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Blockade, Bureaucracy, and Groceries

During my time in Cuba, I encountered no animosity toward Americans. There are plenty of pro-Revolution billboards, but no anti-USA or anti-Imperialism messages. A few posters were anti-US embargo.
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During my time in Cuba, I encountered no animosity toward Americans. There are plenty of pro-Revolution billboards, but no anti-USA or anti-Imperialism messages. A few posters were anti-US embargo, and one person said, after learning that I was American, "Oh, you start the wars." But mostly I heard one predictable refrain: We Cubans love the American people. (Another added, "And if we don't get our American movie at the theater each week, we complain loudly.")

Bureaucracy in Cuba is maddening -- especially without computers. It takes half an hour (with fancy papers to fill out in duplicate and passports to photocopy) to buy a simple SIM card for your phone. At the bank, a policeman lets people in a few at a time as customers leave. Then, at the counter, the teller holds each $20 bill up to the window to check for tears and watermarks.

A tenet of the Revolution has always been that everyone should own their own home. But to protect workers from tycoons who might amass lots of real estate, there has been no sale of property. The notion of real estate sales is just starting, and mortgages remain a foreign concept. As getting wealthy is discouraged, if you have lots of money, you're wise to stow it safely at home rather than in the bank.

Regular Cubans shop at street markets, at carts in the street, and at places where food rations are distributed. Grocery stores are for those with more money -- as the prices here are not that much different from in the USA. Still, a stroll through a grocery store gives a fascinating insight into a society without a free market, where advertising is discouraged, and where supply and demand are often ignored.

The store reminded me of similar stores in the USSR 30 years ago: almost no variety...just long rows of very basic products with labels seemingly produced by some tasteless government bureaucrat. Milk was milk -- there wasn't a hint of any varieties of milk.

The meat section consisted of long, empty shelves, with just a few baloney sausages at the end.

The cereal lane had four different brands, each more sugary than Lucky Charms.

The only impressive selection was in the liquor corner, where rum was plentiful, varied, and cheap (at $5 for a top-end bottle).