Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this depressing report on Cuba from Bella Thomas in the British Prospect, who writes, "Those who must see Cuba before it "all gets washed away" by the Americans need not worry. The current impasse will outlast Fidel, and may outlast Raúl for a few years-to the great cost of the Cuban people, and the architecture and resources of this remarkable island."
[Cubans] are far poorer than their eastern European counterparts were in 1989: the average wage, at $20 a month, can barely feed a single person for a couple of weeks. You cannot spend any length of time in Havana without noticing the lack of food for the majority of Cubans. The mother of a friend, an old lady who lived in one tiny rotting room in a former brothel with her son, gets by selling matchboxes to her neighbours, having stolen them from the factory where she worked. Another acquaintance keeps pigs on her balcony and sells pork to a few locals. The luckier ones sell cigars or taxi rides to foreigners. An elite work in hotels.
When the Soviets pulled out, the government reluctantly turned to tourism to stave off bankruptcy. The business started in enclaves in a few prescribed zones, on the basis that foreign influences might be quarantined. But tourists were always going to be drawn to the city centres. And the presence of tourists has inevitably revealed to Cubans the depths of their poverty and repression. Tourism has enriched some Cubans and given others decent jobs, but it has also undermined the status of those in less lucrative but better qualified professions.