On the road in Cuba

An interesting account from an American journalist picking up hitchhikers in Cuba and listening to their tales:

On the road in Cuba, tales of woe and yearning


ON THE CARRETERA CENTRAL, Cuba — “Subanse,” climb aboard, I said repeatedly, pulling the right wheels of my eight-seat van off the dangerous two-lane highway that snakes hundreds of miles across an island considered off limits to most Americans.

Ostensibly, I was in Cuba to cover Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. But over the week and across the length of the Ohio-sized country, I gave more than five dozen Cubans a “botella” — in Cuban slang, a ride.

My riders gave an unvarnished view of the country. They were farmers, housewives and doctors. They were school kids, half a baseball team, an economist and even a judge, who proclaimed herself to be a huge fan of Jack Bauer in the American TV thriller series “24.”


“Socialism: Homework for the Free Man,” read one confounding sign. Another, near an abandoned workers dormitory, read, “Fidel, yes we did it.” My personal favorite was at an ecological reserve, declaring, “Nature is Revolution.” Huh?

Sometimes subtly, sometimes directly, I asked the same questions of all my passengers. How do they feel about the newly announced economic openings? Are they better or worse off than before? What do they think of President Raul Castro?

If they weren’t too nervous, I asked what would come after the deaths of Fidel, 85, and Raul, soon to be 81. They’ve ruled Cuba for 53 years, 50 of them under a U.S. trade embargo. Simple math says their end is near. And I asked what’ll happen if Venezuela’s cancer-stricken president, Hugo Chavez, dies? He’s helped keep Cuba afloat with cheap oil.

What I was after was this: Is Cuba ripe for an Arab Spring, where people can’t stand it anymore and take to the streets? Has the government lost its moral authority? Is it at risk of collapse from within?

Most riders expected continuity, post-Castro brothers. An exception was Carlos, a paramedic picked up outside Havana late in the week on the way east along the northwestern coastline.

“The day that they both die will be the day that the country reclaims its real liberty,” he said, adding, “Cubans want the same rights as the people who live closest to us, in the United States.”

Carlos, 52, said he was among legions of Cubans who tried to make it to U.S. shores by raft. He was picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard seven miles off Florida and returned during the 1990s.

“We’re living in a country of lies,” he said, angry that tourists can come to Cuba and enjoy a parallel currency, while ordinary Cubans cannot travel.

Read the entire article HERE.