Fidel Castro's impact on Cuba?
June 27, 2004 8:46 PM   Subscribe

I've always heard conflicting things about Cuba's state (economy, government, quality of life, all of it) under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Can someone link me to some sites that tell of the positive and negative impacts he has had on Cuba in the last few decades. The less pro- and anti- Castro propaganda, the better. If anyone has any personal stories to share, I'd be very interested in those as well. Thanks.
posted by Slimemonster to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Fidel Castro led a rebel army to victory in 1959; his iron rule has held the regime together since then.

The government continues to balance the need for economic loosening against a desire for firm political control. It has undertaken limited reforms to increase enterprise efficiency and alleviate serious shortages of food, consumer goods, and services. A major feature of the economy is the dichotomy between relatively efficient export enclaves and inefficient domestic sectors. The average Cuban's standard of living remains at a lower level than before the depression of the 1990s, which was caused by the loss of Soviet aid and domestic inefficiencies. The government reluctantly allows a large dollar market sector, fueled by tourism and remittances from Cubans abroad.

From the CIA World Factbook.
posted by davidmsc at 8:57 PM on June 27, 2004

Lonely Planet's Guide to Cuba
posted by falconred at 9:32 PM on June 27, 2004

A friend who traveled in Cuba said Speak magazine #18's article was it.
posted by holloway at 11:52 PM on June 27, 2004

Funny how the CIA World Factbook does not mention a certain embargo as at the very least one of the causes of the lower standard of living.

(Also funny how the CIA and LP are the two first results from googling Cuba - but surely it is just a coincidence).

What's life really like in Cuba?

A Preliminary Report on Living in Cuba

The cuban experience (including "The effects of change in Cuba")
posted by magullo at 5:27 AM on June 28, 2004

I visited Cuba once, saw the whole gamut: poverty in the rural areas, hustle and bustle in the urban areas. But very friendly people overall.

I saw a Cuban movie a few years ago, about a group of travellers stuck in a bus station because the bus broke down. The characters ranged from the local Communist snitch to the idealistic youth looking to escape from Cuba. A real interesting story, but I can't remember the name unfortunately. It would be well worth the rental if anyone can supply the name to you.
posted by smcniven at 5:47 AM on June 28, 2004

This got really long. If you have any specific questions that aren’t answered here or by any of the other articles pointed to above, feel free to contact me.

Personal experience
Most people are very friendly, as they are in other parts of the world, but it's a very warm and open society in general. As a foreigner, I never received hostile comments (and being an American living in Cuba, this was a relief). People were much more likely to say "oh, my [relative] moved there - he loves it - I get beautiful pictures, and they have a big house and car, it's amazing..." etc.

Cubans are well-versed in the party line, and can talk about it, but few people take it as seriously as in the past. While I was living there there was a protest against the EU where a couple hundred thousand Cubans marched in support of Fidel, but for the most part, it was a huge celebration - everyone got the day off work, there was rum and music, but the political background was still there... In Cuba, it is okay, in general, to ask people what they think about the policies and politics of their government and the world (though much of the "world" information is filtered out or biased more so than by our standards in the North). If you ask people what they think of Castro, of the continuing Revolution, they will tell you about things they disagree with. It's a much milder and more reasoned response than you might get asking in other countries (hating on Bush, e.g.), and many people express sentiments of liking the system in general (socialized medecine and education, some food cheap via rations, no payment for housing due to the nationalization back in the 1960's), but believing that it is a) time for Castro to hand over power to someone else and b) important for Cuba to modernize some of its policies to move in step with the rest of the world.

The latter is of course linked to the former, and Cuba is progressing. Since, oh, 1986 or so, some private businesses have been allowed. There are casas particulares, where you can get a room with a fan for the night and a good breakfast. There are private restaurants, some of them small and in buildings like "normal" restaurants, some in the front of homes, and some served street-food style at the foot of the driveway. This was not necessarily a voluntary move, though, as during this time the Soviet Union was beginning to fail on support for Cuba. When the USSR fell in 1989, Cuba lost 80% of its export business.

The "special period," so named by Castro as being lean like wartime but without bullets and bloodshed, sent the island into abject poverty for most of the 1990s. During this time, problems arose with prostitution, pickpocketing, and other forms of tourist hustling. This exists in some form still today but is much less prevalent. There are plenty of people who ask for money or to show you around in exchange for going to the trendy restaurants and clubs, and kids who spend their days asking tourists for money instead of going to school because they earn more money that way than their parents do working for a living.

The "dual economy," where the only things worth having are sold in US dollars, is a terrible thing. Cubans are paid between 200 and 800 pesos per month, depending on the education needed for the job. At 26 pesos to the US dollar, this is NOT MUCH. The people that have the "easiest" life are all getting money sent to Cuba from family overseas.

Everywhere I went, including the provinces and some very small towns, people had running water, electricity, and refrigeration. Life in the country is much simpler - more subsistence farming, a greater importance of neighborhood connections - but everyone gets by. Some of the people I studied with (other Americans) had traveled to other parts of Latin American and the Caribbean, and found Cuba to be among the safest, cleanest, and friendliest places they had been. Clinics are basic, in general, though I've been to clinics only in the poorest, poorest areas of Havana. There is a focus on preventative and herbal medicine because it is the best way to avoid the costly operations and tools that are relied upon elsewhere.

I did a lot of reading before going to school there, and read some books that are worth passing on. Some are a bit dated, now, as the situation in Cuba has improved greatly since the 1990s. A couple books to check out include

Miller, Tom. Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba: The author took several trips to Cuba over a few decades, so this really opens up the perspective of change over the years of the Revolution. He's a little high on himself, but it's a fun read, and educational.

Baker, C.P. Moon Handbooks Cuba: I totally recommend this over Lonely Planet Cuba. The LP book on Cuba was not so hot, but the Lonely Planet: Havana book was excellent. Moon has a much larger section on the history and changes in the island. When I was there, I found it to be the best reference to the past that I had in my collection. Note that this is a recent edition - some of the comments say it was outdated, but they refer to the 1997 edition.

Perez, L.A. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy: a thorough politicial and economic overview of Cuba-US relations. A little dense, if this is not the kind of reading you're into, but the information here makes it easier to understand the Cuban perspective on the US.

(I also wrote a lengthy AskMe answer on visiting Cuba recently, but it may not match your interests as much)
posted by whatzit at 9:46 AM on June 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

wow, thanks a lot, whatzit.
posted by Slimemonster at 11:44 PM on July 1, 2004

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