Since the 1960s, travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens has been restricted. Twenty-year Kiwanis member Ron Harland recently spoke about his experience in visiting the mysterious country at a recent meeting of the Perry Kiwanis Club.
Harland is a private pilot and has his own plane, and he traveled with his wife, Diane, to Cuba in March of this year. They were able to travel with the Flying Dentists Association. The group used single- and double-engine airplanes.
The group left from Naples, Fla., and traveled 200 miles to Havana. There were 20 private aircraft holding 63 people, and they flew caravan style.
Harland said they had to obtain a license from U.S. authorities in order to go, and each traveler had to pay $50 to Cuba for Cuban health insurance while they were there.
Harland discussed some of the history between Cuba and the U.S. There was an arms embargo that began in 1958, when Fulgencio Batista was the dictator. In 1959, after several years of conflict, Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara forced Batista and his government to flee. This led to a total embargo by the U.S. when relations between Castro and the American government deteriorated.
While in Cuba, Harland had access to the internet and email, which are monitored by the government.
The unit of money in Cuba is the Cuban peso. There is one peso for Cuban citizens and another peso for tourists.
Harland showed photographs of his trip and discussed conditions in Cuba. They had a government-provided guide who took them on a tour of Havana.
Cuba declares itself to be a socialist country. The government owns and controls everything. The U.S. government tried many times to assassinate Castro, but it always failed.
Harland stated that all Cubans make $20 per month no matter what occupation they work in. Physicians and cab drivers make the same amount of money each month. There is almost no incentive or opportunity for Cubans to improve themselves.
An exception to this rule has been with restaurants and beauty shops. On a limited basis and with permission from the government, some individuals may be able to open their own restaurant or beauty shop. These people can make eight times the amount of income per month the others earn. These owners can only operate one business and may not expand.
The government owns all the housing, and you can only change hands of property with permission of the government.
There are still a lot of U.S. cars from the 1950s in Cuba. Most of these have had their engines replaced with engines from Russia or other places. They have been adapted to work in these cars. Tourist resorts do have newer cars that they use to transport guests from many countries.
The guide told the group that health and dental care is free in Cuba. The guide stated that although dental care is free, if you need a cavity filled, you may need to bring your own material for the filling.
The citizens live in very modest homes. Harland showed pictures of Havana. Most of the buildings are in very poor repair. There are a lot of older buildings dating from before the revolution. They were once very fancy but now are run down.
Other buildings built in the 1960s look very communist-era Russian, which are also in ill repair. The only buildings in good repair were the government buildings.
Harland said socialism has kept the quality of life in Cuba at a very low standard. Everybody is at the common low level. They have very little opportunity to improve themselves and medical care, although free, is very poor. Harland said he is amazed that there are people in the U.S. who believe socialism would bring a better quality of life in the U.S.
An area of Cuban economic development has been tourism. There are several tourist resorts that cater to Canadians and Europeans. Cuba is a very beautiful country with a tropical environment.