in the citys its very hard to get fresch food instead off bread and pizzas,dare are veggies and more on the market but if you dont have the money you can not get it,its very sad

  • …because he believes that Cuba’s biggest problems are home-grown and the best use of his limited ability to help is to criticize the Castros at every opportunity.

  • Reminds me of our families here on welfare and there are a lot of them. They tend to be overweight from all the bread, pasta and pop in their diet. Fresh vegetables fruit , fish and meat are costly for them here in Canada. So what is it in Cuba that is making so many obese, even in the rural areas where transportation is so limited? I had recently been in Granma and commented to my Cuban friend on the obesity in some of the Cuban children, not only those at the hotel visiting with families, but those in the local fishing village. I expressed concern to him about Cubans going the way of North American obesity levels when cheap junk food comes to every corner.

  • However, I see fat people, even during “periodo especial”, as a matter of fact the people in the picture seem well fed and nice dressed. The people at the Rolling Stones concert were also healthy looking.

  • In other words the regime can’t properly provide for the Cuban people so the people must continue to “resolver”. Besides, back yard gardens can’t begin to take care of the household dietary requirements, much less the Cuban people’s.

  • …. he says, while doing nothing to help influence his own government to immediately repeal all interventionist policies meant only to make each Cuban’s life a living hell on the island.

  • I* spend a lot of time in Granma and there is a lot of private back yard food available – as they say in Granma ” No problem with food – problems is to get the money to pay for it. “

  • Sad story. It certainly highlights the difference between the Cuba that tourists see and the Cuba that really exists for all too many Cubans.

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