Last night and last thoughts on Cuba
The last night before we head out for dinner we had three gentlemen who have been involved with the Castro regime come speak with us. Manuel Yepe, a Cuban journalist, Ricardo Alarcon, a Cuban statesman who served as the permanent representative to the United Nations for nearly 30 years and was considered the third most powerful figure in Cuba and Carlos Salsamendi also a diplomat and ambassador for Cuba.
Sitting there listening to these men speak was fascinating. Hearing their answers to some pretty powerful questions was even more fascinating. They still believe in the mission of what Castro set forth yet it does not take much when you walk down the streets to see utter decay and a country sliding into despair. Doctors don't make as much as tour guides. People are leaving, if they can, for a better life. There is not a future keeping the next generation there.
I am beyond thrilled that I came on this trip. I give huge credit to the loyal country men and women who believe in their country. They have very little access to the outside world so it is hard for them to understand that the small tunnel that is called the 7th wonder of Cuba is 1/8 of the size of the Lincoln Tunnel and there is also the Holland Tunnel and even the many bridges surrounding NYC that nobody considers a wonder. They do not see that this tunnel that they laud is not a big deal. That is only one example.
The men we listened to that night are living in a dream. There is no equality in Cuba. The country is fallng apart. They talk about their wonderful world partners and how if the US lifts the embargo ( as we should for purely humanitarian reasons ) that the US will have to choose how to deal with Cuba and their friends. If they had such good friends why would they let the country look as it does. I am pretty sure even if we lifted the embargo that very little would change because the country does not want to change. There are not enough young people there to force change like the uprisings we are seeing in Egypt.
Cubans are taxed in other ways vs income tax. Money is always fungible. There are not enough jobs. There are two currencies, one for tourists and a separate one (the peso) for the people who live there. The Government is putting money into the touristy area of Havana but not the neighborhoods people live in. There are multiple mysteries surrounding all the information you are told by the locals who are drinking the Kool-Aid. Information changes daily. Their socialism is not that different from the rest of the world in regards to free education and healthcare but the system to support that infrasturcture does not exist like jobs, farms for food, hospitals with the latest technology, access to the internet, etc. The country exists just like it did 50 years ago. Nothing has moved forward.
After listening to these men I became angry and aghast…and it appeared like most of us who were there that night did too. It is a beautiul country and I am sure in the early 50's it was the most amazing place on earth. How did they sit back and watch their own country get to this point? I have zero idea but drinking the same Kool-Aid is going to get the country nowhere. The people need to push for change and I am not so sure that is going to happen anytime soon. Although certainly the Castros won't be around forever or neither will the three men who spoke. I would have liked to see some Government officials who are 40 talk to us about the future of Cuba not the past.
I went home depressed and dismayed. An oasis only 90 miles off the shores of Florida is a 3rd world country living in a world or a dream that no longer exists. It is utterly sad and I only can hope that change will come.