Cuba has quite the reputation here in the United States, and due to our lack of interconnectedness there are plenty of myths abound. What was it about this small Communist nation not 100 miles from our shore? Many of us knew very little of Cuba besides Fidel Castro, cigars, rum, old school cars, and baseball (though those were all very much a part of the Cuban experience). Understanding the local consumer was a prime learning objective for our trip and we were lucky to learn a lot from our guides, locals we met along the way, and observation.
The first surprise about Cuba is how relatively normal it is. It is definitely a country that has seen economic hardship, in large part due to the Embargo (Blockade as the Cubans refer to it), but it certainly did not feel like an oppressive dictatorship like cultural imagination would suggest. Throughout the cities and countryside of Cuba stand monuments and billboards with pictures and quotes from the Revolution’s Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara. Yet despite this abundance of nationalistic and revolutionary propaganda, we as visitors did not feel a strong government presence – rather, the mood was pleasant and inviting.
Cuban people are well-educated and healthy from universal education and healthcare, and still have an entrepreneurial spirit despite the significant governmental limits on enterprises. While you won’t find any private Cuban corporations, many small businesses are thriving and taking advantage of loopholes to grow as much as possible. The younger generation especially is hopeful and excited for the Embargo to fall and to increased business relationships with the United States. They for the most part are proud of the general welfare accomplishments of Cuba due to its Socialist policies, but they are also aware of their standing in a global society and are ready to join the stage. Still, a few jabs at the downsides of the relatively unregulated Capitalism of the United States suggest that Cubans are hesitant to open up their island nation to the whims of the Free Hand.
Leaving Cuba, I found myself hopeful and excited for the possibilities that would come from improved relationships between our two countries. My biggest takeaway from my visit was about how unique Cuba’s historical background has been, and all the possibilities for how Cuba will change in the next 10-20 years.