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Habana_hotel_Sevilla_from_wikipediaI've just returned from a 10-day trip to Cuba and I must say that the misery and decay I encountered in Havana (Habana Vieja) exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. From above the city looks like after an air raid...kuba01

{Lunch at our hotel, NH Parque Central}

...and from the ground, it doesn't look that much better:kuba08kuba05
Havana has two markets. One for Cubans, who pay with pesos, and one for tourists who pay with "pesos convertibles" (1 CUC = 1/0.9 USD = 1/1.3 EUR). The latter offers hotel rooms, gastronomy, good cigars, cabs, and souvenirs (interestingly, often made out of Coke-cans). Prices are the same as in developed countries and are actually even higher when adjusted for quality. When it comes to food, there aren't too many items I'd recommend. Salad is tasteless and beef is unchewable most of the time. So you'd better stick to fish. Cohibas are a bit cheaper than abroad, except if you live in tax crazy Canada.

The market for Cubans is a dispersed fleamarket. Even the "big" stores look like closed stores with a couple of items forgotten in the window. I highly recommend not visiting a local butcher: You wouldn't feed your dog with that stuff.kuba03kuba02kuba04
Résumé of La Habana: Being in a pool on the roof-top of a hotel with a view over Habana has some charm. But when going outside there is not much to do and you'll soon be annoyed by all those people offering cheap cigars and CDs with Cuban music. One can easily get the impression that the whole town is a tourist rip-off: Paying more for a cab ride or a Mojito as you would in your home country and being expected to give a tip worth more than a Cuban earns per day made me angry.

Unfortunately, Cubans don't have access to "world news" (no foreign newspapers, no internet, no satellite dishes), so the people I talked with were actually quite happy with their situation ("We don't earn much, but as opposed to other countries education and health care is for free!" (translation mine)) and couldn't see that people in developed countries who are considered as dirt poor have a way higher living standard (I didn't have the impression that they were afraid to speak openly).

The rest of the trip I stayed on the beach in Varadero, a tourist zone that is closed for Cubans (only those who work there can enter). The hotel was really nice (Iberostar Varadero) and the service was excellent. In case you like being on the beach and food and a fast and cheap internet connection isn't your highest priority, it's the place to be. kuba06

related items: Cuba: Aftermath: Legionella
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Radone (guest) meinte am 25. Feb, 18:19:
In what way are they miserable? If the people are happy with their situation and free to speak their minds, why would material possessions matter? Now, if their impoverishment also came at the price of substantially shortened lives and high infant mortality rates (the statistics of which are not clear and probably unreliable/distorted in Cuba), then that's a different thing. 
Evan (guest) antwortete am 25. Feb, 19:01:
It is not the government's role to choose the values of its people. If you wish to live simply, so be it. But forcing its citizens to shun material possessions is as immoral as forcing them to embrace them. 
Radone (guest) antwortete am 25. Feb, 21:10:
Agreed. Govt. has no significant role in dictating what kind of material possessions a person should/should not have. That's not the point of my post. The blog indicated that the people of Cuba are miserable. I'm simply trying to understand on what basis the author makes that claim, since he later on goes on to say they're happy, but too ignorant to understand their impoverishment ie they'd be even happier if they had 'stuff'.
So, I wasn't really speaking of the Cuban govt/economy so much as questioning that last implied assertion: material wealth brings happiness. For me, it distorted the rest of the post. 
Mahalanobis antwortete am 25. Feb, 23:36:
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I just didn't have the "cojones" to ask arbitrary people one the street. Most people I talked to actually worked in the tourism industry (waiter, cab driver, beach guard, pimp, etc.). I thought that they would be honest enough to generalize. Merriam Webster defines misery as "a circumstance, thing, or place that causes suffering or discomfort". By strolling through the streets (take a look at the pictures) and by passing some villages on my bus trip from Havana to Varadero I have seen really nasty living conditions. Since you refer to "substantially shortend lives" I can only add that one hardly sees elderly people on the street. So what do they do? Stay at "home" and do nothing (as everybody else)?

Yes, you are right, my two contradicting statements completetly destroy the "flow". But I never expected that this post would attract 5000 vistors within the first 24 hours, therefore I didn't spend too much time to make this post intellectually pleasing. It's just some unfiltered reflections. And if I had written in my mother tongue (German), I probably would have had more time to check for consistency. (But again, thanks for pointing out). 
Hunt Johnsen (guest) antwortete am 26. Feb, 01:37:
I wish my German was as good as your English!
Thanks for what seems a very candid and unbiased view of our favorite people's
paradise. Somehow the Hollywood celebrities don't mention the less than delightful aspects of Castro's Socialist Utopia. Good Job! 
SFC Cheryl McElroy (guest) antwortete am 26. Feb, 13:26:
Good article!
It probably wouldn't have done you any good to have the ""cojones" to ask arbitrary people on the street."

You wouldn't have gotten uncensored responses anyway. They don't have contact or access with the outside world (as you pointed out) and they're generally afraid of being arrested for speaking "too freely". 
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Solch verfallene Häuser gibt's übrigens auch hier in Südspanien. Zum Glück ist die Auswahl grösser in den Supermärkten und was Kommunikationsmittel betrifft. ;-) 
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¿Que tal?
Ha pasado mucho tiempo desde la última vez que me escribiste...

In wärmeren Ländern trifft man vielleicht auch deswegen leichter auf desolate Häuser, da dort eine gute Isolierung gegen Kälte und Wind nicht unbedingt erforderlich ist. Betreffend Kommunikationsmittel: Das Hotel hat 4 Euro für eine halbe Stunde megaslowen Internetzugang verlangt. Angeblich kostet das Telephonieren nach Europa 3 Euro/MINUTE. Die nächste Handyrechnung wird (traurige) Gewissheit bringen... 
A reader (guest) meinte am 10. Jul, 08:54:
Cuban misery
I have never been in Cuba. But I suppose that even the richest western country, say Switzerland, or take Austria if you like, independently from its political organization would become as miserable as Cuba is now, after an embargo by half of all other countries in the world that lasted 50 years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_embargo_against_Cuba We can make no comparison. A question: why the United Nations embargoed Cuba, but never embargoed South Africa during the apartheid years or Chile during the years of Pinochet's dictatorship? Another question: every film shows Manhattan's skyscrapers. Every tourist sees them, the Central Park, the Greenwich Village. Have you ever seen New York's outskirts in New Jersey? 15 years ago, just some 5 years after Reagan's roaring Eighties, I visited New York arriving there by train and passed through those outskirts. I remember thinking to myself: "Is this one of the largest and most famous cities in the world or the poorest town of third-world countries?" Before that enlightening visit I had always wondered why the rich western countries so harshly fight against Cuba, the former S.U., China. Why should they care about the political choices of other countries? Liberalism should not respect their free will of living the way they want? Visit the USA and you will understand immediately. But not Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon by plane and Santa Barbara Beach. Just go a small bit further, only 10 kilometers from what your Lonely Planet guide says. You will say to yourself: "I've already seen all this. It was... It was... Yes, got it. It was in Havana, Cuba, those miserable buildings and shops..." 
A reader (guest) antwortete am 10. Jul, 08:57:
Still me
Maybe we should read some pages by Noam Chomsky (an American! An MIT professor!). We would understand much more... 
A reader (guest) antwortete am 10. Jul, 09:13:
Chomsky's views on the Cuban embargo
Please, read just the following 7 lines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noam_Chomsky%27s_political_views#Views_on_the_Cuban_embargo 
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I think Cuba is such an interesting country. There is definitely so much good and bad history here. So many things to get from a trip to this country. A trip of a lifetime. The Internet Marketing Expert Blog 
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