A few weeks ago I arrived in Havana by sea, having crossed the Florida Straits from Key Largo in a friend’s boat. A port authority officer, perched high at the top of the city’s famous Fosca building, came on the radio, asking who we were and where we were from. When told, he welcomed us with a cheerful: “Bienvenidos a Cuba!”
The island is my home which, given it’s one of the last bastions of communism and is daggers drawn with its neighbouring United States, doesn’t come without its challenges. Yet as the dying sun caused Havana’s great buildings to glisten – the Morro castle, the Capitolio, the Hotel Nacional – I felt the old surge of excitement that always rolls over me on the road in from the airport.
I was back in a place where people find a way to live against the odds, and where they enjoy the company of outsiders. A warm place, in every way, where a penned-in human spirit expresses itself in art and music. All in a country raw in landscape and roiled by history.
“Just look at it,” my partner Camila will say when we have fallen under the shadow of a wonderful bit of architecture. “And it’s in the Caribbean!”
The past two years have been rough all along Cuba’s 780-mile length. For the first year of the pandemic, the government kept the virus out effectively, but the loss of tourism was devastating for an already moribund economy. Then, as queues formed for food and medicine, the government opened the airports.
The virus spiked, overwhelming the fabled healthcare system. Cuba’s scientists had, notably, created homegrown vaccines; that at least gave Cubans a moment of pride. More than 80 per cent of the population has now had at least one dose of either Soberana-2 (sovereign) or Abdala (the title of a patriotic poem).