Cuba: Figuring Out Pieces of the Puzzle

Cuba is an unusual country for quite a few reasons:

  • The United States has had an embargo against Cuba since 1960, but there has recently been an announcement that the US will begin to normalize diplomatic relations.
  • The leader of Cuba between 1959 and 2008 was Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro is a controversial figure, with some viewing him is a dictator who nationalized property of foreign citizens without compensation. Citizens of Cuba seem to view him as more of as a Robin Hood figure, who helped the poor by bringing healthcare and education to all, equalizing wages, and building many concrete block homes for people who had only lived in huts previously.
  • If we compare Cuba to its nearest neighbors Haiti and Dominican Republic (both of which were also former sugar growing colonies of European countries), we find that Cuba is doing substantially better than the other two. In per capita CPI in Purchasing Parity Power equivalent, in 2011, Cuba’s average was $18,796, while Haiti’s was $1,578, and the Dominican Republic was $11,263. In terms of the Human Development Index (which measures such things as life expectancy and literacy), in 2013, Cuba received a rating of .815, which is considered “very high”. Dominican Republic received a rating of .700, which is considered “High.” Haiti received a rating of .471, which is considered “Low.”
  • Cuba is known for its permaculture programs (a form of organic gardening), which helped increase Cuba’s production of fruit and vegetables in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • In spite of all of these apparently good outcomes of Cuba’s experimentation with equal sharing of wealth, in recent years Cuba seems to be moving away from the planned economy model, and much more of a “mixed economy,” with more entrepreneurship encouraged by individuals.
  • Since 1993, Cuba has had a two currency system. The goods that the common people could buy were in one set of stores, and were traded in one currency. Other goods were internationally traded, or were available to foreigners visiting Cuba. They traded in another currency. This system is being phased out. Goods are now being marked in both currencies and limitations on where Cubans can shop are being removed.

(OOPS! This was published before I intended it to be. I will update it in the near future.)

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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36 Responses to Cuba: Figuring Out Pieces of the Puzzle

  1. All that about Permaculture in Cuba is rubbish, as all the Cubans who had to work in that know.
    Cuba never stopped consuming oil, they had to pay for it, they used to get it for free from the Soviet Union. In effect the hardworking Russians were sustaining the very lazy Cubans (I am Spanish, by the way, I know Cuba and the Cubans very well, Spain is full of Cuban exiles / immigrants, most Cubans or millions of them can get Spanish citizenship easily, for several reasons).
    The Cubans, as we say laughing after going there on holiday, have discovered how to live without working !
    Those figures about Cubans being better off than the Dominicans are simply not true, better Cuba than Haiti yes, the whole world is better than Haiti -a country that has had the dubious advantage of being occupied several times by the USA.

    As to Cuba now going to be the playground of the West, you Americans show the total ignorance you have of the world. Cuba IS the playground of Europe, and millions of Europeans go there on holiday, lots of Spanish businessmen sell foodstuffs, spirits and wine for example to the hotels that cater for the tourists, and yes there’s a sharp trade in that, many Cubans supplement their meagre salaries with clever semi-legal practices.

    Speaking of the sex trade, which is a feature of Cuban life, the complaint of the jineteras (=girl riders) is that the Americans who went there before 1958 paid a lot better than the miserable Europeans now ! So yes, they will receive the men from Yuma with arms, ahem, open.
    (Yuma is their nickname for the USA, from a very famous western movie)
    Ah, the Cubans can not go to the beaches -a Cuban girl friend told me that, they are reserved for the tourists -it is not a democratic country you know.
    Which was good, as the repulsive capitalists would not contaminate the decent Cuban people with their way of life, and the eager young Cuban girls would not propose to every man they could see to marry her and take her away.

    Let’s talk about the Cuban market in partners. It is very frequent that Spanish men somewhat we could say, undesirable from a female’s point of view, ugly, old say, fat, clumsy, would go to Cuba and get a good young woman, marry her -a Spaniard of course always does the right thing, and anyway the woman can not leave the island without the Spanish passport from the man.
    I must say that the woman would keep her side of the bargain, well, at least for a year or two, then look for a better deal, divorce. This one my girlfriend I said before … but it would be too personal !

    And now we get to the Cuban men. The Spanish women do the same thing ! There’s equality of gender in Spain, you see. Those Spanish women who are not any longer in the marriage market but have a bit of money, either a bit old, divorced, or not so beautiful, thunder tights -jamonas- well, they go to Cuba and meet an artist or poet -Cuba is full of them, usually black men, tall, young, slender, strong, fun, a good dancer, with big white teeth, and, ah, big, ah, ah feet ! They marry the fellow and take him home to Spain. It may happen that the woman later may sport a black eye, because, eh, Cuban husbands, they have their ways, work is not their strong point, you see. I suppose that other Europeans do the same, I know that some Spanish men and women do it.

    It increases the happiness in the world, nothing wrong with it.

    I suggest that you browse the website Generación Y kept by Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban democratic opposition journalist [well known in Spain] who has suffered persecution and discrimination from the dictatorship and some of the mistaken ideas you have about the Special Period, how very well the Cubans are doing, the great Health Care in Cuba -rubbish, Communist propaganda that, the Spanish when they go there on holiday take even aspirins with them, not only that, in the Pharmacies in Spain there are boxes where you can put unused medicines and serve yourself, fill a suitcase with them and take it to Cuba, they don’t have any medicines. Ah, champion from Yuma, if you go to Cuba take a white doctor’s smock with you and give it to any clinic, they don’t have any.

    • Thanks for your insider’s view. I don’t really disagree with you.

      The “equal pay for everyone” approach is perfect for loafers. No one gets fired, no matter how little they do. There is no point in getting an advanced degree, because those who do get exactly as much pay as someone who dropped out of school and does virtually nothing. You really can’t run an economy with this approach–it doesn’t work. A self-organized capitalistic approach works much better, and at least encourages achievement.

      Marriage is something else that isn’t very stable under this system. We were told that in Cuba, new husbands tend to move in with the woman’s family, because of the lack of housing. The wife doesn’t really need the husband–the state will take care of her and her children. She can kick him out, or he can move on to a new partner, whenever he pleases.

      Marriage also is helpful for people wishing to leave the island, or wanting to import capital into the island. Our tour leader who is a US citizen told us that he had received three marriage proposals from Cuban women in the last year. The danger in accepting any of them and moving to Cuba is that they likely would take your money, and kick you out in a year or so. The Cuban law gives no recourse to non-Cuban citizens for this. He didn’t really talk about the reverse–moving to the United States. I can imagine the new wife moving on to new younger, better looking partner as soon as US citizenship had been obtained.

    • michael jones says:

      Thanks for the true confessions Armando. I had a socialist friend at work that visited your home many times back in the 1990’s here in the USA and flew via Canada.
      Yes, can’t wait for the Yuma’s open up the cruise ship trip to Havana from Florida.
      Hope you make it here with a one way ticket.

  2. Daniel Hood says:

    Why the California water crisis will lead to a housing collapse, municipal bankruptcies and a mass exodus of climate refugees

    SW will be lucky to make it to 2020

    • VPK says:

      You haven’t seen anything yet. South Dakota is under extreme drought conditions too!
      That’s another major food producing area…food prices will skyrocket next year.

    • I agree. People can’t live where there is no water. It will lead to people leaving the state, and a reduction in real estate values.

  3. Daniel Hood says:

    Oh and the US will soon be looking to Cuba for answer re: self sustaining populations. T-Rex will soon be stomping on everything and anything that moves.

    California 40 million
    Texas 27 million

    food, energy, water crisis, social, economic, financial chaos.

    • Diminishing returns, and the resulting higher cost of water, however it “produced” and “distributed” is a problem that a lot of people don’t understand. Even if we could “fix” the California water problem with a large number of desalination plants and new pipelines, wages of California workers wouldn’t increase, because (except for the temporary building of the new infrastructure), there is really nothing new being added–we are just handling depletion in an expensive way that tends to shrink the rest of the economy. The outcome is likely to be a problem in repaying debt with interest.

  4. Rodster says:

    The problem I see for Cuba going forward is that Cuba for the most part was self reliant even if it was poor by Western standards. All that will change with thawing relations with the West. It will see a spike in investments which will initially raise the standard of living for the poor. The trade off will be that they will become less self reliant and more reliant on the failed Western system which is failing apart.

    • If you read my new post, you will see that Cuba has not, in fact, been self-reliant. It has been digging itself into a bigger and bigger hole, by importing nearly everything (including part of its food), and exporting not much at all. It hasn’t been using debt to finance the building of new homes and some other things we would finance, but it still has been digging itself into a big hole.

  5. Jens Bryndum says:

    Interesting video I watched sometime after becoming peak oil aware in dec 2005.

    • I haven’t listed to the video recently, but I did back in early 2006.

      The Cuban culture is very close knit. We visited one of the neighborhood DNR groups, talked to residents a bit (It would have helped to know Spanish) and visited inside a few apartments. My husband received a book of Fidel Castro’s speeches (in Spanish) from one family who invited him to their apartment, after they heard that he taught computer science in a US university.

  6. ktos says:

    I hope you don’t believe that Cuba’s PPP GDP is 18.8k usd.

    • There are people (IMF) who put the PPP GDP nonsense out. You can be starving, but if you have an expensive health care system and an expensive educational system, and people’s homes are full of flat screen televisions that have been sent from the US, then your standard of living is high. I am sure that they don’t consider how bad (Imports – Exports) are either.

  7. I am sorry. I accidentally pushed the “Publish” button when I meant to hit the “Save Draft” button. WordPress has recently changed its interface for those writing posts (unless a person figures out how to get back to the old version), and the Publish button is now where the Save Draft button used to be. Once it is published, there is no “Undo” function.

    I will add to the post, and publish it under a slightly different name.

  8. VPK says:

    Betcha EVERY Cuban that has an opportunity will cross over to South Florida and mow lawns there instead of staying

    • Rodster says:

      We had to deal with that when I lived in Miami in the early 80’s when Cubans were pouring into South Florida.

  9. Have posted the following, at

    “9.6 billion
    Estimated number of people worldwide who will need to be fed in 2050”

    Really? Maybe see,, &

    “If you close the door on reality, it comes in through the window.”

    • The food technology article you link to is yet another one of the articles claiming technology will save us. This time, it comes from getting food from novel sources, like ground-up crickets.

  10. Kulm says:

    I think most of the people here do not understand what is a Category 1 civilization.

    That is harnessing more energy than the entire earth.

    Technology is advancing faster than most people realize, and the media is slow on following them since they do not understand the concepts.

    Right now China is experimenting gene splicing. China has no humanitarian concern.

    Although all of these developments won’t help most of the humanity, the privileged will enter a new civilization.

    • “the privileged will enter a new civilization.”

      Maybe, maybe not. We are all in this civilization together. Opting out is not very easy.

  11. Kulm says:

    cuba will be a western playground soon. BAU is still strong and will need a new playground.

    I have mentioned that there are at least 100,000 former landowners in Cuba, some of them huge American multinationals such as Coca Cola and Hilton, with claims in the island. Sheldon Adelson, who runs a lot of casinos and is the man behind the GOP, wants a new casino close to home.

    Some countries are just born to serve Americans. That is a matter of fact.

    As the world’s money will continue to be concentrated near America and England, and possibly southern China, the pressure to make Cuba an American playground again will be too strong to resist.

    • Artleads says:

      But if there is no oil, and resources are depleted, what then?

    • Read my new post. I think Cuba is thinking that its salvation from its problems will come if Cuba becomes an American playground again. The big building spree of the 1950s was said to be underwritten by the Mafia, so the group out to “help” Cuba isn’t necessarily a good group.

      There will be a lot of obstacles to overcome. For one thing, Havana International Airport is tiny. For another, sewages systems are very limited. In many places, there are waste baskets in bathrooms and signs not to flush the toilet paper. For another, the US isn’t doing all that well financially either.

  12. Jan Steinman says:

    The figures speak for themselves, as far as egalitarianism goes. “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” seems to be working.

    During the “Special Period,” everyone — doctors and janitors alike — shared in the sudden loss of oil. Women voluntarily agreed to not have children for some years.

    How would that play out in a western democracy? I guess we’re going to find out…

    • Stefeun says:

      “El Socialismo puede llegar solo en bicicleta”
      Jose-Antonio Viera-Gallo, quoted by Ivan Illich in “Energy and Equity”, book in which he promotes a maximum energy per capita.
      I think the principle is very correct, but unfortunately impossible to implement in a fossil-fuel society, unless under a very strong political structure, which doesn’t hold in the long term.
      Maybe in the future, if ever some of us can survive and thrive under the solar budget..?

      • Artleads says:

        “I think the principle is very correct, but unfortunately impossible to implement in a fossil-fuel society, unless under a very strong political structure, which doesn’t hold in the long term.”

        But if there are no fossil fuels “in the long term?”

        • Stefeun says:

          Sorry Artleads, my bad English.
          Probably I should have said “in the long run” instead. I was thinking of all those authoritarian regimes that have failed in the past, because of their lack of flexibility in a changeing environment.

          The future “”solar budget” (i.e. without fossil fuels) won’t allow such big structures to even exist. The communities (if ever) will have to be small and self-sufficient on local resources.

        • Artleads says:

          Thanks, Stefeun. I think I understand what you’re saying. 🙂

  13. Loco Motion says:

    The weirdest thing about Cuba? One of the most cited revolucions on the planet with some of the most charismatic participants, cleansing the island of imperialism (with the one small exception of a fully functional armed to the teeth military base). This is a revolucion? You just ignore the military base of your sworn enemy parked on your island? Whistle the Cuban national anthem and look south as you go past? Che runs off to Africa to seed the revolucion when Guantanamo still sits on his front porch? Oh yea they threw off the chains of the “oppressor” except control of the island never left USA hands. Kabuki theater has played and replayed Cuba as this huge black eye for the USA but control of the island never left USA hands. Cuban missile crisis? We could have hit those tubes with a rock from Guantanamo? Heck we kissed and made up with Vietnam but not Cuba our next door neighbor?

    The only thing i can figure out is we couldn’t have a war with them, too close bad form. Since we couldn’t have a war we couldn’t kiss and make up. They had to stay in bad guy costume until now when everyone has forgotten the supposed black eye they dealt us.

    Omost wierder is when Cuba made the a great cost cutting move of emptying out their prisons and we accepted all of their convicts as political refugees. Predictably many ran amok in the USA. Seriously? Cuba is EVIL (because they are too close to have a war with) so all the murderers pedophiles and rapists they imprison are GOOD, we will just cut them loose in the USA?

  14. tk says:

    Now, let’s look behind the “Wikipedia-Surface” about the “Cuba embargo”:
    (Despite some speculations and points I disagree, the overall narrative is logical consistent.)

    • tk says:

      Sorry, start at 1:07:30 (video-link has been time-tagged, but it doesn’t seems to work here).

    • I am afraid I don’t have to watch a 3.5 hour movie. I wanted to write more about the embargo, but “ran out of room.” The story I heard was fairly different from the story we heard in the US.

      I think we need to remember that in 1959, the US still practiced segregation in schools and buses. We were also very much caught up in the cold war with Russia. The kinds of changes that Fidel Castro wanted were very threatening to the US on both of these levels.

      Fidel Castro also imposed a high tax on the fuel inefficient cars that Cuba had been importing in large numbers from the US, saying, “We can’t afford to be using so many large, fuel-inefficient cars. If we import cars, they should be small, fuel efficient cars. We should instead be using the oil we import to power farm machinery.” This action of course threatened the US auto industry.

      Another aspect of the problem was that Cuba had been controlled by Spain before it was controlled (in a different way) by the large companies from the United States and elsewhere that were intent on producing profits for themselves, but at the same time, paying most workers far below a living wage and depleting the soil. Castro wanted to throw out the outside interests, in any way he could.

      One speaker said that he had an “Ah-ha” moment when he realized that perhaps Fidel Castro, in fact, welcomed the embargo, and egged the US on a bit, in order to make sure it would stay in place. If his primary goal was to be left alone, the one way he could assure this was would actually happen is if the United States would decide that it didn’t want to trade with Cuba.

      At some point, the US started giving US residency (and later citizenship) to Cubans leaving the country. This was also very helpful to Cuba. Remittances from US citizens to Cuba are a big source of income to the island. With the socialist way incomes were allocated, families could live fairly well without a father who departed for the United States. If he sent back goods from the US, the family would be much better off. There would also be less need for building new housing, something that Cuba could not afford.

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