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Cuba

I went to Cuba eager - like many Canadians - to observe the socialist experiment in action, a dream which I knew to be losing its lustre. I was ready, as well, to lay the blame for her economic woes neatly at the feet of the United States, whose embargo, we are told, is the principal cause of its loss of sheen. ,What I learned was that conditions were worse than I had imagined, and that - although the ill-conceived embargo undoubtedly exacerbates the economic situation -it does not explain all of Cuba's problems nor exculpate mismanagement by the government and repression of those who would bring them into the healing light of day.

The streets of Havana Vieja, are noisy with the sound of hammers and strewn with construction materials. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, and destination of tourists who are bussed in from the resort town of Varadero, is undergoing a renaissance. Her shops and cafes are bustling. The symphony, and ballet are thriving. Jazz is everywhere. In the Capitolio, you can sip a thick sweet coffee while checking on your email.

But stray a bit from this carefully-orchestrated facade and the picture changes. On the deeply rutted streets of Centro Havana which abuts Havana Vieja, children play beside mountains of garbage while their parents line up with buckets to collect water which arrives by truck, and only erratically. And inside the rabbit warrens which serve as apartments, the fridges of those lucky enough to have them are nearly empty: while every Cuban has a ration book which guaranteed access to the basics - rice, beans, coffee, toothpaste - at affordable prices, the book is meaningless because by mid-month, supplies in the government shops have run out. Unemployment, which Fidel considers a sin, is increasingly common, or - more often, underemployment: men and women with advanced degrees drive taxis because they can earn more, especially if they have access to dollars, the only currency of value on the island. And prostitution which Fidel once boasted he had eradicated, thrives because Cubans can't survive on the $12.00 a month average salary they take home.

Cubans have been tightening their belts for twelve years now, the duration of the Special Period in a Time of Peace whose inception coincides with the demise of the Soviet Union, which subsidized the socialist experiment. And while most were initially willing, many no longer are. Not in the open, but behind closed doors and out of ear-shot of the neighborhood committee for the defense of the revolution Cubans are complaining . They are tired of the daily struggle just to eat; they see the irony of being educated but underemployed; they see the futility of having ample doctors and no drugs and they are beginning to revolt at a government that offers the carrot of free enterprise while employing the stick of irrational and impossible taxes. They are questioning the state-run tourism industry that brings millions of dollars to the government coffers while seeming not to benefit the people and they are cynical about tourism apartheid. And many are beginning to see through the government's weekly "spontaneous" demonstrations and question the state- run television's nightly perorations against the imperialist, terrorist United States.

Because it would compromise the safety of my informants, some of whom were arrested shortly after I left the country, I published my work under a pseudonym.

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