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Hi, all.

As promised, reporting back on the trip to Cuba. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Veradero (a peninsula on the north / west part of the island). Took day tours into several other areas, including Havana, Matanzas, and the Bay of Pigs area. We also went and wandered around unaccompanied in the town of Veradero.

No travel papers required for Canadians to move around within the country. We were not required to stick with any tour or guide. Although we did not wander as much as I normally might, that was due to the resort location, and not government interference. The hotel took down our passport numbers (also routine in Europe), but there were no other reporting requirements.

Most of the folks we spoke with were pretty free with their opinions of Cuba and socialism, good and bad, including one fellow who approached us on the street to share a diatribe on how terrible things were. He was clean, well-dressed, and well fed (somewhat overweight, in fact), which did not entirely support his claims. However, everyone we spoke with agreed that the period following the collapse of the USSR (who had financed Cuba after the revolution) was terrible, and that hunger and deprivation were widespread.

Cuba is decidedly a poor country, on a level with Morocco and Guatemala (comparable countries I have traveled to). Many of the buildings are run-down to the point of falling over, and living quarters appear cramped, with a lot of people (large families?) sharing space. However, we did not see any starving children, and in fact, people on the whole tended to be a little on the heavy side, even in very run-down (obviously poor) areas. We felt no sense of danger at any time in our roaming. Cubans have great teeth. It is obvious that medical and dental care is available to all. There was little begging, minimal hassle from touts and shopkeepers, and no obvious corruption.

The effects of the embargo are pretty obvious - very few American goods, and all of those were very expensive (ie. $2.50 Cokes). However, we saw cell phones, internet cafes, name-brand clothing, and newer vehicles. The imports were all priced in Cuban Convertible Pesos, which are worth a lot more (maybe 25x?) than the local currency. However, staple foods, electricity, and such were priced in local pesos, and appear to be subsidized. Education is free, including university. Maternity benefits are comparable to Canada. There are pensions for old folks.

Several Cubans (the younger ones, mostly) were of the opinion that there were issues with their system, but that these issues could be solved; they did not wish to abandon socialism. Quite frankly, I was impressed with how some of the systems are designed, even if they have not quite played out as intended.

We spoke to several people (English is compulsory in school - everyone speaks it to varying degrees, so we could speak with random people), and learned a great deal. I don't know what might be interesting to know, but please ask any questions you might have...
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