Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cuba Dispatch #4: "Welcome to Vinales"

by Pa Rock
King of the Road

Tuesday, 26 April 2016:

I started off rushing today, nearly missing the first activity, and feel like I have been rushing ever since.   

Our first activity of the day was a lecture by Marc Frank, a journalist with Reuters who has been working and living in Cuba for years.  Frank, the author of Cuban Revelations, spoke on the changes that he has seen in Cuba since Raul Castro took over in 2006.  One of the more significant differences he noted is on the country’s reaction to the U.S.  Frank said that Fidel was always quick to blame the United States for any and all of Cuba’s problems, but that Raul is more realistic and knows many of the problems are Cuban-made and will require Cuban solutions.

Another change that has taken place in Cuba during Raul’s years in power is that people are no longer expected to agree with the government.  Raul’s government wants to let people speak their minds – and to listen to what they are thinking.  Most websites are no longer blocked and the government is moving quickly to lift restrictions in many areas.

Some private ownership is beginning to find its way onto the island because the state no longer feels that it is capable of managing everything.   The non-state sector now is home to numerous small businesses and farms.  Health, education, sports, and social security, however, are still subsidized by the government.  Medical care, from minor injuries to major operations,  remains free for all in Cuba – and Cuba has produced so many medical doctors that the country exports them to other parts of the world.  All medical care in Cuba is free, whether if a life-saving procedure or even some bit of elective surgery.

Most Cubans pay no taxes, with the government getting its revenue from ownership of major aspects of the economy - but, the new small entrepreneurs do pay taxes on their incomes.

The speaker said that racial violence and racial tensions are almost non-existent in Cuba, but there is some obvious discrimination.  As an example, he said that most of the good jobs seem to be held by whites.

The connections between Cuba and the U.S. are growing quickly.  In 2014 there were sixty-six million telephone calls between the two nations.  Travel restrictions are being lifted and families are being reunited.  There is a lot of travel between the United States and Cuba.  Marc Frank believes that the U.S. embargo will be lifted in two to three years regardless of who is elected President – because American businesses will demand it.  He did put a caveat on that statement saying that it would not apply if Ted Cruz wins the election because he is a “fanatic.”

(One of the not-so-funny jokes among our group members was that we wanted to see the island before Walmart got there!)

Portia Siegelbaum mentioned yesterday that Cubans are now permitted by their government to sail on cruise ships and they are also free to go out on boats.  That was not the case when Fidel was in charge.

We checked out of our hotel rooms in Havana this morning and this afternoon we rode the tour bus for three hours out into tobacco country.  One of our stops was at a tobacco farm where we were given an tour and watched cigars being made.   The farm had a beautiful peacock with full plumage who screamed  a welcome to us.  There were also a few guineas and some hens who were exploring the yard with their baby chicks. 

I must have been a Cuban farmer in another life because we seem to like the same things,:  peacocks, guineas, and chickens!

Tonight we are in Vinales, a beautiful small town where most of the little homes have been converted into bed and breakfast accommodations – or in our case:  bed and breakfast and lunch.  My host family is Miriam, Roberto, and their grown son, Carlos.   Their English is as limited as my Spanish, so communication has been a challenge.   Roberto said that he is a “jefe in electronicos,” but I am not sure if he is a chief in electronic sales or production.

Dinner tonight was at a restaurant which is part of a large organic farm.  The family that runs the eight-and-a-half acre affair have  terraced the hills with raised garden beds made of rock and cement.  I took lots of pictures thinking that it would all look very nice transported to Rock’s Roost in Missouri.

One minor complaint:  I am growing very tired of big, noisy meals served late at night.  I’m fairly certain that I am in the younger half of this group, and those meals wear me out.  I like to crawl into bed at a decent hour – and not with a full stomach.

Tomorrow we have salsa lessons in the morning (thinking of you, Nefredia!) and then head back to Havana in the afternoon.  

Cuba is a beautiful place – and Cubans are a beautiful people.  Roberto and Miriam and Carlos feel like family, and I have only known them a few hours!

1 comment:

Nefredia Covington said...

Rock Man! The salsa sounds perfect for dancing off those late heavy meals! Did you learn to dance on 1 or on 2? Just kidding, lol. Much Love!