|POPULATION 11.25 MILLION |
FOREIGN VISITORS PER YEAR 2.5 MILLION
MAJOR INDUSTRIES TOURISM, TOBACCO, MEDICAL PRODUCTS & SERVICES, NICKEL
UNIT OF CURRENCY CUBAN CONVERTIBLE PESO (CUCS) FOR MOST TOURIST COMMODITIES; ALSO CUBAN PESOS
GOING, GOING, GONE…
For years people have been saying it, and for years (53 and counting) the Castro brothers have staved off the inevitable - that Cuba has to change. Its socialist credentials are gradually crumbing in the face of international capitalism, as evidenced by dramatic public sector cuts and the relaxation of restrictions on private enterprise. With President Obama's increasingly tolerant attitude, it could soon be hello to a new Americanized Cuba, and goodbye to the quirky, quintessentially loveable Cuba. This is good news for Cubans, but bad news for fans of peeling Plymouths, crumbling colonial charm, impromptu salsa sessions in half-collapsed yet elegant houses, all-day coffee-and-rum breaks, and horse-drawn carts in the fast lane of highways. In short, everything that makes Cuba such a magical mayhem of contradictions is now under threat.
Even a few years ago, a sadness lurked behind the nonstop party atmosphere that permeates everyday Cuban life - understandable for a people who receive a world-class education but have precious few places to utilize it, and where beggars can make more than doctors. Now, as limiting laws are repealed, the optimism is palpable, but Cuba's soul is still hanging in there. And Cuba is all about soul. The beaches will still be pristine 10 years from now, and the world's best mojitos will still flow. But the country mightn't be quite so, well, distinctive. Or fun. Go while the clock is still stopped at 1959, and don't become one of those who can't join the conversation that starts: 'Remember Cuba before capitalism?'