Today's Notables

Osaka Chamber of Commerce, Mission to Cuba

March 2018
Hisashi Furuichi
President and C.E.O.

I had the opportunity to visit the Republic of Cuba, and capital city of Havana from November 18th to the 23rd. During the tour, we talked with Mr.Guillen who is the Chairperson of the local trade commission, attended a welcome dinner with Mr. Watanabe who is the Japanese ambassador in Cuba, as well as visted the special economic development zone of Mariel, Cuba, and other events not normally on the intinerary of regular tourists. Thanks to Vice Chairman of the Cuban Cigar Education Association in Japan, who was among our members, we were able to visit the luxury cigar factory--something normally restricted.

The area of Cuba is about 110,000km2, or approximately half that of Honshu. It is an island country facing three seas: the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Geographically it is near North America but could be considered part of Central America. The population is roughly the same as the Tokyo metropolitan area. As you know, Cuba became a socialist (Article 1 of the Constitution) in the Cuban revolution of 1959, during which the Communist Party is stated to "make the best leader of society and state" (Article 5 of the Constitution). The revolution depended on the Soviet Union early on, but with the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba found economic dependence with Venezuela since 2000. Fidel Castro, President of the Cuban National Council (head of state), who held real power since the revolution, announced his retirement in February 2008. He was suceeded by his brother, Raul Castro, who now serves as the President of the National Council. In February, Raul Castro also announced that he will retire as the National Council President, peaking the interest as to his successor. Raul immediately started deregulation, making it possible for people to carry mobile phones in public, stay at hotels, and purchase household appliances--even though in reality current conditions make it difficult for most people to do these things. One reason is the existence of dual currency. The currencies are CUC(peso cubano convertible) and CUP(moneda nacional). The People's Peso is designed to maintain a minimum standard of living for Cubans, but CUP gives them very little purchasing power. Since the peso is about 25 times that of the People's Peso, tourists are paying 25 times what Cuban citizens pay for the same item. The following figure shows the mechanism. (Figure Source: Cuban Embassy in Japan)

As also shown in the figure, 70% of Cuban citizens are civil servants and the average monthly income is 3,500 JPY, but people in special positions such as top officials of government officials, doctors, university professors, and employees of top state enterprises have an average monthly income about 1,500 yen over the average income. In the end, there’s very little incentive to work hard because the difference in income is so little. This is socialism. Some people have mobile phones, but communication is restricted. I took my Japanese mobile phone, but I could not use it at all because there was no 3G service. The government also controls the internet, and although there was wifi in my hotel, it was impossible to connect to.

Agriculture, fishery, and dairy industries are not developed either. Some people living in the suburbs may eat what is grown in the area, but 70% of the food is imported. I heard that the reason for the lack of fishing is that the government feared people would defect if they owned boats. Even if agriculture industry was developed, there would be no way to transport it because roads and railway infrastructure is undeveloped. There is no supply chain either. Food was still distributed from a distribution center in the city. Small cars like Corolla cost about 16,000,000 JPY so very few people own cars individually. Classic cars from the US from 1950s are famous in Cuba but are driven only by drivers of civil servants. Convertibles and restored cars are used for transporting tourists, while the old, worn-out taxis are what the locals use. The vehicle most frequently seen on the road is the Soviet-made Lada, but even then, they are more than 50 years old. I rode in a ‘52 Dodge and was told that it still had the original engine. Naturally TV is controlled to and only national broadcasts are available on old cathode ray tube TVs. Despite these seemingly serious drawbacks, medical care and college tuition is free, housing and food is paid for, and a minimum life is guaranteed. Security is better than most countries in Latin America. There’s also no alimony payment necessary in cases of divorce so it’s not uncommon to find people who’ve been married 3 or 4 times. Perhaps because of these rather harsh conditions, birth rate is low, combined with an aging society.

Visiting Havana, I was able to understand and observe some amazing things about socialism. From my perspective, however, the undeveloped transportation and information infrastructure present significant obstacles to the smooth communication and movement of people. On the other hand, if you don’t have information, you don’t know what there is to do or buy, so they do not have many “wants.” With respect to Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, socialism may satisfy four levels--physiological, safety, love and belonging and esteem--but the fifth, “self actualization” would not be satisfied. Although not stated in Maslow’s theory, a “desire for freedom (being free and unbound)” is definitely not something that is possible in a socialist society or communist economy. Socialism and liberal democracy part ways when it comes to respecting individual freedoms against the constraints of society, and the ideal is a society that is harmonious with personal freedom.
Today in modern Japan, our society is rich and young people do not know what it is to “want”, but if there is no desire for self-actualization, there is no progress in developing things or ideas, or progress in society. In a country where information flows freely, people do express “wants”, make an effort to achieve “self-actualization” and in doing so, contribute positively to the development of their companies and society.

What’s New
News Releases
Today’s Notables

HOME > What’s New > Today's Notables > Details

Return to top