Back at Colby with student presentations.
Back at Colby with student presentations.
All flights were on time and we arrived back in Maine late Friday night.
Monday and Tuesday during class time there will be individual and group presentations on each student’s individual research project.
Journals are due to me on Wednesday.
Day 9 in Cuba
After breakfast we took the bus to the airport and said goodbye to Arturo and Francisco. Everyone made sure to exchange their CUC currency into dollars as CUCs are absolutely worthless outside of Cuba. The flight was uneventful, and before we knew it we were back into the hustle and bustle of Miami. Everyone made it through customs without incident. Then it was off to Comfort Suites, where many enjoyed a little pool or beach time.
Day 8 in Cuba
The next morning we had a visit to an office of the National Assembly of People’s Power and met with a member, who spoke very good English. From her we received a strong dose of the party line. She passed out booklets on the Cuban 5, and their pictures covered one wall. Behind her was a large photo of Fidel.
She gave an explanation of the structure and function of the Assembly and tried to make it sound like a functioning democracy. When she said that Raul Castro always received 100% of the votes to be head of the Council of State, the ruling body of the Assembly, it was tempting to point out that in a true democracy that would never occur over a period of time.
When asked if the statement: “The Communist Party does not govern Cuba but does rule it.” was true, she readily agreed. She then went on to say with great enthusiasm that the Communist Party was the vanguard of society and composed of the intellectual, ideological and political elite in society. Not surprisingly, we think she was a member!
We then went on a walk where we saw a Farmers’ Market with wonderful vegetables for sale. These had been purchased from farmers who drive to the outskirts of Havana at dusk and sell to these vendors. Capitalism was alive and well here. We also saw an urban garden filled with growing vegetables. Now anyone can lease unused land from the State and grow vegetables. They pay for the use of the land with a percentage of their crop.
We then had a delicious lunch and were dropped off at the San Jose Artisans’ Market on the Harbor in Vieja. There were probably a hundred stalls of different types of crafts being sold, and it was quite an example of Capitalism.
We had the rest of the afternoon free. Then it was off to our farewell dinner as we were going to be leaving in the morning. We gave a heartfelt thanks to Arturo and Francisco, our driver, and gave them Red Sox memorabilia (a Yankees hat too), Maple Syrup Candy from Maine and a generous tip for a wonderful 8 days.
On the way back all the students got dropped off at a Jazz Club and made the most out of their last night in Havana.
Day 7 in Cuba
Our morning meeting today was with members of a Bufete Colectivo (Legal Services Bureau) that specializes in international matters. One woman was the attorney for Alan Gross. She gave a full and detailed description of that case, including her coordination with US lawyers. She has also been in contact with US lawyers for the Cuban Five. The Bufetes are self-supporting, meaning their budget comes entirely from the fees they generate in representing clients. The reception area was filled with clients waiting to meet with the lawyers of the Bufete.
Lunch today was hosted by the National Union of Cuban Lawyers at an outdoor veranda in their office building. Dra. Dorys Quintana spoke to the students and presented them all with “certificates” of their participation.
The office buildings we have been to were former mansions from the Batista era with large entries, high ceilings and detailed trim work.
After a leisurely lunch, we were driven to Jaimanitas, a small town that is the home of a prolific, famous painter and mosaic artist named Jose Fuster. He is often referred to as the Picasso of the Caribbean. He began tiling neighbor’s stone walls and entryways and has decorated large portions of the area. His home and studio is a fantasy of color and shapes which you will see in the many pictures most students took. Several of our group bought some of his artwork.
After dinner on our own, we were off to meet with a CDR–Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. There are thousands of them. Every small village and every block in urban areas has one. The Committees are composed of several people who are to look out for the welfare of those who live in the immediate area. They also keep watch on everyone to ensure there is no anti-socialist behavior. They are the eyes and ears for the government and Party at the very local level.
The CDR we went to was about a half hour from Havana and was one street in size. When we arrived there was a banner overhead and dancing and singing to entertain us. There was also the obligatory prayer for the release of the Cuban 5. Soon everyone was dancing to the music, and there was much socializing with the young children there. Many pictures later we had to say good bye and headed back to Habana Vieja after a very long day.
Day 6 in Cuba
I have kept in touch with a Cuban lawyer I had met 14 months ago and have been working with her for the last 4 months to arrange for our class to visit a Cuban courtroom. This did not come to fruition before our trip. Today we were able to visit a court room to meet with municipal and provincial judges who specialize in Civil Code and Family Law. We were not able to observe a court in session though we were told that court proceedings are open to the public. If court proceedings are open to the public, it must be very few. Last year the academic group I was with could not even get to see a courtroom. One of our presenters left quickly after our meeting because he had to travel to another municipal court to preside over a case.
These people helped explain the Cuban system and told about some of their specific cases. Students asked tough questions which the 3 judges openly answered. We were again impressed with how willing people have been to answer any question we ask.
Lunch was at another lovely state restaurant called Torre. We certainly ate well in Cuba! Also, beverages were served a most meetings.
We had two afternoon events. The first was with a woman from the National Federation of Cuban Women. This is one of the Ministries in the Cuban governmental structure. Equal rights for women is part of the 1976 Constitution, which puts them ahead of the US! She listed impressive participation of women in many areas, but it can’t help but be noted that the Politburo and the higher levels of government are still primarily a man’s domain.
One of the textbooks for this class is Habana Real by Yoani Sanchez, a writer who has won numerous international awards for her work. She has suffered much persecution from the Cuban government and has been unable to travel to receive these awards. Two of our Spanish speaking students, Emily and Thomas, made contact with Yoani from the US and were given her phone number to arrange a time to meet in Cuba. She invited the whole class to her house. This is another time where our tour guide told us we would be on our own, and he did not want to know what we were up to.
We were dropped at an official spot, the Ministry of Agriculture, and found our way to her apartment from there. After an uncertain elevator ride, we arrived and were warmly welcomed by Yoani and her husband and later their son. They spoke extensively about their work helping Cubans use technology to be able to communicate freely and their own work encouraging peaceful change in Cuba. They are both hopeful and optimistic for the future. With the recent changes in travel, she expects to receive a visa in the next few weeks that will enable her to travel to Europe and other countries where she has received awards. Much of this will be paid by the sponsoring organizations and institutes.
It was dark when we departed. We walked a short distance toward a busier area to get cabs. We sent groups with the first cabs, while 11 of us piled into every empty space in a jeep-type vehicle that already had 2 people in it. When one passenger got out, Danny was solo in the front seat with the driver, 4 were in the middle, while 6 of us were crammed in the back section. Lots of laughter in that cab, and we were charged only 5 CUCs!
Day 5 in Cuba
Sunday was a day-long trip out of the city to Las Terrazas, almost 2 hours west of Habana. This is an area set aside as an eco-community with UNESCO connections. We had some exquisite local coffee, a tour of an old coffee plantation and mill, lunch at a Las Terrazas restaurant and time to swim in a nearby river.
Upon return to Habana Vieja, we had an informal class at the rooftop of the Plaza Hotel. Students were free after that and many went to the Prado y Neptuno Restaurant across the street to watch the sad Patriots game while dining on Italian food at great low prices.
Although this is a short entry, this was a 14 hour day!
Day 4 in Cuba
The first thing today was a full tour of the Museum of the Revolution. This is an impressive building with exterior displays of some of the equipment from the Revolution including the Granma, the boat Fidel, Raul, Che, etc used to cross over from Mexico to begin the fight. This was very near our hotel.
Arturo continued with a walking tour through the narrow streets and open parks of Old Habana. There was much to see from old European style churches to trained dogs dressed in costumes. Courtney was just handed a dog and had no choice but to hold the little one for the next 15 minutes or so until the street fellow retrieved it from her. Many pictures were taken!
Most structures in Habana are greatly deteriorated. There is an effort under way to rebuild and revitalize them. Some portion of money from Habana Vieja (Old Havana) businesses is given to this restoration project. There is a plan in place, but it will be an on-going effort for many years. There was noticeably more construction and renovation underway on this visit than there was 14 months ago.
We had a nice lunch at La Mina Restaurant (with music as usual) off the Plaza de las Armas, where there were many book, poster and postcard vendors and the usual array of street dogs in the middle of square.
We had the rest of the afternoon and evening to ourselves to explore more and/or pursue individual projects. One assignment for the class is for each student to investigate a subject of her/his own interest, culminating in a class presentation when we return to Colby. For example, some students met with representatives of the small Jewish community in Habana. Others have chosen the status of women, education, etc.
There is a long central walkway in Habana called the Prado that stretches from the ocean to the old Capitol building. It is a wide marble avenue with marble benches built into the sides and trees stretching above it shading the walkway. There is a busy street on each side of it with buildings along them.
Day 3 in Cuba
The Park View Hotel provided an extensive breakfast buffet daily on the top (7th) floor in a room 2 sides of which were windows opening to a panoramic view of the city roofs and streets. We all enjoyed this meal before our 8:30 or 9am departures for the day.
This day we met again with lawyers from the Cuban Society of International Law. We noticed a theme from the previous days, emphasizing Cuban history and Cuba’s desire for sovereignty and respect. This talk focused on Cuba’s standing in the world in regard to providing humanitarian aid after natural disasters and in regard to trade and business interests with Canada, Holland, Germany, China, South American countries and more.
We had lunch in a covered outdoor dining area at the 5 star Hotel Nacional. It should be mentioned that lunches and dinners in Cuba tend to be pleasant 1 1/2 hour events.
In the afternoon we visited the US Interests Section. This is the closest to an “embassy” the US has in Cuba. We thought it wise to check in and let them know our group was in Habana for a stay. This stop was not printed in our tour schedule and our tour bus was not allowed to drive us there, so the lunch meeting had been moved from a more distant location to the Hotel Nacional so that we could walk to the US Interests Section.
Guards furiously blew their whistles at me as I tried to cross the street mid-block. We are not sure if this was because I jay walked or because I was not approaching the building via one of their check-points. I back tracked, and we moved as a group through the check-point guards. We were made to stand at a specific place and approach the guard booth one at a time as our passports and visas were carefully scrutinized.
Inside the building, we had to hand over our passports, cameras and bags before entering a small auditorium where Deputy Public Affairs Officer spoke with us and answered questions. She felt that until Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years for illegally bringing electronic equipment for accessing the Internet into Cuba, was released that negotiations on other issues could not even begin. Given that Cuba takes a similar position on releasing the Cuban Five, who received long prison sentences for espionage, you can see that normalization of relations is not going to happen anytime soon. She did feel that the embargo had been a failure and should be lifted. It was giving Castro a convenient excuse for Cuba’s repeated economic failures.
From the Cuban perspective, there are also many other issues to be resolved between the two countries: Guantanamo Bay, immigration, trade, lifting of the embargo, which they refer to as “El Bloqueo”–blockade and respect for Cuba’s sovereignty. We, of course, have our own set of issues, which include human rights and a transition to democracy. Most of us felt that the public affairs officer was not at all sympathetic to the Cuban perspective on many issues.