I visited Cuba for two weeks on a cultural exchange visa when the US relaxed travel restrictions under Obama, and I was fascinated to learn how little information from the rest of the world makes it into Cuba. Internet access was insanely restricted – you basically have to visit a town square to get a WiFi signal, and use cards for access that charge you the equivalent of a few cents per hour but they’re sold by a state monopoly that you have to visit in person and wait in line to get one, so mostly you buy them second hand from resellers at a 100x markup. I went into the store to buy Spooky mama skull Halloween shirt , and they immediately changed the rules and let me jump the queue because they didn’t want me to see how restrictive it was. Once you actually get on the WiFi, it’s so slow as to be practically unusable for anything except email, and even that was spotty. The regular internet sites like Wikipedia are blacklisted, so you can’t reach them. I had to use a VPN to even reach Google Translate to download offline translation packs, and the 50 mb file took ~1 hour to download.When I talked to natives, they were very patriotic, at least with me, but a lot of the patriotism was about being independent – many of the heroes predated the Communist revolution. People feel strongly about imperialism, and deeply believe in a free and independent Cuba, but lack the perspective to understand how unfree they are.My good friend is Cuban, he escaped through being a student but his parents still live there. During the height of covid, they had to wait nearly 2hrs to get into a grocery store, of which everything is rationed. Not enough food created a strong black market for food. “I’ll give you some chicken for fruits etc.” Really sad out there at the momentI’m originally from Cuba and 90% of family live there. Sad that little news from there reaches the world because people are starving and dropping like flies due to COVID. Cuba doesn’t protest a lot due to the Dictatorship but right now they are just because they have no other option. You either fight for your life or stay home and starve.
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A point of pride is homeownership – I was told that the Spooky mama skull Halloween shirt made homeownership a priority, and basically invited people to join work gangs to build new homes, and if they did the job for 10 years, at the end, they’d be given a home. Which sounds great, until you realize, many of the folks who want homes are better qualified for other work – teachers, nurses, or whatever job you can think of – and they quit those specializations to start building houses instead. Why? Doesn’t it make more sense for them to do what they’re good at and then earn the money to buy a house? I asked this of my tour guide and he seemed confused by the question. The idea of earning money at a job and using that money to buy a house was very foreign.The embargo definitely crushed the Cuban economy, and I don’t think that raising it would resolve anything, because they have so little Capital at this point. But it would help to have more us tourism, because their economy is struggling along on a 10-20 dollars a day per person in most areas. The 20 years after the end of the USSR was disastrous, and they never really recovered. Cuba is famous for its 1950s taxis, but the preservation of these relics was born of necessity. They can’t import new cars, so they keep the old ones running forever. But this also means the air in Havana is much more polluted than it needs to be.Overall, Cuba is a beautiful country, and we felt very welcomed as Americans. I think the Cuban people would like greater cultural and economic exchange. And if they had internet access, many of them would be shocked to learn what has been hidden from them over the past 20 years. I don’t think they realize how much they sacrifice for Communist rule, and I hope that this rally is the start of tearing down the iron curtain.