Distinctive features of Cuba compared to other Latin American countries

Compared to other Latin American countries, Cuba has

1. fewer and smaller produce markets and meat markets -- rationed goods are all sold in modest-sized government stores;

2. far fewer shops in general, whether of the peso or dollar kind;

3. no shopping malls, but some private (legal) selling for pesos and private (illegal) selling for dollars;

4.     retailing for the 3 million tourists is modest measured by the number of tourist stores and variety of tourist goods, but some very expensive (out of the reach of almost all Cubans) European stores (e.g., Italian) have been allowed;

5.     one government-run tourism agency which operates all tourists buses, hotels, and restaurants;

6.     no advertisements and billboards for products and services and very few political billboards;

7.     absence of foreign multi-national companies and fast-food chains, such as McDonald, Coca Cola, Ford;

8.     houses in older, often historic, sections of cities used since the revolution for schools, shops, and factories (cigar, clothing, shoes); and many consumer goods are labor intensive;

9.     large houses and apartments of the former wealthy in older sections of cities which were assigned to families after the revolution but who lack the money and building supplies to maintain them; often former commercial spaces were subdivided into several housing units by the occupants with make-do materials;

10.   paint peeling older and new houses and other buildings – very few well painted and maintained structures;

11.  very standardized new (since the revolution) basic residential units with only a few expensive older  houses that are well painted and have garages with cars;

12.  new uniform worker housing complexes, usually one-storey, but also occasionally multi-story apartments on the outskirts of cities;

13.  oxen, horses for people transport and for work, bicycles, and trucks for people transport, rather than min-vans and buses;

14. 1950s US-made cars and Soviet-era cars, trucks, and tractors;

15. few motorized vehicles on the highways outside of cities – even in cities such Havana traffic is light given the size of the population;

16. free clinics (with limited supplies) throughout the country.


Cuba’s difference from the rest of the Americas is evident by the direction of travel to or from the country. Arriving in Cancun, Mexico, from Minneapolis, USA, Mexico seems like a very different place; but arriving in Cancun, Mexico, from Havana, Cuba, Mexico seems like arriving in the USA!