Monday, June 29, 2009
In March of 2009, I visited Cuba on a cycling trip followed by diving. I had been to Cuba numerous times before and as I am proficient in Spanish, I always learn a great deal.
My past experiences of Cuba were that the people were immensely proud of their country and the fact that they held out against the USA. It was always felt that they could do anything. When there was a medical embargo, they created organic medicines. The Cuban people prided themselves on their resourcefulness. The US embargo and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980's meant that Cuba was forced to use organic crop growing methods. The result is that all the food in Cuba is organic and very healthy.
Cuba has a fine medical and educational system but they have lost the revolution. The revolution originally captured the hearts and souls of the people. They were willing to fight in the Sierra Maestra mountains against the enemy and endure hardship as it soon would end. That was 50 years ago and the hardships endure. The Cubans were hoping for change with Raul Castro but life for the average Cuban has gotten worse rather than better. There are no children's shoes in the stores that are affordable, the price of basic commodities is out of the reach of most of the population. Cubans faced with years of making do or deprivation, have lost hope.
The fields of Cuba and the workplaces are for the most place idle. The workers are absent and instead of hearing the hum of machinery, one can hear the clip clop of a horse or the squeaking of a rusty bicycle chain. The entire country is waiting. The hotel workers wait for their shifts to end, or crowd into the small dollar shops to buy treats. The construction workers work to fix their own homes, abandoning the work sites, the teachers are underpaid and question their role and the doctors often need second jobs simply to feed their families.
The saddest thing that I saw on this trip was the tourist sex trade and an increase in begging. Our hotel had a beach adjoining the property and this was the red light district where tourists would return with very young Cubans of both sexes to be wined and dined at the resort. Their empty and sad eyes tell their story without words. This was not the case a few years ago. The young Cubans that I knew burned with a fierce pride in their country and in themselves.
The once great museums and churches are often converted into museums of the revolution with dusty photos of Fidel or Raul Castro. These monuments to the revolution are devoid of Cuban visitors, who for the most part no longer hold the ideals of the revolution in their hearts. The revolutionary rhetoric has been replaced with the day to day drama of surviving, of finding enough food, of wondering if fresh water will be available or if the electricity will run.
The factories that were once proudly nationalized lay for the most part empty and idle, their machines rusting in the Cuban sun. The splendid buildings of Old Havana are in a state of mouldering decay. When the plumbing or machinery breaks down, there are no spare parts to repair and hence the deterioration continues. Where once there was a well attended church, you will see a few elderly people and the church operated by a few volunteers or indifferent teenage girls who know nothing of its history.
The disappearance of the charismatic and brilliant Fidel Castro has made matters worse. Without a visible leader and without a vision or hope, the people of Cuba have perished. Like the little boy in this photo, trying to ride a bicycle that was far too big for him, Cubans may have the desire to change but they lack the tools and like the little boy, despair.
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