Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Short Takes on Cuba

CUBAN PEOPLE trace their descent from the Spanish, Africans and the Chinese. The natives were all wiped out. The combination yields very handsome people in a great variety of skin tones.

I CAME DOWN WITH THE FIRST COLD I've had in a more than a year. I brought bags full of common Meds, but not the decongestant that can be used by people like me with high blood pressure. So, I went to a pharmacy hoping for the best. Pharmacies here have hardly any inventory. The shelf space might amount to a tiny corner of one in the U.S. In fact when we packed for this trip we followed Road Scholar's advice to bring our own shampoo and basic toiletries, and that if we wanted to give the people gifts, they would appreciate such things--not to mention toilet paper. So the pharmacy didn't have what I wanted. I had to settle for a Cuban version of Vicks and an antihistamine, which didn't seem to work at all. But the camphor would relieve my stuffy nose for a while, and I was grateful for that.  Although the country is famous for its doctors and hospitals, and has educated more than 70,000 doctors, the hospitals have shortages of basic supplies as well.

HORSE CARTS are an occasional sight in Havana, but a common one in smaller cities like Cienfuegos and Trinidad. These are not carriages for tourists. These are working vehicles used to transport all kinds of materials and people. There are also still carts drawn by oxen.

WHEN FIDEL DIED, most of the pictures of him that were everywhere in the country were taken down. That was his wish. And he was buried in Santiago de Cuba, far from Havana. Thousands of people lined the route of his hearse. A simple stone marks his grave, not any big monument. A good Communist to the end.

TAXATION OF INCOME is new to Cuba and is imposed only on certain kinds of income. When we told our guides that that our country used to have a 90% tax bracket, and that countries like Sweden still have very high taxes, they found it hard to believe. Instead of taxing people, Cuban takes the major portion of goods produced. For example, a tobacco farmer gets to keep 10% of the crop while the government takes 90%. Another example of the extreme economic control imposed by the government deals with cow. Apparently the government introduced cows into the country to improve nutrition for children. So the dairy farmer must provide a major portion of the milk produced to schools or hospitals. And the cows themselves are still the property of the government. Only the government can kill a cow. It's a crime for a citizen to do so.

WHERE'S THE BEEF?  In the tourist restaurants, not on the tables of the citizens. Pork, chicken and lamb are staples.

CUBANS ARE CHAMPION MAC GYVERS. They have learned to recycle everything. But that can't last forever. The combined economic stress of our embargo and the loss of support when the Soviet Union fell apart in the 90s means classic, but falling-apart cars from the 50s and 60s, plumbing fixtures that need replacing, not enough fishing boats to take advantage of the seafood in the ocean, and not enough tractors to farm the ample open land.

RAUL CASTRO HAS PROMISED to give up the presidency in 2018. The Cuban people will get to vote for provincial representatives who will choose the next president. Our guides have no idea who that will be, other than that it will be a member of the Communisty Party.

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