Much of this information is not new, and is unsurprisingly consistent with experience in other communist regimes. In one important respect, however, Cuba is actually more oppressive than many other communist regimes were:
In the United States, we have a minimum wage; Cuba has a maximum wage—$20 a month for almost every job in the country. (Professionals such as doctors and lawyers can make a whopping $10 extra a month…..Even employees inside the quasi-capitalist bubble [that serves Western tourists] don’t get paid more. The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Before accepting its contract, Meliá said that it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The Cuban government said fine, so the company pays $8–$10 an hour. But Meliá doesn’t pay its employees directly. Instead, the firm gives the compensation to the government, which then pays the workers—but only after pocketing most of the money.
There was no maximum wage in the Soviet Union after some experiments in the early years of the regime, or -as far as I know – in other Soviet bloc nations after 1945.
These and other grim realities of life under Cuban communism explain why so many Cubans are willing to risk their lives to flee.
I do have one beef with Totten’s article. It is entitled “The Last Communist City,” implying that Havana fits that description. But as long as North Korea still has a regime that is a real-life version of George Orwell’s 1984, Cuba will not be the last commmunist state, or even the most repressive.
UPDATE: I wrote this post before noticing co-blogger Eugene Volokh’s post on the same subject earlier today. I am going to leave this one up, because it addresses several issues that Eugene’s post does not.