And yet one can easily take a short drive across the Canadian border (if one lives near it, as I do) and buy Cuban Cigars that are illegal to buy or own in the United States. Yeah, that embargo is really effective. The ONLY country that recognizes it is the United States. Every other country in the world trades with Cuba. Not even our staunchest allies join us in the Embargo.
Businesses that do business with Cuba can't do business with the USA. Some small shop in Canada can sell Cuban cigars because they aren't doing business with the USA. But seeing as the USA has the largest market in the world, this is a very effective deterrent in getting others to stop trading with Cuba. What about the ships that carry goods across the seas. Can they make a stop in Cuba on their way to the USA? No. And examples like that make things much more difficult and expensive for Cuba.
For what it's worth, I've been to Cuba a couple of times, and it didn't seem to me like the people were suffering too badly. I lived in Mexico for a few years and have travelled all over that country, and learned to speak Spanish there. Both times I went to Cuba, within the last year or so, I rented a car and took 1200 or so kilometre road trips, including jaunts across the middle of nowhere. And I just couldn't see how they were suffering any worse than tens of millions of people in Mexico. In fact, it seems like peasants in Cuba live much more peaceful and less stressful lives than those in Mexico. People in Mexico disappear, and the state is often responsible. The narco war is bullsh*t. People there live under a constant threat, a fear for their own safety. In contrast, people in Cuba have no sense of fear of crime. It's shocking. And I reject that I was only seeing what they wanted me to see, since we travelled pretty much where ever we wanted, hours on backroads, picking up passengers and talking to them, and so on.
I'll grant you a couple of things. Yes, they have a very authoritarian government, but I perceive it more like Singapore than a brutal dictatorship. People are free to go about their day to day business, but there are strict penalties for breaking the law. Probably not going to send out the death squad on the first offence. It's like the signs I saw in Singapore saying what the penalties were for things. Outside the bar it says drunk driving first offence, so many thousands of dollars fine and so many days in jail. Second offence, a few more thousands and a bit more time in jail. Third offence, you're going to get a serious beating/canning.
Second, they don't have the material wealth that we do. That is obvious, quite apparent, and not really in question. They have the bare necessities and few luxuries. Partly because of the embargo, partly because of their own economic system, and partly due to the fact that they are a small nation and don't have the vast natural resources that countries like my own do.
So, sure, it's a police state, they don't have a lot of material wealth, but when you take everything into consideration, such as the freedom from crime, knowing that they will always have at least enough food to live on, a roof over their heads, freedom from religion (i.e. they have lots of sex which many Slashdotters can't really say), decent medical care and education, they're really not suffering any worse than tens or even hundreds of millions of peasants in Latin America. Which is what most of them would be if it weren't for the revolution.
I can recognize that the upper class of Latin American countries would never want a Cuban style system, but for the peasants, the vast marginalized peoples that are practically forgotten even by their own countrymen in places like Mexico who just see them as stupid Indians, in the sierra of Guerrero for example, I fail to see how they would be any worse off living in Cuba.
The UN Human Development Index ranks Cuba slightly higher than Mexico. I think it is only fair to compare the standard of living in Cuba to other countries in the region with similar histories, not to the United States or Europe.