“The revolution looked really good on paper, but reality is different. Reality is always different.”
Being a taxi driver is one of the best jobs on the island. Doctors, engineers, professors all earn a government regulated salary of about $30/month. Taxi drivers can earn several times more than that - even after paying the state $700/month for a taxi license. My driver Yoel inherited his 1954 Chevy from his father. He washes it everyday. He has replaced every part several times over. He opens and closes the door for every passenger not because of chivalry, but because he does not want anyone slamming his doors.
Because of the US embargo Cubans do not have easy access to new cars or new car parts, so Habanero mechanics had to learn to keep cars running without proper parts. Today many of the classic cars run on newer Toyota engines. Cars using the original engines rumble so loudly they are called cafeteros or coffee percolators.
Grocery shopping in a country with inefficient agricultural land and a US embargo is arduous and often disappointing experience. Each Cuban has set of monthly ratios, five pounds of rice, one pound of beans, oil, eggs, ect. Anything beyond the bare minimum can be difficult to find or afford. It is not uncommon to stand in line for hours just to leave with one item. Regular shortages of basic items underscore the many problems facing Cuba’s centrally planned and US-embargoed economy.
Open-air meat market in Central Havana. The swinging water bottle bats flies away.
La cuidad de columnas. Havana is a city built by Europeans looking to escape the heat in a hot country. They built pockets of shade under every building.
CDR stands for Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. It is a system of neighborhood snitching founded during the Revolution and still quite extensive through Cuba. It is similar to our “If you see something, say something” campaign against terrorism. The CDR is also involved with neighborhood services such as day care and health care. They have ensured that there is a working doctor in every block in Havana. .
Even with all its difficulties, it is argued that the revolution saved Havana. Saved it from becoming a soul-less high-rise beach comminuted like Miami Beach or San Juan. At the time just before the revolution government officials wanted to replace antique buildings in Havana Vieja with modern architecture, widen narrow streets to make them more accessible to heavy automobile traffic, and turn Spanish plazas into parking lots.
Spanish colonists built Plaza Vieja in 1559. During the Batista regime in the early 1950s it was turned into a parking lot. In the 1980s, when Old Havana was listed by UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage site, architects began work to restore the Plaza Vieja to its original condition.