I do my best to stay on top of the news of the world when I am here in Cuba, but as you all know, it’s complicated here. Wider availability of wifi hotspots spread out over Cuba’s public spaces makes it much easier, and the price has gone down to $1 – $2 per hour of internet access. Still, I mostly focus my time on responding to important emails, checking out Cuba-specific news, and using Facebook to see what the folks back home are up to. When Sarah sent me the news of the shooting in the Orlando gay nightclub immediately after it happened, like any warm-blooded person, I cried.
It was for the innocent lives lost, for the foolish bigot who committed the shooting, and for the many narrow-minded people in the world who believe that they are doing the right thing when they cause harm onto others. When it was discussed on the Cuban state news that night in the hotel lobby that I was using as an office, the shock and sadness on my Cuban friends’ faces was apparent, and they gave me their heart-felt condolences.
Raul Castro later made a statement condemning the shooting, and in support for the victims. I had expected it to have a stronger presence in Cuba’s news outlets, perhaps in editorials championing Cuba’s own human rights records and lack of violence – they have institutionalized protection for the LGBT community, and are continually strengthening those rights and protections. The state healthcare system covers sex reassignment surgery (free of charge). Raul´s own daughter, Mariela Castro is an internationally known LGBT human rights activist, founder of Cuba´s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), and an executive member of the World Association for Sexual Health. However, other than the Cuban president’s statement, I didn´t hear any other Cuban voices on the subject.
The United States, while it has passed many progressive laws protecting minority communities, has a global reputation for it´s gun obsession and it´s violence. I´m currently in a country that suffers nearly 20 times more deaths per year to lightening strikes than to gun violence. If a heated argument or the rare physical altercation breaks out here, neighbors immediately respond to mediate and to help make peace.
It occurred to me recently that perhaps Cuba was maintaining a respectful silence on the subject. To politicize this situation would be tasteless and cold, while in contrast Cuba is overall the warmest and safest place in the world that I have ever visited. Cuba’s record of being a peaceful country with legislated protection for the LBGT community speaks for itself, and they know that it doesn’t need to be used opportunistically in the face of this tragedy.
I hope that in the US and in other parts of the world, we can move toward unifying discussion as opposed to divisive political maneuvering by self-interested politicians. It is only through empathy and educated discourse that we can elevate our societal norms and perceptions, and create a climate in which this can never happen again.
Today was absolutely surreal, as the streets were nearly empty in the several hours before Obama’s arrival. Sundays in Havana are generally quiet, as Cubans, family-oriented as they are, go en masse to swimming pools or to the beaches in the outskirts of the city. Adding to that the fact that most Cubans didn’t bother going out into the city due to rumors that everything would be closed in anticipation of higher than normal security needs for Obama’s visit, Havana was like a ghost town.
A prominent change that I have been witnessing over the past few months in Cuba is that there are many more WiFi hotspots. Contrary to what you may have read by journalists who report from the comfort of their hotels, the internet is not free. Nor has it ever been $12/hr anywhere other than the most expensive hotels in Havana. It has, however, reduced dramatically in price lately. One hour of internet access now costs $2 per hour, or roughly two days worth of wages on the state salary. Fortunately for most Habaneros, there are opportunities to make money on the side, making tips in the tourist sector. The Cuban way is to make possible the impossible, and people have found a way to share the WiFi signal with multiple people from access with a single internet card.
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