African-American Med students find life-raft in CUBA

About seven years ago I first heard of a program that seemed too good to be true!  Simply, the country of Cuba had a program where students could gain their medical education, training and degree at no cost to them.  Med school cost are crippling for most and range from $140,000 – $175,000 and that is just tuition.  When you factor in room & board, meals, supplies and other things the cost can easily skyrocket to nearly $500,000.

My treks started in 2014 and due to needing laser-focus energy on my two topics; Race in Cuba and the Old Negro Leagues in Cuba, I forgot about the program.


Fiction or Non-Fiction

Just like you I love entertainment.  The problem I have is limited time so when it comes to reading or viewing screenings, as a historian I tend to focus on non-fiction or real-life issues.  Maybe that is the reason I prefer documentaries?  The Pan-African Film Festival (PAFF) kicked off its 27th year last Thursday.

Lo and behold one of their features is “Dare to Dream.”  It is a riveting documentary that chronicles med students earning their credentials in Cuba.

(courtesy of Pomona Valley Med Center) Completing his residency at Pomona Valley Medical Center. Resident Year: 2019 Undergraduate School: The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma Medical School: Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina

In 2000, a delegation representing the Congressional Black Caucus had the courage to visit Cuba and meet with Fidel Castro.  Part of their discussion was the pathetic health care African-Americans and other minorities had to deal with.  Later that year members of the Cuban Health ministry visited the group in New York and announced Castro was creating a program for the population affected to complete their studies in Cuba and the cous de gras was there was absolutely no cost.

Approximately half of the initial scholarships were targeted for African-American students.  The remainder were for Latino and other ethnic minorities who came from underserved communities.


The Escuela Latinoamericana de Ciencias Médicas (ELAM) program initially offered 500 scholarships total for US students.  Thus far nearly 200 US students have graduated and nearly 30,000 students from over 100 countries worldwide have benefitted.  IFCO is the organization which identifies and places students in the program.


As for those from the United States, they are placed in hospitals all over, including Pomona Valley Medical Center.


The first class of 1,498 ELAM doctors graduated on August 20, 2005, with 112 from other Cuban medical schools: 28 other countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States were represented by the graduates. The ceremony was led by Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Reportedly attending were Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua & BarbudaPrime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of DominicaPrime Minister Keith Mitchell of GrenadaPresident Martín Torrijos of PanamaPrime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts & Nevis and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent & the Grenadinesas well as high-ranking government representatives of The BahamasBarbadosBelize, the Dominican Republic, EcuadorGrenadaGuatemalaGuyanaJamaicaSt. LuciaSuriname and Trinidad & Tobago.


The documentary has two more screenings before PAFF ends.  To be informed and see for yourself this remarkable program I would encourage you to attend PAFF or purchase the video.

  • Friday – Feb. 15th 4:30pm
  • Saturday – Feb. 16th 6:30pm


Here is the trailer

Dare to Dream: Cuba’s Latin American Medical School from Jennifer Wager on Vimeo.



Aretha Franklin Kicks Off 27th Annual PAFF

Legendary Gospel and R&B artist Aretha Franklin will kick-off the 27th annual Pan-African Film Festival.  The never seen documentary which featured Franklin’s historic album – “Amazing Grace” will finally hit the big screens.  Through all of the years since the 1972 concert was filmed, due to various reasons it had never been shown.

The filming will be seen tonight at 7:30pm at the Director’s Guild located on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.  The rest of PAFF’s extraordinary lineup of independent films showcasing producer’s across the diaspora will be seen at the Rave Cinemark theaters in Baldwin Hills at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping complex.

A little nugget of history

Watts is a community in Los Angeles.  It was always known as a place many came to call home following the migration of African-Americans moving from parts of the South.  In 1965, due to feeling abuse, discrimination and the basic lack of upward mobility, some members of the community erupted and the riot which followed became known as the “Watts Riots.”

Through the years which followed the name Watts became synonymous with anything bad or negative.  As Los Angeles continued to grow, African-Americans moved in greater numbers to all parts of the city.  It was not uncommon to see various media reports mention any place where African-Americans lived in Los Angeles described as Watts.  More specifically some reports mentioned any place south of the Santa Monica freeway as being in Watts!

Historically, that is laughable if not insulting to the many who lived in Watts and were proud citizens.  The community of Watts is fairly small.  The north/south boundary is Firestone (Manchester) to the north and Imperial Highway to the south.  The east/west boundary is Central Avenue to the west and Alameda Street to the east.

The reason this tidbit or perspective is mentioned is many who have come to know about the famous concert Mrs. Franklin performed in debuting  Amazing Grace have listed the origin as taking place in Watts.  Unfortunately that is not correct.  New Temple Missionary Baptist Church is at 87th Street and Broadway and was erected in 1966.  That location has never been in Watts as it has always been in what is known as South Central Los Angeles.


For more information on PAFF and the 150+ screenings, click HERE


Dr. MLK Day 2019 – A reflection

[cover photo - even as the heavy rains started to fall, a few brave souls came to the inaugural opening of the MLK memorial on that historic Saturday, which is known as the unofficial unveiling]

Today millions across the globe joined the United States of America in celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.   As we look back, like many historic events that was not always the case.  In 1983 It took lots of arm-twisting and sophisticated political lobbying to get Ronald Reagan to sign the national holiday into law.   Year after year Dr. King’s prominence keeps growing.


The MLK Memorial

There are statues of Dr. King sprinkled across the United States.  It was 2011 when the nation anticipated the unveiling of the MLK memorial adjacent the national mall.  The ceremony was to take place August 28, 2011.  Unfortunately, a hurricane named Irene had other plans.

Once arriving in D.C. checking weather conditions from the Marriott

Despite the looming hurricane which shut down Washington, DC and the eastern seaboard, a few had already made plans to attend the event and took a huge gamble to travel to there despite ominous weather conditions and the subsequent event postponement.


Judith and I had followed the creation of the MLK memorial since construction had been announced.  Due to the weather it was decided Judith would remain in Los Angeles and I would venture to D.C. to see if I could get ahead of the hurricane to get a glimpse of the memorial.


The controversy


Upon arrival the weather was rough as the impending hurricane had not yet hit.  As I made it to the memorial my gamble paid off as even though visitors were scarce, I was lucky to meet the sculpture of the memorial, Master Lei Yixin.   It was great to meet the person who was selected in creating the landmark.

Sculpture master Lei Yixin

As previously mentioned, Judith and I had closely followed the construction of the memorial.  I was happy to hear how the MLK foundation was managing the progress.  Unfortunately, some issues of the construction became serious and to this day I have still not reconciled.  First, Yixin selection as the sculpture was shocking.  No doubt the likes of Ed Dwight who was experienced and had developed a successful inventory of statues of Dr. King was available, folk couldn’t figure out why he or other U.S. artisans were not selected?   It was also uncovered that as a Chinese national Yixen knew very little, if anything about Dr. King.  I was later informed the foundation had to send someone to China to educate him on the work of Dr. King.

Then, the issue with the granite raised eyebrows.  Folk were stunned to find out not only would the granite come from China but that sculpture would be made there and imported to D.C. in sections.  What???  I mean some of the best granite in the U.S. is in Georgia or Connecticut just to name a few states.  Many did not care or perhaps had forgotten that the United States economy was battling the effects of the 2008 financial meltdown.  Folk were dealing with all sorts of economic set-backs, particularly on the employment front.  Thanks to hard-hitting reporting by the Washington Post, with all of the monuments in D.C. and the many craftsman’s and artisans who create such beauty they were available and ready to work.   Sadly, many were shut-out from participating in the project that was right at their doorstep.  That is why  it was a huge surprise to find out some of the workers to finish construction of the memorial were actually imported from China and were housed in a nondescript building in D.C.

Those incidents do not take away from the contribution of China or the sculpture.  Anyway, I digress but consider myself fortunate to not only meet the sculpture but also the President of the Kappa’s who originated the plan, raised the money and developed and other resources for the project to be built.  So, my conflict with the construction was minor compared to the bigger picture of erecting a monument giving homage to a true American hero.


Ella Dean, Renie Hale & Justine Love


The rains started coming down harder so I needed to retreat to a venue where I could relax and grab a bite to eat.  I headed down to the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl at the “U” and while sitting at the counter munching on a half-smoke I noticed three strangers who seemed to know each other and like me appeared to be in D.C. for the occasion?  That day goes down in history, especially as we celebrate Dr. King.  Judith and I are now known as close family friends to; Ella Dean, who was on assignment and on her way to serve with Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Renie Hale from CBS, who was also on assignment and Justine Love, from a CBS affiliate who was also on assignment.  We all returned to the memorial the next day as the hurricane had given way to glistened sunshine and it was a remarkable sight to witness the emotions of others as they came through the pillars to witness the memorial for themselves.

All of us consider ourselves students of history regarding Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Since then, celebrating his birthday and the memorial which gleans his name gives us a better appreciation in celebrating the event.


So you want to go to Cuba? – Cuvav2018 – Getting a Haircut

If you’re traveling to Cuba and during your trip you need to get a haircut – it may turn out to be your best bargain!!!

Cubans are known for their grooming standards.   Whether formal or informal there are numerous opportunities to freshen up your hair – assuming all you need is a basic cut?


As for a male, I would project 1 – 2 CUCs for your cost.  Of course your tip is whatever you decide to show your gratitude.

The Negro Leagues:Cuba Baseball – A perspective


1st of a 5-part series

For baseball geeks the Negro Leagues offer an interesting study.  Their cultural significance to American history is well documented, while becoming an institution within the Negro community.  It is interesting to note that in 1885 the first Negro League team was named the Cuban Giants.  They were made up of three amateur teams from Philadelphia and the District of Columbia.  As more teams were organized it was the Jim Crow conditions in the United States that led teams to seek out favorable environments such as Cuba, Mexico and other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America.


During my presentations on baseball I often emphasize the game is much more than nine players on each team recording twenty-seven outs or until a victor is declared.  Since the game was created it has morphed into a social phenomenon that unfortunately many misdiagnose as being boring, too difficult to understand or simply too long to record a complete game.  Some of those attributes may be true but there is something to be said as more countries have embraced its international popularity.   No doubt, in the United States Major League Baseball (MLB) is dealing with a correction or a decline in game-day attendance.  Even though critics shun the game or offer reasons for unpopularity, it should not be mistaken to infer the end is near!


The Negro Leagues were tremendously successful.  Major League Baseball was also successful but realized following World War II their future was in jeopardy.  The greatness of Jackie Robinson is well documented as the first Negro League player to cross over to Major League Baseball.  What gets lost in this historic moment is Robinson’s transition to MLB was indeed a gamble.  But, MLB realized the gamble was more of an opportunity to energize the game that some thought was not exciting enough to draw the type of attendance needed for success.    They pointed to record crowds at Negro League games as well as a more exciting style of play, versus the benevolent tone of Branch Rickey and the desire to integrate the sport as a primary motivation.

Branding = Success

Interesting through the years baseball came to be known as the national sport of Cuba.  Their teams were fearless as they built a reputation as powerful competitors.  Politics aside, their success helped create mystique about the country they represented.


Fulfilling a bucket list goal from several years ago I established an action-plan for a more robust evaluation of the Negro Leagues:Cuban baseball, and the impact.  Thus, this series was born with the mandate to provide better documentation on the topic and to offer a perspective of the Intersectionality.




In the game of baseball 1947 was a critical year.  Jackie Robinson made history as being the first “Negro” (African-American) to play in Major League Baseball.  Interestingly, it also marked the year that Cuba and Major League Baseball reached an agreement for African-Americans and other players to train in their country.


Baseball in Cuba today

The famous statue of Armandito “el tintorero”

Cuba still holds swag when discussing top teams in the game.  Currently they are ranked number five in the World Baseball Federation.  Japan is number one and the United States is number two.  However, even though the rankings are fair, what gets lost in the equation is even though Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest populated country at 11 million, except Taipei, the top three countries have populations of 127 million, 325 million and 510 million respectively. So, from my perspective Cuba does an exceptional job in claiming the number five spot based on population size.  Thus, it is no secret the higher your population the larger your pool of potential talent and from a quick analysis one can conclude Cuba gets a lot of “bang for its buck” regarding leveraging its population.

No doubt players from Cuba are defecting so the agreement is great news.  I mean for that kind of money – EXPLOIT ME!!! I would be willing to take a chance for that kind of opportunity because playing for the national team does not even compare!!  YR



The game is the game!  The goal for most amateur players is to earn their way to MLB.  However, style of play of the Negro Leagues and Cuban team have similar attributes.  The same is true with respect to fan behavior.  There is much more visible passion and fan interaction during the game



While I am proud to be a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I also take pride as a student of the game and its social dynamic.  Baseball is a great game; as long as you understand it.  As mentioned earlier, it can be an excruciating experience for those who lack some of the basic knowledge.  The game has many rules, most noteworthy of “how the game is to be played.”


The notion of “how the game is to be played” is a conflict for many players who have finally ascended to MLB status.   In time, most overcome the conflict but for some it’s like trying to walk a tightrope with no pole to hold onto.  The Latin game, the Mexican game and especially the Cuban game is full of non-stop action.  That is especially true for fans.  Player oftentimes stretch their limitations and whether in success or failure, they showcase visible jubilation or frustration.  The MLB game is more tempered and their mantra is players must “respect the game at all times and visible emotions are frowned upon.”   I mean, thank God Yasiel Puig has found a new home with the Cincinnati Reds but during his seven-year stint with the Dodgers he was criticized by more than those who you might think should know better, that he was disrespecting the game with his “antics!!”  In my opinion they are so wrong to marginalize him and other Latin/Caribbean players.  As much as players make efforts to successfully transition, the facts are simple the game is played differently which results in more vested passion from the fans.  I am reminded of how Major League baseball would have reacted when the great Satchel Paige during a Negro League game ordered the seven defenders behind him and the catcher to take a knee leaving what many figured was a team without a defense.  Satchel known for his antics promptly struck out the side of the opposing team, as the defense was not needed.


Three games in 2018


Part of my trek to Cuba in December 2018 was to meet with baseball officials and ordinary fans of the game.  Luckily my visit coincided with the 58 Cuban National Series, where six teams were set to battle for the ultimate prize. After some juggling of my itinerary I penciled in two tournament games and one amateur softball game that I would be able to attend.



What a blunder!

1 Pesos = 4 cents

I thought I did my homework so I felt I was well prepared to attend the game at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana featuring Sancti Spiritus versus Industriales.  I knew ticket prices had gone up from three CUCS to five CUCS.  The famed stadium holds about the same as Chavez Ravine home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  However, unlike Chavez Ravine which holds tens of thousands of cars in its parking lot, Latinoamericano is much different as there are more spaces for motorcycles than cars.  Duh!!!  What do you expect when less than 1% of Cubans own cars.  Thus, the mode of transportation for the majority who attend games is by walking, hitching a ride, the bus, bicycle or for those with resources; a motor bike including a few who actually drove to the game.  What was quite a site being what might be considered a “parking lot” had been transformed to an internet hot spot.  The stadium has the feel of any stadium in the U.S. that is tucked into a community.  It is located in the Cerro community of Havana and the pride and joy of the home team.

So back to getting my ticket.  Unlike many stadiums where there are ticket booths with turnstiles and other entry points, Latinoamericano is a bit different.  Adjacent the exterior of the pavilion section you notice a line that has formed.  There is a large see-through fence as there is a lady (staff) and another person who is behind the fence operating from a table and cash box.  Tickets are assembled in packs and as soon as one is sold it is ripped from the paper using a ruler and presto, that is your ticket for entry.

Luckily my embarrassment was short-lived.  All I was focused on was paying my five CUCs ($5).  It never dawned on me the majority of fans would be locals, thus using local currency (pesos or a value of 24:1 in dollars or CUCs).  As the line moved forward it was finally my turn to purchase my ticket.  I spoke in my gringo Spanish that I would like one ticket and was handing the clerk a $20 CUC.  She looked at me in bewilderment as her eyes suggested WTF!!!!!  What am I supposed to do with that!!!!  At first, I thought she simply didn’t have change but then I quickly realized I had given her 2400 pesos when all she needed was one!   I could feel the noise from those behind me trying to figure out why in the heck was it taking me so long just to get one ticket?  Luckily a quick-thinking fan realized my dilemma and abruptly jumped in and told the clerk he would buy my ticket.  She ripped the tickets from the paper and he give me mine and sheepishly I gathered myself and headed to the ticket taker at the gate.  A lesson learned.


Once inside I finally found the person I was meeting.  Anyway, I am so glad I brought bags of double-bubble chewing gun and sunflower seeds.  I tossed them around to fans like I was riding a float during Mardi-Gras.


A huge difference

As mentioned earlier, MLB is suffering a decline in attendance.  Even though the Dodgers consistently fill up their stadium that is not the case for the majority of the thirty-teams.  As a matter of fact, the Miami Marlins which is in Little Havana of Miami is grateful to get 20-25k fans per game, and their stadium is relatively new!


As I scoured the crowd at Latinoamericano I was pleasantly surprised to witness what looked like about 30k fans in attendance.  What was more impressive was the demographics.  Incredibly the majority appeared in the 20-40 age range but there were also, many youth and a nice cross-section of fans who came to root for their respective team and grab some entertainment.  I thought to myself MLB would pay a fortune to get such a mixture?


Attending a game in Havana is much different from Dodger stadium or other MLB venues.  First, while the stadium designs are similar, the majority of what you sit on are concrete slabs.  Near the field of play and tucked in between dugouts are the more traditional seats.  As a matter of fact, the higher you go up in the stadium concrete slabs are replaced with metal slats or something you can sit on.


Vendors are a plenty as they roam the aisles selling all types of Cuban snacks.  But, perhaps what was a big seller was the colorful vuvuzelas, which the fans demanded so they could join in the chorus of noise that was nonstop from inning to inning.  The vuvuzelas were merely a complement because tucked near the home team dugout was the twelve-piece plus band blaring drums, horns and other musical instruments.  Along with what the fans had, the “rhythm section” provided the juice so the cheerleader and mascot could provide an evening of entertainment while watching a good baseball game.


I think I arrived around the 3rd inning.  Either way, the visiting team; Sancti Spiritus had jumped to a six nothing lead.  Perhaps from the motivation of the cheering section, the Industriales woke up and inning by inning fought their way back to tie the game and eventually take a 7-6 lead.

Fany Sanchez (red sweatshirt) and her twin sister join me for a photo at the Viazul bus terminal in Cienfuegos. We all attended baseball game in Havana on Dec. 12th

I found out about the conclusion of the game the next day as I was on the Viazul bus traveling from Havana to my next city, Cienfuegos.  Luckily the young lady sitting next to me also attended the game with her twin sister and boyfriend.  They stayed until the end of the game and told me of the exciting come from behind victory.  She also mentioned they were on their way to Cienfuegos to spend time with their father during the holidays.  More interesting was she mentioned her love for the game was instilled by her dad so she couldn’t wait to see him, as like me that was her first game in person while being in Cuba and she couldn’t wait to share her experience.





The visit to Cienfuegos was important as in addition to visiting the stadium where Yasiel Puig played before defecting to Mexico, I had arranged to meet with a person who claimed to know the family very well.  I was surprised to find a cadeca in what appeared to be in a residential area of Cienfuegos.  Lo and behold my contact was there waiting for me and we chatted for nearly an hour.  He was very happy of the success Puig has generated since being a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Famed Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully proudly nicknamed Yasiel Puig as the “Wild Horse.” Outside of the 5 Septiembre Estadio in Cienfuegos, indeed you will find “Wild Horses” roaming outside of the venue.

After spending the night in Cienfuegos I was set to travel to Trinidad.  Things got a little nervous as the Viazul officer came to the lobby area to announce the bus was running two hours late.  Whoa, this presented a slight wrinkle as my plan of getting into Trinidad before sundown appeared to be in jeopardy.


Who said modified fastpitch softball is dead?


After arriving in Trinidad I realized my casa particulares was just a couple of blocks from Estadio Rolando Rodriguez.   So, the next morning to my delight a men’s softball game was just starting.  Softball is another dynamic of baseball.  It may look easy, but at a competitive level skill is required to succeed.  The game being played was actually modified fast pitch (the pitcher does not wind up) but offers the ball to the batter at a fast speed, and oftentimes at change of pace, as the batter’s challenge is to adjust the swing to squarely connect with the ball.


Santiago de Cuba


Along the way to Santiago de Cuba I was able to see estadio’s in Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas and Sancti Spiritus.  As mentioned only six teams were competing in the playoffs.  I had arranged to meet with two baseball locals at the old Bacardi Rum Factory.  Like most Cubans I talk to about baseball, they too were knowledgeable and passionate.  I also was able to make it over to Estadio Guillermon Mocada where the Santiago de Cuba team was practicing.  The stadium was very impressive.


One other important interview in Santiago de Cuba included Jose Carmen.  He and his son would be considered die-hard fans, so even though his team was not playing, he invited me to watch a couple of innings of games which were being televised.  Again, very knowledgeable of the finer points of the game.


As I made it back to Havana, the third game slated was back at Estadio Latinoamericano.  Holguin would be squaring off against the Industriales.  After my first blunder of not understanding the cost of MY ticket, I came prepared so I purchased 4 tickets with my $10 pesos and gladly handed out the 3 extra tickets to delighted strangers who had been in line to grab their ticket.


The amazing thing about attending a game in Cuba or specifically at Estado Latinoamericano is the large crowds and the passion on display.  Luckily, they won the game as from my conversation from the young lady I met on the bus ride to Cienfuegos, I would be treated to something I had never seen!!!  As the game ended the players came out of the dugout to congratulate those on the field, it was cleared and the Lion mascot delighted those like me who stuck around.  He pretended to swing at a pitch and circled the bases and ended in a head first victory slide finishing up near the visitors’ dugout.


On a sad note, before entering the stadium I grabbed some water at a store which was directly across the street.  To my surprise, I ran into Sergio Luis Pulido Pozo who prides himself as a knowledgeable fan.  He was drawn to chat as I was wearing my Los Angeles Dodgers cap, so he enthusiastically remarked how proud he was of Yasiel Puig and other Cuban players who were making a positive impact.  He also mentioned his support of the agreement announced several days earlier between MLB and the Cuba Baseball Federation, where Cuban nationals would not have to forego their affiliation with their country.

As the game ended, I headed to a hotspot as I needed to update my wife of my schedule.  It was then, she announced the Dodgers had traded Yasiel Puig and others to the Cincinnati Reds.  She was devastated so I wrapped up and headed back to the store to get Sergio’s reaction.  Unfortunately, it was near 11 o’clock and he had already wrapped up his shift.


With the new MLB agreement with Cuba, will their organization go the same way as the Negro Leagues?


To be continued…………………………………..

So you want to go to Cuba? Cubav2018 -The Foods of Cuba

I knew this would be an extensive trek so part of my strategy was to make sure I had quality meals as well as getting adequate rest.  I love food!!!!!  All types of food!!!!  So, while I consume in moderation I try to pay attention to balance.  Listed below are some of the foods I had.  Keep in mind to accomplish my itinerary which included visiting many people, cities and communities I put in 55 miles of walking,  35 hours on the Viazul bus plus countless hours in a taxi and local bus.

One critical point, my goal was to stay away from tourist areas so that I could stretch my tight budget and use local currency (cuban pesos).  This is where the casa particulares shine because you are at someone’s home and their food is comparable to what you would find in a restaurant but at a fraction of the cost.  Also, I did a combination of paladars as well as local “street food.”

some of the foods of Cuba


Cuba: In Waiting of Housing

During my recent trek to Cuba in December 2018,  visiting the Regla community of Havana was part of my itinerary.   I had talked about Regla with one of my friends, Katia De Llano Cuesta  who mentioned she was raised there.  As a matter of fact she mentioned once Cuba abolished slavery, the community was established as a settlement for former slaves.

Regla is a barrio community of Havana. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

Luckily, one of my journalist contacts, Yusimi Rodriguez agreed to take me there so as I settled in for the short boat-ferry from Old Havana to Regla my expectations were to simply get a glimpse of the environment.   Yusimi explained as best she could what she knew about Regla.  She also mentioned the eye-opening interview she had completed several years ago with a lady and her family.  Luckily, she telephoned the lady and she agreed to meet us at the community square.  Through Yusimi I was introduced to Kirenia and her son.   The significance of the article is it highlights a sliver of the lives of the many who are impoverished, yet cling onto survival in very tenuous conditions..

Kirenia and her son (has a medical disorder which prevents him from walking). Photo courtesy of Fred Thomas, III

**It is published verbatim from the original article but during translation some of the grammar and other communication may need to be corrected.


In waiting of Housing

Yusimi Rodriguez


La Habana, Cuba

On Tuesday, March 10, I was interviewed by Robert Siegel (National Public Radio, USA). His main interest was to know about racial inequality, a topic that is almost always difficult to explain to foreigners, who come with the idea that the Cuban Revolution eliminated racism and gave equal opportunities to whites, mestizos and blacks to access studies and jobs.

To deny this would not be fair or truthful, but to affirm that there is no racism or racial inequality would be tantamount to contradicting even our own government, which has already (reluctantly) recognized these problems in our just and socialist society. However, when you explain it, and more, show it, while you pass through a tourist area of ​​Old Havana, surrounded by hotels, buildings like postal cards, and tourists, it was difficult.

I still do not know why the interviewer wanted us to cross the Havana Bay in the little boat and go to Regla, a Havana neighborhood that I had not visited since 2002, when I accompanied my mother to church. I was ashamed that perhaps, I knew less of Regla than Siegel and his companions: a girl who handled the microphones, the producer and the Cuban translator.

We had just crossed one of the doorways of the church, when a pregnant woman came over us (I later learned that her name is Kirenia). You are from Canal Habana? Come on, what you have to film is there. [We pointed out what happened to be a shelter. I’ve been living there for five years, but I’m social since I was 11. I was 32 years old.

I had to disappoint her. I was not from Canal Habana. Those who accompanied me were not Cubans and were not there because of her and her problems. Anyway, we crossed and Siegel had the opportunity to listen to her story and that of others housed … for an indefinite time, as well as to see the inside of others housed … for an indefinite period, as well as to see the inside of, some of the very narrow cubicles with traces of humidity and cracks in the walls, provided with barbecues to gain a little space. That Kirenia led us to the pool served perhaps to show Siegel what I could not on the other side of in Bahia: all the people we saw in that pool were black.
However, you felt that it was not enough that those stories were shown as part of an article in which others were the protagonists, and I promised Kirenia and her mother Santa that she would return. I had taken more than a month to fulfill my promise I am almost certain that Santa although she recognized me only when she saw me, she was surprised.

In Cuba there is no eviction

The cubicle furniture consists of three small chairs, one for the fan. Santa has to remove it to be able to sit down. She tells me that Kirenia is hospitalized with pneumonia.

Santa:  : It has rained and there is a lot of humidity. But her pregnancy is not in danger. They had her in intensive care and they already passed her to the ward.

YR :  Tell me what happened in 1993, when your daughter was 11 years old.
Santa: As far as I know, in Cuba there is no eviction.
YR:  The Cuban Revolution agreed with that.
Santa: Well, in my house the police got in with (the administration) of housing and they collapsed everything. What my daughter always tells and has never been erased from her mind is that when she woke up, the first thing she saw was heaven. As a roof, the sky.
YR: Where were you?

She hesitates, looks down, but ends by confessing that she was imprisoned for six months. Her mother took care of Kirenia and her younger brother, but at that time she was not in the house either. When she returned, she found the girl in the street crying.
Santa: My daughter has letters that they made to me in prison as a social case; the same day I left the pass, I arrived and found everything in the street, the shop window going to waste … I had three days pass, but I was so traumatized that between that same day.
YR: Why did they demolish the house? Was it in poor condition, uninhabitable?
Santa: It was made of wood, but it was not in bad condition, it was new. They sent her to lie down. In itself, I do not know who, I already told you where you were. When I arrived, I did not find my mother, my children. Everything was on the street, showcase, clothes …… ..
YR: It will not be that those who made the demise did not know that someone speaks inside the house?
Santa: If they knew it, but they knocked down the roof first and then took out the little girl, who was the only one in the house at that moment.
YR: And your youngest son?
Santa: He was with his paternal grandmother.
YR: Where was the father, the husband of you?
Santa: He also had problems. I was pregnant and I lost a girl. They gave me a cesarean and were born well, but later they did not bring it to me and when they asked I was told that the baby had died.
I got sick and left the hospital under my responsibility, with security points. When I was here, the Sector Chief came and asked about my husband, who was working. He said that he would leave the summons to go to the Unit the next day. I was wrong and asked her to leave it on the television, but I forgot to give it to my husband and the next day he went to work. In the evening the Sector Chief came with another policeman.  They messes up with to my husband; I tried to explain that I had lost my daughter and I had forgotten to give him the summons, I asked them not to let him have it because you were alone with the children and recently operated. I lifted my blouse to see. They told me not to get involved.
Santa’s husband was illegally socially dangerous, even though he worked at the Naval Hospital. She agreed that she had not committed any crime. Santa says that six months later I am issued a summons. She was accused of contempt, because that day she had disrespected politics and that’s why she turned six months old. When Santa was released on parole, his mother talked to the girl for the house of another daughter, Santa’s sister, since she was sleeping on the street.
Santa: But it is a very small house. The family from afar can be seen well, but when there is a child … And more if twelve people live in a little piece, you can go to Casablanca. There are the neighbors who will tell you that none of this is a lie. Some people helped my pestle. We sleep on the street, at bus stops, in corridors. Once they blew us even. Kirenia took a staff infection and was hospitalized for four months. They did not count on her.

The Neighbors made us a room

Kirenia: My parents separated when you were two years old and my mother was with me stepfather, father of my younger brother. My stepfather is white and his family very racist. They did not want my mom. My mother lived in Regla and went to live with him in Casablanca, where she made a little wooden house next to her mother-in-law. But some people do not have property, because it is an unhealthy neighborhood. They’ve been without property in their homes for twenty-thirty years. Once they said that anyone who had a bathroom inside the house would give him his supply book and the right to own the house.

They would give him his supply book and the right to own the house, but the mother of my stepfather never I let my mom make a bath. we had to use the bathroom of the crib or urinate in the sink or do the necessities in a paper and throw it away, sometimes in the same grave of the mother of my stepfather
Kirenia does not have a good memory of him: He mistreated my mama a lot. The marks that I have on my forehead are the ones that always buried me.
Kirenia: About two months after my mother was imprisoned, the mother-in-law told my grandmother to give my little brother so that he would not have to work with both of them. He told her that she was his grandmother anyway and lived sideways. My grandmother never thought it was malicious and gave it to her. After two days, he told her that she and you had loved to stay there. We were eleven years old and my mother even paid for the Defense Committee (CDR). She said that we had to leave because all that was her and was authorized by the son, my stepfather, who was in prison, to get us out. My grandmother said I was not going out and we did not go out but we did not have food and a few days later my grandmother told me: I’m going to get up early to go to your aunt’s house in Lawton and get some food; do not let anyone in that I go fast.

She got up at five, and at nine she was back. It seems that they were watching her. Suddenly, someone wakes me up and says: Up we’re going to finish knocking this down. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was heaven. They took me by force between one dressed in civilian clothes and a policeman that Mendilusa was the head of the unit here in Regla.

Everything that I had was put in the middle of the alley. If you want, I’ll take you to Casablanca so that you can see that this is a lie. Alla all the neighbors take me away. I had to sleep in neighbors’ houses and in work centers. For me, that was an eviction. In the Municipal Housing Directorate (DMV) they made us a file as a social case for not having a home. I’ve been twenty-one years waiting for the solution of the case. I remember we went to the DMV or we were hours and hours. As a dining room talks, they gave us lunch and food.
Later, a neighbor, may God have her in Glory, gave us a piece in her patio so that we could build a room. Among all the neighbors with cardboard, zinc, table, sheets, we made the room. We stayed there until the DMV gave us this shelter cubicle.
YR: You told me that you tried to make television come.
Kirenia: One day I went to the headquarters of the local government and, coincidentally, there was a TV cart parking. I asked them what channel they were, like you, and they told me that Papelito speaks. I told them my case and they told me the address: they told me not to stop going, but honestly … They gave us this right away. I think they saw me talking to the television and they hurried. Besides, I went to Mariela Castro, with all my papers. I did not speak personally with her, but they told me to wait for an answer. It was when someone from the National Assembly came who had to do with construction and that, a tall prisoner. I saw that personally. I told him my case and I wonder if you were Kirenia. Alla I knew he had come for me.
YR: So, they were taken care of.
Kirenia: But not properly, At the beginning they told me that the dossier had been closed and that can only be done in two cases: that they have improved my life status. Nothing of Casablanca and they saw the room without bathroom, with the dirt floor, they realized that it was true what you said and they never let it close. Maybe they gave him the house, I do not know who.

The cubicle consisted of the small square of the room, perhaps a couple of square meters. It did not have a kitchen, but at least it had a bathroom inside. The kitchen plateau was made by his son. In that small space should be located beds for Santa, Kirenia and the girl born, in addition to furniture, television, refrigerator. There was only one bed to locate and where it was located, it got wet.
Kirenia was ruled by pieces of pine. “Some have even termites, I think,” says Santa. With them his son managed to make the barbecue to have a little more space, but the tables are on top. Santa does not sleep upstairs now, because there is a lot of humidity. There is a crack in the wall and the water enters. The mattress I had on the bed got wet and spoiled. She sleeps better, on top of a quilt. Her youngest son is now with her, but I notice that Santa’s conditions are not so bad: she has a refrigerator, a television, a washing machine …
Santa: The TV I pay in installments. I bought the refrigerator from my sister who lives outside and now I could change it for that one, I’m still paying for it. The washing machine was bought by that sister who lives in Norway. When he comes he takes care of us, but he does not send anything. Santa works in a kind of visitor’s house, where judicial officials of Regla, Guanabacoa and Habana Vieja reside. They come from oyster provinces to serve in Havana and are located in that place, Alli, Santa is a general assistant and takes care of cleaning several rooms and serving lunch and food.

Social cases without a supply book

Although they have been in this shelter for more than five years, they have less than one with a supply book. While they lived in the courtyard of the neighbor’s yard, they managed to buy things from the outside and from the neighbors, “who helped us a lot”. Says Kirenia. Santa whispers: “Many neighbors without eating.” To receive the supply book, Kirenia went to the Provincial Housing Directorate. There they told him that his case had no solution because the social cases were not assigned notebook. In OFICODA (Office of food control) they repeated the same thing.

Kirenia: Then I went to the Provincial Assembly of the Poser Popular and entered a letter for the legal adviser. They sent me to another office and the girl there sent me to the Ministry of Internal Commerce (MINCIN). There I presented my problem and I taught the Vice President of the People’s Council. The companion who answered me told me to wait for a response between 30 and 60 days. Approximately twenty days later I received a call to pick up the supply book. Did you see that you can? What you have to press.
YR: In these circumstances have you had your daughters?
Kirenia: I started working in the Regla library and there I met the father of my daughters, 10 and 7 years old, and a boy who was on my way.
They are not together, but as the cubicle is so small and

When will it touch us?

YR: Have you thought of any way to solve the problem, in the alternatives to get out of here? If there are people who take more time, when a housing appears they must have the priority.
Santa: There are people who take more time, but they have given them a house and they have rejected it. Instead of giving it to others who live in this same shelter, they are given to the people of Havana Vieja who reside in the shelter of Bahia.

YR: Maybe those who are there are going through the same time as you and, therefore, it is fair.
Santa: Yes, it can be, but until those from here who have been living longer have no home, it is not up to others. When will it touch us? You asked at the DMV for a loan or a piece of land to raise my house for your own effort, little by little, even if it’s a maera, because a masonry house or think about it How much will it cost? I earn 275 pesos a month and I discount the refrigerator. I suffer from asthma I have two hernias in the stomach, I must buy medicines. The idea of ​​asking for a loan from the bank scares you, because you have to pay back and with interest.
YR: And a subsidy?
Santa: I understand that social cases do not give them subsidy: land, yes, but they have to build with their own efforts.

Sleeping on a sofa to sleep in bed

Santa takes me to the house of another neighbor who agrees to talk with me. Vivian, 61, lives in the shelter eleven years ago. When I entered her cubicle, I realized that the conditions were much better than Santa’s, but she told me right away that everything had been done by her husband. She had several diseases before arriving at the shelter. Here it has been complicated by lack of ventilation and because he smokes. She suffered a cerebral infarction and her husband and son spent a lot of work down the stairs of the barbecue. Now sleep down on the couch.
The house where he lived, in Casa Blanca before coming to this hostel in Regla, was part of a biplanta building that was deteriorating, the floors were rising and, finally, collapses occurred. The house was already uninhabitable; She and her family were registered as sheltered, but in practice they did not go to any shelter for lack of capacity and continued for years in that house. A collapse in the adjoining house opened a hole on the wall with a beam.  It could have killed the neighbor’s son if he had been in the crib. “The cradle, the broken one”.

From there, they wrote the Council of State, they went to the Provincial Housing Directorate. “We gave all the steps that one has to take, but nobody heard us.”
A neighbor who worked in shelters I search until I find them when I see them in the situation they were living. Vivian says that nobody went to collect the rubble and had to do it among the neighbors. Her neighbor was sent to another place. Santa adds that others sheltered told that before donations arrived and Vivian confirms it: They gave clothes, but since Santa is here, I have not seen anything. ”
Vivian: As you can see, the one that does not get wet on one side, gets wet on the other, The pipes are dense. I used to call and the brigades came and destroy, but the pipes do not admit it, because they are many years old. You have to change them. Here there are neighbors who do not get water. You have a battery in the bathroom, but the water does not reach me.
When we came here was not the barbacoa, the water rolled and fell because the gutter is tilted. My husband got up and fixed it. Now with the downpour that fell on Wednesday, April 29, the drip falls in the amita of my 32-year-old son, who lives with us. Above are the bed of us and my son’s.
Santa: With the downpour that big one that fell I got water through the ceiling and the floor.
Other neighbors say that they also put the water inside the room. To Vivian, as an exceptional case, for their illnesses, they promised that they will take her out of the shelter for a place with better conditions. “May God put his hand, to see if I achieve, how little or how much I have left to live, stop sleeping on a sofa and sleep in my bed.”
The situation of their neighbors is worrying and Vivian would like that they could also solve their housing problems. “There are many children here and you have to look for them.” A week later, when I returned to the hostel accompanied by the photographer, I knew that Vivian had disturbed the conversation with me and did not want to talk about her situation anymore or be photographed.

I am an extreme social case

Alina Margarita Rodriguez is another hostel from 21 years ago. His house in Regla was in very bad condition and they brought it here. When I enter her room, I have no choice but to sit with her in bed, the only furniture, which occupies almost the entire room barely one meter from the bathroom.

Alina: I am an extreme social case. My 21-year-old boy has two heart diseases and is an asthmatic epileptic, with problems due to respiratory arrest. In any case he became a great mechanic for society.

YR: In 21 years have you been given a home?
Alina: In December they offered me a house in Robles, but since we are seven people, I cannot leave, because I have to give my daughter a part.
YR: Seven people live here inside?
Alina: Here my daughter lives with the children; There I live another daughter with the husband; here my son and I live
The house of Robles has three rooms for seven. Each family would be located in a room. She would continue to share the room with her children. They would sleep in the same bed, because there is no room for another, as now, or one of the two would sleep in the living room, but her daughter wants to have her own apart and she understands it.
YR: Was not it better to take that house and then try to swap it?
Alinca: I already tell you. If we sold it, what would I give to each one? Those houses cannot be sold in both. And to peruse, Robles is far away, in the old road of Guanabacoa.
YR: Had you been offered a house before?
Alina: Never
YR: How do you expect to solve the problem?
Alina: The partner of the DMV says that they are going to give me two apartments: one for my daughter with her girl and my other daughter with her husband, and another for my son and me. That’s how I’m getting out of here.
It strikes me that there is no barbecue and confesses that it has been his negligence.
YR: Does not it get wet when it rains?
Alina: Now with the last downpour that fell, my bed got wet.

And I’m dying for this

Alina asks me where the photos are going to come out and she is glad that they are going to share the article that I posted on the Internet

Alina: Everything you can put that is for our benefit, because reality is reality.


I am not counterrevolutionary and I die for this sincerely, but reality is reality. If you live with seven people. Why can not you give me an option?
Alina confessed that relations between neighbors are not the best, but my interviewees seem to have something in common besides the precarious life they share in this shelter: their support for what we call revolution.
Vivian, I affirm that I could not throw a chicharo, unfortunately. When I could, I did it. It has left until outstanding of the CDR. Santa earned her television (which he had to pay in installments) when they were still granted by the CDRs. She haia today the CDR guards, she went to the Plaza to everything …
Alina: What one feels has to say. Among all the neighbors we wrote a letter to the Havana Channel, because the pipes are tight and the water does not enter the piles. That was last year. They told us that they have no budget, there is no money.

Alina tells me that the TV set earned her “with the sweat of her brow”, through the workplace. She was a messenger of the Popular Power and never, with her sick son, they offered her one for the CDR. Alina was also a child circle educator for many years, but now works as a custodian.

Alina: I was going to escape a child from the circle, because of an assistant, and I pulled to catch him so he would not give himself a blow. I fractured my arm and had to be plastered. When they removed the plaster I had very fragile skin and I had to pass paraffin with a brochita. But I had a very hot and third-degree burns. That’s why they decided to take me into custody. I am better, because it is here in front of my house, but the salary does not give.
His brothers, Manuel and Luis Roca Agredo, live in the United States, but Alina does not know about them for a long time. Aspire to read this interview and you can get in touch with her.

They will not pay me for the interview

The first time I was in the shelter with the NPR team, the people I saw and with whom I was able to speak were black. I had the impression that all those who lived here were African descendants, I’m wrong. In the hostel there are 21 cubicles and according to Santa. “There lives a lady who is white, another boy who is also white; the one in the first house is also white, but the rest is in color. ”

Another neighbor showed us her house and explained her situation. This time when Santa and Kirenia tell her that I have returned to write about the sheltered ones, she responds that she is not interested in telling anything: “She says that she will not be paid for the interview,” Kirenia informs me. Far from bothering me, I think he’s right.

I will not pay you, but I cannot guarantee that this interview will have any positive impact on the lives of these people. How many will read it and what would it mean to them? I do not know. I only know that realities like this cannot wait for freedom of press, expression and association to reach Cuba. And that it is not enough with the achievement of these freedoms for these people to get out of the precarious situations in which they live.

So you want to go to Cuba? Cubav2018 – Casa Particular – some of my favs

“Casa particular” literally means “private house” but it started to be used to mean “private accommodation” in 1997, when the Cuban government allowed Cubans to rent out rooms in their houses or apartments to tourists, providing Cuban families with new sources of income.”

The downfall of the Soviet Union resulted in tremendous financial hardship for Cuba.  The subsidies they had been receiving (a large part of their budget) were literally cut to zero, thus adjustments for basic survival were needed to their economic strategies.  Part of the turn-around plan called for an increase in tourism.  To address the problem of limited hotels to accommodate the projected visitation, local folk were granted permission to obtain a license to transform rooms in their residence to rental units.  Thus, the casa particular boom was created.


Tourist have been flocking to Cuba for years.  The notion of seeing 1950’s American cars troll the streets has its own fascination.  Then there are the iconic cigars or the rum or the music, just to name a few cultural distinctions.  For many Americans, the yearn to visit Cuba has been increasing each year.  However, for some, they are stuck on Fidel Castro and his regime and have disdain of ever visiting or “coming home.”  They view any suggestion on visiting the island as a compromise to their way of life.

The merits of the conflict are worth pursuing, if nothing more than to give you a better perspective but for those like me, it’s the real people who live everyday lives which are more important than political ideology.  So, out of respect many appreciate the feelings of those who hold unto the “anti-Castro” sentiment as the bigger picture is many of the 11 million people of Cuba have a thirst for you to visit their country.


You can find casa particulars all over the country.  Some can be booked online through sites such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia, etc.  At the same time, some do not wish to pay the fees associated with having their property listed so once you find their email address or phone number, communication is no problem.


If you desire to truly experience everyday Cuban life, you will find casa particular a great choice.  In addition to being a “guest” in somebody’s home, you will have an opportunity to engage with them including experiencing their culture through food.  One important note is even though you are using a portion of somebody’s home, your specific lodging usually has separate entry/exit and you are given a key.


At the same time, if your personality is not the adventurous type or your idea of a visiting the Caribbean is to stay at a resort or you desire to be pampered or even consider yourself “high maintenance” you are better off paying a couple of hundred dollars each night at a local hotel where you will be among the throng of tourist.


Most casa particulares range in price but $25 is a good standard.  Meals are available however the availability and price are something you negotiate with the owner.  Typically breakfast ranges from $3-$5 and dinner from $7-$12.


One more point should you choose to stay in a casa particular – in communication with your guest please ask them if there are any small items (candy, aspirin, spices, headphones, thumb drives, etc.) you can bring to give them, as certain items are unavailable or difficult to obtain?   They will be eternally grateful.


Your host can also assist (communicate upfront to establish expectations) with the following:

  • Taxi (to/from airport, to/from bus depot, etc.)
  • Interpreters
  • How to obtain internet cards
  • Cadeca’s to exchange money
  • Paladar or places to eat



Here is a list of some casa particulars I have stayed:



Havana is approximately 12 miles from the airport.  Taxi fares average $25 but could go as high as $30 to $35 – Everything is negotiable so set your expectations upfront.


Hostal K

Hostal K is operated by Katia De Llano Cuesta.  She is of German ancestry, born in CUBA and a very delightful person.  Professionally, she is a retired teacher and noted economist.

She takes great care to make sure you are comfortable.  Best of all, she is also on WhatsUp!!!!


The property is located in the Cerro community which features great access to Havana.  Located on Ayesteran between Carlos III and Maloja.  Stores, shops and bus stops are very close

Casa Particular Mariela

Mariela operates this casa particular and it is very accessible.  Her unit is a lovely apartment style which features upstairs/downstairs.  There is a living room, kitchen as well as bedroom.


Casa Particular Adelia


Adelia Ravelo

270 Calle 28, La Habana 10400, Cuba

53 (7) 8308007


Adelia is a jewel and great source of information.  Her place is grand and very accessible to parts of Havana.  Stores and paladar’s are very close and the main street where you can access the bus is about ½ mile by walking.




Casa Particular Moraima

Moraima Rangel Collado operates this casa particular.  It is very accommodating and just blocks from the main thoroughfare.  She features a stunning garden featuring fruit trees allowing you to obtain fresh fruit/juice.


Casa Particular Katiuska

This property is operated by “Kat’s” son (Jose Julio) and her mother in law (Eulalia).  They are splendid host and very accommodating.   I am sure you will love the outside garden.  The property is easy to access and places you may want to visit are within walking distance or a short taxi ride.  She makes a great espresso!  You can also find Kat on WhatsUp.




Casa Particular María del Carmen

My dear friend Katia from Havana recommended Villa Maria del Carmen.  Maria and her husband Jose have taken this casa particular to a new level.  The property was owned by Maria’s Great-grandmother and you can see the pride of ownership the way they have maintained the legacy.  The rooms are well equipped and even feature a stocked refrigerator of water/beer (of course you pay for what you consume).  More important to help them operate the venue they have a full staff to help with cooking, cleaning and other maintenance issues.  Their property has wi-fi (you simply access via your Etesca card).  The roof-top views are stunning.

So you want to go to Cuba? Cubav2018 -Accessing the Internet

This post is geared towards the traveler who is a citizen

of the United States. 

However, because it is general in scope and may be used by others.

The above caption is the character Wi-Fi which has become quite popular in Cuba


Most do not come to Cuba with the goal is surfing the web all day or just laying on the internet.  However, communication with family and friends is important so yes, even in Cuba you will rely on the internet to stay connected.  Ditch all of the negative information you may have heard about how bad the internet is.  While the speeds may not be as robust as some countries, it is acceptable in allowing you to connect.


At various times during my treks to Cuba at one time or another I have had many of the major carriers (Verizon, Sprint & T-Mobile).  As technology has improved they have gotten better in offering special pricing to places like Cuba.  This surely beats the old-fashioned way of having to purchase a phone or device that only works during your stay.


My current carrier, Consumer Cellular offered special pricing but I decided to opt against it….and I am glad I did.




All you need to do is purchase an internet card.

ETESCA is the communication company in CUBA.  They have offices all over the island.  Simply look for the blue buildings.  Once you arrive in Cuba you will see folk of all kind on the internet.  Usually they are at designated hotspots, which are plenty.  The trick is finding one that is close to where you will be staying or during your travels.




The cards vary in denomination.  Usually there are $1 CUC cards good for 1 hour and $5CUC cards good for 5 hours.  However, the cards can be a bit tricky as after use YOU MUST TAKE CAUTION TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE COMPLETELY LOGGED OFF.  Otherwise, you might think your session is over and when you attempt to access the card, you will find there is NO TIME REMAINING.


They are also available from street vendors.  While it may appear to make sense – buyer beware and use common sense.  I have never had this experience and simply conform to the basic way of obtaining.   I guess I am just too chicken to purchase a card on the street only to find there is no time remaining or less that what I thought I had purchased…….plus, the seller is long gone!!!! Two common places where you can obtain are:


Etesca offices – expect lines and a little wait or if you are lucky and approach the guard and have exact money, he may do you a favor and go inside to grab your card.

  1. Once inside, simply ask for the denomination you wish.
  2. Present your passport to the clerk.
  3. Your card will be registered via the computer and you will be handed the card and a receipt.
  4. Instructions on how to use the card listed, so read and get a good understanding on how to use.
  5. To access the internet, you will need to go to a hotspot (just ask someone or wherever you see lots of folk accessing their devices).


Larger hotels

  1. Most hotels also use the Etesca card but do not be surprised if you need to purchase yet another card for that location (Nacional Hotel of Cuba).
  2. The cost at the hotels are usually $4.50 per hour but be gladly surprised if the cost is lower. At one hotel in Trinidad the cost was $1.50 for 1 hour.
  3. Some hotels will sell you a card but insist you purchase something before you can use your card.

So, you want to go to Cuba?  Cubav2018 -Tips for entering/leaving

This post is geared towards the traveler who is a citizen

of the United States. 

However, some of it is general in scope and may be used by others.

Many have the fascination of going to Cuba.  There is so much information; some good, some bad, some outdated.  So, this post provides an updated experience from my recent trek.


Going to Cuba is not something you do on a lark, as planning must be detailed.   The question you might want to ask is why are you going to Cuba?   Going as a general tourist or going to get some cigars, sip on mojitos, or take in the beautiful beaches should not be your answer (although you are allowed as long as you go with a licensed tour group)!


Although it is rare, it can be nothing worse than to be in another country whose relationship with the United States is tenuous at best and where there is still an effective embargo, and run into a situation where you need immediate assistance (need money, medical care, lose your travel visa, etc.).


Even though President Obama improved relationships with Cuba in December 2015 through an Executive Order which resulted in Americans having better access to Cuba and vice versa, President Trump reversed course and there are specific updates you must factor into your planning, so that you are not in violation of Federal law.


Admittedly, during my treks I have come across American’s who were willing to take a chance and are roaming the countryside as “tourist.”  That is a person’s personal prerogative and even though I have never been stopped by authorities questioning my visits, for me the risk is too high, as it is easier to comply.


Here are the updated steps:




  1. READ AND UNDERSTAND the guidance from the Treasury Department. In my case, I am OK because I use my journalist license and have a thorough itinerary to address the reason I am there.
  2. When you purchase your air travel, your carrier will have a brief questionnaire (online) that acknowledges you meet approved guidelines to enter Cuba.
  3. Days before your travel, it is suggested you register your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (U.S. Department of State). 
  4. You may have read that health insurance is required as well as a departure tax? That has changed and most carriers add those cost as part of your travel fare.  Once purchased you will be able to see the itemized portion on your ticket.
  5. If not already enrolled, I would recommend you signing up for TSA Pre as this will save you some time. 
  6. In preparation for your return, I would recommend you download the “My Mobile Passport” app as this will help you breeze through U.S. Customs.
  7. It is not totally necessary but I would recommend you coordinate taxi pickup. You can contact direct or have your host (casa particulares) coordinate.  A typical cost is $25 CUCS (general Havana which is about 12 miles from airport).  Again, if you decide against doing this, NO PROBLEM as there are many taxis once you get outside of the airport.

    This is my taxi chofer – Lazaro (53) 52947497



  1. To enter CUBA, you need a valid passport BUT MORE IMPORTANT you need a Travel Visa. The prices range based on your departure city/country.  As an example, from Cancun the fee is $25.  However, from the U.S. expect $50 – $100.  You can purchase in advance (Cuba Travel Services) but relax as your carrier will have an agent adjacent your check-in who will handle the transaction (credit cards are accepted). 


  1. Once you depart and about an hour before landing there will be an announcement alerting you to complete supplemental documents which must be presenting upon arrival and going through Cuba customs.  Relax, don’t overthink the process.


  1. Most flights from the U.S. are “international flights” so you will be landing in TERMINAL 2.
  2. Once you pick up your luggage, you will proceed to the Customs clerk. They will have you remove your cap and glasses (if appropriate) as they will take a head-shot.  THEY WILL STAMP YOUR TRAVEL VISA AND THIS MUST REMAIN IN YOUR POSSESSION AT ALL TIMES DURING YOUR STAY.  If you have the misfortune of losing it, DON’T PANIC…. on your departure you just have to plan on getting to the airport early to explain your situation.  Be prepared for an interrogation of how/why it was lost and don’t be surprised if you are charged for a replacement.
  3. Once you pass through Customs you will see a “Declaration area.” FOR MOST U.S. TRAVELERS simply proceed to the NON-DECLARATION AREA (as for the most part you are not bringing anything into the country of significant value).  The clerk will complete a cursory review of your personal luggage and pass you through.
  4. Your next step is to convert your U.S. Dollars into Cuban CUCS. If you don’t see the window, simply ask someone.  Again, I know there is some discussion on the internet that you might want to do this while in the U.S., such as converting your dollars to Euros, etc. but from my experience IT IS NOT WORTH IT.  Just be prepared to have the tax/fee come out of your change (i.e., $100-$13=$87).
    This is a CUC – Convertible pesos and the value is $1 CUC to $1USD

    This is a CUP or Pesos. Value is 24:1 so this $3 CUC is worth .125 USD cents. However, because it is the currency used by locals the best place to purchase is at CADECA’s.
  5. THAT’S IT. Go outside and grab your taxi and enjoy your time in CUBA.



Remember the new guidelines allow for unrestricted purchase of cigars/rum, however most are restricted due to weight of luggage, so depending on your budget it may be a good idea to pack up to your weight (as an example, rum is bottled and can be heavy and in my garment bag I was able to pack 6 bottles and still stay within the weight limit).  You can always purchase more in the duty-free area of which you will be bringing on your flight as a carry-on.



  1. Make sure you check-in online and pay any luggage fees (remember for the most part you won’t be able to use your credit cards at the airport and paying at the check-in may result in higher fees).
  2. Make sure you verify where which terminal your flight is departing. The last thing you want to do is be at the wrong terminal and have to hustle to get a taxi to the correct one which will result in unnecessary taxi fees as well as personal stress.
  3. The airport is busy but pretty organized, so give yourself enough time for unforeseen issues.
  4. When you go through Cuba customs they will once again take a head-shot. The officer will take your stamped travel visa and file.  YOUR PASSPORT WILL BE STAMPED.
  5. You will see a duty-free area for last minute souvenirs. It’s actually pretty affordable and can be a good option to get rid of your Cuban money (CUCS/CUPS).  As part of my planning I bring a knapsack or bag so that I can handle any duty-free purchases.  This will minimize breakage or trying to figure out how to lug the items around.
  6. Upon arriving back into the United States, you will go through customs. THIS IS WHERE YOU MY MOBILE PASSPORT COMES IN HANDY, as you complete your declarations via the app.  You will see throngs of folk who didn’t pay attention and are snaked in long lines getting through customs.  The mobile line is usually short.
  7. Once through Customs you will be directed to pick-up your luggage and drop off for your final destination flight.
  8. You will proceed through the other part of customs for final bag check. Your duty-free items will be inspected so don’t be surprised if the bag is opened.  Once cleared, head to your gate.