Life in Cuba – (post)-socialist paradise or land of broken dreams

Posted: Gabrielė Ivanauskaitė Date: 2016-02-19 10:52

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The streets in the Alamar, which is a suburban area of the Havana, have no names. In order to find the address, you need to know the zone, the number of the block of flats and the flat itself, because all the buildings look exactly the same – they are long, rectangular, five-floor houses.

In Alamar live 100 000 people and it is the most populated district in Cuba. Taking into consideration the social equality in the whole country, this part of it is probably the most ‘equal’, since people living there own more or less identical houses.

The income of the citizens in Cuba varies a lot. The owner of the restaurant can earn a few hundred dollars a day, whereas the average wage of the simple worker is 20 dollars a day. The guides and hotel workers earn more in comparison to the scientists and doctors.

“People die, but the party is immortal” – the phrase written on the brochures in Alamar, where the communist spirit is still alive. These brochures are orientated towards those, who think of what will happen to the country after the death of Fidel Castro and the current president Raul Castro. When you hear such words, it seems as if the local people lost their hope to change the system that has become prescriptive.

One of the most visible problems in Cuba is the poverty. However, it is not the result of the penniless living, it is more like the side effect or a consequence of a situation when you do not have any contacts and relations to reach something. The import in the country is very low, the majority of the everyday goods and things are old and worn out. The amount of contacts and the possibility to access the so called deficit goods such as cars, TV sets or various home appliances is exactly what determines whether you are considered a rich or a poor. That is why Cuba is sometimes called the country stuck in the 50′s, as most of the things are from that period of time in this country.

The amount of food is also limited. In the shops and markets local people can buy some sugar, rice or beans, but there is not enough of the foodstuff. Due to this reason, people tend to go shopping not only in the regular shops, the black market flourishes there as well. For instance, if you want to buy fish, you need to find the fisherman, who may sell you it. Surely, the smuggling also flourishes in Cuba, especially the smuggling of the luxury goods, for example, of jeans. In this case it is even more difficult, what is left is the hope that the merchant will have what you need.

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What is worth mentioning, is that in Cuba exists a two-currency system – a Cuban peso for the tourists and the local “national coin”. Moreover, the currency you have determine the shops you get in. The local people get their salaries in “moneda national”, a bit more luxurious shops do not accept this currency, they are only for the tourists. Moreover, the largest investments concentrate on the tourism, which is a very profitable field.

In addition, there are several myths about Cuba. Many people consider it as a communist dictatorship, which is dissociated and isolated from the rest of the world and which is extremely difficult to get to. This prevailing opinion is partly true, Cuba really is a communist dictatorship, however, after the collapse of the USSR and the election of the current president Raul Castro, the country became noticeably freer and more open. It has its own economic zone, the growing private business and investments, especially in the tourism. Every year the island is visited by millions of tourists.

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Many years Cuba was an atheist country, as all of the communist ones are. However, at present, approximately 60% of Cubans are the Roman Catholics, other religions are not persecuted too. Cuba is absolutely respectful when it comes to different religions.

Another myth is that Cuba is a very poor country. Even though the average person in Cuba earns 6000 dollars per year, the literacy and the health security are quite developed and the unemployment rate is comparatively low. In spite of this, 55% Cuba’s citizens claim that they would like to emigrate. Therefore, the economic and social problems in Cuba strongly influence the lives of the people living there.

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One of the signs showing the power of Cuba’s communism and dictatorship is the still existing propaganda. Unfortunately, it has not stopped with the revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, all the newspapers, magazines and TV shows are controlled by the Cuban government. The walls in the street are covered with posters and graffiti that depicts the sentimental attitude and benevolence towards Cuba and the strict laws restricts the conflicts and opposition.

Although the propaganda is still alive, it is not the same as it was some decades ago. Formerly it was just crazy. Here is one story told by Jose Suarez: “One day, my sister came home and exclaimed, ‘Fidel is better than Jesus!’ In school they had asked the kindergartners to close their eyes and pray to Jesus for ice cream. When they opened their eyes — nothing. Then they closed their eyes again and prayed to Fidel for ice cream, and … surprise! Ice cream cups on their desks! I remember my mother’s reaction: ‘Ice cream! Delicious!’ She totally avoided any other comment for fear of whatever she said making it back to my sister’s teacher.”

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The changes are not that tremendous, but comparing the situation that prevailed in former times and how it is now, the signs of a better life are obvious. However, only the time will show if Cuba will manage to escape from the socialism’s clutches or not.