I Apologize to Rich Cubans
I find myself morally and ethically torn today, not sure what to say. I feel like I should just stop explaining Cuba for fear of making dreadful misrepresentations of the country. I have said all along that Cuba is rich, however many of the photos I have taken in Centro Cuba may be abnormal, not the normal Cuba.
What is the real Cuba, I do not know, this cake called Cuba has many layers. I now feel I have been looking Centro Cuba thinking is normal, while in reality it the slums of Havana. However, I know that Fidel Castro is genius, his regime orchestrates a great propaganda show, keeping the best of us confused. I on the other hand, do not want to point the one piece of dirty laundry and call it a country.
This may be real Cuba, or at least real Havana. It is not fair to judge or even include in many ways Centro Havana where I am living in an honest evaluation of this country. However, to understand Communism, and a Socialized system, then yes, a person needs to see Centro Havana.
Havana Habana Cuba Tuesday, December 15, 2009
By Andres Hidalgo with editing
Do not feel sorry for Cuba, any problems Cuba has, are caused by Castro. I will again say it, this country is rich, it is number 48 on the Human Development Index.
What Happened Yesterday
I took the Hop on, Hop off tourist bus from the Parque Central to Marina Hemingway, a distance of approximately 10 miles for 5 CUC or 6 USD; this is an all day pass.
I must again say, Fidel Castro is a genius, he has continually argued with the USA for 50 years, while socially engineering his own little island country of 11 million people. He has pitched his story in way as if somehow he is the underdog, the tortured soul, which his people have suffered. Yes, however again, all Castro needed to do was just once try to become friend with any of 10 Presidents of the USA and the people of the USA and his country would go from rich to extremely rich. He is a political genius, and master of his fate, now what to do with Cuba after he dies is the question.
This is the bus; it is easy to board at the Parque Central and take a Hop on, Hop off trip around the city. There are not quite enough buses to really say hop on and hop off, but it works. The wait between stops is sometimes hours. I was lucky; I took two buses, and went all the way to Mariana Hemingway trying to investigate this statistic saying that 100,000 American come to Cuba every year. I believe this is propaganda, I was told there were many at the Marina Hemingway, there was one American in the Marina, and this 100,000 may be propaganda.
The bus weaves it way through approximately 15-20 miles of Havana, and a person can get a great overview of the Northern half of the city. The minute we left the Parque Central, that is located between Centro Habana and Habana Viejo it became obvious. Centro Habana is the blighted areas of Havana. Is the old run down part of Havana, however is still clean and prosperous, however beat. Are the people of Cuba beat, I would still say yes, they have been living under the hammer for the last 50 years, in a state of limbo, not part of the world, not always included, set to the side.
There are no trees in Centro Habana, and the Malecon is dreadfully bleak and hot during the day. I discovered the story of the Malecon. I have learned that at night, maybe around 10-12 PM, the central city of Havana goes to the Malecon. They sit, drink, party, play music and socialize, so what is normally a rather bleak looking walk along the water becomes a huge party at night. The person who was explaining said,
“Castro took all the prostitutes out of the brothel, now they are all on the Malecon at night.”
I hope to go investigate and confirm this on Wednesday night, I know everyone talks about the Malecon, and I avoid it at all cost during the day, a hot stretch of concrete with highway traffic, not a wonderful place to walk.
This Hotel looks majestic from the top of a double decked bus, riding along with cool air blowing through our hair. It is somehow nestled into the top of a hill; I have yet to figure out how to walk up to this Hotel. There are some economic and physical barriers between people in Havana. It often feels, if you want to go see the rich part, you must pay a regular taxi. If you want to learn the poor, you can walk around. The city of Havana can easily seem impoverished on a 30-40 US Dollars per day budget; the city needs a 100 dollar a day budget to truly enjoy. This is not a country for cheap budget travelers; it is a Caribbean Island that has been breaking out into full on tourism ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Castro turned to tourism to save the economy. If and when the USA allows tourist to come to Cuba, this will turn from a mild tourist trap, into one the best of the best in the Caribbean.
I am paying approximately 35-40 US Dollars per day to visit Cuba; this is double or triples what a person needs to pay in Central and South America. It is about the same as Mexico. From Guatemala to Chile can be incredibly cheap, except for Costa Rica, which can easily be the same as Cuba. Both Cuba and Costa Rica are tourist traps, place that put you in channels that are difficult to escape. I can live in Cuba very cheap, but it takes a lot of work, and truly are you seeing a country when the only thing you are doing is trying to go cheap. I have not seen anything in Cuba, which cannot be seen in my home country of Colombia. However, Cuba is perfect for tourist how are afraid and need to be 100 percent safe and clean.
I find this rendition of Che Guevara on the side of a building great. Looking at photos of Che Guevara smoking his cigar, lounging back, there is this feeling he is sturdy and tough. As if he was able to live in the jungle and survive, the irony is this is on a high-rise hotel or building in the middle of prosperity. Herein lies the confusion of Cuba, where are the lines drawn, how can a person extract reality from the many faces of Cuba. What is real, I would say Cuba is some naughty child, ran by one person, whom did a fine job of giving a good life to his people. The is the question of whether he is justified, or if his methods were correct.
I sit back and ask myself, if I was able to kick out all the extremely rich, and the extreme poor out of Colombia, what the country would be like. For example, say a person in the who is living in the USA could take the people in their slums and send them to Cuba. If they could take all the rich and powerful government officials, the people who control the cities, if they were made to immigrate to Cuba, would this be good. What would be left over in the USA would be closer to paradise. Generally, dictators have to kill all their enemies; they do not get to export them to the USA.
It is like put a cowboy on the side of a skyscraper.
A country should be judge by their curbs and sidewalks, then count the number of street vendors per block. Cuba does not have street vendors.
A highly developed country has zoning laws, which allows people to live in peace. One of the telltale signs of prosperity is the grass between the sidewalk and the curb, if you see this in a country you are probably in a nice neighborhood.
I took a bus trip that took me through 10-20 miles of street in Havana that looked like this. I have only seen one beggar in 14 days in Cuba, and she was more of an opportunist than a beggar.
This feels to be a typical street in Havana; I do not know what is outside of Havana. I suspect a person can travel though the countryside of Cuba and see farmers. These farmers will be considered poor, but the overall quality of life outside a city is normally better, however not as sophisticated which confuses city dwellers.
Centro Habana is a concrete jungle, devoid of trees, except for the beautiful Parque Central. This rest of Havana has tall palms trees and beautiful areas, which transforms the city from bleak to inviting.
Cuba is an enigma, I would recommend you try to feel indifferent about Cuba, do not take sides, yes, there are some problems, but when you compare Cuba to the rest of the planet, it is hard to feel the least bit sad for Cubans. Generally, the people of a country get what they deserve and want; the very rich and very poor need to be ignored. They tend to make too much noise and both these factions want to rule the country, both are fighting for the control of money. While the middle just lives their lives, and enjoys the day.
The study to be made, is how Fidel Castro socially engineered a small country into his own personal home to do with as he wishes. Then to study, who are the stakeholders in this game, who won, and who lost. Again, Cuba is number 48 on the Human Development Scale, if you want to get on a soapbox and scream at the world about social injustice. Maybe better to go next door to Haiti at 148, of Sierra Leone, and Niger the bottom.
Castro wants the USA as an enemy, without the USA his person revolution would end, all he is, all has ever been would cease to be, he is the revolution defined by the USA. Cuba is his little Island Empire, the King and his fiefs.
Andres Hidalgo - Havana Cuba - December 15, 2009
I Apologize to Rich Cubans
Great series of photos which are so much more upbeat than the photos of central Havana! Everything looks VERY clean for the largest city on the island. Reaching that high of number on the Human Development scale says alot about the way Castro has chosen to govern and lead his country, don't you think? Truly seeing country is NOT solely limited to seeing how the poorest of the poor live but rather one aspect among others in my opinion. I use to argue about this topic with a German traveler I met in Arugam Bay , Sri Lanka ( East Coast ) many years ago I was expressing a similar opinion about living and traveling cheap over a period of weeks or months is the way to learn about the culture and local people rather than spending 10 times the daily salary of the locals as a high end tourist who visits for one or two weeks. He disagreed saying that when someone is poor they don't see much difference in a foreigner traveling their country on a U$5 / day budget versus a U$50 to U$100 / day budget from the poor persons' perspective it's U$5 more than he has to choose how and where he lives. Many years later I remembered this conversation and decided I'd been wrong and the German traveler correct.