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Cuba: Notes

Resignation, willpower and ingenuity combined to survive a precarious lifetime. A glimpse into the reality of the Cubans.

When the communist bloc tore apart in 1989 –when the URSS stopped financing the island, which provoked the loss of the 80% of their incomes- and the “Maleconazo” in 1994 –a youngsters’ protest against the critical economic and political situation- that forced Fidel to legalise the dollars tendency, are the main causes of the confusion and the huge social inequalities existing in the island.

The principles of the revolution are progressively surrendering to the urges of needs and, whether we like it or not, that’s the general feeling that invades the streets of Habana, Santiago, Baracoa and the island in general. The dollar sets the guideline and is changing the Cuban society: psychologists, biologists, engineers, teachers and a long list of graduates and superior technicians have to abandon their vocation to become plumbers, electricians and mechanics who are paid, obviously, in dollars.

There’s no upper, middle or lower class; everything is reduced into two main social classes whose distance increases every day: ones have dollars and the others don’t. In this context, tourists become the most desired objects, a kind of dollar with legs that needs to be protected, pleased, motivated and even loved, if necessary.

Foreigners are warmly welcomed in Cuba where they can choose between enjoying the wild nature, full of surprises and colours; or another kind of “living nature”, –the so called jineteros and jineteras, as they refer to male and female prostitutes- not as virgin as the other but young and brimming with charm. Since the end of 1998, prostitution is systematically chased, denying the access of the Cubans to international hotels. But every law has its loophole, and private residences become improvised brothels.

While the stagnant regime continues admiring the reflexion of its past –adoring what it once was but no longer is, and never will- the streets sell a contradictory image of idyllic revolutionary hats and queues of the elderly in front of the post offices waiting to the receive their piece of fortune from Miami.

It is said that hunger sharpens ingenuity and most of the people has to figure out great tricks to survive. Adolis “solves” the puncture of his bike with a knot in the pneumatic. “The maximum it can resist is eight knots, then, I’ll have to look for another camera”, declares. Marcela takes advantage of the natural resources for her personal hygiene and “el Gola” teaches his child Jose Luis how to overcome the heat and to calm down his hunger. Meanwhile, the relentless passage of time leaves its trace on the buildings of the most beautiful colonial city of America, resented after more than forty years without maintenance. As Cubans always say: “…it’s not easy…”

Report done in Cuba during July-August 1999

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