Life In Cuba

Life in Cuba contrasts drastically from life in the United States, just miles away. Learn about food rations, auto problems, and the most popular pastime.

Joe Fuentes of Miami spends about $8 every day on his morning coffee and fast food lunch. Just 150 kilometers south, Lazaro Solano receives $8, his monthly salary for his full-time job as a shopkeeper in Havana, Cuba.

A meal at a McDonald's-like joint in Cuba costs about $3, so how does Lazaro feed his family? How can he possibly buy gas for his car?

As for food, most Cubans can't afford to shop with dollars, unless they have relatives in Miami who send them money or they work as taxi drivers (one of the only ways to be self-employed in Cuba). Everyone else must shop with pesos at the government-run stores (peso stores), even though the stores offer very little variety and are sometimes actually completely empty. Today, it's difficult to find ingredients for traditional Cuban cuisine (pork, fish, garlic, cooking oil) because food production is in shambles and they can't afford to import.

Cubans get a monthly ration of food. In 1997, the monthly ration for one Cuban looked like this: five pounds of rice, three pounds of beans, five eggs, one chicken, half a pound of coffee, milk for children up to age seven, three packs of cigarettes, and two rolls of toilet paper. Along with the annoyance of not getting any fresh fruits or vegetables in their rations, Cubans spend a good portion of each day standing in line for their food.

As for buying gas for his car, Lazaro doesn't have to worry about that. He, like nearly everyone in Cuba, can't afford a car. And if he could, he probably wouldn't be able to find one to buy. The majority of cars owned by Cubans are dilapidated American cars originally built in the 1950s.

Russian Ladas from the 1970s and early 1980s can also be seen around Cuba. The Ladas were given as rewards to model workers or party militants before the end of the Cold War. The Ladas, which comprise half of all the cars in Cuba, can't be sold because they were given to government workers. They weren't given as gifts, but they were offered to them at low monthly payments. If a father wants to give his son his Lada when he dies, he cannot. Ownership reverts back to the state.

American cars can be sold, but they're expensive, at least $1000 if the car is running, and parts are hard to come buy. Mechanics in Cuba are geniuses, having to create a part when one breaks.

Because of the scarcity of cars, those in possession of them become entrepreneurs, private taxi drivers. A license from the state to be a taxi driver is nearly $400 a year (compare that to the average monthly wage of $8), but the expensive license can be well worth it, especially if the taxi drivers can get business toting foreigners around Havana.

One of the favorite pastimes in Cuba is baseball. Baseball is by far the most popular sport in Cuba. Children play pickup games in vacant lots while their older brothers and fathers meet in the city squares to discuss the professionals. As might be expected, there's a lot of baseball talent to be found among the boys playing in the vacant lots as they spend so much time practicing.

Although Miami and Havana are geographically close to each other, the lifestyle and standard of living in these two cities differ tremendously.

© High Speed Ventures 2011