When I used to think of Cuba a few things crossed my mind; Castro, Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, Boat People, and Little Havana in Miami. Unfortunately all of these thoughts were primarily negative or at least had problematic elements. Upon arriving in Havana I overlooked a city that is beautiful and aged. From the first night I was curious and open minded, my desire was to experience Cuba . After 10 days, some research watching the people and many discussions my thoughts have broadened and now include positive elements. Cuba was discovered by Columbus in 1492 and in 1592 its conquest by the Spanish began. In 1848 the U.S. attempted to purchase Cuba from the Spanish, I might add this was not the last attempt to play a part in Cuban life. While there I noticed the influence of both the African and Spanish Cultures. The outcome of this influence is beautiful people who know how to sing and dance. Music (hear some by using play button under trumpet player) and movement are such a part of the culture that music breaks out on each street, in schools and cafes, one could say the Cubans know how to sing and dance.... laugh and enjoy life.
Those in the teen years that show an interest in the arts attend schools dedicated to dance, music, and art. As adults their interest are supported through full time jobs in groups for musicians, singers, and dancers. By clicking the play arrow on the picture below you will hear the Chorus of Cienfuegos. This chorus has traveled to many countries sharing their beautiful songs. Many Cuban characteristics reflect the consequence of the Revolution that took power in 1959 from the dictator Batista who had been in power from 1940-44 and again from 1952-1959. Heroes of the revolution include Fidel and Raul Castro, and Che Guevara (executed in 1967 for his part in the Bolivian revolution). These men modeled their revolutionary lives after Jose Marti who was killed in 1895 during the second war with Spain for independence. The decades that have followed the revolution include many elements the people revere such as high literacy rates, access of all the people to benefits such as free medical care and education through advanced university degrees and that people of all colors, classes, and sexual orientations are accepted. There also exists an intergenerational and community bond that was impressive. On the other hand some spoke of “mistakes” that have been made and a desire that the US embargo be lifted because it is a “scapegoat” blamed for economic problems. If the embargo were to end then what does not work would be more honestly addressed and change is more likely. We met with members of the Union of Writers and Artists, a group of almost 200 Cubans of various political views. One of their members summed up what he thought was the reality for Cuba, “Life is not as good as the local paper reports nor as bad as the Miami Harold states.”
Cars... Cars... and more Cars, most over fifty years old and many convertibles, held together with fabricated parts and often powered by Japanese motors and painted with a sponge. The Embargo prevents importing of newer American autos or parts for old ones. As a child my family was a “Chevy” family. Between my brother, sister, mom, and I we had several during the 50’s including a 1953, 1955, 1956, and 1957. They love these old cars so much that even paintings of them decorate some homes. If you are a CLASSICO car buff, you are in for a treat as you roam Havana streets.
Other forms of transportation range from modern tour buses made in China to tractors, bikes, and the much loved reliable horse. Public transportation is well used. This tractor pulling a trailer is referred to as a Camel and it became a common travel source when the USSR’s support of Cuba ended and Cuba entered the “Special Period” of becoming self-sufficient.
In each country I’ve visited constants are found. Beauty is the most significant constant. This beauty is found in nature, the creations of the people such as buildings, parks, even the automobiles and of course the people. Humans share more in common than anything that separates us (see my assumptions page). It may be a gesture, facial expression, tone of voice, the presence of laughter or anger.... In each case we see a mirror of our own experiences. The human spirit that survives in all manner of circumstances is extraordinary. School is free and required resulting in one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Uniforms vary by age group. We can all relate to hurdles encountered beginning at a young age. The paucity of cell phones does not prevent connecting with others. Posing for the tourist dollar. When I gave her a $1.00 bill she chased me and in spanish conveyed it was soiled and no good. I gave her a clean one.
Streets bustle with many people on foot going about their various activities.
Hard work was viewed in many settings. Men and women engaged in labor, some of which is beautifying the country. In some cases pride for their accomplishments was demonstrated. Though seldom seen, the police do their duty with diligence and I did not experience payola.

My expectations regarding Cuba were influenced by visits to Mexico.  Perhaps it was the climate similarities, or language, or just my periodic tendency to generalize; hence because they shared Latin roots I thought they would be very similar. The latin joy for music, dance and family are evident in both cultures.  However, there were obvious differences.  I did not see the same levels of poverty, graffiti, nor trash as I had experienced in Mexico.   Cuba is among the highest ranked of all Latin American and Caribbean countries by ratings on the Human Development Index.  When indicators of quality of life such as life expectancy, years of schooling, income levels, and standard of living are calculated for 187 countries the results show Cuba ranked 51st, ahead of each of the following: Mexico 57th, Panama 58th, Trinidad and Tobago 62nd, Costa Rica 69th, Venezuela 73rd, Jamaica 79th, Peru 80th, Brazil 84th, Belize 93rd, Honduras 121st, Nicaragua 129th, Haiti 158th.  Quite an accomplishment for a small island country embargoed by the most powerful nation in the world.

 

For more photos of landscape, architecture, cities, flora and fauna, and people of all ages go to the Cuba Albums page. This photo from the plane window as we flew over Cuba.