Tag Archives: internet connection in Cuba

That Time of the Month in Havana (AKA Periodo Especial)

So the KKK deigned us with a visit. Not the white hooded racists, but the Prada-clad Kardashian clan. By all accounts, they hated Havana. They are not alone. Reasons to dislike my adopted city abound – the vicious gossip and hearsay; the transportation troubles; the dearth of nuts, berries, cheese, and fish; the inevitable beer or four added to your tab. But apparently, none of this registered on the limited radar/IQ of these young women who will never garner the respect or notoriety of their step dadmom, Caitlyn Jenner (I bet that puts Kim, Kourtney and Khloe’s La Perla panties in a twist). No, they hated Havana because their escapades in the world’s hottest city went undocumented on Snapchat and Twitter, negating whatever semblance of relevance they’ve ever known.

And in Havana, the Kardashians are irrelevant, something else they bitched about: ‘no one here knows who we are!’, proving once again that as insane as Havana is, it remains one of the world’s last bastions of sanity. What is relevant are the expectations people bring to this very unexpected place. I get it: most folks traveling here have sorely limited knowledge about Cuba. Maybe they know about the Missile Crisis or the Bay of Pigs or nothing at all. That started changing about two years ago when the likes of Usher and Jagger, Lagerfeld, Lady Gaga, and the real First Lady began stampeding the island like WalMart shoppers on Black Friday. Naturally, these visits made novel TV fodder for channels around the globe.

Meanwhile, Hollywood discovered a tropical playground with high-quality, low-budget talent (Fun Fact: the 12 day shoot for the 8th installment of the Fast & Furious franchise cost Universal $7 million; Cuban friends working on the set report that Vin Diesel is an idiot). Vanity Fair won’t fulfill subscriptions to Cuba (which has my cotton briefs in a twist), but sent Annie Leibovitz down for an exclusive shoot with Rihana where the pop star looks like just another ‘ho from Centro Habana, $2500 come-fuck-me shoes notwithstanding. All of these factors, plus others beyond the purview of this post, create a pseudo-reality of Cuba in the minds of the outside world. The result? Distorted perceptions and false expectations.

Distorted reality was what led me to create Here is Havana seven years ago – to give you the straight dope on what’s really going on in one of the world’s most fascinating cities. So while the Kardashians are whining about their inability to access the Internet (Pro Tip girls: head to the park at 16 & 15 to get all your connectivity woes resolved), I want to talk about real life issues affecting us on the ground: feminine hygiene products.

This is what period products are euphemistically called in the USA, but down here, where menstruation is talked about in mixed company, between and among generations, and at the family dinner table, we’ve no use for euphemism. Cubans – and now me by extension – talk about maxi pads and ‘Tampac’, blood flow and cramps they way you talk about Fair Trade coffee and standard-of-living raises: big issues, but not a shame-inducing big deal. In short, from periods to explosive diarrhea, Cubans have no pena when it comes to bodily functions. I’ve written previously about my admiration for this kind of Cuban straight talk, but given the ‘tourism tsunami’, I think a re-visit is in order, especially what women can expect at that time of the month.


When I moved to Havana in 2002, it had been decades since I’d used a maxi pad (also known as a sanitary napkin, which makes it sound like a Purell-infused paper towel found on your airplane or hospital food tray). Until my early 30s, I was a tampon gal all the way and never used anything but Tampax (Fun Fact #2: tampon brand loyalty is one of the all-time fiercest consumer behaviors according to focus groups and surveys; get a girl on to your brand in her first or second cycle and she’ll love ya for life! Or at least through menopause).

I arrived with a jumbo box of tampons, but was rudely awakened when those ran out: tampons were just not a thing in Havana. Not available, at any price. I was shocked and a little pissed. How did Cubanas cope? Tampons were a necessity as far as my First World mind could fathom and many of you likely agree. Can’t it be argued that the tampon is one of the most powerful weapons in the women’s lib arsenal (after the washing machine and the immigrant nanny to run it)? It seemed antiquated, as if I’d been thrown back to my mother’s pre-Betty Friedan teenage years.

Except this was 2002. And I was bleeding without recourse. I had to adapt.

This exercise in dystopian social Darwinism taught me some key Cuban survival skills. Most importantly, I learned how Cubans confront the monthly bleed: they procure a limited amount of maxi pads via their ration card, supplemented by cotton swaddling they fashion into pads when the ration, inevitably, runs out. The former are often gifted or sold, the latter reserved for when things devolve into a bloody mess. Once in a while, you might find pads in the dollar stores and when you do, buy in triplicate. When all else failed, I resorted to wads of toilet paper and Scotch tape. File under: Epic Fail. This all put a serious hitch in my giddy up on trips to the beach, hotel pool, or secret waterfalls, but I made do without any seriously embarrassing bleed through. Although, as I like to point out, it’s terribly hard to embarrass a Cuban, no matter the context, and period blood made public is no real cause for concern. To wit: my buddy Oscar recently shared a story about partying with friends at one of the faux posh Miami lounges cropping up in Havana like fungi under cow shit. Seating was in booths and on cubes made of white pleather (that’s plastic leather in Conner-speak; learn it. Love it). When Oscar’s girl stood to go to the bathroom, she left the cube smeared with blood. As she walked away, Oscar grabbed a napkin and wiped it clean without missing a beat.

Still, it’s hard to return to bulky, non-beach-compliant pads and relive pleather-smearing accidents after you’ve experienced [insert your favorite brand here]. Indeed, tampons are in such high demand in Havana, we ask foreign visitors to pack some extra in their luggage. Thanks to many kind folks who have done so, we have stock on hand at the bookstore – we’ve saved many a tourist and colleague with these donated ‘feminine hygiene products.’ And we’re converting people too: a pair of Cubana friends declined our invitation to a Cuba Libro beach outing because it was their time of the month. I told them this shouldn’t be a limitation and introduced them to tampons. One of these women was in her 20s; the other in her 30s. I gave them a quick how-to (verbal, not visual) and handed them the bilingual instructions/anatomical diagrams provided in every box. Judging by the frequency of tampon requests we’re now fielding at Cuba Libro, I’d say consumer choice and convenience – of which the tampon is poster child – are going to start driving many people’s agenda. Personally, unless I’m working an outfit requiring a thong or am destined for water play, I’m a stalwart pad supporter. At my age, I don’t have that many more years to worry about all this. What a fucking relief (but please dear lord: retain my robust libido!)

As for the Kardashians, I hope they brought enough feminine hygiene products – they sure did seem like they were on the rag during their visit.


Filed under Americans in cuba, cuban beaches, Cuban customs, Cuban idiosyncracies, cuban words without translation, dream destinations, Expat life, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba, Uncategorized

My Digital Divide

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false]Have you ever lost a job or revenue due to tech inequity? Watched hours of productivity get sucked into the ether by a dial up connection that poke, poke, pokes along, draining all satisfaction from the act like an inexperienced or egotistical lover? Known the frustration of not being able to perform any task involving large documents, YouTube, streaming, or VOIP? And my list of music to download? A pipe dream – along with watching Jon Stewart – until I’m off-island. Is there anyone out there who feels my pain?

Before I detail the many and sundry ways Cuba, and more specifically I personally, am far behind the tech curve, let me be clear: it’s not all bad, this technological disadvantage – knowing how to write and submit via a super slow, unreliable connection for example, helped build skills and instill patience which served me well reporting from post-quake Haiti.

Let me also point out that in some cases my technological handicap is not because the gadgets aren’t available in Cuba, but because they’re out of my financial reach – which is the same thing in the end, and a reality faced by many of the world’s poor. Something to think about the next time you hear someone defending technology as the great leveler (and when you receive text messages from Yoani Sanchez: where does she get the money? I have to wonder).

Taken together, the technical challenges (see note 1) combine with the price of buying and maintaining new technologies to create a digital divide which I’m guessing most HIH readers can’t imagine. Here’s a litmus: have you ever folded laundry, washed dishes, or otherwise had to multi-task while waiting for a page to load? No? Then you probably can’t relate.

Before anyone kicks me to the curb for being a privileged foreigner who’s insensitive to what ‘regular Cubans’ go through (see note 2), let me clarify a couple of things. First, I have access to funds many Cubans don’t and I have the ability to open an internet account as an accredited journalist. So privileged? Yes. Insensitive? No – just ask my friends and family without access of their own.

Furthermore, my livelihood in large measure depends on my ability to research and submit articles, stories, and guidebooks and update my iApp via the internet. Without those gigs, I’d be left with just this blog and empty pockets. Don’t get me wrong: Here is Havana is a great writing tool, motivator, community-builder, outlet for angst and cathartic vent, but without my internet connection, it would go the way of Obama’s campaign promises, fast.

This is the practical effect of the digital divide, but there’s a subtler, more insidious side to the disconnect: it contributes to the outsider status of expats like me. Neither entirely comfortable where we came from or wholly accepted where we’ve moved to, we’re in this limbo that is pointed up every time someone waxes orgasmic about Angry Birds or Google +. Mostly I prefer being behind the tech curve (I’ll take the Flinstones over the Jetsons any day) but when it affects The Work, I bug (see note 3).

For those interested in how a decade living in Cuba translates vis-à-vis tech challenges, here goes:

I have no cell phone. Cubans are incredulous when they discover I’m not celled up, but their disbelief is based on their assumptions that a) I can afford one (see note 4) and b) I want or need to be localizable 24/7. They’re wrong on both counts.

I’ve never used a GPS. I’m a map idiot, I admit, but the GPS concept is just dangerous if you ask me. First, any map skills someone like me may have had (or had the chance of developing), go out the window once you introduce GPS. Second, they’re useless in contexts that don’t fit the traditional mapping mold, like Cuba, Hawaii, the Mosquito Coast, and every medina. Third, they limit one’s likelihood to get lost, thereby curbing new discoveries, spontaneity and flexibility, and chances for fun.

I’ve only played Wii once. Granted it was for three days straight and was a helluva lot fun but…Here in Havana I have a friend with a Wii, who calls it ‘healthier than Playstation’ and limits his daughter’s usage (but not his, I suspect!). Tip for those looking for a gift for Cuban friends: you can’t go wrong with a Wii, (two remotes, please).

Kindle-free. My take on the Kindle is kind of like my take on sexual diversity: to each his (or her) own – as long as it doesn’t infringe on my action. In other words: you can have your Kindle, but let me have my books. This is where my old fashioned ways are a disadvantage, to be sure, since hauling books here is a real pain in the ass (see note 5), plus they require shelf space. Sure, a Kindle would make my life easier, but it would also make it less enjoyable. When someone talks quality of life to me, that involves the look, smell, and heft of books.

Blue Tooth?! About a month ago I saw a Cuban American picking his way among the busted up sidewalks of Centro Habana with one of these gadgets wedged in his ear. I burst out laughing at the newest accessory in the Miami crowd’s insatiable need to ‘especular’ (show off their material goods). I tried to imagine what was so damn pressing on the other side of the Straits that this guy was willing to pay three months average Cuban salary (minimum!) to have it mainlined into his ear. Then I remembered what Cubans do with other signs of apparent wealth like watches and cell phones: they wear them and flash them, but it doesn’t mean they work. But it’s one thing to have a busted watch strapped to your wrist or a bunk cell phone clipped to your belt (that’s how the men do it here; the women tuck them into their cleavage), while it’s quite another to walk around with a pinguita in your ear.


My life goes along happily, swimmingly without these advances. Just don’t bring it up at deadline time or mention Jon Stewart – unless you want to see me cry.


1. Cuba is prohibited by the blockade from connecting to any US satellites or fiber optic cables. At the moment, that leaves Cuba only one choice for connectivity – an Italian satellite which transmits all the data to and from the island.

2. While it’s true Cubans have the lowest connectivity rate in the hemisphere with only 14% of the population connected, these figures don’t reflect the reality since internet accounts are widely and regularly shared here. And the famous underwater cable that has been laid from Venezuela to Cuba and promises to increase our connectivity by 3000%? When it was announced a few years ago, I counseled folks to not hold their breath. Take my advice: keep breathing and continue to file under ‘I’ll Believe It When I See It.’

3. This post was inspired by an ongoing freelance gig that I couldn’t accept because I have no access to Skype.

4. Despite the exorbitant costs (to get a cell account here costs $40, with both incoming and outgoing calls charged at $0.10-$0.45/minute), most Cubans are gaga for cell technology and spend what little money they have to get it.

5. This is also extremely costly: on the direct flights from the USA to Cuba which I’m eligible to take, any luggage over 44 pounds is charged at $1/lb – and that includes carry on.


Filed under Americans in cuba, Communications, Cuban idiosyncracies, Expat life, Here is Haiti, Living Abroad, Travel to Cuba

Cuban Blockade: Cruel & Unusual

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It’s time again for the international community to remind the United States how absurd and futile their blockade of Cuba is. The vote to condemn the blockade is a UN affair (equally as absurd and futile perhaps, since the Cuba policy is largely a US domestic issue and UN votes are notoriously toothless) – the 20th of its kind. Last year, 185 countries condemned the blockade, with 2 nations dissenting: the USA and Israel (surprise! surprise!).

For those needing a bit of a primer, the US embargo was first enacted in 1962 – before many of us were even born. The purpose of the policy, then as now, is to isolate the country to such a degree as to foment regime change (seems they’re a bit obsessed up north with the ‘C’ word – in this case Castro). After about 30 years of the means failing spectacularly to attain the desired end, the policy was strengthened through the Helms-Burton and Torricelli Acts so brutally that today, it violates the most basic human right of 11 million Cubans – the right to self determination.

This chaps my ass. What also irks me is when analysts, academics, and others somehow hitching their wagon to Cuba’s star call the policy an ‘embargo’ when it is, in fact, an economic, commercial and financial blockade. Semantics you say? Not for those of us here suffering under it. And not for those who understand the difference between the two. It’s one thing to prevent your own government, people, and businesses from dealing with Cuba, it’s something entirely, extraterritorially else to penalize other countries for doing same.

Consider this explanation by Peter Schwab in his book Cuba: Confronting the US Embargo:The embargo blockade disallows Cuba from using US dollars in international trade, costing the country additional money for exchanging currencies. US regulations also disallow the export of US products from a third country, while products even developed through the use of US technology or design [emphasis mine] cannot be sold to Cuba.

Not only vicious, the policy is ridiculous in its application: there was the incident at the Mexico City Sheraton, when staff refused rooms to Cuban guests in 2007 in town for a conference; an Oslo hotel owned by Hilton repeated the gaffe with a Cuban trade delegation that same year. In October 2010, Twitter blocked messages originating from Cuban cell phones, citing the blockade as justification. Twitter quickly capitulated, but isn’t the convergence between the “free” market, politics and censorship interesting to consider? Taken together, all the elements petty and severe of the blockade have meant over $100 billion in losses for the island over the years.

What really boggles the mind, however, is the bang-your-head-against-the-wall determination with which the policy has been pursued, despite its failure to reach its stated goal. It puts me in mind of Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Yes, folks, this is an insane policy. What policytroublemakers in South Florida, Jersey, and D.C. doggedly ignore and don’t want you to know is how this policy lowers quality of life, separates families, and kills people on both sides of the Straits. Before I rant about the specific ways in which this policy makes life harder here as well as there, allow me to extend my deepest condolences to all the families, Cuban and otherwise, who have suffered under the blockade. I’d also like to voice my deepest respect and admiration to all those working towards a change in policy and the 11 million Cubans – 70% of whom have only known life under the blockade – affected daily as a result.

So you might better understand how this translates on the ground, I offer these snapshots of how the blockade has affected me and my loved ones.

I can’t hear you! Can you hear me?! – Phone calls originating from the USA get routed through China, Argentina and who knows where and cost upwards of $1/minute (except to the US naval base at Guantanamo, adding insult to injury). Getting a call to actually connect may take half a dozen attempts and forget wishing someone well on Christmas, New Year’s or Mother’s Day, when over 1 million Cubans living off island are all trying to do the same.

When the call actually does come through, it sounds like my sister is underwater and my mom is in a cave so deep, her voice is echoing off the walls. My PBS producer, meanwhile, may as well be talking into a Dixie cup on a string the delay between what she says and I hear is that long. To give you an idea how severely this affects communication, consider that in almost 10 years living here, only two friends have called me a total of three times – and I have some very devoted, (albeit poor), friends. For all these reasons, you can understand why I maintain my PO Box here, though even letters from the USA sometimes don’t leave domestic soil due to blockade politics. Thankfully, FaceBook and other social media aren’t blocked by either country.

Can I connect? No, you cannot – Recently PayPal threatened legal action and said my account would be blocked for trying to access the site from an ‘embargoed country.’ This is more serious than it may seem: like many freelance writers, I receive earnings from some clients via PayPal, and this prevented me from collecting payment for services rendered. Only I after I enlisted my own counsel and provided voluminous paperwork proving that I’m a journalist with US Treasury permission to be here (another absurdity: the US prevents it’s residents and citizens from traveling freely to the country of their choice, in this case Cuba), did they reinstate my account. I still can’t access it though and so only have use of my funds when I’m off-island. Other sites blocked for the same reason are iTunes and Tiger Direct. LinkedIn is also LockedOut thanks to US embargo.

Cash on the barrelhead – If you’ve been to Cuba, you know US credit and debit cards don’t work here. When I first moved to Havana in 2002, I thought my HSBC card would work. Silly me. Despite being a London-based bank, HSBC has offices in the USA (like most banks worldwide), and therefore cannot do business with Cuba under the terms of the blockade. I love how globalization works for those holding the reins. For the rest of us? Salsipuede.

Think of all the things you do with plastic funds. How would you live without debit and credit cards 24/7/365? How would you pay for webhosting or buy a plane ticket or god forbid, get money in an emergency? Anyone from the USA who travels or is based in Cuba has to do everything in cash – no exceptions (see note 1).

You’re sick and will stay that way – Of the more than 300 major drugs on the market since 1970, nearly 50% are of US origin and effectively blocked from export to Cuba (see note 2). The stories of people on both sides of the Straits who are denied life-prolonging or -saving medication due to the collusion between US big pharma and politics are heartbreaking. There’s the US drug Prostaglandin E1 – used in children born with congenital heart defects – is denied to Cuba. In fact, 90% of the products used to correct these malformations are manufactured by US multinationals or their subsidiaries and therefore are not available here due to the blockade. Anesthesia, diagnostic equipment and parts, and the latest in antiretrovirals to treat HIV are likewise unavailable. Cruel? You tell me.

But sadly, the policy affects US folks too. A dear friend of mine recently died of lung cancer. Had the breakthrough Cuban therapy Cimavax-EGF been available to her, she could have lived up to 5 years longer (if recent clinical trials in Europe are any indication); even if she didn’t respond optimally to the treatment and lived another half decade, the therapy certainly could have improved her quality of life at the end. The same holds true for meningococcal B outbreaks in college campuses across the country. Were the Cuban vaccine for the disease VA-MENGOC-BC available, these outbreaks could be averted. These Cuban therapies and vaccines, along with Heberprot-P, used to treat diabetic foot (a major cause of morbidity in diabetics) and blue scorpion venom used in cancer patients, are unique in the world. Thanks to the blockade, if you’re in the USA, you can’t have them.

The blockade causes pain, suffering, and grief. But it also strengthens our resistance, creativity and resilience. To Obama on down I say: stick with your failed blockade policy. Over here, we have 52 years proving unequivocally that Yes We Can!Notes
1. The Canadian company Caribbean Transfers issues debit cards for use in Cuba and American Express Traveler’s Checks work in some banks here, but for the overwhelming majority of us, we’re forced to live entirely in a cash-based economy. This means carrying drug dealer type wads of cash on any Cuba trip.
2. See The Cuban Cure by S.M. Reid-Henry, pp 39.


Filed under Communications, Cuban economy, Cuban Revolution, Living Abroad, Uncategorized

Cuban Psyche 2010

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“You must be a very patient person,” my friend said in reference to living in Cuba.

He doesn’t know the half of it. Standing in line for bread, the bus, ice cream, hard currency, hats or whatever other random thing appears on the shelves. Or losing my youth waiting for my 50k dial-up to giddy up and connect me (see note 1). These things don’t require patience. They demand resignation. Quite simply, we have no choice (see note 2).

Most days I can live with that. Most of the time I’ve got the trade offs in perspective.

In my previous life, I had to step around mother and son sleeping on the sidewalk and was awoken by gunshots. I watched and worried as friends got hooked on heroin or tried to recover from sexual assault or a nasty crack habit (now that’s redundant!). Waiting for a bus? A small price to pay for peace of mind and the freedom to wander the streets without all that armor urban America requires.

I’m not patient. I’m resigned. And relieved. But tucked into that chasm between relief and resignation lies frustration. I believe frustration is one of the truly equitable things in Cuba and while it may manifest itself differently for different people, anyone who tells you otherwise is apathetic, inattentive, or both. (Incidentally, denial is another wholly human trait that finds firm foothold on the island and is also in this mix).

So what’s so frustrating? There are innumerable little things like lack of red meat and tedious Friends re-runs, but some people can afford steaks and others adore the antics of Phoebe and Ross. So instead of ranting about the picayune or personal, I’d like to cast the net wide and look at the top 5 frustrations I see contributing to the Cuban Psyche 2010. In no particular order:

1. Bureaucracy, capital B. Exit permits, house papers, customs processes, and entrepreneurial permission slips: it’s getting people down. Not just the paperwork and hoop jumping – after all, every society has them. No, it’s not simply the bureaucratic bloat, but rather the informational black hole that is so frustrating. Not knowing where to go to get the right form or who to approach to hold the right hoop is time consuming and irritating as hell. There are no 800 numbers or customer service representatives in Cuba. Many times there isn’t even a low level pencil pusher willing to answer the phone (see note 3). No websites walking you through all the bureaucratic bullshit or a handy ‘contact us’ button as last resort.

Finding out how to get something done in Cuba is often more laborious and time consuming than actually doing it. To give you an idea of just how wildly out of control Cuban bureaucratic bloat is, consider the fact that China, population 1.3 billion, has nine governmental ministries while Cuba, population 11.2 million, has some two dozen (see note 4). Bottom line: you’ll go gray and flabby trying to navigate Cuba’s too big bureaucracy populated by people exercising the little power they have.

2. Economic hardship. Owners of $250/night casas particulares notwithstanding, almost all Cubans experience this in one way or another. We’re not talking about the distended bellies and death-by-diarrhea misery that plagues other developing nations, but rather lentils and rice six days running and no new shoes for baby. There are so many different and complex reasons (from without and within) the Cuban economy is on the skids but regardless, no mother wants to deny her daughter a new bra if she needs it and psychological hunger runs a close second to the physical variety. Bottom line: low salaries are eroding goodwill and commitment. People want to earn what they’re worth and live a little.

3. Inadequate/insufficient/inappropriate housing. Chronic and fairly widespread, the housing problem in Cuba is like the health care problem in the US: intractable and inequitably harsh (see note 5). Again, there are many complex reasons for this, from the weather (hurricanes knock down hundreds of homes a year) to shortages of supplies (blame the embargo, the Cuban government, or the guys “helping” cement fall off the truck, the end result is the same: building materials in Cuba are in absurdly short and expensive supply). This housing crunch translates into five generations living in a two-bedroom apartment, 10 people crammed into a one-room solar, generations being raised in albergues (what are supposed to be temporary, post-hurricane shelters), and lovers who can’t find any privacy to get jiggy (see note 6). Bottom line: Major housing problem needs major fixing.

4. The embargo. It costs my sister more than a dollar a minute to call me in Havana, yet she can shoot the shit with Esteban in Brazil for three cents that same minute. But it’s not only the price. In this case, financial frustration is compounded by technical frustration since calls from the USA to Cuba get routed through third countries (the base at Guantánamo Bay excepted of course). This means that sometimes we’re sharing the line with a Korean housewife or an Argentinean carpenter. But at least we have that – it can take a dozen attempts over half an hour or more to place a call to Cuba from the United States. Bottom line: politics preventing families from communicating is frustrating (and cruel).

5. Good old-fashioned exhaustion. Cubans have fought, worked, and withstood. They have suffered and struggled. They have also triumphed, but they are, quite frankly, pooped. Ironically, one of the most divisive decisions in recent years didn’t get much press – the raising of the retirement age (funny how foreign correspondents jumped on Cuba’s liberalization of cell phones like a Beagle does a bitch in heat, but gave short shrift to this big story affecting millions of Cubans countrywide). In early 2009, the government held spirited debates across the country regarding the idea and despite some dissent, raised the retirement age by 5 years for men and women (to 65 for men and 60 for women). These would-be retirees are the same folks that built the Revolution from Day 1 and they are, in large part, pissed. Retirement in Cuba isn’t only a time to kick back a bit and hang with the grandkids. It’s a time to finally make some money. Those aforementioned perpetually low salaries are rivaled only by perpetually low pensions and folks of retirement age often work in parallel markets to augment their meager earnings. Bottom line: it’s great there are pensions, but people want them like, yesterday, not five years from now.

I don’t have any answers, but I know 2010 is going to require a lot of patience, on everyone’s part.


1. Anyone who doubts there’s a digital divide in today’s iPad/YouTube/Twittering world should come to Cuba where the scintillating beeps and squeaks of dial-up are just enough to keep us connected (sort of – it’s so slow even streaming audio is impossible). More than once in the past 8 years, I’ve had young ‘uns up north give me a blank stare when I tell them my connection is measured in kbps. ‘What’s that?’ they ask me.

2. Like anywhere and everywhere, moneyed people in Cuba can create choice. Pay double the price for a loaf and there’s no waiting in line for bread. Shell out ten times the bus fare and you can ride downtown swiftly and comfortably in a 1956 Chevy. And yes, $7 an hour will get you a (slightly faster) WiFi connection in the fanciest hotels. Alas, while that choice is available to some Cuban bloggers, I’m not one of them.

3. In all my travels, I have never seen a people more able to ignore a ringing phone than Cubans.

4. Ongoing consolidation of ministries should help, but it’s causing other types of frustration not limited to job losses.

5. Housing in Cuba and healthcare in the US share another parallel in that neither problem is black and white but rather an awkward shade of gray. True, there is no one sleeping on the streets in Cuba. Likewise, no one in the US will be turned away from an ER for lack of insurance. This does not mean, however that this type of housing and that type of care is good or desirable.

6. This last is particularly hard on gay folks. While parents typically allow their grown (or nearly) breeder children to bring home their honeys for some loving, queer kids/adults usually don’t have that luxury. Since it’s extraordinarily difficult for Cubans of any age to get their own apartment, if Mama don’t like homos, you ain’t getting any in your own bed. I personally believe overcrowded housing and lack of privacy have tangible knock-on effects elsewhere in the Cuban reality from HIV prevalence (it’s hard to negotiate condom use during a back alley quickie) to divorce rates. Over 50% of marriages on the island fail (60% in Havana), giving Cuba one of the world’s highest divorce rates. Not surprising: what would you do if you had to live with your in-laws?!


Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban Revolution