Terry McAteer: Like it or not, change is coming to Cuba
After 60 years of Castro rule, a new leader of Cuba will be announced on April 19. This is the most important change to our neighboring island nation since the Marxist Revolution in 1959.
The Cuban people have no idea who Raul Castro has selected to succeed him. While this secretive move might baffle us Americans, this uncertainty and rumor-driven society is nothing new to Cubans. “Cuba is complicated,” was a common line expressed to me during my two recent trips to Cuba this past year in January and December.
Most Cubans have tremendous reverence for the Castro brothers (Fidel and Raul) as the revolution brought a redistribution of land, free schooling for all and quality medical care. They are also quick to discuss the many shortcomings of their nation including a crumbling infrastructure — tap water is not potable, rotary phones are still in use, the internet is only accessible in public parks, garbage mounds are everywhere and much of the nation is unemployed or underemployed.
The United States embargo has also played a large role in the crumbling of Cuba. While Cuba for the one-day cruise ship tourist is exciting and provides a glimpse back to the romantic Cuba of the 1950s with rides in 1957 Chevys, tour of cigar factories, daiquiris at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bars and the glorious mansions of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, this is far from reality.
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Life in Cuba is a daily struggle! The average Cuban (doctors and bus drivers alike) are paid a monthly wage of $150. This wage keeps all Cubans just barely at the subsistence level and any savings are kept under the mattress and away from state-owned bank. Cubans who have gotten into capitalism through starting their own bed and breakfast or their own restaurant operating in their home have done so through funds primarily provided by Cuban-Americans living in the U.S..
The Marxist Cuba of the ’60s and ’70s, full of anti-American rhetoric, has faded as Cubans openly speak about their government and their love for Americans — just not their love for the American government. Our two nations have been entwined with each other starting with the 1898 sinking of the USS Maine which led to Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. America gained control of Puerto Rico and Cuba as the spoils of that war. While we granted Cuban independence in 1904, the U.S. maintained strong business and governmental ties while Havana became America’s sunny playground for the rich and famous until the 1959 Revolution charged all of that. Cuban and American interests have collided on numerous issues throughout the past six decades as communism and democracy have had a difficult time co-existing 90 miles apart from one another.
Since travel restrictions were eased two years ago, my wife Liz and I traveled to Cuba a year ago with some friends, as we wanted to see for ourselves this mysterious and forbidden nation. What we found a year ago was a nation excited for the possibility of renewed economic and people-to-people relations with America. Fledgling capitalism, blessed by the government, was blossoming and people were optimistic. We decided that we needed to bring our children back to Cuba this past Christmas to experience the real Cuba before economic change of numerous Hiltons and Holiday Inns took root.
What we found this trip, just 11 months apart from our previous visit, was a depressed Cuba. The new restrictions imposed by the Trump Administration had turned off American investment and American tourists. The mood of the scores of Cuban people we interacted with was somber and resigned to more years of subsistence living. They also have a genuine fear that the new Cuban government, to be announced in three months, will snuff-out the glimmering hopes of capitalism and a return to more harsh Marxist rhetoric.
It was troubling to see Cuba take a step backwards. While Cuba remains “complicated,” its hope rests in its youth who have a taste of capitalism and who flock to their parks at all hours of the day to gain access to a free world wide press to learn the truth. They are the future and, despite American and Cuban governmental attempts to squelch it, change is coming to Cuba.
Terry McAteer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com
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