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.

 

 

CUBA: The Race dynamic


We are flooded with so much information, most of it we push it aside and keep moving.  Then, there is a little we keep and ponder what it means.

 

The exact date escapes me but it seems about ten years ago that I heard the issue of race in Cuba explained in a way I had never heard nor appreciated.  I was listening to an interview with Professor Dwayne Wickham.  He taught at Morgan State University as well as being a columnist with U.S. Today.  Interestingly he was speaking about his many visits to Cuba and the notion of remittances.  His conclusion was yes, Cuba has a problem with race and among other things it could be seen through remittances, among other social dynamics!

 


Afro-Cubans

Cuba became a colony of Spain in 1492.   The natural resources the Spaniards found required a large labor pool to extract and develop.  Thus, thirteen years later or in 1512 African slaves were imported to the country.

 

“At the peak of the slave-based economy, enslaved people comprised nearly one-third of the Cuban population.”

 

Fast forward to the Haitian revolt as once it occurred, owners of sugar plantations moved their operations to Cuba, specifically on the eastern shores to Santiago.  The result was Cuba became the largest producer of sugar and those slaves needed for labor became important as communities of Afro-Cuba folk developed and once slavery was abolished they took a foothold in the population and the rest is history.

Even today Cuba is known for its vast sugar and tobacco plantations.

 

 


Remittances

 

The little I knew about CUBA didn’t focus on race or more specifically those of Spanish descent and those of African descent.  Perhaps like you I just viewed Cubans from a singular perspective, not one from obvious racial characteristics?   The discussion on remittances brought the issue into more focus as while the majority of Cubans proclaim unity or oneness, those relatives who were forced off the island or otherwise left after the 1959 revolution eventually settled in the United States.  As their lives were rebuilt they were better able to transition as Cubans in America.   Yes, this came with much struggle, sacrifice and perseverance.

 

The impact of those survivors resulted in them being better off than those family members or friends who were left behind.  Thus, through all of the years and up to today the money and the goods received are called remittances.  So, to the issue of race the majority of those who fled to the U.S. were Spanish Cubans or of European descent and the result was the recipients in CUBA became materially “better-off” than their Afro-Cuban fellow countrymen.  The people who left are to be applauded for their resilience and ability to “start-over.”  The issue of race raises it head as in Cuba everybody could use a little help but once the first batch of Cubans arrived after the Revolution,  the United States changed its policy and those of  darker hue or of Afro descent were discouraged or otherwise told they would not be welcomed, thus many simply stayed in CUBA and continued their lives.  Could it have been they were deemed supporters of Fidel and his regime?  The subtlety is race played a pivotal role in determining who was on the receiving in, and who was not.

 

Discussing race, not an easy discussion

 

Discussing race as a topic is not easy.  It’s very polarizing and people simply shun away as some feel the discussion centers of who is the “good” and who is the “bad.”  Or, they simply don’t want to be reminded of historical facts so for them it’s easy not to discuss.

 

Race has long been a paradigm to distinguish people of different ethnic groups.  While people are people race illustrates the great divide.  In the United States the work of noted social scientist, Dr. Francis Crest-Welsing is a leading authority.  For those serious about obtaining an objective analysis of the topic her book, “The Isis Papers” is a great reference and must read.

 

While race is used to distinguish people, it’s engine is racism.  Therefore, as a construct, the lighter one’s hue the better the opportunity or privilege.  Likewise, the darker one’s hue, opportunity lessens as well as their privilege.

 

Aside from those initial Cubans who settled in Miami, it’s not until you are inside Cuba that you fully appreciate the race dynamic.  You quickly come to accept of the 11 million plus people, there are many more than the 13% who are defined as Afro-Cubans?  The effects of racism slap you in the face as for many it is much easier to dismiss any signs of African heritage and proclaim you are “white” or “other” than for who you truly are.

 

“Make no mistake, Afro-Cuban also fled.  But they typically were workers of the Spanish Cubans.” Professor Esteban Morales Dominguez

 

In 2015 I discovered “Race in Cuba, Essays on the Revolution and Racial Inequality” written by Esteban Morales Dominguez.  The book is very intriguing and places the race issue front and center.  You come to quickly understand Morales Dominguez is not an apologist for the Castro regime or trying to sugarcoat the obvious.  Instead the book highlights facts supported by documentation that help to better understand how and why race in Cuba is a hot topic.

 

The Castro critics

 

Having a solid grounding of contemporary history on Cuba might help you establish a better perspective.  No doubt, Fidel Castro and the current administration has many critics.  At the same time, it must be noted the extreme racism Afro-Cubans suffered up to the regimes of the Revolution.  The racism being meted out in Cuba was similar to that of the rest of the world, particularly where there was European dominance.   The revolution singled out those who supported or benefited from the likes of Fulgencio Bautista and his predecessors.  The ideals Castro adopted centered on making CUBA equal for all.  Thus, the notion of educational equality, employment equality, and social equality was a centerpiece of why the Revolution was necessary.  As you might imagine, these measures motivated most Afro-Cubans to side with Fidel and support the cause.  Once the revolution occurred people saw immediate results as Afro-Cubans were given equality and some elevated into the power structure.

 

At the same time, those who were on the opposite end of the Revolution never stopped their vitriol.  While many left the country, or were imprisoned or otherwise dealt the blow of not supporting the regime, they never stopped their criticism or counter-revolutionary tactics to take back control.  As a matter of fact, their antics are very similar to those Americans who even today continue to want to fight the Confederate War.

 

In his book Professor Morales Dominguez makes clear the issue of equality is a process and the remnants of racism and its stubborn effects are not wiped out just like that.  Therefore, the fact that some lives are better off today than before the revolution is a positive reality, but leads to criticism of those who never fully supported the Castro regime or those who through the years have become disgruntled.

 

No doubt, race in CUBA remains an issue.

 

Why write the book?

 

I asked Dr. Morales Dominguez why he wrote the book?   His eyes gleamed as he stressed the pride most Cubans have of their country.  “It’s very simple, either you support or appreciate what Fidel is trying to accomplish………or you don’t!”

 

He went on to explain in 2009 a group of prominent African-Americans presented a document to the Cuban government, denouncing it as a racist regime.  “Statement of Conscience” created quite an uproar as the government felt it was anything but racist, despite Afro-Cubans still being dealt the hand of systemic racism.  The ideal was even though progress had been made there was still much work to be done.  Interesting the letter was signed by the likes of Cornel West, actress Ruby Dee Davis, former congresswoman Carrie Meek and Rev. Jeremiah Wright just to name a few. Afro-Cuban author Enrique Patterson called the declaration “historic.”

 

It was through this declaration that Professor Morales Dominguez felt compelled to use his educational gift and resources to provide a counter position or one that more related to the majority of Afro-Cubans in Cuba.  Thus, a series of essays were created and subsequently became the material for the book, “Race in Cuba.”

As Morales Dominguez told me, yes, we still have many problems in Cuba but ever since the Revolution groups have attempted to use a variety of mechanisms to divide the country, even those such as the signers of the petition who you might feel would be an ally given their likeness of Afro Cubans.  His contention was they are entitled to their opinions but never was it intimated that Cuba had been transformed into some oasis.  Most like him, accepted and understood progress is not necessarily immediate but more of a process.

 

Cruz, Rubio, et. At…..20 Million Dollars

Speaking of counter groups, I asked the professor why so many, particularly those in Florida despise their own country?   His response was interesting.  Ever since Fidel took control and even though the subsequent battles, those who fled assumed with the support and intervention of the United States they would be able regain control of the country.  This became a rallying cry for many and that remains their fuel for the hatred of the Castro regime and anyone who supports it.   The Professor pointed out that is why so many from the Cuban-American community in Florida opposed the actions of President Barack Obama.  Having written extensively on Obama, which includes over twenty-three articles, the Professor voiced appreciation of the common-sense approach he was taking.

 

He then pointed out the 20-million-dollar fund that politicians with Cuban heritage use to appease various groups and maintain counter-revolution support aimed at thwarting the Castro regime.  Professor Morales Dominguez mentioned, “they are like paid employees” who work for the funders of the money and distribute it to various groups in the disguise of democracy but the intent is to denounce the Castro regime.

 

So, this brings us back to the race issue.  Cubans are defined as one.  Yes, since the Revolution Afro-Cubans have seen progress but there is still much work to be done.  Professor Morales Dominguez is the consummate work horse as even though he no longer teaches, he is in much demand as an authority on the subject.  At seventy-six, he beams with pride when recounting why he joined the Revolution.  Even his wife, Katia who was a master professor in Economics talks about how serious she took her meetings with Fidel and leaders of the movement to help create a better Cuba.  The notion of prior to the Revolution, illiteracy was at epidemic levels.  A call went out to those in their teens such as Esteban, Katia and so many who accepted the goal of making Cuba a more literate country.  This topic comes up often when I speak here in Los Angeles to the critics of the Castro regime.  As much as they may despise Fidel and anyone associated with him or my empathy for the people of CUBA, they can’t explain the success of the educational policy and why the literacy rate in Cuba is higher than the United States?

 

Professor Esteban Morales debunks the notion that only 13% of Cuban are of Afro heritage.  He blames the flawed data of the census questionnaire or the type of questions asked for the conflict.  His hope is the next census is clearer so there is no ambiguity of what percentage of Cubans are Afro.  He stated from his observation the number is clearly thirty-five percent, if not more, as the majority of the country are comprised mestizo or mixed blood and there is little if any defined as “white”

This is a recent photo book on Fidel which the Professor gave me from his personal library.

CUBA – Special Report, our recent visit


Our trek to CUBA focused on two specific goals.  One, interview and gain insight into Dr. Esteban Morales Dominguez‘ work on race relations and two, interview officials from the Cuban baseball federation, specifically about the historic impact of the Negro Leagues and how they competed in Cuba way before Jackie Robinson made his major league debut.

I wore my 1947 Cuba National team jersey.  Many folk on the island asked where I got it from and if any were left?  Even when I got back to the U.S. the lad from Customs asked about it.  I told them, you can’t get this is CUBA, it is only available through my homie who owns BallerGear (Larchmont on Sunday’s).

This post will highlight a summary of the trip.  Documentation from the two topics is being edited and will be presented within several days in subsequent posts.


**A special note as this was not planned but the consequence of arriving in Cuba on November 25th took on a special meaning, as it was the one year anniversary of Fidel Castro’s death.  That is the reason we noticed tributes all over the country or at least places we visited.   You could feel the national spirit in the air.


For citizens of the United States going to Cuba and being able to navigate your journey is not for the faint of heart.  Of course, just about every other country of mankind already knows about the magic of the Caribbean’s largest country.  Coincidently our trek occurred at the beginning of tourist season which will go until March.  I did ask our host why it was from November to March and no longer?  The answer was after March, many tourists who are not used to tropical weather find it too uncomfortable or too hot!!

 

During my last visit in 2015 my dear friend Charles Boesan gave a great explanation of how so many people from other countries treasure their visit to Cuba.  It is something you have to see first-hand to fully appreciate but it does make you question the embargo and why some political leaders simply can’t muster the courage to address the issue?

Extend goodwill

This brings us to the issue of the administration of Barack Obama.  The majority of people I spoke to in Cuba have great respect and admiration of President Obama.  They speak with passion of his desire to “open up the country” so citizens from the U.S. could more freely visit the country.  His policies and subsequent visit in 2016 represented a critical achievement for him and represented tremendous pride for the people of Cuba.  Of course, there were those dissidents who were vocally critical of Obama’s gesture as even today they appear locked down in the Cold War ideology and view anything which shows the slightest gains of the country on the world stage as negative. Or they claim it infers the Castro regime will be viewed positively, therefore that is something they will never tolerate…….at least not for now.  Admittedly, the issue is complex so one way or another you either accept the progress or your don’t.

Make no mistake President Obama is not perfect and some feel he could have done more but the point is he made history simply by extending a hand of goodwill.

 

Some in Cuba view Trump as “the Grinch who stole Christmas”

Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Bloomberg

 

Luckily for Cuba, tourism is huge and folk from other countries can’t wait for the plane to land.  As a matter of fact, I was corrected and told Mexico is the leading country, followed by Canada, then Spain, Europe, Italy, on and on.  Very few Americans, let alone Afro-Americans or even Belizeans are seen in Cuba BUT Judith and I were treated with great welcome and respect as the people displayed genuine intrigue and warmth.

Let me be clear – as much as I and others may appreciate visiting Cuba, it simply is not for everybody.  The sacrifices can be challenging and make you wonder why in the world would you put yourself through the ordeal?  If you are one of those or you have a “high maintenance” personality my advice is to go to other countries where issues are hidden and all you see are the glistening waters, the pampering and all of the attention you don’t mind paying for.  I did run into a few folk (from the U.S.) who couldn’t wait to leave the island.  But after some conversation with them I honestly would assess their problems stemmed from lack of preparation or unreasonable expectations.

 

Cubans we spoke to are very eager to find out about Americans.  They feel Trump’s actions have pulled the rug from under them as the gestures executed by the Obama administration wet their appetite of enormous possibilities.  They view actions by Trump as a big step in the wrong direction or going back to the cold war environment.  Further, it’s not about liking Obama or disliking Trump but more about common sense.  Through his actions Obama opened dialogue and the opportunity to develop relationships.  Trump’s behavior is consistent in showing us his style and his ideology.   He may think his rise to political power is due to his business acumen but some would point to his manipulation of people’s fears or his quest to divide or otherwise create roadblocks for people to unite.  His moniker of “Make America Great Again” is viewed as a euphemism or hustle to project an us versus them mentality, and surprisingly many people agree with him!  So, it’s one thing to attempt to dismantle anything positive the Obama administration achieved, it’s another thing to use policies to affect unity.

 

As a matter of fact, with the recent update of the travel restrictions as well as the State Department issuing a travel warning, many who have yearned to finally visit Cuba feel their dreams have vanished, at least temporarily.  Of course, Treasury Department still allows those who fall within legitimate categories to visit Cuba.  However, confusion is still in the air and there is lots of misinformation.  Incidentally about two weeks prior to our scheduled trip I received an email from our host with a tone of consternation as they felt we would have to cancel our trip.

Of course, the rest is history as our trip was successful and we had absolutely no issues going to Cuba or returning back to the United States.

Preparation

This is shared from our experience.  Yours may be exactly the same or it may be different.

  • Verify your trip meets guidelines issued by Treasury Department
  • Itinerary
  • Passport
  • Travel Visa
  • Housing
  • Money
  • Health Insurance
  • Departure Tax

Many people I speak to who are U.S. citizens are excited about visiting Cuba.  Yes, they should be excited but one must understand, they need a purpose?  In other words what is your motivation to visit Cuba?  It surely can’t be that of a tourist or to go check out the beaches, smoke cigars or lounge around drinking rum!  Cuba has its issues and for many the sight of the buildings or the inconveniences you deal with are more than even the Trump administration’s discouragement.  However, for the bold, the few that don’t necessarily need to travel in a pack, or those who don’t judge folk from material possessions will appreciate the resilience of the people of Cuba.  The bottom-line is if you have the spirit to accept folk where they are at and truly want to explore how they navigate through every day life, then you will have a great experience.

 

Once you decide or make a commitment to visit Cuba my best tip is to do yourself a favor a do a little homework on CUBA.  Get a grasp on the history, the places you will stay as well as the requirements necessary for a successful trip.

 

A POINTER – WHILE THE POLICIES FOR CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES ARE BASIC AND VERY CLEAR, KEEP IN MIND PROCESSES MAY CHANGE FROM TIME TO TIME SO THE KEY IS IF IN DOUBT ASK QUESTIONS BUT MAKE SURE THE RESPONSE IS FROM AN AUTHORITIVE SOURCE.

 

  • Verify you meet the approved categories as mandated by the Treasury Department.

 

Air travel.  We flew Alaska Airlines and to our amazement was able to secure a NONSTOP flight from LAX – 5 ½ hours at a price that was better than a “Black Friday” special.

Alaska airline has special line for CUBA

sadly – as of January 5, 2018 Alaska Airlines will cease flights to Havana.

  • Itinerary – Part of the Treasury Department guidelines is you must have a specific reason to visit.  So, word to the wise, take a couple of minutes and prepare a bullet-proof itinerary or schedule.  AND, it should be part of the documentation you have with you at all times.  I had mine on my smart phone.  Never had to show anything to anybody………but had it ready if needed.

 

 

Documents

 

  • Passport – you need a valid passport.  One other critical notation.  In the past while you must present your passport, it was not stamped by Cuba customs.  Instead, they stamped your travel visa.  HOWEVER, this time was different.  Upon entering CUBA, they stamped my travel visa and I didn’t notice it at the time but when we departed and presented our documents at customs and received my passport, I noticed they kept the travel visa but the passport was stamped.

 

  • Travel Visa – this is the document you need to enter Cuba and it must be on you at all times.   Now, I got snake bit as the initial plan was to obtain from the Cuba Embassy in D.C. (I happen to be in DC in September and stopped by the Consulate and received specs on what documents I needed as well as the $50.  Well, we never received.  No worries, on a worse case basis your airline or departing airport will have a legitimate organization which will sell you a travel visa, ON THE SPOT.  In our case, once we checked in at Alaska airlines, they simply pointed us to the kiosk which had staff from Cuba Travel Services and the fee was $100.  The give you a folder with your travel visa.  They instruct you to write your name, passport, info, etc. and have ready to present once you arrive in CUBA.  One more point and I don’t know the specific answer………….it appears where you fly from will determine the cost of your travel visa because the closer you are to CUBA may result in a reduced fee.  Anyway, ours was $100 and yes, Cuba Travel Services accepts payment via credit card.
Cuba Travel Services was on site and after payment you are given pouch which includes your visa. You complete it before you arrive to Cuba. Cost $100

 

Housing

 

** see footnote at bottom of post regarding casa particulares

I get questions all of the time from those in the United States who have never visited Cuba and have this grand illusion they are going to nab a five-star hotel and get treated to spas, room service, etc.   Cuba has some great hotels and if your idea is paying $300-$400 per night, you probably should pass on going?  Here’s why, at least from my opinion.  Cuba has tremendous architecture and buildings which make for a unique sight.  As for housing, in addition to hotels, there are hostels, airBnB and then Casa Particulares.  To be specific hostels, airBnB and Casa Particulares could be lumped into one category as for the most part they are private residences.  I prefer legitimate Casa Particulares (staying in someone’s private home where they have transformed a room or two or an area to rent out).  The owner’s must obtain a license and you will notice it on the front of their building.  Anyway, by staying at a Casa Particulares instead of properties which are more corporate, you are having a direct positive financial impact on the family.  The $20 – $40 per night you are making may appear like a steal to you, and yes it is.  But, in Cuba the average salary is $30-$40 per month but be careful not to assume the people are “dying on the vine.”    You just have to understand their economic system.  Anyway, the fee you pay goes a long way to allow the family more financial freedom, plus it is your opportunity to engage the people directly.  So, if you’re not a people person or don’t care about understanding their culture, trek down to the hotel and pay $300.  Otherwise, the better tip is find a legit Casa Particulares as it will be one of the best investments you will make.   Also, many properties have private access with a key so you aren’t bugging the family when you enter or leave.

There are many sites which advertise Casas, so do your homework and ask questions.  Parts of  Cuba are very urban and look like a war zone and other parts are very rural, yet people reside there and have acceptable accommodations.  Further, I have seen no homelessness or beggars and I am sure they are there but that is yet another stark reality which will make you appreciate the resilience of the people.

For this trip I felt like I hit the jackpot!  In setting up the trip and corresponding with Professor Dominguez, he offered us to stay at his place as his wife operates a licensed casa Particulares.  This allowed us to spend more time interviewing him about his work without the hassle of traveling to a set appointment..

 

THIS IS OUR CASA PARTICULARES IN OLD HAVANA

upon arriving in Havana, our host prepared an outstanding traditional Cuban dinner. Rice and Black Bean Soup, Roasted Pork, Casava, Salad and desert (the name escapes me).
This is our balcony. Katia asked us to bring a U.S. flag as she likes each visitor to showcase their country
bathroom – small but functional and clean.
shower
kitchen never had to use.
street scene – park directly across the street
Our room was functional and was more like a suite as it had a couch and room to stretch out.
This is the kitchen area outside the rooms.
Look for the little anchor sign on your Casa. That is your proof the property is properly registered.
View from our third floor balcony. The Capitol was about 2 kilometers to the north.
This is our Casa Particulares. It has three floors and each owner owns one floor. We were on the third flood. No elevators but no worries – great exercise.
Our Casa had two patios. Very quaint.
Our patio had a hammock facing the street so here is Judith catching a break.

`

THIS IS OUR CASA PARTICULARES IN TRINIDAD.

Very affordable at $24 per night.

Bath – very functional and clean

Our host Julio
Julio runs the Casa business with his grandmother and girlfriend. Great host, very accomodating.
saying good-bye

Transportation

 

Usually when I travel I love the independence of having my own car.  CUBA is the exception.  You are not in the United States or whatever country you may be coming from so be warned CUBA laws are different and I don’t want to be like the three UCLA basketball players relying on Trump to get us out!!!!

With 11 million plus folk, CUBA is vast and once there you will immediately understand why it is the largest country in the Caribbean.  Anyway, busing or taxi is the way to go.  Of course, for us, we don’t mind walking and did lots of it.  The benefit was getting some great exercise but more important it allowed us to see some sites, neighborhoods you surely would not otherwise be able to see.  I know folk who won’t take the bus on a regular basis here in California but if you are going to Cuba and truly want to meet the people taking the BUS IS THE WAY TO GO.  The trick is to stay alert, oh and to our surprise the bus system goes 24 hours (in the major cities).

Transportation cost can be dicey, as it is assumed you know about the money.  Buses take about 40 pesos or 10 cents, while taxi vary from 25 cents to 1 dollar but the key is to ask your host for pointers on how to navigate transportation.  Also, if you are traveling through the country you will be on a luxury bus. So, as an example our trip from Havana to Trinidad, which was a 7-hour journey ONE WAY but went through 4 key cities/communities cost $50 round trip – what a deal.

 

Money

 

In Cuba there are two currencies – 1.  Convertible Pesos (CUC), equals one dollar to one CUC and 2.  Pesos or national money which equals 24 to 1, so one CUC = 24 pesos.  So, as an example you will see a bottle of coco-cola for 35, which is a little more than 1 peso.

In Cuba many businesses, especially those known as tourist spots will have most items marked in CUC or the higher currency, so you really have to pay attention and perhaps change your plans to try to patronize or spend money at the local or independent businesses because they are for local folk which results in you being able to spend CUPS (24 to 1).  Makes sense????  If not, contact me.

 

Obtaining Cuba currency.  There is no silver bullet as whether you transfer money at the airport, at the Cadeca, with a private person, the hotel, etc. the U.S. dollar gets hammered………. but your options are limited.  Anyway, expect a penalty of 15 cents for every dollar, so you once you trade your dollar you walk away with 85 cents.  It is what it is!!!!  But then again, you’re paying less than $50 per day for housing, less than a couple of bucks for transportation, less than $10 for food etc.  Oh, for those cigar smokers or rum drinkers, they are very affordable as a matter of fact rum is less than the cost of water!!

Health Insurance

Health Insurance is a requirement for U.S. citizens entering Cuba.  You can purchase upon arriving OR, as in our case it was part of our travel fee.

Departure Tax

AFTER MAY 1st, 2015:

*** NEW PROCEDURE ***
Since May 1, 2015 the Cuban Departure Tax will no longer be paid at destination. It should be included in the price of your trip when buying a flight-only or vacation package to Cuba, check with you travel agent, carrier or tour operator.`  The departure tax was included in our airline ticket.

Food 

Cuban food is very accessible.  For some, you will love the street food.  Bottled water is readily available.  Then again some may opt to go to one of the many restaurants.  Seafood is plentiful.  The beef comes from Canada.  Poultry comes from the U.S., so it depends on what you are looking for but the key is you will not starve.  As an example, I got a piece of fried chicken for 1 CUC.  We had a full lobster dinner with 2 drinks and the price was 14 CUCS.  A ham and cheese sandwich are 1 CUC.  The key is prices vary based on where you are at but I can’t stress, the more flexible you are……. the better experience you will have.

 

Casa Particulares Old Havana – breakfast
the famous Coppelia Ice Cream venue
Casa Particulares in Trinidad – great breakfast
Pina Colada and traditional Ham & Cheese
Cuban espresso anyone?

Internet

I can’t stress this……DO YOUR RESEARCH and do not fall for the B.S.  Internet is available in Cuba.  Then again, I doubt seriously you travel to CUBA to lay on the internet all day…….but the point is you do have access.

There are hot spots in most of the major areas.  In addition you can purchase internet access cards at the major hotels (Nacional Hotel of Cuba and Habana Libre Hotel) which in my case was $4.50 for 1 hour.  May seem pricey……but well worth it because you are merely checking in or doing something specific, not laying on-line for hours at a time.

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ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTATION

PHOTOS

Photo Gallery – CUBA 2017 – People

Photo Gallery – CUBA 2017 – Snapshot, Sights & Scenes

Photo Gallery – CUBA 2017 – Food & Beverages

Photo Gallery – CUBA 2017 – Casa Particulares

Photo Gallery – CUBA 2017 – Autos

Photo Gallery – CUBA 2017 – Sites

VIDEOS

 

 

Websites

Judith & Fred’s Cuban Blog

Documentaries

For those visiting Cuba for the first time or if you haven’t been in a while, I would highly recommend you do yourself a favor and research the country so that you are properly informed, at at minimum gain a perspective of what you are about to discover.

Upon returning and unpacking as well as editing my footage, I came across two excellent pieces of information which you may find helpful

“The Cuba Libre Story” and “Cuba and the Cameraman.”

The Cuba Libre Story reminds me of the iconic Eyes on the Prize documentary which covered the civil rights struggles of African-Americans.  Cuba Libre has a similar format as there are eight videos which provide a great historical snapshot of Cuba’s history up to 2015.

 

Cuba and the Camera chronicles journalist Jon Alpert’s visits to Cuba and cover a forty year period but brings you up to the death of Fidel.


 

Footnotes

Casa particulares

I post the casa particulares I have stayed at or know about on TripAdvisor.  Unfortunately they do not allow postings for many sites.  I don’t know the exact answer but I think it has to do with owners needing to pay a fee/subscription or something?

Havana

hostalKhabana (Katia Dominguez)

  • (53) 78786495
  • michel@cubarte.cult.cu
  • Ayesteran 24 (between Maloja and Carlos III)
  • easy to get to bus stop is across the street or within 2 blocks plus easy access for taxi’s
  • has large room and small room
  • property is on third floor – no elevators
  • upon request will prepare meals
  • you are provided keys so you have independent access
  • Cost is very affordable – expect $25 per night
  • bathroom is very functional and has shower

Casa Particulares Mariela (Mariela Lopez)

  • (53)78353348
  • mariela_1056@yahoo.es
  • Calle 19 #1060 – e/12 y 14 (Vedado)
  • easy to get to.  in between avenida 21 & avenida 23
  • Room is apartment – downstairs/upstairs – very functional
  • upon request will prepare meals
  • you are provided keys so you have independent access
  • Cost is very affordable – expect $35 per night
  • bathroom is very functional and has shower

Trinidad

Casa Katiuska (ask for Jose Julio)

  • (53) 52711385
  • katiuskatrinidad@yahoo.es
  • Frank Pais #36
  • easy to get to, near the main part of Trinidad
  • Has several rooms – very functional
  • great patio
  • upon request will prepare meals
  • you are provided keys so you have independent access
  • Cost is very affordable – expect $25 per night
  • bathroom is very functional and has shower

 


This trek could not be completed if not for the support and love from my wife Judith, who also worked as research assistant on this project.  Also, Dr. Esteban Morales Dominguez never wavered from our initial contact in 2015 to agree to allow us to interview him regarding his work.  He and his wife, Katia were outstanding host.  Also, it must be noted our host in Trinidad; Jose Julio, his grandmother Eulalia and his girlfriend Daritza were simply outstanding in making us feel right at home.

Finally, thanks to Charles, Lani, Tanisha and Tiffany as well as others for encouraging us to make this trip and to complete this important work.

  1.  The interview including video regarding our historic discussion with   Professor Esteban Morales Dominguez will be posted in a few days.
  2.  Our interview and video regarding the discussion with the Masters   Basketball team and other critical issues about our visit will be posted in   a  few days.

Actions Taken in Response to Attacks on U.S. Government Personnel in Cuba


Che. photo courtesy of Fred Thomas, III

I am looking forward to my upcoming trip to Cuba in November.  It is  extremely important for me as I have been blessed to line up interviews with two pre-eminent scholars on topics I am covering, then Tillerson announces this!

No doubt, when traveling to another country, as citizens we rely on our State department to look out for our best interest.

I know folk who get sick drinking the water next door, or the person who loses their passport in another country!! yikes, or the person petrified to leave the neighborhood, let alone city or even the United States.

Thank god, I’m a little more calculating or willing to take measured risk.  The State department’s memorandum is quite clear, then again it is a bit nebulous depending on one’s perspective.

Even prior to the announcement,  within a trip already scheduled to be in DC, I had planned to visit the Cuba Embassy/Consulate.  My primary purpose is to get specifics on obtaining my travel visa which is needed for entry into Cuba.  My concern is the disparity in pricing of the tourist visa as if the true or only cost is $100 (from LAX) then, that is what it will be!!!  Period.  But, I need to justify the why, from a legitimate authority.

Now for those like me who are traveling to Cuba and also may be concerned about today’s State department announcement my suggestion is to do like I did.  Step back and think rationally, then since it is tough to contact the State Department for a real conversation, you are better off contacting your CONGRESSIONAL representative.  Mine was extremely knowledgeable and pleasant.  And yes, I received the information I am seeking.

Today’s State Department announcement is not a mandate or a directive but more of an alert.  So, while some may in fact cancel their trip, given my planning and familiarity of where I will be visiting, I am willing to take my chances and keep my schedule in place.  So, as of today I have a green light.

Listed below is the announcement by the State Department in response to the issues affecting the United States Embassy in Cuba.


Actions Taken in Response to Attacks on U.S. Government Personnel in Cuba

Remarks

Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
September 29, 2017

Over the past several months, 21 U.S. Embassy employees have suffered a variety of injuries from attacks of an unknown nature. The affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms, including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping. Investigators have been unable to determine who is responsible or what is causing these attacks.

United States Embassy in Havana, Photo courtesy of Fred Thomas, III

On September 29, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, as well as all family members. Until the Government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our Embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel in order to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm.

In conjunction with the ordered departure of our diplomatic personnel, the Department has issued a Travel Warning advising U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba and informing them of our decision to draw down our diplomatic staff. We have no reports that private U.S. citizens have been affected, but the attacks are known to have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens. The Department does not have definitive answers on the cause or source of the attacks and is unable to recommend a means to mitigate exposure.

The decision to reduce our diplomatic presence in Havana was made to ensure the safety of our personnel. We maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and our work in Cuba continues to be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort.

The health, safety, and well-being of our Embassy community is our greatest concern. We will continue to aggressively investigate these attacks until the matter is resolved.