Cuba: The Undiscovered Country

Trips to Cuba by the Smithsonian?

I was surprised to receive a copy of an invitation to participate in one of the trips to Cuba, sponsored by the Smithsonian Journeys, a member of the famous Smithsonian Museum Organization between March 16th-May 11th, 2013. When I mean surprised it was not because U.S. organizations were setting up trips to Cuba, just because I had never thought to associate a museum and history organization as the promoter for such an event. After considering that the failed social experiment in Cuba maintains the majority of the country and it’s population in living conditions barely above the 1960s, it makes sense that a museum will promote trips to visit the only known living past.

Varadero. (courtesy of
Varadero. (courtesy of

The trip is being offered as a learning opportunity and it  offers a nine day tour of about half the country, from the capital Havana, to Trinidad in the middle of the island. As with many other historical tours, it offers their participants a catered experience, with pre-selected hotels, visits to museums, and even a “block party where the visitors can mingle with common cubans“, ignoring the fact that for the last 54 years the police has detained and arrested almost every single cuban that purposely mingles with tourists (so I wonder if any true common cubans are allowed to that block party). In my opinion is nothing but another high priced, high version of a Hollywood tour, where the current Cuban government will set the stage for american tourists willing to pay to visit the almost only country in the world where they’re prohibited from visiting. Even with the whole staged visit, at the end at least gives the tourists the opportunity to learn about a country stuck in the middle of the 20th century, and the cubans the opportunity to learn about the real world of the 21st century.

The Undiscovered Country

It may seem for many Canadian, European, Asian, and even Latin American tourists that they know Cuba since they have traveled there continuously throughout the years. The famous embargo has affected only the U.S. citizens, and other individuals living in the U.S., where the combination of failed policies and the hate between the displaced political and economic cuban exiles from the 1950’s, and the Cuban government prevents any true effort to find a solution to the true Cuban problem (the isolation of it’s people from the rest of the world). As it is said, “it takes two to tango” and without the excuse of the embargo, the cuban government could not truly justify the overwhelming economic failure of their social experiment.

Transportation in Cuba. (courtesy of
Transportation in Cuba. (courtesy of

Cuba is a country of contrasts, it’s a place where you can still see home made horse carriages right in the roads of the capital right next to the most modern government official Mercedes or BMW cars. It’s a place where bartenders can and make a better salary than graduated doctors, surgeons, and MBAs. A place where the education is free, but the schools have no resources, the education is free, but there are barely any medicines in the drugstores, and a country that has managed to educate, and care for its citizens, but miserably failed to actually rise their standard of living and the highest tax rates in the world exceeding 80% of the individuals potential income.

I will not tell you that the police in cuba arrests indiscriminately (that happens in many countries in the world), or that there is a marked difference between the elite class “high government officials, high military officials, or members of the country parliament” (that happens in many countries in the world), or that there is a lack of opportunities for many (that also happens in many countries in the world). I will only tell you that the cuban government worldwide disinformation campaign has managed to hide factors such as:

  • The cuban government is acting like a feudal kingdom. When the king dies, the next family member takes over the crown.
  • A doctor, engineer, or MBA graduate makes generally between $40-$100 dollars a month (yeas a month). That’s less than $1,000 a year for a highly educated graduate
  • The country is an economic failure, in the 1950’s the Cuban economy was ahead of Taiwan and Singapore, in the 2010’s they are not even on the same galaxy.
Cubans leaving the island. (courtesy of
Cubans leaving the island. (courtesy of

My recommendation to any tourist, visitor, or potential investor is to do the same thing that you will do visiting any other country. Talk to the real people in the streets (and test if you could just visit and share with people other than those in the organized visits and block parties). Ask questions to the tour organizers, the tour handlers in Cuba, and pretty much anybody that you get in contact with. Even more ask the government officials you meet about their own personal experiences, their desires, and what will they like to leave for their kids. You may come back with a different perspective on the matter. That may help you understand why so many cubans have chosen to risk their lives on the sea, rather than to live under their government imposed conditions.

Here you can find some additional basic information about Cuba, and some investment opportunities in the country.

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About Jorge Mastrapa

Dr. Jorge Mastrapa is an international author, speaker, executive coach, and entrepreneur. His areas of expertise include cultural diversity, global leadership, organizational culture, and human capital management.

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