Cuba has always been interesting to Americans for decades, that beautiful but elusive island off our coast, a place stuck in history that we’ve been told we couldn’t go. The very reason many of us want to.
Many of us grew up hearing from older generations about Cuba, including my parents who talk about the drills they conducted in schools during the missile crisis. I was in high school during the Elian Gonzalez saga. I took history and political science classes that focused heavily on Cuba America relations. Many of my Cuban American friends, many working in Republican politics like I’ve done for the past decade, tell stories about their families fleeing after the revolution. Our relations with the Cuban government have been a campaign issue as I worked my way up in American politics and I’ve spent a lot of time prepping candidates on the issue for U.S. Senate and presidential candidates.
All of that gave me a strongly held but it turns out fairly uneducated opinion about the country. To me and many others on the right, the Cubans left Americans for the Soviets and socialism and their corrupt government couldn’t be rewarded until they treat their people and their neighbors better.
When President Obama opened up U.S. relations with Cuba, I was curious like many others who said, “we should go to Cuba before it gets built up,” but most in the GOP said it was wrong. The government wasn’t treating the Cubans right and we couldn’t incentivize that behavior.
When President Trump reversed course, it’s been controversial to many.
Right before the new Trump Administration’s new policy I had the opportunity to go on a People to People educational trip to Cuba with 10 strangers from across the country working in politics and business. It was a great group of diverse people who I learned a ton from. Despite my Cuban American friends telling me not to go, not to incentivize the Cuban government, I decided I needed to see and learn for myself. And I’m glad I did!
After seven days meeting farmers, restaurant owners, educators, economists, former military, entrepreneurs and officials from the Cuban government, I now know I’ve only touched the surface of a very complicated relationship between our two countries that I had been ignorant to for decades.
My trip reinforced one thing very strongly – I’m a proud capitalist. I cannot understand polling in the States showing a rise of support for socialism. I loved every minute of my trip and the Cuban people are amazing, but I’ve never been happier to step foot in America. We take our ability to achieve whatever we want to achieve for granted every day.
Seeing what socialism looks like firsthand made me more confident than ever that it’s a fool’s errand. Doctors, educators and janitors all make the same government salaries (equivalent to $25 a month), there is no incentive to compete or innovate, the government penalizes private businesses that are too successful, waitstaff at state owned restaurants do not care about providing service for their patrons, access to information is still severely limited with the internet being patrolled and the Cuban people just got data on their phones a couple of months ago.
But despite the Cuban government trying to stifle entrepreneurial spirit, the Cuban people are fighting it – they are naturally curious and innovative. The best food in Cuba was at private restaurants in homes of entrepreneurial Cubans. Their food is sourced from private farm to table farms in the Havana countryside who are also opening catering companies. One farmer told us he uses YouTube to find new ways to cultivate his land.
The best renovations and construction are being done by private companies; they are winning government contracts over their government-run competitors. There are private construction, agricultural and textile cooperative popping up everywhere, giving their communities jobs that pay ten to fifteen times the income they make working for the government.
I urge everyone calling themselves a socialist in America to go to Cuba and talk to the people. Time and again we heard from Cubans that socialism was a great theory, but it failed in practice. The best that I saw of Cuba was directly related to their entrepreneurial and community spirit, not their government.
Below are some pictures of a traditional bodega where Cubans get their staples, so flour, cooking oil, etc. It’s all rationed so they have to bring their family’s ration card (one per family), they look at the board to understand supply and bring their plastic bags to get their food. It was one of the most eye opening experiences of the trip. Our bodegas in America look very different.
There’s also a beautiful picture of what Cuba has to offer - it’s a beautiful island with fantastic architecture. The 1950’s American cars are much-talked about in America and they are very cool but there’s a lot of history of why that happened. Fast forward a decade and it’s all Russian cars and then now you’re seeing Japanese cars as well.