CUBA, "BEFORE IT CHANGES"?

In May 2017 we went to Cuba with the desire to visit this Caribbean island which looks like a 1950s' movie.

The most pronounced sentence by tourists going to Cuba is probably "We wanted to see Cuba before it changes".
Indeed, the embargo, lifted by B.Obama brings new commercial possibilities, but also new cars, the americanized culture, and a mass tourism which is quickly built, among others. Seeking authenticity, many tourists want to discover this country stuck in time, to admire the old American cars in front of the tired facades of Spanish colonial houses, discover the cigar factories, lounging on a beautiful cayo of white sand and coconut palms, hotel-clubs, exotic cocktails. Here is Cuban tourism.

Yes, except that behind the dream lies a reality that is not shown in tourism brochures: the dictatorship is visible everywhere, the inhabitants are always rationed, quietly speak of open-air prison.
Just like in a 19th century hacienda where slaves work tirelessly, most of the time the inhabitants have 3 or 4 different jobs, so that the fruit of their work (the money earned and the production made) is fully taxed by the state. The whole is then distributed equally between each citizen. But the state takes more than it gives back to its people. Some Cubans have exploited the loopholes, others receive a little more because they found a place where the profit is the most important: tourism. The majority lives in big poverty.
In Trinidad, a man showed us a neighborhood under renovation, telling us: "it will be for you". The districts are renovated not to improve the living comfort of the inhabitants, but to increase tourism.

The prison is also physical. Although now the population is allowed to travel, the national currency is valued 25 times less than its neighbors, and the monthly salary is 18CUC (15 €). It is therefore almost impossible to buy a plane ticket, pay a visa and therefore leave the island easily until the National Peso has disappeared. A question in progress since 2011.
The Cayos, these tiny peninsulas of white sand in the north of Cuba - closer to the American coast - are only for tourists. Taxi drivers are not allowed to enter, so they must drop tourists before the gate. Cubans have access only to work, a barrier on the only road to control who accesses and who comes back.

It is difficult to discuss these topics with locals. They dread speaking, scared of being heard by a law officer. There is no freedom of expression, but propaganda from the Revolution at every street corner.

It was shocking to discover the paradox of this country. Lands of extreme beauty, people of incredible kindness, but managed by a system as hard, unequal and oppressive.

In November 2018, after the departure of Raul Castro from the presidency, big debates open to the entire population were finally put in place, in order to allow the inhabitants to define their new Constitution. Among one of the mentions, the end of communist society, the installation of a presidential democracy.
Eventually Cuba changes, and it is about time.

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LAURA PONCHEL
PHOTOGRAPHER