Friday, 10 April 2015

Cuba: 10th April 2015

Today's is the date that sent tourists flocking to Cuba.  By the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, (10-11 April 2015), Barack Obama announced earlier this year, he hoped to have open a United States Embassy in Cuba.

We wanted to see something of Cuba before that happened.  And we were not alone.  Many tourists we chatted with over coffee, over dinner and in the street had made a snap decision to visit based on the announcements of a rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. Cuba was going to change, perhaps quite rapidly.  For many, the symbol of that change they feared the most (forgive me, my American friends) was the opening of a first McDonald's in Havana.  We wanted to see it before that.

Perhaps this is selfish, also superficial.  But it is true that Cuba has, for over half a century, occupied that rare thing: a unique position in the world.  Having caught a glimpse of the hardship and deprivation that have accompanied that position, the desire to see it feels less comfortable.  But, from a purely superficial point of view, there is a charm in the faded glory of the buildings and the fifties cars, in a countryside still worked by ox-drawn ploughs.

It was also very naive.  Change is always happening, everywhere, no matter what.  There is already a lot of private enterprise, for example.  There are private restaurants and hotels and 'casas particulares', 'bed and breakfast' establishments, have sprung up everywhere in people's homes.  Apparently, around 50% of the population has a government job, paying little by pretty much any standard, but there is lots of business and entrepreneurship running alongside.  That directed at tourism must, I think, be the most lucrative and for many Cubans the working day must be very long.                  

Many times we travelled along El Malecon, the seafront of the city, past the American Interests Building which will become the Embassy; once in a pink cadillac, twice in an open-topped red tourist bus, once in a Dodge Coronet (like the one above) being used as a shared taxi - a taxi 'colectivo'. Opposite the Embassy was daubed a single word: 'Venceros'.  We will overcome, we will be victorious, we will win.

I may be utterly naive, but I hope the victory will be in the realisation of the hopes and dreams of the ordinary Cubans we met who want to build a better life for themselves and their children.  Just like everyone.          

After a three week trip, I find myself fascinated by Cuba and fond of its people, some of whom I now call friends.  However, I am no expert.  Please forgive any unintentional inaccuracies.  I still have so much to learn about the history, culture and politics of this country. 

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