Travel 101: Intro to Cuba

Here you’ll find helpful information about visiting Cuba. You can also learn more about some general information regarding politics, the economy, and US-Cuban relations.

Best Time to Visit

In general, the summer is often incredibly hot while the winter season is usually quite busy with crowds and higher prices. Because of this April and October can be considered well timed, shoulder season times to visit Cuba. During these periods you usually avoid less extreme weather and fewer crowds.

Where to Stay

In general, you should avoid the large hotels. These hotels are often state owned and contribute financially to the nondemocratic Cuban government.

Private homes (casas particulares) are a better option and can be found throughout the country. Private homestays support Cuban families directly and offer you the opportunity to get a better picture of what life is like in the country. This is especially true since the Covid-19 pandemic as conditions on the island have become considerably worse.

You can find casas particulares on AirBnb.

Related: Six Places to Eat in Havana

Politics and the Economy

The current President is no longer a Castro. Miguel Díaz-Canel took office in 2019 after succeeding Raúl Castro. While Díaz-Canel is the President, Raúl Castro remains the head to the Communist Party of Cuba. The leader of the revolution and brother to Raúl, Fidel Castro died in 2016.

Since the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, politics has been dominated by the Communist Party. The state initially limited any private ownership, but in the years especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, the economy has been steadily opening up to foreign investment and tourism. In the early 90s, Cuba teetered on the edge of collapse. Many people struggled to find food.

Several reforms ended this devastation known as the Special Period. Some of these reforms included increasing foreign investment and tourism, which has helped the government sustain itself since the Special Period.  The economy of Cuba cannot be considered a pure communist model and is certainly not what Karl Marx would have envisioned.

Related: Why does Cuba use two currencies?

Inequality

Cuba, like many countries in the world today, faces growing economic inequality. This inequality can also be stratified geographically, with Havana being the most economically advantaged city in the country.

While income inequality is less severe than in the United States, Cubans with more resources continue to be more advantaged. For example, Cubans with family that have emigrated are better able to secure basic goods and commodities, not to mention greater valued cash, which is often sent back home in the form of remittances.

Despite the efforts of the revolution, racial inequality also still exists in Cuba, with Afro-Cubans generally more marginalized than white Cubans. Meanwhile, gender equality has made great strides. Women in Cuba in general have better access to healthcare and education than most places in the world.

United States-Cuba Relations

Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the United States and Cuba maintained strong diplomatic relations. The United States backed the dictator General Fulgencio Batista and dominated the Cuban economy (where do you think all those classic cars came from?). This gave rise to the communist, charismatic leader Fidel Castro who successfully ousted the U.S. and Batista.

Unhappy with a communist government at its shores during the Cold War, relations have been soured ever since. Though there have been brief moments of improved relations, the United States continues to embargo any American business from engaging with Cuba. The half century old embargo has failed to dislodge the communist party, but has succeeded in reducing the resources available to the average Cuban citizen.

Beyond government relations, Cubans also have a special position in the American demographic patchwork. Many wealthier Cubans fled the country to the U.S. in an effort to protect their assets during the transition to communism. In the decades that would follow, many Cubans made death defying efforts to use make-shift boats to cross the sea to Florida.

Due to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the United States privileged Cuban immigrants over most others by fast tracking their legal residency status. In 2017, this law was amended to treat Cubans the same as any other migrant group.

For many years the government also afforded them financial bonuses to help get settled. Understanding push and pull factors are essential for understanding the full picture of immigration, but in this case the political motivation for welcoming Cubans to the U.S. cannot be underscored enough.

Today, Cubans make up a substantial population in southern Florida and are on average more politically conservative due to their experiences with a failed planned economy.

Related: How do Americans obtain a visa to visit Cuba?

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TAYTRUM TRAVELS
Santa Barbara, California
taytrumtravels@gmail.com