I have travelled a lot, and many of the places I’ve visited I also forgot easily. Cuba was different. I travelled with my friend Solhild, who has travelled even more than me, and she said the same thing. We still both feel that we have to try to take it all in, after two weeks since we went there. While there, I told my friend that had to read more about Cuba, because I realized how much I did not know about the country. Never before have I felt unsafe while traveling, never before have I felt so ill-prepared and confused. Never before have I felt poverty so close, and the understood better how lucky I am. It was all the small differences added up that made me realize how it must be to live a place where you get by on so little: The Cubans with their rationing cards, the lack of milk in the few cafeterias we found (especially in Havana) because it is so expensive. The lack of wifi, making it hard to contact loved ones. The man who tried to rob my friend in what we thought was the most tranquil places in Cuba we visited (Vinales) and how almost no one talked English. The children in the street who played until 9 or 10 in the evening (because they did not go to school?). The masses of hungry dogs and cats. So now I have read more, and am truly surprised at just how much I didn’t know and wish I knew before I came to the country.
Here is some information taken from Wikipedia
Starting from the mid-1980s, Cuba experienced a crisis referred to as the “Special Period”. When the Soviet Union, the country’s primary source of trade, was dissolved in late 1991, a major supporter of Cuba’s economy was lost, leaving it essentially paralyzed because of the economy’s narrow basis, focused on just a few products with just a few buyers. National oil supplies, which were mostly imported, were severely reduced. Over 80% of Cuba’s trade was lost and living conditions declined. A “Special Period in Peacetime” was declared, which included cutbacks on transport and electricity and even food rationing. In response, the United States tightened up its trade embargo, hoping it would lead to Castro’s downfall. But the government tapped into a pre-revolutionary source of income and opened the country to tourism, entering into several joint ventures with foreign companies for hotel, agricultural and industrial projects. As a result, the use of U.S. dollars was legalized in 1994, with special stores being opened which only sold in dollars. There were two separate economies, dollar-economy and the peso-economy, creating a social split in the island because those in the dollar-economy made much more money (as in the tourist-industry).
A Canadian Medical Association Journal paper states that “The famine in Cuba during the Special Period was caused by political and economic factors similar to the ones that caused a famine in North Korea in the mid-1990s. Both countries were run by authoritarian regimes that denied ordinary people the food to which they were entitled when the public food distribution collapsed; priority was given to the elite classes and the military.” The government did not accept American donations of food, medicines and money until 1993, forcing many Cubans to eat anything they could find. In the Havana zoo, the peacocks, the buffalo and even the rhea were reported to have disappeared during this period. Even domestic cats were reportedly eaten.
Extreme food shortages and electrical blackouts led to a brief period of unrest, including numerous anti-government protests and widespread increases in urban crime. In response, the Cuban Communist Party formed hundreds of “rapid-action brigades” to confront protesters. The Communist Party’s daily publication, Granma, stated that “delinquents and anti-social elements who try to create disorder and an atmosphere of mistrust and impunity in our society will receive a crushing reply from the people”.
In July 1994, 41 Cubans drowned attempting to flee the country aboard a tugboat; the Cuban government was later accused of sinking the vessel deliberately.
Thousands of Cubans protested in Havana during the Maleconazo uprising on 5 August 1994. However, the regime’s security forces swiftly dispersed them. A paper published in the Journal of Democracy states this was the closest that the Cuban opposition could come to asserting itself decisively.
Continued isolation and regional engagement
Although contacts between Cubans and foreign visitors were made legal in 1997, extensive censorship has isolated it from the rest of the world. In 1997, a group led by Vladimiro Roca, a decorated veteran of the Angolan war and the son of the founder of the Cuban Communist Party, sent a petition, entitled La Patria es de Todos (“the homeland belongs to all”) to the Cuban general assembly, requesting democratic and human rights reforms. As a result, Roca and his three associates were sentenced to imprisonment, from which they were eventually released. In 2001, a group of Cuban activists collected thousands of signatures for the Varela Project, a petition requesting a referendum on the island’s political process, which was openly supported by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during his 2002 visit to Cuba. The petition gathered sufficient signatures to be considered by the Cuban government, but was rejected on an alleged technicality. Instead, a plebiscite was held in which it was formally proclaimed that Castro’s brand of socialism would be perpetual.
In 2003, Castro cracked down on independent journalists and other dissidents in an episode which became known as the “Black Spring”. The government imprisoned 75 dissident thinkers, including 29 journalists, librarians, human rights activists, and democracy activists, on the basis that they were acting as agents of the United States by accepting aid from the U.S. government.
Though it was largely diplomatically isolated from the West at this time, Cuba nonetheless cultivated regional allies. After the rise to power of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1999, Cuba and Venezuela formed an increasingly close relationship based on their shared leftist ideologies, trade links and mutual opposition to U.S. influence in Latin America. Additionally, Cuba continued its post-revolution practice of dispatching doctors to assist poorer countries in Africa and Latin America, with over 30,000 health workers deployed overseas by 2007.
End of Fidel Castro’s presidency Edit
In the autumn of 2008, Cuba was struck by three separate hurricanes, in the most destructive hurricane season in the country’s history; over 200,000 were left homeless, and over US$5 billion of property damage was caused.
As of 2015, Cuba remains one of the few officially socialist states in the world. Though it remains diplomatically isolated and afflicted by economic inefficiency, major currency reforms were begun in the 2010s, and efforts to free up domestic private enterprise are now underway. Living standards in the country have improved significantly since the turmoil of the Special Period, with GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity rising from less than US$2,000 in 1999 to nearly $10,000 in 2010. Tourism has furthermore become a significant source of prosperity for Cuba.