Cuba is an immensely intriguing state. It exists as a living anachronism from the Cold War era, controversial, captivating, complex. Beyond the façade of the idyllic island paradise described in Cuba 101 is a whole new world. If you were to be so bold as to take a different way back to your hotel in Havana, for example, you would be quite startled. Dilapidated palace-like buildings. Hungry people. People with no or little pesos in their pockets to satisfy that very same hunger. The amount of times I was stopped and randomly asked for money was embarrassing. Almost embarrassing enough for someone to write a letter to el commandante Fidel.
Many of your people are hungry and frustrated.
Thought I’d let you know,
Whilst 90 miles away fresh water comes at the effortless turn of a tap, here it must be sourced, boiled, chlorine added, filtered and finally poured into a mouth thirsty for change. What would I know about change in Cuba? I was only there for 15 days. True. However, in those 15 days I made an effort to speak to as many locals as I could. My method was simple. After I had been small talking to the person for a while, I would raise the controversial subject, if it was appropriate to do so. I would say, Obama? I would then clench my fist keeping only my thumb extended and then raise it firstly up, and then down. I was giving them the universal signage of two options, si o no, just as the Roman emperor’s once did to spare or end a weary gladiator’s life. They understood the gesture. I never got a downward pointing thumb. This is big stuff. Just think, for the past 56 years the US has imposed a trade embargo on the island state of Cuba as a result of Cuba becoming a communist state. Cuba fiercely opposed the US henceforth, allowing the Soviet Union to place ballistic missiles and military personnel on its shores. Now, in 2016, thumbs up here and there and everywhere.
Although it is difficult to know exactly what a thumbs up means, I do not believe they were necessarily saying yes to Obama and no to Castro. They were not saying yes to so called “liberal democratic capitalism” and no to Castro’s communism. You see Castro did manage to create a society with incredible healthcare.
I believe that when I said Obama and the thumbs went up, it was a silent but clear expression for change. The people of Cuba want change. It doesn’t have to be huge change. Just some change. They want to be able to travel freely throughout the world. They want free, unrestricted internet. They want to have the opportunity to be able to discuss politics on the streets without being afraid of being heard. Imagine if you peered into a class of third grader’s at a primary school and instead of finding small pre-adolescent bodies, adults ready to face the world were sitting awkwardly in those silly school seats, crowded and overgrown, yet restricted from leaving the classroom or progressing to the next grade. That’s how I perceive Cubans to feel. Many feel frustrated. They are ready now, Castro. Communism was a good school master in some ways. It has taught the people patience. They know how to queue for food, for rations, for buses, for supplies. They even now know how to queue for life. But now the queue is getting edgy. Frisky as a tom cat. Cuba has been caught in a time warp for too long. As Obama said, it is time to bury this relic of the Cold War.
In the year 1446 BC a certain man climbed steps of stubbornness to plead with Pharaoh Ramesses II regarding the future of the Children of Israel. In 2016, the same plea can still be heard: Castro, won’t you let your people go?