|Facade of government building, Havana|
|"The bustling and victorious revolution goes forward":|
|Billboard at sugar cane plantation|
"The embargo is hurting the people," our guide told us. "It will not hurt those in power, but it hurts all of us who have to get a prescription written for the smallest medication or drug, like aspirin. We must buy our prescriptions at state pharmacies, subsidized by the government." Often there is no supply.
Our guide and his wife and two children built onto his parents' house to live. There is a ten-year wait for government-approved housing, often made with shoddy construction methods because of a lack of materials or theft of materials. The wait is lengthy because the disabled, active and retired military, or politicians rise to the top of the list.
"All citizens must carry national ID cards," he told us. "It's not a driver's license, but a laminated card we get after age 16. Before that age, we must carry a booklet. There is a fine if we are caught without a card.
"I have tried twice to get a Visa for the States. Each time I waited a year for the interview, and each time I was denied. We are allowed on our first visit to bring back 300 pounds of goods. People bring back TV's, tires, baby carriages, clothes and sell them to their neighbors on the installment plan. We also have our own version of Craig's List."
|Motorized taxi bikes, Cienfuegos|
Free health care is universal in Cuba. Twenty-seven percent of the national budget goes to health care. There is one doctor per 130 families. When a doctor graduates from medical school (education at all levels is also free in Cuba), she has a 2-year commitment wherever the government sends her. Males have a 3-year commitment, including one year in the military. Doctors receive free housing and an office if assigned to a rural area. If a doctor receives permission to work outside the country, he must commit to return.
Health centers provide multiple services, including dentistry, ultrasound, X-rays, operations on a 24-hour basis. Specialists rotate from hospitals one day a week to the health centers. The facilities may not have the latest technology or equipment, but the doctors' training is excellent. There are 151 hospitals on the island, with a 4.2% infant mortality rate per 1,000 born. There is no drug crisis in Cuba (and no gun sales). Crime is almost nonexistent.
The average age expectancy in Cuba today is 78.45 years.We visited an elderly home run privately by nuns, although state-run elderly homes are free. Seventy percent of the patients in the facility tithed their entire pensions every month. Meat was served only on Sunday, provided by donations from the outside. White beans were provided by Spain. Red beans, grown in Cuba, were served at every meal. All medical and psychological needs were taken care of, including dental and hospitalizations. The patients had private apartments, with furniture provided.
|Snapshot in courtyard at private elderly home|
|Courtyard at private elderly home|
|Ceramic tiles in hallway of private elderly home|
|Physical therapy equipment in private elderly home|
Inez, a witty 76-year-old resident of the Catholic retirement home, was our tour guide. She told us her story. At age 19 after the Revolution, she was told by Communist party members to give up her Catholic beliefs or leave the university. "It would be like cutting out my heart," she told the officials. Her studies were left behind. She accepted our thanks, our best wishes, and our tips.
|Inez, our guide through her Catholic elderly home in Havana.|
To be continued...