Wednesday 12 May 2010
Our Girl in Havana II
I was asked on another blog site I belong to about my experiences of life in Cuba so I thought I would say a bit more about this, a supplement to Our Girl in Havana, a piece I posted here last year.
First I should say that Cuba, while a highly controlled society, is not North Korea; it is possible, in other words, for visitors to go there without being isolated from local people and moved around like a package. Of course some people like the package experience, but not I. I like to travel with friends independently, making our own accommodation arrangements. So off to Havana I went, determined to avoid tourist ghettos like Varadero, determined to meet as many local people as possible, something I simply love to do, no better, no more authentic way of discovering a place.
I did heaps of research before going, something I always do. One piece of advice I received was that I should avoid discussing politics with local people because it would only compromise them. After all, one never knows who is listening. But I found not long after arriving, once I had a feel for the place, that lots of people I met in bars and the like wanted to talk politics with me! Oh, and how they hate the Castro regime, the old one and the new one. It's easy to understand why. Everywhere one comes across what I can only describe as ruined opportunities and frustrated lives. People are kept alive by doles, yes, but there is so much wasted talent. One guy I talked to, a hotel porter, was a qualified economist. "What are you doing here?", I asked. "It’s the only way I can make a proper living", he replied. "I earn more in tourist tips in a day than I would in a month in the university."
People who defend the regime will say that at least it provides excellent social services and health care. A point was made to me in a discussion yesterday that the Cubans have the best health service in the world. That is complete rot! I've seen what they get, I've been able to compare the abysmal facilities, facilities we would not allow for an animal here, that's on offer to local people with the lush services on offer to cash-paying visitors. I have the impression that everywhere a communist social system is introduced a kind of apartheid inevitably arises, favouring those with money, and I mean hard cash not local currency, over those who have not.
Money is power in Cuba. If you have money you can get virtually anything from a flourishing black market. That's another thing about socialism in the sun: there is corruption everywhere. Havana itself is full of hustlers, locally known as Jinateros, the males, and Jinateras, the females. They all want to be friends, of course, all want to know where you are from, where you want to go and so on. Just watch yourself, that's all I can say! It's difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between what is genuine and what is not.
I did make some friends, people with whom I'm still in contact via email, lovely people, both boys and girls. But they break my heart, truly they do, the way they live breaks my heart, the lies they are forced to live and their overwhelming urge for freedom, for change of any kind, anything that will end the stifling claustrophobia of their lives. Socialism or death, the slogan goes. One of my friends said to me that she would rather have death. The terrible thing is she is only twenty-two years old.