Cuban billboards refer to the embargo as a "blockade" and the longest genocide in history -- referring to limitations of medical supplies and equipment imposed by the ban.
After the Revolution, the hotel also served the military with a series of underground bunkers, tunnels and artillery meant to protect Cuba from American attacks.
In much of Havana, these beautiful buildings are the exception, not the norm. Decades of economic hardship, coupled with a limited supply of raw materials, has made it difficult for the government to keep up with the crumbling decay of its housing infrastructure (the government owns almost all property in a socialist society). As the country slowly opens up its city to foreign investors and companies, pockets of rapid development and restoration are appearing. You can begin to see the promise of what is to come, but there is still a long way to go...
The U.S. was a huge exporter of cars in the 40's and 50's. After the embargo, it became much more difficult to import them, and most new cars available came from the Soviet block -- small, tin-can kinds of cars that don't last. As one of our tour guides put it "if a Cuban can't fix it, it cannot be fixed" -- and fix cars they do! Most of the classic cars you see today have been significantly overhauled, and most have new engines and internal parts which keep them on the road today. The majority of engines are now diesel, which makes them more cost efficient to run, but brings with them an unfortunate amount of diesel exhaust that pollutes the streets of the city.
Photo Credit: Lisa Lorenz
Photo Credit: Lisa Lorenz
The faces of cuba
The people of Cuba are wonderful -- gracious, genuine, and friendly, especially to visitors. Tourism is critical to the economy, and it is clear that mistreating their country's guests will not be tolerated (well... beyond minor infractions like adding extras onto restaurant bills and over-paying for cheap cigars - both of which happened to us). In this socialist state, the 'Policia' are ubiquitous, almost always come in pairs, and their presence is felt by everyone. At first unsettling, we soon came to appreciate the added feeling of security they afforded us.
As Americans, we were unsure of how we'd be received by the Cuban people given the history of our turbulent political relationship. Turns out Cubans easily separate those who "run" the countries from those who simply live in them. Their faces would light up when we said we were from Los Estados Unidos. Yes, we bring money, which certainly doesn't hurt (see above on minor infractions). But more importantly, the presence of more Americans in Cuba represents HOPE. Hope that our two countries, that are so close geographically, but so far apart, are coming closer together. Hope for a stronger economy, an end to the embargo, and the ability to finally travel outside their country's border.