Cuba: “I’m a Foreigner in my Own Country”

Mercedes Gonzalez Amade

Foto: Juan Suarez
Foto: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time. From the clothes he was wearing and the accent he spoke with, I immediately realized he was now living abroad.

We sat down together to catch up. We told stories, asked each other questions, laughed. He introduced me to his friend, a woman who was clearly a foreigner but who spoke an impeccable Spanish.

From what I gathered, they’d been in Cuba for nearly a month.

Suddenly, my friend started telling me of places and establishments they’d gone to and, from my confused look, he quickly gathered he might as well had been speaking to me in Chinese.

With the best of intentions, he showed me photos he’d taken with his cell phone and shared some anecdotes about each of the places he mentioned.

At first, I thought it best not to say anything, but the girl he was with made me feel comfortable, so I said something a bit direct to him: “You had to come visit Cuba like a tourist to get to know it. I’m happy for you. Ninety percent of us Cubans don’t even know our own country.”

The woman gave me a rather surprised look and I took the liberty of explaining to her – with plenty of details and examples – what my friend and I knew too well.

My friend smiled and, between the two us, we explained to her that even though those touristy places are now open to Cubans (for the legal prohibitions have been lifted), one must have a high income in order to enjoy them, and the majority of the population does not.

If you live abroad or have a relative there who sends you a monthly remittance, or if you’re lucky enough to have a profitable business, then you can get to know the island through and through and feel as proud as you want about our landscapes, historical and recreational sites (hotels, marinas and quays).

The young woman felt a little embarrassed and a tad uncomfortable when she heard that, with the salary a Cuban earns at work, no one can save up to spend even a few days at a place like Trinidad (a colonial city in Cuba’s interior she liked). She told us that that is how she managed to travel to Cuba, by saving up for two years.

Since Cubans have the habit of laughing about everything, including their own frustrations, we lightened the atmosphere with a bit of jokes. Later, smiling, I said to her: “So, what do you think? I’m as much of a foreigner in my own country as you are.”


Mercedes González

Mercedes González Amade: I'm 38 years old and physically challenged. I struggle daily in this life be it on crutches or in a wheelchair. I have a 12-year-old son who is my main inspiration and for who I have fought tooth and nail. I hold a position in the governmental institution that serves the handicapped in my part of the capital. In the afternoons I practice tennis well away from where I live. My intention with Havana Times is to help spread the desire to live and to do so with dignity, especially to persons with physical and motor difficulties.

15 thoughts on “Cuba: “I’m a Foreigner in my Own Country”

  • Oooooooooooookay. Then you should know better than to make false comparisons. If you live in Pocatello, Idaho, I would not be surprised about the dearth of African-American doctors and lawyers in the phone book. But if you lived here in the Bay Area of California, you’d sing a different tune.

  • JD, Moses. JD.

  • Not at all, I’m a registered democrat and don’t particularly like Limbaugh. However your attitude shows quite clearly that you see success (however you measure it) as beyond your reach. And yes, I do believe in Horatio Algers stories. Hard work alone however does not bring wealth, you also need education and a bit of luck. Just ask Oprah (by the way she’s do know that right?). Or did she not work hard? Regardless socialism has always proven a failure, especially in Cuba. It’s why they have been streaming over to the US for the past 50 + years. We Cuban’s have let our feet do the walking and have made a success of ourselves in this country. Thank God my parents and the foresight to flee the Castro tyranny when I was a young child.

  • …I’m not here to correct your misconceptions then.

  • Informed, I suggest that you change your moniker to “Ostrich”. What about the fact that the top 1% in America now has 40% of the wealth ? What about the ubiquitous lament that the American middle class is shrinking like a glacier in Greenland ? You must be one of those Limbaugh listeners who still believes in Horatio Algers stories and thinks that Billionaires accumulate their wealth through hard work. Most Americans now know better. You confuse fairness with envy and hate.

  • Ok Dan, How about these:

    – John Paul DeJoria lived in his car before John Paul Mitchell Systems took off
    – Ursula Burns grew up in a housing project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and now runs Xerox- Howard Schultz grew up in the Brooklyn projects before discovering, and now leading, Starbucks
    – Richard Desmond went from living above a garage to creating an empire that published magazines like Penthouse
    – Oprah Winfrey turned a life of hardship into inspiration for a multi-billion-dollar empire (…even you must know her)

    …and we can replace Bill Gates with Steve Jobs of Apple fame, who was adopted at birth by middle class parents.

    My point is that Socialism (although Cuba is a strange Castrista brand of authoritarian dictatorship) is the politics of envy and hate, as is clearly seen in your comments. I certainly do not begrudge these people their wealth, as they certainly earned it. They can do what they please with their hard earned money. Why would you (as you infer in your original comment) take it away?

  • What? I live in the US. I said county, not country. The fact that the above-mentioned societies exist, says nothing. What is their membership ? I don’t think that there is a single Black MD in my town, let along surgeon. BTW, in Cuba POTUS would be a mulatto. Only one of his parents is Black.

  • Bill Gates ? Wasn’t his father an extremely wealthy corporate lawyer? Wasn’t his mother on the Board of IBM ? That must have been some garage.

  • Dan, I don’t know what percentage of surgeons in the US are black. However if the information is important to you perhapse you should contact the Society of Black Academic Surgeons ( and find out. Feel free to visit other professional black associations such as National Black Trial Lawyers Association ( and The Association of Black Engineers, Scientists and Technicians ( while you’re at it. You may be surprised at what you find.

    Although the fight against racism is an ongoing one in the US, the only thing your comments shows is that your country has much, much more further to go than the US

    ….by the way, POTOS is also black

  • First of all, SEVEN years to get your degree? That says a lot. There are lower-priced hotels in Cuba that are increasingly within reach of the budgets of more Cubans. The resort in Cayo Santa Maria that I spoke of was $180 per night all-inclusive double occupancy. That is still way too high for 99% of Cubans. What ‘da frick does the percentage of black surgeons in the US have to do with anything? The US is 11% African-American. Cuba is 35% Afro-Cuban. On just this statistic alone, Cuba SHOULD have at least three times as many Black surgeons as a % of population. Do you live in Los Angeles County, Chicago, Atlanta, or Washington D.C.? Of course not, not with just 2 black lawyers. I don’t hate to compare the US to Cuba, favorable or otherwise. I hate stupid or false comparisons. The fact that a guy who takes 7 years to get his college degree does not understand my criticism is hardly ironic. It is to be expected.

  • I believe the author’s intent is to point out the hypocrisy of the Castro dictatorship who for 50+ years has played a shell game with the Cuban people.
    Your attempt to compare the inequalities in Cuba with those in the US fail to hit the mark. The problem is not one of “inequality”, it is instead one of freedom, or lack thereof in Cuba. In the US someone like Bill Gates can start out in a garage and grow to become the Richest man in the world. Under the Castros, as with most progress, that kind of success would be impossible.
    That same lack of freedom relegates to the very large list of “verboten” web sites and publications in Cuba.

  • Gee, that’s funny. I spent 7 years and lots of money getting my degree and have worked for decades since. There are only 3 of us in my family, but I still can only afford to go to Cuba every other year anymore. Once there I stay with family I spend a few days at Guarda La Vaca, but I can’t afford too many. The hotel, though, is usually full of Cubans. There are foreigners too, but, take note Moses, zero black foreigners. Why do you think that might be ? And by the way, what percentage of surgeons in the US are black to begin with? There are 700+ attorneys in my county. 2 are black. I know you hate to compare the US to Cuba unless the comparison is more favorable to the US, like number of flat screen TVs per capita or something, but sometimes it seems that you don’t appreciate the irony of your criticisms.

  • And the purpose of this article is what? To criticize disparity in income or to point out that Cuba has not been able to provide social equality for all? If the complaint is that racism and economic disparity exist, then let’s admit that Cuba has not achieved a degree of socialism some of us thank all people deserve. Most people now know that disparity in income is far greater in the United States, then most of the world. So are you suggesting that the super rich and powerful in the United States and elsewhere, should or will voluntarily give up their privilege and luxuries which depend on a avast supply of cheap goods and low wages? If so, you are either terminally naive or a shameless propagandist.

  • “All [ ] are equal, but some [ ] are more equal than others”

  • My best friend in Cuba is a 48-year old neurosurgeon from Guantanamo. He is also a black (super prieto!) Cuban. Two years ago, my wife and I invited him and his wife to join us for three days in Cayo Santa Maria. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort where most of the guests were either Canadian or Russian. Countless times the staff asked my friend and I if they could see our plastic bracelets identifying us as guests on the all-inclusive plan. It was incredible. My friend is responsible for saving or improving the lives of countless Cubans who come from all over the country for his surgical knowledge and skills. He has consulted on surgeries for some of the highest-ranking Communist Party members and military staff. Yet he does not earn enough money to enjoy, at best, a three-star resort in his own country (they say four stars but they have never been to nearby Cancun). He is awarded, from time to time, free passes to some of these places after a successful surgery on some high-ranking Cuban elite but has never just gone on his own money. Even worse, when he does go, because of Cuban racism, he is treated as if he doesn’t belong there. Hilariously, after I let drop that he was a top surgeon in Havana, one of the same hotel staff that had earlier asked to see his wristband, ‘dropped by’ for a little medical advice. We did notice a handful of other Cubans there as well. Most of them were invited guests of a foreigner or Cuban expats back on the island for vacation like us. So much for equality under socialism.

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