“Chuck quiet, secret police everywhere.” I remember those words like they were five minutes ago.
I had visited Cuba many, many times as a tourist. I was taken in by the beauty, the culture, the wonderful people. It seemed idyllic through the eyes of a traveler. A health care system second to none, free education right through University, beautiful beaches, hot sun…what could be wrong with this island paradise? And so I returned, time after time after time. This led to a relationship with a wonderful Cuban women, whom I met on one of my visits. Yosadania is tattooed on my left arm…as a reminder of the life that the Cuban people are “forced to live”…we had a wonderful relationship, but given the overbearing government, Yosdania was not free to come back home to Canada with me.
I decided that I wanted to go down to Cuba and live the life that “the people” did. Yosdania was thrilled that I would be coming down and living with her for a few weeks; I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was eagerly looking forward to the adventure.
Little did I know what I was in for, the reality of Cuba was about to dramatically change.
It’s difficult to put into words the level of government control over the people. The first day I was living in Havana with my friend, we went for a walk. Everywhere we went, there were soldiers with machine guns; when I said something to Yosdania about this, she said to me: “Chuck quiet, secret police everywhere.” So, we walked the beautiful beaches and parks, rather quietly. I wasn’t used to not saying what I was thinking. Yosdania told me that there were spies in every little six block radius…people who would report to the government anybody who spoke out against the country. Even in the apartment we lived in, we were very careful as to what we said. I learned a lesson one evening, when all the lights and electricity went out. I was told this was common (however this did not occur in the resorts in which the tourists stayed). This was the governments way of maintaining control and power over the people. Wanting to get in touch with my family back home in Winnipeg, I was hoping to find a computer. I was allowed to go into a tourist hotel and rent a computer for a few minutes…however, Yosdania was not allowed to join me. In fact, the citizens of Cuba at that time had little opportunity to use the internet and had a very limited understanding of the rest of the world. In the hotel, I was able to rent a computer for a while in an air conditioned room…amenities which the people were not able to access.
One morning we decided to go for a walk to get some food. However, it’s nothing like we have here in Canada. Families are given little notebooks each month which indicate their food allotment; 1 bag of rice a certain amount of bread, chicken, etc. Literally limits to the bland food which was available to the people. Now remember, if you are a tourist, you are treated like royalty…and your Canadian dollars go a very long way to helping the government maintain control.
However, if you are a Cuban citizen, life is much different than the all-inclusive resorts Canadians fly to each winter. Your freedoms are limited, your voice muted, your opportunities minimal…an individual working as a server in restaurant would be making the same amount of money as a doctor.
Then again, Cuba is noted around the world for one of the best health care systems; additionally, the education system is free right through university. The weather is beautiful, the beaches magnificent, and there is baseball every where you go.
It’s not an easy life. Many Cubans have died trying to escape the oppression, while others made it safely to Little Havana in Florida.
Fidel Castro has died…what awaits the people of Cuba?