The Cuban paradox

I’ve seen two different sides of a country that I have never seen in one country before. Of course it’s a very short peek, and it’s only my version of the little I’ve seen in Cuba.

Cubans are free… free of feeling ashamed, they dance whenever the want, no holding back. They sing whenever they get the chance. There is, as far as I could tell, no discrimination. Streets are clean and unbelievably safe. School is free and health care, as far as I know, also.
Imagine a city where there is music everywhere. People are playing domino in front of their house and children are playing baseball in the streets with a stick and a bottle cap. Whenever you need a taxi, a 1955 caddy will pick you up, and you feel king of the world.
At night you can walk along the coastline and couples are sitting everywhere with bottles of rum, sometimes mixed with the Cuban cola. When you walk in to the city, wondering through the dark streets, there is not one place you will feel unsafe.
Entering any bar along your way, at any day of the week, there will be a Salsa band playing and people dancing. Mojitos’ are on the table and the place has a subtle smell of good cigars.
Basically it’s Cuba as you read about it, as people told you, as you have seen it in the movies. But only better.

After a few days though, I saw a different side of the country. A Cuba that is far from free. One where everybody has got his own way to make that extra tourist dollar. A Cuban gets paid in pesos. They get little of it and it’s worth almost 1/30 of the tourist dollar. Everything a Cuban needs he will have to trade, hustle or beg for. A Cuban works for the government. He gets paid by the government. Everything he owns, actually belongs to the government.
When I was talking with a young man in a bar and, at some time, he suddenly walked away from the table. I had seen that the only Cubans in the bar, were the really rich ones, or they were most of the time from other parts of Latin America. When I saw the police officer outside, staring into the bar, I realized that my new friend was not supposed to be here.
In Santa Clara I found myself in a pro Cuba, anti America protest. People were giving speeches on stage and the crowd, at given times, cheered and held up Cuban flags. One third of the people there were dressed in green, a lot of children in school uniform, old men sitting on a bench.

When I moved through the crowd, I noticed it was more of a social event. In Cuba people have to be at these kinds of gathering. They have to cheer when they are told to. So they do. But while they are there anyway they are talking and laughing. Some kids were dancing salsa on music coming from a cellphone. The old men had a bottle of rum stashed in between them. And some of the women soldiers in romantic embrace with their boyfriend.
I realized that a Cuban is not free, ever. He cannot travel abroad. He has virtually no excess to internet or foreign television. Earns little money and will ask you to help whenever he can. But he will never be offended or rude when you say no. You’ll be invited to come and dance. Drinks will be shared (as long as you buy them). You will feel more welcome then you could have imagined.

I have seen the struggle (at least a bit). This county is not free. The people are not free. And to me that was something new.
But I also have seen their resilience, the community spirit and their lack of shyness. I have seen how they make the best of it. How they dance and sing their way through life.

I know that somewhere in the future the Cubans will be free. Fidel and Raoul are also only human. They will leave this world and things in Cuba will change. But will they be able to keep the good part of what the revolution them once brought? Will they keep the cities clean, their schooling for free and their streets filled with salsa? Will they keep aggression out, their centers safe and their taxis old, but authentic?
I hope so. I’ll go and check in a couple of years.