PHOTO ESSAY: Cuba is changing

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PHOTO ESSAY: Cuba is changing

by Vanessa Baird

Cuba is busy. There are new businesses every day. The communist government does not control the economy so much. Now it allows small private businesses. Cubans have more freedom – to travel, to buy and sell goods and services, even to sell their homes.

They are in the middle of a very big 311-point programme of change. People have said it is a ‘life or death plan to save the revolution’.

Now the leader is President Raúl Castro, Fidel’s younger brother. And the government is welcoming foreign investment.

But the average Cuban earns less than $20 a month. And a million state jobs might go.

So, has this small Caribbean communism country finally become capitalist? Will they lose the great social gains of free education and healthcare for all? Or are the country’s leaders trying something very different?

October’s New Internationalist travels to Cuba and examines all this. We ask ordinary Cubans what they think and what changes they want to see.


Che looks over a square in the southern Cuban town of Cienfuegos. ‘Your example lives. Your ideas continue,’ it says. But will the ideas continue? Cuba is in the middle of a lot of economic and social reform that not everyone agrees with. It means workers lose their jobs, they encourage small private businesses and ask for foreign investment.


‘Can I take your picture?’ I asked a very old woman in Cienfuegos. Her old face was so full of character. ‘Oh no, I’m ugly’ she said. ‘Take a picture of my granddaughter, not me.’ So here she is. Average life expectancy in Cuba is high, 79 years – like the US.


The Literacy Museum tells the story of 1961, when Cuba used armies of students to teach everyone to read and write. By the end of year the country had 96% literacy (from 60-76%). When I visited, the staff were preparing for a visit from US teachers (it was difficult for them to come because of the US embargo).


This stained glass window near Australia, Matanzas, is from a time when Cuba was the largest sugar producer in the world. The sugar industry ended after the USSR fell apart – it was the main market for their sugar. Today, Cuba only exports a small amount of sugar, most going to China.


The poster makes the people want to fight. And in the background is the chimney from a petrol refinery in Cienfuegos. They are making this bigger with the help of Cuba’s biggest friend, Venezuela. Cuba imports a lot of the fuel it needs from Venezuela. And Venezuela imports Cuban doctors.


‘What will happen to the classic old cars? Will they go?’ I asked a taxi driver driving of a new Peugeot. ‘Oh no!’ he exclaimed. ‘We won’t let them go. They are part of our past, part of our culture.’ They often buy spare parts via Mexico.


Geycel and her mainly female band play their own Cuban ‘fusion’ inspired by Brazilian, Jamaican, US as well as local music. The words of the songs are about ‘love and double meanings’. And politics? No! she says. Geycel works as a paediatrician. More than half of Cuba’s doctors are women.


‘I’ve been to Spain’ says Margarita who runs a very small hotel. When the restrictions on travel ended, she visited her daughter in Madrid. ‘I didn’t like it! I prefer it here. Cuba is much nicer, much safer. In Spain poor people have to leave their houses. Not here.’

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).