No es facil. It ain’t easy. You quickly see the evidence of this when you step off the plane in Havana, Cuba. Lines are long and unorganized for immigration. Baggage claim is absolute chaos. Since many goods are simply not available here, those Cubans who are allowed to travel abroad stock up for Armageddon. I saw the strangest things coming off the luggage carousel: A complete set of four tires, packages of toilet paper so big they belonged on a pallet rather than a luggage cart, and yes, I literally saw a kitchen sink along with a whole plethora of small kitchen appliances. It was truly a bazaar of goods.
If God ever needed a mechanic, I’m convinced he would look in Cuba. It is really incredible the ingenuity these people must possess just to get by in day-to-day life. The things that most of us take for granted simply are not available here. I won’t really describe what I saw here as poverty. Everyone is well fed, has excellent health care, can go to university for free, and have their basic needs met. When luxury items are available they are priced way out of the range that the typical Cuban can afford. While this can be extremely interesting from a foreigner’s point of view, I sense that it can feel rather bleak to the average Cuban.
The economic woes of Cuba are a relatively recent phenomenon. For those of you who are too young to remember it comes down to the trade embargo against Cuba in place since 1959. It seems the government of the United States was not too keen on the revolution led Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in that same year. And just a few years later when the US government placed nuclear missiles in Turkey aimed right at Moscow, the USSR became friendly with the socialist government of Cuba and placed their own missiles here. That didn’t go over too well in Washington D.C. either.
This has resulted in an entire country frozen in a moment of time.
You want a bottle of water, there’s one brand. A cola, it’s the same. You want to use the Internet. Good luck and be sure to pray to bandwidth gods and hope you’re near to one of the parks that are the only access points in the country.
You won’t find homelessness here as everyone is provided for. This was assured in 1959 when Fidel Castro and a ragtag bunch of revolutionaries changed Cuba forever. Even though Fidel wasn’t technically in power while I was here, it was then that he chose to die. This will have a profound effect on the country but the jury is still out on just what kind of effect it will have. As an American it was difficult not to be embarrassed at how we as a nation have treated the Cuban people. In Havana all the world’s embassies were flying at half staff in observance of Fidel’s passing. Not the shiny new US embassy though. It was full mast.
President Obama gave the Cubans hope with his recent state visit here. All over Cuba you see posters of him with the caption: “Yes we came.” However they are incredibly fearful of the President Elect and perhaps rightfully so. They’ve endured decades of hardship and were just beginning to have so hope of softer relations between them and the giant 90 miles off their northern coast.
I’m glad I came when I did. It is obvious that already increasing tourism from the US is fracturing Cuba’s delicate tourism infrastructure. When leaving Havana yesterday I saw a Delta and JetBlue aircraft parked at gates. I know that United and American Airlines are also adding flights. Cuba is a wonderful portrait of the human race struggling to get by in a modern world. Or in their case a not so modern world. I’ll try to dive deeper into this over a series of futures posts here.