I am beginning to integrate my different reactions to my recent visit to Cuba. The reality we were presented was so different from my expectations. I knew the country was frozen in time from the beginning of the embargo in 1959.I knew the Russians provided for the Cubans until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
I did not know that the Cubans could not or did not keep up with ANY infrastructure maintenance or repair for 50 years. There is no road that traverses the island. It is 55 miles wide (north to south and 760 miles long east to west. It sits at the mouth of the Carribean with its north facing us. Havana faces north on Cuba's east. Santiago de Cuba faces south on Cuba's west coast.
Their cement factory is a closed up wreck. They make nails by hand, usually they are rescuing bent nails from ruins and straightening them for individual projects. They also rescue wood. They transport what little clay they have in the Western mountains for pottery which is hand turned.The people are very resourceful but not inventive, as far as we were permitted to see.
Our experience took us from Camaguey which is on the north coast almost in the middle of the country to Havana with intermediate stops in Remedios and Santa Clara, plus an overnight at the beach resort of Valadero. As we drove in our modern air conditioned bus, the northern keys of Cuba were described to us, but we were told that Americans are not permitted to visit, even to drive on the causeway to see the resorts that have been built to accommodate European and Canadian tourists.
The tourists arrive by plane, travel directly to the all-inclusive hotels and leave the premises only to drive bac to the airport. They don't need restaurants, trains or buses and the approach road is well-paved. Perhaps they rent a fr to drive to Havana for night life. That is one Cuba reality.
Another reality of Cuba. They have no middle class. The population is mostly young. The pedi taxis are manned by middle aged university-educated men who work for tips from tourists rather than in their trained professions in order to feed and clothe their families. Other middle and older men sit in the squares of the smaller cities all day. The only non-hotel or tourist workers we saw other than dance or music teachers or baseball coaches were hand rolling the famous Havana cigars.
Russia did teach Cuba how to run a communist educational system. Everyone wears a uniform, color coded by age, every child goes to school. There is a separate school for special needs children who often live there for their entire school experience. Children are assessed at age 7 and thse with special talents are sent to regional residential schools that specialize in music and art and baseball. More Cuban realities will follow.