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.)

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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.

36 thoughts on “Cuba: Figuring Out Pieces of the Puzzle

  1. 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.)

    • 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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…

    • “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..?

      • “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?”

        • 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.

  4. 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

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

  8. 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.

    • 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.

  9. 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.

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