Tag: fidel castro

Cuba As I See It, Day 9

Cuba As I See It, Day 9

These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7 and Day 8.

Day 9

Saturday, Dec 31
Cuba is a very racially diverse combination of Spanish descent, African descent, and native descent. In Cuba, according to their constitution, women have equal rights as men and all the different races have the same rights. This was not true until The Revolution. Then they passed laws and regulated racial diversity so people had to hire a certain quota of the different races. It seems on its face to have worked. However, at one of the casas when I tried to give my passport before Steve gave his the lady of the house said in Cuba the man’s name has to go first. Also, I have found some statistics online that say the racial equality in jobs is not as they claim it to be.
Political opposition is illegal and there is only one political party: The Communist Party. They do have elections and everyone is expected to vote. They can either vote yes or no. Anything else written in is disqualified. So the results always look like a resounding win for the person the Communist Party has put forth as their “candidate.”
Until a few years ago there was no privacy or freedom of speech. After The Revolution, the state security department listened in and you might go to prison and never come out just for one small statement like saying at the market “I don’t like to wait in these long lines.” Now they can speak freely, at least about some topics. There were a few things nobody wanted to discuss in public. In spite of more freedom of expression, there’s still no alternative or change. People have the choice to either be quiet or leave (if they can afford it or find a way).
15 yrs ago it was a crime for the Cubans to carry US dollars. The penalty for being caught with even $1 was 7 years or 11 years in prison. This is not the case now, but as I said, they still have a 10% tax US dollars at all the money exchange places.
Americans are allowed to visit Cuba under certain circumstances. One of the reasons we chose Cuba for Vince’s Spanish immersion trip is that we think that Cuba is going to either open up totally to America and be changed by it, or shut back down like it was between 1961 and very recently.
We rested much of the day, knowing it would be a late night since it was New Year’s Eve. In the late afternoon we went to the square to get some Wi-Fi.
The plaza was starting to fill with people bustling about, waiting to buy things in the shops that ring the plaza. There were workers setting up for the program to be presented that night. We walked through the beautiful Catholic church on the square (there’s always a Catholic church on the square).
We also “met” one of the Chugito mascots walking around greeting people.
Notice the 26 on their head bandanas. That is commemorating the (unsuccessful) attack on the Moncada Barracks I told about yesterday.
We had a beautiful New Years Eve dinner with our group.
Then they went salsa dancing and we went to pack and then headed back to the square aka the Parque Cespides to watch their midnight flag ceremony. They raise a large Cuban flag at midnight and their tradition says that if the flag catches the wind it will be a good year. If it just hangs there it will be a tough year. It reminds me a bit of Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day.
This being Santiago, the place Fidel called home and where he declared The Revolution won, they had a special program honoring him. All throughout the square were banners with pictures of Fidel to honor him.
He considered Santiago to be his hometown and they are quite proud of this. During the program, they had ballet, African style music, Caribbean music with a few dancing the salsa, opera music, speeches, and a video of Fidel speaking. At one point they did a very enthusiastic call and of response of “Viva la Revolution! Viva Fidel! Viva Raúl! Fatherland or Death!” The 2,000-3,000 people in attendance all knew what to expect and shouted along. This was very interesting to me. For some reason, I thought the Cubans would be less enthusiastic about their support for Fidel and his Revolution. However, if they are critical of what has happened or if they want something different, they keep those thoughts to themselves and yell their “Viva Fidel” along with everyone else. I will deal with this topic a bit more over the next few days.
At midnight they raised the flag and it hung still, but within a minute or so it caught the wind and the people cheered.

After greeting a few people with Feliz Año Nuevo we went to our casa to bed. Tomorrow was another day of travel.
Proceed to Day 10.

Cuba As I See It, Day 8, Camagüey to Santiago de Cuba via Bayamo, Fidel’s Grave

Cuba As I See It, Day 8, Camagüey to Santiago de Cuba via Bayamo, Fidel’s Grave

These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 and Day 7.
Day 8,
Friday, Dec 30
Camagüey to Santiago de Cuba via Bayamo
Much of this day was spent in travel, so I’ll give you a few pieces of information about Cuba before I start telling about what we saw.
As I mentioned yesterday, doctors often go overseas. In fact, Cuba is one of the first places to send doctors and other help to international emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak, hurricanes, etc. This is a way for The Revolution to be seen in a positive light internationally. After working overseas for 2 years they can often buy a car and set themselves up for a good life. In Cuba you can work for 20 years, even as a doctor, and not be able to buy a bike. I have heard of some doctors who stopped practicing to get involved in the tourist business. They can make a better living cooking food and doing laundry for tourists than they can employed by the State as a doctor.
According to the Cubans, people want to leave Cuba, and they find various ways to do so. Some leave to study and stay, some marry someone in Europe to get European citizenship which they then use to get US citizenship. The great desire is to move to the US. The US is the promised land. What the Cubans we talked to didn’t seem to know is that (at the point we visited, though it has changed since we arrived home) if they could get to American soil, even at an embassy in Venezuela or the base at Guantanamo or such, our government would allow them to stay. And if they stayed on American soil for 366 days they were eligible for a green card and then citizenship. Their medical professionals were even more welcome and catered to. Since we arrived home to the US, Obama changed the policy to match that of other Latin American countries.

On the way to Santiago we stopped in Bayamo, one of the 7 oldest cities in Cuba, founded in 1513.

Here Perucho Figueredo composed the Cuban national anthem, El Himno de Bayamo, in 1868 during a battle with Spain. The original song has 6 verses, but only the first 2 are included in the anthem. The last 4 were insulting to the Spanish and are not considered part of the national anthem. Our guide sang it for us.

Here are the lyrics:
Spanish lyrics Translation
First stanza
¡Al combate, corred, Bayameses!,
Que la patria os contempla orgullosa;
No temáis una muerte gloriosa,
Que morir por la patria es vivir.
Run to battle, people of Bayamo!
For the motherland looks proudly to you;
Do not fear a glorious death,
For to die for the motherland is to live.
Second stanza
En cadenas vivir es vivir
En afrenta y oprobio sumidos,
Del clarín escuchad el sonido;
¡A las armas, valientes, corred!
Living in chains is to live
Mired in shame and disgrace,
Hear the sound of the bugle;
Run, brave ones, to battle!

While our guide made a few arrangements he left us to listen to some music, and some of our group joined them in dancing the Salsa. This is an example of all Cuban music. The tempo, rhythm, and style is very consistent between songs.


Since our guide was not with us, they used Vince as their interpreter when they wanted to talk to us. They kept calling him Louie, and we couldn’t figure out why. Then, toward the end of the day, our clever guide made the connection between his “Louisiana, Crawfish Capital” shirt and realized that’s why they thought his name was Louie.

We saw a lot of countryside on this day of travel. In the countryside the farm animals often wander around free: chickens, horses, cows, goats. I did see a few tied up (including a pig on a leash) or penned in, but mostly they roam free. On this day we saw many sugar fields, lots of fallow land, and only one small herd of mixed horses and cattle.
These 2 lane roads we traveled, highways I believe they call them, were very rough. Much of the road was more patches than pavement. In a couple of spots there was only gravel and no pavement at all.
After a long day of these rough roads, we arrived in Santiago de Cuba. It is the second biggest city in Cuba with a population of a little more than 431,000 inhabitants.
We first visited the Plaza de la Revolution with its gigantic 16 meters tall (52.5 feet) statue of General Antonio Maceo, a native son of Santiago. He was a general in the 10 Years’ War (fighting from 1868-1878 to end slavery) and the Cuban War for Independence (fighting from 1895-1898 for Independence from Spain). This monument was erected in 1991. It consists of 23 “machetes” coming out of the earth to symbolize March 23, 1878 when he issued his “Protest of Baraguá” protesting his disagreement with the Pact of Zanjón because it didn’t end slavery. The statue of his body is intentionally positioned with his back in the direction of the USA, even though he didn’t seem to have a problem with the USA and in his Protest he stated “The great spirit of Washington, Lafayette and Bolívar, liberators of oppressed peoples, accompanies us, and is one with us, and we believe that we will accomplish our work of regeneration.” And I never did figure out why Fidel’s picture is there, except that in Cuba Fidel’s picture is EVERYWHERE.
Then we visited the Cementerio Santa Ifigenia, created in 1868 as a place to bury the victims of the War of Independence.
This cemetery is very old with many wealthy families buried there, mostly before The Revolution. According to Lonely Planet, “Names to look out for include
Tomás Estrada Palma (1835–1908), Cuba’s now disgraced first president;
Emilio Bacardí y Moreau (1844–1922) of the famous rum dynasty;
 María Grajales, the widow of independence hero Antonio Maceo;
and Mariana Grajales, Maceo’s mother;
11 of the 31 generals of the independence struggles; the Spanish soldiers who died in the battles of San Juan Hill and Caney;
the ‘martyrs’ of the 1953 Moncada Barracks attack;
M-26-7 activists Frank and Josué País;
father of Cuban independence, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes (1819–74);
and international celebrity-cum-popular-musical-rake, Compay Segundo (1907–2003) of Buena Vista Social Club fame.”
The biggest attractions, though, are not any of these. You see, this graveyard is the resting place of both José Martí and Fidel Castro.

José Marti was a poet, philosopher, and revolutionary who lived in the 1800’s and helped Cuba become independent from Spain. His name is used all over Cuba by the government. Every town we went to seemed to have a José Marti street. The airport in Havana is the José Marti International Airport. Every 30 minutes the guard is changed in front of his grave. We were allowed here (and only here) to take pictures and video of the soldiers. Here is a video of that ceremony. (Note in the background the big rock. We’ll come to that in a minute.)

Fidel Castro is buried within 50 yards of José Marti, his ashes beneath a huge stone with a simple “Fidel” lettered on it.

We were there 26 days after Fidel’s ashes were buried there on Dec 4, 2016. He died on Nov 25, 2016 and there were 9 days of mourning, 4 days of which his ashes traveled in a caravan from Havana to Santiago.
Reportedly, Raúl Castro is respected but not “loved and popular” like his brother was. More likely, he just doesn’t control the narrative as much. Fidel was charismatic and gave many long speeches. He was also a micromanager who surrounded himself with people who wouldn’t disagree with him. He was very powerful and, as often happens with powerful men, he had many many mistresses along with two wives.
From what I can gather, Fidel originally did some good things for the country such as in the areas of health care and education. (He also had many people executed at the same time.) Not much has been done to continue improving, though, and much of the rest of Latin America has caught up, even in these areas of education and medicine. People in Cuba generally look well-fed. Between all the smoking and people carrying extra weight, I imagine they have a high prevalence of heart disease.
After visiting the cemetery, we saw the Moncada Barracks that Fidel and Company attacked on July 26, 1953. They badly lost the battle, but it is still presented as a great place because it was the first engagement of The Revolution. The 26 of July Movement (Movimiento 26 de Julio) is another name for The Revolution, and the number 26 is on many things throughout Santiago.

We also visited the San Pedro de la Roca Castle that has guarded the entrance to Santiago de Cuba Bay since 1638. We were there just as the sun hit the horizon, and we watched them fire a cannon which they do at this point every night. This castle is very high an d has a beautiful view of the water and the Sierra Maestra mountains where The Revolution started.
Are you getting tired of hearing about The Revolution? Yeah, after a few days (hours?) we were too. Sorry about that. I’ve tried to represent how it is presented in the rhetoric.There are museums all over, about 98% of which celebrate some component of The Revolution. That’s part of the whole experience and that’s what the Cuban people live with day in and day out. It is especially prevalent in Santiago where Fidel attended Jesuit school as a boy and where he declared The Revolution victorious from the City Hall balcony there. They are quite proud to call him their own and have him buried there. For an American like me, though, it all got very tiring.
We checked into our casa which had a nice upstairs room with a private patio and eating area. However, there were no blankets, only sheets, so we kept the A/C turned to low. It was January but quite warm, even at night.
The man of the house was a doctor, but besides renting rooms he was also a taxi driver with an old 50-something beat-up Chevy functioning as his taxi.
Then we went to eat. The food here wasn’t very good, but it was food and we were hungry.

Cuba As I See It, Day 3 – Cienfuegos to Trinidad via Santa Clara

Cuba As I See It, Day 3 – Cienfuegos to Trinidad via Santa Clara

These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through.
Click here for Day 2.
As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 3,
Sunday, Dec 25
Cienfuegos to Trinidad via Santa Clara
Did you know that one of the places Columbus landed in the New World in 1492 was Cuba? As we all know, Columbus didn’t really discover it, and it wasn’t new. There were already native peoples living in Cuba. According to Columbus, “This is the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen.” Cuba is indeed beautiful with its beaches and mountains. 7 of its current cities were founded between 1511 and 1514, some of the oldest cities in our hemisphere: Havana, Trinidad, Sancti Spritus, Camaguay, Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, and Baracoa. On our travels we visited all 7.
On this day we traveled to Trinidad, a dirty city with cobblestone streets draining to the middle instead of the edges. Since the main way people clean  their floors is to pour water on the floor and then sweep it out into the street, these streets are always wet.
On the way to Trinidad, we visited the place in Santa Clara where Ernesto “Che” Guevara is buried along with 29 other warriors who were fighting with him in Bolivia when he was killed. Fidel lived on to govern Cuba, but Che died as a martyr in 1967. His remains were discovered, exhumed, and moved to Cuba in 1997. I have read and heard that Che and Fidel had started to have major disagreements and that’s why Che was in Bolivia and not Cuba, but of course that was not even hinted at, much less spelled out, here at the Museum of Che Guevara. According to their presentation, Che, Fidel, and Raúl were always the best of friends who always agreed on everything during The Revolution and he was in Bolivia spreading the wonderful Revolution to other places that needed and wanted it. His family settled and remained in Cuba after his death. His wife remarried which upset some people there. He is such a fixture in their memories that they didn’t want her to move on. His youngest son now gives motorcycle tours of Cuba, rather capitalist of him, I think. Che’s picture and quotes are very common in Cuba, as I mentioned in my comments on Day 2.
Also in Santa Clara we visited a memorial involving some train cars that Fulgencio Batista was using to supply his troops. Batista was the dictator overthrown by The Revolution. The revolutionaries tried to shoot the armored train with guns and used Molotov cocktails but that didn’t work. They finally got ahead of the train and destroyed the tracks with a bulldozer causing the train to derail. When Batista heard this train had been derailed he immediately left Cuba. There is a large memorial set up with train cars and a bulldozer.
We arrived in Trinidad to find our casa quite dirty, and Vince’s room under construction. We told our guide, but there was really nothing he could do. They have some interesting ways of handling electricity in Cuba.
You see, our tour was going backward from the normal direction. Usually the groups fly first from Havana to Baracoa and then wend their way across the island back to Havana. However, Hurricane Matthew visited Baracoa in early October and left a lot of destruction, so our tour company canceled all those plans and had us travel by bus over several days from Havana to Baracoa and then fly back to Havana at the end. That way the accommodations in Baracoa would have the maximum amount of time for recovery and construction. However, this also left the company making last-minute reservations all along the way for our group instead of having them made months ahead. Also remember that we were traveling around Christmas and New Years, peak season for tourism there. So we got to experience a little more authentic experience in Trinidad than we would have preferred.
Also at our casa in Trinidad we experienced for the first time another special thing about Cuba. Their hot water heater for the shower is often attached to the shower head.Also, you may or may not know, some of the electrical outlets in Cuba use 220V. So you have choices when it comes to water: cold, hot, or electrifying. Steven experienced the latter when he reached up with a wet hand to adjust the setting.
We arranged to get some laundry done and gave the bag full of clothes to our guide since we were not sure of the reliability of the people at our unfinished casa. He said he should be able to have someone do it by the next evening. It came back nice and clean, though a spot on Steve’s shirt didn’t come out, and I was missing one of only 3 skirts I had taken with me. I never did get the skirt back. Someone in Cuba has a nice brown skirt.
On the Trinidad orientation walk our guide told us where the bank was, where to eat and hear good music, where to buy water, cigars, souvenirs, wifi cards, etc. But we really didn’t know where we were or what we were looking at, so we had to try to remember where things were. We did have maps and lists of possible activities at each of the cities we stayed at. The cities were generally safe, and we had with us the only fluent Spanish speaker (besides our guide, obviously) on the trip, so we were not too worried. Our guide made reservations for those of us who wanted them at a rooftop restaurant.
Dinner for me was a very nice chicken vegetable soup. Dessert was a “mango marmalade with cheese.” I was expecting something special with cream cheese, but this tasted and looked like apricot baby food with Cheddar cheese slices in it. I usually finish all my food, but this I left uneaten.
People were continually asking where we were from. Everybody was very kind when we told them we were from the US. I guess not everyone in Cuba is angry at the “Yankee Imperialists.” At this restaurant we met a fan of the Boston Red Sox. He knew the batting lineup and had a favorite player. Baseball is quite popular in Cuba and the national brand of Cola, Tucola, has the silhouette of a batter hitting a ball.
Things are gradually starting to change in Cuba, mainly since Raul came to power. But nothing is changing very fast. Over the next few days I’ll mention some of the changes.
While he was alive, no real details were given to the Cuban citizens about Fidel’s activities, his relations with other heads of state, etc. Only the news that Fidel wanted to be published was published. As you can probably tell from my writings, the propaganda machine is still alive and well in Cuba. The press is very limited, and I don’t think this has changed much. When the state is paying you and you would at least lose your job for publishing something else, you say what the state wants you to say. They used to make tour leaders and drivers stay away from tourists, because they didn’t want Cubans to get a view of what goes on outside of Cuba. At least that has changed. As I mentioned on Day 2, the media is very controlled (and boring), and outside or opposing views aren’t allowed in the media through newspapers, TV, or documentaries.
Another thing that has changed in the last 5-6 years is that Cubans are now allowed to stay in hotels. We are not staying in hotels, but, as I mentioned on Day 1, instead we are staying in their equivalent of B&Bs. These are not at all cushy places, though. Most have A/C. Most are clean. Rarely do they have furniture besides just the beds. The only mirrors are small ones over the sink (with one exception in Havana). Sometimes there is an extra area to relax, and there’s always a place to eat their provided breakfast. Sometimes there is soap. There is usually a skinny thin towel, but never washcloths. Sometimes there is a blanket. Sometimes there are both a flat and fitted sheet. The pillows are generally similar in material to a cheap (but slightly larger) throw pillow. The owners speak (if you’re lucky) broken English. I would not recommend staying in these places except maybe to people who enjoy camping.
Raúl finally allowed people to speak their opinions, at least to some extent, once he came to power. The government listened to the criticisms and made a list of 313 items to change, but even by Raúl’s estimation, only about 20% have even been started to change. He seems quite displeased with this in his speeches, but I’m not sure who he thinks is to blame since the government controls all aspects of Cuban life. People are very used to not speaking their mind or even thinking critically of the government. They are told constantly in every way possible that communism works and capitalism doesn’t. As I have shown and will continue to do so (probably to a nauseating extent), The Revolution is the best thing ever and should be celebrated and mentioned at every turn (quite literally when it comes to the road signs).
The street signs in Trinidad have a top name and a bottom name. The top name is the pre-Revolution name. The bottom is the new name celebrating some revolutionary figure. I think every city has a José Marti, for example.
The sidewalks in these old Cuban town tend to be very narrow and further constricted by electric poles and steep steps to the homes edging out part of the sidewalks.
There is often only room for people to walk single file and the locals do not ever step off to let you pass. You have to play a game of pedestrian-style “Chicken” which I consistently lost and then stepped into the street. Add to this that in some cities the cars and motorcycles are quite aggressive and do not give way easily to pedestrians. Plus remember the pooper scooper comment from Cienfuegos. So just walking around the in cities can be quite an adventure.
The towns also have a lot of rooftop cafes, patios, rooms, etc. because that is a good place to catch the breeze, especially in the evening.
They also have lots of steep stairs to get to them. They don’t waste space by making the steps of normal steepness. No, they save space and make the steps very steep instead. And they often don’t waste money on making the handrails go the full length of the stairs. They especially seem to save money at the very top where there’s nothing else to brace yourself on. Also at the top they’ll often even out the space of the steps to the height of the floor by giving you a smaller-than-normal step, like an inch high or a taller-than-normal step just to throw you off. So with this you have the opportunity to miss that first step and trip down the stairs. Also, the steps are usually tile which becomes slick when wet. In some places there were window air conditioners just over the stairs dripping their condensation on the stairs at a constant rate so they were always slippery. I never fell, but I am not the most graceful of people, so these things were quite worrisome to me.
To continue the journey, click here for Day 4.