Viva La Evolution!

Does a taste of free entrprise mean the end for Fidel's Cuba?


The Special Period

"Bring them to my house." She spoke in Spanish, her voice almost a shout. "Let them see my hungry children. Let them see the real Cuba." The angry, distraught woman appeared suddenly out of the crowd to confront the Cuban government guide shepherding a busload of Canadian tourists through the streets of Havana. In her mid-30s and wearing a worn, dirty cotton print dress, she was thin, but she didn't seem to be starving.

"Get out of here!" the guide told her. "Before you get in trouble!" He was embarrassed but not angry. He spoke in a quiet, sympathetic tone, sounding like he really was worried that a police officer might arrest the poor woman for committing one of the more serious street crimes in Havana today—doing anything that threatens the tourist industry. The woman, fear replacing the anger on her face, turned and walked away through a scattered crowd of Cuban pedestrians at a speed just slower than a trot.

"What was that all about?" a Canadian tourist asked the guide.

"Nothing," he said. "She is just a crazy woman. She should be in a hospital." As the tour guide brushed off the incident, he looked at Mack Tanner, the only foreigner in the group who spoke Spanish. Both men knew that the woman didn't have anything to give her children to eat that day. She wasn't crazy; she had been driven into anger by desperation and frustration—two emotions in great abundance in Cuba these days.

The people of Cuba are hungry, but they are not starving, at least not yet. They are doing without a lot of things—soap, shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste, pencils, shoes, headache pills, vitamins, and even the single piece of meat per week for which they have ration coupons. The shortages interact and compound each other. Because of the frequent electricity blackouts, food in cold-storage plants and home refrigerators spoils. Even if a factory has raw materials, workers don't show up because the buses aren't running.

The Cuban economy has gone bankrupt, and every citizen in the country knows it. Fidel Castro has admitted it and has even given the bankruptcy a name, La Estapa Especial—the Special Period. His propaganda machine spins out explanations for why it has happened and promises of how the Cuban government is going to solve the problem. His treasury is so empty of foreign exchange that Fidel can't buy enough fuel and fertilizer to run his sugar industry, medicines for his much-touted health-care services, or shoes or uniforms for the children in his free educational system. Factories sit idle for lack of electric power, fuel for engines, spare parts, and raw materials.

The public transportation system runs at a snail's pace when it runs at all. People crowd bus stops in such numbers that special, unarmed marshals wearing yellow uniforms keep order and direct the loading of waiting passengers into whatever government vehicle comes along with empty space. Workers can spend as long as six hours a day traveling back and forth to their government jobs. Clerks in government stores sit in front of empty shelves. When a grocery store does get a delivery of food—most of the time a single item such as carrots or cabbages—a mob of customers instantly gathers outside. Many still stand there waiting when the shelves are once again empty.

While Castro and his government blame this economic disaster on the withdrawal of Soviet aid, the continuing American trade embargo, and the low world price of sugar, the plain fact is that the Castro government has failed because communism always fails. Rather than trying to prevent Americans from visiting Cuba, we ought to encourage as many as possible to go see what happens when a communist system absorbs a free-enterprise economy. Castro took over one of the most vibrant, developed economies in Latin America in 1959. He destroyed the capital formation mechanism and the market incentives of the economy, and the Cuban people have been eating their seed corn ever since. Soviet charity kept them going for a while but only delayed the inevitable. Now Cuba ranks with Haiti as the poorest of the poor in the Americas.

With the collapse of the Cuban economy and the possibility of real starvation in the near future, Castro and those around him have been forced to turn to the only thing that might save their economy: free enterprise. New laws make it legal for Cubans to hold and spend American dollars; rural families can once again sell the surplus they produce; and city dwellers can legally engage in single-owner private business enterprises. The Cuban political leaders have made a major investment in the tourist industry in an attempt to earn enough foreign exchange to keep the economy going. Cuban diplomats are scouring Europe, Canada, and Latin America, looking for capitalists willing to risk money in joint ventures in Cuban mining, petroleum, and manufacturing interests.

Vision of Failure

Interested in what happens when a communist society lets loose a bit of free enterprise and curious about what role, if any, the U.S. embargo has played in pushing Castro up against the wall, we decided to travel to Cuba. The U.S. embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1962, doesn't prohibit U.S. citizens from traveling there, but it does forbid Americans to spend any money on travel to Cuba. The penalties for breaking the law are severe: up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $250,000. The law allows exceptions for Americans traveling to visit their families, legitimate scholarly researchers, U.S. government officials, and news-gathering journalists.

Based on public statements by Cuban government officials about how eager they were to tell the story of the new Cuba, we expected getting visas as journalists would be easy. On September 30, 1993, we sent a fax to the Cuban Interest Section in the Swiss Embassy in Washington requesting visas. On November 10, we received a fax asking for more information about the publication we wrote for. We provided the information and mailed some back issues of REASON. We never heard another word about our visa applications.

We learned that a Wall Street Journal writer had waited more than four months for a visa, finally received one, then had it revoked a few days later after he made a speech in which he said something someone in the Cuban government didn't like. The unholy alliance between the U.S. Treasury Department, which enforces the embargo, and the Castro government officials who control visas for journalists ensures that most Americans who visit Cuba are inclined to ignore evidence of socialist failures and accept propaganda blaming outside factors such as the U.S. embargo.

After verifying that we wouldn't be breaking U.S. law if we went to Cuba without telling Cuban immigration officers we were journalists, we joined a tour group of Canadian citizens. During our seven days in Cuba, we rode through several hundred miles of countryside and drove through the suburbs of Havana as well as the oil fields and the tourist resorts of Matanzas province.

Nowhere was the socialist failure more obvious than in the rural areas. Cuba has a rich agricultural base of fertile land, water resources, and a long growing season capable of producing up to three crops a year on the same land. The country could feed its population, without having to take sugar-cane land out of cultivation, if it had the market incentives that drive successful agricultural production.

Everywhere we drove through the countryside, we saw large numbers of people working the fields of collective farms with hoes or harvesting by hand. In some parts of the country, children go to school for half the day and work in the fields for half the day. But no matter how many people are sent to the fields, production continues to decline. Modern agriculture stands on three legs: high-yield seed varieties, chemicals, and mechanization. Human labor can take the place of machines, but it does nothing to alleviate shortages of high-yield seed and chemicals.

Larry Grupp, now a trained agricultural specialist, spent the summer of 1958 in Cuba, and he remembers seeing only one pair of oxen plowing a field. A Cuban friend pointed out the spectacle, noting that there were still a few farmers mired in poverty. On our recent trip we saw fewer tractors pulling plows than we saw teams of oxen. And every ox team we saw was tied to the plow by the horns. One of the more important inventions of the Middle Ages was the shoulder yoke, which doubles or even triples the amount of work a team of oxen can do in a day. Any carpenter can make an ox shoulder yoke in no more than an hour's time. Mack Tanner's wife, who is from Thailand, can make one out of bamboo, rope, and a couple of pieces of leather. Yet the bureaucrats who manage the collective farms of Cuba apparently are unfamiliar with such modern technology.

Speaking Freely

We met only one defender of communism during our visit, a taxi driver whom a hotel desk clerk called for us. Eduardo Gadea told us he grew up in New Jersey but went to Cuba in 1958 to fight for the revolution and has lived there ever since. He was driving a government-owned taxi, an air-conditioned 1983 Mercedes. It was the last day we spent in Cuba, and we suspect he was a government ringer sent to check us out because someone on the hotel staff suspected we might not really be tourists.

Castro's 35-year anti-American propaganda campaign has not translated into anti-American sentiment on the streets and rural roads of Cuba. During our trip we talked to dozens of different people, sometimes in conversations that lasted for several hours. Not once did we hear an anti-American statement. The Cubans proved to be the most friendly, easy to meet people we've encountered in years of traveling in dozens of different countries. Many of those we met talked so frankly that we have had to disguise their identities as well as the specific circumstances of our conversations.

The Cuban system of neighborhood snitches is still in place, and a Cuban can lose his job, forfeit his ration cards, and even go to jail if the wrong person hears someone say the wrong thing. "We're not watched all the time or spied on like Radio Martí claims," Antonio Salazar, a university graduate and high-school science teacher, told us. "We can do anything we want, as long as we don't break the law." He paused, thought a minute, then added, his voice suddenly sad, "One thing we can't do: We can't say how we feel out loud. That's what I miss most, being able to say how I feel out loud."

On our visit we saw no mobilized troops anywhere. There were no military or police checkpoints on the highways and no military personnel carrying weapons in public except for those guarding the entrances to military bases. The only tanks or armored personnel carriers we saw were parked deep in military compounds. Uniformed police were no more obvious than they are in most countries in the world, and less obvious than in some. By contrast, in the summer of 1958 even a 17-year-old like Larry Grupp could see the unrest and the coming revolution. Batista's troops were everywhere, and the roads were punctuated with military checkpoints where soldiers waved automatic weapons as they searched vehicles for contraband.

Everywhere we went, we could see, feel, and hear the frustration and desperation of people trying to survive while an economy collapses. "Things were hard, but we could get by until about two years ago," said Antonio, the science teacher. "The rationing was tight—each person only got five pounds of rice a month and one piece of meat a week—but we could find the rice and the meat if we had the ration coupons and the pesos. Now I've got pesos and coupons, but I can't find food in any store. I can buy food on the black market, but a crate of 30 eggs costs 200 pesos. I make 230 pesos a month."

"So what's the solution?" one of us asked.

"The government is finally letting the farmers legally sell their surplus," he answered. "Now that they can make money, they'll grow more food. The prices will eventually have to come down." Antonio was born after the revolution. Dedicated communist professors taught him economics, but he understands how the free market works. "Let's hope they let the reforms last this time," he added, his voice worried. "There are a lot of people around Fidel who still believe socialism has all the answers. Before, the government opened the door a crack for the farmers, then slammed it shut again."

In the late '70s, a deteriorating economy forced Castro to legalize private farm production and small business enterprises. The result was a significant increase in food and consumer goods. But when a few people started making real money, Castro, who believes all profits are immoral, announced in 1984 a policy of "rectification," which again prohibited all private economic activity.

Castro must realize that releasing the free-enterprise genie threatens the long-term survival of socialism. He apparently thinks he can command the genie, but the government's past behavior indicates that he will move quickly when he suspects he's losing control. Many people in Havana recently started raising chickens on balconies and pigs in backyard pens for personal consumption or quick sale on the black market. In early March, the authorities in Havana rounded up 26,000 pigs inside the city limits, claiming they were doing so for public-health reasons. Every such crackdown can only increase frustration and further loosen Castro's grip on the soul of the nation.

Collapsing Communism

"We can't let happen here what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe," Pedro Infante told us. Pedro dropped out of the university to follow his first love, music. Now he sings with a band in a luxury hotel on Verdadero Beach built with Spanish joint-venture money. "We have to take it a step at a time," he said. "We can't give up what we have gained with our revolution. We don't want crime like you have in America, and we don't want civil war like what is happening in East Europe." Pedro was parroting the standard government propaganda as explained on the Radio Progreso and Radio Rebelde broadcasts that we listened to every morning while in Cuba.

The electronic communication age has forced more honesty on government propaganda in Cuba. The big lie works only if people hear nothing else. Cuban government technicians may jam Radio Martí from Miami, but they can't block out the whole AM and FM dial. Commercial Florida stations broadcast in Spanish and English without interference, and even Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy come through loud and clear on the northern Cuban coast.

A surprising number of Cubans can watch either CNN or the Spanish-language equivalent. Hundreds of small dish antennas, about three feet in diameter, decorate the roofs of houses and apartments located within a few blocks of the tourist hotels. Manufactured by backroom technicians and sold for around $100, the antennas catch and amplify the electromagnetic radiation that leaks from hotel satellite dishes and their connecting cables. Anyone who buys one gets to watch the same international channels the tourists watch in their hotel rooms.

So the Cuban government can't deny what has happened to socialist countries around the world. Cuban news commentators instead paint a dire picture of the political, economic, and social problems of the ex-socialist countries.

While some foreign observers of the Cuban scene were predicting a year ago that Castro would soon be on his way out, we saw no evidence that it is about to happen. Hungry, desperate people who are struggling to survive don't make revolutions. Rather than plotting to change the government, the people we met were spending their energy trying to solve immediate personal and family problems. Besides, the communists have so totally failed to fulfill their promises that the Cuban people have lost all faith in any kind of government and in revolution as well.

Nor will the U.S. embargo change this picture. The State Department takes the position that the American embargo must be enforced until basic human rights are restored in Cuba, there are free elections, and Cuba compensates U.S. citizens for the properties seized more than 30 years ago. The assumption of the policy is that somehow the embargo will force those things to happen. Yet there's little reason to believe the embargo has ever had or is likely to have any significant impact on the internal politics of Cuba, other than by providing a scapegoat to blame for the country's economic misery.

Ending the embargo would have little immediate impact on the Cuban economy. Since the United States is the only country in the world that refuses to sell products to Cuba or that forbids its citizens to travel to or invest in Cuba, there is nothing that Castro can't buy in the international market, provided he has the foreign exchange to pay for it. U.S. trade and tourism might accelerate the government's accumulation of foreign exchange, but it would also put more dollars in private hands, as the tourist trade is already doing. That might be the most seditious development we could encourage in Cuba. People spending their own money for things they want don't make good socialists.

Just about every Cuban we talked to wanted to know why the United States insists on continuing the embargo and what the Americans hope to gain. They were more puzzled than angry. No one we met was prepared to risk his or her life trying to achieve reform and free elections so the Americans will end the embargo. And it seems that the U.S. demand for free elections is inconsistent with the demand that Cuba compensate the owners of expropriated properties. The Cubans we talked with would not vote for politicians who would divert scarce foreign exchange to pay off debts for something that happened before most Cubans were born.

"We are not going to allow a bunch of Cuban expatriate millionaires in Miami to tell us how to run our country," Pedro Infante told us. "How dare they threaten foreign investors with the future confiscation of their investments. If they think they can come back to Cuba after all these years and take over again, they are crazy." The Cubans we met who had relatives living in the United States were less inclined to criticize "millionaire Cuban expatriates," but they were no more willing than Pedro to follow political guidance from the Cuban-American expatriate community, especially if such guidance put their lives at risk.

While a lot of Cubans, probably the great majority, don't like the government, it seemed to us that a viable opposition is not likely to develop, even if things get worse than they already are. Nevertheless, frustration is so widespread that things could suddenly explode in a spontaneous outburst of frustration and anger such as the unrest in the Philippines when Marcos fell, in Tiananmen Square in China, or in Romania. Castro must recognize that danger. His recent reluctance to appear in public and the decision to cancel this year's May Day celebration suggest he fears that any crowd of people in Cuba could suddenly go on a wild, anti-government rampage like the one that brought down Ceausescu.

Castro isn't just keeping a low profile; he's almost invisible. Listening to Cuban radio stations or watching a Cuban television channel every chance we got, we never heard his voice or saw a video clip or photo of him. To our surprise, there were no pictures of Fidel in the classrooms of the school we visited. We saw only one picture of Fidel in the hundreds of homes, shops, and offices we walked by in our strolls through the streets. One sees more pictures of the independence hero, José Martí, than of Castro. Several different sources confirmed this was not how it used to be. One source suggested that the pictures of Castro had been discreetly removed because so many of them were being defaced.

Castro's public absence produces a continuing rash of rumors that he is either sick, injured, or no longer around. On the day we left, we heard a rumor from two different sources that Fidel had suffered a stroke a few days previously. In fact, he was not only well, he personally hosted a reception for a group of Cuban exiles who had been invited back to Cuba for a conference on immigration.

Come Back to Cuba

As tourists, we could go just about any place we wanted, take pictures of anything we saw except military personnel, and talk to anyone who would talk to us. In Cuba, the tourist can do no wrong. More than 600,000 tourists visited Cuba last year, and tourism may already be bringing in more foreign exchange than the sugar industry. Cuba is attracting customers by making sure the tourist gets first claim on every commodity and service. While meat is a rarity for the average Cuban, tourists get all they can eat. Telephone calls from hotels get priority, so it's surprisingly easy for a tourist to call overseas.

The only kind of money tourists can use in Cuba is the U.S. dollar. Travelers from the rest of the world must exchange their own currencies for dollars to buy things in hotel shops, fancy bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, or to rent a car or hire a taxi. This is a case in which the good money chases out the bad. While the Cuban peso is still exchanged at an official rate of one to one, the black-market rate was running at 100 to one the week we were in Cuba. Since Cubans are now allowed to legally own and use dollars, any Cuban selling any good or service to a tourist demands payment in dollars. Cubans can use dollars to buy scarce items on the black market and in government stores ordinarily reserved for tourists or VIPs.

Everyone wants a job in the tourist industry, where you can earn tips in dollars. College graduates wait tables, mix drinks, and clean rooms. English professors and high-school teachers serve as desk clerks and tour guides. A year ago, Carlos Encinas, a graduate of the University of Havana with a degree in chemistry, was working in a government biochemical laboratory that raised sterile (disease-free) rats for sale to research facilities in other countries. Now he works in the kitchen of a resort hotel as a cook's helper. While that entry-level job doesn't give him much chance to earn tips, it puts him inside the hotel compound with some direct access to tourists and a chance to move into a job that will give him more opportunity for tips.

Mario Díaz worked for 20 years as a heavy-equipment operator at a sugar factory. Now he works as a gardener in a Havana hotel. When we talked to him, he was using a machete to trim a grass lawn. One of his four children is asthmatic. "Our Cuban doctors are very good," he said. "But they have no medicine to give my daughter. Sometimes I can do something for a guest. Whatever tips I make, I give to a friend who works in the hotel infirmary. She sells me the medicine for my daughter."

Marta Garza, a hotel maid, had a similar story. "I took my father to the hospital last week," she told us. "The doctor told us he had to take an antibiotic drug, but that the hospital didn't have it in store. The doctor wrote out the name of the medicine, and I had to go buy it on the black market. Because I work in the tourist trade, I had the dollars to buy it. Otherwise, my father would have died."

In addition to jobs in the hospitality industry, the influx of tourists has created opportunities for entrepreneurs. Juan Barquín quit his job as a computer programmer to become one of the new, legally registered entrepreneurs. He sells his paintings and sculptures out of a small shop near the old Cathedral of Havana. The work is of professional quality, which is why Juan got his license even though college graduates are supposedly prohibited from working as entrepreneurs. On Saturday, the plaza in front of the cathedral is filled with artistic entrepreneurs selling their souvenirs from small stands. As we stood and watched, we spotted a government official moving from stall to stall, making sure that each vendor had a license to do business.

While the best business is selling to tourists for dollars, other small-scale entrepreneurs are trying to meet the local demand for consumer goods. These entrepreneurs, who deal in pesos, sell their homemade wares from small tables and stands that are often set up in front of government stores with empty shelves. Except for farmers selling from the roadside in rural areas, there are no food products for sale on the legal private market. Most of the merchants were selling small plastic products like cups, pieces of costume jewelry, cooking pans, simple toys, combs, and small art objects.

One of the vendors was refilling disposable butane lighters. We watched as he took the top off a lighter, checked the flint, then squirted a shot of butane into the tank before putting it all carefully back together. He kept his supply of butane in what had once been an aerosol can of insecticide.

The Black Market

The Castro government brings tourists in with cheap packages, then fleeces them when they want something extra. A lunch of roast chicken and black beans with rice at La Bodegita cost us $40 for two; a daiquiri at La Floridita was $3.00. A box of the better Cuban cigars can cost $70 or more in a government store. An evening at the Tropicana Night Club cost $70 without the drinks. A taxi ride from our hotel into the city, a distance of about 20 miles, cost $30 each way. Car rentals start at $70 a day.

A thriving black market offers the tourist some of those things at bargain rates. A tourist can't walk more than a block along a street in Havana without meeting at least one black-market merchant offering to sell cigars, rare coins, a private taxi, a meal in a private home, or a date with whichever sex one might prefer. Pedro Aguero works as a porter in a tobacco factory, but we met him in the middle of the afternoon on a Havana street, where he quoted a price on a box of Monte Cristos that was less than half what we would have paid in a tourist store.

From what we could see and hear, most of the consumer items sold on the black market have been stolen or diverted from government distribution channels or from one of the non-government charities supported by U.S. voluntary agencies that are permitted to make shipments under the embargo. Even so, the black market offers a much wider variety of goods than the newly legal entrepreneurs do, including such hard-to-find items as medicine, bicycles, and gasoline.

Still, there is no guarantee that anything will be available on the black market, even if you have dollars. We needed a car for a day, and we found the owner of a well-kept 1953 Chevy that would be worth a small fortune at an antique car auction in the United States. He agreed to take us where we wanted for half the price it would cost us to rent a car. The deal fell through when he couldn't find any gas for sale even though he had both coupons to buy legal gas and dollars to buy black-market gas.

Walking back to our hotel one afternoon, we encountered another thriving part of the black market. We were joined by six schoolchildren, who followed along, talking and singing English-language songs they had learned in school to entertain us. Just before we reached the hotel, two young women walked up to our group and identified themselves as the mother of one little girl and the aunt of three of the other kids. They were hoping we might invite the two of them into the hotel for a romantic evening—in exchange for dollars, of course.

The Cubans call them jineteras, a play on the Spanish word for jockey. Any male tourist who strolls outside his hotel will meet several of them, even if that's not what he's looking for. They work only for dollars, but they will happily accept tips of surplus aspirin, shampoo, old T-shirts, or anything else a tourist is willing to leave behind.

The aunt, Hortensia, an outgoing brunette, obviously had some experience in her new profession. Dalia, a reserved blond, acted nervous and embarrassed. Unlike Hortensia, she didn't joke about the possibilities that might develop if we invited them to accompany us back to the hotel. When asked, Dalia shyly admitted that she is married. Her husband works in a chicken slaughterhouse, making 150 pesos a month, plus one small package of chicken scraps and chicken fat. If Dalia met a tourist who liked her, she could make more in one night than her husband makes in six months. We spotted both the women later in the evening as they sat with a group of Spanish tourists, drinking Cuba libres by the pool. Dalia looked at one of us and blushed for a moment before turning away.

Breaking Away

Any Cuban holding American money is permitted to shop in government dollar stores that serve both the tourist industry and the diplomatic trade. In the hotels, the dollar stores are small shops that carry suntan lotion, film, medicine, soap, and rum drinks. Bigger dollar stores outside the hotels sell cookies, candy, imported cigarettes, and other consumer goods.

Opening these stores to ordinary Cubans is part of the government's attempt to collect as many dollars as possible. Tourist dollars may circulate through several hands, but most eventually end up in the government bank to pay for more government-sponsored imports. Although we saw no signs of a black-market trade in smuggled goods, as more dollars flow into private hands, a smuggling industry may develop to serve an expanding demand for the consumer goods—jeans, cosmetics, musical recordings—that a socialist government will not buy with scarce foreign currency.

In May, recognizing the potential threat that a black market poses to his efforts to collect all foreign earnings, Castro announced a new law providing for the confiscation of goods acquired by illicit means. He did not explain how he expects to enforce such a law. Castro may think he's going to continue to use the dollars he earns from tourism to buy supplies and equipment for the military, the bureaucracy, and state-run industries, but the people with dollars in their hands will make other choices if offered the opportunity. In this connection, the embargo does Castro a favor. It puts the U.S. Coast Guard on his side in preventing the development of a smuggling trade in consumer goods between Florida and the Cuban coast.

If the Cuban people survive this Special Period, if they eventually succeed in turning away from a discredited 19th-century economic philosophy that has failed every time it's been tried,
it won't happen because of a violent change in the Cuban government. It won't happen because of the American embargo nor anything else American diplomats might try. It will happen because people like Antonio Salazar, Pedro Infante, Marta Garza, Carlos Encinas, Juan Barquín, and even the friendly jineteras stop waiting for the government to provide them with every necessity and instead do whatever has to be done to make their own lives better.

The Cuban people need a democratic government, but they also need a viable economy. Every one of the people we talked to in Cuba would pick more economic freedom over more political freedom. They will risk jail by dealing in the black market but not by playing politics. And there is strong evidence that free, democratic government can thrive only in a prosperous economy. That's how it happened in ancient Greece, in England, in colonial America, in modern Europe, and in Japan; that's how it's happening in places like Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Poland, and the former Czechoslovakia.

The meanest thing we could do to Castro would be to unleash an invasion of American tourists on his island. The dirtiest trick we could pull would be to close our eyes to the smugglers who will sneak U.S. consumer goods into Cuba to trade for the dollars the tourists leave behind. The embargo inhibits the kind of people-to-people exchange that might encourage more free enterprise in Cuba, and it gives Castro an excuse for the failure of socialism. Furthermore, it sets precisely the wrong example for people struggling under the burdens of socialism. In a free society, the government doesn't tell people where they can go or how they can spend their money.

If the embargo has any impact on the Cuban economy, it accelerates the flow of refugees rather than altering the country's internal politics. In Cuba, the politically discontented don't risk their lives to make war on the government. They risk their lives in small boats on 90 miles of open water.

During our trip to Cuba, Emilio Baeza, a hotel assistant manager, learned that his sister-in-law, her husband, and their three small children had arrived safely in Miami after six days in an open boat. "I can understand why he did it," Emilio told us, obviously relieved that his wife's relatives were still alive. "I don't criticize him for taking his family on that boat, but I couldn't risk the lives of my children like he did. Better we stay here. Things have to get better."

Mack Tanner, a retired diplomat, and Larry Grupp, an international agricultural business consultant, are free-lance writers in Moscow, Idaho.