B’s Business Viewpoint: Reflecting on our trip to Cuba
February 21, 2014
Several community members recently joined my husband and me on a trip to Cuba. We visited three cities, the countryside and interacted with people from all walks of life, including at a ballet rehearsal, an afternoon on a ranch and interactions with artists, musicians, architects and librarians. Throughout our journey, confronted with the realities of communism or “good for all socialism” we constantly found ourselves questioning the results. The Cubans were welcoming, resilient and creative, and we couldn’t help but wonder the success they would have achieved if given the opportunity.
It is possible that there has never been a more pure example of communism’s effects than Cuba. Due to its being an island both figuratively and geographically it was abundantly apparent what happens when a regime seizes all property and declares “all men equal.” Suddenly corruption was legal and the ranks of the existing poor were swollen with the nouveau poor whose previous personal successes were wiped from reality.
The power abuse illustrations were far reaching and complicated, but among the poignant are the following.
Post Revolution (1959) farmers were moved from the countryside into the cities, forced to live with several other families in a government-seized Colonial home that once belonged to a successful family. Fifty years later, thousands of families are living in near squalor as the government has ignored normal maintenance on these once elegant homes in the same way they have ignored maintenance on government-owned hotels, restaurants, public buildings and infrastructure. During the “Especial” period (post-Soviet Russia) of the ‘90s, Cuba’s citizens were starving due to the reductions in trade and minimal agriculture. Now farming expansion has been ordered by Raul Castro, but farmers are doing back-breaking work by hand with 60-year-old hoes and oxen.
Monthly wages for those fortunate enough to have a job range from $12 to $20. The highly educated are rewarded with the right to own personal property and salaries ranging from $40 (architect) to $55 (doctor) in exchange for doing two years of social service for their education. The average cost of living was estimated at $200 to $300 per month leaving most to beg, barter and suffer. Families with relatives in America tend to fare better thanks to offshore contributions. Cuba’s recent albeit limited tourism has prompted many to quit their professions, opting for service jobs in the hopes of receiving tips. Tips that must be placed directly into the recipients’ hands as those left visible go directly into the cash register for fear of government spies.
While there are no perfect systems, we all returned with a stronger belief in our capitalist system that encourages individual judgment and intelligence and rewards achievements that generally benefit the greater good of society. Each of our countless entrepreneurs who births a company has at their core a product or service that serves a purpose to be freely valued or not by society.
I’m grateful to be home and honored to support our community’s entrepreneurs.
— “B” Gorman, B.S., J.D., A.C.E., is the president and CEO of TahoeChamber.