Thursday, December 24, 2015

More Observations about Cuba (3rd post about Cuba)

Baseball is a game that is tightly woven into the culture of both the US and Cuba.  It is clearly the top sport in Cuba and if you play it, where and when you play is controlled by the Castro regime. That said, there are 18 Cubans now playing in the major leagues, including Yoenis Cespedas. who just played in the World Series for the Mets, and they all had to endure a risky defection to get there. ( in fact, because of that defection one of Mr. Cespedas relatives in Cuba has been jailed). Cuba does send some of its players to other countries but the Govt. decides when and where and takes a piece of the action.  Major League Baseball is exploring the possibility of playing exhibition games in Cuba this spring but more importantly, has been working on a system where they can recruit players from Cuba (and its believed there are many more who's talent is good enough for Major League Baseball), but the Castro regime wont allow it unless the government gets compensated and that would violate the US Embargo.— Who knows when and if that standoff will ever be resolved.
But if you love baseball, one of the Cuba trips that Insight Cuba offers is Baseball in Cuba.

The US Embargo 
Not only are US companies banned from doing business in Cuba but  any foreign company doing business with Cuba is not allowed to do business in the US.  That explains all the old  cars— because  if Volkswagen  or Honda want to sell in the US they can't sell to Cuba.     Is also why the cruise ships don't stop here-yet. Almost every Caribbean cruise  carries many U.S passengers— If a cruise ship docked in Cuban ports the embargo prohibits them from docking in the US for 6 months. That is going to soon change.

Cuba, until Raul took over, was 100% socialist.  Now only 85% of the people work for the state.  The demand for tourism is so great they are allowing people to put their homes on Air B&B. They are also allowing people to start restaurants. As you would surmise, no one can really afford to start a traditional restaurant so they start with a couple tables in the living rooms of their homes and make the meals in their home kitchens.  If it goes well they may take over another room in the home or Apartment and in some cases they were successful enough that they moved to a new home or Apartment  and let the entire home become a small restaurant.   We ate in one, The Magic Flute, on the 19th floor of an Apartment bldg, just across from the US Embassy with a capacity of about 40 or 50. It was outstanding.

The music in Cuba is worth the trip all by itself.  We heard several jazz bands that are world class.  Progressive jazz, Afro Cuban jazz and much more.  A very few of the lucky ones are allowed to leave Cuba to  do tour dates, but the hoops a Cuban citizen has to go through to get a visa to leave are overwhelming.   At the jazz club, La Zorra El Cuervo,  we heard the contemporary jazz group  Jazz En Trance.  These guys were world class. Then we  went to Pastorita performing arts high school in Matanzas, and heard several students play short recitals for us.  Everything is paid for by the Government, including room and board and the instrument they are studying.   
  There are only 4 recording studios in Havana and they are all very busy.  We visited Abdala, where Beuna Vista Social Club recorded, is the largest and most prestigious.   I asked a couple of the musicians what the biggest challenge of being a musician was in Cuba.  We heard about the problems with the economy  and communism  and travel restrictions  but the guitar player told us there is no place in Cuba where they can buy guitar strings.  I am sure it has to do with years of trade embargo with the US   If you go to Cuba  pack a few sets of guitar strings in your bag,  It will be easy to find someone who will greatly appreciate the gift.

Despite  the oppressive government, people of Cuba that we met seem to be happy and joyful

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