I missed Michael Ray’s first column on Cuba because I was travelling in South America. I have now read both of Ray’s columns and his response to a reader’s letter.
I beg to differ with Mr. Ray. When I was in Cuba in December of 2013, I did see beggars and hungry people in Havana. There were elderly people begging and selling paper cones of peanuts and newspapers at greatly inflated prices as well as women begging for empty plastic water bottles. I will never forget the look of gratitude from one of these women when I gave her the leftovers from my hotel breakfast. She had responded “si” when I asked “tiene hambre?”
The monthly rations of five pounds of white rice, two pounds of dark meat chicken, 10 ounces of beans, 12 eggs, a cup of oil and four pounds sugar don’t last half a month. The free milk is one liter for children under 7 and some seniors. Cubans are prohibited from catching, buying or eating lobster. It is saved for export and tourists, as is white meat chicken. The country imports 80% of its food because it does not grow enough, although they could. There is no incentive to have a large garden because the people can’t sell the surplus. The only food market I saw had just a few items.
The average salary is $20 per month. Doctors and professors moonlight as cab drivers, bartenders and tour guides to survive.
Tourists are shown what the Cuban government wants us to see, so we can get the impression that all is well there. That’s common for a communist country. The government-owned and private restaurants for tourists have plenty of food. When I asked about the trucks with water tanks delivering water via hoses to downtown restaurants, I found out that running water is on only a few hours every other day. No mention in our hotel to conserve water or reuse linens.
There is free medical care, just no medicine. Free housing, but in crowded slums without proper sanitation and utilities.
I encourage you to visit because it is a charming country and the music, art, and crumbling architecture and beauty of the people and the land and seascapes are amazing. But if you do, take those little bars of soap from hotels to give to the poor. Soap is so scarce that the public bath rents bars of it.
Let’s hope that by lifting the trade embargo, Cuba can get enough medicine, food and other goods.
Katy Moss, Laguna Beach
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