I woke up almost an hour before sunrise and made my way to the front of the ship in excitement. We would be pulling into Havana harbor soon, and I didn’t want to miss it. I had heard that it was a beautiful sight. The city lights of both old and new Havana welcomed us as we made our way into the protected harbor. It was a beautiful beginning to our two days in Havana.
We spent as much time as possible experiencing what Cuba wants Americans to experience when they visit. We walked the streets of old Havana, ate a meal at a tiny local restaurant, and returned seemingly hundreds of smiles. We toured a cigar factory where dozens of people laboriously hand-rolled up to 60 cigars each and every day. We meandered through a crowded market and politely declined the myriad requests to “Come look! Looking is free!” We toured Havana on a bus, complete with guides who told story after story about the city and people of Cuba.
As we neared Revolution Square on one tour, the guide began recalling his recent experience in the square. He told us about standing in line for three days, waiting for his turn to pay his respects to Fidel Castro following his death. He was sure to tell us, “No one made me do it! I came because I wanted to.” Every time the Revolution was mentioned, it was spoken of with awe and appreciation. Most of the people we interacted with have never known a life outside of the socialism that defines their society today.
The average monthly salary in Cuba is between $35-$60. Doctors, engineers, dishwashers, painters, and shopkeepers all make around the same amount. One of our guides admitted, “It’s not enough to live on.” But he was then quick to remind us that education, health care, and even some food is provided by the government. There’s an underlying sense of unrest in the people, but a fierce loyalty to the way of life.
When you travel down a street and see a building literally crumbling – but still inhabited by dozens of families – you begin to ask yourself if the leaders of the country truly made the right decision in embracing socialism. When a mother asks you for a few dollars to help feed her family because the government doesn’t supply enough, you begin to question the “benefits” of socialism.
Making decisions as a leader is not about how to benefit you, but how to benefit your people.
I’m not going to pretend to understand all of the politics behind socialism and the reign of Fidel Castro. But here’s what I observed by spending a small amount of time in Cuba – the country is stuck. They’re stuck in time. They’re stuck in a place where they are unable to continue to provide well for the eleven million inhabitants of their country. They’re stuck in fear.
What would have happened if their leaders chose the needs of the people over their own needs and agendas?
What would happen if you did that as a leader?
What would happen if their leaders acknowledged they made some mistakes, and then took the steps necessary to correct them?
What if you did the same?
Cuba, and your life, may be different as a result.