This month of April 2021 made sensational international news when Raul Castro ended his family’s 69-year rule of Cuba by retiring.
One day in 2010, when I went for my periodic check-up by cardiologist Dr. Antony Earnest, I was greeted by a tantalizing question: “Would you like to visit Cuba?”
He explained that a group of local medical people could join a tour of Cuba. At the time, one had to be in an approved group to gain entry into the island country.
My late wife, Margie, a frequent world traveler, wasn’t interested, so I made my arrangements.
Since 1959, when Raul and his older brother Fidel led an insurgency against an American-backed dictator to victory, Cuba had been led by a Castro.
After our return, I wrote some of the bare-bone facts about the nation, which had seen better days.
Fidel introduced modest free market reforms in the 1990s, only to roll them back. During his reign, Fidel bragged about free education for Cubans — even through college levels — and universal literacy.
During our visit, we learned that the average worker salary was $10 a month and doctors earned only $40.
Gramma was the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. It was just a tabloid-sized daily with just a few pages of content.
The government employed more than five million people, or about 95% of the Cuban workforce. Private enterprise involved mostly street vendors, small shop owners and musicians playing for tips on many corners in the cities and towns.
I wrote that the US Congress should end the senseless trade embargo so that American companies can invest in Cuba before firms from Europe, Brazil and elsewhere rush in.
And US tourists should be able to tour Cuba just as easily as they can Bermuda, the Bahamas or any other of the Caribbean countries.
It’s a beautiful place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Writer Ernest Hemingway had a home there, but our male guide said it was too much trouble to drive there and tourists were not allowed inside the house.
Over the past few years, as the Trump administration imposed stringent sanctions on Cuba and the tourism industry was decimated by the pandemic, Cubans have seen their country’s economy plummet once again, with many waiting for hours in bread lines.
The country’s lauded health system is frayed, and the number of Cubans trying to leave the island is going up, though it is still far from the exoduses of the 1980s and 1990s.
But as a single traveler, I was able to stay in a delightful two-story home by myself with two TV sets and plenty of room.