a journal of a researcher

Sunday, January 08, 2006

My Cuba Trip

It is my idea to visit Cuba for the Christmas vacation. I want to see a socialism society again. Maybe it can remind me the past time in China. It is my fourth Caribbean vacation, after Guadeloupe, Martinique (both are French Islands), Dominica, and Dominican Republic.

China and Cuba

We departed from Paris on Dec. 19. I saw a group of Chinese people. Obviously they were from China and transferred in Paris, and it was a business trip at the vacation period. After boarding, I found they were sitting at the first class section. Rich people! Later I found out that now China is the #1 country to aide Cuba, replacing Russian after 1989. China gives Cuba rice and exports all kinds goods, mainly electricity devices and tools. China has many projects in Cuba, e.g. hydraulic projects and oil exploitation projects. You can even see several Chinese TV channels in hotels in Havana.

La Havana

I remember one Cuban song called “Beautiful Havana”. It should be very beautiful in the past, being the richest city in Caribbean in the colony time. The old city of Havana, Havana Vieja, is in the list the World Heritage by the UNESCO since 1982. It contains beautiful houses and churches from colony time. These Spanish style houses have high ceils that keep the internal cool under the tropical sunlight. The walls are the stairs are decorated with fine marbles. The court yards normally have green plants or a fountain, inviting people to sit and spend the hot afternoon in its protection. Many of the buildings are now the office buildings and even resident buildings. One can see that no money is put down to maintain them. The marbles on the stairs are missing. The windows and the doors lose their paints. The surface of the buildings is dirty. That is still the best part of the Vieja. If you step one or two blocks out of the tourism area, you will find more terrible scene of broken walls and columns left by collapsed buildings.

Malecon is the sea boulevard by the bay of Havana. It spreads 7km from the Vieja to the boring apartments of Vedado. It is said to be an analog of the sea boulevard in Cannes, France. But it is a heart broken to see so many abandoned and collapsed houses. You can’t compare it to the one in Cannes. Maybe the communists do not care the collapse of the old world. What they want is a new world with new orders. But they did not build much in this country. I was told the accommodation and living supplies are in shortage in this capital.

Havana is not a safe city anymore. Tourists are the main targets of criminals. I think it is because the sharp derivative of the richness of the tourists and the poverty of the locals. The local people rely on the government supply systems for every thing, from daily bread to a tooth brush each 3 months. Therefore, it is not a surprise that at each corner of the street, people bother you for all kinds of reasons. In the Vieja, the safety is maintained by at least one policeman per street. But out of this area, you need to take care. I was stolen my little purse for coins when I was entering a local shop.

After our tour around Cuba, we visited Havana for the second time. This time, we tried to ignore the broken buildings and stayed only at the tourism area. We know how to find a little garden to have a mojito at 0.75 CUC (the convertible peso, which is more or less as the value of Euro), and have a typical Cuban lunch at 4 CUC. Finally, we could enjoy Havana.

Countryside

Vinales valley is the agriculture region of tobacco and banana. It is the finest example of a karst valley in Cuba, where mogotes, knolls with rounded tops and steep slopes, contrast harmoniously with the flat surface of the valley where they stand. Vinales has only 3 hotels, all run by the government. Unfortunately, all were full booked. We have to stay in another hotel not at the center of Vinales. Actually, another choice is the Casa particular. I immediately found a Chinese analog for them: “people who get rich first”. At the beginning of reforming in China in 1980’s, some people caught all kinds of chance to earn their money and become rich. The owners of the Casa particular are this kind of people.

The life at Vinales seems better than the capital. The houses are better and spacious. Food supply is better. Vinales is in the list the World Heritage by the UNESCO since 1999.

Other cities

We visited Trinida, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, and Saint Clara. Trinida is the most beautiful city in Cuba, because it is better maintained. UNESCO declared Trinidad (founded in 1514, the third Spanish settlement in Cuba) to be a part of world cultural heritage because of its colonial architecture, which dates from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The oldest part of the city (55 blocks in size, with 1211 buildings) is one of its greatest attractions. It contains beautiful churches (such as the Great Parish Church, a neoclassical edifice built in 1892) and public squares, the most important of which is Main Square-surrounded by buildings of great beauty and historic and architectural interest and considered the second most important square in the country, after Havana's Cathedral Square. Saint Clara most famous because of Che Guevara and the history of Cuba's revolution. We visited the monument of Che Guevara and the tombs of his and his comrades’. Che Guevara is a symbol of humanism, solidarity and internationalism for the world. Most of the visitors are the western tourists. I am sure most of Cuban have a lot of chances to visit this place and it is the reason we did not see many of them. Remember Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were friends. We saw Fidel Castro is in his uniform on TV this time. The time of hero is not long time ago.

Revolution

Cuba is still a socialism country. Cuba revolution is in 1959 when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara drove out dictator Fulgancio Batista with very minor guerilla forces. Che Guevara left a famous letter and left for Bolivia and was killed there. For Fidel, the revolution never ends. He is still in his uniform today. He rules the country believing the country needs him. His people still recognize him as a hero. But still how long?

This country is still in revolution. Revolutionary barns and slogans are everywhere to see. The status of Marti and Che Guevara are everywhere. People are lining up to wait for their supplies. The apartment buildings are high, in cerement and without decoration. The education and medical care system are over the country. The roads are wide, but not much traffic. People are waiting for buses or walking. No free markets (though in country side, there are). All the features of a socialism country.

It seems that Cubans are still waiting for their time to come. They have to live in poverty some years more. They have to believe it is US embargo causing their problems some years more. They have to live with some social taboos some years more.

Is there any better social system for them? I visited Dominican Republic. The roads there were bad, but more traffic. The poor people seem poorer than in Cuban, but some people are rich. Here, everyone is equal, equally poor. A simple descriptions is capitalism means some people are poor and the other are rich. Socialism means all are poor but with good spirits. If Che Guevara lives until today, which way is he going to choose? Maybe he chose to become a doctor as he was trained. Nobody can save the world. We do not need hero anymore.

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