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Ella and I recently went back to Cuba. It was an all inclusive holiday with flight, four star hotel with all of the food and drink thrown in for around $2000 for the week for both of us.

The Cubans that we met were very sweet accommodating people who work very hard to please the tourists. They greet you with Hola wishing you a good morning/evening.

The reort staff were hesitant to answering my questions. Marie (not her real name) spoke eloquently of her beloved Fidel Castro. He had introduced free health care and education up to and including a college/university education for the masses. Most of what we take for granted in London she told me was not possible.

The government has implemented a two currencies policy for the country. There is the Convertible Peso for the travelers to spend at the small boutiques. It takes $1.25 Canadian to buy one Convertible Peso. The residents use the Cuban Peso which takes 25 of their money for one convertible.

The average worker makes 300-400 Cuban Peso for six ten hour days of labour per week. Do the math and that comes out to $20.00 Canadian per month.

There is no private ownership of land, not possible, and families are forced to live sometimes seven to a two bedroom very small apartment. You can not buy an apartment, not possible, and have to rely on the family for shelter.

Hard to believe that Florida is only 19 miles across the waters. It is not possible to have cable/satellite dishes to watch American television.

Computer access is limited to the schools and it is not possible to obtain for private use within your own home.

Traveling abroad for the islanders is not possible; it has to be approved by government officials. There is state lottery where the winners are allowed to access a visa to immigrate to other countries. Residents from off shore are not allowed to become permanent residents. One way off the island is to hopefully marry a visitor and then you are allowed to leave with your new spouse.

The hotel staff arrive by buses with their lunches to feed themselves. Not possible to partake of the hotel touristís food. The children of the workers are not allowed to spend a day at the resortís beautiful1 white beaches to accompany their parents on a day off.

If you walk to the fence that surrounds the resort you will often find very impoverished children in tattered clothes begging. They were sent by their poor farming parents to sell sea shells or other trinkets in the hope that you would take pity on them.

Working at the resorts with the chance to receive tips from the tourists in the Convertible Passo currency makes life so much easier. The remuneration is better then what a teacher/medical doctor can earn from the government.

When I was going through Cuban customs on the way home I was taken out of the line by two customs agents who asked me to accompany them to the back offi1e. I guess that one of the resort staff at the hotel had informed the authorities that I had interviewed the staff. The custom agents searched my luggage and interrogated me about the notes of my interviews and took the time to make copies.

Freedom of the press and to question why was something that I had always taken for granted in Canada was not possible in Cuba. I did not know that I needed government permission before being allowed to ask questions. The country is controlled by Fidelís brother Raoul along with a select group of military advisors.

I was most fortunate to have my wife, Ella, who was in the Departure Lounge demanding that I be allowed to board the flight that had but one flight per week to Toronto. The agents threw my clothes into a garbage bag and escorted me back to the lounge to be reunited with Ella and await my return home.

There is price for the beautiful warm Caribbean paradise that the local people have to pay. The harsh two words,í not possibleí is a fact of life for the Cuban people.

What price freedom?

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com