In 2006, Fidel Castro announced he had an intestinal illness, causing him to resign as President and head of the party. His brother Raúl became the temporary president of the Council of State. Raúl was officially made president by the National Assembly in 2008, after Fidel announced that he wouldn’t stand for president due to his continued medical condition. After his re-election in 2013, Raúl Castro announced that he would not be seeking re-election in 2018, making his second term his last. Within his short term as president, Raúl lifted the restrictions against the purchase of numerous products not available under his brothers administration. From DVD players, to computers, to microwaves and rice cookers, Cubans were already seeing new technology after decades of oppression. New economic reforms were introduced, including the increase in wages for hardworking employees and allowing private farmers to lease idle state-owned land in an effort to boost food production. Following Castro’s resignation, Miguel Díaz-Canel was voted in as president and the Castro reign officially came to an end in 2018. (Nations Online)
Before leaving for Cuba, I was told numerous things to help prepare me for the week I’d spend there. From the restrictions placed on Cuban tourism, to being told I was going to have rice and beans for every meal, I was expecting to have a difficult time adjusting. I’ve traveled abroad before, but never to an under developed nation, and because of everything that I was told, I was expecting to be completely out of my element. Once I arrived I realized how wrong everyone—including myself—had been. Everywhere I went there was yet another sight to be seen, whether its walls covered in art or little pockets of culture and history sprinkled around the city. Simply walking down the street allowed me to immerse myself even more into the simplicity of their life. Fruit stands stopped on the sidewalk and balconies with clothes pinned up on the line, made time slow down in a way. I found myself walking the streets and taking it all in, absorbing my surroundings with voices and music on the street filling my ears.
What made my experience in Cuba different from someone else’s who would travel as a tourist, is that I didn’t see a lot of the main tourist attractions. However, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I got to fully immerse myself into the Cuban culture and truly experience it for what it is—innovative and inspiring. Permaculture in Cuba is growing and being adapted to farms within the city. I was able to tour a couple of smaller farms and one larger one. With developments such as a dry toilet, separating wet and dry human waste to generate into fertilizer for the farm, reinvents farming and agriculture within the city. I toured a larger farm called Finca Marta outside of Havana, where they have a process similar to the smaller farms, however it’s produced on a much larger scale. Using animal waste to fertilize the crops growing all over the farm, they’re able to sell the fresh produce at farmers’ markets and use that as another source of income. Fernando Fuñes, the owner of Finca Marta, told us the story of how he dug the well on the property. He spent half a year digging a hole into the ground, never knowing if he was ever going to find water. He told me about the number of times he wanted to give up, but the possibility of finding water is what kept him going. Eventually, he dug deep enough to reach water, but it was the journey getting to the bottom of the well that was the most rewarding. I remember sitting there on his patio, listening to him tell this story, in awe of how much he has accomplished. The amount of hard work and dedication he put into everything he did is what created his beautiful farm from what was once practically nothing. That same perseverance and optimism was apparent to me every second I was in Cuba. Regardless of how difficult their lives seem, they still find the positivity and always make something good out of what seems to be only bad.