THE BLOG
09/28/2016 05:43 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2017

The Ups And Downs Of Cuban Socialism

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While living in Havana this summer to write an article for The Atlantic, I found myself negotiating the daily paradoxes of the Cuban system. Here's a breakdown:

Tourism
The Upside...
You can buy high end European food in the Old City at one of the new privately owned paladares.

The Downside...
The translation on the menu includes "crowded lard pig" and "soggy rice."

Culture
The Upside...
A hip hop group that poorly mimics 1990s Gangsta Rap receives a modest government artist's stipend.

The Downside...
When it's 86 degrees the only bottled liquid you can buy at a special hip hop event in the Grand Theatre is orange-glo government-subsidized pineapple drink.

Transportation
The Upside...
Community taxis cost only $.60 to cross Havana.

The Downside...
The most important skill learned after a week is how to close the door of a smoke-filled 6-rider Soviet-made taxi without the handle falling off.

Women
The Upside...
So many are gorgeous.

The Downside...
Unable to buy recently available Buenos Aires designer clothing line, they wear pink cut-off t-shirts that say Shakin' It Up.

Fidel
The Upside...
Fidel images reinforce a grandfatherly presence that offers surrogate support for boys with absentee fathers.

The Downside...
4th graders quoting Fidel's words in Camagüey Province look only slightly more convincing than 4th graders reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in suburban Minneapolis.

Race
The Upside...
Nobody understands the term inter-racial couple because Cubans are relaxed about almost everyone being interracial.

The Downside...
Young black men understand the term racial profiling when translated properly from English.

Health Care
The Upside...
Anyone can get dialysis treatment on the spot.

The Downside...
The average breakfast pairs a sticky bun with one of 7 bread rolls rationed per week for a one child couple

Housing
The Upside...
When a family whose roof collapsed January 12, 2015 immediately got free temporary shelter, the resulting plumbing project created jobs for six government functionaries.

The Downside...
Plumbing fixtures replaced makeshift buckets on April 17, 2016.

Public Space
The Upside...
In Fraternity Park near the Capitol, stray dogs far outnumber the few homeless people by a 5:1 ratio.

The Downside...
In Fraternity Park transgender and heterosexual prostitutes switch off shifts to maintain socioeconomic equality.

Technology
The Upside...
Advancing technology with flashdrives readily available allows people to share multiple files quickly.

The Downside...
Downloading blatantly capitalist beauty pageant reality show takes up extensive memory.

Havana
The Upside...
You feel safe walking down any dark Havana back street at 2am with two muscle-bound silhouettes approaching the other way.

The Downside...
You feel unsafe walking down any dark Havana back street at 2am because the scattered potholes resemble those in Baghdad.

The Press
The Upside...
Official government newspaper Granma gives a credible review to Rolling Stones concert in March.

The Downside...
Raul speeches printed verbatim.

Addiction
The Upside...
While almost everybody smokes, new health consciousness has led to smoking cessation classes and signs everywhere that say cigarettes can damage your health.

The Downside...
Che and Fidel would have been horrible 12 Step sponsors.