Cuba's leaders blame the US for their economic hardships and resulting protests
"Cubans know perfectly well that the government of the United States is principally responsible for Cuba's current situation," the Cuban foreign ministry said in a Twitter post.
Cuba's president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, spoke out on national television on Monday, calling the demonstrations a consequence of an underhanded campaign by Washington to exploit peoples' "emotions" at a time when the island is facing food scarcity, power cuts and a growing number of Covid-19 deaths.
"We must make clear to our people that one can be dissatisfied, that's legitimate, but we must be able to see clearly when we're being manipulated," Mr. Díaz-Canel said. "They want to change a system, to impose what type of government in Cuba?"
Regardless of the veracity of the Cuban government's accusations, I believe the US economic sanctions on Cuba are wrongheaded. America has long been a convenient scapegoat for every problem that the Cubans suffer.
Historical background on the Cuban economy
According to PBS's American Experience, in the early part of the century the country's economy, fueled by the sale of sugar to the United States, had grown dramatically. Cuba ranked fifth in the hemisphere in per capita income, third in life expectancy, second in per capita ownership of automobiles and telephones, first in the number of television sets per inhabitant. The literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. Many private clinics and hospitals provided services for the poor. Cuba's income distribution compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies. A thriving middle class held the promise of prosperity and social mobility.
Its income per capita in 1929 was reportedly 41% of the U.S., thus higher than in Mississippi and South Carolina, according a report by economists Marianne Ward and John Devereux.
Today, by way of comparison, according the Brookings Institute, the aggregated gross national income per capita of Cuba is officially $5,539, but the take home salary for most Cubans is around $20 a month. According to the Census American Community Survey 1-year survey, the median household income for South Carolina was $56,227 and for Mississippi was $25,301 in 2019.
Cuba is not a US trading partner, but they trade with other nations
Cuba shipped an estimated US$1.7 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2020. That dollar amount reflects a -20.3% decline since 2016 but a 1.9% increase from 2019 to 2020.
Cuba's biggest export product categories are tobacco, sugar, crude oil, nickel, ores and ash.
The latest available country-specific data from 2018 shows that 87% of products exported from Cuba were bought by importers in: Canada (23.8% of its global total), China (18.5%), Venezuela (17.6%), Spain (7.8%), Netherlands (5.2%), Singapore (3.3%), Belgium (2.2%), Hong Kong (2.1%), Germany (2%), Portugal (1.8%), France (1.6%) and Cyprus (1.1%).
Cuba's total $1.8 billion in 2019 exported products translates to roughly $145 for every resident.
Cuba's imported goods cost an estimated total US$5.3 billion in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a -48.3% decrease since 2016 and a -53.8% dip from 2018 to 2019.
The leading share of Cuba's imports in 2018 originated from suppliers in Latin America (34.4%) excluding Mexico. Close behind were providers in Europe (30.8%) trailed by Asia (21%), North America (9.7%), Africa (3.7%), and Oceania (0.2%) led by New Zealand.
Cuba's estimated $5.3 billion imports translates to roughly $470 in yearly product demand from every Cuban.
COVID crippled Cuba's tourist economy
With its favorable climate, beaches, colonial architecture and distinct cultural history, Cuba has long been an attractive destination for tourists.
At over one million Canadian tourists per year, they account for the largest share of the island's visitors. In 2018, 637,907 American tourist (who met special criteria) visited Cuba Europeans, Russians, Latin Americans, Filipinos in numbers totally more than one million also visited.
International tourism, as with much of the world, ground to halt in Cuba with the COVID pandemic.
Before the Cuban Revolution, Havana was akin to a Las Vegas, especially for US east coast residents. Since then gambling casinos in US are more prevalent. The gambling casinos in Cuba are gone now. But if they were to be opened again to Americans, they would face competition from states like New Jersey, Indian gaming casinos, on-line betting sites and other attractions for gamblers.
More COVID-related problems
Because most Cubans lack internet access, (only 30% of Cubans had internet access in 2012) and the bandwidth was limited at that, Cuba lacked the resiliency to work and educate virtually.
So how much blame does America deserve for the current Cuban situation?
The economy of Cuba is a planned economy dominated by state-run enterprises. The Cuban government owns and operates most industries and most of the labor force is employed by the state. Even with a competent and uncorrupted government, planned economies are fraught with pitfalls.
"There's no food, there's no medicine, there's nothing, and this isn't a product of the American embargo, which I do not support," said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Movimiento Democracia advocacy group in Miami. He noted that the embargo does allow Cuba to buy food from the United States, though restrictions on financing present significant barriers to the amount. Source: NY Times
The COVID pandemic made a bad situation worse. COVID exposed Cuba's problems. Even if America had better relations with Cuba there is little reason to believe that Cuba would be significantly better off today.
The statements of the Cuban government officials are mostly false. We give their claims blaming the US for their troubles: