Life in Cuba
7/23/08 - 8/5/08
Life is Weird
Visiting Cuba sometimes made us feel like we were in the twilight zone. Where else is it illegal for common people to eat beef or lobster, in order to feed tourists (especially in a communist country)? As weird as life in Cuba is, it all made sense once we looked at it through the lens of history (a failed communist experiment) and in light of the complexities of its situation (2 million Cuban exiles live just ~100 miles away). As much as the government hates to admit, the country is largely dependent on the Cubans in Miami that send remittances back to their families still on the island. Hence, compared to many other communist countries, Cuba's relative poverty is not bad at all. Nonetheless, since the majority of the economy is underground, life is weird. Cubans will be the first to admit this. Meat vendors go from home to home with buckets of concealed meat and produce vendors have clandestine operations inside their homes.
Transportation in Cuba
After the collapse of the Soviet era subsidies, Cuba found itself without the oil to run its economy and transport its people. The government ended up importing 1 million bicycles from China to deal with the crisis. Today Cubans employ whatever means that can use to get around and public buses come in all shapes and sizes.
The largest of the public buses is called "El Cameyo", "The Camel", because of its shape. It is essentially a 16 wheeler trailer converted into a bus.
We took a public bus very similar to the one pictured below to get from the beach resort of Varadero to Cardenas, 30 min away. Although the wait was long, and the ride cramp, the local people did not give us a hard time.
An old American truck is converted into a public bus, with limited seating and handrails for passengers to hold on to
Because of its inefficient transportation system, hitchhiking is a way of life for many. In fact, all government vehicles are required to stop for hitchhikers. Rather than pay ridiculous tourist prices, we tried hitchhiking a few times in Varadero and again in Trinidad. It was an interesting experience.
Francis hitchhiking in Varadero (We ended up on a public bus)
How does an utterly incompetent government stay in power for 50 years? Through a combination of coersion, oppression, cronyism and "reeducation", the Cuban government has managed to cap the people's discontent. As dissatisfied as everyone is with the system, the government has created a sense of apathy in the populace through a combination of intimidation and cronyism. A common complaint in Cuba is "No me puedo quejar", which translates to "I can't complain".
It is also no wonder that the island is full of government propaganda. While the absence of corporate marketing and advertising is refreshing, the ever-present communist propaganda negates the benefits of not having corporate propaganda.
Cuban propaganda comes in four flavors. In our assessment, the first three categories likely represent 95% of Cuban propaganda. Below is an outline and pictures of each of the four flavors of the Cuban government's propaganda.
1. Propaganda promoting the revolution and ideals of the revolution
"Strengthening the party is strengthening the revolution"
"In the face of threats and aggression, Cuba responds, more revolution"
"Revolution is unity, is independence"
2. Propaganda promoting the personalities of the revolution and historical characters
"Revolution is Unity"
"Long live Fidel and Raul"
"If only one gentleman remains in the world, he is Fidel"
3. Propaganda denouncing the "North American imperialists" and the embargo
"Mr. Imperialists, you'll never have Cuba"
4. Propaganda promoting the policies of the government
"An Energy Revolution: Saving more, we'll have more"
The situation in Cuba is so tenuous, that in addition to locking up political dissidents, government officials also have to lock up the fish in local fountains. The fountain at this park is covered with fence to keep the residents from stealing and likely eating the fish.