From Economic Models to Tropicana Dancers

Cuba Day 2 -- April 26, 2012
Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

University of Havana

On Thursday, we participated in a discussion led by Ricardo Torres Perez, a macro-economist and professor at the University of Havana, on "The Changing Faces of Cuba's Economic Structure." Monumental changes have been announced by Raúl Castro in the Cuban economic model, including, among other things, the laying off of more than half a million state workers, the privatization of small businesses, a new credit law offering certain Cubans bank loans, and the devaluation of the peso to bring it on par with the dollar. While it appeared that Señor Tones had a number of points he wanted to make, he was fairly forthcoming in answering questions.  I was interested in the coursework for the study of economics at the University of Havana, and whether the materials used were likely to prepare Cubans for a market-based economy.  While his answer was that the textbooks were of the sort used at UCLA, I'm not sure that the answer was as complete as I would have liked.

After the discussion, we visited the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, whose origins date back to 1842, and which expanded greatly after Castro came to power in 1959. The Granma Memorial is across the street, in a plaza that contains the yacht Granma (named after its first owner's grandmother) and the remains of the American spy plane shot down in 1962 during the missile crisis.  In 1956, the Granma brought Fidel Castro his brother Raúl Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and their comrades from Mexico to Cuba to begin the armed struggle against Batista.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

We then had lunch on the rooftop restaurant of the Santa Isabel Hotel.  The hotel sits on one side of Plaza de Armas, which is lined with Baroque buildings, giving it a delightful colonial atmosphere.  On the other side of the hotel is Avenida del Puerto, which overlooks the harbor.  The picture, taken from a restaurant on the roof of the Santa Isabel Hotel, is of the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the drawbridge and entrance, and the moat.

Santa Isabel Hotel

View of Castillo de la Real Fuerza from the Santa Isabel Hotel

After lunch, we visited Ernest Hemingway's home, which is just as Hemingway left it, with books on the tables and many of his favorite photographs on display.  Although visitors can only admire the home from the outside, it's a fascinating visit.  It's also an example of the challenges Cuba faces, for Hemingway's home is a vastly underutilized opportunity to attract tourists.  While there's renovation going on, the home is in need of repair.

Larry in front of Hemingway's home


Hemingway's home outside Havana

Hemingway's typewriter

Hemingway's boat

We had dinner at Café Laurent - one of Havana's best and newest private restaurants known as "paladars." While privately-owned small restaurants have always existed in Cuba, until the 1990s they were illegal.  The economic crisis in Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union forced the government to undertake economic reforms in 1993, which included the legalization of privately-owned restaurants.  But, since their inception in the late 1990s to early 2011, the paladares were subjected to limitations by the Cuban government as to the amount and type of products they could offer, the hiring of labor force, and the number of seats they could have.  The process of renewal of the economic model that began in 2010 led to a review of these restrictions, resulting in a substantial increase in the number of paladares.  We had several meals at paladares, and I highly recommend La Terraza and La Guarida (in Havana), in addition to Café Laurent.

Following dinner, we went to the Tropicana, a pre-revolutionary extravaganza that's been in continuous operation since 1939, when it opened (in the gardens of a mansion that once housed the U.S. ambassador) as the most flamboyant nightclub in the world.  The club soon eclipsed all other clubs in the grandeur and imagination of its productions.  In its heyday, international celebrities such as Nat King Cole, Josephine Baker and Carmen Miranda headlined the show.  More recently the show has been toned down, and while retaining the spirit of Cuban sensuality, has dropped some of what I understand was more gratuitous skin-baring!


Tropicana dancer



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