A Tourist in Cuba

(Photo: flippinyank)

Chris Turner explores Cuba’s current economic situation through the lens of a Canadian tourist:

Canada is probably the second most important economic ally Cuba has after Venezuela, which supplies more than 60 percent of the island’s oil. (China exports more stuff to Cuba, but the Chinese don’t show up daily by the multiple charter-flight-loads to hand out gifts and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Cuban economy.) Cuba is our largest trading partner in the whole of Central America and the Caribbean. We export a range of commodities to Cuba — sulphur, wheat, copper wire — and we are the second-largest buyer of Cuban exports, particularly sugar, nickel, fish, citrus fruits, and tobacco. That’s over $1 billion in total trade.

Turner also reflects on the official and unofficial exchange rate of Cuba’s two currencies, the country’s healthcare system, the economics of tipping in a country like Cuba, and the state of the economy:  

One recent study described Cuba’s current approach as “survival economics.” The Havana-based dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, writing for the Huffington Post last August, summed up Cuba’s conundrum more eloquently: “We are in transition, something seems to be on the verge of being irreparably broken on this island, but we don’t realize it, sunk in the day-to-day and its problems… we are leaving behind something that seemed to us, at times, eternal.”


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  1. peter says:

    yeah it’s not easy there, island in dispute with the most powerful country in the world who is your neighbor. i’ve been there in 1999 in time of kosovo bombing by serbia, serbia was then under embargo. you could get whatever you wanted in serbia, in cuba nothing. not easy, usa really punishing them for long time…

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    • tmeier says:

      I don’t see how Cuba’s problems can be because of the U.S. embargo. Most of the rest of the world trades with them. When South Africa was embargoed it took most of the world, virtually all the developed world and it never did really wreck their economy.

      Certainly if the U.S. did trade with them it would help them out but that’s no more the equivalent of saying the U.S. embargo has caused their situation than a drunk driver running into a tree claiming the reason he crashed is because no one cut down the tree.

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      • edel says:

        Embargo does affect, and in the case of Cuba enormously. Like Chris mentions Canada is after Venezuela the largest trader. Vast majority of countries in South America (due to political difference or US pressure) wont trade with them either. Here in Spain (a natural Cuba trader) US is also putting lots of pressure not to do it. Tha credit cards wont work in Cuba is a major blowout for tourism already.

        So at the end, Cuba is like a isolated island in the middle of the Ocean rather than just a few miles from a continent. Successful large islands in similar conditions, or either have strong ties (Iceland, Falklands, Azores or Puerto Rico) or enough resources to be exploited like Australia. Otherwise, you will get… poverty (Cuba, Haiti, Madagascar, Dominican Republic).

        That said, big part of Cuba´s problem is self made too, but at least is not in the Haiti situation.

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      • tmeier says:

        Who to and in what sense does Iceland have strong ties? Cuba is an island rich in resources, Iceland has fish.

        The other failed island economies you mention are all poor for the same reason as Cuba, see the reasons nations fail article in this blog, they do not give their people economic justice or security.

        I do not doubt if the U.S. lifted it’s embargo it would help them a lot but again to use an analogy saying Cuba’s problems are because of the U.S. embargo is like blaming everyone else for tour being an alcoholic, if only they would hide all the liquor from you and not sell you any, you could stop. It’s certainly true this would help, but it’s not the cause of the problem.

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      • icy says:

        Tmeir, actually Iceland has strong ties to Norway, Denmark (or continental EU), UK and Canada, however Fish and energy resources does help a lot too (some 50% of GDP).

        Definitely I blame more Cuba policies than the US for Cuba situation. But US is also supposed to be the “responsible” here, and they were not. Most of their policies toward Cuba were counterproductive and more of a childish behavior than of a responsible nation.

        Assassination attempts also incentives dictators to get stronger and imposing a strong hold… unless you want to end up like Lybia’s Qaddafi for appeasing the West.

        Cuba is at fault, but like your alcoholic example, when someone is ill, you don´t tempt him with alcohol ads if you want him to get better.

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      • tmeier says:

        I agree the U.S. policy has been reprehensible in some respects, the assassination attempts, and idiotic in others. It’s too much to go into here. Democratic government is easily swayed into bad policy when pressure and interest groups focus narrowly on an issue most people don’t care about or pay any attention to.

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      • tmeier says:

        “you don´t tempt him with alcohol ads if you want him to get better.”

        As any recovery program will tell you, the first step is admitting the problem. I’m sure if Cuba said, ‘you know what, this communism thing has been a total failure and we’re going to reform’ they would get all the help they need.

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      • edel says:

        ha ha ha.. tmeier, you seem to know them well those programs 😉

        Ok, lets hope that Cuba recognizes that that type of Communism does not work. Meanwhile please, lets also facilitate them with the tools, the access and support them instead of calling names, kicking and isolating them. Cuba is a friend in need, not a hopeless cockroach.

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  2. Laz says:

    that’s it? and what about human rights, democracy, freedom of expressions, a dictatorship for more than 53 years,…

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  3. tmeier says:

    “Meanwhile please, lets also facilitate them with the tools, the access and support them instead of calling names, kicking and isolating them. Cuba is a friend in need, not a hopeless cockroach.”

    But that’s the point, helping them before they reform is enabling, not really helping. Perhaps making help contingent on reform, but I think that’s already the case, the fact is the Castro regime is intransigent. Any help given without conditions will only go to support the dictatorship, in the analogy they’ll just use it to buy booze.

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  4. http://www.cubaplusmagazine.com says:

    Pretty interesting, didn’t realize the impact of Canada on the Cuban economy.

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