You will not find the misery, poverty, and oppression that is the reality for Cuba’s 11-million slaves featured in any travel brochure. Nonetheless, it is quite easy to find if you are willing to look just past the rickety Potemkin Village façade put up by the apartheid Castro regime. Unfortunately, I believe it is a safe bet that the Americans flocking to see Cuba “before it is ruined” are in no way interested in seeing reality. Instead, just like visiting Disney World, they are only interested in indulging the fantasies they have had about Castro’s Cuba and spend a few days living in their make-believe socialist delusion.
Beyond the Tourist Façade Are Cuba’s Victims of Communism
Havana’s roads received a new layer of asphalt along the beautiful Prado Boulevard and the colorful buildings in Old Havana were shining brighter than ever prior to Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba. The decay and poverty in the city, however, is too prevalent and pervasive to be hidden by a quick make-over in honor of the first visit by a US president in 88 years.
Cuba offers exotic beaches, magnificently colored American vintage cars from the 1950’s, joyous salsa rhythms and iconic cigars. But this is largely a façade, behind which lies a very different reality. During a private trip to Cuba that coincided with Obama’s visit to the island, my wife and I got a small peek into real life under the communist Cuban regime.
My wife and I both speak Spanish, which provided us with ample opportunity to engage with the local Cubans. We gained an insight into the lives of the vast majority of Cubans who do not see as much as one peso of the billions that are now flowing into the country.
Even so, tourism is essential for Cuba. Without it, the country would probably be on the verge of famine. But while the tourism industry has raised the living standards of thousands of Cubans, it does not change the fact that most ordinary citizens still live a life of poverty with very few opportunities to change their fate and improve their general circumstances.
Going Beyond the Tourist Façade
One late afternoon, walking along the Malecón waterfront, my wife and I started a conversation with two Cuban brothers in their 30s. We were so fascinated with their story and their openness that we spent the rest of the evening and the following afternoon with them.
Both brothers were engineering graduates. One earned the equivalent of $16 US dollars a month, the other $22-25 dollars a month. That is less than half of the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 USD a day, and the meager state-funded food rations hardly alleviate the hardship. An average Cuban public servant earns about $20-25 USD a month.
In contrast, the owners of “Casas Particulares” (private bed & breakfasts that rent rooms to tourists) make $25-30 dollars per rented room per night. This obviously creates an unsustainable situation in which the incentive to get an education disappears and where hard-working, well-educated Cubans see the prices of reasonable quality goods increase at such a pace that only those engaged in the tourism sector — or with the right connections to the communist regime — can afford to live a decent life.
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