More Questions than Answers

Adam Norris ‘17

Cuba is a truly fascinating place. Our tour guide said you can never really learn about Cuba from books or news articles, and I have to agree with her. During my week in Cuba with CBS, I learned a lot about the way Cuba operates and began to understand how the Cuban people live under communism. I also was reminded that the US embargo has barred US investment in Cuban for the past 50 years, but not other developed nations, meaning if/when the embargo is lifted, it is important to learn from the experiences of those investments as Cuba is not an untapped market ripe for American investor conquest.

In the end, I still have many unanswered questions, but here are the top things I will be sure to think about before ever attempting to do business in Cuba, or in any future business venture when I graduate.

What are the results of a communist government on the people? On the whole, government programs in Cuba are well funded, well executed, and provide a lot of benefit to the people. Throughout my trip, it was clear there were high education rates, ample access to healthcare, and very low levels of homelessness, poverty, and crime. Even so, the government is responsible for setting wages and prices, meaning goods and services aren’t priced at their utility value. This raises the question of where this value (and more specifically profit) ends up.

What is the importance of Russia on Cuban international relations before the Special Period and today? Up through 1991, Russia was the largest financial supporter of Cuba, providing most of the necessary exports to the island. Russia is no longer able to support Cuba in this way, but the diplomatic relationships communist Russia facilitated have allowed Cuba to develop trade partners far beyond any other Caribbean nation.

Does the Cuban government actually want the US to fully repeal the trade embargo? In the post-revolution/Cold War era, it is possible that Cuba’s alliance with Russia was fueled by a mutual enemy in the United States. While the Cuban people undoubtedly want the embargo repealed, the US serves as an easy scapegoat for Castro’s government whenever the need arises.

How do Cubans afford $3 drinks at bars on salaries of <$200/month? With most of the Cuban population working for state-owned or state-run entities, salaries are modest. Being that this is the case, it seems unlikely Cubans are able to earn enough money to afford luxuries we (in the US) take for granted like going out to dinner or drinks. Even so, we frequently saw locals out at the bars and restaurants, begging the question of where this money is coming from (remittances, black market businesses, or elsewhere).

In conclusion, I would highly recommend the GIP Cuba course to anyone who is interested in thinking about everyday life in a different way than the developed world. Not only were the speakers interesting and the trip expertly planned, but the lifelong friends I made from CBS on this trip reiterated why I chose CBS for my MBA in the first place.

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