Che, por favor!

 

I among dozens of people around the world have always dreamed of setting foot on the tropical island of Cuba. Was I looking forward to some salsa dancing and drinking some coconut juice? Sure thing, but for me Cuba had and has a bigger meaning…

Why ? Cuba is a land where the will of the people fostered a regime change that has remained in place for over 50 years… It is the only communist country that survived the Cold War and the years that came after and still no trace of civil war, bloody uprisings in the street or foreign military interventions… What was the secret? Were Cubans truly happy in their land in giving up their revenues to the state and not being allowed to leave the country?

As many of you, I pictured Cuba as a nation where people could barely afford to put food on the table, where crime and illicit traffic of narcotics would be a tough reality. I thought, if you take away competition and the prospects of improving your quality of life, then surely people would revolt and want more from the state… But as I came to realize over the six months that I spent in LA, there is a lot more offered that oversights the material wishes that we westerns tend to prioritize.  So here I state some remarks that explain why Cuba is much more that a failed communist state …

cuba

  • Yes they still respect and look up to Che Guevara and the Revolution. Over the years, we saw a nation that seemed to have stagnated in the 50’s. We worried about the wellbeing of their citizens and we accused the Castro rule of being a dictatorship. Because we cannot understand how a state that does not have a democratic government could respect their citizens and listen to them. Well, many forget that before the Revolution, most of Cuban land belonged to Americans or American factories. People were uneducated and did not have access to health care of any kind. After the revolution, more than half of the land was given to those that work on it. Education reached not only the cities but also the far distant, with bad land access villages. So yes, even though Cuba is not a perfect system, when you ask a Campesino in Viñales or in Trinidad they are thankful for the Revolution and for the work that the state has developed. However, they are also the first to say that it is time for change, especially time for economic reforms…

 

  • Yes free education and health system are one of a kind, that characterize this region as the most successful in employing socialist policies that reduced the percentages of extreme poverty in countries like Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. Cuba shares this. They have one of the most advance medical research centers in the entire world and the quality of education is superior to that of its neighbors. This explains why over the years so many medical students from the region and even Europe travel to Cuba.

 

  • Yes they are paid poorly. In Havana a Hotel director of a National chain, can earn up to 1000 MN (=40 CUC, and 1 CUC = US $ 1), whilst a cooker in a private restaurant can earn   60 –  70 CUC, which is the same amount paid to a public doctor. –> Anyone paid in CUC, the tourist currency, tends to earn less than those paid  MN, the national currency. Attending the level of expenses that a typical family has, the salaries on average cover just about the normal expenses. Thanks to the free education, young adults can attend university for free. So unlike an American attending Med school, Cubans might not have much growing up but they will not graduate with thousands of dollars in debt to the state. Furthermore, in case of a robbery, the state repays the victim the money stolen.

 

  • Yes owning property is possible. A Cuban is fully entitle to the land they work in and once they build their house they do not need to pay any taxes for their property to the state. A farmer in Viñales has to give/sell back to the state 90% of their production, which is sold at a very low price. And a brick house costs on average 16 000 CUC, reason why in rural areas you find more houses built with wood. If your house is used to rent rooms, then 1% of the profit you make to the state, and even if you do not make nay money, you would still have to pay a monthly fee.

 

  • Yes they love foreigners – no matter where you are from. Only in recent years Cubans were legally allowed to leave the country. Even though it is now legal, it is still extremely difficult to leave the country even if its just for holidays. The most common scenario, is that they will attained a tourist visa if invited by a foreigner government in case of relatives living abroad. It is a long, costly process: a visa application to go to their neighbor Mexico can cost up to $ 1000 just to get the paperwork started. A young family in Trinidad explained that in their case both wife and husband have attempted to obtain a visa to go to Mexico, and even though married, the husband has seen his visa refused twice in less than 2 years, whilst the wife was allowed to leave temporary. According to the source, this is a mechanism used to ensure that the citizen that leaves has enough motives to return to Cuba. So it should not come as a surprise that Cubans love foreigners, we bring money to the economy and we bring our own individual culture to their homes. It is the only way they can know about the world without leaving their houses.

Sem nome

  • Yes, they are educated and have their own opinions. The idea that a poor country suffers from poor education could not be more wrong. In Cuba, clothes are overly expensive and new cars are almost unimaginable, however a well formed opinion about politics or economy is present in every single cafe of the city. I openly talked about the revolution, the Castro (s) rule of the country as well as the lifting of the American embargo (which at the time still seemed unlikely). I was overwhelmed with the world view that most people had. How wise and how updated with the world news they were…

 

All in all, Cuba is such a magical place for a tourist: is like stepping outside of the world as we know it to enter a whole new form of governing and living that only history books can tell us about.

For a Cuban, life from our point of view is tough. For them is all they ever knew, but from Havana to Viñales to Varadero the hopes of a better life increased once the US announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. The lift of the embargo does not only have economic implications, it has extremely important international governance significance.

Once Cuba is seen as a legitimate country by the USA and world institutions, they can be reintegrated in world governance and even work as mediators with Venezuela, Iran, Russia and the OPT. Using Cuba’s rich historic alliances with these countries will have a positive impact in reaching out to these nations.

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