Slow change come to Cuba

Source: Mon, 29 Feb 2016 15:00 PM
Author: Chris Arsenault/Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Havana – A year after Cuba and the United States agreed to restore diplomatic relations, changes are creeping into Havana, as the island’s people hope for economic improvements without losing socialist public services on which they have come to depend.

Cruise ships are now docking in Havana’s port, and the old city is buzzing with tourists and the business owners who cater to them. New hotels are going up, as is the cost of living. Cubans who have connections and capital are turning their homes into small hotels, opening restaurants or becoming taxi drivers to serve more than 3.5 million tourists who visited the country of 11 million last year.

But state employees in the communist-run country still earn about $30 per month, and are seeing their relative living standards decline compared to Cubans who work with tourists.

“I am an old school communist, and even I believe we need change,” said Rol Rogilio, a retired policeman as he cleaned his motorbike in old Havana. “Every day will be more difficult,” he said, fearing that Cuba’s popular, universal health and education systems are under threat from American-style capitalism.

Others are more optimistic, particularly young people, who have never known a president other than the current Communist party chief Raul Castro, or his ageing, iconic brother, Fidel.

“I want the country to grow, more tourism means more business,” said Cecilia Rodriguez who runs a stall selling souvenirs to cruise ship passengers. “As a small business woman, I want more political freedom.”

Others worry that Cuba will become little more than a giant hotel, overly dependent on tourism financed by imports from abroad, without developing self-sustaining industries or even producing its own food, much of which is already imported.
[Chris Arsenault/Thomson Reuters Foundation]

Travel financing for this report was provided by the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ)