Monday, November 21, 2011

My Recent Trip to Cuba

I recently had the good fortune to spend two weeks in Cuba, having participated in a humanitarian visit to the country. I’ll leave the politics aside (although, if you have any interest in an insider’s perspective, I recommend Yoani Sanchez’ blog) and limit this blog to describing some of the things I saw.

Approximately 80% to 85% of the buildings in Havana are pre-revolution, have not been maintained and are in deplorable condition, both cosmetically and structurally. The infra-structure throughout the country is in dire straits. There is no water pressure in much of the country (which makes bathroom use an interesting experience), in many places, electrical power is turned off during the night, the top speed limit on the major highways is 50 mph and 35 mph on all other roads, all of which are full of potholes, so that, frequently going from point-to-point on a road is really a matter of zigging and zagging your way; many of the bridges shake when vehicles cross over them, which does not give one a sense of confidence in the transportation system. And, there is no money to address any of these issues.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba no longer had a source of foreign aid (as opposed to foreign investment, of which there seems to be a significant amount, most notably from Venezuela and China).

There is a housing crisis in Cuba which the Cubans openly acknowledge, and while a 100 by 300 meter tract of land in the countryside can be purchased for under $100, it takes, on average, five years to build a house because of the limited availability of building supplies. While I was there, on November 10, it became legal for the first time for individuals to buy and sell private homes – although house-swapping has been legal for some time and it has always been legal for private homes owned at the time of the revolution to be passed down from generation to generation.

If you have an opportunity to visit Cuba – especially while Fidel is still alive – take it! It is an unforgettable experience and the Cuban people could not be warmer and friendlier.

The country may be downtrodden but the people most certainly are not. They understand that the rift between Cuba and the US is a political one carried on at the highest governmental levels and I discerned no animosity of any sort on a people-to-people level. They venerate Ernest Hemingway and, like so much of the rest of the world, Cuban people enjoy much of our American “culture” from rock and roll, TV shows and movies, to baseball (the Cuban National Pastime) and, of course, Coca Cola, the ubiquity of which is rivaled only by mojitos.

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