There are perhaps four large categories of American thought which provide definitions of the fifty years of Castro rule: 1) the right-wing which views the island as a totalitarian, communist police state where starving people live under daily repressive rule, and the government is involved in drug trafficking and terrorism; 2) the center through to the liberal left which agrees, perhaps in the mode of Michael Moore’s movie, Sicko, that the Revolution has provided good social services for the poor and resisted U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere, but needs to install more democracy and private investment; 3) the organized left which sees very little wrong with the island and views all criticism of it as aid to the U.S. empire, and 4) the anarchist view which, indeed, sees the island as a police state needing a second revolution to install workers democracy, but has no use for calls for returning to private forms of ownership or foreign investment.
Formally known as Caobana in the native Taíno language, the island now known as Cuba is located in the Caribbean sea and rests just 90 miles south of the Florida Peninsula. Discovered in 1492 by the Spanish flagged crew of Christopher Columbus and later claimed for himself; the island has been ruled by Spain until their final overthrow in 1902. Cuba tempted multiple revolutions in the mid-to-late 1800s and one important actor to come out of this was José Martí, the prolific Cuban writer who died fighting against Spain in 1895. Today the words and slogans of Martí are manipulated by not only the Cuban State, but it's opponents as well - with each declaring him for themselves. In 1959, Fidel Castro with the help of Ernesto “Che” Guevera and others overpowered the USA backed Cuban government of Batista and with little exception has been in power ever since.
Cuba is one of the places in the world that citizens of the United States of America (USA) are not allowed to legally visit, just ask Jay-Z. Usually, unless you're a doctor, lawyer, journalist, student, Cuban-American, some-kind-of professional, musician, or something close by those terms, you may NOT be able to visit. Although, times are slowly changing and a 2011 New York Times article, explains some current ridiculously expensive vacation exceptions for regular USA passport holders. But what if you can't afford that, or those pre-planned cookie-cutter trips are not appealing to you, yet you'd still like to visit?
Cuba is only 90 miles away from the USA, appearing like long lost pen pals who in the end turned out to be neighbors, that secretly hate each other. There has been some discussion in prior years of capitalizing on ship/boat cruises from Florida to Cuba and reverse, although I'm not sure if this ever really panned out. A lot of cruise ships (floating monstrosities) can't make port in Cuba due to the USA economic embargo. Traveling to Cuba by plane has also become a bit easier with some added options for flights; although the USA mainstays are still Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami with permission. Otherwise, you're looking at first traveling to Canada or Mexico for your departure.
Once you arrive in Cuba, there is a $25 entry fee from the Cuban authorities, and legally as a USA citizen you're not allowed to spend more then $20 on the island. Therefore, by simply entering Cuba - you're breaking the law; which if I remember correctly there is also was an exit fee of like $20+. If someone wants to specifically clarify any of this info, that would be great - because honestly these things change and it's confusing. One of the funniest parts for me is USA - "land of free to travel where you want" and you can actually travel there "without breaking a law", but you can't spend more than $20; which is a impossible with a $25 entry fee from Cuba. It's confusing from both sides, with each one saying different things. The economic embargo is from the USA, but then Cuba totally blocks even arrival in a legal sense for USA citizens by making them pay over the USA quota.
Upon arriving in La Habana, when I handed customs my passport and told them to stamp it, they looked back with a rather funny perplexed expression. "Yes, really please stamp it." Otherwise, usually they insert a blank sheet of paper and stamp that instead. I needed mine stamped because I was legally visiting the island and would be there for sometime, with other customs hoops to jump through which required the officialness.
And... money? Otherwise, so the story goes. Obviously, "non-legal" travelers from USA, it seems usually make sure you don't have to use a credit card or other banking devices there to get your capital. Even using your passport/ID to check in at some hotels can lead to the USA knowing of your stay in Cuba, thus invoking a possible fine once back home and crossing the border with your fantasy Cuban cigars and rum. Bring all the money that you may need with you, don't get robbed (just kidding), and otherwise prepare for the squeeze, if you ever come back. I imagine if you have a non-USA bank you may be okay, but check ahead and consider your options. Whatever you do, exchange your American dollars for Canadian or something else before you get to Cuba, otherwise be prepared to pay an hefty (15%?) tax for using American dollars there. Hotels usually charge dramatically more to exchange money into Cuba's two different currencies, Pesos Nacional y Convertibles (CUC). Make sure you exchange your money at a "Casa de Cambio" or exchange house for the best rate. Plan ahead to save your dimes. They are located all over the city of Habana, a lot of Cubans use them as well (get there earlier, to ensure they have what you're looking for if you're exchanging a lot).
Even with its privileged bureaucracy, its police control, and centralized economy, there is a spontaneous, communal, imaginative aspect to the Revolution. This shows up in its vibrant culture and music scenes, but also on the local level where women’s groups challenge traditional machismo, neighbors plant vast community organic gardens, and most share a pride in having defeated and held off the imperialist monster of the north. The island’s education system creates a higher literacy rate than that of the States, and its universal health care system provides a better infant mortality than the U.S, These and other successes have made Cuba a model of what can be done with little. (For instance, Detroit’s infant mortality rate is 16 deaths per 1,000 live births; Cuba’s is six.)
An Anarchist in Cuba: Socialism or Cell Phones
by Walker Lane
Fifth Estate #378, Summer 2008.
by Walker Lane
Fifth Estate #383, Summer 2010.
For some further reading: