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Cuba - Through the lens of Laura Curtis

Our Home Decor Editor, Laura Curtis, has just returned from Cuba. Here is how she described her trip:

So, after a visit to Florida and fishing in the Keys, I had the opportunity to pay a brief visit to Havana, Cuba. It was something on my bucket list. With so much culture having emerged from Cuba, yet basically cut off from most of the world in the 1950's, there has always been a sense of mystery about this island nation for me. Talking to the locals, they mentioned that when Obama was in office, planes full of Americans were coming into the country to visit and were more than welcomed with open arms . You could not meet a nicer people, a beautiful amalgam of races descended from both European, African and other nationalities, yet they are desperately poor and need the supplemental income that tourism brings. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, they stopped receiving goods and supplies including oil and gas. They looked to Venezuela to supply oil and gas but with the government issues there, shipments have been very limited. For this reason, the city is virtually blacked out at night except for a few essential lights. And though it seems like it would be scary and unsafe there is very little crime on the island under the Communist leadership. Even the smallest amount of drugs on a person will get you 30 years in jail. Government wages are pitiful in what amounts to about $40 a month. Families are allowed to own one city home and when I say family, that's the whole extended family. Some lease out rooms in their homes and they do allow Air B&B there now. Others will lease out their cars, or just take their cars to where tourists tend be and accept tips to take them for a ride or just sit in their cars. Basically anything they can to supplement their meager incomes. They say health care is free and they even do transplants on the island but I wonder just how good the care is there . With the onset of communism, many families of course left the island and boarded up their homes thinking they would return within a year or two. But as we know that did not happen. Many fled, most have not returned. Since health care (and birth control) are free, and it is expensive to raise a child, many are opting to not have children or just have one, so the youth of the country is beginning to dwindle. 25% of the population is over 65. After the revolution, those unable to return to their homes, lost them homes to the Communist party and they are now owned by the government. Only in recent years have the people been allowed to actually purchase their own homes. For all the disadvantages to living in Cuba and all the adversities these people face in everyday life, they manage to keep up their spirits and greet you with a smile and go out of their way to ensure visitors are happy and practically beg them to return. After Trump's rulings in November, all visitors to Cuba must have specific purpose such as humanitarian, aid to the people or cultural excursions. Before that, the locals say that people wore T shirts that said "USA" and were putting American flags out on their balconies. After Trump's new rulings though, this changed and now the majority of their visitors are from Canada, Spain, and Italy. Immigration to the US is basically cut off. Spain grants visas to just 3 or 4 people a month. There are no visits to the beach or lounging around with fruity drinks in hotels here for Americans. Fortunately their wonderful music is part of their culture and so I was "permitted" to get a little dancing in, they simply would not allow the audience to sit down. Everyone had to get up and dance. As one tour guide stated, " We are happy but we don't have much. Just our hospitality and our culture and traditions to offer ." Another young lady stated that "what happens between governments is one thing, but what happens between people is entirely another. " I hope there is a better future for them and things continue to change and evolve there in their favor.

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