Two years ago, a change that Cubans had never seen or believed to exist happened. They were given the possibility to sell their cars and their homes. Passing by the town of Matanzas, the tour guide pointed out a house with the words “en venta” which meant for sale, something that was illegal in Cuba until 2012. The land is still owned by the state, which still gives them control over what happens on the property but nonetheless, at least the people are owners of something now. A sign of democracy shining through the social dictatorship. And although it has taken 50 odd years, the country of Cuba is beginning to open up.

After Fidel Castro nationalized just about everything in 1959 and 1960, Cubans were not allowed to own anything, let alone run a small business. Now, with Raul Castro taking the reins in the country, Cubans are now encouraged to start their own businesses, and even promote entrepreneurship.  This wouldn’t be done if Cuba’s government didn’t benefit from it. And they do. By promoting small businesses and allowing people to run their own businesses, it gives the Cuban government a additional source of income. Tax. A win-win situation for both the government and the people with the introduction of a little bit of capitalism. As uneventful as that sounds for us, it was something huge for the people of Cuba. They have been granted a longer leash, and with that  the exiting of the social regime.

What also seemed to surprise me on this trip was that tourism was not Cuba’s main source of income. But the labour industry brought in more cash. The tourist industry opens the door to other industries like labour, which proves beneficial to the Cuban government. Foreign workers leave the country to work abroad, and the Cuban government charges 70% of the wages earned by those workers. Something that 10 years ago was unheard of. But to make sure the Cubans have an incentive on coming back to Cuba, they give them beautiful little houses on the coast of Cuba, wherever the worker wants. Not a bad trade, if you ask me compared to the other homes in Cuba.

But what allows Cubans to be so strong in the foreign industry is that in specific, they are fantastic medics. As a result of the embargo placed by the United States on Cuba in 1961, it forced the Cubans to generate their own pharmaceuticals, and thus deal with medical issues without the assistance of the USA, who are leading the industry in pharmaceuticals. Mr Chavez of Venezuela would make frequent visits to Cuba when he needed surgery because he knew the best doctors were found in Cuba. So now doctors and other labour workers are allowed to work in foreign countries, most likely around the Caribbean. While they work abroad they are taxed and when their time is up, they are given a house wherever they choose for the contribution they made to the Cuban government.

Image Credit Victor Nechita

Cuba has also opened the first car dealership since before the revolution in 1959, in Havana. It sells all types of cars, but it would seem to good to be true if the people could all upgrade from Moskviches (pictured above) to Peugeots. At the dealership, a brand new Peugeot costs just under 265 000 Cuban Convertible Pesos, or around $300 000 Canadian dollars. Steps have been taken, but it will be quite a while until the price of a Peugeot is reasonable enough to buy. Until then, they’re stuck with modified Ladas. The guide proceeded to say there’s an ongoing joke between Cubans that if they were to find a million dollars, they would either buy an apartment in Manhattan or buy a brand new Peugeot in Cuba.

With that being said, the outrageous price of new cars and the limits on selling and buying homes are still a result of the socialistic government. However, Cuba is a lot better than it was in 1959. And it can only grow into a better country from here.