Multi-ethnic, stoic and vibrant, the Cuban people experienced another moment in their history this week. Their government selected Miguel Diaz-Canel to be the new President, the Caribbean island’s first non-Castro leader since the Revolution in 1959.
Growing up in the relatively liberal province of Villa Clara, the new man’s arrival highlights how, even in a country where the pace of change is glacial, things are developing slowly all the while. Although he wasn’t born at the time of the Revolution, it will be fascinating to see how he steers Cuba’s fortunes.
After all, it is the heartbeat of the people that sets the true metronome for life on this most magical of Caribbean islands. Even as the island’s poignant politics prevail, for most visitors the peoples’ love of life reigns supreme.
Existing in a country with such limited resources can be a hard graft, but travellers and tourists cannot help but be swept up by the Cubans’ sense of pride, passion and pizzazz. It seeps throughout society, from the cities and towns through to the remotest of rural villages. Big, colourful, chic and full of mojo, street-life in Cuba jolts through you like an electrical current.
So strap in and standby for the total seduction of your soul. You’ll love it.
The island’s people keep their omnipresent sense of style alive. Looking as if they’ve spent most of their lives partying, their ‘been-there, done-that’ strut is infectious. It is even more remarkable when one reflects on how Cubans have been living in a post-revolution time warp.
As my photos show, life is tough. Aside from a largely agreeable climate, people struggle to afford even the simplest of commodities. For example, with one in five cars pre-dating the Revolution, transport in Cuba focuses on the road less-travelled. Crumbling highways are lined by a constant parade of hitchhikers, and qualified medical surgeons earn more in a day driving vintage cars for tourists than they would in a hospital in a month.
You will soon throw away initial suspicions that you are travelling in a post-war zone, dominated by disintegrating buildings, limited electricity and no Wi-Fi. Even if you are equipped with only limited Spanish, the Cubans’ unique spirit and zest for life will quickly win you over. And all to a backdrop of live music pumping out across the hottest of constant breezes.
Friendly, generous and ever-engaging, their energy and zeal will sweep you up. You had also better get used to looking good, feeling fine and walking with a swagger as dynamic as the street-beat.
Good luck Mr President… your country expects.