Cuba: The edge of change
In 2015 I visited Cuba, feeling the time was right to see the exiled Caribbean island before it changed too much. With harsh United States Government policies designed to make the Communist island suffer now softening, and with the doors slowly starting to creak open, many believe it is only a matter of time before the tourist US dollar starts to have an impact on the way the country looks and feels, and how people there live their lives.
I was eager to see Cuba as it may no longer be known – raw, under-resourced but remarkably resilient. The locals of Havana displayed a stoicism I’d read about, but only really seen in old war movies – stiff upper lips and all that. While they harbour frustrations about their somewhat unique place in the world, Cubans remain incredibly resourceful, a trait passed down through the generations.
I met one young girl, Haylee, in Havana Vieja who happily told us: “Cubans don’t need the Internet, we don’t need modern things. We have what we have, and we are happy”. But it can’t be easy to remain so cheerful in the face of severe restrictions placed on most everyday items.
“North Americans don’t understand that our country is not just Cuba. Our country is also humanity” – FIDEL CASTRO
An example of the strange lives Cubans lead became apparent through the couple with whom I stayed in Havana. Both in their mid-20s, they were qualified doctors, one in anaesthesiology, the other in neurology. These are highly advance medical skills, yet to make ends meet, they were forced to run a hostel business on the side to supplement their income. It helped them earn the more valuable Convertible Cuban peso spent by foreign visitors. One of those is worth 25 times more than a regular Cuban peso, in which local salaries are paid.
So what does a doctor earn in Cuba? Around $US25 a month. No wonder the population has become resourceful.
While the easing of diplomatic relations will bring improved conditions for many parts of the nation, one remains hopeful the more negative changes that tourism can bring do not adversely affect a great and vibrant country of truly special people.