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Balanced Reporting

Posted By Russ Roberts On September 29, 2006 @ 2:10 pm In Cuba,Media | Comments Disabled

Cuba is really poor. True, they’ve got that high literacy rate and the free health care (though I wonder how many MRI’s they have—you don’t jsut care about the price), but they’re really poor. The Washington Post reports [1]:

Tiny flames jump and sputter in the night here, suspended above the roadbed as if held by an invisible wand.

The
uninitiated must pull up close on these unlighted roads to realize that
the flames are leaping from small buckets that dangle from wires on the
backside of horse-drawn buggies. In the near absence of passenger cars,
these buggies serve as taxis and local buses in rural areas of Cuba,
and the flaming buckets function as homemade taillights.

Countless chroniclers of Cuba have observed that the vintage
American cars in Havana — the fabulous, hulking Buicks and finned
Chryslers — make the capital feel like a city frozen in the 1950s. But
outside Havana, in the vast expanse of the Caribbean’s largest island,
the ambiance often leans more toward the 1850s.

The roads are there. It’s just that the cars aren’t.

But the thug who runs the country makes sure he can still collect his share of the national output:

Transportation is a huge problem throughout the island, even in Havana,
where many of the vehicles still on the road are connected to state-run
tourism or government activities. Hitchhikers are everywhere, and
people wait hours to ride oversize buses that seem to break down as
often as they run.

It’s an excellent article. Read it. But the reporter, Manuel Roig-Franzia, felt compelled to add an explanation for Cuba’s plight. And being a good reporter, he felt obliged to offer divergent viewpoints to explain why Cuba is so poor:

Supporters of Castro blame the U.S. trade embargo for the
transportation woes and especially for the dearth of personal cars.
Cuba makes no cars of its own. Non-U.S. automakers that might normally
be eager to ship vehicles and replacement parts to the island are
hampered because of U.S. trade rules. Ships are prohibited from
entering U.S. ports for six months after making deliveries to Cuba,
effectively blocking access for those companies to the world’s largest
market.

Castro’s critics view the situation differently, blaming
the failings of Cuba’s economic policies after years of communist rule.
The government’s weak financial position makes it impossible for it to
place large enough orders to overcome the limitations created by the
trade embargo.

We report, you decide. Two opposing viewpoints. Of course they could both be right. Both could be contributing to the problem. But is there equal logic and empirical support for both claims?

Call a car manufacturer. Is the six month delay a real cost? Is it enforced? If you go to the US first and then to Cuba, is the six month delay relevant? Are there other countries with similar embargoes? Do they have anyone sell them cars?

But more importantly, why is there virtually no meat [2] in Cuba? And why is everything else in such short supply? Is that because non-American exporters are afraid of the costs?

Here’s a tragicomic story [3] (scroll down to the middle where it talks about cattle) on the effects of tyranny on human beings:

In communist Cuba, only the state is allowed
                                      to slaughter cattle and sell the meat. Citizens
                                      who kill a cow–even if they raised it themselves–can
                                      get a 10-year prison sentence. Anyone who
                                      transports or sells a poached animal can
                                      get locked up for 8 years.

"My brother-in-law got a 12-year prison
                                      sentence for killing 12 cows," said
                                      an accountant who lives in the cattle-raising
                                      region.

But it’s not unheard of for Cubans to sneak
                                      into a pasture at night and butcher a cow
                                      on the spot. Residents have been known to
                                      descend on a cow struck by lightning, carving
                                      it up in minutes even though the meat often
                                      is charred and they risk a fine if caught
                                      by police.

The same thing can happen if a cow is hit
                                      by a car or dies of illness or malnutrition,
                                      in giving birth or of old age, even though
                                      residents admit the law requires them to
                                      leave the carcass alone and notify local
                                      officials.

Cubans have not always been hard up for
                                      beef. Before the 1959 revolution, Cuba was
                                      said to have as many cattle as people–about
                                      5 million–and one of the region’s highest
                                      per-capita consumption of beef, experts
                                      said.

But Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government
                                      nationalized the large land holdings of
                                      U.S. and other ranchers and slaughtered
                                      many of the cattle to make up for falling
                                      food production in other areas.

The beef industry never recovered, but
                                      dairy herds were built back up through huge
                                      investments and imported animal feed, experts
                                      said. Years later, when the Soviet Union
                                      collapsed and ended $5 billion in annual
                                      subsidies, Cuba lacked the money for feed,
                                      and much of the dairy herd also was lost.
                                    

Today beef is found almost exclusively
                                      in state-run restaurants catering to tourists
                                      and dollar-only markets beyond the reach
                                      of most citizens.

                                    
                                    
                                    
                                    
                                    
                                    

This article on the cattle industry also presents the debate on whether the beef situation is due to mismanagement due to Communism or the US trade embargo even though the trade embargo doesn’t apply to agricultural products! Read it if can handle it.

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URLs in this post:

[1] reports: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/27/AR2006092701878.html

[2] virtually no meat: http://cafehayek.com/2006/09/power_to_the_pe.html

[3] tragicomic story: http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y04/mar04/23e13.htm

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