After a dozen trips to Mexico, we finally decided to spread our wings a bit further and try a different locale.
Cuba seemed promising as it is very popular with Canadians and there was direct flights from our city.
I have always wanted to go there before Fidel dies and/or communism dies. I think it will be a much different place when that happens, better for tourists anyway, and many things of course will be changing- not all for the better for tourists either, but hopefully much better for the Cubans.
(Oddly enough, our last full day there, February 19th, was the day Fidel announced he was resigning from his government post of Commander in Chief- his brother Raul has been acting President for the past year and a half and...well, we'll talk about that later.
Which brings me to the politics angle. What would a Rissask report be without some politics and/or opinionated blather?
When fellow Canadians heard we were going to Cuba, all we heard was "cool!" or "I've been there." or "We want to go there." or variations on that theme. But when Americans heard I was going, we were greeted by either (good natured) jealousy- or grim and judgmental silence, depending on their own politics.
And since I am a pretty much middle of the road politically, I was kind of torn.
If I go to Cuba, does that mean I am supportive of Communism/extreme socialism, both ideologically and economically?
Am I a complete hypocrite if I denounce their government, then turn around and spend money to help prop it up?
Or, am I of the opinion that the people are happy with Fidel and living how they live- so what if they can't vote freely (look how few people in the ‘free world' even vote anyway!)- after all, they have free education, healthcare and almost free housing- so what if they make an average of $10 a month? We are so materialistic we just can't understand that it's not what's important in life. (Far left liberal viewpoint.
Or, do I actually not really care that much about their plight and just (selfishly) want to go on a hot holiday somewhere fairly economically, with gorgeous scenery and beaches?
(Non-political viewpoint; AKA self absorbed and ignorant.
What to think...what to think.....so (I admit, after
we booked) I read every book on Cuba I could find, both fiction and non-fiction, to figure out what I really though.
I came up with this. Cuba is a beautiful country with a diverse population that has had a very interesting and troubled history, which in turn has made the Cuban people unique and fascinating - and not at all pitiable. The revolution got rid of Batista, who was a horrible, murderous dictator, and along with the corrupt and overly capitalistic Americans in Cuba at the time (many of them mafioso), was not exactly good for the country, to say the least- especially the poor people.
So the revolution was welcomed by that segment of society (as well as some liberal rich people too)- and even today, there are many of those people living in Cuba today, who still remember Batista and say they are better off now. (Flip side, the rich people, most of whom lost property and money, and fled and settled in Miami- weren't happy at all. Naturally.
Other benefits of Cuban socialism- more equality for women than in many other poor countries, better protection of natural resources, better health for all citizens, low infant mortality and high literacy rates, racism is quite rare, there are very few homeless, programs for the disabled and mentally infirm, very low crime rate compared to other Caribbean countries.
But in general- of course they are not ‘better off' living under communism. I am not that naive nor that red.
Of COURSE it will be a wonderful day when the Cubans get to vote and have other freedoms, they are oppressed right now for sure- anyone seeing the bare shelves and how beggars ask tourists for soap and shoes and not pesos, or anyone who sees how people are afraid to say anything at all about Castro or communism (besides the rote mottos like ‘socialism o muerte!') for fear of being overheard by the Secret Police- can tell that.
But at the same time- I have no illusions that freedom or ‘democracy' necessarily equals happier, healthier people either- check out present day Soviet Union, or hey- how about Haiti or Jamaica? There are many reasons, the US embargo not the least of them by any means, why Cuba is in such bad shape today- and it is as much due to poor organization and stupid rules, stubbornness and pride as anything else.
So, feeling that way, pretty middle of the road- I felt completely at ease with going to visit Cuba.
We took along many things for the local people- pens and crayons for the kids, razors, soap, makeup, hair accessories, socks, hats, work gloves and jewelry for the hotel workers. I don't see how depriving the country of tourist dollars is going to help the average Cuban citizen; it's hardly their fault, after all.
I read on a travel site:
The 'real' Cuba isn't easy to fathom, however. In this twilight land, everything appears three times; once as the government likes to present it, once as the US likes to present it, and once as it really is. An open-minded visitor is torn two ways; Cuba is both disheartening and uplifting. You'll most probably fall madly in love with the country, while being thankful you don''t have to live in it.
Seems pretty fair.
That said....onward and upward with the trip report. (Keep in mind all of the above was written before we even left.)