zygmunt korytkowski

Viva la Revolución?

Cuba it is not only rum, cigars, old cars or salsa as the average tourist tends to see...

The question “What is today’s real Cuba?” kept me thinking during my journey across this unique island. I met many travellers who like me were driven by that question and wanted to find and experience the “real Cuba”.  

Cuba has certainly many faces but we tend to perceive the country by our misleading picture of it, which does not take in to account what it would be like to live there, wake up every morning and face the difficult reality, where most people struggle to make ends meet. We do not know what it would be like to have to hitchhike to work every day, wait for hours in the sun on empty highways for a lift to visit relatives in another town.  What it would be like to queue for two hours to buy ice cream?

So how or rather if then is it possible for foreigner to get to know the “real Cuba”, when Cubans are constantly being spied on and controlled by their own government.

For many tourists it is hard to understand Cuba’s communist reality. Travellers keep repeating the same routes naively believing that they are discovering a new world. Cuba became a modern symbol of revolution with people from all around the world wishing to see Cuba and the ever present image of Fidel Castro.

After Fidel Castro swept to power by revolution in 1959 and as a result of his decision to sever official ties with America (the American embargo on Cuba from 1960), the country’s economy stagnated.

Looking back in history, Cuba was the richest island in the Caribbean but during the last 50 years the country has suffered a slow deterioration economically. Fidel Castro’s political alliances and his close ties with the soviet bloc did not lead to the Cuban people seeing a benefit in their standard of living. Only the forced opening up of the State to generate tourist related income in the late 80’s has led to some improvement in the standard of living for a minority.

Today the majority of the Cuban nation still faces poverty. There is no private sector and the government controls all elements of society and people’s daily lives.  Only those who work in tourism can generate extra income to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

Cuba faces contrasts, growth of the sex trade – especially for tourists, a growing black market where you can buy stolen goods and luxury items. Cubans cannot afford to have mobile phones and they do not have access to the internet as the government tries to prevent any corruption to its ideology.    

But what has become of the Cuban nation? How deeply do citizens believe in revolution? From the graffiti on Havana’s walls you could say that the spirit is still alive, but is it true? Today, half a century after Fidel Castro came to power, Cuba is an island still divided between those who cling to the revolution’s ideals and those who desperately hope for change. Cuba is a prison and these are not my words but those of a Cuban I encountered on my travels.

Cubans dream about a better life. Young people want another revolution following the arrival of Barack Obama to the White House and a long hoped for thawing of the cold war with the USA.


all content © 2011 by zygmunt korytkowski