Saturday, November 3, 2012

CUBA NOTES (aka my own rum diaries) ~ a multi-part series about my Cuba impressions

and a little about freedom

Forget about it! Seriously, for those of us used to fast (or relatively fast in the US[1]) connections through broadband wireless connections, Cuba is a nightmare. Many hotels have public-use computers and offer internet...when it works. We pay up to $8 per hour at the Parc Centrale and spend an hour building frustration as one photo loads to Facebook. Good thing they have great mohitos! The next day at a small hotel around the corner, we're waiting, waiting (remember dial-up?), before being bounced off a few times; then the entire system shuts down. We give up and enjoy the rest of our journey, almost entirely internet free. Made it difficult to post to my Cuba blog, but after a week or two we begin to really enjoy the lack of email, communications, work and social media. I love all the transportation choices. Easily accessible and inexpensive, travel in Cuba is a treat. But internet - Nyet!
            Although internet use has jumped 60 percent in the last 2 years, to about 3 million users - close to a third of the population. Cuba's population remains largely cut off from unfettered access to the Internet, and there is no broadband. Agonizingly long waits to open an email or photo hamper both government and entrepreneurial business operations.
            Imagine the internet without Google or a country without Apple - thanks to the US embargo.  The US is clearly making things worse for all Cubans, the internet now the new battlefield in the 50-year-old fight against the Cuban government.
            Every Cuban we meet has a cell phone, and apparently the technology works great and is tied to the local MN currency. Telephone density is about 25% (seems like more). Unfortunately, AT&T is unable to operate there, so I use my iPhone only for notes (my own rum diaries), camera (over 2200 shots), games (I'm a solitaire junkie), etc.
            Cuba blames the United States embargo* for denying access to underwater cables, saying it must use a satellite system and is limited in the space it can buy. Over a year ago a fiber optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba was to provide download speeds 3,000 times faster than Cuba's current Internet (and capable of handling millions of phone calls simultaneously), but it's not fully operational yet.
            Access to satellite television is also severely restricted, but we enjoy fabulous Cuban baseball - without commercials! And the music, dance, and arts on TV are amazing!
*OK, let's talk embargo, a US policy which confuses the world (Cuba is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism - really?[2]), hurts Cubans with increased poverty and lack of access to goods and services, hurts other countries (and ours) by denying trade, is opposed by every other nation on earth and in the UN (except Israel). It's bad enough we've taken Guantanamo as a spoil of war and now torture and kill people on Cuban soil who have never even been charged with a crime. For twenty years, nations all around the world have been calling for repeal of this horrible US policy. For a country that gives lip service to "freedom", we act against it for millions of innocent people.
            Obama opened up Cuban travel for people-to-people tours (and other classes of licensing), but following a speech by Marco Rubio, approvals this year have clamped down, and 140 licenses have been withheld (there go more American jobs). What used to be a six to ten-page form is now over 100 and has gone from complex to ridiculous. Nothing will be done in this election year, but most people feel that things will definitely get worse under Romney.
            With over 300 new government guidelines, designed to stimulate enterprise and dramatically shift employment from government to private sector, lots of changes are underway in Cuba
  • 22% of workers are now in private business, and that segment is growing exponentially.
  • 163,000 farmers have just been given land in an attempt to expand domestic agriculture and more for export.
  • Cuba is also the largest per capita producer of organic food in the world and
  • received an A+ in sustainable development practices[3]. Yep, there's no Monsanto on this island!
  • Cuba enjoys the 2nd highest literacy rate[4].
Its Olympians compete for and win gold medals. Its baseball is as good as it gets.
          We've all heard about Cuban doctors. They're flown to hotspots like Haiti, tsunami areas. Bush refused their offer in New Orleans, but many countries all over the globe have gladly accepted offers to send doctors, train medical personnel, and more. At this time, 26 of over 125 medical students from the US have recently arrived in Havana. Cuba covers 100% of their tuition, books and supplies, housing, food, and money for incidentals. While we're worrying about a huge dearth of doctors in the US' future, we don't even consider educating or helping student doctors or nurses. Cuba does.
            In a small port city, I am approached by a young man, offering me US$10,000 to help bring him to the US. Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans who set foot on U.S. territory are allowed to remain. I listen to his carefully-crafted plan more as research (and with concern) but clearly will not participate. There are a few who want to leave, to seek new shores and new opportunities. But most live contentedly under policies that both restrict and most countries.

An old joke in Havana states:

In Cuba, all economic plans are over-fulfilled.
All plans are fulfilled, but the stores are empty.
The stores are empty, but people have what they need.
People have what they need, but they all complain.
They all complain, but are all Fidelistas.



[1]  While some of the world enjoy internet speeds up to 200 times what we scrape by on in the US, we sell off our best speeds to the highest bidders, the rest of us left with poor and expensive service and speed. Like Cuba. For many low-income Americans, Internet access is a luxury they can't afford. In Sweden, Norway, and France, Internet is a human right (like healthcare, elder care, wholesome and labeled food, etc). I've been complaining for 15 years about how bad US Internet service is...compared to places I've been...because here it's not about enabling citizens and businesses; it's about corporate profits. 
[2]  Afghanistan, which sent terrorists to the US is NOT on the list, but Cuba, a small peaceful island which never attacked us IS. This political act was ushered in generations ago, and continues to this day, despite reason and the passing of time.
[3]  Rio Earth Summit
[4]  United Nations