Reports from Cuba: Cuba: A country trapped in time

By Eduardo Herrera Duran in Translating Cuba:

Cuba: A Country Trapped in Time

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Hablemos Press, Eduardo Herrera Duran, Havana, 3 September 2015 – Following the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the US on 17 December of last year, there was increased interest throughout the world in visiting Cuba. A great number of those who come are much attracted by a country that seems to be trapped in time.

Antique cars; a glamorous city stuck in the 1950s and now practically in ruins; the absence of means to connect to the Internet; the widespread use of propaganda billboards highlighting the consumerism of other countries that is absent in Cuba…. All of this is a curiosity to those who do not know, or perhaps are not interested in, how Cubans really live.

In recent months, famous models such as Naomi Campbell and Paris Hilton – and, more recently, the Barbadian singer Rihanna – visited the Island. Other famous artists came, as well, including Enrique Iglesias and Marc Anthony. In their photos and videos, they showed the contrast between the supposed happiness of the people against a backdrop of poverty.

Similar to how locations are chosen that denote poverty in African countries such as Sierra Leone, and Haiti in the Americas, it would seem that Cuba is a new “poverty chic” destination – the only difference, perhaps, is that Cubans tend to be more educated and extremely friendly towards foreigners.

The contrast between glamour and poverty is clearly seen in the video, Bailando [see below], by Enrique Iglesias with Gente D’ Zona, probably one of the ten most-viewed videos in the world. Seeing the background behind the starring performers, it is easy to confirm that the intent was to contrast them to the filthy Havana buildings and the miserable appearance of the people who are acting as extras.

As if this were not enough, during his recent visit to Cuba, US Secretary of State John Kerry used as decoration some of the antique cars that abound on the Island. These vehicles exist today not because of some official or private interest in preserving or collecting them, but rather because after 1959, there were no more sales of new automobiles to private parties; therefore the people had to make do with those that were already in circulation.

At that time in our country, the average number of vehicles of this type was one per every 39 inhabitants. It should be noted that there were not that many new vehicles then in the world. From a quick comparison of data we can say that in Russia during that period, the average was one per every 400 inhabitants.

Some media outlets highlighted the recent visits by celebrities as a way to encourage more tourists to visit the Island. And many of them will heed that call. However, they will not consider that this isolation, this unchanging landscape, this trip back in time – or whatever they are seeking is called – comes at the price of a people suffering a totalitarian regime in power for more than half century. It is not by choice that the Cuban people can decide to access the Internet or not, to be pedestrians or automobile owners, to live in buildings that are ruins, to survive on whatever foodstuffs they can manage to obtain – in short, to live not as they desire to live.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison