December 3, 2004
by Dennis T. Avery
American intellectuals love Cuba's minimal economy. They confuse poverty with chic.
I recently heard National Public Radio wax eloquently about Cuba's new transportation system for the 21st century: hitchhiking.
Cuba's transportation system has become so decrepit it can move only 15 percent of the traffic it moved 20 years ago. So, travelers gather along the highways, waiting hours or even days, to hitch rides on government trucks or with the few private citizens who can still afford gasoline.
Gas costs $3.40 a gallon, and most of the cars are leftover pre-1970 gas-guzzlers. Wages average $10 per month. That guarantees most of the traffic will be government vehicles.
The Cuban government now has assigned 2,200 transport inspectors to stand at key roadside locations, where they flag down vehicles and make them carry passengers for a few cents each. As the American Greens point out, this minimizes CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately, there's still the potential for crime. The young female Cuban hitchhiker interviewed by NPR said she didn't worry much because "most people are nice."
I'm sure that's true. Unfortunately, even a minority of rapists and robbers can be a serious drawback to society. Does Castro indemnify raped hitchhikers who were paired with rapist drivers by government officials? Cuba, of course, is far too progressive for liability lawsuits.
More good news: Fidel hasn't been able to afford fertilizer or pesticides for his farmers since the Soviet subsidies collapsed, so Cuba is now the most advanced country trying to feed itself from all-organic farming. Yields are so poor that the government rations a family of four to about one chicken a month.
Nor does Castro allow farmers to sell their food directly to consumers. They might make too much money.
That leaves most Cubans trying to grow their own food on vacant lots in Havana. Cuban consumers are thus freed from dependence on big agribusiness corporations. The Greens really like that.
Americans, of course, don't need to worry about the risks of hitchhiking and dangerous bacteria in their compost piles. So, why not raise up the Cuban lifestyle as chic? We don't have to live it.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.
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