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You Are Here:  Home  >  Latin America  >  Cuba  >  Economics
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Economics of Cuba


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Communism
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"For Change"
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Cuba is a communist nation. For those not familiar with the theory behind communism, it basically operates under the theory that "the people" own everything, and that the state will provide anything that anyone would ever need, either for free, or at a minimal cost. Under such a system, there is no personal property, since everything is shared by everyone. Hence, one would never be "without.")

Property Ownership
Windows that display the "Se Permuta" sign indicate that the flat, or apartment (or house, in some cases) is available for exchange with another house. Since Cubans cannot own property, they cannot "sell" their place of residence. If you want to move, you "trade" your pace with someone else's place. Since all people are supposed to be equal, you find any place you like, agree with the resident to an exchange, and begin the lengthy and time-consuming paperwork. But, since many residences are clearly not equal (see the Houses page), exchanges of houses usually involve cash exchanges as well (without knowledge by the authorities).
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One of two newspapers
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Newspapers
There are only two newspapers, the Granma, and the Rebelde, both run by the government. The Rebelde has the reputation for being more controversial, but it's not clear why; they are both so similar.
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The "Granma" Govt. Newspaper
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The Rebelde is in Spanish only, and is not distributed outside Cuba. The word "Granma" comes from the name of the boat the Castro used to return to Cuba after he was exiled in Mexico by Batista. Originally owned by an American, the Granma still lives in a museum that is apparently closed to all visitors. Many Cuban things and places are named "Granma", including this state-run newspaper, which is translated into most major languages, and is also distributed everywhere, including the USA. They have a Web Page (www.granma.cu), whose content mirrors that of the paper: Cuban political view of the world. As a US citizen, I find it incredibly entertaining, because the propaganda is so excessive. At the same time, it makes you step back and appreciate just how different our views are from those with diametrically opposed political ideas. I'm sure we sound equally excessive.

Money and Commerce
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Cuba's one and only ATM (for Cubans only)
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This is Cuba's one and only ATM, and it resides in Havana, next to one of the branches of the country's one national bank. It doesn't take plastic ATM cards as most westerner's think of them—they are more like debit cards used in telephones. Most Cuban's don't own one—it's mostly for the richer Cubans who manage businesses.

Borrowing money is possible, but you can only do so if you earn at least 300 pesos a month, and you have two co-signers for your loan. There is no interest charged on loans, and you have from three to five years to repay it. Since most Cubans earn about 200 pesos a month, and few earn more than that (except for police, who earn about 800 a month), borrowing money is beyond most people's
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The Red Star
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capabilities. Even so, there isn't much to do with borrowed money anyway, since one cannot "invest" it into an income-generating business, which would be used to pay off the loan. The one exception to this is small family-owned businesses, like restaurants and room-rentals, or even farms. But borrowing money is not culturally accepted, and capitalistic economic models are not very well understood. (Universities are just now beginning to teach theories of capitalism, so change may come sooner than expected.)

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Many stores now accept Visa and Mastercard
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While Visa and Mastercard are accepted in some parts of Cuba, it is rare and mostly found in hotels and other businesses that service tourism. Since Americans are not allowed to "spend money" in Cuba, credit cards issued by American banks don't work there. Americans going to Cuba must take cash. (They also don't accept traveler's checks.)

Ration Books
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Rations Book
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Every citizen has a ration book, which identifies food and other essentials that people can buy at a substantially reduced price. The ration book contains a list of items purchased, their quantities and the dates of purchase. People are only allowed a certain number of
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Inside the Rations Book
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items, or weight thereof. Children up to the age of seven are guaranteed milk, and families are allowed about 45Kg of meat per month. There are harsh penalties for exceeding government-set allocation, even though the maximums are only enough to last from 2-3 weeks. Supplemental provisions must be obtained through "personal endeavors", or, entrepreneurship.

Health, Medicine and Culture
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"Protect your Love, Use a Condom"
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Cuba is probably best known for its medical infrastructure, and in that spirit, the government has many pro-health educational programs that vary from public awareness and education, to the administration of inoculations and other free medical care for everyone. If one is found to have HIV or AIDS, they are immediately moved to quarantined camps, which are purported to
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Pharmacy
("Long Live our Socialist Revolution")
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be so extravagant, that the most destitute and desperate are said to try to get HIV in order to improve living conditions.

Yet, despite the positive side of Cuba's health care system, the irony is how the government subsidizes its tobacco and liquor industries, and is silent about the perils of smoking and drinking. What else is not well known is how the medical system performs when people finally get sick or require hospitalization for some reason: most hospitals lack basic commodities, such as sheets and pillows, and the nurses' and everyone else's smoking makes
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"Here I am", and "Please don't kill me." Graphic anti-abortion poster
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breathing difficult in the poorly ventilated buildings.

This anti-abortion poster graphically describes the development of the fetus and how any form of abortion is the most offensive form of murder. Such propaganda is not common in Cuba, and is only allowed in churches, so such messages are rarely seen. Nevertheless, abortion is rare in Cuba due to the promotion of other prevention techniques, such as the use condoms and birth control pills.

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