By Donna Bader*

Foto: Bill Scherer

HAVANA TIMES – Last month I went to Cuba for the third time. I had been there ten years and then five years ago. So much has changed since my first visit. I was surprised to find Cuba bustling with tourists, a some from America, others from around the world.

When I arrived in Havana, I brought a suitcase filled to the brim with donations. Those donations came not just from me but from others in my community on the Oregon Coast. Even though they couldn’t make the trip, my neighbors wanted to help. I brought children’s clothes and toys, bandages, soaps, shampoos, kotex, glasses, and ibuprofen. I delivered them to the Sinagoga Beth Shalom because I discovered the synagogue ran a medical clinic that helped Jews and non-Jews alike.

I met briefly with the Director, Adela Dworin, to deliver my donations. I asked her about religious discrimination in Cuba, especially against Jews. She told me, “Cuba is a wonderful country. We are a community and we help each other. There is no persecution against Jews here.”

Could I say the same about the United States? I live in a country where hate crimes are steadily increasing. There have been vicious attacks against Jews and other minorities. I live in a country where children fear going to school may be a death sentence and worshipping in a synagogue could lead directly to one’s demise.

Once elated by President Obama’s actions in reopening the relationship between our countries with optimism for the future, the Cubans are facing harsher rules, as ordered by President Trump, who seems intent of destroying any success President Obama enjoyed. That includes Cuba. The Cubans see his new rules as an attempt to squeeze their economy by cutting out the tourism upon which they depend.

The Cubans cannot understand why they continue to be singled out when other countries – some of them communist and some ruthless dictatorships – practice lethal human rights abuses without consequence to far greater degree than anything done in Cuba. More than that, Trump seems to admire these bloody tyrants.

They do not call our embargo by that name. They prefer to use the term “blockade” because it doesn’t simply strangle one country. No, the blockade reaches out its tentacles to other countries who deal with Cuba.

Cubans are pragmatists. They have endured suffering for decades. The Cuban people are magnificently inventive in how to cope and make money. Years ago, a woman told me she wanted to visit Cuba while it was still a communist country and before capitalism took over. She felt the Cubans were “pure” and untainted by capitalism. I disagreed. I said the Cubans are better capitalists than we will ever be. Too late for a naive belief in purity. The Cubans know how to make a buck.

They also know that a government is not the same as the people. They are friendly toward US citizens. They understand our President does not reflect the values of visiting tourists. They find American tourists who visit their island are genuinely eager to learn about Cuba’s history and help its people. Traveling will do that.

The Cubans recognize there has to be a change in their economic structure. But I saw vibrant examples of emerging hope.  Poor communities, fully aware of the decaying facades of their once beautiful buildings, have chosen to embrace them and turn them into art pieces. Murals abound. People’s voices can be heard in their art, dance, and music.

They appreciate the aid we offer because it does not come from an attitude of superiority. No, it comes from a heartful desire to help. We visiting US citizens fight the blockade in our own way.

I asked a few Cubans how they see the future? They have had good times and they certainly have experienced the bad times. These times never last either way. They know Trump will not always be President. That belief leads to a hope that another President will crack the door open wide and tourists will come spilling in, ready to boost their economy.

Americans will continue to find ways to help the Cuban people. And the Cuban people will continue to find ways to survive, and even thrive. One day Trump will be forgotten. Maybe not completely. He may well be remembered as the worst president ever and a man whose narcissism almost brought us to the destruction of the planet.  (That’s something to be said for a man who habitually deals in superlatives… the best at being the worst.) 

The Cuban people will continue to reach out to us and thank us for our support. That affair can easily be summed up in one of the most popular tourist experiences, hiring vintage convertible cars to tour around Havana. That experience brings together people who share an exhilarating adventure common to both… driving along the Malecon, the wind in their hair and with smiles on their faces, as they enjoy the beautiful sights of Havana. In that moment, language is not barrier. The color of one’s skin is forgotten. They are simply enjoying a shared experience that needs no words.

*HT guest writer

15 thoughts on “My Third Trip to Cuba

  • .. wonderful and noble
    thing you did Donna! I quite agree with you.
    I did similarly in my 3 trips in 2 years, to Cuba but, by tipping generously everywhere I went while bypassing custom’s regulations?(I hope none of them is reading this remark?). And giving some of my personal effects before leaving.

    But I wonder if you’d do the same -being a jew yourself- for suffering Palestinians living under the brutal occupation of the state of Israel, during your visit there, which I presume you did at least once, I presume?

  • Bush Jr also hated Castro, and during his presidency denied Cuban-Americans the right to visit loved ones in Cuba while revoking cultural and academic exchanges forged by Bill Clinton in hopes of swaying Fidel Castro to make Cuba and the Western Hemisphere safe for democracy by quitting power, but Bush Jr. was a centrist Republican, unlike Donald Trump.

  • On one hand it is unfair to say that Cuban people don’t have their happy moments. Just like everyone else. The world is full of poor countries and bad governments, not unique to Cuba. And in those countries life can still bring little happy moments. Just as in the US, despite the rat race, stress, anxiety, etc., we can still have our happy moments where we forget about those things. Obviously our baseline is ‘higher’ in the US but that baseline only solves some problems. On the other hand it’s naive to say that Cuban people are just as happy as you (the tourist) in that moment, when driving down the Malecon with the wind in your hair–that the moment is one of equality. It’s like saying the person who buses your plate at the restaurant, and says “un placer”, is just as happy in that moment as you are. It’s not really a pleasure to be clearing your plate on a Saturday night while thinking of your kids at home without you. In fact they are working and probably thinking a mix of thoughts, but any good service worker puts on a game face. We all do it at times, no matter what work we do or where we live. But I assume the main reason the driver (in this article) may appear happy is that the tip a driver gets = roughly a month’s income, if the tourist is generous. That is at least a momentary consolation against the undeniably hard life of the Cuban person.

  • I’m so tired of hearing people grumble about Cuba but offer no alternatives. Obama did his best and I thank him for the 3 visits I had there. I loved Cuba but having grown up in Florida, I always knew I would. The people outside of Cuba seem as inept as those inside at figuring out to address issues. It’s like people are just addicted to whining and doing nothing. Hopefully things will get better soon.

  • Donna’s article regarding her most recent experiences in Cuba reflects the common perspective shared by who I assume is a liberal white Jewish woman from Oregon. I don’t mean to offend but believe me that her experience would have been gravely different if she were a Black man from San Francisco (my profile). I have more than 30 trips to Cuba over the last 17 years and a Cuban wife and 2 Afro-Cuban American teenagers. My sons spent summers with their grandparents in Guantanamo when they were younger but now have no desire to endure the unnecessary hardships connected to living even a couple months in Cuba. As economic conditions worsen in Cuba, racial tensions seem to be increasing. These tensions are exacerbated by the widening divide between the mostly white Cubans who have family living abroad and the mostly black Cubans who do not. Overall, despite the beautiful cultural diversions, life in Cuba sucks for most Cubans. As Cubans say ” No es facil…”

  • I love Cuba.. It’s an interesting country, the people, culture, music, etc. I have been there nearly 100 times since 1992. Believe me, I know Cuba. Please don’t blame Cuba’s problems on the USA embargo. Cuba’s problems are the result of a dysfunctional government. The Castros have succeeded in spiraling the country down the toilet for 60 yrs. If you want to hear a truthful explaination, of Cuba’s condition, and the opinion of their government as articulated by a real Cuban living there, Google “CUBA! THE REAL CUBA | RAW DOCUMENTARY” A real Cuban tells it 100% like it is. After listening, tell me is you don’t agree.

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