Many people hoped that the liberalising reforms that the Raúl Castro administration introduced in Cuba would help the country transition from its state-centered economy to a market-friendly one where individual entrepreneurship could foster economic development. Unfortunately, the few reforms implemented in the nine years Raúl Castro has been in power have fostered the development of the worst form of crony capitalism, a situation in which a powerful state — rather than fostering market competition — hands out favours to foreign private companies that come to the island attracted by the special access they enjoy.
When Fidel Castro retired from the presidency in Cuba in 2008, the new government began to announce a series of liberalising reforms to allow for private-sector participation in economic activity. Some measures allowed Cuban citizens to set up their own small businesses while other initiatives sought to attract foreign investment to develop the tourism industry and invest in other productive sectors. Today, many construction cranes can be seen in Havana. New hotels have been built and the old town is being rapidly renovated. Fancy stores that cater to wealthy tourists are the new attraction in town. Small shops and restaurants are easy to find and reflect the strong entrepreneurial spirit of many Cubans.
Yet, the state has retained its overwhelming control of the national economy. In the tourism industry, the country is far from developing a customer-oriented mentality. The bureaucratic attitude of public-sector workers and most government-hired workers in privately owned companies makes it difficult for tourists who visit the country to relax and enjoy themselves. Long waiting-lines at the airport to collect bags or to exchange foreign currency into CUC (Dollar-Denominated Currency for foreigners) can only be shortened if you give a couple of bucks to a taxi-driver that takes you to a tourism agency office to exchange dollars (though you still pay an additional 13-percent tax if you bring dollars rather than Euros).
It is true that Havana is a safe city and people are very friendly, but not having Internet access in the streets in 2017 — and having slow and unreliable Internet access in hotels — does not go well with the social-network-intensive modern vacationer. In Havana, life is still in the pre-Internet era. You can’t find your way around using Google Maps or check the reviews on the next restaurant you think of visiting. Granted, unrestricted online access 24/7 is a recent phenomenon, but without being on a par with international standards, Cuba will not be able to expand its tourism base to less sophisticated travelers. Though it is undeniable that Cuba has changed, the world has changed much faster and, thus, the island keeps on falling further behind.
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