Juan – Age – 60’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida; Lives with Wife and Extended Family; Occupation – Accountant, Works in Cuban Restaurant as Bookkeeper; Brother of Doris
Hi, Franklin. You asked me to write down my impressions about returning to Cuba after so many years. So, here it is. As you know, I escaped from Cuba by raft in 1993 along with my brother, who had just gotten out of prison, but was being sought again for revolutionary ideas. [That of course means ideas contrary to Castro’s government, “the Revolution.”]
Besides the problem with my brother, the reason I left Cuba when I did was that we were in the doldrums. The Castro regime had eliminated all hope for the future. Water and electricity were scarce. Food was scarcer still. Nobody could do anything to earn excess money.
I’ve been a bit hesitant to describe my impressions. The reason – I saw great improvement in the lives of the people; the radical Anti-Castro Miamians just do not want to hear that. To them, Cuba will always be in a pitiful state and the only way around it is to destroy the Castros. Period. Saying anything a little bit positive is outrageous. I just can’t see it that way. But of course, I run the risk of being viewed as communist for saying what I think.
The basic improvements include resolution of the problems mentioned above. There was new city water in the neighborhood where I grew up and where family members still reside. The electricity remained constant. Farmer’s markets displayed and sold attractive and tasty fruits and vegetables. The new business initiatives allowed more opportunity for people to sell products. I never had a problem finding water or other liquid to drink. I even learned that a friend had invented a product combination, for which the government is paying him a tidy royalty. All this was unheard of when I left.
Ever since I began working in the U.S., I have sent my family money to supplement their living expenses. They remain in the rather large home in an exclusive neighborhood where I grew up. In spite of the improvements, their earnings remain the same, so I must still supplement their income. It may be worse now that certain items have been removed from the list of subsidized products on the ration card. But I took a supply of those products with me when I visited.
I have heard that cities like Santiago reflect more improvement than Havana itself. I guess that is natural. Havana is a huge city, with a large inner city. Of course, the inner city was already overcrowded and occupied by the lowest earning people when the revolution began. Many were not hard workers. When the government doled out properties, they gave the apartments, which were already occupied by extended families and non-family members, to the patriarch or matriarch, and they remain in those properties. There is not sufficient housing in Havana; people from all over Cuba regularly trek to Havana to seek work that pays CUC, the international form of Cuban money, either by working legally, like driving a taxi, or illegally, like working as a prostitute or hustler (“jinitero”).
I believe, though I am not positive, that the education system and medical care are truly very good. The literacy rate is high. (Of course schooling is very pro-government.) The number of doctors is incredible, and they are well-trained. But, of course, there is little medicine available.
Well, that’s it. All in all, I saw improvement, and I’m not afraid to say so.
See you Franklin.