In 1958, a senior from my high school named Robert Thurman was expelled for trying to join Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuba. I traveled to Cuba this August to see for myself what the legacy of that revolution really is. Any visitor to Cuba can see that the Castro Revolution is a failure.
As a Polish-American, I'm proud that the solidarity movement in Poland helped end communism and bring democracy to Eastern Europe. But why does communism continue in Cuba? Former Solidarity leader and President of Poland Lech Walesa jokes that Americans don't want change in Cuba because they like having "a Jurassic Park as a museum of Marxism Leninism."
I met the Nobel Peace Prize winner in July when I was an intern at the Lech Walesa Institute in Warsaw. "We need to fight to ensure that Cubans have legal rights and freedom," Walesa told me. The Institute has a program called "Solidarity with Cuba," dedicated to the civil society in Cuba. The goal is for the Cuban people oppressed by the Castro to find solidarity the way that Eastern Europe gained its freedom.
Walesa's staff briefed me on the situation in Havana, and I found an educational tour that allowed my father and I to enter Cuba legally. The Institute provided me with contact information for dissidents. The itinerary of our official tour was loaded with propaganda about the wonders of Cuba's medical care and high literacy rate. We asked questions and learned that the medical equipment that does exist is decades old and grossly inadequate. Additionally, the country's 99 percent literacy rate is a lot easier to come by when the nation considers a first to third grade reading level "literate."
When we snuck away from the group to meet with regular Cubans, it was clear they were not as happy with the "revolution" as our guides would have had us believe.
Most people live in poverty. Censorship is so strict that Cubans are not allowed on the Internet, and few people are allowed to have cell phones.
People are discontent and organizing themselves to make that clear. A former Cuban Ambassador, Professor Gabriel Calaforra, for example, holds open meetings for young intellectuals to meet and talk at his apartment every Monday night.
While Raul Castro may have eased some regulations imposed on the Cuban people, Calaforra says the outlook for Cubans is bleak. Sure, some Cubans are interacting with foreigners and making connections, "but for the rest of the Cuban youth, the situation is getting worse and
worse. They have been living for decades being told that they don't have to worry for their future because the government will do something for them. In reality, nothing has been done for them," Calaforra said.
That's why people beg for money everywhere you go in Cuba. To Cubans, foreigners are "yumas." There are two currencies in Cuba, the national peso, for Cubans and the convertible peso, or CUCs for "yumas" to buy items brought from Europe.
The Communist system and the U.S. embargo have nearly destroyed Cuba. Most buildings are crumbling and many don't have windows or roofs. Even Fidel Castro admitted in an interview in 2010 that "the Cuban model doesn't work for us anymore."
As the trip went on my father and I kept sneaking away from the tour to meet with real Cubans. I met people my age who were happy to talk with an American. My three years of high school Spanish helped to communicate a lot, but I also found people who speak English. I enjoyed the famous son music of the Buena Vista social club, but I was more interested to hear music that appealed to people my age. I found a CD by an underground Cuban rap group called "I Los Aldeanos." They rap about the problems and misery that Cubans face.
Amnesty International says that there are more than 70 political prisoners in Cuba. In 2003, their wives and mothers started a group called "Las Damas de Blanco," The Ladies in White, to protest their
imprisonment. They attend a mass every Sunday dressed in white, and quietly march in white clothing in an act of passive resistance.
Walesa's staff arranged for us to meet with the Berta Soler, the group's leader, and three other members. Berta and the other damas told us of the regime's oppression. We snuck a video camera into an apartment (I will post that interview on my web site).
What does the future hold for Cuba? I will document these issues on my web site until all Cubans are free.