Living on La Revolución in Cuba

I spent exactly one week in Cuba so I can’t claim to know it. What I will say is my own subjective experience in Cuba.

Che at the Plaza la Revolucion. Rosebell Kagumire photo

In Cuba, you will hear the about la revolución many times. I stayed in Habana, the capital for 3 days and it was quite a place that gives a historical experience but leaves you with a heavy heard.  In my homeland that I have traversed over the last five years, I have seen pain, suffering and poverty but I can say I have not seen Ugandans,  save for war affected north and Karamoja, line up for food.

Everything is fried and if you ever find beef then you know it is a miracle. The few cattle, I read somewhere, are owned by the government. Everything is rationed, communist style. For the ordinary Cubans is lining up whether it is at a bakery or ‘supermarket’, at a clothes store (which are not many) is the norm.  In Cuba I came to realise what food insecurity is all about.

Before I left, I had this well crafted romanticized view of what Habana would be like, the cigars, a Mojito, a Havana club and I never heard of the other side. There are few streets in old Habana and centro which are well polished for tourists, and then a few blocks, the reality of life here hits you. I was alone so I found asking myself many questions and having no answers. Questions about the dilapidated buildings, the sewage on almost every street, human waste not just on the streets but on the Capital building that is a major feature of the city. I had to face that yes, spitting is part of this country and you won’t move even five minutes without finding someone spitting on the street sometimes right in front of you.I was reminded of a story that goes around Kampalaa that Rwandan President ordered that you can’t spit on the streets in his country. While some say that’s a dictatorial sign having seen Habana streets, I say such a ban is ok.

For me some of these streets felt like being at some police post in Uganda with that stench of human waste that engulfs you on your first step.

The revolution is just what many Cubans reminisce about, dream about and live on. The revolution was indeed a great success but more than 50 years downs the road, when all those revolutionary figures are long dead and those surviving are in the evening of their lives, what’s in it for the current generations and generations to come. To have a government control everything you want to be, what you eat, whom to talk to and to seek permission move out of that country is absurd.

How long can you live on history or how much should history control you? When Fidel Castro decided to hand over power to his brother Raul Castro in 2009 , there was a hope that the younger Castro would bring some reforms but not much has been done. So the talk of revolution is a comfortable talk, you can hardly criticise the government here and evidence as the country has so many political dissents in jail.

One of the houses I stayed at was this 60 something old man who had fought in Angola and all we talked about was the need to fight America’s influence just like the Cubans have done.

I agreed to the fight but the fight against foreign control must be balanced by developing our own countries. To me the concentration on a foreign ‘enemy’ many times makes us forgot to question events in our own countries and that’s what makes us remain with only history to hold onto.

The poverty right in the heart of the capital made me wonder whether countries like US have a clue about who bears the burden of their fights to isolate countries like Cuba.  I only  saw the isolation of a people and my trip was abit depressing on one part. Alcohol and tobacco are the only cheap things here.

Well I saved the best experiences for last. Habana is about museums and history, out of Habana  great scenery, tobacco fields and sugarcane plantations, I ventured out to the colonial town of Trinidad which is very beautiful with good beaches close by. Coming from Uganda I am mesmerized by the ocean beauty.

Capitolio building in Habana

The I visited the Che Momument in Santa Clara where his remains are buried and where all the stuff he used, knives, guns, radios are. Che here is a demigod whom I gladly ‘worshipped’. He made a big impact in Latin America and the world and this is seen in his work in the Congo where he worked with charismatic Patrice Lumumba. His pictures from Congo hang in the museum and there’s a street in this little Che town called Lumumba which excited me becuase in Kampala there’s Lumumba avenue .

The whole of Cuba is living history from all continents. From Spanish colonial influence to heavy African culture so I was more than glad to expereince the African culture that survived slavery and evolved over centuries. The Afro-Cuban dances are amazing and I was many times thought to be Cuban. Well I may be way far lacking in nationalism but I say  Hasta la Victoria Siempre if that victory is about people getting to live in a more dignified way. And i hope Cuba will take steps in better direction.