I have a dream: Ladies in White
By Hana Jakrlova
I feel sorry for the Pope for not meeting the dissidents while in Cuba. Going to Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) silent march in Havana was the strongest experience of my visit in the country.
Growing up in communist Czechoslovakia, there was an on-going sense of dejavu for me, in Cuba. I had a problem answering the friendly question ‘how do you like Cuba’ posed to me by many Cubans I have met, during my month long visit to the island. I usually restored to an honest answer – that I find it very sad. This usually immediately established a level of understanding, and I could have a genuine conversation with the people I met. I heard stories of about economic hardships, persecution and the prevailing feeling was the one of desperation.
One doesn’t need more than a taxi ride from the airport to a hotel in Havana, to understand the extent of poverty and desolation of the country. Just like all the dilapidated buildings, the poverty and frustration among the people is almost touchable. While almost everybody welcomes the current rapprochement between USA and Cuba, many are skeptical about how fast and how deep the upcoming change will be for ordinary Cubans.
I visited not only the tourist destinations, but also villages in country, and I could see the real extent of much advertised benefits of the ‘revolution’ – free healthcare and free education: Ordinary people were thankful for any kind of medicine, and the knowledge about the outside world was often minimal. Yes, everybody in Cuba can learn how to read and write – but what good is it, when there are hardly any books to read? Visiting a bookshop in Havana was a shocking experience that reminded me of seeing a book store in communist dictator Ceaușescu’s Romania in the mid eighties.
Most people go to Cuba for care-free holidays, and I felt uneasy about it. While tourists bring much needed money to the impoverished economy and thus improving the situation of some, lucky enough to be involved with the world of tourism, there are millions living in utter poverty, and thus the world of tourists is a parallel reality. One can stay in a beautiful hotel, spend time eating good food in romantic restaurants and at wonderful beaches, but the reality for most Cubans feels like living on a different planet. While this is a feeling one gets in all third-world countries, in Cuba it is intensified by the oppression and the ever-present control of the mostly despised government establishment.
Testimonial and photos by:
Additional Photos by Hana Jakrlova: