Eric Hoefer '04 and Kimberly Clotman '04 were among 41 Fuqua School of Business students spending 10 days in Cuba to learn about the island’s economy and business climate. The trip is part of our International Center’s GATE series (Global Academic Travel Exchange) of in-classroom study and on-the-ground visits to interesting business locales across the globe. The six-week study period prior to the trip was centered on Cuba’s political, social, and economic environments.
Periodically, Eric and Kimberly will file bylined dispatches from the island, describing the trip and its lessons for their business careers. If their IT resources on the island are sufficient, photos will accompany the news stories.
Along on the trip are professors David Robinson and Joel Huber and student services director Pam Brown.
This is the final of four Dispatches from Cuba from GATE trip students Kimberly Clotman and Eric Hoefer.
Friday, March 26, 2004
In putting together my final thoughts on the Cuban experience, it was necessary for me to look back at my travel journal and reflect on our group's time there. When I look at my entry on the first day, I realize how very little of our trip turned out to be what I expected.
I had imagined a Cuba that was somewhere between an island paradise (remnants from the '50s) and a third world nation, with all the connotations that go with that phrase. What I found instead was a country in the midst of a huge transition. One that attempts to encourage more foreign investment and foreign visitors while not getting away from the values that the revolution was founded on.
While it's difficult to sum up my experience in a few short paragraphs, there are a few words that immediately come to mind when thinking about Cuba and Cuban people.
Resourceful. Everyone I ran across had some sort of side business, legal or otherwise, to stretch the government food rations and relatively small salaries. American cars from the late '50s are in fairly good working condition, without access to original parts and supplies. And you might be surprised to know that the number one sugar producing factory in Cuba, one that competes on the world market, runs on parts from the early 1900's.
Informed. Many Cubans are fairly knowledgeable about the world around them. This happens in a variety of ways, including contact with foreign visitors, American movies shown on state TV or American television and radio stations that are broadcast out of Florida.
Nationalistic. Cubans are fiercely passionate about their independent status. Even those that don't support the current regime are appreciative that Castro has managed to maintain the tiny island's independence after being at the whims of the Spanish, British and even the Americans over the years.
Advanced. A few sectors are leaps and bounds ahead of many nations in the developed world. No where is this more evident than the healthcare system. There is a doctor in most every neighborhood, clinics in the larger areas as well as hospitals. This is a system that focuses heavily on preventative care. As just one example, the rate of AIDS is less than that of the U.S., and this without access to the medicines that are produced here in the states.
Overall, I realized that it's hard to apply absolute concepts when it comes to Cuba. Socialist versus capitalist or free versus oppressed cannot be viewed in such black and white terms. There's a lot of grey in Cuba. Casto or some other regime, economic blockade or open borders, Cuba will continue to grow and change and advance. That, is inevitable.
-- Kimberly Clotman