Without realising it, my travel dates coincided with the most important days in Cuban calendar. I arrived on 26th July, the day Cuba celebrates the anniversary of their Revolution and left on Fidel Castro’s birthday. Talk about timing!
It has been 59 years since Fidel Castro and the revolutionaries under his command launched an attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba and on arrival it seemed almost every building in Havana was decorated with Cuban and 26th July flags. Everyone appeared proud of what the Revolution has achieved. But is this really true?
Cuba seems to be an island full of contradictions. On one hand, it is all about providing for the people but in reality the only ones who really benefit are those with connections. The Revolution was all about abolishing a string of dictators only to replace them with another dictator working for the rich except this one believes he represents the poor. Cuba welcomes foreign tourists who bring in money to the economy falling apart under the strain of 53 years of US embargo but locals are not allowed to engage in conversations with them. There is no restriction on international travel but one needs to be approved as safe to travel to do so, a process that on average takes four months. There are almost three million people living in Havana, one million of them work for secret police watching your every move – good for tourists as they keep you safe but no so good for the locals as they can forget about their freedom of speech.
The towns are covered with graffiti and billboards celebrating the Revolution reminding everyone what they fought for but if you look around, you begin to wonder what it is that they are celebrating. OK, they have eradicated illiteracy and unemployment but people with degrees earn 20 CUCs a month irrespective of what they do and 20CUCs will just about get you through a day not a month. Apparently everyone is doing something else on the side, which usually involves stealing from their place of work and selling it on the black market. That calls for a celebration indeed.
But hey, who doesn’t like a bit of propaganda so here we go!