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"Make Me Smart” Newsletter

American rule changes could help prop up Cuba’s small-time capitalists

Ellen Rolfes and Catherine Orihuela May 31, 2024
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Hagamos negocios. (Let’s do some business.) The U.S. is making it easier for Cuban entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. The Treasury Department announced several changes Tuesday to regulations on Cuban assets that were put in place after the country established a communist government in the early ’60s. Some Cuban nationals can now theoretically open U.S. bank accounts and use digital transaction platforms like Venmo and PayPal.

Wait, Cuba has private enterprise? The Cuban government legalized private ownership of small and medium-sized businesses in 2021 in response to anti-government protests. Today, about 11,000 of these businesses — known as pymes — employ about one-third of the island’s population.

The U.S. had already made exceptions for pymes, allowing them to import goods the Cuban government cannot. The changes announced this week increase support for small businesses while staying tough on the communist authorities.

The potential benefits for Cubans are clear, but American companies may not bite. Cuba remains under an economic embargo, and the U.S. still lists it as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Even though the new rules allow banks to offer services to Cubans, banks may choose not to do so because of legal liabilities. U.S. businesses are responsible for making sure they don’t violate economic sanctions, which can be expensive and difficult to navigate, so the cost of compliance may not be worth it. The U.S. has struggled in the not-so-distant past to find a bank willing to provide accounts for American Embassy staff in Havana for this very reason.

Cuba’s dealing with an economic crisis, energy blackouts, food shortages and high inflation. Pymes have helped alleviate shortages, but most Cubans still can’t afford what these private businesses are selling. The average monthly income is between $16 and $23, and a pantry staple like powdered milk can cost as much as $4 a pound when not subsidized by the government. That economic crisis is one of the main reasons why more than 500,000 Cuban migrants that have come to the U.S. in the past two years, about 5% of the island’s population.

Convenient timing? U.S. elections and Cuba policy often go hand in hand. More than half of incumbent American presidents since 1959 have either tightened sanctions or pulled back on diplomacy during election campaigns to seem tough on communism or court Cuban American voters, especially those in Florida.  Although President Barack Obama began to normalize relations with Cuba toward the end of his second term, President Donald Trump did not carry on those efforts. Lawmakers, mostly Republicans, argue that the Cuban government is using pymes to get around the embargo.

You can learn about Cuba’s economy firsthand. There are only four spots left for our eight-day tour in early 2025, hosted by Kimberly Adams.

Smart in a Shot

Six moles on a close-up photo of skin.
Is that a mole or skin cancer? Many young people lack basic sun protection knowledge. (CDC)

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.Sunscreen is an essential line of defense in preventing skin cancer and sun damage, but young people have some pretty serious misconceptions about what it’s actually for and how to use it.

In one AAD survey, 28% of 18- to 26-year-olds said that “getting a tan was more important to them than preventing skin cancer.” When asked about the study by The New York Times, one doctor said a quarter of respondents said getting a base tan could even prevent it. In another poll by the Orlando Health Institute, 14% of adults under 35 said sunscreen is more harmful than direct sun exposure.

In 2022, sun care products were an $8.5 billion business with a global market value expected to exceed $16 billion by the end of the decade. But the way some brands and influencers market sunscreen to young adults as an anti-aging solution remains slightly problematic. Skin cancer prevention is the first goal of sunscreen. Fewer wrinkles and spots as you age are an added bonus. It’s not a perfect solution, but if vanity gets people to use sunscreen, some doctors say public health messaging should lean into it.

Distrust and lack of knowledge are big parts of the problem. But experts say a lot of people are just bad at applying sunscreen: We often use too little, miss spots or rub it in too hard.

Luckily, there are some simple rules of thumb to protect yourself. Here’s an article from The New York TImes with good advice on sunscreen application. And if you need a helpful, less-than-elegant rhyme, do as Sid the Seagull does and “Slip! Slop! Slap!” 

The Numbers

Americans are planning to spend big on summer travel, despite high prices. But popular destinations are struggling with overtourism, and locals aren’t silently standing by. Let’s do the numbers.


That’s the bus route many tourists in Barcelona, Spain, would take to get to the Antoni Gaudi-designed Parc Güell, but you won’t find it recommended on Google Maps anymore. Locals complained they couldn’t get a seat on the minibus due to it being overrun by the park’s visitors, so the city quietly removed it from mobility apps.


The town of Fujikawaguchiko, Japan, put up a 66-foot screen to stop tourists arriving in droves to copycat photographs of Mount Fuji that had gone viral on social media. Locals complained that, in their quest for the shot, visitors violated litter rules and created traffic hazards by unsafely blocking sidewalks and streets.  Only a week after installing the barrier to block the view, local authorities were busy patching at least 10 holes, all at eye level and large enough for a camera lens to poke through.

5 euros

That’s the “access fee” the government of Venice is now charging day trippers to enter the Italian city. The charge is the first of its kind in the world, but critics say the price of entry ($5.41 U.S.) is too low to deter crowds. Some Venetians complain it’s turned their home into a “cheap circus or zoo.” 

5 a.m.

Spontaneous visitors to Yosemite National Park have to arrive before 5 a.m. or after 4 p.m. if they want to visit without a reservation this summer. The park reinstated its policy for 2024 to control crowds. 

$2.5 million

If you dismantle it, they will not come. A local government on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is paying $2.5 million to demolish the Haiku Stairs, a staircase built by the U.S. Navy during World War II. The structure was originally shut down in 1987 due to vandalism and safety concerns, but thrill seekers merely disregarded the No Trespassing signs.


Want to be a better tourist? The Guardian compiled 28 ways to have fun on your next holiday without being a local menace. 

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Real estate industry shakeout

More than 100,000 real estate agents have left the industry since 2022, and more are expected to exit soon. Editor Virginia K. Smith is reading a Washington Post story about how new rules governing home sales will impact agents’ commissions.

Hellish returns

Buying things on Amazon is supereasy, but returning your impulse buys is becoming more of a chore.Producer Zöe Saunders is reading an Atlantic story about how the e-commerce giant is working to mitigate its cost of restocking and refurbishing returned goods.

#BookTok bestseller

Even self-published titles can become bestsellers, with a little help from book-loving influencers on TikTok. Producer Courtney Bergsieker is reading a New York Times story about how a self-help workbook on spirituality became a mega-bestseller after going viral on social media.

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