Cuba: The Heroic Construction of Capitalism

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Toll booth to Cayo Jutia.
Toll booth on the road to Cayo Jutia.  Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — I am often criticized for reading Cuba’s leading official newspaper, Granma. I continue to do it, however, because I feel it is worthwhile. Here’s an example: a report on a recent incident on the coast of Santa Lucia, in Cayo Jutia, a 2.5 mile stretch of pristine, paradisiacal beaches.

More than ten years ago, an environmentally unfriendly road was built to connect the mainland with its keys. It is 9 kilometers long, a considerable part of which cut across the sea. Since 2006, the road has been managed by the Grupo Empresarial Palmares (Cuba’s largest hotel services company), which had built a beachside restaurant and a small, nautical sports facility on the key.

As a result of this, the company was given official permission to set up a tollbooth midway across the land-bridge, where Cubans are asked to pay five Cuban Pesos and foreigners five Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC). This fee was conceived as admission to the Palmares locale, but people had to pay it in order to get to the beach, regardless of whether they had any intention of going to the restaurant or not. According to the manager of the establishment, very few Cubans and not many foreigners actually made any use of the locale (as they only want to go to the beach).

That is to say, the fee charged at the tollbooth ended up being a form of extortion, payment for the use of a stretch of coast that, according to the law, should be accessed freely. Granma reports that, in 2013 alone, the booth took in 310,935 pesos and 124,825 CUC, such that, in the 7 years in which the company has enjoyed the privilege to tax beachgoers, the company must have made around two million pesos and around one million CUC.

The company had resorted to, or at least benefited from, deceit. Locals were convinced they were paying a toll to the Cuban State. One of them said that “I’ve always thought it was a kind of road tax, which is why I’ve always paid it.” Another local, astonished, explained that “one assumes it’s something official, because they have a roadblock and guards, but I never got an explanation as to what it actually was.”

The Granma journalist asks what became of this money, and doesn’t take the matter any further. It is worth insisting on the question, and asking who authorized the fee, who collected it and, ultimately, how much money was never officially reported.

It is worth asking what local government officials, who are called on to represent local interests, did in this connection, and what Granma journalists were doing before they were authorized to criticize this incident, which is almost certainly not unique.

What we are left with is a whole mess of illegal practices and forms of extortion and abuse, aimed at a population that is denied basic rights, the tortuous process of constructing capitalism – and its bourgeoisie, along the way – which, in a way, will be as heroic as the construction of socialism, a process which destroyed the expectations and mortgaged the future of several generations.
(*) First published in Spanish by


12 thoughts on “Cuba: The Heroic Construction of Capitalism

  • How does this social democracy you write of work ?

  • John,

    1. You have posted the above paragraphs dozens of times already.
    2. Your comment is (once again) off topic from the essay to which you commented.

  • Griffin,
    U.S. foreign policy interventions are almost never for the purpose of bringing about a democracy and, in fact, the usual reason is to prevent a democratic decision from being made.
    You can see a list of 54 of these at” Killing Hope” website .
    I agree that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s why I am an anarchist .
    The purpose of the U.S. embargo on the people of Cuba is to get capitalism reinstalled in Cuba and all traces of socialism ( democratic economy) erased .
    This policy began with the U.S.-European invasion of the newborn Soviet Union in 1918 and continues with the economic war on Cuba today.
    Cuba could bring in the Democrats and the Republicans to run their government and the U.S would not call off the embargo . The GOUSA could care less if Hitler or Stalin were president of Cuba
    The price for that lifting of economic sanctions is total surrender : the reinstating of capitalism and the abolition of socialist programs .
    To not understand this is to not understand what is going on between Cuba and the USA.

  • You write “Poverty corrupts”. Really? Then the opposite would imply that the lack of poverty makes people more honest and wholesome. Yea, right.

  • I am not Canadian but I have visited the western side of Canada many times and skied at Whistler over the years. I don’t have the impression that Canadians are corrupt at all, a little boring maybe (smile) but nothing at all like what you see in Cuba.

  • Poverty does not corrupt, but an absence of trust in the rule of law does. When people know that the law is at the whim of an unaccountable ruling elite, then the people will do whatever it takes to survive, hence the need for “resolver” for the average Cuban to get by. When the powerful know they will never be held accountable, they will exploit their power and enrich themselves through corruption. This happens is Marxist countries just as it does in capitalist countries.

    If the US were to lift the embargo without any change in the Cuban political system, the powerful elite will simply have greater opportunities for corruption and grabbing even more wealth.

  • Of course it’s not capitalism .
    it’s a toll road
    Likely some branch of the government is getting the money and some is pocketed by corrupt workers .
    Poverty corrupts.
    Let’s see what happens after the U.S calls off its devastating embargo and Cuban society is allowed to thrive.

  • He refers to using the road to go to the restaurant, meaning all they want is to go to the beach.

  • Funny , the writer writes that few people use the road but then goes on to qoute a huge sum of money collected . Who did they collect that from ? I am a foreigner and have been there and found it to be a good restaurant and beautiful beach.
    As far as who gets the money , get used to it , whether you live under capitalism or communism doesnt matter .We have just as much corruption inCanada as you do in Cuba or were ever . Its the human condition.

  • I don’t see this as an example of capitalism. The abuse of power, lack of accountability, corruption and the cynical exploitation of the Cuban people is the normal state of affairs in Castro’s Cuba.

  • Bridge scandals can happen anywhere. Just ask State of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of recent note. The difference in Cuba is that lacking an independent media and a government accountable to the people, these scandals can persist unchecked and without consequences. From the sounds of it, there are no doubt a few if not many local officials who have pocketed millions of pesos worth of “toll fees”. Will there be an investigation involving forensic accountants to track the collections of these fees? Will there be a public and transparent vetting of government officials for malfeasance or corruption? If funds are recovered, is there a possibility that a fund will be set up to return this money to locals who, at 5 cup at a time, were harmed economically. Anyone that knows Cuba knows the answer to all of these questions is NO. Shrouded in secrecy and given a free pass by a timid and toothless population, the Castro regime will continue to disabuse the Cuba people of any notion of transparency in government.

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