True stories with a twist!

Here we are in a 1951 Pontiac convertible in Havana, Cuba. Our trip there was educational, interesting and sad all at once. Tourists may visit Cuba only in groups: not on their own. The people are sweet and friendly. But they are poor and live in tiny houses, often three generations living together. Here are some of the facts I learned:

The Cuban government owns everything. The people are employees of the government, which sets the pay scale for every category of jobs.

Everyone receives free medical care, free education and food rations which cover three weeks of food. Anything else, including food for the remaining week of the month, must be provided by the family members in whatever way they can manage.

There is no advertising in Cuba. If someone is looking for a job he must either listen to word of mouth or go in person from one place to another in search of work.

Much of their needs are provided by relatives who live in the United States. Often, parts needed for mechanical tools are made and improvised by the workers.

Music is everywhere: in restaurants, street corners and parks.

I was surprised by the number of “classic cars” all over the city. I thought only a few were preserved for display, but in actuality those old cars are the every day transportation for many people. New cars are not seen. Public busses are used by most Cubans. Hitch hiking is safe and is encouraged. If a person driving a car passes a pedestrian requesting a ride, he is encouraged to stop and give him a ride. If a government official passes a pedestrian on a highway he must stop and pick him up.

There are two currencies: the peso for the working people and the CUCs for tourists and wealthy Cubans.

Educationally, it is against the law to drop out of school; it is mandatory to attend school through high school. Text books are provided, but must be returned at the end of the semester. No private schools exist in Cuba. Three exams are taken to qualify for admission to college: Math, History and Spanish. Eighty percent of the population attends college.

After graduation there is a two year mandatory military service required. Afterwards each student is assigned to Social Service: three years for girls and two for boys.

Abortion is legal! Pregnant women work seven months before maternity leave begins, and returns to work in one year. In all this time she is given her full salary.

As we drove through the countryside I was astonished and saddened at seeing the terrible nutrition of the animals. Horses were tethered to wooden stakes in the ground tied to five or six feet of rope. The paltry grass in that small circumference was their meal each day. They were so thin that their ribs poked out of their bellies. Dogs were malnourished as well. I did not see any cats. Oxen are still used to plow fields, pulling hand plows with farmers steering behind.

We attempted to engage the tour guide in a conversation about the missile crisis of the 1960s. She insisted Cuba had only defensive missiles, and when we challenged her, she snapped back with “Well, we all have our own opinions!” End of discussion.

Everyone we spoke to expressed hope that the embargo will be lifted soon.

…and so the drama continues.


Ronnie and Harvey in a 1951 Pontiac, Havana Cuba

Comments on: "Havana Cuba, March 2016" (28)

  1. So cool you were able to go! A good friend has been as well, and said she would return. She didn’t mention the animal thing – and she is passionate about her dogs. Interesting perspectives, for sure. Aloha, Ronnie. Glad to be in touch, once again!

    • Wonderful to hear from you again, Bela. It’s not that the Cuban people are indifferent to their animals; they have so few resources for themselves that the animals must take second place among their concerns. Maybe it will change if the embargo is lifted.

      • Yes, I remember Mexico and Aruba many years ago – the shock at seeing the state of dogs, in particular. You are correct, for sure. Aloha, Ronnie!

  2. When you think on how many have to live in other countries Ronnie we are so very fortunate.. And so sad to read about the way animals and those horses were treated..
    Loved your photo 🙂

    • I agree totally,Sue. We are amazingly lucky to to live in this country, and don’t realize how lucky we are until we see how others live in other places.

      The animals were so badly treated not because the people didn’t care about them, but because they didn’t have enough money to invest in animals’ welfare.

  3. Ronnie, I think that the embargo has, to a very great extent, stifled Cuba’s ability to grow their industries and thus improve the standard of living there much more than Castro’s dictatorial style of government. In fact, they seem to be far ahead of this country with respect to education and health care, two things that we haven’t mastered in over a century ! Loved the old Pontiac. You looked like you were enjoying your visit ! 🙂

    • Paul, you’re right; the embargo has hurt the people from growing their industries and improving their lives. Everything would change if the embargo were lifted.
      I loved the constant sound of music coming from everywhere we went. They are basically a cheerful people.

  4. Hi Ronnie, thanks for this interesting read! Loved all the information and descriptions but sad to note that there’s a lot that needs doing…still. Glad you enjoyed the trip. Good to see there’s plenty of music! If music be the food of love, play on, maestro.. 😊

    • Hi Mal, so good to hear from you again. It would be good to see the buildings and roads repaired and more opportunities for the people. They seem to be well educated, thanks to Cuba’s free education system, but have too few jobs available to them.

  5. Thanks for sharing your trip.I can remember a time when you couldn’t even fly over Cuba. The conditions you describe make the United States seem like a pretty nice place to live, even if it isn’t perfect.

    • You are so right, Bev. We take so much for granted here, but we’re the luckiest people on earth to be living in the United States of America.

  6. Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to tour the hospitals and get an overview of the medical education system.

    • Although we did not get to see any hospitals we did attend a lecture about the medical situation in Cuba delivered by a surgeon who heads medical services. He told us there are 24 medical schools in Cuba.Cuba trains so many doctors that they export doctors to other countries: African nations, Venezuela, and Nicaragua for example.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in Cuba! Husband and I have been considering a visit but have held back. What an experience for you! I too remember when Fidel Castro was a hero. May the new US/Cuba relations help the Cuban people.

    • More and more tourists are arriving in Cuba every day. People want to see it in its original state, before foreign interests redesign the landscape. We already saw one cruise ship docked in the harbor.
      So wait no longer; the time is NOW!

  8. This is so interesting Ronnie! I was there in the 50’s when Castro was a rebel in the hills. There were giant opulent hotels and a big American presence there. Lots of music and gaiety but I think there was a big divide between the haves and the have nots.

    • Yes, we saw those big hotels; remember The National Hotel, where Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, and other mafia members stayed? We didn’t see much of the “haves”, but plenty of the “have nots.” Castro is about to celebrate his 90th birthday; I remember when we all thought he was a hero for overthrowing Batista; do you remember the Barbara Walters interview? She thought he was a national hero too.

  9. Anonymous said:

    What a wonderful experience and you both look so well and happy.

  10. Anonymous said:

    The Cuban embargo certainly has not helped. If it was intended to bring favorable change to the Castro government through pressure, it didn’t work. Granted, it probably made sense at the time, but after 55 years it only hurts those friendly Cuban people and skinny horses.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Very interesting, I would love to go. I wonder why you made the trip? Was it vacation?

  12. harvey hammer said:

    can only echo Ronnie’s comments and sentiments. Nostalgia: my first car was a 1952 Pontiac bought second hand at a Hackensack used car lot. It lasted 2 years before interior rust got the better of it. people in Cuba lovely and friendly. Poverty is overwhelming.
    Such is the success of Fidel Castro’s Communist (they call it “socialist”) state

  13. Sounds fascinating and you look great in that car!

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