Tell it to SunStar: Our trip to Cuba

Cebuano lawyer Democrito Barcenas (center) and his wife Lourdes in an old convertible car with their guide.
Cebuano lawyer Democrito Barcenas (center) and his wife Lourdes in an old convertible car with their guide.

By Democrito C. Barcenas

I spent five days in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. with my wife Lourdes before going to Cuba, our ultimate destination.

The country, located in the Caribbean sea, is just 90 miles south of the United States across the Florida Strait. Cuba is small with its 11 million people, but it is rich in history. Under the leadership of the late Fidel Castro, it endured the longest economic blockade imposed by the United States that lasted for more than six decades.

Despite the hardships as a result of the economic blockade, Cuba made tremendous progress especially after the triumph of the Revolution in January 1959.

Cuban education scored its most outstanding achievement in the field of medicine. The United Nations’ World Health Organization cites Cuba’s health care delivery system as a model for the Third World. This system is the brainchild of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, himself a medical doctor from Argentina before becoming a guerrilla.

Each community in Cuba has a clinic with at least one doctor and two nurses. Unlike our doctors who wait for the sick to go to them, the Cuban doctors regularly visit the 500 families in the jurisdiction of their clinics. These doctors are not only medical practitioners, they also serve as community organizers.

In our six-day stay in Cuba in the cities of Havana, Sta. Clara, Trinidad and Cienfuegos, we saw no grinding poverty. We saw no structures similar to our barong-barong and sari-sari stores, although there were many fruit stalls along the roads. We saw in the old section of Cuba’s capital Havana some unimpressive structures but in the well-developed areas in Havana, we saw tall and modern buildings. We visited the National Hotel of Cuba which had been visited by renowned personalities like U.S. President Jimmy Carter as shown by the pictures posted on the walls, but which no Filipino president had ever visited.

We visited the mausoleum and museum of Guevara. We were awed by the solemnity of the spacious place which was air-conditioned, and no one is allowed to take pictures. The museum honoured the life and times of Guevara, starting from photographs of his early life, his education, and as a student of medicine until his guerrilla days at Sierra Maestra. The museum also displayed the different firearms he used as a guerrilla, his telescope, and even the attire he wore as a guerrilla fighter in Cuba.

On Oct. 9, 1967, Guevara was captured by the Bolivian military and upon orders of the U.S. government, was murdered by the Bolivian authorities.

In the market places all over Cuba, we saw T-shirts and other items bearing the images of Guevara. Before his death, Fidel Castro willed that no monuments should be built for his memory. That is why we saw no single monument in Fidel’s honor, and not even T-shirts bearing his name or his image.

Due to massive propaganda waged by the U.S. government, Filipinos have a deep-seated bias against Cuba. We were told by hotel personnel and the museum curator that we were the first Filipinos who ever visited their places.

Like the Americans, Filipinos have shunned Cuba unlike many tourists from Europe. We met a lot of tourists from Europe, notably from France, Germany and Russia.

Group tours from Europe as shown by tourist buses, came to Cuba. We did not expect that such enthusiastic tourists from Europe would visit Cuba considering the distance of Cuba from Europe.

Of course, Cuba has its own problems as a Third World country. In our stay in Cienfuegos, we experienced a massive blackout the whole night although it did not affect our sleep. But by and large, Cuba enjoys a growing economy with modern facilities and super highways, and even a modern international airport in Havana.

Crimes are not prevalent in Cuba unlike in other capitalist and so-called advanced countries. When we toured eastern Europe sometime in 2018, I was a victim of a pickpocket in Prague, Czech Republic and lost P50,000 worth of Euros.

Thanks to Fidel Castro, who died on Nov. 25, 2016 at the age of 90 and his revolution, Cuba, with its patriotic and revolutionary past, and free from Western influence and control, now faces the future with confidence and pride.


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