Thursday, March 23, 2017

Puerto Rico - Cuba comparison

Puerto Rico and Cuba make an interesting comparison because both Caribbean islands were once Spanish colonies and then part of the United States after the Spanish-American War.  Cuba then went its own way, especially with the Castros and their communist system.

I have already compared the two on the basis of some national statistics, e.g., that; (i) Puerto Rican income per capita is now four times that in Cuba, when in 1950 they were essentially the same, (ii) Puerto Ricans are now more educated than Cubans, even though education is something that the Cuban government brags about.

My purpose here is to share some other impressions I had during recent visits to both places.

Cuban buildings are literally falling apart.  Puerto Rican buildings look essentially like buildings elsewhere in the United States.  Even the public housing in Puerto Rico looks much better than most Cuban buildings.  The Puerto Ricans also keep their yards looking nice (moreso than, say, Chicagoans).

There are abandoned structures in Puerto Rico.  I don’t remember seeing any in Cuba, except the (many) that were too unsafe to be habitable.

Satellite dishes for TV reception are very common in Puerto Rico, even in poor neighborhoods.  For the first fifty years after the Revolution, Cubans were prohibited from watching foreign TV (but with ingenuity and generous bribes, some Cubans broke this law).  I don’t remember seeing any residential satellite dishes in Cuba.

Although some Puerto Ricans told me that Cuba is less polluted, I got the opposite impression, especially the big smokestack in the middle of Havana.  Puerto Rico does have plenty of cars – supposedly more per square mile than any country in the world.  Few Cubans can afford a car.

I was amazed at the quality of the cars (and pickup trucks) even in the poorest Puerto Rican neighborhoods, both urban and rural.  Below is an example from the neighborhood known as La Perla.

[the video is not mine, but allows you to take your own La Perla tour]

Even at national franchises, food and services are often cheaper in Puerto Rico than in, say, Illinois.  But, in Cuba, restaurant meals, taxi rides, beverages, etc., have essentially the same dollar price as in Illinois even while Cuban incomes are an order of magnitude lower.  In other words, Cuba is terribly inefficient: even with cheap labor Cuba cannot manage to make things cheaply.

By all statistics, Puerto Rico is poorer than any U.S. state.  This was not obvious from walking around, but I admit that I have not seen, say, Mississippi in many years.  Also, there may be a lot of informal/underground-economy income in Puerto Rico, so that its official income statistics are not indicative of consumption.

I asked Puerto Ricans what they thought about Cuba, and typically they proclaimed that Cuba doesn’t have a public debt problem!  I presume, but did not confirm, that they are (i) not interested in trading their cars, nice houses and yards, internet, high-school diploma, cheap and available food, etc., for debt-free bragging rights and (ii) unaware that Castro’s Cuba was 30 years ahead of Puerto Rico when it came to defaulting on public debt.  Puerto Ricans do admit that people move from Cuba to Puerto Rico rather than vice versa.