The ‘Americanization’ of Cuba- not so much, at least not yet….

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Just returned from a week of r&r in Varadero, Cuba, on one of the best beaches in the world.

My wife and I first visited our favorite resort (Los Cactus- formerly Superclub Varadero) in 1996.

It is the 11th time we have stayed here and the 15th time we have vacationed in Cuba. Our trips to Cuba have been strictly for the purpose of recharging the batteries, (and getting away from the kids for a week-we love our children dearly however we also enjoyed rekindling things with just the two of us)

 

One of the things that attracted us to Cuba I must admit, and still to this day, is the value for our hard- earned dollars. For a little over $1100 each; a full week on an all-inclusive resort. And yes, by North American standards the resort would be rated no higher than a 3, based on the rooms, amenities and the food. However, the well-kept grounds with many species of plants and the beach are 5-star.  And as well the Cubans we met and have become friends with is a major factor. Beautiful people!

 

I must say though that when the opening up of US relations with Cuba was declared by the Obama administration, it did send a shiver down our spines. One of the things we really love about Cuba is the lack of Westernization. No Walmarts, , Costco’s,  McDonalds, Coca-Cola or any signs of the impressions that bombard us daily, on the commute to work in Toronto. Even compared to a beach vacation in Mexico, it really does make you feel like you are getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  

 

So, this being our visit back in almost 2 years, we were very curious to see what affect the opening up of US relations was having. And I am happy to report, very little!

Now I must admit, we did not go to Havana, and we never have in all the times we visited. (have never mustered up the desire to get off the beach and endure the 5 hours or so in a car to get there and back in a day) But based on what we saw and talking to the Cubans, there were only a couple of tell-tale signs that things are changing.

  1. There are 2 multi-story hotels (approx. 800 rooms) being built
  2. There is now a scheduled daily flight to Miami from Juan Gomez airport (most of the people we saw in that lineup looked like Cubans to me)

It is still a challenge for Americans to fly directly from the US. There is a lot of paperwork involved and a detailed questionnaire with why you are visiting Cuba, could take months to be approved by US officials. Americans can apparently fly to Cuba from Canada no problem, as the Cuban customs have no problem letting Americans enter the country.

 

One of the nice things about Cuba is that things change at a snail’s pace. It will be years before the infra-structure is in place, to accommodate a massive influx of American tourists. The airports will require massive upgrades in the years to come. And construction happens very slowly in Cuba. Main reason is probably a lack of raw materials.

 

However, the labor force also has an attitude. No six sigma or continual improvement process thinking is in play here. There is a saying which translated goes something like this; “they pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work”.

 

Comments

Tubularsock Added Feb 11, 2018 - 5:25pm
Great post, Stephen.
 
Tubularsock has always been interested in visiting Cuba and may still find the time.
 
Having few U.S. Americans there is a grand advantage for Tubularsock.
 
If the Cubans were smart they'd keep them out BUT then how'd Tubularsock get in?
Autumn Cote Added Feb 11, 2018 - 5:50pm
Please note, this article would be a lot easier to read if you added some white space between paragraphs.  
Leroy Added Feb 11, 2018 - 5:55pm
Darn Canadians mess up everything...;)
 
I won't go without my Costco.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:01pm
Thank-you Autumn. 
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:01pm
Now Leroy, I think you could for a week or two. :)
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:03pm
Thanks Tubular! You really should check it out. The old cars also give it a surreal atmosphere. 
wsucram15 Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:04pm
My brother has been all over the world, he told me the most beautiful water and beaches he had ever seen were in Cuba while he was stationed there.  He rented a house  with other commanders and he told me best fishing, crystal clear water..and few people. He also said that Americans would ruin it...
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:11pm
Can certainly verify your brother's experience. You feel very safe there.
A. Jones Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:25pm
One of the things we really love about Cuba is the lack of Westernization.
 
I hear that!
 
It's so intoxicating to be an affluent westerner from a capitalist country like Canada or the United States, vacationing in a poor communist country like Cuba, where you can lord it over poor people while pretending to sympathize with their poverty.
 
we were very curious to see what affect the opening up of US relations was having. And I am happy to report, very little!
 
Translation: "I'm happy to report that the autocratic government in Cuba still keeps its native population in poverty while encouraging tourism from rich, western, capitalist countries. It's a wonderful, two-tiered society, with no hope for those in the bottom tier to move into the top-tier. And the poor are so friendly, too. God, I love that!"
 
Ah, the humanitarian impulses of the affluent, western, lefty. So noble.
Katharine Otto Added Feb 11, 2018 - 6:53pm
Stephen,
Thanks for the scoop on Cuba.  I've been fascinated with it for a long time, especially since I read Cuba:  A New History, by Richard Gott.  There were also Harper's and ecologist articles about how the Castro administration has focused on agriculture and medical education.  Instead of sending the military to foreign countries, Cuba sends health professionals.  
 
I have a lot of respect for Castro, despite US government hype, and would love to visit and maybe even live there some day.  
 
That Cuba has remained unspoiled by American commercialism is a blessing the Cubans probably don't appreciate.  
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 7:37pm
Mr Jones, thank-you for your perspective, and can only hope this is based on talking with the Cuban people, as opposed to an ideology based on a narrative that many want you to believe. Mine is based on knowing Cuban people for over 20 years and watching them grow up.  Never once was their ever a mention of Castro hoarding wealth. 
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 11, 2018 - 7:41pm
Katherine you need to go check it out, and then assess if you would want to live there. You very well may however there are challenges. Getting things like a tensor bandage for a sprained, for example, is not easy. 
opher goodwin Added Feb 12, 2018 - 4:42am
I'm glad it hasn't changed much yet. I still have hopes of visiting Cuba.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 8:11am
Opher it is definitely a culture you should check out. Imagine a place which has been kept somewhat isolated from the Western culture that has evolved since the late 50's. Since the tourism industry has been promoted (that happened after Russia left) the people have been influenced by the tourists- mostly Canadian but also a lot of Europeans as well. However not at a state level- pretty cool! 
Michael B. Added Feb 12, 2018 - 8:23am
Interesting post, Stephen! I like how you mention the conspicuous lack of a U.S. presence, as opposed to exploring a typical product of Soviet-style Communism that remains as backward-assed as ever. It makes perfect sense, as one of the first things Fidel did was to confiscate and nationalize all businesses in Cuba, regardless of who owned and operated them, and turned them over to incompetent party hacks.
 
I was glad to see the U.S. and Cuba take steps to thaw the relationship, and hope it continues, although I have absolutely no interest on going there; I have enough beaners around me, lol. It still amazes me that we almost went to nuclear war over this stupid-ass fucking spic island.
 
To the person who said that Cuba deploys health care professionals instead of troops, they obvious don't study history very well. Cubans were among the top proxies of the Soviets and sent thousands of troops to Africa during the Cold War.
opher goodwin Added Feb 12, 2018 - 8:35am
Stephen - it certainly has appeal. It sounds a little frozen in time and has a decaying charm I'd like to witness.
Michael B. Added Feb 12, 2018 - 9:02am
BTW - I'm sure the usual Communists and neo-Luddites of WB will enjoy this thoroughly! LOL!
Dino Manalis Added Feb 12, 2018 - 9:18am
Sounds like a splendid trip, that's great, but Havana has to reform to improve its people's lives.  They should just look at the suffering in Venezuela and look North for hope and money.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 5:50pm
Thanks Michael for your comments. I agree that too much fuss is/was made over Cuba, especially now with the Russian influence gone. 
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 12, 2018 - 6:00pm
Thanks Dino. I agree there is certainly room for improvement however at least there is no starvation, and healthcare is available. The people want better and more, no question. Tourism is a major economic engine. The population is 11 million, and somewhere around 3 million tourists visiting per year.
Leroy Added Feb 12, 2018 - 10:43pm
Maybe my perceptions are wrong, but I always thought that Cuba had been heavily influenced by Americans and that influence remains today.  It just happened decades ago and Cuba is frozen in time.  I don't know if it is true, but the old cars mentioned above are mostly American cars, so I have heard.
 
I'm all for building some skyscrapers there and putting in Walmarts and Costcos to make it livable for the long term.  I wouldn't mind seeing a few Tim Horton's either.
A. Jones Added Feb 13, 2018 - 5:23am
Mr Jones, thank-you for your perspective, and can only hope this is based on talking with the Cuban people,
 
Yes, it's based on talking with Cubans who managed to leave Cuba during the revolution and the few who were able to escape afterward. You might try talking with some of them sometime. It might wipe away some of your smugness and denial.
 
The median income of Cubans is about $15.00/month, or about 30 cents a day. They don't go to French-owned Club Meds at 12-mile long beaches: those places are for affluent Americans and Europeans who can then brag amongst themselves how nice it is not to see a American style commercialism . . . all the while the rank and file Cubans are eager to escape the maudlin poorhouse that Castro and Che built, and if possible, get to live among as much crass, American style commercialism as possible. All working class Cubans get mandatory food ration cards that are strictly enforced. Most of their protein comes from eggs, since meat, milk, cheese, ice-cream — items any American takes for granted, so easily purchased at any number of places — are "delicacies", to be indulged in no more than once a week.
 
The Cuban communists learned from their Soviet masters, as their Soviet masters learned from their Nazi enemies NOT to keep careful records of which dissidents got imprisoned and executed for "political crimes" against the regime. The Nazis paid dearly at the Nuremberg trials for their meticulous record keeping, so the Soviets and their various puppet regimes like Cuba found it expedient not to keep such careful records. However, what can be gleaned from the few records that exist (including informal ones like diaries, eyewitness reports. etc.), several tens of thousands — possibly over a hundred thousand — Cubans were murdered during the revolution and its aftermath. Che himself presided at La Cabana prison as judge, jury, and executioner. I just love the fact that so many on the American left admire him for his cool beard and jaunty angle at which he wore his beret.  The left really knows how to concentrate on the relevant essentials of a political figure ("Sure he  murdered lots of innocent people who didn't want to go along with communism and lose what little they had — but look at his cool hat!").
 
Cuba has suffered a continual attrition of physicians to other countries in Latin America, which is one of the main reasons Cuban doctors like to volunteer for "foreign mercy missions": it's a chance to get out of Cuba, possibly for good if they can manage it. To slow this leakage of trained professionals, the Cuban government does what their former Soviet masters used to do in such instances: make sure the doctor's family members remain at home, where they can be used as insurance against the possibility of defection to another country.
 
Katharine Otto admires journalist Richard Gott while comfortably in denial over his radical, leftist politics, his personal meetings with Che Guevara, and the accusation (probably true) that he had been a paid "Agent of Influence" for the Soviet Union. He denied the last charge but resigned (or was invited to resign) from his post at the lefty British paper, The Guardian. Naturally, anything he wrote about Cuba must be completely true and unbiased, given his sterling credentials and background.
 
and would love to visit and maybe even live there some day.
 
Bye, bye! If they censors don't block it, send us a postcard when you're settled in.
A. Jones Added Feb 13, 2018 - 5:26am
Cubans were among the top proxies of the Soviets and sent thousands of troops to Africa during the Cold War.
 
Yep. For example, Cuban troops in Angola.
 
How quickly the left forgets. (But that's part of the "decaying charm" of the left.)
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 6:56am
Mr Jones,
You have strong opinions and there is some truth to your perception of reality, which is based on Cuban's who escaped before/during the revolution. But again your narrative is based on thoughts from those who do NOT live there NOW. Mine is based on those have lived there before, during and in the decades after. IMO your narrative has some truth however goes offside and is tainted by a group of people(a pack) who believe that anything to do with socialism must be totally evil. 
You seem to keep coming back to my views being tainted by my inclusion in a pack called leftists. Perhaps i am a leftist, never really thought of myself as that, however i guess if the shoe fits.
I do try and base my views of the world on facts, which I agree is not easy with so many professionals on both sides I guess trying to emotionally whip people up to believe their view of the world. 
I do agree with you Mr Jones on one thing; it is not a good thing that the Cuban's desire to travel is/has been squashed by the government as much as possible. 
However it is not impossible. Our good friend after 6 months of paperwork and interviews, was allowed to live in Holland and then Belgium, with his girlfriend who he met as a Lifeguard. He stayed there 7 years, had a child, and after hard work in construction and enduring the cold(to him) he decided to return to Cuba. Stayed there a couple of years an d now lives in Miami. So it is possible! But harder then it should be, I agree.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 7:03am
Leroy,
I do not see the American influence at all in the Cubans I know. Yes the cars are American-pre 1958, however those are diminishing over the years and replaced with European vehicles. The Cuban mechanics who keep those old cars running with limited resources are amazing. We did ride in a 56 Desoto with a Cuban couple who have been friends for decades. 
The Costcos and Walmarts will no doubt come eventually. However perhaps not in my lifetime. 
A. Jones Added Feb 13, 2018 - 6:40pm
But again your narrative is based on thoughts from those who do NOT live there NOW.
 
Your narrative is based on limited contact with other affluent Europeans and North Americans treating themselves to a vacation at a plush Club Med, as well as being based on conversations with politically connected Cubans who don't live on government food rations; that all amounts to a very narrow slice of Cuban reality. Additionally, that narrow slice is filtered through your leftist ideology reassuring you that if Manuel the Cuban bartender at Club Med is happy and smiling while fixing you a Hemingway Mojito, everyone else in Cuba must be happy and smiling, too.
 
Here's a slightly wider slice of Cuban reality regarding the island's working class. Not exactly Club Med for wealthy, white Canadians.
A. Jones Added Feb 13, 2018 - 6:47pm
Perhaps i am a leftist, never really thought of myself as that
 
They all say that. Deny, deny, deny.
 
After his kidnapping by Mossad agents, Eichmann declared he had never thought of himself as anti-Semitic (he was merely "following orders").
 
however i guess if the shoe fits
 
Pardon the mixed metaphor, but your shoe fits like a glove!
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 13, 2018 - 9:11pm
Mr Jones 
Your view of the world, if it makes you happy, carry on. 
I really do not understand your pent up anger, you are pulling things out of your ass, all to diss someone you do not know, and label him as part of some group who meet regularly to plot the ruination of society.  As Spock would say "this is not logical". 
A. Jones Added Feb 13, 2018 - 11:19pm
Your view of the world, if it makes you happy, carry on.
 
Not the world. Just my view of Cuba and the North American left. But please — don't let political prisoners, censorship of the press, and the lack of freedom get in the way of your denial. It would be shame to cast a shadow of doubt over your next vacation.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 14, 2018 - 7:50am
Well Mr Jones, if your purpose is to have me cast doubt on my views, which I do try to base on the facts as I see them, well good for you.
We all deny facts to a certain extent, it is human nature. (if they do not fit with pre-conceived notions of reality- usually based on a group think- not an individual using logic) I am no different than any of my fellow humans, we are all the same at the core. Perhaps my 20+ year relationships with Cubans are with the ones who work at resorts. Perhaps they have it a lot better than those who grow up in Havana or other more destitute remote areas. You have caused me to think and thank-you for that. 
I do try and call things as I see them, keep the emotions out of it, and definitely strongly question the thinking of the groups or packs of people- whether religious, political or what have you. (and there are many notions of what you label as leftists, which I do not align with)
Think freely and learn something every day. It keeps one curious and happy. :)
opher goodwin Added Feb 14, 2018 - 10:34am
Stephen - it seems that anyone who is not in favour of guns, Trump or gross inequality is a leftist.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 14, 2018 - 5:46pm
Opher, i think that would be about 65% of the Western World, so I guess we are in the majority. 
I am curious though about the other 35%, and why they think the way they do. 
A. Jones Added Feb 14, 2018 - 7:01pm
I do try and call things as I see them, keep the emotions out of it, and definitely strongly question the thinking of the groups or packs of people- whether religious, political or what have you.
 
Unless, of course, you happen to be on vacation at a plus Club Med. Then that "inquisitive mind" you just bragged about goes into hibernation.
Michael B. Added Feb 14, 2018 - 10:44pm
Stephen, I gotta ask - From what you've experienced, what do Cubans think about the West in general and the U.S. in particular? I'm sure us White Devils come up in conversation from time to time, lol.
A. Jones Added Feb 15, 2018 - 2:45am
And then you might ask them, "Why do so many Cubans want to risk life and limb by escaping Cuba's socialist paradise and coming to the United States with all of its crass commercialism? Don't they know how lucky they already are?"
 
Go ahead, ask them. And please post their replies.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 7:22am
Michael, great question! I certainly do not pick up any great disdain for the US in general, or anywhere for that matter. The difficulty for them to travel certainly makes them want  to explore the outside world, and yes I believe they resent the fact that the can't. But it is not so much the red tape of applying for exit visas, it boils down to cash and they have limited resources. My buddy who left Cuba for 7 years(Holland and Belgium), sold Cigars to tourists on the beach and built up some money that way. He worked hard at construction jobs, and did end up back in Cuba. (and is now in Miami)
Many would like to check out the glamorous US lifestyle for sure. But over the years many have, and the stark reality of scratching and clawing just to survive in another country, does get communicated back, that the grass is not always greener....
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 7:28am
Mr Jones, 
Not a 5 star club Med that my budget allows me to stay at, and in fact you will not find any 5 stars in Cuba. By US standards the place we stay at is a 3 star at best, however the beach, the myriad of plant species throughout the grounds, and the beautiful people working at the resort, are 5 star.  
I do try and remain inquisitive but you are right it is a week of downtime for us, but I am a musician and do some jamming with the bands. Now that I truly love!
Phil Greenough Added Feb 15, 2018 - 4:06pm
The title of this article is misleading.  In your own words, very little has changed, which I can only deduce means Cuba has not been Americanized.  I also take exception to your negative connotation of America.  If it weren’t for the fact Walmart, Costco, McDonalds and Coca-Cola weren’t such superior companies, on your drive to Toronto you’d pass Canadian corporate images.  So what you're complaining about has more to do with Canadian preferences, than anything America did.  
John Minehan Added Feb 15, 2018 - 6:26pm
Cuba was a fairly affluent country prior to Castro and had fairly long stretches of representative government (albeit, with none of those governments lasting all that long).  The Castro Brothers and Batista's last administration really set both of those back.
 
My father was a Merchant Mariner and spent a lot of time working on ships in the Caribbean before WWII.  He liked Cuba and its people.  I wish them luck.
 
The fact that Cuba had a very different path since 1959 than most of the Caribbean or Latin America may give it different (and perhaps better) options.     
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 8:10pm
Thanks John for the insight on that period. Near as I can tell, it boiled down to the decline of the sugar industry which was at the root of their economic problems in the early 50's Things got very corrupt during Batista as resources got scarce, and set the stage for the Castro revolution. While he and the movement had great aspirations, the country was basically bankrupt when they took over. 
John Minehan Added Feb 15, 2018 - 8:14pm
They took the money that was available---mainly from the Outfit.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 8:18pm
Phil, 
Sorry if the title mislead you, however the ending says 'at least not yet'. It will happen, however it will be slow. 
I really did not mean to say or infer anything bad about those companies. And yes see the same in Toronto, but point is that it is nice to take a break/feel like you are somewhere else. Even if vacation in Mexico, you still see the Costco near the airport, just like back home.
But if that is what you want when you travel, do not visit Cuba. :)
John Minehan Added Feb 15, 2018 - 8:22pm
An earlier thought . . . .
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 15, 2018 - 8:45pm
That is a great post John, very insightful- thx for the link- i did not know one can do that.
Michael B. Added Feb 15, 2018 - 9:55pm
John M., Bill K., and you Stephen, are pretty much the coolest dudes here as far as I'm concerned. I wish I was more even-tempered like you guys, lol!
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 16, 2018 - 6:47am
John, how do you provide a link the way you did to another post? 
 
While on the 'how to' topic, do you know how to provide a picture in your post as I see some do? 
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 16, 2018 - 6:52am
Michael, that is a great compliment thanks so much! 
I try and be mindful vs emotional when responding. However I do have to fight the initial gut response, to respond emotionally. And that means think it over for a while first. :)
A. Jones Added Feb 16, 2018 - 6:53am
While on the 'how to' topic, do you know how to provide a picture in your post as I see some do? 
 
I've never seen an image in the comment section; only in the New Article area.
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 16, 2018 - 7:28am
Mr Jones, I assume it is that little link icon near the font ones, so I guess I should just take some time and figure it out. :)
(however still be a working stiff, I find it a hard to take the time to even post and comment- however that is my challenge) 
Now, back to work......
Thomas Napers Added Feb 17, 2018 - 3:42am
If there is one thing I’ve learned since joining Writer Beat is that most of the rest of the world despises us, with this article being another example.  I personally think the Cuban people would be much better off with some American influences in their lives.  However, if living in squalor and always in fear of government oppression is preferred, well, I suppose you’re entitled to your opinion. 
Jeffry Gilbert Added Feb 17, 2018 - 8:03am
They'll do well to continue to resist DUHmericanization as long as possible. Its a cancer. With any luck at all it won't be long until Cuba's neighbor to the north is a smoldering nuclear ash. 
John Minehan Added Feb 17, 2018 - 8:07am
"John, how do you provide a link the way you did to another post?"
 
It is the last icon after the U . . . .
John Minehan Added Feb 17, 2018 - 10:40am
Stephen, It looks like the document may not be there . . . .
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 17, 2018 - 10:48am
Experimenting above with link to photo of me on the beach, it is a url so can only attach a photo via web drive
John Minehan Added Feb 17, 2018 - 11:03am
This may be OBE, but can you save it as a jpg . . . .
Stephen Hunter Added Feb 17, 2018 - 1:18pm
yeah i need more education on that as it linked to my One Drive folder, not just this file. I did save as Jpeg but still when opened it links to an album of all jpegs i saved in one drive.
A. Jones Added Feb 18, 2018 - 6:39pm
Mr Jones, I assume it is that little link icon near the font ones, so I guess I should just take some time and figure it out. :)
 
The link took allows a commenter to post a LINK. In the comment section, one can post a LINK to an image, but I've never seen an actual image in a comment.
 
One can, however, post an actual image in the New Article section.
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 5, 2018 - 1:36am
A. Jones, re:
""One of the things we really love about Cuba is the lack of Westernization."
 
I hear that!
 
It's so intoxicating to be an affluent westerner from a capitalist country like Canada or the United States, vacationing in a poor communist country like Cuba, where you can lord it over poor people while pretending to sympathize with their poverty."
 
I am constantly impressed by the coincidence of
 
 
arrogance and ignorance
 

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