2001 Research Report
Change In Cuba"
waves rising from the cracked pavement make the red
flower print on a plastic bag shimmer; a bored teenager,
third in line for a public phone, shifts impatiently,
her lemon-yellow Lycra top glaring bright in the sun.
Second in line, a man in a baseball cap checks her
out, but settles his glance on the tourist fumbling in
huge American backpack for change, a credit card, or
whatever these Cuban phones take.
are you from? Spain?" he asks, without waiting
for an answer.
are you staying? For $15?"
rolls his eyes, letting me know I've been taken.
can offer you a room for much less. Close by, a block
and half, maybe two. Come see."
Cuba. The public phone takes only dollars. So does the
portly hot dog vendor taking advantage of the phone line
to sell ice-cold TuKolas Cuban Coke-and Havana Club
Rum. So do the neighborhood kids, who give a lost tourist
directions for a dollar fee, and the cab driver, who
won't take Cuban pesos--even as a tip. They want dollars.
So, in fact, does the Cuban Government.
still be Castro's Cuba, but the evils the Revolution came to
vanquish-the dollar, tourism, private enterprise and
inequality--are pushing through the widening cracks brought
by the fall of the Soviet bloc. Described by Castro as
a necessary evil, these small allowances to capitalism
are taking root and seeding change at every level of
I spent three weeks looking at how Cubans are learning
to negotiate the economic turmoil their country has endured
since the dissolution of the Soviet bloc. What I found
there contributed to my understanding of the country,
and to the completion of the article whose first page
I cite above. My original plan was to do academic research
informed by the material I had gathered during my first
visit to Cuba, between March 22, 2001 and April 2, 2001.
Then, I had interviewed self-employed Cubans, academics,
government officials and Cubans who do not receive money
from abroad to understand how access (or lack of access)
to dollars impacts their lives and the country's economy.
During my second trip to Cuba this summer, I intended
to gather new interviews, and I went prepared with questionnaires
and consent forms. When I arrived, however, I found that
I could meet my objectives better by meeting again with
Cubans I had interviewed during my first stay.
of the research was to understand how Cubans are adapting
to the economic pressure their country has suffered
since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the economic
that followed. This could be accomplished more easily
by using the contacts I had made during my first visit
in April. In August, I came back not as a stranger
from an American university, but as someone that was
familiar to the interviewees. I was able to trace the
changes in their lives during the semester, and to
gain deeper insight into how they are dealing with their
fluctuating economy. For example, I was able to talk
to the family of a writer I had interviewed during
my first stay, and who had since defected to the United
now receives remittances from the United States, and
they were willing to talk to me about the changes they've
seen in their lives as a result.
that resulted from these two visits explores Cuba's reliance
on money sent from abroad, and looks at how business
partnerships between Cuban state-owned enterprises and
foreign companies affect Cubans. The article also examines
other ways in which Cubans access dollars: through underground
businesses, through work in the tourism industry, and
through legal, government-licensed businesses that have
only recently been allowed to flourish on the island.
The advent of the dollar and private enterprise means
that the worker's paradise now has winners and losers.
Staying close to the party line and putting in a few
hours in a state-owned company for a peso salary no longer
guarantee a good living.
This is a new
game, and the one with the most dollars wins, whether
the money comes from hard work or from relatives abroad.
In the interviews conducted during my two visits to Cuba,
and in the article that was written as a result, I intended
to give a picture of the daily struggles of Cubans to
make ends meet in the island's new, dollarized economy.This
article, along with others written by graduate students
in the school of Journalism, will be published as a book,
and will be my Master's thesis. The Tinker grant allowed
me to return to the people I had interviewed earlier
this year, and made the completion of my research possible.