Cuba — Perhaps I Spoke Too Soon

About a month ago, I blasted an article by a tongue-in-cheek reporter who wanted to use Raul Castro’s easing of restrictions on cell phone ownership as an excuse to criticize cell phones (suggesting– implicitly– that oppression and no phones is better than freedom and phones).

I stand by that post, but I stepped over the line in another regard. I suggested that while I didn’t expect much of Raul Castro, that he should be applauded for easing some of these restrictions. Instead, I’ve now heard reports that he may be using this freedom as a honey pot to catch those with “illicit” monies:

A Cuban dissident I met in Havana last year sent me today an article he wrote about the real motive behind relaxing these bans. It has been reported in the state-controlled media that people purchasing these goods are later being investigated by the authorities who want to know the real sources of their income. As it’s widely known, the average Cuban salary is less than $20 a month, while the cost of most of these goods ranges in the hundreds of dollars. Many Cubans get their extra money from relatives in the United States, but many others run independent (and illicit) small businesses.

My friend tells the story of the first person to purchase an electric bicycle, which cost the equivalent of $1,070. This man had a small butter factory that apparently was very profitable, since he was selling the butter at a lower price than the government. After buying his electric bicycle, the authorities investigated him and discovered his factory. They proceeded to confiscate everything they found in his home, including the bike.

It’s still possible that these reforms may be a bit too addictive for the Cuban people, and actually may help them to break the stranglehold that the regime has on the island. In particular, personal computers and cell phones open doors of communication that will not be easily shut.

But I must apologize. I too quickly defended Raul Castro, assuming that perhaps he was doing this merely as a PR move to soften the image of his regime to the world. I didn’t catch the implications above. It appears that very little has changed down there.

  • cubanito

    that cuban dissident you met in habana injected you with bad information –as usually they do to foreigh guys that dont understand what cuba is: that butter factory is illegal because factories are only legal for state or foreign, or mix state/foreing enterprises. sucks, we know, but thats the fact. if the guy made his money illegaly eventually will fall –again, sucks, we should get granted the right to do our own business, etc etc but thats the reality anyway. don’t pay attention to dissident comments too much, they are people that want to have some changes and some of them are right about it, but others usually distort reality to just get some funds out of naive foreigners :) they just say the words outsiders want to hear LOL! I dont think there is a state-run honey pot to catch and send good money pockets to cut sugar cane :) this story is very usual to hear here. And about what the outside news uses to compare: a cuban has $15 wage and the cells cost $100: that’s said because non of those reportes have never come here and do not understand what cuba is: almost **everyone** has from some way or another –illegal factories and business, legal factories and business, family pumping down money from outside, stealing, overworking, etc… any means– they have enough money to buy a cell. dont believe me? come here and see the loooooong lines to get one, but not only there, come and see the loooong lines to get a $1k bike!!! From where the money comes? Who knows exactly hehehehe!!!
    btw, yes, im cuban, i live here

  • UCrawford


    I wouldn’t worry too much about it. As with all government actions, the crackdown on illegal income will have its unintended consequences too. After all, how do you think the Cuban people have survived for as long as they have…by black marketeering and hidden income. Take that away and the Cuban people have a whole new incentive to break from the system because the government is incapable of supporting them without that underground economy.

    Same thing was true in Russia with their agricultural sector in the bad old days of communism…the best production came either from the few private farms the Soviets allowed to exist or from black marketeers misappropriating state crops. Take those two away, and the country would have starved if they had to depend on the government to provide for them.