Recently we have witnessed several testimonies for and comparisons between some of the surviving socialist (communist) regimes and the western countries. Leonidas has visited at least a score of countries and found that the most fascinating such visit was to Cuba during the early 1990s aboard his 34' sail boat. A command of theSpanishh language was extremely useful in avoiding reliance on government guides and translators.
We found the Cuban people including the military to be extremely helpful and friendly. Every facet of life in Cuba is rigidly controlled and the citizens require ration books to purchase all food items even though the countryside is obviously suitable for agriculture. The country seems to be completely supplied with electrical power and a television set down to the smallest rural hut and we learned the reason for this. All tv broadcasting is superseded on a daily basis by Communist Party officials (usually Castro) 2 to 4 hour speeches during prime time.
Due to the U.S. trade embargo the pre revolutionary (1959 and earlier) vehicles have not been replaced and consequently many classic old cars and trucks are seen on the streets in various states of repair. No proper replacement parts are available. The Cubans seem quite resourceful in keeping them running by fabricating parts and adapting parts from Russian and Eastern European cars.
Tourists are able to rent Japanese cars that display distinctive license plates enabling them, with the use of special permits to obtain gasoline which is in very short supply and extremely difficult for ordinary Cubans to buy. This situation may recently have changed, though I doubt it, with the help of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Cuba has some oil fields along the north central coast but appears to have difficulty operating them. The Russian equipment in the fields is very poorly maintained and much crude oil is spilled and polluting the nearby streams and coast line. No one seems to be concerned with this situation. I suspect that environmentalists are not as influential in Cuba as in the western world.
The Cuban people for the most part are very curious about North America and this suggests that the official portrayal of the U.S. as oppressive, bigoted and racist is not as widely accepted as their leaders would wish. The ordinary citizens for the most part do not have access to many basic items such as toilet paper, tooth brushes, matches, tooth paste, coffee etc. but are skilled at making substitutes. Communist Party officials and tourists with foreign hard currency are able to shop in special shops that deny access to ordinary citizens. The shops and stores allowing access to ordinary citizens are for the most part empty. When some items do appear in them long waiting lines are generated.
The begging and aggressive peddlers so pervasive in most of the other islands and countries in the region are totally absent in Cuba. The beaches, cayos and countryside are mostly unspoiled and definitely uncrowded. The beaches outside the tourist areas are closely watched from government guard towers and patrol boats, apparently to discourage emigration but we thoroughly enjoyed the friendly and charming people of Cuba both bureaucrats and others.
This is by no means an exhaustive account of the 5 week cruise along the northern Cuban coast. If an interest is shown Leonidas will add to it.