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.

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    It’s sad to see how people in power can exert a distorted view of reality on their citizens who start to believe that kind of brain washing.We know their view is distorted, but they don’t. That’s what’s sad about it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      So utterly sad

  2. AG

    Did you believe they still believed what try we’re telling you?Denial is an amazing thing. Ive seen it on a small scale with individuals, but when the truth is so obvious and systematic, you’d think it would be impossible not to recognize it. Then again, we’d only need to look at history to see why this is not the case.

  3. Tracey Jackson

    This whole series you’ve done has been amazing. You have turned in a memorable series of blogs. Thank you for this well rounded, visually stimulating and deeply interesting look at this country we still know so little about. You’ve shown us the warts, the food, the art, the people and then some! The stove at the culinary institute sticks in my mind, as do many others. I will reread them all again soon! Good job girlfriend.

    1. AMT Editorial Staff

      Ditto that.

  4. Leslie

    At the risk of offending anyone here, am I alone in seeing the parallels in our own United States? You needn’t look too far (you just need to look) to see crumbling infrastructure, extreme poverty, perverse investment etc. We have obviously a different political system no doubt, and the ability (if we so choose) to change things, but denial is both alive and well here in our own country. I just wonder about our own house of cards?

    1. Gotham Gal

      You are not alone. I thought the exact same thing.

    2. LindaSF

      Thank you, Leslie. When I read Gotham Gal’s post I felt upset at her not saying anything about our role in Cuba’s situation (it is not disputed that the CIA attempted to assassinate Castro over 300 times … and failed… and of course there’s that embargo) and our own situation at home. I just returned from a two-week trip to Cuba that took me from Santiago de Cuba in the East (with a side-trip to Guantanamo) to Havana. Of course there are problems and yes, the country’s infrastructure is disintegrating. City Planning is not taught in Cuba’s universities, so let’s hope that the embargo is lifted slowly. Here are some positive things about Cuba: everyone has free medical care and education through graduate school if they study are are good students; there is no gun violence because there are no guns — and no gangs; people talk to one another rather than looking at screens all day; the arts are supported greatly. I went to Cuba to learn about it, not to criticize it. And I left feeling hopeful.

      1. Gotham Gal

        Those are absolutely the positive things. Free education, free health care and a huge support for the arts. In the short term, I am not so hopeful. Educated people leave if they can. There are no jobs to support their education. The health care, although free, is far from up to date. The food situation is poor. Amazing resilient people. I only hope that the embargo is lifted and all the wonderful aspects of Cuba rise to the top

  5. jim miller

    Any position on the embargo and its role on the situation? I think most people that go there come away thinking that the embargo may be one of the dumbest policies we have today……which is saying a lot.

    1. JLM

      .Castro came to power in 1959 with the ouster of Bautista. The US thought Castro and his brother to be friends of the US and was surprised to learn he was a committed Communist.In 1961, the US tried to remove him from power forcibly. Unsuccessfully. Highlighting how important it is to be able to execute foreign policy initiatives especially when they are only 90 miles from ouR shores.The parallels with the failures in the Middle East are frighteningly similar.We have lived with a Communist country only 90 miles from the US for over half a century.These people now know no other system. The opponents all fled to the US.Imagine how different things might have been if the Bay of Pigs invasion had been successful?Failed foreign policy has consequences.JLM.

  6. JLM

    .The ultimate destination of socialism is a world where the poor are still poor, the rich are poor and there is no ability to better oneself through effort and hard work.The educational system is a conduit for indoctrination and the health care is either non-existent or mediocre and dangerous. The healthcare system is so weak as to add rather than reduce the risks of mortality.The entire economy quickly devolves to a service or individual sustenance economy — tourism to obtain foreign currency which is confiscated by the government or subsistence farming.The world has seen several notable examples of this phenomenon — East Germany and Cuba.They are both an indictment of socialism writ large with an ideology being worshipped and the results being ignored.The US has recently taken a giant step in that direction. Luckily we have free elections every two years and the results will color those contests, as well they should.Your reporting is critical and thoughtful. Your pictures are wonderful. The entire experience — through your lens — is a tour de force.Interestingly enough, the same breed stock — Cuban Americans — are some of the most entrepreneurial people in the US. Cuba will blossom when it throws off the yoke of Communism and socialism.It is the yoke of a failed ideology and practice as you have so well documented.JLM.

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks. totally a failed ideology. that is why i wanted to go to see that failure up close. it is just disturbing to see it.