We had not intended blogging from Cuba because of limited internet access, but a new day has dawned. Uncle Sam has finally abandoned his spiteful attempt to demoralize and destroy his downtrodden neighbour and has torn down one of the last vestiges of the Iron Curtain. Who knows what tomorrow will bring to this tropical isle with its palm-fringed sun-drenched beaches and its exuberant and generous peoples.
We can’t let this momentous day pass without taking a snapshot of Cuban life that will permit future visitors to judge the consequences of communist Cuba being unshackled by its capitalist neighbour. So this is Havana today:
It is a city of broken pavements with legions of ruined, but architecturally elegant, buildings; a city where beautifully restored five star hotels rub shoulders with crumbling hovels; a city of manicured tree-lined boulevards and garbage strewn back alleys; a city where stylish fashionistas stroll amongst gangs of dishevelled labourers and assorted idlers; a bustling city that is full of music and life day and night. This is the cupola of the Capitole, a previously hated symbol of American imperialism which is now being restored for the Cuban Congress…
Havana’s store’s shelves may be full but the range and quality of goods is limited. For example: this week one large supermarket had two aisles jammed with thousands of bags of flour, but no tea, no coffee and no baking powder. Another had a stack of tea, but no flour, no coffee and no baking powder. And so it goes – the only item that is universally stocked is Cuban rum and, it appears, no one has baking powder. However we are aware that there is a thriving black market, and imagine our surprise when James made pancakes for us and Lourdes, our Cuban hostess, and she magically produced a bottle of finest Canadian maple syrup! Who knows what will happen when, (and if), WalMart and Future Shop hang out their shingles here. Hotels and tour companies are already being swamped with enquiries and American cruise ships are on the horizon…
Two million pre-revolution American gas-guzzlers prowl the streets as taxis and a shared ride of any distance costs just 40 cents. Forty cents was also the amount we paid for a major concert by popular Cuban singer Haydee Milanese and her very famous father, Pablo, in the National Theatre of Cuba. Many prices are quoted in Cuban Nacional Pesos and there are 25 Pesos to 1 Cuban dollar (equivalent to a US dollar) which is also called Pesos. So “One Pesos por favor” can mean 4 cents or 1 dollar depending on where you are and what you are buying. Consequently, many uninformed tourists pay twenty-five times as much as asked for goods and services (and the Cubans are too polite to point out the mistake). The average Cuban survives comfortably on $40 US a month, but that’s not difficult when fresh eggs are 4 cents apiece..
Despite the years of hardship and deprivations; despite the number of families torn apart by those who have fled to seek a softer life in Miami, (and the countless thousands who drowned in the attempt), the Cuban spirit has not been broken. They are a happy, noisy, fun-loving, sophisticated and big-hearted bunch and we feel privileged to be here on the day that their wall came down.
Today is also momentous for us because in the next few hours someone will be the five hundred thousandth reader of our blog. This could be you dear blog follower wherever you are. While we know that our blog has been read more than 499,000 times we will only know if you are the half a millionth reader if you tell us. So, click on the “Comment” button below and tell us when America imposed its five decade long blockade on Cuba and we will send you a valuable prize if you are the ‘one’.
Good luck. Hasta luego nuestros amigos from Havana, Cuba, Libre, on January 17th 2015.