Cuba, March 2003 - economically and politically deprived
I never would have thought that trips to Cuba and eastern Germany would provide such interesting similarities and contrasts.
It was a privilege to visit Cuba because so few Americans can go there legally - even fewer now that President Bush has tightened the restrictions. To travel legally, an American needs a license from the Treasury Department. The easiest way to obtain a license was to go on a licensed tour. So, we joined an educational "adventure" conducted by the Stanford University Alumni Association and traveled with a delightful group of well-educated, inquiring people.
The Cuban people are distrusted by their government and every aspect of life is controlled. It seems to exhibit the worst possible aspects of Communist rule. However, the people are warm and friendly, eager to talk to outsiders. We saw nearly the whole island, traveling west from Havana to Viñales, and east to Playa Girón (the Bay of Pigs), Trinidad, Santiago, and Baracoa. The beaches are beautiful.
Due to central planning, the country lacks in variety of consumer goods (there were few decent souvenirs) and services can be interrupted. One night in Trinidad, we had an unplanned dinner by candlelight. It was really dark! Our meals were always the same: chicken, fish, or pork.
It was a trip not to be missed.