Incognito Press

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Reflecting on my visit to Cuba

Posted by E on December 25, 2007

So I’ve been back from Cuba for about two days now, which is just about how long I’ve needed to get over the vacation, sunburn and trauma of leaving the sunshine behind and being air-packed like a Polish sausage into the tiniest airplane seat I’ve ever sat in…and this is coming from me, the queen of budget airlines.

The vacation itself was sunny and lovely, this being my first time visiting Cuba – of course I fell in love with the azure blueness of the Caribbean sea, as much as I fell in hate with the system of unabashed oppression in this country.

People made due, of course. They adapt under any circumstances.

Late at night, hotel staff snuck into the Internet room to check world news and their emails; on a sunset walk on the beach, we came across another employee carefully clipping out articles from an international newspaper some tourist abandoned on the beach. Earlier in the day, we bought bootleg rum from the bar server – who snuck us into the back of the bar and sold us a tall bottle of Havana Club for four pesos.

Everyone tries to make their way through a system that now has decided to attack its own people with its advent of the cuban peso convertible – an odd, makeshift currency that simultaneously attempts to copy the euro, take advantage of tourists, and rip off its own citizens. Nowadays, waiters, bartenders and chambermaids make more in a month, after tips, that doctors, lawyers and government officials do.

It’s sick.

The country is turning topsy-turvy, with the elites being those who work in the tourism trade, and the intellectual professions becoming less paid, and less regarded as something to strive toward. One of our waiters had been a Spanish teacher for seventeen years and confessed that he had always wanted to teach and worked hard to achieve that distinction. However, he chose to don a waiter’s outfit in order to make significantly more money, though the hours are long and he has to commute for many hours while working six days a week.

The ones who suffer the most in Cuba are the people who are not associated with tourism, who do not have access to the new “cuban convertible peso” currency, which is 25 to 1 the rate of the regular people’s peso. Those people see the nike shoes and brand name clothing being purchased by rich Cubans from specialty shops, and are getting angrier.

We took trips into local towns and the poverty is sickening. I predict the Cuban government will fall in the next 2-3 years. Maybe sooner. Who knows if Fidel is even alive? I have my doubts – nobody has seen him since his health problems last year. I don’t believe that the propaganda writings of Che adorning the walls of the sugar and tabacco factories we visited will hold back the masses of dissafected youth who hang out on the streets, find ways to access the outside world through internet and word of mouth, and ache to travel outside their suffocating little island.

I felt like crying, because I knew, I totally knew that if I had been born in Cuba, I too would follow those who desperately do anything to escape – in rafts, in boats, in anything that would get me out. Cuba is such a beautiful country, but if you are trapped, unable to think or travel anywhere, even paradise can become a horrifying place.

I remembered the oppression of growing up in Romania, and how we left just two years before the Revolution. But even in Romania, people could sometimes travel. I cannot fathom a more oppressive government than Cuba – excluding of course the Middle Eastern nations who would rather stone a woman to death than allow her to go to the market by herself, or have a strand of hair show through the burke.

Religion and ideology are the same. The opium of the masses, the poison of free thought, the exile of humanity from this world.

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6 Responses to “Reflecting on my visit to Cuba”

  1. I glad to read your honest account of your experience. It’s hard to read those sugar sweet accounts of vicarious communists who go to Cuba and talk about how proud the people are in their resistance to the “evil imperialists.”

    Cheers.

  2. Elisa said

    Thank you for leaving your comment. I checked out your blog and decided to add it to my blogroll.
    I’ll be writing a couple more articles in the coming days about what I saw/felt while I was in Cuba. I felt quite affected by what I saw and needed the time to digest the images before I wrote anything. For me, it was as if I stepped back in time to my own childhood, where I wore a communist red scarf and saluted the fatherland while hearing everybody around me in the bread lines whisper about their lack of freedom/hope. It felt raw to see that a world like this exists still.
    I was in Beijing some years ago, and while I still felt the oppressive Big Brother all around, the energy didn’t feel as desperate as in Cuba.

  3. Brian Heat said

    Elisa,
    Thank you for telling the truth about what you experienced in Cuba. So many “stories” are told of how the people have “free health care”, plenty of food, and all the other lies about how the government takes care of them. I too have been to Cuba, 4 times over the past two years and have experienced the things you have described. Those Cubans who live outside of the tourist areas live a dismal existence, many friends I have there tell me horror stories of how difficult life is. I know of one Doctor who quit their job (which paid them $20 a month) because the government would not make the clinic they worked from sterile. If one of their patients was to get infected and become worse off, guess who gets blamed?
    The government has recognized that Tourism can be a boon to them, and as you mentioned, many of the more educated have found that out also. The goverment has taken steps to eliminate any more students that graduate to go into the Tourism industry for that reason. Sad not to have a choice of your education, much less a choice of employment. I hope that change comes soon for Cuba, just not change for changes sake. When change does come, things will get worse before they get better for the Cubans.

    Brian

  4. av2ts said

    Poverty was sickening huh? With that statement I have to ask if you’ve even been to another country in the Carribean or Latin America?? Cubans surely do not have a lot of material posessions, but they certainly are not hungry, homeless or desperate like so many millions in other comparable countries (and even the US).

    Do you care to know why Cubans have crappy internet service? It is because the US Government forbids them from using the broadband cable running just a few dozen miles offshore. So they must connect 100% through very expensive and slow satellites, which means usage must be rationed for it to remain fast enough to be useful. But since you didn’t even mention the blockade, I doubt you care for these kind of base truths.

    Care to really know why they have 2 currencies?? It is so tourists and those tourism workers with access to hard currencies (by selling people like you rum under the table) are taxed and not able to buy things at the super subsidzed prices ordinary Cubans enjoy. It is a way to level the playing field, not make it wider. Tourism creates inequalities. There are professionals working as taxi drivers all over the world, including the United States.

    Your hopes for an uprisising is based on wishful thinking and nothing more. Cuba is doing well – growing at 10% a year for 3 years and solving its problems (transportation, housing, energy) admirably. Meanwhile, the capitalist countries continue to see their problems multiply. Enjoy it.

  5. Elisa said

    to my deluded friend av2ts, and the other guy whose earlier rant I deleted since it was so full of spelling errors and ad hominem attacks my eyes began to hurt:

    First, let me resolve some of your assumptions: indeed I am familiar with poverty in third-world countries, since I have worked closely with small charities in India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. As to your comment likening US poverty to that of Latin America, let me just put it aside as hogwash. You think the Cuban government’s welfare system is any better than that of US or Canada? Give me a break. There are food banks here, soup kitchens, warm places with running water here that would make any elderly Cuban who is living on 7 pesos a month think this is Paradise.

    I doubt you care about the base truth of what oppression, state-enforced blockage of information and mass propaganda as a way to keep people in order are, and what they do to the spirits and minds of Cubans.
    Tourism creates inequities, huh? I’d say – that’s why Fidel is sitting with $500 million in his bank accounts and according to Forbes is one of the richest men in the world while his people suffer, while they are rationed and kept from interacting with the outside world.
    Crappy internet service indeed – I’ve met a Cuban whose friend was sent to prison because he dared have an “illegal” satellite and a computer. Yes, that admirable country sends people to jail for connecting to the internet. Since you don’t aknowledge that, I doubt you care to know about such base truths.

    My so-called “wishful thinking” is so much more than that – as we have witnessed behind the Iron Curtain, and in the slow changes taking place in China – communism is an unrealizable utopia, a lovely children’s fairytale that when enforced, leads to people dissapearing in the night, people starving (sorry to shock your marxist sensibilities, but it does happen), and people living in misery and oppression, unable to speak their minds, unable to live their lives to their full potentials, with only the knowledge that their children will inherit the same fate.

    Lastly, that last sentence of yours REALLY made me laugh out loud. Cuba is solving its problems admirably? What planet are you from, man? Jesus, but that was really idiotic, no offense. The damn buildings are falling apart, the roads remain unpaved (for Christ’s sake, even in Moscow, Bucharest and Beijing, the communists paved the roads first! lol), good housing is scarce and still worst than slums back in the US, which are at least regulated by social services and have running water!!
    Cuba’s problems are multiplying nearly as fast as Fidel’s health problems. The end of the regime is very, very near.
    Enjoy it!
    🙂

  6. The silence is almost…deafening.

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