Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tourists In A Time Warp

Sunday, January 26th
Leaving Cayo Santa Maria across the causeway:
we drive thru flat tobacco and sugar cane fields, a few head of cattle grazing in small fields - Wally points out each cow has its own egret. Impossible to photograph from the bus.  

Cuba is mostly flat - a few mountains in the east (where the revolution started) a few west of Havana.  

The government gives everyone a house, there are no homeless.  It used to be if you lived in your house for twenty years, and you paid ten percent of your salary per year for that house, you would own it.  But you couldn't sell it.  But at least they couldn't kick you out...oh wait, yes they could.  Remember the revolution?  

Things have changed in the last 2 years - you can buy and sell houses now, and private enterprise is being encouraged.  

After 50 years of a planned economy that must be a difficult switch. Remember, after the revolution the government took over ownership of everything, kicked all the rich people out, and spread the wealth to the remaining poor.  And if you weren't poor before the revolution, you were after.  

Hector tells us most tobacco farms are now private, and although foreigners can't own land, they can get a 99 year land lease.  They're hoping that will spur development of resorts and hotels.   But if a company does business with Cuba it can't also do business with the US.  If a ship visits Cuba it can't visit the US for 6 months.  So no cruise ships, and trade is mostly with countries like Venezuela and North Korea who don't have the best relationship with the US to begin with.  And given that choice, guess who most companies choose?

MelĂ­a, a Spanish company, had a few rundown hotels in Florida - they walked away from them and built the resort we're staying in - and lots more.  But most Cubans can't afford to stay here (even if they were allowed, a murky subject) and as most don't have cars, or cab fare, getting to work across that 48 k causeway is a problem. We see crowded rusty busses - not as crowded as India but still...bearing phalanxes of workers.

We see a kid on a bicycle hitching a ride on the bumper of a bus. 
A motorcycle cop passes going the other way, looks in his mirror, and makes a fast u-turn - the kid and bicycle disappear down a narrow street before the cop gets near.

There are buildings in the city with bushes growing out of them.
There are tiny houses with small truck gardens.  If you grow vegetables you can now sell them privately and we see a few roadside stands.  They grow fruits and vegetables for the resorts too - Cuba has a food crisis.  Your government ration are enough for about 15 days, then you're on your own.  When the Soviet economy collapsed and subsidies were cut, instead of an Arab Spring style revolution, it was "If we starve, we'll all starve together."   
Bright colors amidst the crumbling, some restoration.  And the interiors are just as bright:
One rainy night we see into homes with the doors open for cooling, and so many are painted this bright green.  I don't think it's going to catch on in my neighborhood.

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