My wife and I recently traveled to Cuba with a group on a Licensed Educational People to People trip that facilitates interaction with locals and an understanding of Cuba’s culture. US citizens cannot at the current time be called tourists. I was interested in seeing what had happened in Cuba since the revolution in 1959, I would have said failed revolution, but the Cuban people do not feel it was a failure. It was at that time when the individuals that had successful businesses and lives fled the country. The result was the government taking control of sugar plantations, tobacco farms and other businesses that were left by the capitalists who could see what was coming. The country has literally stood still for the last 57 years since the revolution.
Landing in Havana was not unusual by any other airport standards in the United States. What was amazing was the number of shrink wrapped packages that the Cubans were bringing into the Country. I was told these people were called mules and were bringing back the many goods that are not readily available in Cuba, paper products, canned goods, TV’s, bicycles, you name it they were bringing it in. I was told some of the mules sell the goods, others are providing for their families that have never left Cuba.
Stepping out of the terminal one finds the parking lots full of old American vehicles, mostly 1950’s vintage Chevys, Fords, and the like. Many of the newer small cars I did not recognize, I was told they were Russian made. Touring Havana
our first stop was Revolution Square which is located in the modern political and cultural center of Havana. Old Havana has some stunning Spanish colonial
architecture very much needing restoration. The big question is where to get the money. Private enterprise accomplishes most of that in the US, sometimes in partnership with local governments. The infrastructure of the country is in need of much upgrading and will be stressed if US tourism becomes a reality.
The Cuban people are a polite, friendly, happy group given the fact that the average salary is between $30 to $60 dollars a month. A staple of the diet for almost every meal is beans and rice. I have never tasted so many delicious
varieties of beans and rice. Most of our noon meals were at paladars, dining areas on the first floor of a private residence. Bottled liquid products were the
drinks of choice, as the water system was known to cause some problems for in
travelers to Cuba.
I was surprised to learn that the biggest export by revenue was that of human capital, Doctors educated in the Cuban educational system and then contracted for service to different parts of the world by the government of Cuba. Next largest revenue generator was biotechnology, and third was tourism. US is about the only country that Cuba does not yet accept tourists from. We met tourist from Canada, Norway, and Italy while on the trip.
Outside of the major cities, I was amazed to see the number of horse pulled carts that were used for transportation, traveling down the street along with the motorized vehicles. I did indeed see a one bottom plow being pulled by a horse. Agriculture is still a large piece of the economy, with Sugar cane, tobacco, and rice being the main crops.
This trip was an eye opener for me and it certainly reinforces the capitalist system we have in this country.