Think back to your school days. Do you remember the instructor who inspired you or the “Aha!” moments when a change in perspective opened your mind to new possibilities? Maybe you remember the friendships most — that special bond forged by the shared experience of learning and having fun together.
At Road Scholar, we create educational travel experiences that evoke the very same memories. What started as a way to provide enriching learning experiences for older adults in 1975 has grown into something even greater.
Today, we’re much more than an educational travel organization. With 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and all 50 states, Road Scholar is a university of the world. We create and foster a fellowship of learning through meaningful — and often transformational — educational adventures around the globe.
Road Scholar alumni understand this more than anyone. That’s why I’m thrilled to introduce the debut edition of our new Road Scholar Alumni Magazine, which should be hitting mailboxes any day now. This magazine is a way for us to stay connected to our community of intrepid students and explorers.
Enjoy the feature article, written by a professor and instructor on our learning adventures in Cuba, Julio David Rojas Rodríguez.
The Cuba We Want (and the Cuba We Don’t): One Cuban’s Vision on the Future of His Nation
by Julio David Rojas Rodriguez
There is an ongoing debate in the international media about whether Cuba is changing politically or not. Long before Fidel Castro’s recent death, the reality is that Cuba is changing. The better question is: Which direction will Cuba go?
There are two models that political pundits say Cuba could follow. Current Cuban leaders look toward Vietnam as a path to the future. They believe Vietnamese communist leaders found a way to play by the rules of the free market, while at the same time continuing to be a nominally socialist country ruled by a Communist Party. The other model Cuba could follow — and the one endorsed by the inner circle of President Obama’s administration — is to follow the path Myanmar has taken. The government of Myanmar engaged in a constructive dialogue with popular opposition hero Aung San Suu Kyi and passed a progressive legislation, which included granting the right to assemble and the release of dozens of political prisoners. Most importantly, Myanmar now has a civilian-run government instead of a military-backed one.
On March 15, 2016, Myanmar’s parliament elected Htin Kyaw as president, the country’s first democratically elected leader after more than half a century of military rule.
Regardless of the model we end up following, we are evolving. For example, we used to not have ownership of our own homes, but now we own them and can use them to create bed and breakfasts, as well as restaurants. We have changed our Cold War rhetoric with apocalyptic connotations to a new type of discourse that is still volatile at times but is characterized by words like “dialogue, respect, cooperation and acceptance.” Not since the Soviet subsidies of the 1980s have we experienced the influx of capital that more than 3 million tourists will bring this year as they discover the previously restricted beauties of an island that is suddenly en vogue.
Although many Cubans are climbing over each other in the streets to get a glimpse of celebrity tourists like Katy Perry and Vin Diesel, or getting close to the glamour of newly opened stores like Chanel, others are asking, “Where are we headed?”
While the government preaches about a prosperous and sustainable socialism, that never quite seems to come true and the realities of poverty that some experience stand in contrast to this message.
However, Cuba is not the communist hell that many outsiders want to believe, but it is also not the socialist Eden, either. The Cuban government subsidizes the prices of many consumable goods in addition to the monthly ration cards, but the salaries are still not adequate for the needs of a typical family. We are waiting for the U.S. to remove the embargo, so that we can see for ourselves what our economy is actually capable of producing.
Meanwhile, the young generation debates the future of Cuba. There is not a unified idea of what it should be, but there is some consensus of what it should not be.
I directed the “People to People” program for a Caribbean cruise ship. Each Friday for four months, we docked in Montego Bay, Jamaica to pick up the Americans who could not yet fly directly to Cuba. When I first visited Jamaica, I considered the theories about globalization and development, and it did not exactly seem as good as it is often portrayed. I tasted Burger King and Wendy’s for the first time, but I can’t say that unrestrained capitalism has been good for the Jamaicans. The majority of the local businesses are owned by Chinese and Indians, with Jamaicans only serving as workers. The big hotel chains like Marriott and Holiday Inn privatize the majority of the beaches. Jamaica does not feel like it is owned by Jamaicans.
Cubans want Cuba to be ours. It is not that we want to control everything, but we are patriotic and we want to keep our identity. This is a feeling shared by every Cuban regardless of his or her political affiliation. We believe the government needs to open dialogue more with the separate segments of our society. We want the minimum wage to be raised. We want to continue our free healthcare system. And we want our education system to remain free and not to discriminate by race, gender or religion.
My generation is at an impasse wanting to change, while at the same time holding onto the benefits of socialism. One of the biggest fears of change is that we will become individualistic, like many consumerist societies. The current Cuban attitude is family-oriented and deeply loyal to where we are from. During my time on the cruise ship, I saw entire families sitting together, yet ignoring each other while immersed in their electronic devices. Instead of enjoying the time on the ship and each other, they spent more time trying to replicate the experience online by uploading pictures to Facebook and Instagram. We don’t want Cubans to become like that. Instead, we prefer to have our neighbors be like family, and we believe time is to be shared together in person.
Through working together, we survived the dark years of the “Special Period” — a euphemism for the time of economic crisis that began in 1989 when the Soviet Union dissolved and ended its support of Cuba. Today, we are famous for our warm and welcoming atmosphere, and Havana is probably the safest capital in Latin America. We don’t want that to change, either. Today, I am glad to see my generation become more and more involved in the building of a new Cuba. Right now, there are three websites that are transforming Cuban media: El Estornudo, Cachivache Media and Periodismo de Barrio. These three stand apart from the traditional narrative and destroy the monochrome presentation of the Cuban reality. We are creating our own palette of colors. No one is giving up on red, but we are using more green and blue.
As a nation, Cuba is pushing its people to participate more in cultural, economic and social life, but we need to broaden participation in the judicial and political decisions. Democracy, as I understand it, needs both.
President Obama said in his recent visit to Cuba, “Change in Cuba is a matter for Cubans.”
Yes, it is; and yes, we are changing our country at our own pace — slow and steady. Yet, we plan to protect the beauty of socialism in Cuba: the respect of the dignity of all people through the equal opportunities to prosper, with equal protection from the law, and a government that provides free healthcare, free education and protection of the weak and vulnerable in society.
Road Scholar offers opportunities to travel legally to Cuba under the new OFAC Regulations published June 5, 2019. Following the General License category “Support of the Cuban People,” Road Scholar programs include activities intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. Each day's program promotes independence for the Cuban people and results in meaningful interactions with the Cuban people.
Meet Julio David Rojas Rodriguez on Cuba Today: People and Society from New York (Program 22233GJQ), Cuba Today: People and Society: Cienfuegos to Havana (Program 22461GJQ) and Cuba Today: People and Society in Casas Particulares (Program 22165GJQ).
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