Just because the Cubans are looking forward to better relations with America does not mean they want to return to the days when their culture was subsumed by the U.S.
Cubans are a very proud people, and they have every right to be. For over fifty years, the U.S. Government has tried to bring the country to heel with the devastating economic embargo, and they never backed down. You can disagree with Cuban socialism and government policies, but you have to respect how the country has stood firm in its independence, even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the huge loss of economic sponsorship that brought. I sensed quiet pride that the end of the embargo is on the Cubans’ terms.
Our Cuban guide, Eric, spent much of our transit time describing aspects of Cuban life. Among the downsides: the monthly allotment of food the average Cuban family receives really only lasts about two weeks, and needs to be supplemented at the fresh food market at prices that test the average $24 monthly salary.
The up side: Free health care that includes some new drugs that are advanced even by U.S. standards
The average Cuban seems much like the average American when you bring up politics. You get a shrug and a comment that runs along the lines of “governments argue and fight, but it’s never the politicians who suffer, it’s the people.”
Hard to argue with that.
We think of Cuba as a disadvantaged, Third World country. Economically, that may be true. But the country has a 99% literacy rate, which dates back to a 1962 campaign that sent young people out into rural areas to teach farm families to read. Today, Cuba sends teachers to other countries to teach reading, as well as doctors. It’s pretty impressive.
That said, the average Cuban that we met was so excited that the Americans are coming, they are practically giddy. But a cautionary note came from a few, notably the architect who squired our group through Old Havana. Daniel quite frankly said he was looking forward to the tourism dollars the U.S. would bring, but as a historic preservationist, does not want to see five-hundred year old buildings torn down to put up a Starbucks.
The Cubans can hardly wait to welcome Americans to their country.
I hope they like us just as much when we’ve been there a few years.