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By Michael Ritchie

HAVANA TIMES — It’s an oft-repeated desire among many US citizens: “I want to visit Havana before the we ruin it, with McDonald’s and Starbucks on every corner.”

Well, fellow US citizens, after visiting Havana three times in a year since “the opening,” I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that Havana has not yet changed.

The bad news is that Havana has not yet changed.

Despite a noticeable increase in US visitors, tour buses and cruise ships, Havana remains one of the most beautiful, historic and exciting cities on earth. The people— the heartbeat of Havana— are still warm, welcoming and, on the surface, happy!

Healthcare for every Cuban is free. Education— through University level— is free. (As a result, Cuba boasts one of the highest literacy levels in the world). And housing is mainly owned by its dweller — though much housing is being sold off or rented out through American companies like Airbnb.

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Havana is a totally safe destination for tourists, as well as for locals. The reason is simple: Fidel and Raul frown upon guns and drugs. Neither are tolerated or present on the island.

But the more time one spends in Havana, the more one realizes how difficult daily life is for Habaneros.

You will never find everything you need at a market. I frequented the Focsa building and one day they’d have beer, the next day none. Same with bottled water. There are very few canned foods and none frozen. There are no cartons of eggs— you buy those loose at a separate vegetable market. Meat is, in many areas, available only from a street market where the butcher cuts it in the open air, flies and all, in 95-degree heat.

The famous Cuban coffee is mostly exported, while locals get by on coffee cut with roasted peas.

There are still two currencies— Cuban pesos and CUCs, convertible pesos— which is confusing for tourists and merchants. And the Cuban government still imposes a 10 percent tax on the conversion of US dollars. I keep reading on the internet that this has changed. But it has not.

The exquisite Spanish/Moorish architecture omnipresent in Havana is unparalleled anywhere in the world. But it’s all in a grand state of decay, due to time and years of salt water decomposition. The city’s lead architect has done wonders with many buildings but too many remain in great need of renovation and restoration.

Streets are pot-holed and torn up everywhere. Air pollution is gagging, due mostly to the famous Classic American cars which have no catalytic converters, as well as double-length city buses.

The delivery of fresh water is in great peril as all of the city’s water pipes are leaking and in need of replacement. No, don’t drink tap water. Or use ice in your mojito.

And now the PCC (Cuba’s communist party) is warning of an impending “Second Special Period” due to the cutback of Venezuelan oil. This will mean power outages and mandatory employee work reduction to save power. The average Havana resident still earns only the equivalent of $30 U.S. dollars a month.

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The Cuban government also stated recently that internet connectivity in Cuba will improve only “as allowed by the economy.” Read: No time soon.

Will Havana change at the hands of US visitors?

Not any time soon. My projection to repair Havana: At least 10 years.

Before there can be a McDonald’s or Starbucks on every corner, the Raul Castro administration will have to commit to rebuilding all of the city’s infrastructure, beginning with replacement of the entire sewer system (which entails tearing up and replacing every pipe and street in Havana) and ending with the restoring facades of all its buildings. All of which will take money and time. It will also take equipment which Cuba does not manufacture and is not currently able to import.

Si, Yanqui, you may visit Habana without any fear that it may have changed.

Just remember, it has not changed.
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*Michael Richie is a freelance journalist and published author living in Key West, Florida, USA.  “I’m grateful to Havana Times for giving me the opportunity to relate my experiences with the daily life in Havana, the good and the not-so-good, as well as the wonderful nature of the Cuban people.”

 


29 thoughts on “Has Cuba Already Changed?

  • August 28, 2016 at 7:54 pm
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    The idea of having a few Cubans coming to come to visit other countries like Canada, France ,Holland, and certain other countries is something I would love to see happen. The OFA. brought tractors in from the UK. directly after farmers in Canada were told how much cheaper diesel massey tractors were compared to gas ones in On. in the early sixties . I know of a few farmers who even agree to have Cuban stay for up to 7 months and live with them and understand what works and does not work.

  • August 28, 2016 at 12:45 pm
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    I think that you Steve are correct in indicating that the Canadian farmer has much more than a “level playing field” and little to complain about.
    ..
    “The farmer will never be happy again,
    He carries his head in his boots,
    For either the rain is destroying his grain,
    Or the sun is destroying his Roots.
    ..
    Poor fellow his pig declines to grow big.
    You know what these animals are.
    His favourite heifer is very much deafer,
    And the bull has a chronic catarrh
    ..
    You may speak, if you can,to the querulous man
    Though I wouldn’t attempt to be funny.
    And if you insist, he’ll give you a list,
    Of the reasons he’s making no money!
    ..
    Just about sums it up Steve! If you refer to UK Nuffield Scholar reports of 1976, you will find one:
    “To endeavour to correlate any common factors which may occur in herdsmen in high yielding dairy herds”
    It makes interesting reading comparing herds, herdsmen and other factors in the UK, the US and Canada.
    As you are probably aware, about 3-4 Canadians per year are awarded Nuffield Agricultural Scholarships. The program covers UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, France, Russia and Brazil. Maybe one day it will be available to Cubans. You can contact them through the web.

  • August 28, 2016 at 12:23 pm
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    Upon reflection regarding the question posed by the title of Michael Ritchie’s article:
    “Has Cuba Already Changed?”
    I think Cuba has already seen all the change that the Castro family communist regime will permit.

  • August 27, 2016 at 10:15 pm
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    I get yields better than county average I used milk 150 cows .In Canada we use TMR. ration feed byproducts from beer making but do it wisely. In Canada many of us do plan to state where manure will go and what fertilizers will be used and when. We use a lot corn silage in feed rations. We have much cheaper land than England and cheaper fuel. Some people came over from Holland set up dairy farms in Canada and found a much different climate. They had to do things a little different to succeed in Canada. The clover is used to build up the soil on farms that do not have livestock not as feed source. In Canada we have 3 major supermarket chains excluding Wallmart . We also have Costco and other food wholesaler unlike Cuba today. I have been to court against Monsanto and seen the way they push around the farmers . GMO seeds need to used in moderation and with more controls. Holland has manure quotas because the small amount of farmland to spread the manure on. They are in the processing of limiting fertilizer to be applied to crops per acre. Some people who work for Walmart in Canada get part of their rent paid by the government a GST rebate every 3 months plus every month from the government $500.00 per child The cost social programs in Canada to Walmart employees in Canada last year was more than all the taxes paid by Walmart and their employees. This was not the case with Costco and despite Costco paying on average higher wages has prices equal to those at Walmarts on many items.

  • August 27, 2016 at 7:39 pm
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    The main problem of using clover is of course bloat. I have a friend in Scotland who uses a lot of lupin however in silage and he has well over 500 cows in milk, all of which is made into ice-cream on farm.
    The use of nitrogenous fertilizers in Europe has led to ever improving production of milk per acre. In Holland for example the Dutch manage to feed a cow both summer and winter feed on less than one acre. In my experience with over 450 cows in milk in the south of England, we got down to 1.1 acres per cow. The grazing system which I introduced was so-called ‘set-stocking’ a concept resulting from the work of Dr. Dick Baker at the Grassland Research Institute at Hurley. Dick who I knew from schooldays was only able to try it on a very small scale at the GRI, but it worked admirably when introduced on a large one.
    The counter argument against nitrogen use in Holland is that it reached a level of almost 400 units per acre and the run-of caused a lot of algae in the canals. To me that is pollution. The whole argument about fertilizers and GMO, ought to be about degree of usage, rather than condemnation of either. Agriculture as an industry is not about a ‘way of life’, it is about producing food to feed the world and doing so in an economically sound manner.
    Despite having friends who produce only vegetable crops (including potatoes), I am sufficiently old fashioned to be a supporter of mixed livestock/crop farming. But doing that efficiently does require a marked degree of scale. For example around 100 dairy cows per man, the use of expensive equipment to grow 4000 lbs of wheat per acre and bed growing of root crops producing over 30 tons of potatoes per acre. I see no more reason for protecting the so-called ‘family-farmer’ than I do for protecting the corner store from the supermarket.
    There is I agree that essential codicil which ought to be adhered to the urge to maximizing production and that is: AND LEAVE THE LAND IN A BETTER STATE THAN YOU FOUND IT.
    My academic qualifications are irrelevant. My views are not based upon them alone, but upon prolonged experience.

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