Impressions of Cuba: an educated and cultured people, but a feeble economy

Many properties would look abandoned if not for laundry drying on lines.
MinnPost photo by Joel Kramer
Many properties would look abandoned if not for laundry drying on lines.

HAVANA — We’ll call her Elena, to protect her from retribution from her government. I don’t know if we really need to protect her, but every time we asked her a question about her life in Cuba, she looked around to make sure no one was in earshot before answering.

Elena teaches mathematics to engineering students at the University of Havana. In most poor countries, this would make her a member of the economic elite. But this is Cuba, where for the most part the people are educated, cultured, healthy, and poor.

Elena has to moonlight as a tour guide at one of Havana’s oft-visited sites so she can earn enough to pay for food and clothing. We gave her a tip of about 10 American dollars, which is the equivalent of almost a month’s pay for a Cuban worker, even a well-educated professional.

She said she lives in a very small house, where she grew up with her grandmother. It is “her house” now, in a way — she doesn’t even have to pay any rent — but she can’t rent it out or sell it. “In Cuba,” she joked, “the only place where private property is respected is in the cemetery.”

Her daughter is studying archaeology at the university, but Elena says there is no future for the young woman in Cuba. She fears her daughter will find a way to leave, and she will be alone. Other relatives of hers have gone to the United States and Europe, “but they have forgotten me.”

One story of many
We heard so many variations of her story. Angela, a 90-year-old woman, sings and plays guitar in one of Havana’s relatively few privately owned restaurants. Her face lit up when we told her we were from the United States. While we ate another of our monotonous meals, she sang ballads from Cuba and Mexico, tossed in a heavily accented “It’s a long long way to Tipperary” and ended with “Guantanamera.” She told us that because she was from an era when women didn’t work outside the home, she never worked for the government and therefore had no pension. So, at 90, she plays and sings seven nights a week, for the tips.

Angela was pregnant when Fidel Castro took power, she said. Her son studied to be an industrial engineer, and got a job in a factory. But he found he could make as much in one night playing the guitar for tourists as he did in a month doing “his boring factory job.” So he, too, plays.

Photo by Holly Lewis
Angela, 90, plays and sings for tips seven nights a week.

It was not like this during the first three decades of the Cuban revolution, the era when Cuba — despite its fierce desire for independence — was essentially a Soviet satellite state, selling its sugar in exchange for enough economic subsidy to provide most Cubans with a decent standard of living. This gave Cuba the space to build a socialist society based on universal access to education, health care, and a vigorous arts community, with freedom defined as the opportunity to do anything that supported the revolution and nothing that didn’t. Tourism, which had been mob-dominated under Batista, was virtually non-existent. Cubans were not allowed to own dollars.

Concessions after Soviet Union’s collapse
But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro had to make some concessions to keep his people from starving in the face of the relentless American economic embargo. He re-introduced tourism, using foreign joint-venture capital to begin renovating and rebuilding infrastructure (Old Havana is now an exciting area to explore), allowed some private entrepreneurship in certain categories of small business, and permitted Cubans living abroad to start remitting hard currency to their relatives on the island. It was all done reluctantly and in a very limited way, because Castro was so ideologically opposed to capitalism. Even today, nearly two decades later — with an ailing Fidel replaced by his more pragmatic younger brother Raul — “almost everyone works for the government here,” as one security guard in a hotel told us.

Even the trickle of capitalism is setting back the revolution’s commitment to equality. Revolutionary Cuba abolished de jure racial discrimination, and blacks are certainly far better off than before the revolution. But the Cubans who are fortunate enough to be getting remittances from foreign relatives are overwhelmingly white, and they are becoming a new elite. (Some, we were told, choose not to work at all, simply living off the remittances.)

“In Miramar (a higher-class suburb), all the people you see in the nice houses and the stores are white,” said a dark-skinned cab driver. “On the other hand, I could take you to an eastern suburb where the apartments are small and ugly and the people are black.”

Baseball and dominoes
In Havana, there is none of the rushing-around-of-suits-with-cellphones that you see in more financially oriented world cities, like New York or Shanghai. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., large numbers of men stand in a corner of the Parque Central and argue about baseball. During a rainstorm, we dropped into a recreation center in the Centro neighborhood, and saw half a dozen men playing dominoes — a Canadian in the game, in Cuba to study Spanish, told us they play all day, every day: “Before work, after work, during work.”  

Though things are better than right after the collapse of the Soviet support system, getting enough to eat is a challenge for Cubans. Some foods, like rice, are rationed, and, as the same cab driver told us, “what they call a month’s ration lasts for 10 days.” You can buy more at the market, but a pound of pork, he said, costs 28 Cuban pesos, almost 10 percent of a typical Cuban’s monthly government salary.

Men playing dominoes
Photo by Holly Lewis
These men play dominoes ‘before work, after work, during work.’

But poverty in Cuba is different from poverty in so many underdeveloped countries.  Every few blocks, it seems, we saw schools filled with what appeared to be healthy, energetic children, and community health clinics dotted the neighborhoods. According to World Health Organization data, Cuba has lower infant mortality and a lower incidence of AIDS than the United States, and about the same life expectancy. Cuba has trained so many doctors that it exports them for humanitarian missions and trades their services to Venezuela for petroleum.

You see almost no advertising for commercial products in Cuba, but (along with billboards with political/ideological messages) you see many public-health messages, such as warnings to girls about the risks associated with teenage pregnancy. We never saw a child begging. (There were some adult panhandlers, mostly elderly people, but not as many as we see in Minneapolis.) There is a lot of prostitution, involving Cuban women with foreign men, and one way the government appears to try to limit it is by not allowing Cubans above the lobby level in major hotels.

A vibrant, sophisticated arts scene
One of the most striking ways that Cuba is not like other poor countries is its vibrant arts scene. Both artists and audiences are highly sophisticated. We were in Cuba during the Havana Film Festival, and at every theater, long lines of locals waited to get into the movies on their inexpensive passes.

Teresa Eyring, former managing director of the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis and now director of the Theatre Communications Group in New York, was on our trip, and she spent the week meeting with many local artists and seeing their work.

“The place is infused with art, music, dance, painting, sculpture and theater,” Teresa told me after she made her rounds. “A distinguishing factor is the high level of sophistication of the people of Cuba. People of all ages and walks of life attend arts events. The prices are low, the work is good, and there is not so much else competing for people’s time.”

Aleigh Lewis, the filmmaker who with her husband, Sage, produced the theater/film piece that led us to Cuba for its premiere, described Cuba to us as a “meritocracy.” If you are good at what you do in the arts, you will be supported in a big way throughout your career. Some of Cuba’s best artists live in some of Cuba’s best housing, Eyring told me. “The building where Sage, Aleigh and company were staying is an artists’ high rise with sweeping views of the sea. The conductor of the orchestra lives there, and the penthouse is the home of the poet Cintio Vitier.”

Democracy seems a remote concept
So what lies ahead for this nation of highly educated, healthy, sophisticated, politically repressed, proud but poor people? Based on what we saw, it’s hard to guess how fast Cuba will change. Democracy seems like a remote concept; the Castro revolution has been very effective at applying just the needed level of repression to maintain tight control. More likely is something like the Chinese model, in which an ostensibly Communist state commits to improving its people’s standard of living, and employs foreign capital and know-how flowing through joint ventures to make it happen.

So far, of course, the capital flowing into Cuba is limited because of the decades-long U.S. economic embargo, which can make finding the simplest products a headache. Even though Castro always played up anti-Americanism to cement his position domestically, Cubans we spoke to are eager to see relations improve between their country and ours. “We are socialist and you are capitalist,” a woman bookseller in Plaza de Armas in Old Havana told me. “But we are all people, we should be friends, and we should trade.”

The dramaturg for the Lewis’ film/theater premiere, Esther Hernandez, who left Cuba for California in 2001, put it this way: “ It’s time for the old guard in both our countries to get out of the way, and let the young people create something new.”

On one level — Americans’ ability to travel to Cuba — the relaxation seems already to have begun. Under the ominously named “Trading With the Enemy Act,” it is in theory difficult for Americans to travel legally to Cuba. (Cuba is the only country currently covered by the act — North Korea was recently removed.)

You need to jump through a lot of hoops, and say different things to the authorities in the two countries (for example, the United States will approve “humanitarian” missions, but you are advised to tell the Cuban authorities that you are there for tourism). Americans must use only cash while in Cuba (American credit cards and bank cards don’t work), and not bring home any cigars or rum or anything else but artwork and publications.

This can prove to be a real burden. But the Obama administration seems to take a more relaxed view of the matter than its predecessor. When we told U.S. Customs in Miami that we had traveled to Cuba as journalists, and brought nothing home but a CD and a DVD, the official asked for no evidence of our professional work, did not check our luggage, and simply said, “Welcome home.”

Joel Kramer, editor and CEO of MinnPost, and his wife, Laurie, visited Cuba earlier this month for the premiere of a multimedia theater/film piece, “The Closest Farthest Away,” at the Havana Film Festival. Laurie edited the slide shows.

Slideshow: World premiere of ‘The Closest Farthest Away’
Slideshow: Scenes from Havana, Dec. 2009
Slideshow: Images of the Revolution

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Virginia Garcia-Velez on 12/16/2009 - 10:22 am.

    I enjoyed this article, but I wish the writer had been more familiar with life in Cuba before Castro. We had free education and health care even though Castro claims he instituted them. The University of Havana was free and that is the reason Cuban immigrants have been so successful in exile because they were highly educated. Also the arts were big in Cuba before Castro. We had a wonderful Ballet company, Alicia Alonso was a world famous ballerina. Cuba can also claim all the Latin rhythms, Mambo, Conga, Cha Cha etc. originated in Cuba, and we had a long line of famous pianists, Ernesto Lecuona being one of them.
    It is sad for me to see the poverty in Cuba, when according to the CIA it had the highest standard of living in Latin America prior to Castro.


  2. Submitted by Jorge Gonzalez on 12/16/2009 - 10:41 am.

    Such a nice article, then you got lost in the government’s own propaganda. You seem to blame the embargo by stating, “which can make finding the simplest products a headache.” The difficulty on finding things is not due to the embargo, but the inability of the government to purchase or subsidize them for its people. You just stated earlier that the average salary is about US$10. What can you afford with that. When I was there, yes I could buy a can of Coke for 50 cents, but think about how much that is when your salary is what you just stated. Cuba is free to trade with any country in the world and it does, and I found many products, but they were all in the stores that are set up to sell things for currencies such as Euros and US Dollars. There I found fans, appliances, exported foods from all the corners of the world, but at world market prices, beyond the reach of the people there, unless family members from outside sent them money.
    You also failed to mention that despite the “embargo,” the United States in 2007 is already the largest food supplier of Cuba and its fifth largest trading partner, selling the island more than $600 million.

  3. Submitted by Juan R Pollo on 12/16/2009 - 11:00 am.

    I kept reading the article looking for the foundation of the “well-educated” assertion. If by well-educated you mean repeating the slogans and rhetoric by heart, then I guess Cubans are well-educated.

    Feeble economy is a gross understatement. Check the status of Cuba’s debt to its trading partners. Check the status of the trading partners’ cash accounts on the island. Cuba does not pay its debts and for months now trading partners’ bank accounts have been frozen. The whole “genocidal blockade” complaint is about not being able to buy on credit from the US, which by the way is its main supplier of food. And what does Cuba have to offer the world? Besides cheap sex and rum, cheap labor which is very similar to slave labor. Cuba charges for its employees in hard currency and pays them in worthless Cuban pesos, with perhaps a much-coveted “incentive” in CUC.

    Many countries come to Cuba’s aid in advancing Cuba’s diverse interests. That is because if they don’t comply, they don’t get paid. If you were to look beyond the rhetoric and propaganda, you would see a tyranny which denies its citizens the most basic human rights like traveling out of their country and dissenting with the government. In fact, it is written in the 1976 constitution that none of the citizen rights can be exercised against the so-called revolution or the socialist government. But I guess that was beyond the scope of this article.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/16/2009 - 12:32 pm.

    It is rather shocking the citizens of a country in which Liberty and Freedom are prized above all else can fail to be overwhelmed by the ever present oppression in a brutal Communist dictatorship such as Cuba.

    For myself, I’d much rather have read a review of “The Closest Farthest Away” from cultural sophisticates at the Combinado del Este Men’s Prison.

  5. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 12/16/2009 - 03:39 pm.

    I don’t know why it’s a surprise 50 years of sanctions haven’t worked when the government seems to rely on keeping its people cut off from the rest of the world. We’re doing the Castros the biggest favor we can by giving them the United States to blame. We maintain normal relations with other dictatorships, and opening up to the outside world has been the death of many — that’s why the Castros won’t do it. We should normalize diplomatic relations and trade, and not only should we allow Americans to travel there, but push to allow Cubans to travel here. Give them access to phone lines and the Internet, and then we;ll see how long the dictatorship survives.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/16/2009 - 11:14 pm.

    “We’re doing the Castros the biggest favor we can by giving them the United States to blame…”

    Yeah, I suppose all that anti-American propaganda is pretty effective in whipping up hatred for the Land of the Free…otherwise we would probably see Cubans taking to the high seas in converted 50’s cars and trucks to escape the grinding oppressions they are forced to endure every day under the leftist regime that is in power…oops, well maybe not.

  7. Submitted by Greg Klave on 12/17/2009 - 12:38 am.

    Contrary to your report the US Treasury is enforcing the ban on Americans travel to Cuba just like the Bush administration did. And their warnings sure did keep you from bringing anything back that you would have liked to. Because in this country if you are caught with Cuban cigars you could end up with a fine and jail time. In Miami they ban school children’s books about kids in Cuba to keep the hatred going. The Supreme Court upheld it last month.
    Apparently you never talked to Cubans involved with their local Community Defense Committees and talked about the democratization of the Revolution. You would have gotten an earfull if you brought up American “democracy”. There are many artists not involved with the Communist party elected to their National Assembly.
    Also the pesos you talked about for food are subsidized pesos not like the ones the tourists use. So the equivalancy is not the same. Also UN stats show that Cubans are no.3 in total daily calories in the western hemisphere, just behind US and Canada. People are not afraid of the government unless they are collaborating with agents of the Obama administration, illegal activity or taking advantage of tourists. Another thing you fail to recognize is that because of the US embargo Cubans are forced to play the brain drain game that many countries do who lose their young to capitalist countries who have taken advantage of military and economic force to create the unfair balance of scales that attracts the young, not just Cuba. Yes Cuba is a different country and thats why our corporate ruled government hates them. They are trying to create a just world not one based on war, greed and consumption. So why don’t we allow our citizens to go their and see that it is our sin that they are being treated like a former slave who is not ours to boss around any more.Your kind of snobby “investigative” journalism does not really shead light on what the UN, Amnesty International and the Pope declare a crime against humanity. The US travel ban and blockade of Cuba. Shame on you! I can think of other places to use the adjective Feeble.

  8. Submitted by Greg Klave on 12/17/2009 - 01:16 am.

    Are there not American families who work two or three jobs to make ends meet! Even airline pilots and educators. What about the record usage of food shelves in the suburbs and cities of this State and we have it good compared to other States. Many people work side jobs as musicians here to pay for healthcare or housing or education or entertainmnet or food. What about the bankruptcy and debt of our nation. Talk about selective usage of examples.CIA has many agents trying to undermine their citizen’s support of their free education, healthcare. US supplies only 1/10 of the food they would be buying from us, if we ended the blockade, putting US farmers and manufacturers to work. Cubans can educate us in Spanish, supply organic foods and biotechnological products to us,protect us from hurricanes and manufacture anything they need if we allowed them to buy equipment. That equipment from other countries on the other side of the Ocean costs them 3 times more and they cannot even buy medical equipmwnt if it has a chip from a US manufacturer. Our allies even hate our policy! The hatred of the Hate Warriors above is getting old and if one goes down and talks to people outside Havana they will get a bigger picture of the charm, courage and hopefulness of their people. The vast majority want to stay Cuban, not be like Americans!

  9. Submitted by Anya Achtenberg on 12/17/2009 - 03:24 am.

    I was truly bothered by this post and wanted to think more about why. I certainly have a better view of Cuba from my own journeys there, but it was more even than that. I realize my response had to do with realizing what different worlds we live in, even in the same country or city.

    For example, in the U.S., college teaching does not necessarily make one a member of the “economic elite”, regardless of graduate degrees or excellence as a teacher. Indeed,
    a huge percentage of college teachers around this “developed” country are adjuncts, and barely piece together a living running from school to school and course to course, usually without benefits.
    Monotonous meals? Besides those luxurious midnight dinners of corn flakes that were regular fare for me in NYC after teaching all day and going to school in the evening, I taught young adult students who came to school starved, and could barely pay attention, and had barely anything decent for lunch, including school lunches which we came to find out had items which had been on the shelves for 7 years. No kidding. Students who had never seen a dentist, for instance – I recall one student suddenly spurting blood from her untreated gums onto the book before her. Don’t get me started recalling the poverty I have witnessed/experienced in my native city.
    I suppose factory jobs in the US are not “boring” — well, factory jobs and office jobs I worked at were boring. “I could take you to an eastern suburb where the apartments are small and ugly and the people are black,” says this article. This statement left me amazed. This sounds like so many places I know, so many places around the country. This country. And this country is not under blockade conditions, not a “third world” country, though clearly many sectors of the U.S. population are living in dire conditions.

    Further, I did not understand what this meant — “People of all ages and walks of life attend arts events. The prices are low, the work is good, and there is not so much else competing for people’s time.” Does this mean people indeed do not have to work as long hours as people do in the U.S., if they are not one of the many unemployed? Why is there what seems to be a tone of negative judgment running throughout a good part of this article? What is the difference between giving impressions—what someone comes to see on a relatively short visit, without fully understanding or contextualizing a place and its history, current conditions, cultures—and a kind of tone of judgment that puts forth a voice that seems to assume a kind of ultimate knowledge of The Truth of a place so different from the U.S. in many ways.

    I have to say, on my visits to Cuba, I have heard all kinds of stories from Cubans. A great spectrum of them, many very positive. These seem to have largely slipped through the collection of stories Mr. Kramer has conveyed. I know very well the “financially oriented” city of New York, and find this an odd phrase. Businessmen rushing around aside, I know a city where a great percentage of the population experience deep poverty, lack of opportunity, miserable living conditions, overwork and underemployment, violence from police and each other, where poor people are often not healthy, and not highly educated.

    Well, “highly educated, healthy, sophisticated, politically repressed, proud but poor people” this description of Cubans seems to have a great deal of truth, but here they don’t especially sound like people who would go along with a huge amount of political repression without entering into a process to change that.

    As violence and exclusion are visited upon so many environmental activists at the climate change summit in Copenhagen, I can only request that we all work to make statements about democracy and repression more grounded in the realities, and that we watch for our own biases as we selectively gather stories and give them our narrative spin.

    Maybe ending the travel ban to Cuba, on the way to ending the brutal U.S. blockade of the island, would be a great way to more fully get the story, the stories, from our nearby and very culturally, historically, and environmentally rich neighbor of Cuba. Citizens of all the other countries in the world have the right to go see for themselves!

  10. Submitted by Virginia Garcia-Velez on 12/17/2009 - 07:02 am.

    I would like to suggest to Mr. Klave that since he likes it so much he should move to Cuba and live on the “subsidised” $10 pesos a month. Also I would like him to move his whole family, and see them disagree with the goverment and be jailed or better yet, executed. Does he realize that in Cuba he would have never been able to post such a opinionated “comment” should he disagree with the government? The Castros have decimated the Cuban population, a fact that he failed to recognize. It is amazing to me how easy is to like Castro and his revolution while being free in America.

  11. Submitted by ellen wolfson on 12/17/2009 - 02:06 pm.

    We were in Cuba with an Elderhostel group in 2001, it is sad to see that things have not improved. We stayed in a lovely tourist hotel but the university students who came to present lectures and answer our questions had to be escorted into the hotel by our tour leader, Cuban citizens were not welcome unless accompanied by a tourist. As your article mentioned the people were well educated, the health system was excellent but the only people who achieved a reasonable standard of living were those who worked in the tourist hotels or served the visitors in any way.

  12. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/17/2009 - 10:41 pm.

    “Apparently you never talked to Cubans involved with their local Community Defense Committees and talked about the democratization of the Revolution.”

    How is the democratization of the Revolution going? Last time I checked, one guy ruled the country for 47 years, and then turned things over to his brother.

    “Another thing you fail to recognize is that because of the US embargo Cubans are forced to play the brain drain game that many countries do who lose their young to capitalist countries who have taken advantage of military and economic force to create the unfair balance of scales that attracts the young, not just Cuba.”

    Or to put it another way, there is no opporutunity for the “brains” in Cuba and they want to leave. Cuba solves this problem not by creating opportunities, but by preventing them from ever leaving the country.

    This one is my favorite:

    “Well, “highly educated, healthy, sophisticated, politically repressed, proud but poor people” this description of Cubans seems to have a great deal of truth, but here they don’t especially sound like people who would go along with a huge amount of political repression without entering into a process to change that.”

    The thing about political repression is that you don’t really have a choice about going along with it. The way it works is that if you don’t “go along” with it, you go to prison.

  13. Submitted by Greg Klave on 12/19/2009 - 01:57 am.

    The attitude that democracy, rule of law and human rights is not tolerated in the US shows with the “love or leave it” attitude of the writer. Hardly anyone who can teach the people of Cuba about democracy. Let alone practice it here. Her democracy has led the US to be the biggest abuser of human rights,leader of wars, economic theft, torture advocates. Sounds more like a supporter of the Generals of Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and other Latin American dictators.
    And our two corrupted parties lead the nation away from peace, healthcare for all, equality of races, just the opposite of what the majority of Americans want. So much for the best government and media money can buy. The reason why the Cubans have supported the Castros and the Revolutionary government for 50 years is that the democratic socialistic process has given Cubans education, healthcare, culture, sports, world recognition for humanitarian deeds and they are not going back to US domination. Even the US Interest Section recognizes that if there is a Int’l recognized election in Cuba today Raul would win by more than 80%. Why do you want to keep hurting Cubans with the embargo? Their country will go on without us even as U.S. law forbids companies from investing in Cuba, though they may hold a minority stake in foreign firms with less than 50 percent of their operations in Cuba.Some joint ventures have had difficulty transferring funds and profits abroad from state banks this year despite contractual guarantees.
    Hurricanes, the international financial crisis, U.S. sanctions and a sluggish state-dominated economy left Cuba short billions of dollars this year, officials reported, and banks unable to back funds deposited in a local foreign exchange equivalent.
    “We are hanging in here hoping the situation will improve in 2010,” the foreign manager of one venture said, asking that his name not be used. “We are trying to use local products to keep going because we can not keep importing with funds blocked in the bank.”
    Most Cuban ventures abroad were with allies Venezuela, China and Angola, while inside the country investors from Spain, Venezuela, Canada and Italy held the greatest presence in sectors such as tourism, oil exploration, communications and mining.
    This shows that the Cubans have learned at least one major lesson from their last major economic crisis in the 1990s, which is the importance of diversification. Although 2009 has been a grueling year for the Cuban economy, the island is now engaged with a spectrum of international partners across a range of industries, which has provided a much needed economic cushion. The media reported Cuba signed two hotel ventures with Qatar, a fishing venture and four oil exploration contracts with Russia, numerous deals with Venezuela, an electronics assembly venture with China, and a paper venture with a Spanish firm in 2009.
    The Spanish venture was the first reported with a European company in a number of years as Havana increasingly focuses on strategic allies Venezuela and China, Russia and energy rich developing countries such as Algeria, Angola, Vietnam and Qatar.In July 2008, the last time figures were released, there were 246 joint ventures and other investment projects in the country.
    Cuba has pharmaceutical ventures in Iran, India, China, Brazil and other countries, works construction in Angola and Vietnam, operates a hotel in China, and has numerous ventures in Venezuela.
    You really need to go there yourself like Cuban Americans. They are going back to Cuba and coming back changed. Now the say “Abajo con el Bloqueo”!

  14. Submitted by William Pappas on 12/20/2009 - 08:01 am.

    The answer to Cuba is obviouis. Normalize relations, trade, travel and encourage cultural exchange. Nothing would push Cuba toward the right and openess more. To have such a cultural oasis and potential economic jaugernaut restrained by our outdated Cold War foreign policy borders on abuse of human rights. I am counting on Obama to move independently on this issue, moving away from Gates and other old Cold Warriors to enact this simple idea: Normalize relations with Cuba!

  15. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 12/20/2009 - 08:25 am.

    A sense of place with or without grace?

    Group tourism usually leaves the traveler seeing a region, another country, through smudged tour bus windows and a rucksack stuffed with preconceived attitudes.

    The comments below are as enlightening as the article and one could say together, it all makes for a fine salad of mixed and sometimes green observations? Who knows, I suppose…

  16. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/20/2009 - 08:49 pm.

    “The reason why the Cubans have supported the Castros and the Revolutionary government for 50 years is that the democratic socialistic process has given Cubans education, healthcare, culture, sports, world recognition for humanitarian deeds and they are not going back to US domination”

    I am thinking that the “support” might be due to the fact that Castro banned multiparty elections shortly after taking power and has spent the last fifty years repressing dissent. If you don’t support the government – and actually let people know that – you go to prison in Cuba. Its really nothing short of disgraceful that you use the (admittedly very real) flaws in our system and in our country’s foreign policy as a justification for supporting a repressive dictatorship like the one in Cuba. Your comments are nothing short of Orwellian.

    As someone else points out, the real irony here is that the Castros don’t want the embargo to end. The embargo and the U.S. bogeyman is what justifies their political repression, and serves as an excuse for the miserable failure of their economic system. If we normalized relations with Cuba tomorrow, the Castros their their revolution wouldn’t survive a year.

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