Cuba is a fascinating island country. I have written down a few observations, from a trip I made there in October 2013.
When the Soviet Union imploded, the Russians typically not only pulled all of their troops and civilian advisors out of Cuba, but also nullified all trade and aid agreements. As a result many Cubans that I talked to refer to the 1990’s as a time of great hardship. If the U.S. Government were not in the hands of the cognitively challenged, this would have been the exact time to lift the embargo and start pouring aid and investments into Cuba. Instead Cuba’s salvation came with rediscovery of Cuba by the Canadians and Europeans. European tourism in Cuba has grown enormously and has led to European investments in Cuba. At the same time the Cuban Government under both Fidel and Raul Castro is gingerly reintroducing capitalism into Cuba and allowing the Cuban people to start up private enterprises of all sorts. Given the capabilities of the Cubans, Cuba is close to producing a booming economy. Meanwhile the Cuban Government is moving to reestablish a convertible monetary system based on its national currency, the Peso. (At present tourists in Cuba convert their national currencies into “CUCs” (“tourist peso”). The EU and UNESCO are pouring money into Cuba to restore the wonderful colonial architecture of old Havana (Habana Vieja) and other cities. Needless to say Europeans, Canadians, and Cubans think the continuing U.S. Embargo of Cuba is idiotic. I agree. Typical of U.S. thinking on Cuba, the State Department lists Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” for rational or even irrational reason.
Personal observations: our party of 20 Americans stayed at the absolutely grand Hotel Nacional. Saving for our group the hotel was filled with primarily Germans and Italians with a mixture of other nationalities (Canadians, Scandinavians, etc.). One of the Germans confided to me over a couple of rums that even with airfare factored in, it was still cheaper for them to vacation in Cuba than the French or Italian Rivera. Our local guide for the trip, a former showgirl (yes nightlife has returned to Cuba) told me that she learned Italian (which she spoke very well) to accommodate the hoards of Italian tourists. She and I had several long private discussions on where Cuba was going and if it was on the right track. She felt it was and was a genuine patriotic Cuban who loved her country. Like many Cubans she of course is apprehensive about the future after the Castros. I think if the U.S., especially the CIA, keeps its big nose out, the Cubans will find their own way to stability after Raul Castro. To the Cubans the revolution against Spain that began in 1894 was only the first phase of a continuing revolution for a better Cuba that is still under way. Jose Marti, the poet and journalist, who was killed in battle in 1895, is considered by all Cubans to be the father of their revolution. Cuba is not by any means a rich country (yet), but manages to have good schools and reasonable (free) medical services for its people. The Cubans know how to make do and capitalize (I use the term advisedly) on opportunities. To my thinking Cuba has the chance for a brilliant future.