Socio-economics in Havana, Cuba

Making ends meet in Havana: a socio-economic reflection

Cuba is a unique travel destination. Not because of Havana’s sites and sounds, not because of its pristine beaches along the coast, neither because of its natural beauty. This country is unique because of its political system, its society and the way people live now-a-days.

53 years ago, Fidel Castro rose to power, initiating the political system that today organizes the country, based on the principles of communism. This was something that made many happy, but many others frustrated somewhere along the line.

A regular day like any other, in Havana Centro

A regular day like any other, in Havana Centro


As a Cuban, you receive a monthly basic ration from the government and you are guaranteed housing. Very importantly, you will always have access to health care (of top quality and for free) and education (basic and higher). There are no Cubans starving or homeless but after little time in Cuba you understand that many Cubans are striving to have more – materially, but not only.




Living in Cuba is like living anywhere else in the World…

…just 50 years ago!


Probably similar to my grandparents middle-life, I would say. The cars are old, the buildings fall apart (literally – 7 people died when a building crashed during our stay in Havana and apparently this is not that uncommon), the markets offer such a limited selection of goods and you don’t know what the World is like outside your borders.

It’s somehow ironic that in a country with so much touristic influx, locals won’t be able to know what life is really like in other countries. Not only you can’t travel (buying an exist visa out of Cuba is something most mortals won’t be able to afford in their entire lifetimes), but you can’t read much on what’s going on abroad either. Internet is almost non-existent and, with it’s dial-up snail speed, it ends up costing around 8USD/hr in special access points and hotels.

Is Havana in Cuba, or Cuba in Havana?

Is Havana in Cuba, or Cuba in Havana?


I don’t know how to feel about the communist system in Cuba, to be honest. I find it absolutely great and human that nobody starves but when people will have their basic needs fulfilled no matter if they work hard or not, it’s a recipe for lazy and careless work ethics. Why would you care or make an effort when you know that your colleague, not doing much, will get as much as you do? Maybe the pleasure of doing something well done is not enough inspiration.

The only way Cubans can make a better (or more material) living is by operating in the black market. Can you blame them? They have no other option. On the bright side, everything is in such shortage that there is no wastage. Recycling gets a whole new meaning in Cuba.

Abuelo, on the look for materials to recycle

Abuelo, on the look for materials to recycle


I am not against communism as such. What I am against is the fact that people won’t be able to choose the system they want. It was with its people united that, 53 years back, Cuba got Fidel to power and communism was imposed. But half a century later, the truth is that no one is asking the People what they want to do with their country and their lives. If the government was so sure that Cubans are happy with the way their country is being run and would choose to do the same all over again, then they would have no problem opening up the doors of the media. They wouldn’t mind people browsing the internet to broaden their horizons. They wouldn’t care if people would travel, when sometimes they can actually afford it and still they get stuck inside borders.

Respect to Cuba for sticking up their middle finger to the USA. I have nothing against the USA per se, don’t misunderstand me here. I do think that countries suck up way too much to the States and that empowers them beyond proportion. Cuba is a courageous country for giving its back to the USA because they know that, doing so, they are pretty much excluded from having international relations with most countries around the world.

Havana taxi: old school vs new era

Havana taxi: old school vs new era


Cuba tries to be self-sufficient and independent but, in my opinion, that makes them closed to the world. Self-sufficiency is, in theory, a good thing (you shouldn’t live above your possibilities – like most 1st World countries are currently doing – or bite off more than you can chew), but it is a utopian idea.

Being self-sufficient, Cuba is short on basics (like some necessary foods – dairy being my prime example for this).


Being independent,
Cuba is closing the eyes of Cubans to the world.


Most of the local people I spoke with were unhappy with the current situation in the country. They were happy that Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother, was a bit more flexible ever since he came to power (due to Fidel’s critical health). But still, many of the people I had a chance to chat with, would leave to the USA (Miami is the “2nd Cuba”) or Spain the next day if they could.

Kinds playing in the streets of Havana

Kinds playing in the streets of Havana


Being Cuban, you know you will never grow up
with an empty stomach.


But while growing up, you start realizing that your dreams might also become empty, when the world is limited to your own country and, no matter how hard you try, you can never change the path that has already been set for you.

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  • My thoughts on the political system in Cuba, Communism and Capitalism can’t fit in the comments section, so I’ll just say, nice post. It’s thoughtful and touches on a lot of important points about Cuba’s situation. Sim senhora, Zara.

    • Ashray Says

      Actually one of my first thoughts there was that YOU would be very happy over there :P When you can discuss political theories even with your taxi driver (everyone’s highly educated in Cuba) while having a 1 peso (0.04 USD) coffee with the locals :D

      • Nanda Says

        When I visited Cuba in 2003, the use of vtgnaie cars as taxis was one of 10 permitted private businesses. They were collective taxis for five passengers at 50 pesos each. We saw a sizable rank of them near the Capitol with groups of individuals gathering until there were five passengers for each fixed route. This was another creative Cuban solution which not only permitted the owners to earn their own money but addressed the general shortage of transportation as well.

        • Zara Says

          Actually, we did use one of those vintage cars as taxi (not collective, though), getting in near the Capitol itself. The driver asked if we needed a ride and we accepted. This wasn’t a labeled taxi or anything, so I guess it’s just a way of making some extra income. As long as there is creativity, one should always be able to put food on the table! :)

    • Aurenio Says

      partly esacube a larger group of Cubans fear that Cuban Americans will simply descend en masse and repurchase the island end to end.I have absolutely no doubt this will happen, if real estate is privatized and foreign investment reopened.Not necessarily just former Cubans, either; I would love to own a building on the Malecon I wonder how much those ruined, but picturesque buildings would sell for. Oceanfront property on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach is valued in the low millions even after the current real estate recession A free economy would rip all those old relics down and replace them with 40 story high rise buildings faster than you can blink (see Miami for examples). But that would ruin the deep character that makes Cuba so attractive as a place to visit.It will definitely be interesting to see how a (hopefully) freer government and people will handle this.D

      • Zara Says

        Right now, Cuba is probably like no other country on Earth. You see an image of Cuba and you can instantly recognize what country it is. If foreign investment opportunities would be made available, this would certainly change of all this character, as you say.

        On the other hand, regarding the real estate: it’s great that Havana’s buildings have this old charm, but some of them could really use some restructuring. While we were in Havana, a building came down and 7 people died. Some locals were commenting this is somehow common, and that’s definitely not a good thing. The buildings’ structures won’t last forever, so it would be great if the Cuban government would do something towards the preservation of some buildings (for the sake of the people living inside them!) while maintaining the characteristic looks as much as possible. 

        And yes, I would also love to own an apartment at the Malecon… what a view! :D

      • Putra Says

        Yes, we can’t stand black people in power. We don’t have a black Supreme Court Justice; we don’t have a black woman hondlig one of the most important offices in the executive branch and who currently holds the title for being the 7th most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes; and let’s not forget, we’ve never had black people in Congress. Oh, no we’re very afraid of them. MSM’s going to run rampant with this line, isn’t it? You know, make people forget just who Fidel Castro really is?Reply

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  • Kevin Says

    I’m an American who moved to Havana two years ago. I am married to a Cuban woman who is amazing. I was 60,did not speak Spanish, am permanently disabled and needed a caregiver to recover after a surgery. I arrived in a wheelchair. It was a professional relationship. We fell in love. We got married. I’m walking again – 3-5 km/day. I’m controlling my chronic pain with natural remedies, OTC meds and massage. I’m fluent in Spanish.
    In the new constitution all references to communism were omitted. There is progress.
    Cuba does not have access to investment or finance capital due to the sanctions of the US (“el bloqueo”) which controls the IMF and World Bank. The US is using all of its influence to harass international aid, yet the EU, China and Latin America are finding ways around the sanctions. BRICS is also stepping up support.

    I have hope!

    Cuba does not want a repeat of high party officials becoming oligarchs. The emphasis is on small private businesses and building transparency in state run businesses. Black markets are turning gray, gray becoming white.

    It won’t happen quickly.
    Trumplomacy is failure and is hurting people all over the world. Nobody in Cuba wants a return to Batista, those people live in Miami.

    My political philosophy is simple, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    The past is behind us.
    Por adelante! ¡Si se puede!

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