(Publisher note: original title is Havana Diary. I am posting this story in anticipation of the July 26 anniversary of the Revolution. I’m curious to read about the current state on life on the street in Havana (no propaganda please) and what people in and out of Cuba expect or would like to hear from President Raul Castro in his July 26 speech.)
Day One by Claire Bolderson
My first ever visit to Cuba began with a kiss on the cheek by way of greeting from the President’s daughter, and ended with an offer of marriage from a cigar-chomping, rum-drinking interviewee who’d just told me with great passion about the economic changes under way in his country.
It might have been the rum talking of course, but I do detect a buzz in the air, in Havana at least.
Maybe I’ve been influenced by the blazing hot sun, blue skies and well-advanced restoration of much of old Havana.
It’s a much prettier place than I had expected, and of course the bursts of music coming out of just about every bar help lift the mood.
The economic reforms may be relatively modest so far - access to more consumer goods and to hotels previously off limits to locals, promises of productivity wage bonuses and less state control over agriculture - but it’s enough to make people feel the really bad times of the years post-Soviet collapse are well and truly over.
The question now is, how far will Raul Castro go? Certainly he’s raised expectations and lots of people are hoping there’ll be more in his big speech marking the anniversary of the start of the revolution on 26 July.
Day two by Piers Scholfield
Hi, I’m Piers Scholfield, I’ll be editing the programme from Havana.
As Claire has already mentioned, there is an air of expectation in Cuba at the moment, especially ahead of Raul Castro’s big speech on July 26th.
Will he announce another reform? If so, will it mean a real change for Cubans?
Could it be another step towards what other countries see as normality? A couple of things have struck me in the couple of days we’ve been here.
Yesterday our taxi driver was genuinely astonished to encounter a (brief) traffic jam in central Havana.
It was about 8.30am, most people were on their way to work.
In Paris, Luanda and Bogot�, the streets would be bumper to bumper chaos - traffic jams are a way of life.
Not in Havana though, here the roads are virtually empty - there simply aren’t enough cars.
The restrictions on buying and selling your own vehicles might have something to do with it.
As a radio producer in the field, you spend most of your time ‘phone-bashing’ - calling people, following up contacts, calling again and again in order to persuade / charm / irritate people into giving interviews.
Here it’s slightly different. If you want to remember a world free of mobile phones, come and visit.
Foreigners and officials have them, but most Cubans only have access to a landline, if that.
It means a lot of scrambling around Havana to talk to people face-to-face.
More sociable, certainly. But a world apart from that of the 24/7 Blackberry.