Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cuba: Day Eight...

We've had our full week in Havana doing the tourist points as per the Time Out guide and some of the local Cuban hangouts. We're now waiting for our transfer to our resort. So here are some of my musings.

Some of the Cuban places and bars we've been to have been fun; lots of heat, sweat, music and dancing. Some have been deserted. When we have come across locals they have, without exception, been very welcoming. Those Cubans who we have chatted too have not only been friendly but surprisingly well informed about many things - considering the lack of free-press here. When we told a couple of men we were talking to that the press in the UK could freely criticise a politician or official if they believed that they were doing a bad job they were frankly stunned. "That would never happen in Cuba" they said. We weren't quite sure whether they meant that the criticism would never happen in Cuba or whether their officials would never do a bad job. I suspect the former.

These guys were certainly aware of the credit crunch - chiefly because the main income source for Cuba by far is tourism and bookings have been way down this year. We were asked again and again whether our mortgages have been fore-closed.

Another common question was whether we had free health care in the UK and did the state help those who needed help. Many seemed genuinely surprised that the NHS was free at the point of delivery and that we had a social security system. They had thought that this was a uniquely Cuban thing. Their dental and glasses are all completely free though rather than just subsidised as ours are.

If any Cubans do earn money - which they are allowed to do - they must pay tax every month and again at the end of the year. They were cagey about how much this tax rate actually is but when we said how much tax we paid they were very sympathetic.

The impression I get about what's really going on in Cuba is rife duplicity (they all use the black market for TVs, internet access, goods, food) and the feeling that the place is at a tipping point. Cubans are all too aware that the infrastructure in Cuba is poor and they need to look for investment to raise their standard of living.

Almost with one voice they are talking about the China economy as their post-Fidel model.

Chillingly there is an estimated three million tourists a year waiting to Cuba here should the ban on direct American flights be lifted. That will transform this country. Whether this transformation is for the better or the worse is a matter of opinion.

Must dash, our bus is here.

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