CUBA: Questions about Normalization, Religion, Birds, Dance…
June 14, 2015 Leave a comment
My blog on April 20, 2015 was written on the first day of my Eco-Cuba Network tour and listed questions others and I had about Cuba. This blog post will provide some answers and refer to prior blogs as well. Answers to other questions will appear in future blogs.
NOTE: You know that I am not an expert on Cuba (nobody is, really!) and that Cuba is not perfect, right? I’ll state my bias straight away: when discussing countries or other entities that I see as trying to improve conditions for people and the planet, I tend to be less of a critic and more of a “cheerleader” (and no, I was not a cheerleader in high school). I am interested in seeing and spreading the word about strengths, hope, and power at “la base” — which is how they say “grassroots” in Spanish — and in the leadership too.
Q. What are hopes and fears of the Cuban people related to normalization of relations between the US and Cuba? And how do they differ according to age group?
A. Improved trade and development are the main hopes. The main fear — and it seems to be more a fear of mine and others in the U.S. — is that Cuba could be overrun by the U.S. and by capitalism in general.
Cuba has strengths and strategies for avoiding being overrun. See the list of Cuba’s strengths in my 5/11/2015 blog, especially #2 about the Foreign Investment Law. HERE
A big hope is that opportunities for trade will improve, and that their trade deficit will be reduced or eliminated. Currently other countries across the globe trade with Cuba, but the U.S. has imposed undesirable consequences on those countries, banks and other businesses. So, sometimes they’ve decided to raise prices for Cuba to compensate for the risk, or to not do business with Cuba at all.
Cubans hope for an improved ability to obtain embargoed products that have some U.S. components, such as medicines and medical equipment, building materials, and technology. They hope for an improved ability to sell Cuban products to the U.S. market. The blockade hurts people in both directions. For example, Cuba has developed a medicine for diabetes that U.S. doctors are asking, “Why can’t we obtain that for our patients?”
As to development, they want to build day care centers (for children and their growing population of seniors), housing, infrastructure for agriculture, etc. Many of those projects were stalled at the beginning of the “special period” in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Foreign Investment Law excludes foreign investment in education and healthcare and I say “Hip Hip Hurray!” to that.
Q. Religion and spirituality. Is it valued? respected? embraced?
A. I was surprised that people are free to practice their religions. (There’s a lot I didn’t know about Cuba.) The country has become more and more open to religions: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Santería, and others. Recently the Communist Party’s prohibition against accepting believers as members ended. Although the most common religion is Roman Catholic, there hasn’t been as much catholic-based “liberation theology” as in many other Latin American countries. People are pretty secular, however, they may have their children baptized, but they don’t often attend or get married in the church. Popes have been welcomed for visits, and BTW, they have been objecting to the U.S. embargo.
Q. Is the dual currency system getting better or worse for the Cuban people?
A. I don’t know! All I can say is that the Cuban people and government are making economic changes, as individuals and as the government. Related to these changes, I was startled to learn that Raul Castro, who became interim head of state in 2006 and official head in 2008, said, “We have to wipe out forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where you can live without working.”
Q. Will I be able to see some of the wonderful birds that are in Cuba and nowhere else in the world? Like the Bee Hummingbird (zunzuncita).
A. Yes. I saw the Tocororo (Cuban Trogon), and the Cuban Green Woodpecker among many others. The Tocororo is the Cuban national bird and is a striking blue, red, and white, the colors of the Cuban flag. (Do the colors sound familiar?)
However, the world’s smallest bird, the Bee Hummingbird, will have to wait for the hope-for next time I go to Cuba. Then I’ll go to the Zapata National Park, near the Bay of Pigs. I found more information about it HERE.
Q. Will I get to dance, salsa, bachata, cumbia, cha cha, rumba, bolero, whatever?
A. Yes, 3 times, with primary grade children, down syndrome young people, and at a meeting of a local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. (I’m guessing the dancing started in the night clubs after I went to bed!) We politicos in the group thought the CDR would be a chance to see neighborhood politics in action. Nope — they had a party for us! One Cuban said that if all Cubans would strive as hard for excellence in the economy as they do in music, Cuba would solve all its economic problems. Hmmm.