A visit to Cuba is not a vacation but a journey – a journey to a country frozen in time. The clock stopped in 1959 when the dictator Fulgencio Batista and his supporters finally fled from Cuba and another dictator, Fidel Castro moved into power. The resulting political fallout worldwide, including here in the USA, brought the country to a standstill and nothing has moved forward since then. A country held back by its communist government which values enriching its leaders at the expense of their citizens. But in spite of this, the spirit of the Cuban people is infectious. A new day is slowly coming and the anticipation is reflected in the warmth and hospitality shown by everyone you meet.
There are generations of Cubans who have never known anything but submission to a government that does not allow them to do anything for themselves and are forced to live with government rations, deteriorating infrastructure, minuscule wages and, perhaps the worst of all, no dreams of a better life unless they left their country, their home, their family and friends and settled in another country.
With President Raoul Castro there is the faintest glimmer of hope for a different future. It will still take years for any significant changes to occur because many of old generals and government leaders who surrounded Fidel are still in place calling the shots but with some inroads being made especially in the growing tourism industry. Cubans now have the opportunity to own their own businesses.
During our visit we stayed in a Cuban casa (essentially a B&B), we had a Cuban tour guide who was with my husband and I and delighted in showing us his country. We ate in Cuban paladars (restaurants owned by Cuban citizens and not the government), This is huge since the majority of all restaurants, hotels and companies are owned and operated by the Cuban government.
There is a new fervor among many younger Cubans who don’t want to have to leave their country and families to find success. They are taking on the challenge of making a better life for themselves inside their country and I for one am excited for them and look forward to even more opportunities to emerge for Cuba to move beyond 1959 into the 21st century.
As the day lengthens into evening the delightful sounds of music are coming at you from everywhere. Even during the middle of the day, you are moving your feet or your hips in any semblance of following the beat, you are pulled into dancing with with the locals. You sense that they are truly happy to have you visiting and eager to share the culture and spirit of Cuba with you.