After a rather long four-year, four-month wait, I visited the island I was raised in. Cuba is known for its timelessness—a deep-seated perception that the antique cars, the 58-year-old communist system, and the people‘s lost sense of hope, have remained intact.
So while I was enjoying my winter break with my father, cousins and childhood friends, I was also observing if anything had changed about the place that saw me grow up.
Not to my surprise, not much has changed. The “positive” differences following the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, such as limited internet accessibility, are a double-edged sword.
But before I go into what changed after Fidel Castro’s death and the closing of the U.S.-Cuba embargo, as well as “wet foot, dry foot” and what the future of Cubans looks like, let’s take a road trip to Pinar del Río.
The night was young when my mother and I started our 87-mile ride from Havana to Entronque de Herradura, a small town in the westernmost Cuban province, Pinar del Río.
I noticed the bright stars in the dark Cuban sky. However, that light wasn’t enough to keep us safe from the risk of hurting the people and animals walking through the narrow national highway, namely the best asphalted road in the country. Said road still lacks street lights and clear road signage, as well as maintenance to fix the frequent potholes.
My mother and I agreed that the pitch-black drive was a bit scary, but in two hours we saw light again in our family members‘ excitement to see us back after so long.
Although my cousins and friends had physically changed, we told the same jokes and played the same hand games. Their disillusionment with the regime’s scarcity of opportunities is evident, but they try to remain happy by gathering friends and walking around, telling funny stories and dancing.
That happiness is oftentimes replaced with repression. Castro’s death was followed by nine days of mourning, in which parties and music were banned, and all eight TV channels aired documentaries and speeches praising the deceased leader as well as communist songs my friends were forced to memorize for school.
Cuban citizens are also deprived of other forms of entertainment such as foreign music, movies, and shows they must pay for and download through an illegal bundle.
The filtered intranet only permits access to content controlled by the government. To even access this limited version of the internet, Cubans must go to a Wi-Fi hotspot and pay two Cuban dollars an hour for a poor quality connection.
Given that most Cubans work for the government and are paid only 12 to 20 dollars per month, the price for just one hour of Wi-Fi is ridiculous. The low, unfair salaries have not changed despite the escalating prices of food and other necessary items.
Not to mention the continuing inability to protest against the government. The nonexistent freedom of speech, expression, or the press. The absence of basic human rights. The light-year distance from any form of technology, democracy, or change.
The recent policy change in “wet foot, dry foot” only reduces the hope that many Cubans, like I myself did, have of fleeing and having a taste of freedom.
The last grain of hope is in the hands of Cubans who must unite to completely redesign the government and possibly, in some years, be free. Only then will the light in the lost talent and efforts of Cubans reign over the darkness of corruption.