A gaggle of U.S. tourists enters the physical therapy room of a nursing home in Havana. I glance to my right and, catching my eyes, an elderly woman asks, “Do you speak Spanish?” I tell her that I do, and with hope in her voice she inquires, “Did they lift the blockade?” My heart drops a little. No, I lament, they haven’t. A change in U.S. law now allows U.S. citizens to legally travel to Cuba on cultural and educational trips, hence my presence in her home, but the embargo still stands. We discuss her son living in Florida, the high cost of medicine and the injustice of the embargo, and I depart.
“For what I’m saying to you, they could call me a counterrevolutionary and throw me in jail for ten years,” he tells me. Part of me wonders then as to the wisdom of his decision to open up to a relative stranger. But there is nothing particularly incendiary about his comments. Merely discussion about the economic situation. How one cannot make enough money to cover expenses, let alone save money. How the increase in tourism plus the policy of allowing family businesses to open that cater to tourists is creating a growing class divide. How the leaders are corrupt, or in his words, are “friends helping one another out” at the expense of the average Cuban.
I want to write about my recent trip to Cuba while acknowledging I am far from being an expert and was only there for eight days. Similarly, I seek to avoid generic platitudes about the pride or resilience of the Cuban people, or to lay blame for the current situation solely at the feet of either the U.S. or Cuban governments. Like Silvio above, I wonder what adjectives, harmonies and stories to use to do justice to describe the country.