On Socialism in Cuba

A 3rd-Generation Cuban American’s Perspective on the “Fruits” of the Revolution

As I sit here saddened by the death of one of the toughest people out there, American hero Senator John McCain, I find myself contemplating his life and his legacy. McCain will always be remembered for telling it like it was while working for bi-partisanship in U.S. politics and for unity among our people.

As we move further and further away from the center in today’s politics and the topic of the DSA and democratic socialism gains ground among my generation in America I wanted to share my email reply to a friend who asked me for my thoughts on the accomplishments of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and on socialism in Cuba.

Below is the email chain between me and my friend — Let’s call him Fulano (Not his real name). The conversation is actually still ongoing, and I’m looking forward to Fulano’s reply.

F: “Hi Chris,

Saw an article you posted online. Just curious for your thoughts about what the Revolution/Socialism has and has not accomplished in Cuba. It’s a cool exercise to do the same about capitalism here. Not arguing about anything, just opening a discussion.”

Me: “Hey Fulano!

Hope Cuba was awesome man. Yes I totally agree we should always be learning, exploring, and questioning our systems while engaging in thoughtful dialogue around them. How should I explain my perspective, hmm… I guess I believe that the 1959 Revolution and socialism in Cuba have achieved certain “fruits,” although those fruits are rotten or at least can never be consumed, which is their benefit/intended purpose. That’s probably a terrible analogy but I’ll try and elaborate.

On the surface/at face value, free education and healthcare are great things. But in Cuba as it currently is, those things have no merit in my opinion — This is exemplified by the backwards nature of life there in the sense that when you have engineers and economists driving cabs and selling street fare, something is seriously broken. So when I think about it I try to dive deep beyond just “free education” or “free healthcare.” I ask why are these things good? In theory free education is good because if you’re educated you can have a lucrative job and go advancing your economic status and standard of living. What’s the point of being the most highly-educated poor person? Nothing, in my opinion. What’s more, all this human capital that Cuba creates is only incentivized to leave the country in search of opportunity that is lacking there and even if they wanted to create it in their own country, the chips are stacked against them. So they leave and Cuba is ok with it because at least it doesn’t threaten their system.

This is the same thing with the healthcare. Cuba is supposed to have a certain number of doctors per capita in different parts of the country, but because they export their doctors throughout Latin America and Africa to show how great their system is, their citizens greatly suffer as a result. And to make matters worse, the Cuban people have no legal recourse to remedy this situation. Healthcare is free but hospitals often lack beds for patients and are gravely deficient in their technology and tools, sometimes using Soviet era equipment to treat their patients. And the doctors are great and well-trained, but because they can’t make an honest living unless they drive cabs or accept a contract to practice abroad, they are incentivized to steal from their practices and sell what they take on the black market. A Cuban friend of mine was explaining me how her aunt took 7 trips to the doctor before finally being seen because the doctor just wouldn’t show up to work yet was paid regardless.

The Cuban system is broken because it doesn’t understand (or willfully ignores) human behavior and the way things actually work. In essence it’s incredibly idealistic and impractical. There are countless examples of this that can be observed from the root causes (state owning all the land/private property not being recognized for a long time for example) and in their effects (decaying houses and Havana looking like a bombed out city). Like we talked about on the phone, I don’t want to shove any American ideology or our system down Cuba’s throat. I want a beautiful Cuba built by the Cubans of today for the Cubans of today and of tomorrow. But if I was in charge of making some decisions down there, I’d keep the fruits “free education/healthcare,” but I’d open the market to make these fruits consumable to people in practice, as they were intended. More skilled/educated workers would make more money, people would be properly incentivized to innovate and add value, and society would prosper as a result.

Curious to know your thoughts!”

If you’re anything like me you probably hate getting lengthy emails, in which case your heart would have sunk if you saw this reply from me in your inbox. But hey, what can you expect when you open that can of worms?


Photo: @cubaphoto