Standort: / Meldung: "Cuba's next revolution: Streamed or televised?"

Johnny Bliss

Disorderly artist, journalist, and late night moderator, with a fetish for microphone-based hooliganism.

17. 10. 2015 - 08:00

Cuba's next revolution: Streamed or televised?

Fifty-five years after the US (and much of the rest of the world) shut its doors on Cuba, relations are finally beginning to thaw. But how will this affect the people actually living in Cuba?

* - I am, however, finishing this article in 'Havana'... an upscale Cuba-themed brunch place in Vancouver.

(Since I was in the 'area' anyway, I thought I'd pop by my home city.)

Obviously, I did not write and publish this web story while still in Cuba*.

Revolutionary billboard (Cuba)

Johnny Bliss, 2015

Revolutionary billboard in Cuba
Havana restaurant, Vancouver

Johnny Bliss, 2015

Havana restaurant in Vancouver, where I wrote a great deal of this web story.

I say "obviously" because the internet situation in the country is still so far from normal, that it would be a fool's errand to even try. As some of my interview partners will shortly explain (see below), internet used to be so expensive and exclusive that you could only access it using the better part of one's monthly salary, in hotels where ordinary Cubans were not even necessarily allowed to go. (A monthly salary in Cuba, it should be noted, amounts to anywhere between ten and eighty euros, a month.)

Reality Check Special

Listen to a Reality Check Special with Johnny Bliss and a couple of charming Cuban millennials, named Joe and Reina.

Saturday, October 17th, 12-13, and afterwards seven days on demand.

Admittedly, the internet situation has begun to change for the better!

Now there are outdoor 'internet parks' available, where you can spend a few dollars (a lot of money for Cubans!) for an hour's slow internet on your phone. These parks are always crowded, at all hours of night and day, and clearly have revolutionized the lives of people all around the country.

That said, by normal standards, the speed and connectivity is abominable, and so I still would be very reluctant to write a web story there.

Also, I will freely admit I needed some time back in a world that I actually understood, to be able to process my experiences. I didn't really get Cuba.

I liked it, I found the old colonial architecture and 1960s convertible cars charming and magical and out of this world, but did I really understand what this society was all about, and why it was so?

No. Not even in the slightest.

Here are a bunch of things I didn't really understand.

I knew that the average local person saw us tourists as little more than the money we were (no doubt) carrying. I knew that if a local person would be friendly to me, they usually wanted something. I also knew, however, that we were absolutely safe from violent crime. I didn't fully understand why.

I knew from some German friends that if a beautiful woman starts flirting or dancing with you at a nightclub or bar, the odds were that the association would end with a very strong request for money.

I knew that if a friendly guy gave us directions to the supermarket, even if it was just straight down the road, he would insist we should buy him an $8 can of imported fish, as a way of saying thank you. I knew that if you got out of a taxi anywhere in a city, three desperate people would already be yelling 'Taxi?!' at you within seconds of your stepping out onto the street - as if the first thing you would do after leaving a taxi was to get another one!

Just another thing to add to the list of things I didn't understand, I guess.

The point is, clearly, many people were desperate. But why?

According to the ever-present Socialist propaganda, every person should be well-taken care of. Food, housing, healthcare, and social services, were all free for every citizen, courtesy of the revolution. This, however, told a very different story than the one we encountered every day on the street.

* - assumed names; owing to a lack of free speech in Cuba, names and locations have been changed for their own safety.

I might have left Cuba with no further understanding of how the society actually works, if I had not had the good fortune to befriend two Cubans working in tourism. Joe and Reina* are young, motivated Cuban millennials living and working in Havana, as sellers of books and other souvenirs.

They are not pictured, to protect their identities. To make up for that, here are some pictures of some cute animals I saw in Cuba.

Joe and Reina introduce themselves

J: I'm Joe, and I can talk, more or less, some English! And I am a bookseller! (laughs)

R: I am Reina. I'm a Cuban girl, who works happily here, selling books and antiques. Before, I was a tour guide.

What would you like to be doing?

R: What I love is to practice my language. I speak some English, French, and Italian... and as I work here with tourists, I am able to improve!

What dreams do you have for the future?

R: I would like to have a house, to buy a car, and to travel to Europe [...] and Canada, for example.

J: Go to your country, and see my country, in your country! Maybe be your neighbour. You know, I really need to prosper. I [am] 26 years old, and I'm still living with my parents. But [working here] my whole life, I've never prospered. So I don't want to get old, still living with my parents.

So you would like to leave Cuba for those reasons.

J: Yeah. But I'm not the only one. As Lenin said... not Lenin, no, sorry. As LENNON said, "But I'm not the only one." (laughs) Like, maybe the eighty percent of Cubans want to go out.

R: I would like to travel, just to see the world, but I would like to LIVE here.

Reina, I've met a lot of people who would like to leave Cuba though. Which I guess is also understandable.

R: Yes, [but] from my point of view, it's only people who want to look for freedom. Before we didn't have [much] freedom. I couldn't be here, talking to a tourist, like five years ago. [But] now, we have got more freedom, we have the right to travel, we have access to internet, so we're getting better. People who leave now, it's because they just think about eating, that's it.


R: Yes, eating! Because they dream of chickens, of chickens and ham and things like that!

J: It's a very hard country. We are people who can laugh about [our] own troubles. You don't have light? Okay, we don't have light, it doesn't matter! (laughs) You don't have water?! (laughs) Oh, it doesn't matter, we will laugh in a way! (laughs more) We are ALWAYS joking about [everything]. [How] we are is the best thing that we have, you know. Get any Cuban, put him in a plane, and let him [out] in any part of the world, and he will survive. We are survivors. We can survive in any part of the world. Really.

R: I would say the Cuban's dream is to have their family [and wealth]... (laughs) You know? They would like to have everything, but [also be with] their relatives. Me, in my case, it's not that [I wouldn't] like to have more. I would like to improve my economical life, but I [also] would like to change Cuba, not go to another place.

On the internet

J: We don't have fucking internet! (laughs) We live without internet. Like monks, in the mountain. (laughs)

But now you have your internet parks...

J: Yeah, but we have to pay 3 CUC for one hour. [...] You must know what you're going to do in that hour, because when you [finish] the hour, you have to spend another three CUCs again, so it's still very hard today.

Do you see that changing?

J: Just a few things have been changing right now, but you know, the same speed what you had in '95, '93, we had here in 2006. (laughs) Like a turtle, not a ninja one! The really turtle.

How disconnected do you feel from the outside world?

J: We are outside. In the world, they have a few parts where they don't have internet. In the middle of Africa, in some forests, in the desert, and here, in Cuba! (laughs)

How long have these internet plazas been around?

R: Only two or three months.

OK, so these internet parks are very new, they weren't there before.

R: Brand new in the market.

That's... that's crazy. I mean, when you think of how much of the world goes around with the internet!

R: That's it, that's why usually people are all day, all night, in the parks, trying to get the cards. And if you go now, at this time, you don't get a card, because every card for the internet was sold in the morning! Because we don't have that free access, from our phone, from your house, you have to go to that exact place to buy cards... it is still [more difficult] than for you.

Do you have any way to get around the slow or inaccessible internet?

R: Cubans are the most creative human beings in the world, I think. You know, sometimes you say, "OK, we will share a card. I'll pay you one CUC from the card, you know, and then we will share it, together, and we can have more with less money." (laughs) Those are tricks Cubans make!

On old cars

How are these cars still on the road? They're amazing, they're beautiful, but how can they still work?

J: In any part of the world, [if] you have a car, you have an old one, you change it. If you look around here, you will see history in the roads. (laughs) They have maybe fifty-five years, and people [are] still fixing them.

I find the cars pretty charming.

J: Yeah, it's pretty charming for YOU. But you have to get in, in one of those cars... Not the good ones, the bad ones... They are like the living dead! Maybe, if you open it, you will see the motor for another car, the brakes for another car, the tires...

Like Frankenstein!

J: All of them, without exceptions, are Frankenstein!

Every bit of the car, the tires, everything is...

J: When you see a car with more than fifty-five years, it is like another kind of science. Sometimes you have a car for gasoline, and they translate it to kerosene! (laughs) It's amazing. Sometimes, [one] of them never learned to write a good letter, or [they] never learned math, but you [can] talk with them about mechanics [and] they could be the best.

R: The best mechanics in the world are Cubans. (laughs) We have created, we have invented, we have made the parts, and sometimes you see a Chevrolet '52 outside, and inside it has a Toyota engine, or an engine from another new car. So we have made the car to roll, with a new engine. So, it's only the outside. Sometimes, they are original ones, even inside. But we say, okay, how is this made? Made of iron, or this or that? And then, the blacksmith makes the parts of the cars, understand? They take a look to the old part, and then imitate. And they just made the new part, to fix the car. The reason is because we are the best mechanics. (laughs)

A FM4 Reality Check Saturday Special on Saturday, October 17th

These are only a few of Joe and Reina's stories. Tune in to the program to hear the full extended version, looking more in-depth at life in Cuba today, and how the country is slowly changing - for better or for worse.

If you miss the program, you can still stream it via the Reality Check podcast or at