Cuba continues its fight to control its own destiny

Joe Grogan, Retired OPSEU Member

I first visited Cuba in 1986 and at that time, stayed in Varadero, located on the north coast of Cuba (the Atlantic Side).  Since then, I have been there many times with my spouse, Shilagh, friends form the Labour Movement, neighbours and many times alone.  I have stayed in a wide variety of hotels in different parts of the country but mostly, I prefer the eastern part of the country because of the historical roots of the Cuban revolution (provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Holguin), for cultural reasons for the beauty of the countryside (trees, fauna and beautiful valleys), the friendly population and of course the access to some of the world’s most beautiful and safe beaches.  While all of these factors are important for me, the most important factor relates to my support for the Cuban Revolution that won political power in Cuba in 1959 following the defeat of Batista by Fidel Castro and his companions who fought a guerilla war against the U.S.-backed corrupt regime of Batista.  I was last there in May 2019 and stayed at Brisas Guardalalvaca in the Province of Holguin.  The hotel is rated as a four star.  In the province there are now many hotels which usually are joint projects between Cuba and countries such as Spain and France.  This hotel used to be part of Delta Hotels but now is a completely managed Cuban business.  Tourism is the main pillar of the Cuban economy replacing sugar production and export many years ago.

Recent Changes in the Country

While staying in Cuba in May, this year, I noted a huge new developmental project adjacent to the Village of Playa Guardalalvaca consisting of a hotel complex being constructed as a joint project by France and Cuba.  This hotel will be a five star operation and is located a short distance from the beach.  It is supposed to open in 2020 and from the look of the construction, that objective may be a tad optimistic in terms of its target opening time.  Holguin province is certainly in my view one of the most prosperous ones for Cuba as there are now many highly-rated hotel complexes in this province.  These operations provide needed employment for the local population and for those living in other parts of the province who reach the hotels every day from local villages where they are picked up and retuned home by bus services provided by the government.  The digital revolution has come to Cuba; it seems that now everyone has a cell phone.  Few people have computers and printers at home but many can have access to international news via computer systems they can access at schools, colleges, universities and hospitals/other social services.  This is of some benefit but also can produce some difficulties because the U.S. can bombard the country through its typical news outlets and “entertainment” channels which can be used in subtle ways to undermine the culture and socialist character of the Cuban revolution.

This year, Holguin Province was being affected by a drought that had lasted for about four months.  This is serious because droughts mean less food production for the local population and for Cuban guests staying at the many hotels.  Consequently, the government had to make significant cuts to the basic Cuban rationing system which limited the population’s access to dairy products such as milk and eggs, meats and other food.  The basic rationing system was introduced decades ago to ensure that all segments of the population would have access to food; during the Batisita regime, you had a minority of the population living the life style of the rich and famous with the majority of the population having very limited access to the means of life, education, health care and social services.  Climate change is certainly affecting the coastlines and the coral systems of both the Atlantic and Caribbean, much as Fidel Castro had predicted many years ago.  In addition, some Cuban environmental experts predict that within 10 more years, a significant part of the province of Pinar del Rio in the west will be under water as sea levels continue to rise off the Western coast of Cuba.

OPSEU local 562 and Cuba

In the past at my request, the faculty union has provided modest funds for the purchase here of school supplies for schools that I have visited near the hotel operations.  These in combination with modest financial resources that my family has provided demonstrate to the Cuban people that they are not alone.  Many other visitors to Cuba bring with them school supplies, medicines such as Tylenol, Aspirin, clothing (new and used but clean), medical supplies such as plastic gloves, tongue depressors, band-aids, baseball equipment, baseball caps, pens, pencils, erasers, markers and many other items.  These are given to hotel employees or to people in the countryside when guests decide on their own (perfectly safe by the way) to visit villages, families and institutions there.

If you decide to visit Cuba, do so with an open mind.  The Cuban people will welcome you with an open mind and know that with Canadians, they can expect respect for Cuba’s ongoing struggle to build the country, in spite of the continuing threats/actions from Mister Trump and some of his Canadian colleagues who sadly wish to gain political points in our contradictory relationship with America.  In spite of several challenges I have confidence in the determination, valour and ability of the Cuban people.  They will overcome!

Joe Grogan is a retired professor from the School of Business and Liberal Arts, from 1969 to 2003, and a proud OPSEU member.