CUBA: Poised for Change or More of the Same?
By Ricardo Chavira
Eddy Vega and Jorge Mora from Havana, Cuba got married in 2005. They settled into an old house that Jorge’s grandfather bought before the Revolution.
Over the last 13 years, their lives have been on a steady course. Eddy is a domestic employee and Jorge works as a cook. Since they got married, their combined monthly work income has increased around 15 percent, an equivalent of 50 American dollars. Their family in the United States sends money, which has boosted their total income by another 30 dollars a month.
When the worldwide recession hit in 2008, it didn’t affect them. They owned their home and were debt-free. Their jobs were secure and neither they nor anyone they know lost a job while the recession was in full effect. The couple is fairly typical of millions of Cubans. They live with the bare necessities: housing, food, a night out from time to time and a modest vacation every few years. It’s difficult to accurately generalize a nation of about 11 million people, but many Cubans today expect change. Interviews with dozens of Cubans showed there’s expectation, but no agreement, on what the change would involve.
Jorge Mora and Eddy Vega, photo by Ricardo Chavira
A New Era?
This in part has to do with Cuba’s new president, Miguel Diaz Canet. At 58, he is the nation’s youngest head of state in decades. Diaz is seen everywhere in public these days, inaugurating schools, visiting factories and touring the provinces. Always dressed casually, he looks like any other Cuban man. It’s unclear if he will veer from socialism, but his style and appearance are a radical break from the Castro brothers’ military cut. While Cubans anticipate change with their new president, Trump’s presidency contrasts those possibilities. Trump hasn’t paid attention to Cuba. The little attention devoted to the island has resulted in tightened travel regulations and a reduction of diplomatic relations.
As a distant memory now, President Barack Obama raised expectations with these words delivered on March 21, 2016, during his historic visit to Havana:
“I bring with me the greetings and the friendship of the American people. In fact, I’m joined on this trip by nearly 40 members of Congress, Democrats, and Republicans. This is the largest such delegation of my presidency and it indicates the excitement and interest in America about the process that we’ve undertaken. These members of Congress recognize that our new relationship with the Cuban people is in the interest of both nations.” He added: “I’m also joined by some of America’s top business leaders and entrepreneurs because we’re ready to pursue more commercial ties, which create jobs and opportunity for Cubans and Americans alike.”
Kim Sanders of North Palm Beach, Florida was leading a group of adolescent girls through Trinidad one late June afternoon. “This is my second time here,” she said. “Cuba is a great country with wonderful people. We ought to be drawing closer to each other and put the past behind us.”
Emeterio Escalante, a street musician in Trinidad, photo by Ricardo Chavira
Life in Cuba
Street musician Emeterio Escalante agreed. “I have been playing in Trinidad since 1970, and when I first started I never saw even one American. After a few years, they started to come in groups, and by last year the Americans were all over the city,” said Escalante who sells CDs of his original songs.
Back in Havana, Ramon and Isela Garcia (they asked me to change their real names) live what would be a middle-class life in the United States. Their spacious 1940s era home in the Playas neighborhood has been tastefully refurbished and elegantly furnished. They have jobs but make most of their money buying and selling dollars on the black market and renting rooms to tourists. They own a five-year-old Hyundai that Ramon uses as a neighborhood taxi. He is unlicensed. In their mid-30s, the couple is considering moving to the U.S. “We have to work around the system here to live like this,” said Ramon. “Any day the government could come down on us, and we would lose all this.”
A Trinidad resident, by Ricardo Chavira
The couple believes they could prosper in the U.S. but they also have some doubts. “I have family in Las Vegas, “ said Isela. “My aunt works cleaning casinos, and she told us that the work is hard and the pay is low. But I have a cousin, who after five years there, started his own cabinet company. He is doing very well.” Ramon said, “We don’t speak English, so we would have to start off in bad jobs. The challenge would be to learn the language, learn a skill and then live well. I want to believe that our new president will realize that Cuba needs a new revolution, one that lets us catch up to the rest of the world.” For Eddy and Jorge, their decision is clear. “We don’t even think of leaving. It is not perfect, but Havana is our home and this where we will stay.”
Victory Cruise Lines is your first choice for immersive and all-inclusive coastal cruising. Our Cuban shore excursions are led by knowledgeable local guides and provide meaningful opportunities to uncover the rich history and fascinating cultures. We go all out to give you the opportunity to see and experience Cuba, at a pace that suits your needs and tastes. For more, visit victorycruiselines.com or give us a call at 1-888 -907-2636.