Many visitors to Belize take side trips to neighbouring Mexico – and Cuba. Belize enjoys friendly relations with all countries and thus it is easy to travel to Cuba from here. Cuba sends medical teams to do volunteer work in rural Belize and some Belizeans study medicine and other careers there, making travel to Cuba relative easy.
Noted American writer and Historian Emory King (who has lived most of his life in Belize), decided to travel Cuba and wrote the following after his visit to there:
I have just returned from Cuba. I suppose I was more impressed by what I did not see rather than what I saw, although what I saw was impressive.
I spent four hours riding around Havana. I did not see any soldiers. None. The only policemen I saw were traffic officers. I did not see any pictures of Fidel or any propaganda signs. I did not see any long lines of people waiting to get food.
Perhaps they were there but I didn’t see them. For a police state with such bad press on US television, I was surprised.
On the other hand, I didn’t see any fat people. But no one appeared to be starving either. I did not see many automobiles. A ’46 Buick and a ’51 Cadillac, shining like new pennies, attracted my attention.
At the 450 year-old Cathedral of San Cristobal, I was accosted by the street children. There was a half dozen of them. None was ragged and none looked underfed. One 10 year-old wanted me to give him my pen, “for my schoolwork.” He talked English. A little girl asked for a Tropi-cola, the Cuban equivalent of coke. A more enterprising child wanted to sell me cigars “my mama makes.” It was touching but I maintained a hard heart and walked on. They didn’t seem to mind. They continued their game of tag on the cobbled stone street.
All along the Malecon, the lovers were sitting on the seawall doing whatever lovers do at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Boys on bicycles rode by, laughing and shouting words of encouragement or otherwise to the couples on the wall.
I did not see any garbage or trash or even an empty bottle on the streets. The city was clean, as was Varadero. The people were well dressed and seemed to be content if not downright happy.
The workers at the hotel, front desk staff, bellboys and entertainers, spoke English, French, German and Spanish. The waitresses in the dining room were middle-aged ladies who, in spite of speaking English, called me “Mi Amor” and “Mi Cielo” whenever they brought me mineral water to drink.
Waitresses in Belize do not call me “My love” and “My heaven,” but considering the waitresses here are young and beautiful, it is probably just as well.
I went to a large two storey, half a block long store in Havana. It was crowded with Cubans, mostly women, pushing their shopping carts and gossiping. I was, perhaps, the only non-Cuban there. The shelves were not stocked full to overflowing, but there was a lot of goods, just the same. I bought three shirts and was surprised that the checkout counter was electronically operated with bar codes.
The National Hotel is a 50-year-old monument to capitalism in pre-revolutionary Cuba. It looks as good today as ever. A doorman opened the taxi door for me. Another opened the hotel door. The lobby was polished and the grounds outside were like a garden. We went up the elevator to the eighth floor and climbed stairs to the tower where we got a magnificent view of the city.
Downstairs, I asked at the desk for a rate sheet to find out whether this hotel cost more than the one I stayed at in Varadero. There was no rate sheet! The hotel is free – to the Cubans. If you have reason to visit Havana on business you are allowed to stay at the National Hotel. That was not amazing. What amazed me was that a government run project could be so efficient and clean!
One thing Fidel has not been able to stop, however, is love for money. The girls are just as pretty, saucy and bold as they were when I visited Havana forty years ago, but these are their daughters or granddaughters. No, I didn’t engage their company. Neither then when I was too young and foolish or now when I am too old and wise. But it was a pleasure to look at them and a pain in my heart to think about their future.
I had a filet mignon in a patio restaurant filled with Cubans and I was serenaded by a trio of three guitar players. The taxi driver looked around the place and said, “These are important people.” He also said he had never tasted lobster before and that he liked it.
We drove around for two more hours asking pedestrians for directions while I looked for cheap cigars. Everyone was most friendly and tried to help us. They did not seem suspicious or afraid. What kind of a police state is this, I asked myself.
No one checked my papers or told me, you can’t go there. Apparently, the whole island is open, though I didn’t get any further than Havana.
A friend visited a citrus area and reported there are schools there for boys and girls. They are in the classroom for five hours a day and in the orange groves for three hours a day. Every other weekend they are allowed to go home to visit their family. At the end of four years they have a high school education and they have learned something about discipline and working for a living.
Where I live we would call that the re-introduction of slavery and in America the Civil Liberties Union would have a fit.
Nobody has any guns in Cuba except the Government. It means that a defenseless population has no way to oppose an unpopular government. But it also means people can’t shoot each other in the streets.
A week in Cuba with four hours in Havana is not adequate for me or anyone to get enough information to firm judgments. The vast majority of the people have only lived in Castro’s Cuba. They know nothing else. When the U.S. Embargo is lifted, there will be a big push by Americans to Americanize Cuba with all the glittering technology and trivia now available. Drugs will come and with them major crime. So the bad will develop along with the good.
My San Pedro Ambergris Caye real estate friend stood looking out on the miles and miles of beach and said, “If I could only cut this up into fifty-foot lots. What a development!”
And I haven’t told you about the coffee and cigars. Marvelous they are.
Would I go back again? Like a shot to room 3801 in the Kawama Hotel and the lovely people there.
2016 Update from a Belizean visiting Cuba:
Well rested today after a long night’s rest. After last night’s disappointment with Cafe Havana not being opened I decided to wing it for the rest of the trip.Chino said that Cafe Havana was probably closed for a private show for visiting Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.
Breakfast at 8 and left for a long road trip a 9.Headed for Pinar Del Rio to see some of the interior. First stop was at Las Terrazas which is the entrance point for a Nature Park. Paid $10 each to enter and this entitled you to lunch at a designated restaurant and 3 drinks each including beer – not a bad deal. Stopped at a village in the park which had restaurants and hotels – ziplines – nature trails – a lake etc. Bought some local pastries before heading to Rio San Juan. Beautiful scenery almost as beautiful as Hummingbird Highway and Mountain Pine Ridge. Walked a trail to the designated restaurant and stopped to rest beside some beautiful waterfalls and natural swimming pools. We reached the restaurant about 11 only to be told that they would not open til 12. At 11:30 I decided that it was not worth sitting around for another hour for the paid for lunch so I struggled back to the car. When we reached the car I was thirsty and Chino offered to go back to the restaurant to see if he could at least get the drinks. He returned with 12 beer and 12 sodas in lieu of the food. We headed to Soroa and La Mirador. where we had lunch at a really neat restaurant. Dorla and Chino climbed up to La Mirador -I could have taken a horse but decided to pass. About 3pm we headed back to Havana to rest up for Cafe Havana tonight.
Chino picked us up at 9:30and we got a second row table. Cover charge was $20 CUC each (as opposed to Tropicana where the cover charge started at $90 CUC each!!). We had dinner and drinks and the total tab for the night was $90 CUC. Enjoyed a good cabaret show – at one spell the leggy buxom dancers walked into the audience inviting patrons to join them on stage for a dance – my knees are almost totally shot due to sports injuries suffered in my youth so I had to pass on this golden opportunity – I love to dance to latin music especially with beauties like these. A Cuban female entertainer was co host – she must be in her 80s since I remember seeing her on a documentary years ago. She danced and strutted as if she was a teenager. The show lasted for about 2 hours and we decided to call it a night.