At this point I just want to say how appreciative I am for the people I was able to meet and travel with. Without the hard work and dedication from our professors and the compliance of our university, this trip would not have been possible. With everything going wrong at the time, it was a miracle we were able to travel to Cuba but this trip was an absolute blessing in my life.
After meeting many different Cubans and hearing their perspective on life it was really eye opening to me and the way I live my life. These are some take away things I will carry with me my whole life:
1. Be a good neighbor and friend
In my life Cubans are the greatest example of selflessness. They do things for each other, they support each other, they take care of each other, and they are not afraid to stand up for each other. They love unconditionally. Family, neighbors or stranger like I was. They invited me in and treated me like family. Despite the different walks of life they treated me as one of them and they are what made my experience so meaningful.
2. Share your knowledge
Not everyone gets the same opportunities as you do. Each walk of life is special and unique in its own way. We are privileged to get to learn different things but thats why I believe we are called to share our knowledge. What a waste to keep it to yourself. In Cuba, everyone I met wanted to pour their knowledge and experience into my head. They gave me things to look at, think about and form opinions of my own. Everyone has something to offer the world.
3. Be a well informed citizen
Everyone has their opinions and their right to an opinion, however, uninformed opinions can be dangerous and lead to a misinformed society. One of my favorite parts of the trip was speaking to a man who acted as our guide/educator/friend Padrón. Speaking about the relations between the U.S. and Cuba he acknowledged, "We separate the people from their government." He explained at length that the Cuban people do not hold grudges or hate Americans, they may dislike the laws and the clash of the two governments but the recognize the people are not always represented by the actions of their governments. As I thought this was just an educated man speaking I believed that mentality did not go beyond the walls of the room we were sitting in, however, I came to realize it seemed to be a nationwide mentality. As I am sure there are some who do not agree with this, the common misconception that all Cubans hate Americans is completely false.
4. Be grateful for what you have
After seeing the lack of material things I was intrigued in the joy, happiness and closeness of the Cuban population. They were not focused on material things because no one really had the best of anything. They lack things. THINGS. That's all that they are. They do not have the best clothes, technology or television sets but they have the right to an education, they have their health, their families, art, culture and passion. They may be poor monetarily. They do not live lavish lives but, they are not poor in things that really matter in life. I sometimes forget that.
5. Cuban food is really good
Despite the warnings before hand, I loved the food. It was something I had never really tasted before. Im not sure if it was the organic means of growing food but the food was delicious. Clean, crispy and tasty. The efforts taken to produce the food each morning were impressive. Things we don't have to worry about have to be done in a Cuban kitchen like examining rice handful by handful and picking out rocks and grounding coffee beans.
P.S. If you know the meaning behind "fruta bomba" don't tell someone right before they try it the first time
Traveling can teach you more about other places but it also teaches you a lot about yourself. Your values, your perspectives on the world and sometimes it helps you realize that those perspectives were wrong. My view of Cuba is forever changed, not because of amazing buildings or beautiful beaches but because of the wonderful people that reside there.
There are a variety of religions in Cuba, however, I find those syncretized with Catholicism to be the most interesting. As slaves from Africa were brought to Cuba to work on sugar plantations, many brought something with them..their religious beliefs. As these slaves were taught by their masters Catholicism or Christianity they began to realize their religions had very many things in common. Like Catholicism, their religions believed in a main god with many deities, or saints. With the realization that many of the Catholic saints and their deities or orishas had a lot in common they began to pair the ones with similar characteristics. By doing this, these African slaves were still able to practice their religion but with a cover of "Catholic faith" to keep them safe. Over time the two religions began to synchronize and be taught as one. And thus Santeria was born. As the African influences still outweigh the Catholicism, the minute is an interesting combination.
Each orisha has a preferred offering. Some like cash, some rum and some animal sacrifices. As things are prayed for offerings are made in this practice.
Palo Monte and Abakuá are also two different Afro-Cubano religions that follow this synchronization.
Sources to check out:
(This last video is super interesting)
The U.S. embargo on Cuba is a complete comprehensive economic embargo which restricts trade between the U.S. and Cuba. This embargo was first used as means to stop the trade of arms on March 14, 1958. During this time period the Batista regime was still holding a position of power. Two years later, after the Batista regime was overthrown by the revolution, the U.S. placed another embargo on all exports to Cuba except food and medical supplies.
The embargo is currently being enforced by many different acts
Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917
Foreign Assistance Act of 1961
Cuban Assets Control Regulations of 1963
Cuban Democracy Act of 1992
Helms–Burton Act of 1996
Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000
The purpose for this block is to stare the government of resources until they choose to move toward a democratic system and a greater advancement of human rights. However, as the years continue with no signs of shifting to a democratic system, the Cuban people are the ones who are suffering. With shortages of nearly everything, they are forced to make due with what they have. Although, the U.S. doesn't restrict the trade between Cuba and other countries, the U.S. government does have the power to decide who they do business with. In a backwards way of power trips over the economy of many other places, the U.S. has managed to severely limit the number of places that openly do business with Cuba.
In 2009, Barack Obama began to slowly remove restrictions on the travel ban allowing travel and ships carrying medical equipment, food and hygiene product directly from Miami to Cuba. On April 11, 2015, Barack Obama and Raul Castro met in Cuba. This had been the first time in over 50 years that leaders from these two countries have met, with progress and ideas of fixing relations with Cuba on the horizon we have seen the restrictions get stronger within the last year.
U.S. Department of State
"The United States maintains a comprehensive economic embargo on the Republic of Cuba. In February 1962, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed an embargo on trade between the United States and Cuba, in response to certain actions taken by the Cuban Government, and directed the Departments of Commerce and the Treasury to implement the embargo, which remains in place today.
On June 16, 2017, President Trump issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba. On November 8, 2017, the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury announced certain changes to implement President Trump’s June 2017 NSPM. For additional information, please visit the relevant links below and the Cuba Restricted List."
There is a lot of debate about the effects of the embargo. The criticisms lie in the purpose of the embargo being a "fight for rights", however, the embargo has withheld food, medical equipment, energy and other basic necessities for life. On the other hand the debate also lies with the Cuban government not surrendering its power in order for the benefit of the Cuban people. As an estimated loss of $1.2-$3.6 billion in exports per year for the U.S. economy and an estimated $753.69 billion for the island of Cuba in total.
Who is the real winner here?
Is there one?
The "Special Period" in Cuba was a time of economic crisis. Although the time during this period was indeed "special," the terminology for this time period hides the true destruction that was faced beginning in 1989. Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Comecon the Cuban economy collapsed losing over 80% of foreign trade and market.
Energy Sources: Petroleum imports from the USSR ceased and oil imports slowed steadily. This impact was felt immediately in many different aspects of life. Transportation was limited, agricultural machines were left without fuel and an immediate breakdown of the system. As ways to fight this loss the government encouraged the conservation of fuel and energy for all people. To help in this struggle the government bought 1.2 million bikes from China, produced half a million more, and distributed them as means of transportation. Public transportation was implemented, however, people would have to wait hours for a bus that may be full when it arrived.
Food: The imports of pesticides, fertilizer and oil made the agricultural industry nearly impossible. Nationwide food shortages fell over Cuba and famine struck many. Child malnutrition became evident, on average Cubans lost 20 pounds and in some places the daily caloric intake dropped to 1,500 calories per day. Many times, needed calories were supplemented with sugar, the only thing available. Food rationing was implemented by the government in order to combat the food shortages but there was unusually not enough food to give everyone the right amount of food. The practice of organic farming took off due to the need for crops. The government also gave land to those who would farm and produce food for the community.
Organic Farming in Cuba
Building Materials: Without the imports of steel, building material, and the lack of money to produce such items, buildings began to collapse. With the poor economy, building fixes were the last priority, however, the detriment on the housing is evident.
Although through this time period Cubans had to learn to live without many things they were used to, they quickly adapted to a system that worked with the resources they have. Their farming techniques can be used as a model for a more organic way to produce food. The way Cuba has adapted to not having the necessary fossil fuels could also act as a model for when the fossil fuels on the planet become scarce forcing us to adapt.
When thinking of the black market (mercado negro), I immediately think of the drug trafficking, fire arm exchanges, pornography and prostitution. Looking at the definition of black market in the dictionary, "an illegal traffic or trade in officially controlled or scarce commodities," we do not see the terms atrocious or publicly unacceptable commodities, we see the words controlled in scarce. It is important to remember this when looking at Cubas black market. When looking at Cubas black market, we see an exchange of goods and services that are scarce in the community. However, the greatest scarcities in Cuba include meat, milk, eggs, toilet paper and items for babies. It doesn't sound like the scarcities we face does it?
After the revolution of Cuba many things became scarce. The post-revolutionary time, known as the "Special Period," began in 1989, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cuban economy lost nearly 80% of all imports and exports. This economic crisis left all cubans without forms of energy such as gasoline, petroleum and diesel. Food shortages spread country wide, medical supplies were scarce and building materials were nearly non existent. This transformed daily life, agriculture, medical attention and living conditions. All goods were scarce. Food was rationed according to the minimum requirements of the United Nations. Rations included things such as milk, eggs, sugar, chicken or fish, cooking oil, pasta and bread. However, with the shortage of food, many time the mount of food cubans received was 1/5 of the rations expected.
Due to the shortages of literally everything, and the immensely low wages of cuban workers, cubans were forced to trade and sell excess items to get necessities that the government could not provide. In order to subsidize wages and the lacking food rations, many cubans took to the black market to buy and sell goods. The black market can take on many forms including; a kid selling coffee door to door, a woman selling meat out of her car, skilled men and woman providing services for goods, making and selling cigars. It is very common for working men and woman to take small items such as a pound of rice or sugar, cigars, or other goods from their work place to sell on the black market. Because workers are paid so little (about $25) a month, they need to supplement their income in some fashion. Due to the realization that the black market is a necessity, many interactions are swept under the rug... However, some of the consequences can be drastic if caught such as hefty fines and extensive jail time.
Being asked to buy goods on the side of the street
Offers of cheaper taxi rides
Friends asked to go into a mans home to buy cigars
The host family we were staying with told us stories about the loss of chickens due to the hurricane. The greatest black market item at the time we were in Cuba was eggs. They explained that selling eggs could land you years in jail!!
Source to check out
The Cuban health care system has been a debate for a long time. Some thinking it is the model for how the world should handle heath care and some believing the care is subpar compared to others. Depending on which aspects you choose to focus on could sway you decision either way.
The Cuban heath care system is a national system run by the government. This system emphasizes the idea that health is not a business opportunity, it is a human right and the responsibility of all people. Unlike other countries that work under a national health care systems, no one pays for their health care. There are no private hospitals, clinics or care. There is no opportunity to pay for better health care even if you had the money to do so unless under the table which is illegal. This system is a hierarchy, and tiers of power look over each other. From family care physicians to work teams to polyclinics to hospitals to the medical institute, each role plays a part in the care of the society as a whole.
However, with the U.S. Embargo still in play, medical supplies in Cuba are extremely limited. Medications and technology have been scarce for decades now. Medications such as Aspirin are even rare and found on the black market. With the Democracy Act of 1992, U.S. took control over who could sell medical resources to Cuba. Foreign subsidiaries which did business with the U.S. including, using their patented products and using U.S. resources could not sell to Cuba. Medical supplies became nearly impossible to get and if they could be purchased, it was at a hefty charge due to having limited suppliers and the cost of shipping. With limited supplies, sanitary issues, and lack of needed equipment and technology, it is hard for physicians to take care of patients as needed, but here are some ways they work to prevent the need for medical attention.
A major difference between the Cuban and American system in the focus on preventative care. Cuba runs a "Continuous Assessment and Risk Evaluation (CARE)" program which consists of primary care physicians meeting with the families they consult, obtaining information about their lives and their health (risk factors) and creating intervention plans to help reduce the possibility of illness. This occurs yearly. If a patient has a chronic illness, they are visited every three months to check on progress. They also hold health education programs for the public, publicity campaigns for wellness and health and promote physical health as well as psychological and social health. Overall they have a system ready to take care of their populations, however, the lack of resources makes this difficult. Regardless of the struggles, Cuba has found a way to provide some of the most impressive health statistics not only in the Caribbean islands but in the world.
The country faces a lot of criticisms about the low pay of their medical staff, the poor facilities available and the concerns for the freedom to choose physicians and location of care. However, some may consider this a lack of freedom... crippling debt doesn't feel like freedom to most Americans. Medical debt is the number 1 reason for bankruptcy in the U.S. We spend about 15x more on each person pre year on health care but we reach about the same health statistics.
No system is perfect but it is smart to learn what works and implement it, not for any other reason but for the well-being of all people.
Esposito, C. L., Gilbert, J., Ciampa, A., & Markman, J. (2017). Against All Odds: Cuba Achieves Healthcare for All--An Analysis of Cuban Healthcare. Journal Of The NewYork State Nurses Association, 45(1), 29-38.
As an American, when thinking about the arts such as film, theater, music, ballet, poetry and fine art, my mind trails, immediately thinking of those wealthy enough and sophisticated enough to enjoy these amenities. However, in Cuba, the arts are not considered a luxury for the rich, a hobby for the sophisticated or a gender specific discipline. When studying in Cuba, I was exposed to this idea when we were told about FÁBRICA DE ARTE CUBANO. A multidisciplinary gallery containing a variety of expositions including, architecture, visual arts, theatre, dance, graphic design and photography. As we discussed the possibility of going to such neat and cultured place I saw the dollar signs (CUC) flashing in my mind. However, costing about as much as a happy meal I was pleasantly surprised. We entered to find a variety of people. Different races, ages, economic backgrounds and education levels together, discussing paintings and exhibits. It was simply beautiful. Among this trip to "La Fábrica", we visited other art museums beaming with beauty and an essence of Cuban culture. Not only Cuban art but art from all over the world, ranging from a variety of different centuries all hanging in unison.
There is no "type" of person that is interested in the arts in Cuba. The arts are not a feminine thing, a man's thing, a race thing, an intellectuals thing or a generational thing. They are a HUMAN thing. Imagine the most manly construction worker in Cuba. It would not be a surprise if he played roles in theatrical productions at night. Their love an appreciation for all arts was amazing to me. I had never seen anything bring so many people from all different walks of life together.
Cuban art has been influenced by many different countries and has went through many different eras. The most recent and influential occurred during and directly following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many artists found themselves limited by a political agenda. Many artists were hired by the government to create propaganda portraying nationalism and commonly containing the image of the revolutionary leaders and because art supplies were a very limited commodity, the government had an easier time controlling this mean of expression. Since, these times artists in Cuba are finding themselves more and more freedom to express themselves freely, however, still limited by the availability of resources. Cuban art takes on many shapes forms and holds many significant meanings about culture, life and their history.
Location of La Fabrica de Arte