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Posted November 21, 2005 by I-taoist in Castro's Cuba

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Responding to recent article: 

I am XXXXXXXXXX and have been living in La Havana for about X years.  2 of there years were spent taking Spanish at XXXXXXX.

No one lives on the street in Cuba because it is illegal.  The police who are on every corner do not permit it.  You go to jail if you are out-of-province without papers.  That too is illegal. 

Otherwise, they will send you back to the residence that is listed on your Carnet (identity papers).  If you dont have your Carnet in your posession, you also go to jail.  That too is illegal.

Education is free in Cuba.  You can go to college to be a chef, but try to go to University.  You will not be accepted.  There are strict limits on who gets into what programs.  Children of party officials have the best chance.

The result of the low paying jobs is rampant theft from the goverment who owns everything.  This moral decay is necessay because on a nurses salary ( $10 US) you need to pay phone, hydro, gas and water.  Some pay rent when they do not possess the rights to their property and it is a government house.  A leg of chicken costs $1.  Shoes cost $20.  A shirt is $8.  A fridge is $400.  A TV is $300.  A fan is $30.  Nobody has any money.  This forces them to steal whenever they get the chance.  It is everyone, not just a few.  It is a matter of necessity.  It is true that no one starves in Cuba.  They do get free food, but it is mostly rice and beans.  1 bread roll per person per day and 1 piece of chicken and fish per month.

The best job in Cuba (aside from Party Official) is a taxi driver.  Why?  He has access to foreigners with hard currency.  Next best job - cash till operator in a store that sells in dollars.  This allows them to steal directly.  Theft rings operate in the dollar stores and the scheme works like this.  When you are checking out your purchase, they double ring in items or overcharge for them.  They do not give you the reciept and the person pays the amount on the till.  Certain stores cheat you all the time.  The theft rings are well organized.  I have been cheated even when watching like a hawk.  You must always check your receipt.

I always know when I have arrived in Cuba.  The store shelves are empty.  The worst shortages I can remember have been toilet paper (about 6 weeks - I now always keep a stock), lighters (about a month - how do you light your gas stove?) and sanitary napkins for women.

The medical system works well unless you need some pills.  Cubans must buy their medicine at the LOCAL pharmacy.  They cant go to the one on the other side of town,  If they dont have it, you need to buy it from a dollar pharmacy and this costs much more than they make.  The dental system is terrible.  No freezing is supplied for people who what a filling.  You must pay $ 5 extra.  Freezing is only available for pulling teeth.  This leads to everyone having bombed-out mouth .  They pull the teeth, they do not repair them.  No one goes to the dentist until it is an absolute emergency.  Would you go for a filling wihout freezing?

The US is mistaken in their response to Cuban propaganda.  They need to explain why there is an embargo.  No one knows why.  The answer is that in 1960 they stole $2 billion in US property.  The owners were not compensated.  This cannot be allowed.  This needs to be explained.  This is not personal, it is about theft of foreign property without compensation. 
How would you like to live in a country with no freedom of speech, no freedom of association, no freedom of the press, no freedom of movement?  A country that does not allow you to own a car or use the internet or sell a house.  This may be someones idea of a great country, but it is not mine.
Name and address withheld.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on November 22, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    There are not police in every corner. “The answer is that in 1960 they stole $2 billion in U.S. property”, what a LAME excuse for a 45 year old embargo. This person points to conditions and problems that do exist in Cuba without ackowledging that the embargo is perhaps the principal reason for these problems. This is not spin, and it is also true that the Cuban government could do more to remedy some of these conditions, but U.S. policy with Cuba has not been, neither fair or smart.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on November 22, 2005 by VictorO

    How can the US embargo be the (primary) cause of these problems?

    Can Cuba trade with Canada?  How about with Mexico?  How many nations _DO_ permit trade with Cuba?  Does the US _REALLY_ have a strangle hold on all the items that make life so difficult in Cuba?  Obviously not.

    The Embargo is mostly symbolic on the part of the US.  It reflects US Govt. anger at how Castro has only honored the “take” part of any “give and take” with US presidents in the past half century.  It’ a shame that Castro (and those who appologize for him) find it so convienient to hide behind the Embargo.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on November 22, 2005 by jesusp with 246 total posts

    Ok., let’ forget the embargo, just allow americans to travel to Cuba without any restrictions, have you any idea what that would do to the economy of the island? As far as what you call the “give and take” I have a hard time associating “give” with assasination plots, backing up an invasion of the island and numerous other acts of aggression. I’m not hiding behind the embargo, there is no need, all the nations of the world with the exception of the U.S and Israel agree with my position, but I suppose you would say they are all wrong.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on November 22, 2005 by glite

    I think that this is a very naive analysis of what Cuba is doing and how hard Cuba is working to exist as an alternate society to that of the US and other capitalist empires.

    If you study the embargo as it really happened you will see that compensation plans we offered and rejected by the US.

    I don’t believe toilet paper shortages really demonstrate a county in chaos. Have you been to New York, LA, Toronto lately? There are TROOPS on the corners seeking evil “terrorists”. The police in Cuba are there to protect you and others. There are also many police in Cuba becuase Cuba gives its able-bodies citizens JOBS.

    The vast majority of Cubans are proud, honest and hardworking people. Sadly, this analysis of Cuba does only harm Cuba’ reputation. You are doing the Cuban society and citizen’ no favors when you publish an undocumented, rant about something you seeminly know little about.

    I too have been ripped off at many of these Dollar Stores. It is very frustrating and very sad, I agree. I have become accustomed to challenging the clerks when they do it. In the end, guess what??? I win and I receive an apology. I don’t publish a tirade about a few crooks and blame an entire nation.

    US policy has nothing to do with Communism. It has to do with hegemony. Plain and simple. When Walmat opens in Havana, I’m sad to say that you will find less Europeans and Canadians travelling there. Why? Because Cuba is striving for something better than Big Macs and Low Prices Everyday.

    I am responding to this posting because I am outraged at the irresponsible “first-hand” account of the Cuba you know. Also, I am responding to it becuase this came up as a Cuba News Story under news.google.com; this is not news, nor is it journalism.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on November 22, 2005 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Thanks for your comments. This post was started by a regular contributor to the Havana Journal. He received this email from a trusted source in Cuba and wanted to post it here for information and discussion. The article seems to be doing its job.

    With regards to Google news, they pick up some of our articles and ignore others. Just something in their algorithm I guess. Although this may not be a “news” story, it is original information content.

    Please post comments or your own original content if/when you like.


    Cuba consulting services

  6. Follow up post #6 added on November 22, 2005 by greslogo with 22 total posts

    Although I agree with much of what the OP has to say…...

    How has trhe embargo hurt Cuba

    1) increase in shipping costs and cost of goods. How much more does it cost to freight rice from Vietnam than from the Florida or Texas, for example ?

    2) increase in banking fees. This is not trivial. Having to move $US through third countries such as Mexico and Panama does not come cheap. The ascent of the Euro has aleviated this recently.

    3) US pressure on foreign governments not to do business with Cuba. For example, any country that buys all or a substantial proportion of it’ nickel from Cuba cannot sell any goods containing steel to the USA.

    4) The US market not available to Cuban exports.

    I’m sure there are more areas that the embargo has hurt Cuba.


  7. Follow up post #7 added on November 22, 2005 by glite

    One of the most significant challenges continues to face is its use of two currency systems.

    The introduction of the Cuban Convertible Peso to replace the US dollar, while an ingenious means of hoarding every US$ that makes its way into the country - which allows the country to import foreign goods and purchase oil, etc., means that desperate people will do anything to acquire the Convertible Peso to purchase the expensive goods at dollar shops.

    The Cuban national Peso is very valuable inside Cuba. It is used to purchase all the staples a person requires. However, if name brand objects and cheap, imported junk from Viet Nam or China is what one desires, then one will pay a premium in convertible pesos.

    So, the question you ask greslogo is, what has the embargo done? One terrible thing it has done is lead to rich Miami (or North American) relatives to send buckets of US$ cash to their Cuban families. This leads to a two-tiered society, which undermines the socialist Revolution, and creates a sense of jealousy amongst the citizenry. It is no wonder there is corruption in the streets of Havana (you don’t find this as much in the rural areas). This dual economy exists also for people who work in tourism. They have unprecedented access to the Convertible Peso. Last month I had a friend visit me from Cuba (and yes, he went home) and he paid for the entire trip himself with money he made in tips over the course of 2 years.


    On the matter of toilet paper. Iím the first to admit that the TP in Cuba isnít the pillowy-soft kind Iím used to at home. Sugar cane TP has a texture to be desired.

    That is why whenever I go (twice a year), I bring as many rolls as I can (good for packing breakables) and I give it to my friends in Cuba. I once left a family of eight, a six month supply. Next month Iím hoping to double that.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on November 22, 2005 by acuban

    I am a Cuban. Whoever wrote this article could not be more right.
    “How would you like to live in a country with no freedom of speech, no freedom of association, no freedom of the press, no freedom of movement?”
    I could add: How would you like to live in a country:
    - with a dictator that has been in power since January 1959: almost 47 years!
    - where any sign of political o civil opposition to the government is considered a crime, and punished with as much a 30 years in jail or even death penalty.
    - where the education of the children is out of the hands of the parents, and the children are taught since very early years that Fidel is some kind of god.

    There are people in other countries that think that Cuba’ government has built a better society. My advice to them: Go and try to live in Cuba for a year, as a Cuban, working as a Cuban, not in a fancy hotel (most of which, by the way, are forbidden to Cubans). Then tell me about it.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on November 22, 2005 by Charlie Dunk with 17 total posts

    Hm, there are two problems with this essay that lead me to believe that the writer knows next to nothing about Cuba:

    1. The statements that are just plain wrong: take the line that “Cuba does not allow you to own cars” as a case in point. Now, as with most of Latin-America, the license plate on a Cuban vehicle tells you who owns the damn thing. The yellow plates are for cars that are privately owned and there are thousands of them. Contrary to popular myth, most are not 1950s jalopies - those are usually owned by the government and rented out to their drivers to use as taxis. Rather they are Soviet built Ladas and more modern cars from Asia. The deal is that if you work X number of years, then you are given a car.

    2. The way in which the writer misleads, and here clothing is a case in point. Now it is true that clothing is expensive, but that only applies to new clothes. Take a trip to la Epoca store in central Havana - the main one - and then walk up the hilly street that runs to one side of it. Here you will find a plethora of shops that sell second-hand clothes - the Cubans call it ropa reciclada. The prices are in local pesos and are subsidised by the state. I know, because I sell second hand clothing in Mexico, so I know what world prices actually are. This gear is on sale at just over cost price.

    Now, it is true that Cubans don’t like second hand clothing. They had a good textile industry that used imported Soviet cotton. That vanished along with the USSR. It left them with first world tastes in a third world economy. OK, I am sorry about that, but this is not the same as claiming that Cubans are basically naked because of the price of clothing. That is just not the case.

    For the rest, sure, there are scams and I posted an article about them on this very site in August, called Ripping off the tourists in Cuba.I also posted an essay to my own blog, which puts a slightly different light on Cuban attitudes to work.

    All in all, I honestly do not believe that this essay was produced by anyone who has even been to Cuba, much less lived there.

  10. Follow up post #10 added on November 22, 2005 by tweety

    “The embargo is the principal reason for these problems”?......this seems to be the biggest misnomer and perpetuates the myth of the Embargo. Dont get me wrong, we americans are not the good guys. I am very up-to-date on our own shady dealings with cuba and other countries…..but lets put things on the table…..
    Is it America’ fault they can’t vote?
    Is it America’ fault they can’t travel without special privelege/permission from government?
    Is it America’ fault they can’t meet in a house to discuss movements or politics?
    Is it America’ fault they all dont have access to the internet?
    Is it America’ fault there is no independent journalism in cuba?
    I can make a much longer list but I wont bore you….I’m an american, and have been to the island several times, hung out with the youth….even they snicker at the embargo smoke-screen excuse. I spent an entire night hearing them banter… whenever a TV set didnt work or a waiter didnt have item on menu, they would jokingly look at me and say, “its the embargo’ fault”,then they’d all laugh.  If a local cuban (with no outside access to information) can smell the source of these injustices, why cant a million international intellectuals who want to preserve the beacon of communism own up to the fact these are internal problems, of which Fidel is the architect?
    YES, America has its own faults it needs to be accountable for….and yes, the Embargo is Part of the Problem…but its not the whole problem. The sooner we see that, the sooner a solution can be found…..

  11. Follow up post #11 added on November 23, 2005 by glite

    To “acuban”:

    I want to hearing more about your feelings and opinions. However, the list your provide is very much out of the Miami handbook on what’ wrong with Cuba.

    Answer this. On May 1 I was in Revolution Square with approx 1.6 million people. When Fidel spoke, he was genuinely well recieved by the people. There seemed to me to be a party atmosphere where not one person was afraid. When you go to celebrations, are you and the other million+ people just going because you are afraid of a dictator?

    -In the US there is the perception of Freedom of Press, but one does not truly exist. Five corporations own 90% of the press in the US. In Canada, 3 companies own 99% of the press. Those organizations show no diveristy in their coverage of anything.

    -The US has the “Patriot Act” which quashes civil liberties and gives powers to the government to hold “ememy combatants” no charge, no trial, no family notification. The US executes children, the mentally ill, and people wrongly convicted of crimes.

    -In the US and Canada, textbooks used in schools are pre-1980. Teachers must often supply their students with pencils, books, paper because the goverments do not place a priority on education all their citizens. In Cuba, no matter a child’ ability, skill, etc., they are guarateed an education to become whatever they are skilled at. In 1961, the Camapaa de la Alfabetizacon taught an entire nation how to read and write in less than 12 months.

    The world outside Cuba is not as free and pleasant as you seem to imply. The poor of North America are regarded as less than human. If you are black or aboriginal, you face a statistical challege in ever achieving success.

    If you are of Mid East decent living in Canada or the US, trying to make a better life for their families, you are looked at as a terrorist.

    The true dictatorships in the worlds are the so-called “democratic” countries who’ politicians do nothing for the people that elected them. They are puppets of large corporations who punish and reward them with campaign donations. In Cuba, political parties do not exist in their elections. Anyone can move up in the political world in Cuba and they don’t even need to belong to the Communist Party.

    No one would ever dispute that life is difficult in Cuba. In fact, you are correct to challenge everyone reading to try and live in Cuba as a Cuban. But to all the people like you who think life is better outside - think again.

  12. Follow up post #12 added on November 23, 2005 by glite


    There are free elections in cuba. I have witnessed them.

  13. Follow up post #13 added on November 23, 2005 by claritywins

    Any country that prevents its owns citizens from leaving, or whose leader is in power for more than 15 years, is not a nice place to live. People vote with their feet. I see a lot of people wanting to leave and not a lot of people wanting to get into Cuba.

    Cuba is an all-controlling, bureaucratic, deceitful, and soul-stealing prison, inept at producing wealth or happiness, and efficient only in the dark arts of mind control, suppression of free thought, generation of fear and disinformation, and paralysis of action, while carefully outwardly clothing and paintint itself in the soft colors of equality and fraternity to please the intellectual idealistic Left, who defend it as their fondest dream made reality. Having banished wealth and luxury, capital and envy, the Cuban State has also banished innovation, advance, voluntary effort, fruitful sacrifice, dreams and most things worth living for.

  14. Follow up post #14 added on November 23, 2005 by jonlen

    Before criticising Cuba it is important to remember that they are virtually in a state of war with the US and the conditions which critics describe sound similar to those which we endured in the last European war when people of German descent were interned without trial and conditions now are approaching those in Cuba in many respects with police armed everywhere and critics increasingly locked up or rendered isolated with the loss of position.

    But I do agree that the dual Monetary System is very undesirable in a socialist society, may be a wealth tax is needed.

  15. Follow up post #15 added on November 23, 2005 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    I can assure readers that this was indeed a message from inside Cuba in response to an article.  The most telling aspect of the communication to me was the very real fear felt by the author of persecution and jailing if found out by Cuban authorities.  This is the reality in Cuba—and defenders of such a system would continue to deny all Cubans even the most basic civil liberty of a dissenting opinion publicly expressed. 

    My mantra in Cuba after a few weeks of living there to those defending Castro and “Revolutionary Socialism” was “Dame libertad o dame nada,”  give me liberty or don’t give me anything.

    To live in constant fear for even the thought of criticizing the government and its policies is the most damning condemnation of a system I know, regardless of its politics - Left or Right. 

    One last observation:  Those defending Cuba are great at statistics, they quote from here and there using numbers to justify the second class citizenship of most Cubans, chronic shortages, brutal repression, and police state mentality.  To go there and take a bottom up look is to have the statistics made right in perspective. 

  16. Follow up post #16 added on November 23, 2005 by glite

    Statistics, facts and stories from the ground are how discussions remain interesting and level-headed. Those who constantly seek what’ wrong with Cuba forget to look at their own countries’ for explanations.


    Why does the US trade with China and not Cuba? The answer is not about the land nationalized by Cuba in 1960-61. It is the wealthy Cuban’ who left for Miami in 1959 and are a voting power in the US.

    The US has been engaged in a very hostile and vicious propoganda war against Cuba for 46 years. Study the history of Cuba from 1700 - 1959 and you will see that the US interest in the strategic geography of Cuba is the only reason the US has had pressure on this small island that is of NO THREAT to anyone.

    Imagine if the people of Cuba could live their Revolution and be able to trade freely with thier largest neighbor.

    Those on the “right” side of the debate tend to speak in aggressive language, using words such as “supression of free though”, “disinformation” and “all controlling”. These are assumptions without documentation and only prove that people are willing to buy into the propoganda from the US and the Special Interests Section (aka the CIA) in Havana.

  17. Follow up post #17 added on November 24, 2005 by Exile79

    Anyone that is an outsider will never truly understand Cuba. If you are one of those people that truly cherish everything that Cuba does for its people, renounce your American passport and live there as a full Cuban, not a tourist. Handing out toilet paper and other commodities to Cubans is pretty similar to feeding animals at the zoo…

  18. Follow up post #18 added on November 24, 2005 by Exile79

    Anyone that critizes the embargo needs to realize that you cannot slap a superpower in its face. Recall that America always had good relations with Cuba and older people will tell you that pre-castro cuba was abundant with employment and adequate commodities. America even helped liberate Cuba from Spain (obviously at a price,no one is agenda-free)and wanted normal relations after the revolution(which you cannot have when you keep American funds and side with communists).

    I for one want Fidel to choke on his social project which has made him jump from superpower to superpower/larger nation trying to keep it afloat. The suffering of Cubans is directly on him, it is no surprise that he blames the poverty of Cuba on America, considering that he HAS to say that because he is the one that created the animosity.

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