It’s hard work, on the ground.
The most remarkable aspect of the Cuban economy is how many countries and companies want to invest. There are Chinese cars on the road and Spanish hotels available to stay in. Australian industry and Russian equipment are a constant presence. Yet the “socialist” government still rules totally. Average wages remain at $20 per month. Economically, it’s hard to see how foreign investment in private enterprise or even domestic investment in infrastructure will make a difference in the daily lives of Cubans when wages are limited and food staples are literally rationed.
That being said, the major policy shifts announced by the Cuban leadership in the past few years to leave room for optimism. Private ownership of cars and homes and (some) freedom to travel are big political changes. Adjusting the ability of foreign companies to pay Cuban workers fairer wages might be a good next step towards economic growth for the island.
Madrid, October 2008
As the financial crisis hit Lehman Brothers and eventually the world’s banking system, it was hard to see the immediate effects from across the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, the news had pictures of people with cardboard boxes filing out of buildings, but it didn’t seem then like Spain was going to buckle the way it has. Unemployment in Spain was already pretty high, the issues with bureaucracy were prevalent, but Madrid kept on moving.
I lived in Madrid from August through December in 2008. I didn’t notice any changes in tourism or business practices or industrial adjustments. Of course now, when reading the headlines, job prospects are gone and the economy in general is beyond bleak.
When I returned to Spain in the summer of 2009, this time to a small island called Cadíz, what began to stick out more so than before was the length of time children lived with their parents and families. In Madrid, it wasn’t uncommon for 30 year olds to live at home- a person simply wouldn’t move out until getting married. Now, multiple generations of families live together.
The European Union’s push for Southern European countries (especially Spain, Italy and Greece) to take on increasingly more austere economic policies can be confusing to understand. As the recent proposed bailout of Cyprus demonstrated, intra-EU agreement is already difficult and all decisions involving the Euro are painful for the whole zone.
The protests in Spain now are common, while there were only a couple five years ago. The global nature of financial markets has left Spain a little worse for the wear, but with some luck, and certainly with a combination of public and private investments, Spain could once again be a stable economy. No matter what, it will always be a wonderful place to visit!