There are people in this country who would prefer a move away from capitalism and toward socialism. Less than a week before Cuba was closed to Americans, I visited there and I'm here to report that it is frightening to think that Americans could consider anything close to socialism.
My wife and I took a cruise that included a two-day stay in Havana. The view of the city from the ship was less than encouraging. The buildings all looked like they were not only run down, but ready to fall down.
In Cuba, the tourists use one form of currency (the C.U.C) while the citizens use another form of currency (C.U.P.). The value of the C.U.Cs far outpaces the currency for the population. This was our first encounter with governmental control. By only allowing the citizens to use the practically worthless Cuban peso, the government can control purchasing power.
For the next two days we toured Havana on both an organized tour and by ourselves on foot. Stepping into Havana is like stepping back into time. You feel like the Cubans made it to 1959 and stopped. Most of the buildings are run down. The sidewalks and streets were poorly maintained. The utility wires weren't buried, but instead, drooped off of the sides of buildings. There were no recognizable stores as they are all dreary and poorly stocked. There were no Walmarts or Home Depots, so if you need something you have to go from store to store to find what you are looking for.
Our tour guide was very upfront and honest about their society and working conditions. She commented that salaries were low and families live in multi-generational situations — passing the homes down generation to generation. They pay no taxes. Schools and health care are free. Beans, rice and chicken are also free — distributed by the government, based on availability.
One of the most modern-looking, attractive buildings is the former Hilton Hotel. It is now serving as home to a government ministry. The fact that this old Hilton is the nicest building around and that it was seized from Hilton in 1959 says a lot for the success of the revolution and the country's progress so far.
The Cuban citizens seemed welcoming with both the folks in the tourist industry and folks on the street thanking us for coming. It seems odd that a nation so poor has hung on to the idea of a socialist state where the average income is $20 a month and to make ends meet, people are hustling to make a few more dollars from the tourists. We felt bad for the average Cuban citizen who was forced to live the Marxist ideals of Che, Fidel and Raul. The socialist/communist experiment has failed. They have failed time and time again. Why is it that it continues to be the goal for so many? Why would anyone want to replace the prosperity of capitalism with socialism?
Bob King lives in New Market.