Cuban flag

Cuba is called a human experiment – a tiny Marxist island in an overwhelming democratic continent. Has it succeeded or failed? With their constant material shortages, lack of freedom of expression, dumbed down populace due to censorship, "success" doesn't quite fit. Nor does "failure." Cuba's beautiful, friendly, close knit people have ingenious survival skills. Its literacy rate is admirable (although probably overrated and under utilized). Its health care system is often touted. You don't see homeless people on the streets.

Revolution – the '59 one routing Batista – is still milked for all its worth. Billboards call for "more revolution" and "continue the revolution". Given the subsistence level of so many of its people, another revolution seems long overdue. Indeed, post Castro years are not far off. Raul says he will step down in 2018. Whether Hugo Chavez's death and Venezuela's oil subsidies continue remains to be seen. Otherwise, there could be another "special period" similar to when the Soviet Union collapsed, subsidies halted and Cubans starved.

Castro's recent decision to allow Cubans to travel abroad was meant to appease. Few Cubans can afford to, nor will they ever be able to. One young man I spoke to has been to several consulates to try to get a visa to visit another country. Authorities check carefully what's in his bank account to make sure he can afford both the plane ticket and expenses while there, i.e., that he is not just trying to escape.Places visited

Cuba's crumbling buildings, while a perverse attraction in Old Havana, qualify the island as a giant urban renewal project. A recent plan to funnel tourism income into rehabilitating decrepit buildings has a long, if not insurmountable, way to go.

Resilient, Cubans use whatever they have to devise ways to keep cars, kitchens, fans working. Cans and plastic bottles are recouped almost as soon as they hit the ground by scavengers eking by. Tinkerers extraordinaire, Cubans refashion whatever materials they can find into what they need. The appealing principles of Marxist egalitarianism are not to be denied, although corruption pretty much stops it from happening, one outspoken guide says. National bird

Cuba's national bird, the Trogan, cannot stand to be captive. It dies when caged. Cubans are proud of this symbol of the love of freedom, however warped it seems considering more than 50 years of Castro dictatorship. Birds of another feather circling overhead constantly – vultures – seem more representative.



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