Cuba is most certainly a place of contradictions. If you are of a right wing persuasion you will disapprove of it; if you are left wing you will probably approve. Both sides see the country inaccurately: the right wing sees a dictatorship, as if there was freedom for the people before, under Batista, and before; the left see the last bastion of socialism, bravely holding out against a materialistic world. The truth has always been somewhere in between.
I have been coming to Cuba for over fifteen years; I’ve lived here for two of those years and have visited perhaps twenty five other times. My sympathies are with the Cuban people, although I do not wholeheartedly swallow the propaganda given out by the government in power, which has, in effect, been in place for over fifty years.
I try to see the good side. That is that Cuba has what the rest of the world has lost: a community, a people, a country. It is the one country in the world to resist Americanism. Its people still live together, they work together – they are together. How many would change given the choice? I don’t know, perhaps many, perhaps few. For years here there was little choice and there are still many restrictions.
At the airport we had to wait thirty minutes on the runway. The baggage area was poorly lit and understaffed. Many of the waiting Cubans were outside the building; they used to be inside. There have certainly been cuts in the labour force. But I haven’t seen drastic change; change is always very slow. Yuri (my girlfriend) says things are easier now. She knows. She is completely uninterested in politics, living only for the day. I suspect that she is not alone in that belief, that many, many more live the same way.
How many still support the Castros? A reign which must surely end soon, when Raul decides he is too old to continue. The Cuban news shows about two minutes of foreign stuff; the rest is advances in Cuban technology, new tractors, new medical advances, meetings where something or other was voted for or some certificate was handed out – everything is about Cuba – it is old-fashionedly Soviet in that respect. There is no internet apart from in the hotels. So the majority of the people have no idea what is going on. But they must know that their economy is a mess – the new entrepreneurship apart – and has been a mess for living memory.
But Cuba is a symbol. Central and South American countries have slowly tried to follow it. For all its faults Cuba has remained and sustained for over fifty years while the rest of the world has changed. Has it changed for the better? Despite the onslaught of propaganda, that is debatable.
Cuba remains Cuba. Change is incredibly slow. What will happen when the Castros are gone? It is difficult to say. There will be tremendous pressure from outside to change, to become the same as the rest of the world; there would be a real-estate bonanza, people would be moved out of their homes – so much adjustment would have to take place. All this must have been anticipated by the Castros. They must have strong people in place to continue with whatever they want to do. But they are tremendous symbols of a system. The whole of Cuba identifies with the Castros. When they are gone, and with the new spirit of entrepreneurship, how long can Cuba, as it is, last?