Time Stood Still: Perspectives of Cuba by Foot

The architecture in Havana is Spanish Colonial, grand, elegant, and just stunning. At a glance, when riding around a beautifully kept classic car, one can quickly romanticize the city and consequently the country as a whole. It is frozen in time which makes for a very unique environment drawing you in at every door step, corner, and faded mural. But as the steps progress one can quickly see that the congelation of time has allowed for a permeated dilapidation.

While it is true that everyone has a home the state of the buildings leave much to be desired when it comes to safety. Several buildings look like they could crumble at any moment. They are in great need of updates, restructuring, rebuilding, repainting, and general attention. As I asked locals why the buildings are in this situation the answer most gave was simple, “THE EMBARGO”. They said that the embargo means that Cuba has to try to procure materials from European countries and Asian countries which equals high prices for any small thing. Another answer I heard a couple of times was, “the government. If they really wanted to do something about it they would.” My observations have allowed me to form a superficial opinion that it is both the American embargo on Cuba and the Cuban government keeping the living conditions in such a dire state. While it is evident that the government is beginning to invest in the rehabilitation of its capital, the change/rehabilitation is coming slowly. There is scaffolding all over the city but only few are actually being worked on—and those buildings that are in the process of renewal are first and foremost the ones that will bring in more visitors: The Capitol building, the Museum of the Revolution, the National Theater and so on. The last on the list are the homes of the people.

Something else that struck me as I explored Cuba by foot was how many educated professionals weren’t able to work in the profession that they were trained in. It is absolutely amazing and wonderful that everyone has access to free education, but what good does that do the country when you have engineers working as taxi drivers, physical education teachers working as housekeepers, and architects working in souvenir shops? Every type of worker is important, necessary and can do their job honorably, but every person should have the freedom to choose what they will do in life instead of being forced through circumstance into menial jobs and poverty. I could say so much more about this based on Amartya Sen’s book Development As Freedom but that calls for its own article. 😉

Yes, Cuba by foot is a lot less romantic than Cuba through the windows of classic car, but it is not all bad. Hope can be found. When you talk to the Cuban people they are all filled with gratitude for President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with country. They are all excited to see American people visit their homes. They are all eager to share their culture and history. They are ready to tell their side of the story. But most of all, they are ready thrive. Their biggest hope is that the embargo will be done away with and Cuba can live in the present again—all the while doing it their way.  Glimpses of a once colorful past embedded in a dilapidated present and hopeful future come through like rays of sunshine on a cloudy day.

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