When you think of Cuban politics, you think of one man. Fidel Castro.
However, it is more than a decade since the cigar-smoking communist ran the Caribbean island nation, with his brother Raul assuming responsibility in 2008 and Miguel Diaz-Canel becoming the first non-Castro leader in more than half a century, becoming the Cuban president in 2019, although serving as president of the council of ministers (making him the Cuban leader) since 2018.
Cuban politics is unlike almost any other nation on earth, you must throw out all existing knowledge you have of politics; none of it will apply here. And even then, unlocking the Cuban enigma is an implausible task without spending time in the heart of the country itself.
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Firstly, the Cuban economic system must be tackled. Cuba is pretty much the purest socialist system you will find anywhere in the world. Neurosurgeons will earn not a peso more than the taxi drivers ferrying the hordes of tourists around in their classic cars, with almost every aspect of Cuban production and commerce coming under the direction and control of the state.
In many cases, what we consider high-value professions – teaching and healthcare – will earn a Cuban less money than being in an ‘unskilled’ job as a hotel cleaner or a taxi driver. In these jobs much of the tourist money (CUC) – Cuban tourists use a different currency from the natives – will pass into Cuban hands with little record, allowing them to increase their 80 pesos a month salary quite significantly through tipping.
Although much of this still finds its way to the government, the perks of working in tourist-heavy industries enable some Cubans to get ahead – not that being ahead means much in the streets of Havana. Some workplace bonuses now exist for more high-value professions, with traditionally white-collar jobs still being held in high reverence amongst the Cuban people, but a decade of capitalisation since the departure of Fidel Castro has caused little more than a scratch to the underbelly of the socialist state.
The United States’ trade embargoes on Cuba have stunted economic growth in the country, which has inevitably taken its toll on the island. Particularly in Havana, you see this toll, with buildings falling to pieces and held together by sheer willpower more than anything else.
Throughout the period following the Cuban revolution in 1959, the Cuban government have had to place emphasis on certain aspects of the economy over others, as a result of stunted economic growth. Tobacco production and tourism are subject to significant investment as they are the most successful means of bringing wealth into Cuba; healthcare and education also receive significant portions of the Cuban income, with Cuba regularly exporting their doctors during global health crises. However, this leaves little left to repair the buildings or boost food standards, leaving Cuba a heavily contrasted nation.