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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Cuba: A Funny Sort of Socialism

A picture of Che Guevara on the main post office in Camagüey
In Cuba, pictures of Che Guevara crop up absolutely everywhere; this example is on the main post office in Camagüey

Cuba has to be one of the most famous communist countries still going, not least because it's a continual thorn in the side of the US government. But you could be forgiven for thinking that Cuba has cast off its Leninist-Marxist approach to life and gone all capitalist, because the signs of socialism are surprisingly subtle.

Two Currencies

A window display in a Cuban peso shop
The window displays in Cuban peso shops leave rather a lot to be desired

The dual economy is pretty explicit, because Cuba has two very different currencies. The national currency of Cuba is the peso Cubana, and this is what state workers are paid in. There are around 27 Cuban pesos to the US dollar, meaning the average wage is about $13 a month. The welfare state means that all Cubans have access to basic food via a ration system, and they have excellent state education, one of the best health services in the world, and no illiteracy, so although it might sound like almost no money, it buys you a higher standard of living than it would in a lot of other countries. In terms of social policy, Cuba has got a large number of things very right, from a lack of crime to fair standards of living for all. It's something that the Cubans should be extremely proud of.

Money in the House

Owners of casas particulares are a case in point. Camagüey has a large dollar-based department store in the centre of town, where lockable fridge-freezers retail for about $600, about the same price as in London. Our casa had a brand new fridge-freezer in the kitchen, just like the ones in the shop; they also had two TVs, a hi-fi, air conditioning and even a regular cleaner. There's clearly money to be made in renting out your rooms.

1 In a country where the plural of the word for 'wife' – esposas – means 'handcuffs', this was no mean sacrifice. Then again, the plant that we call 'mother-in-law's tongue' on account of its sharp leaves is called 'grandmother's tongue' in Cuba, so perhaps things are a little different under communism, after all.