It's incredible how this separates society into haves and have-nots. Basically everyone wants to be near the tourists. They'll invite you into their homes for food, they'll offer to take you around town, sell you some cigars, and so on.
Since you have tourist bucks, you also have access to the tourist nightclubs, where you run into some regional celebrities. Or you can find some nice rooftop bars to lounge in.
But walk around a bit, and you realise most of town is not like this. There's a lot of run-down places and a fair bit of desperation. Women will come offer themselves up.
Driving around it was apparent that most of the island is mired in poverty, with only a few places that are like a mediterranean club or hotel. Everywhere else is empty shelves and rudimentary technology. You'll see industrial trucks used as buses, for instance. And famously the cars tend to be really, really old.
Cubans who make their money only from official sources are desperately poor. Those with connections abroad, connections to tourism or to the black market are richer.
The money difference merely makes it tangible. And the government goes a long way to try to separate tourists from the real society, though you can still get to it if you care to.
Source: worked there for an ngo for a year
>basically everyone wants to be near tourists
This is actually just the surface veneer. Anyone who approaches you speaking english is a hustler and does it professionally.
Cubans in wider society are interested, but also wary. The police arrest those who spend too much time with foreigners.
The typical cuban keeps to themselves, but the typical tourist will meet endless, non-typical hustlers.
Outside the cities it's a bit better. Hitchhiking is common in Cuba and when we visited it was both fun and instructive to talk to the people to whom we offered a ride. Also talking to the people at CUP bars and restaurants like Dona Yulla was fun. We spoke Spanish though (or a mix of Spanish and Italian).
>to whom we offered a ride.
But this is a major difference. You approach a Cuban --> 99.9% normal person. They approach you, speaking English --> probably hustler.
It's not like that anymore. There are many Cubans who rent a room in their houses, so foreigners live with them and share with the family.
> The police arrest those who spend too much time with foreigners
It is possible, but I don't think it is very likely. I think those who can be arrested are doing some illegal activity, like selling tobacco or lobster. Generally these products are from the black market. In the city where I live there are always foreigners all year round and they coexist with Cubans normally.
As for arresting Cubans, I may have spoken too loosely. The government doesn't really have a problem with conversations between foreigners and Cubans here and there, or with people having a foreign friend. What the government is looking out for is someone who has a habit of talking to many different foreigners. Usually this is done for some illegal purpose: black market hustling, or sex work. But talking to a lot of different people is one of the things they use to check for that.
As an example, if a Cuban visits a foreign friend in one of those tourist rooms, they have to give up their internal passport to the host, who must record their visit in a log which the police review.
And like anything else, something which is tolerated can still cause problems. i.e. in much of the west, you can do drugs fairly safely, but you shouldn't wave it in a cop's face. So, if you are a Cuban and do have a foreign friend, you still have to be careful. Cuba has a system of neighbourhood government snitches that keep tabs on everyone. However, these have relaxed a bit I think.
I can say I never found Cubans hesitant to make friends with me while I worked there. But, Cubans always have to be careful about where the lines are, and not to cross them.
For more, have a look at all the replies to this question about my post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23305332
This is news to me. Do you have a source for this claim?
First time, an obviously dodgy couple in Havana approached me at night shortly after I arrived. I will usually be friendly and talk with anyone without prejudice. I enjoy talking to grifters and operators, and I will happily pretend to be a victim when it amuses me to do so if I only risk a few dollars. I have travelled enough to be somewhat careful and how to look after myself; I speak conversational Spanish which helps; and I am a white New Zealander which often avoids trouble, and it honestly also helps get out of trouble. Police took the couple away shortly after I started talking with them, and I was very concerned. However I managed to track down the relevant police station. A tourist hanging in police station for hours probably caused the police some hassle (they hard out lied and tried to deceive me, but I wasn’t deterred), so eventually the couple were released at about 4AM, and I was able to find out what happened. He was pimping her (absolutely not my scene), and they had been fined about USD4 which I just gave them. I think normal salary was USD5 per week, so they would have taken ages to pay it.
After that hideous experience in Havana, I decided to go to one of the gated touristy beach areas where I presumed every local was vetted. I did speak with locals, but avoided anyone that I thought was dodgy. But apparently one guy was arrested for talking to foreigners, which had included me, although he just wanted to practice English as far as I know (I never had a reason to suspect him of a darker ulterior motive). His friends said there was nothing I could do to help and that it wasn’t a big issue (maybe just par for the course, normal life), but I felt really helpless.
Another time a woman told me to pay a cop USD5 or else the cop would rape her. It didn’t feel like a scam on her part, she was truely scared, and I certainly wasn’t willing to risk anything so I paid the extortion. I think my only fault in that case was being a tourist. I probably should have reported the officer, but I was too surprised at the time to notice any ID, and even now I am unsure if there would have been retribution on her.
I suspect that if a tourist only speaks English, they might be less likely to cause trouble, and they are less likely to be aware of any trouble they cause. Being in ones own tourist bubble is a normal thing for tourists, and is often encouraged (everyone has the incentive for tourists to enjoy themselves and spend money), and it is often difficult for tourists to interact with locals in any meaningful manner (especially given that in a poor country a tourist is often relatively a millionaire, and often in tourist areas).
I am sure Cuba has changed, but I am also sure that the same authoritarian structures are still in place.
Overall, Cuba was the worst country I have ever been to for a feeling of hopeless authoritarianism. As a tourist I felt mostly untouchable, but the grind of the people living there was horrific (warning, politics: I do blame the US blockade for a large part of that, especially because I think it helped Castro stay in power). I have other friends that loved travelling there, so YMMV.
Pretty sure they would have made that money and more with just one foreign client for whom they were the scene
That said, virtually anyone you met in Havana would be after something from you, even if just a drink. It seemed cultural, far beyond the normal percentage of hucksters a tourist might expect to find in a tourist area of a foreign country.
They were sometimes after money, but were taking risks of jail to get it (due to desperation). Hard to blame them when my disposable income might easily be more than 1000 times more than theirs. What I casually spend on a night out at home might be a year or more of savings for them.
I do try to be generous, especially in poor countries since it is easy to do so (I absolutely loath tourists bargaining over a few dollars when they are effectively millionaires in a locality, often bargaining with someone who really needs the income to feed their family). You soon learn to recognise when a person is truely desperate, versus locally very well off from tourist income.
That's the theory, in practice see the article.
One thing to know is that owners of private houses with tourist guestrooms will make you huge portions so that their family can eat some yummy CUC food, even if they are leftovers, rather than the state rations. So it's absolutely not bad manners to finish everything!
With the current diplomatic relationship between the USA and Cuba, hanging around Americans too much is likely cause for suspicion.
I imagine fraternizing with Maduro-Venezuelans is not cause for concern, nor Chinese. Not sure about North Koreans, I'd hope that North Koreans are always cause for concern for any secret service.
the elephant in the room is the 60 year old embargo and its third-rail effect on American politics.
the same discussion applies to venezuela
If Cuba could trade freely with the US, their economy would be better. If Cuba were under a more free government, their economy would be better: also, they wouldn't be under a US embargo, and their economy would be even better.
Whether an ideological stance is worth the economic collateral damage is a value judgement.
But you can't say the embargo is not causal of Cuban poverty.
Well, the political ideology of the dictatorship and its unwillingness to be a puppet state of the USA are the cause of that embargo. As diplomacy in the Arabian peninsula shows, the USA has no issue with dictatorships and hereditary absolute monarchies provided they buy American weapons and fight on the appropriate side of proxy wars.
So far as I can tell it's this way because 95% of the US doesn't care one way or the other but there are Cuban exiles in Florida who care a lot about punishing Castro, and they're good at voting.
A more extreme but reasonable comparable would be North Korea.
List of dictatorships 
Nor the hideous racist regime in Israel.
Castro and I would not get along, I am a dissident by nature, so I cannot bring myself to support his regime. But we cannot blame the economic failures on Castro, now dead, RIP.
The Cubans have done well to survive more or less intact for this long in the face of the sanctions.
It is my belief, some one here may know better, that it was the sanctions that pushed Fidel into the Soviet camp in the first place. He was a nationalist, not really a communist to begin with.
Whatever he would still have been a hideous dictator like most of the surrounding countries.
To look anywhere else really is to legitimize his corruption.
The fact is Saudi has Oil, meaning they can keep their population fed, also, their version of 'totalitarian' is cultural, not ideological. They've had similar rules for 1200 years. If it were not House of Saud it would be House of X, same thing.
And Israel is racist? But not the surrounding regimes who want to wipe them off the face of the planet, and have tried to do so on a few occasions?
I’ve spent a lot of time living with the Maya people in Guatemala. I was raised Irish catholic and they’re more catholic than my family is for sure.
Also, what do the Maya and Aztec atrocities have to do with Cuba and the Caribbean? The Taíno who inhabited Cuba were an Arawakan people — as far as we know totally unrelated to the Aztec and the Maya, who lived 1500 km away. This is like saying that the Lithuanians were a brutal culture because the Romans (about the same distance away) sacrificed Christians to the lions.
I'm curious, though, about why you'd make such an implausible claim without backing it up with any evidence.
While it's true they killed a lot, like most empires 5 centuries ago, they weren't as bad as the others.
Hernan Cortes defeated the whole Aztek Empire with 600 men. How? Easy, he had multiple tribes helping him because almost everyone of them wanted the azteks gone. That means they waged war against natives and they won. It has nothing to do with sacrifices.
From a total population of around 45 million, around 95% of them died smallpox and other deadly viruses.
Cortes even married an indigenous woman and had children with her just as a lot of other conquistadores did. The Catholic Kings legalized and promoted mixed marriages almost 500 years before it was legal in the US. That's why from Argetina to Mexico you can find millions of natives, millions of mixed people and millions of europeans.
Once the Spanish had a foothold, European diseases did most of the killing.
Some people think he arrived there with laser rifles and nuclear bombs to wipe out and entire empire.
The propaganda around this is strong I guess.
Like all such systems where the relative values float but there's an official exchange rate, this eventually collapses with runs on the banks, as people try to profit by buying the higher valued currency at the discount guaranteed by the exchange rate.
This persisted until Roosevelt suspended all those exchanges. Then we had a fiction of a gold exchange rate until Nixon finally dispensed with it.
We have a dual currency today - when you pay a "convenience fee" for using a credit card instead of check or cash, that's what is going on (as the credit card taker gets charged 3% for those transactions, and passes it on to the credit card user).
Barring a few gas stations that give a cash discount, that's very much not the way it works. It's the cash users getting screwed; they pay the same price as credit card users, but they don't get the rewards you'd get as a credit card user (I get 2-5% cash back on virtually any purchase, for example).
The times they won't give a discount, I pay with the credit card and get the "cash back".
The proprietor, though, will nearly always give a discount for cash, because it's money ahead for him.
> Producer Ben Calhoun tells Ira about a secret move his friend uses all the time — the "good guy discount" — that gets Ben's friend money off all sorts of items when he's shopping. (6 minutes)
More often than not, if you ask someone with the power to give one for a discount - for any polite reason - there's a decent chance they'll do it.
Little Cuban girl heads out running through the neighborhood to scrounge up change for a $20 because that’s almost a month’s salary.
I bought a skewer of grilled meat from a poor elderly woman in central Colombia. The skewer was 5,000 COP and all I had was a 50,000 note (which I discovered when the food was ready) which is about a day’s wage.
She had to leave the grill and go out in the search for change. Felt terrible.
I use WorldVision to do this, personally (some of their non-evangelizing programs) as I appreciate their efficient organization, but there are other ones out there too. I can supply links to https://www.worldvision.org/donate and suggest interested parties consider a $40/mo sponsorship of a child's health and education at https://www.worldvision.org/sponsor-a-child
This bugs me too. I’m from a developing world but have a well paying job thanks to IT. It’s quite funny seeing colleagues haggle with auto rickshaw (three wheeled taxis) for 10Rs ($0.12) but part with 200Rs at Starbucks for a coffee without batting an eyelid.
Not that I wasn’t like this before, but once the severity of income inequality hit me I stopped doing such pity things. It’s not that I’m doing it out of charity but rather the whole situation reeks of injustice so it’s my way of respecting their dignity of labor.
"It’s nothing for you" compromised around half of my expenses before I started budgeting.
I hate forced charity.
Are you trying to adjust my attitude or something? Lay off, chill out.
besides, $15 isn't exactly nothing for me either. i would quickly blow my travel budget if i were that generous.
It isn't about creating an effective charity pattern. It is the fact that these people have to now additionally go out and look all over town for an amount of change that probably isn't even worth the tourists' time spent waiting.
If you want to maximize benefit per dollar I don't think there's a better way.
I believe they assumed you were not dumb, but that you were willing. That's what I told myself, at least.
And since the prices were about about half of what I would pay at home, I was totally OK with that.
Some markets are only open to foreign currency, and if that currency is worth 25x more to someone else than it is to me, and they're selling a product to me at what feels like a 50% discount, then I am a willing participant in that economy!
Hmm, are you American?
Also, it's interesting to see the parallels with the Petro. I'm thankful that it mostly failed, minus some money laundering by the government and pensions (this is Maquiavelian, they pay part of the pension and bonuses in a controlled electronic currency to elderly people who mostly don't have access to the internet and maybe even electricity, but good for propaganda). From the last quarter of 2018 we went from talking about dollars being illegal to a heavy push towards defacto dollarization where a lot of party and army people opened bodegones (mostly imported good stores, they pay 0% taxes by presidential decree) where they mainly accept USD (sometimes EUR) and sometimes Bolívares (the official currency). The government tried to push the Petro to them, but failed to convince even it's own people who want hard currency and not useless monopoly money. And now even some state run stuff is marking prices in USD (some elite government places stopped accepting Bolívares)
Once basic ingredients are there, we might see an explosion of, for lack of a better term... "digital sweatshops". Things like data annotation / game grinding / SocMed content moderation etc.
I had high hopes here too, initially.
And even if this was possible, I am sure the Cuban government would not be happy with you providing ISP services at the local dock.
I am sure there are alphabet soup agencies that will get "unlocked" starlinks, but the rest of us will need a local groundstation.
I really have to wonder if we'll ever see relations normalised .. so many problems in the world, if only Americans would change their state policies, quit arguing about scary orange puppets, and start paying attention to exactly who is running the CFR ...
Amazing, because modern economic theory states that arbitrages should not exist, and if they do (for whatever quirky reason), then they will disappear just as quickly as they appeared...
The chain of stores was named “Intershop” (later famously adopted by the first German online shopping software provider). There, western goods were available for cold hard West German Mark’s, sent from relatives on the other side of the iron curtain, as many families had been separated when the wall went up.
I'll violate the rule but I'll comment you were probably downvoted because of this part of your comment.
As an example with a different context, if someone was talking about the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to eliminate malaria, and then in the middle randomly added a dig about how MS had mean bussiness practises in the 90s, i would also downvote them, regardless of how true that might be.
Surely there exists better terminology for this than a highly regionally contextual qualifier. Perhaps democratic socialist, or social democrat, or something involving welfare? Overloading the word with other meanings just adds fuel to the fire of inaccuracy and hyperbole in political discourse, perhaps recently most often in the US.
In any case, my point wasn't in opposition to the social welfare systems in Scandinavian countries, for instance, as I'm at least reasonably familiar with the services they provide to citizens which generally seem to genuinely work as you said.
>One chain belonged to the Vneshposyltorg (Foreign Mail Order Trade) and was intended for Soviet citizens who received some income in foreign currency. Some of them were forced to sell their currency for ruble-denominated Vneshposyltorg checks, while others never laid their hands on foreign currency, receiving their pay from Western sources in Vneshposyltorg checks via Soviet intermediaries (which, again, allowed the foreign currency to stay in Soviet government hands). The checks were to be used to purchase goods in the Vneshposyltorg Beriozkas.
but like i said feel free to keep perpetuating these bad faith interpretations
My parents have never been inside a Beriozka, nor any of my relatives. Shopping there presented an economic impossibility: you either had to have foreign currency (outright illegal for Soviet citizens, with severe punishment for possession, so that meant you'd be a foreigner) or convertible rubles ("invalutny ruble", not illegal, but impossible for a regular Ivan to acquire due to the aforementioned illegality of foreign currency). 99.999% of soviet citizens _did not_ receive income in "foreign currency", and by definition "invalutny ruble" could only be bought with foreign currency. Or just handed out to a party apparatchik through other mechanisms. Those folks weren't suffering at all, best everyone else could tell.
Sign of the blessing cross does not look too authentic to me, but orthodox blessing _is_ given with three closed fingers IIRC (I'm not a person of faith myself), to signify Trinity, as far as I understand.
The pen was likely brought from abroad, as were some other stolen items. Soviet government would not allow such a frivolity to be manufactured.
The most strenuous, impassioned diatribes against the Soviet system come from older people, and from the non-Russian satellite soviet states.
Understatement of the century, quite literally.
like you're sitting here glibly dismissing something that's more nuanced than either yours or my hottake. what are you trying to accomplish?
edit: also how come you translated mine but not yours? and also why didn't you translate all the way?
>даже если мы согласны с тем что коммунизм не был идеальным это не значит что берёзки доказывают это
translation: even if we agree that communism wasn't ideal that doesn't mean beriozkas prove it.
Some countries put border with barb wires, walls, armed guards, etc. to keep people out. Other countries did that to keep people in.
The fact remains that migration flows tell us where people actually want to live.
Hell, Australia in the 1890s was richer than most of the world in the 1950s
wonderful! so then you must understand why these stores were orthogonal to communism right?
"a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."
Private enterprise isn't the community. I'll admit that the state isn't the only way these things can organize, but it is probably the most common (excluding groups like the Mennonites)
I wouldn't be able to describe it any better way than this.
I think the common factor is that elites always find a way to insulate themselves from the problems of the plebs, including the ones that they have created.
Bitcoin trades at a 15–20% premium (e.g. if the Bitcoin spot price is 10k USD, Cubans will pay 15k–20k CUC for it).
There were special shops "Pewex" that had all the foreign goods and the best Polish export products - you could only buy that stuff there for Polish USD. It was a way for the state to extract hard currencies from the population.
There was a whole class of people that exchanged USD to Polish currency on the black market (with the real exchange rate). They were called cink-ciarz because they stood in touristy places and whispered "ex-change" in broken English to tourists. It sounded like cink-ciarz to Poles. Lots of fortunes were made that way, and people were in prison because of that.
Correction: India unbanned in in March 2020, however some nations do still keep it banned particularly other middle eastern countries and some latin ones. Full list here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_bitcoin_by_country...
My question is who will fight the law and be the ones to take the risk of going to jail in order to save a few bucks when inflation happens so slowly you don't have time to react?
It doesn't even begin to approach the connectivity of the U.S., but the internet isn't a totally foreign concept. (I can only speak for Havana though, no idea what's it like outside of the cities)
1 - No.
2 - Hopefully not, and hopefully they'll finally get rid of Communism.