Cuba is a very interesting country, which calls itself ’socialistic republic‘. Although one notices quite quickly that the country is different than Germany, it is not easy at all to describe this in words. So I will try to explain the socialism in Cuba with examples, which mark the differences to Germany. The first thing that caught our eyes on the bicycle trip were big houses containing many flats which all looked identical. They still remain from the time shortly after the revolution, where Fidel Castro Ruz decided, that every Cuban should have a place to live.
That is also the reason, why big old houses are now separated in smaller flats, so everyone can live in flats of similar values. The next thing we noticed almost immediately after starting the trip were the many monuments and pictures of the national heroes. Especially Che and Fidel are visible all over the country on walls, buildings, museums and of course places in cities as for example the „Plaza de la Revolucion“ in Havana. We also saw many quotes of these heroes, especially Jose Marti. Every time we wanted to turn on the television (which was – of course – not often the case), the first thing we saw, was one of Marti’s quotes. Another quote that stayed on my mind, was from Fidel, which was written on the front wall of the history room at the Frederico Engels school which we have been visiting for some days. On the day the school was found, Fidel said this in his speech:’Our school is an oven to form marzianic, marxistic and leninistic communists for the future.‘
Another detail of socialism we could see in the daily school life was the school uniform. Every student no matter where in the country he/she lives wears the same uniform, which is provided by the government. The children in primary school wear red trousers and white shirts. The students in middle school wear yellow trousers with white shirts and the students in high school (or pre – university as they call it here) wear dark blue trousers and light blue shirts. The schools for highly intelligent pupils like the Federico Engels school are allowed to add an emblem to their uniform.
When a child enters school it gets one set and after that each year one gift card for a new uniform. But not only the uniforms are provided, but also all the classes and at the boarding schools also the food and almost everything the students may need does not have to be paid by them or their families.
We also caught a glimpse of socialism while shopping for our meals at the casa. There is only one enterprise which produces drinks in Cuba: Ciego Monterro. That means for example, that we could not find Coca Cola. The Cuban Coke is called TuKola and tastes slightly different than Coca Cola.
There were some more situations, where we realized how different Cuba is to Germany. One evening we wanted to buy bread for the next morning, but the man did not want to sell us any, because they were reserved for the Cubans. They all have small books in which is written down how many breads etc. they can get only with this book per month. So we were not able to buy our bread with money, but the Cubans got some by getting their bread – mark signed. All the local supermarkets work with this system too, which does not mean, that the inhabitants cannot pay with money.
And then there is the thing with the money… There are two currencies in Cuba: the ‚Peso convertible‘ and the ‚moneda nacional‘. One Peso convertible (or CUC) equals 24 moneda nacional. The main problem here was for us, that the unit for both currencies is the Peso. So one evening we wanted to get back to our casa by bus and the driver told us, that it will cost 25 pesos. As the ride to the place we were at that moment cost 24 pesos in moneda nacional, we thought that he spoke of moneda nacional. Well, when we arrived at our casa, he wanted to have 25 CUC.
So in the end we had to pay 24 times the price we wanted to pay for the ride, but at least the bus was really comfortable and it was a great and beautiful oldtimer.
This leads us to the next and last example. Way more than the half of all the cars in Cuba are oldtimers. But the reason for that is not that the Cubans think, that they are more beautiful than the modern cars or they prefer them in any way from the cars we ride in Europe, no. These cars are still in use, because there is not really the money or the possibility to change them. That is also why many Cubans still drive with lorries and they still make their fields with the help of cows. In some situations, you could think, that you travelled back in time.
These were only a few examples, but the easiest to describe. All in all one can say, that Cuba is different to Germany in more than one way, which is very interesting but can also lead to irritations on our side and on the side of the Cubans , when we behaved a bit strange.