Cuba, communist conundrum?
Brighton Travel Blog› entry 11 of 11 › view all entries
We had a great time in Cuba. We met lots of friendly youngsters travelling, and a handful of oldies. In our casas we found great landladies and met their children, their nephews, their "helpers" and occasionally their husbands. We managed conversations, mostly in Mike's broken Spanish, about them, us, their families, aspects of their life, our life, the world. All the landladies were positive about their country - there may be some problems, but unlike most of Latin America, there was safety on the streets, good education, healthcare and the ration book.There was no real poverty like in Guatemala. The Americans, especially Bush, were the cause of many of Cuba's difficulties (probably true) and of the world's..(you decide...). Only once did a Cuban seriously bad-mouth his country to us, a man we met on the Malecon.
It is a country of contradictions. You see orderly queues everywhere - for buses, for bread, for the bank. People line up patiently and wait for "one out" to able to go in. There are security guards at most shops. They queue to use public phone booths. You have to have special permission to access the internet. Mobile phones are hugely expensive. There is an obvious police presence, particularly in Havana, and on the roads there are regular police control points. Tourists are never stopped, but many Cubans are.
Then there is the dual currency. The Cubans get paid and use for everyday things the "National Money" Basic salary for all is the equivalent of $12/ $15 a month. They can't live on that. Tourists have to use Convertibles, "CUCs", at an exchange rate that makes Cuba moderately pricey - £2 or so for a mojito, £7 for an average meal. But there are also CUC shops for Cubans, where they can buy consumer items not available in the normal shops, and at the higher prices. So Cubans wheel and deal to acquire CUCs. There are a few beggars, there are street hustlers offering all sorts of services, there are musicians in every cafe (normally very good) playing for CUC tips. In some casas we saw the very latest flat screen teles. Most had decent sound systems. A couple, computers. Families and friends pull together to help out. But you can tell life's not easy.
In all the sunshine friendliness, the beauty of the country, the historical resonance of Che, it's easy to forget Cuba is still a controlled communist state. It's been the David to the US Goliath, and got much sympathy as a result, but it's clear that not all the country's problems are down to the US blockade. The system itself is surely not sustainable long term. The "make do and mend" society - the ancient cars, the horse transport, the organoponico local market gardens; the impact of tourism - good infrastructure for tourists, mediocre for locals; the dual currency causing the wheeling and dealing. 2009 marks 50 years of Fidel's Revolution. The society can't last unchanged as last revolutionaries die off. Go now and see a unique conutry!