People before profits

by Russ Roberts on March 23, 2007

in Cuba

Here is what happens when the government runs everything. Here is what happens when the people come before profits. You get a paradise. Reuters reports (HT: Drudge):

Almost half a century of communist rule has saved Havana’s eclectic
architecture from the urban developer’s bulldozer, but a lack of repair
has taken a ruinous toll on its neo-Baroque and Art Deco gems.

of colonial buildings and beautiful squares in Old Havana have been
restored since the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO designated it a world
heritage site in 1982. But the rest of the city of 2.2 million people
is falling into decay.

It’s pretty surreal:

Amidst the squalor and rubble, tourists brave darkly-lit streets to
climb to the city’s best-known private restaurant, La Guarida, perched
on the top floor of a palatial town-house built by a sugar baron in

The building of marble staircases and statues today houses
30 families who built small two-floor apartments inside formerly
high-ceilinged rooms, called "barbacoas" because of the way a new floor
is inserted like a barbecue grill. A washing line with drying clothes
hangs between elegant columns.

In the restaurant upstairs, where
a main course costs the same as an average monthly wage in Cuba,
photographs on the wall recall celebrity visitors, from Jack Nicholson
to the Queen of Spain.

"This building would have collapsed
without the restaurant. Its owner has helped a lot with money for
repairs," said Enio Ochoa, a former naval engineer living on the second

And this:

Iraelio Fernandez’s building did collapse. He and his wife moved
into an abandoned cinema across the street where he raises chickens and
a pig in a roofed space that once housed a 1,000-seat theater called
the Palace.

"We moved here until they build new houses," he said.

At least he’s smart enough not to raise a cow. Here’s an excerpt from a March 18, 2004 Chicago Tribune story by Gary Marx, recently thrown out of Cuba for "negative" reporting. (The whole story is reprinted here in this CubaNet news digest):

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

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.


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