To understand what is going on in this country, you should know its history and the events that led to the way Cuba is today.
The island was originally inhabited by Amerindians and after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, Cuba became a Spanish colony for the next 200 years. During all this time, Cuba has transformed itself into one of the largest exporters of sugar, tobacco and slave markets in the world.
The colonial houses, that we can see today, were built that time.
Spanish occupation ended in 1898 with the end of the Spanish-American War.
Cuba gained independence in 1902, followed by a period of economic development, tourism and it was also a sexual paradise for many Americans. A kind of Las Vegas of the Latin America.
Many Americans moved their businesses here, because of favorable laws. They were the ones who brought the famous cars from the 60’s, which can still be found today on the streets of Cuba.
They made Varadero a luxury resort for Americans and forbidden to Cubans.
But all this time Cuba was ruled by a series of corrupt dictators. Their string ends with Fulgencio Batista.
Che Guevara, Fidel Castro Ruz, Camilo Cienfuegos, Raul Castro Ruz and their rebel guerrilla army, seized power through the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959 and Cuba became a state ruled by a Communist party.
From here, things began to change. Among other things, the new government has seized the bulk of agricultural property owned by foreigners (75% of the land was owned by foreigners, especially Americans) and deteriorated the relationship with the US. In return, the US blocked economic relations by imposing an embargo.
The Soviet Union became the protector and Cuba received aid from them, for decades. They have traded Cuban sugar in exchange for oil, which was partially consumed in the country, the rest sold on the outside markets. In return for this, Cuba supported communist movements throughout Latin America.
After the Soviet Union was dissolved, and the successor, the Russian Federation, has suspended aid, Cuba entered into the “special period of recovery”.
In recent years relations between Cuba and the US have improved. In 2008 Fidel Casto handed over the power to his brother Raul Castro due to health problems.
In 2015 the US lifted the embargo.
This is the beginning of a lot of changes in Cuba. Thousands of tourists have already started visiting the island, hoping to find a land frozen in time, a country of great beauty, unaffected by the new changes.
This is the reason that we have also rushed to visit Cuba because we wanted to feel the authenticity and originally, before any globalization changes, before the spirit of this land is forever lost.
Although now you can feel the change, people are living a hard life.
Their average income is between 20-50 euros/month but the State provides the basic food supplies that will help them survive. Education and medical system are free of charge. Houses are allocated by the state and people have the opportunity to buy them after a period of time. Moreover, there are certain stores where they can buy rationed supply for 1 Euro per month.
Apart from the daily basics, the rest of the prices are high, as in most European countries. For a Cuban, going to a nice restaurant, taking a taxi, or buying decent clothes is a luxury. Even if nowadays the state allows them to go in vacations in tourist hotels or to buy a car…people can’t afford these luxuries.
I was talking to a Cuban who told me that he went to a European car dealership that has recently opened. He found out that the cheapest car costs around 9,000 euros which seemed an amount that he can never reach.
Cuba being a communist country, people don’t look for work and 90% of the population works for the State. People I met were moving in slow motion and did not show the slightest interest to solve our problems, but everyone waited for some tips.
Even at a restaurant bathroom where we ate there was a lady sitting at the door that handed out toilet paper and expected you to come out to give her a tip.
Otherwise, people are friendly and peaceful. They are stopping you on the streets wishes you a pleasant stay, showing you around or just making jokes.
In Cuba, you must forget about internet access or cell phone service. The State offers Wi-fi connection in a few tourist places, generally in public markets or hotels. I learned that they had just selected the first four private houses that will benefit from home internet connection.
Things change quickly in Cuba, and now with the death of Fidel Castro they will be on a steep slope.For now there are opportunities because Cubans can afford these things but change will come.