Economist Steve Pejovich’s granddaughter Lauren Chilton – a second-year economics major at the University of Texas – recently visited Cuba with her parents. Here’s a letter that Ms. Chilton wrote to her family members about the experience. I share her letter here, in full, with permission. (I put in bold my favorite paragraph.)
My trip to Cuba has provided me with insight I never saw coming. I loved every waking second of being there. The country has not experienced tourists, so no one is begging on the streets and barely anyone tried to get money out of us (besides the musicians). But it made me think about communism and it’s huge part of our history. I am so proud of being a part of our family as it has guided me to be the person I am today.
My trip to the communist Cuba really hit home for me. Prior to my trip, as an economics major understanding the economy of a communist country, I was well aware of the world I was about to enter. For example, I was told to bring toilet paper, as restaurants/public bathrooms will only allow 2 toilet paper sheets per person. (However, “restaurants” were a whole different story in which I will get to.) I was told to bring hand sanitizer because (as I first thought there would be no soap) there wouldn’t always be running water. The things i once thought of as luxuries in the US, were unheard of in Cuba. A luxury in communist Cuba is Purell hand sanitizer. I left my whole bottle for the hotel maids and I was told it would make a difference/make them ecstatic.
Palodar is the name for an apartment/home in which the occupants have turned into a “restaurant.” I say restaurant in quotations because only 12 seats are allowed or else the government considers it a private business/free enterprise. On top of the limited 12 seats, there is a strict menu on what can be served and how. If that is not enough limitations, the government requires only family members to operate/work in the palodar. There are restaurants throughout the country, other than Palodares. But, although they’re cheaper the food is awful. The government restaurant food gave me food poisoning along with many others.
Arienne and our bus driver, Omar, drove us to the area called “modern Cuba.” Before we arrived, I was expecting to see the best places in Cuba as I assumed it would be newly built and modern by its name. To my dismay, “modern Cuba” meant anything built during the 1920s-1950s. Nothing has been built since. That is their modern city.
The average Cuban is allowed to have 4 TV channels. But, if they are lucky, they can have 5! I think I have over 1,000…..
But, I don’t care how may channels I have because I don’t watch cable that often. The point is, my government doesn’t deny me accessing channels that I COULD be having and enjoying.
Arienne began the trip by telling us that she would try to explain the Cuba government as best she could. However, after she explained that grocery stores, nike/other American company stores, and any other store possibly imagined was owned by the government, I began to get angered and frustrated. As many questions as I could possibly throw at her, there was not a single answer she could give me to explain the government’s reasoning.
Our tour guide, Reynaldo, elaborated and told us that every street has HD (high definition) CAMERAS- to watch its citizens which essentially models “big brother”. I told him that is horrifying and as he is from Costa Rica his response was, “why? it’s great..we have no danger or crime as tourists as the citizens are being watched closely.” This angered me so much, I couldn’t respond or else I would’ve gone off on him.
We had the opportunity to meet and hear from a University of Havana economics professor. He began with stating how there needs to be a private sector and the state cannot own and operate everything. However, he failed to answer my dad’s question regarding property rights. He said the Cuban economy would grow if the US lifted the embargo. Unfortunately, it would take hundreds of years to see a difference in Cuba. He was in denial of that and the necessity of private property rights.
Like I mentioned before, my family is important to me. I know everyone can say that. However, my family has fought hardships that many people haven’t seen/dealt with/or even know about! Communist Serbia is the reason Tata became who he is today and the reason he has instilled the importance of free enterprise into my brain since the day I was born. I know Deda would be rolling over in his grave if he had failed his descendants, considering what he fought for and suffered for us. I will forever be thankful of that and take it to my grave. I genuinely believe, there is not ANY human being who can travel to a communist country and honestly believe in any way, shape, or form it is better off than a capitalist country such as the USA.
There was a couple who adores Bernie Sanders in our group. They were the only ones supporting him and yet they were the only ones complaining about not having toilet seats in our hotel rooms (yes, we didn’t have toilet seats). If everyone should be equal, why do they deserve toilet seats over the other 14 of us??
Every person is poor. Every person is struggling to get enough food each month. No one can get into a health center, even though it’s so glamorously “free!” No one can find a job. But more importantly why would someone want to be a doctor (or any other hard working profession) if they can fix street lamps for the same salary? Everyone is “equal,” which in reality we know as everyone is dirt poor together. As free education sounds so great, the social service due to the government after is not. As free health care sounds great, it’s not either. We talked to a physician and she essentially couldn’t do any procedure except give medicine to anyone until an ambulance came in 30 minutes. The patient gets to the hospital an hour after going to the “doctor.”
Arienne described the history of Cuba as “Someone rich falling asleep and waking up poor”
If I hadn’t been raised as a granddaughter of immigrants who fought so hard to get us where we are today, I would still have the same beliefs after visiting communist Cuba. It may also be credited to an economics major, but any rational person cannot travel to a communist community and see any benefits. Our family in Serbia is still facing the same dilemmas Cubans face. It is unjust. I am thankful for my family who ingrained in my mind how unrealistic communism/socialism is, but also persuading me to major in economics as well as the wonderful parents who have blessed me with these trips to witness communist countries failing in action.
Obama is visiting tomorrow. The streets are being replaced and street lights replaced. the street light outside my room took 3 hours to replace….that should give a sense of the productivity in Cuba.
Last thing: What stuck with me the most is when Arienne said, “the government pays us in pieces of rocks, but charges us in diamonds”
And, they only have 2 government beers! That’s just wrong.