“Reflections on Misconceptions about Cuba and its People”

By: Madeline Leh

As I reflect on my experiences studying abroad in Cuba and talking with the people who reside there, I want to share ten myths and misconceptions about Cuba from the US. It’s important that I share these with others because there is so much wrong information circulating in the US media about Cuba, especially as some changes, including the loosening of relations, have been made over the past year.

  1. Big things are changing now that the Embargo has been lifted
    • The Embargo, known in Cuba as the Blockade, has most definitely not been lifted – the changes have been the loosening relations between Cuba and the US
    • Because of the Embargo, Cuba does not have access to most of the latest technologies coming out of the US, including medicines that could save many lives – they are still using medicines that haven’t been used in the US for 20 years!
  2. Cubans hate the US because of the Embargo
    • Of the people I met in Cuba, not one of them had something negative to say about the US
    • They separated the US people from the US government because they know that although we elect people to positions of power, we ultimately don’t really have any say over how they vote
    • Questioned whether the US is actually a democracy because its people don’t talk to their legislators
  3. Cuba is a time capsule
    • Cuba is actually very connected to the world – through the Internet (even though it is expensive), through the media (music, movies, videos, and radio), and through tourists from all around the globe
    • The old US cars actually represent the oppression that Cubans have faced because of the Blockade (Embargo) – many of the cars are barely functioning
  4. Cuba is a utopia because there is no globalization
    • There are many systematic problems in Cuba – their infrastructure is not strong enough to support the growing number of tourists
    • It has actually been very difficult for people to have such expensive Internet access
    • Collaborating with foreign investors more often could actually help their economy
  5. Everyone in Cuba wants to leave
    • As is the case in every country, there are people who want to leave and people who want to stay
    • Many of the young people we talked to were interested in leaving, but many wanted to return to Cuba
    • Brain Drain: many people with a higher level of education are leaving the country
    • There are many people, like the bloggers we met from Havana Times, who are trying to change the structure from the inside by staying in Cuba
  6. Everyone in Cuba is poor and the country itself is developing
    • The financial dynamics are interesting – we were told that no one is starving because they get rations for food, everyone has a house, and they have clothes
    • By no means do most Cubans live by our standards of rich, but most are not extremely poor because they have many of their needs covered – what exactly do we define as “rich” or “poor” and in what context?
    • Inequalities are present because some families have inherited wealth from before the Revolution and others are receiving remittances from Miami
  7. Socialism/communism does not work, only capitalism does
    • A “perfect system” does not exist – both systems have their pros and cons
    • Cuba is gradually introducing more capitalistic elements in their economy, allowing more private enterprises, and as relations with the U.S. improve, Cuba is relaxing restrictions on U.S. companies as well (direct flights!!)
    • A society is also not purely one form of government – every government has elements of different structures, even the US
    • Different parts of governmental structures appeal to different people because of their differing experiences. Some Cubans had positive experiences with the free education and healthcare systems, others had very negative experiences.
  8. The Cuban people have been “brainwashed” by the Communist government
    • While billboards and murals decorated with pro-government ideology filled the streets, most of the people we met talked about Cuba’s problems and successes and accepted that all countries have their own difficulties
    • There is not one universal way that Cubans think – there are Cubans who feel that the government is doing all it can to help the people (representatives from ICAP), and there are others who feel that changes need to made (bloggers from Havana Times)
    • They acknowledged that while they are given access to free education, healthcare, and rations, there are problems that they face in getting the job they want, the quality healthcare they deserve, and enough food
  9. The Castro brothers are terrible people
    • You can’t generalize their actions because of the Western idea that Communism and Socialism are wrong
    • In Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel we learned that Fidel was very interested in helping the people, but the outcomes of his actions did not meet his intentions – when foreign powers stepped in to intervene, he took charge and led the country in somewhat of a different direction than he expected
  10. Fidel Castro is the most important figure for Cubans
    • José Martí, Che Guevara, Antonio Maceo, and Ignacio Agramonte all played key roles as well in the history and many of them influenced Fidel’s ideas and the identity of the Cuban people