When we were travelling in Cuba twenty years ago all of the hosts at our various accommodations voiced support for the government. The Special Period, a time of economic hardship after the USSR dissolved and Cuba lost its sponsor, had ended and there was optimism for the future. There are indications that the following years were in fact better, as building standards appear to have improved, and old vehicles were restored and new ones purchased. But the hardships caused by COVID (which suspended the tourism industry), a tightening of U.S. sanctions, and extreme inflation in the prices of most items, have caused hardships that many describe as worse than the 1990s.
The hardships have led to a change in attitude towards the government. We are now hearing almost universal criticism. There seems to be a general opinion that the government is profiting from current circumstances at great cost to the ordinary people. Fidel is still universally revered and his brother Raul generally well regarded, but the administration of the current government draws broad criticism. And the people are voting with their feet. From a population of about 12 million, 150,000 reportedly left last year. Several of our hosts had immediate family members, mostly their children, who had moved to the U.S., Canada or Europe. Some had made the harrowing overland journey from Nicaragua (where some Cubans go on “vacation”) to the U.S.
It is hard for us to know whether the government is doing its best in hard times, or in fact has some culpability. There is currently inflation throughout the world in the price of food and other essentials, but the increases in many items in Cuba are much higher than in Canada. The loss of Venezuelan oil has also created an energy crisis in Cuba, leading to frequent power outages which are a particular source of anger in the population.
Cubans give the initial impression of being easygoing and willing to make do with what they have. However, we have had the opportunity to have discussions with many people, and once we acknowledge that we are aware of how difficult circumstances are for people, the mood often darkens. No one appears to feel that things are going to get better, and many point to the emigration of the young as a harbinger of further decline. It is difficult not to feel that some political change is going to come in the near future. We only hope that the change improves the lives of Cubans, but that seems far from certain.