The 1959 revolution under Fidel Castro brought some successes and failures to the island of Cuba. Perhaps the most noticeable success is the literacy rate. At the time of the revolution literacy was somewhere around 70%. Fidel mobilized an army of thousands – some were teachers but all could read – to teach the illiterate. Students were required to write a letter to Fidel to prove they could write. Today, the literacy rate in Cuba is 99.7%. By contrast, the US literacy rate is only 86% as reported by the US census. Personally, I find this hard to believe and I wonder if there is some difference in the measurement of literacy.
Another area of success is in the development of a rich culture, particularly in music and dance. Cuba has also succeeded in the field of medicine where they rank second in the world in number of physicians per capita with more than 2.5 times the USA.
However, as one might expect in a country where most things are run by the government, there are a lot of regulations and red tape. Our guide told the story of how it took him three years to get a motorcycle he purchased from another individual registered in his name. All our tour guides and drivers worked for the government. They said that Cubans had to have two sources of income to survive. I will have to say that the Chinese manufactured buses we rode in were comfortable and clean. Education is free through graduate school as long as you continue to do well. The requirement to pay back your education is to serve two years in the military or to work your first three years in a government specified job and location. In this way, they can provide teachers and doctors in the less desirable parts of the country. The economy is clearly struggling with most buildings in some state of decay. Stores outside of Havana seemed few and far between.
But Havana is truly an attractive city. Dr Lori of the History Channel is one of the enrichment lecturers on this leg of the cruise. According to her, Havana has the most architectural diversity of any city in the world.She said the cathedral was the best example of Spanish Baroque architecture anywhere in the world. I found the exterior to be one of the most attractive churches I have seen. The stone is cut from blocks of coral in the Gulf of Mexico and marine fossils can be found in them.The Havana skyline. I thought the smoke was from a fire. Sadly, it is actually the smoke from one of their power plants!The Spanish built forts on both sides of the harbor to protect the city.There are many colorful buildings.There are also many colorful people.They use canon barrels inserted in holes in the ground to block vehicular access to streets. Here one has been removed and placed at the side of the road to permit access.A street band with singing and dancing.
We had lunch in a private restaurant and dinner in a government restaurant. While both were attractive, the food was dry and boring in both of them. We went to the famed Tropicana night club after dinner. It is a Las Vegas review type of show with elaborate, colorful costumes utilizing lots of feathers. Admission included a cigar for the men, a flower for the women, a welcome drink, a bottle of rum for every four people, a Cuban cola, and nuts. The show is outside with stages in the front and on both sides and dancers coming out into the audience as well. It seemed like a cast of thousands, but it was probably only 50. It was a lot of fun!
We stayed at a hotel overnight in Havana. The first thing I heard when I entered the room was a brief chirping sound. Of course, my first thought was that we were under attack and would never hear properly again. After a few minutes the chirping repeated for a few seconds. I am now thinking the smoke alarm battery is dying and I need to call maintenance. I was fully committed to finding the source of the chirping which finally turned out to be a bird outside the room. I was greatly relieved!
We found Havana to be an appealing city with very attractive buildings and green spaces. Under the right circumstances, I would like to go back for a week or two.