There will always be “One Percenters,” no matter the socio/political/economic landscape.
In the case of Cuba, or other communist or socialist countries, the “One Percenters” work for the government. They drive black Mercedes with tinted windows, working to keep the “people” in check.
In this country, they are sometimes referred to as the “Government Elite” and most of them live in Washington, D.C. They don’t live by the same rules they apply to the rest of us. And, they don’t worry about health care costs because theirs are covered 100%.
And so, last week’s actions by President Trump to further squeeze Cuba’s already-choked economy will only really affect those 99 percent of Cuba’s 11 million people who have nothing to do with the policies of its leaders, still headed by a guy named Castro and a group of old guys whose policies have not made that country better.
It seems my trip to Cuba last February was one of the last ones Americans will be able to make for some time. Because Cuba’s government continues to support Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and … by some standards … dictator who has been under attack by his own people since his rigged election last year, the U.S. is going to punish innocent bystanders.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Venezuela has been Cuba’s primary benefactor. Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s former leader Hugo Chavez were good comrades. The Cubans get cheap oil and Venezuela gets soldiers, cigars and intelligence.
Caught in the middle of this high-level political chess match are millions of Cubans who just want a shot at basic goods and services, such as food, shelter (with flushing toilets), health care, Internet and … maybe a car.
Americans had been able to travel to Cuba under what was referred to as a “People to People” cultural visa since former President Obama’s visit to Cuba three years ago. The Rolling Stones fulfilled their dream to play in Havana that same year.
As a result, more than 2 million or so Americans visited Cuba last year, with more than half arriving on cruise ships. That was a boon to bars, restaurants, hotels, hostels and other businesses that depended on the American dollar, which is worth a lot more than a Cuban peso.
Last week’s presidential order stranded cruise ships on their way to Cuba and stopped an estimated 500,000 Americans who had planned to visit that island 90 miles off our coast over the next three months.
I was part of a supported bicycle tour across Cuba. It was “supported” by several Cubans who made sure our bikes worked and that we didn’t get lost. They earned more money during our week-long trip than many Cubans see in three months. A good tour guide can earn more than a doctor in Cuba.
Most of our trip wandered through Cuba’s rural, farming communities. Outside of Havana, living conditions are not so good. Most homes have no flushing toilets and people wait in lines each week for food rations. There are only 60,000 automobiles among Cuba’s 11 million people and most of those are owned by the government.
The only real traffic we encountered out in the country were horse-drawn wagons. The doctors are among the best on the world, but the facilities are abysmal. I saw that first hand when I crashed by bike along Cuba’s pot-holed highways.
Up until last week, some Cubans were doing well by renting their homes out as a B&B, known as a “Casa Particular,” popular among tourists looking for reasonable accommodations. We met a few of those owners who said they were able to squeeze out a living despite having to pay the government a whopping 90 percent “tax.”
Those who think socialism is cool, probably aren’t the ones who would pay the bills, or start a business. It’s always easier to receive than give.
Those “Casa Particular” owners will probably be out of business within the next month or two.
As will the cab drivers, waiters, cooks, hotel clerks, cigar plantation workers and others as the hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars disappear from the economy overnight.
One thing is certain. Raul Castro, Donald Trump and their circle of friends will eat and smoke what they want, when they want no matter how hard the Cuban people get squeezed.
The night before he implemented the initial embargo against Cuba in 1962, President John F. Kennedy sent his press secretary to secretly snag 1,200 Cuban cigars.
The one-percenters always take care of No. 1.
Jeff Ackerman can be reached at 665-1160 or at email@example.com.