In Cuba, nothing is allowed but everything happens
Derek B. Miller: In Cuba, nothing is allowed but everything happens
By Derek B Miller
Published: May 24, 2017 10:00 a.m.
Updated: May 23, 2017 1:21 p.m.
Utah business and community leaders recently visited Cuba on a
fact-finding mission and discovered a beautiful country with welcoming
people. Asked at every turn where we were from, the answer “America” was
met with warm smiles and sincere interest in our visit. That is not
always the case around the world these days.
Describing Cuba beyond “warm and welcoming” becomes exponentially more
difficult because there is no corollary, no reference point, no
effective example that does justice to this singular destination.
Perhaps that is the reason for the cliché that visiting Cuba feels like
going back in time 60 years.
Yes, Cubans really do drive around in vintage 1950s Plymouths, Buicks
and most commonly Chevy Bel Airs. Yes, cigars are rolled by the skilled
hands of workers seated row upon row listening to the newspaper read
aloud. Yes, Fidel and Che are revered, not just as heroes of the
revolution but as saviors of the country from corruption and capitalism
(described often in Cuba as two sides of the same coin).
And yes, things are starting to change in Cuba, fueled by the lifting of
limits on remittances from Cuban-Americans to their families in the
homeland. This “investment” is sowing seeds of free enterprise with
private business ownership in the form of families opening restaurants
in their homes, entrepreneurs using their grandfathers’ 1957 Chevys as
taxis, and artisans starting privately owned businesses.
In one such business, student apprentices learn the art of melting Cuban
silver coins to make exquisite jewelry. The business owner explained
that some of the students are now opening their own jewelry stores. When
asked how she felt about the “competition,” her response was telling.
She is happy that customers will have somewhere else to shop because she
does not want the government to think she is becoming too successful or
her neighbors to think she is accumulating wealth. Success apparently
has its price in a country that is still controlled by communists.
The phrase “accumulating wealth” captures both future opportunities and
risks for the Cuban economy. In the short term, small amounts of foreign
remittances will facilitate small business growth. Increasing tourism
will fuel economic development. Government investment rebuilding
infrastructure will provide a necessary economic foundation. By degrees,
the country can begin to emerge from the hole created by collapse of the
Soviet Union when Cuba lost 85 percent of imports and exports. Over
time, Cuba has the potential to restore the middle class lost in the
revolution and join the global economy with opportunities for trade with
places like Utah, something the $30 average monthly wage does not
Challenges in Cuba are illustrated by the empty display cases in a local
Havana grocery store. A third of the shelves in the store are completely
empty. Another third are sparsely stocked. And the final third are
filled inexplicably with rows of canned tomatoes and mayonnaise. The
tiny store in the Miami airport has more selection and variety. Your
local Costco may as well be on Mars for comparison’s sake.
The desire for economic opportunity is evident in the Cuban people.
Whether economic growth continues depends on the government’s tolerance
for free enterprise, or the people’s tolerance for the government. We
heard repeatedly in Cuba that nothing is allowed but everything happens.
Time will tell if this applies to free enterprise and individual liberty.
Derek B. Miller
Derek B. Miller is the president; CEO of the World Trade Center Utah.
Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and
Source: Derek B. Miller: In Cuba, nothing is allowed but everything
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