A pilgrimage to Cuba

26 Jan

After celebrating Christmas and welcoming in the New Year together in Mexico City, Alex and I along with our good friends from Sydney Isobelle and Michael, set off to Cuba.

Like the hordes of holiday-makers who travel to this Caribbean island every year aboard grand cruise liners or as part of large tour groups, we intended to enjoy Cuba’s white sandy beaches, handsome urban architecture, great music scene, wonderful museums and fine culinary offerings. But we also wanted to gain a real sense of the strengths and weakness of Cuban socialism. We reasoned that whatever these may be, they would be best understood by a visit to the country.

For us, as for many lefties, Cuba has always held a particular fascination. Cuba has a rich history; it was one of the last sugar colonies to abolish slavery and one of the last Spanish possessions to achieve independence from the peninsular. When Cuba finally kicked out the Spanish at the end of the Nineteenth Century, gun-toting North Americans arrived to run the island, installing a military dictatorship loyal to their interest before pulling out of the country. After centuries of oppression the Cuban people shocked the world in 1959 when the socialist revolution succeeded and a socialist government was established with Fidel Castro as head of state.

Today Cuba boasts a robust public health and education system that puts many ‘rich’ countries to shame. Cuba has achieved adult literacy levels that are amongst the highest not just in in the Americas but in the world, and infant mortality rates that are lower than those recorded by the USA. For these and other admirable feats we have long held Cuba and Cuban socialism in high regard.

Yet as outsiders were were also aware that despite its great achievements, the ‘Cuban model’ of socialism is marred with many problems. Cubans are not necessarily free to leave their country. Although we lacked a comprehensive understanding of how the Cuban National Government is organised, we appreciated that democracy in Cuba is limited to elections within the Communist Party structure and that Cuba’s current President Raul Castro was not popularly elected to his position as Head of State.

We were also conscious that access to the Internet in Cuba is severely restricted if not by the Government’s decision to censor web sites deemed offensive or a threat to public security or political stability (a la the Great Firewall of China), then by prohibitively high costs of use and the requirement that citizens be registered with universities or other designated institutions to access the world wide web.

We went to Cuba with open eyes, ears and minds, and the next few posts are a record of what we found.

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