In 2015, President Barack Obama lifted the American embargo against Cuba, which had been in place since the 1960’s, for over 54 years. White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest explained how the new policy was going to change the relationship between the two countries, “These changes will immediately enable the American people to provide more resources to empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy, and help facilitate our growing relationship with the Cuban people. We firmly believe that allowing increased travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba will allow the United States to better advance our interests and improve the lives of ordinary Cubans. The policy of the past has not worked for over 50 years, and we believe that the best way to support our interests and our values is through openness rather than isolation.”
Currently, there are no direct commercial flights from the US to Cuba, but many airlines including United, Jet Blue and Delta are making plans to get in the game. So, if you want to go to Cuba right now, you have to fly through another country.
Americans may only travel to Cuba for one of twelve specific reasons, including journalism, family visits, U.S. government business, professional research, religious and educational activities, as well as to “support the Cuban people,” but you don’t need to obtain a license beforehand, so really you are welcome to come and go as you please.While Cuba has been a popular tourist destination for many people for a long time, Americans may not be familiar with the country. While Cuba is behind America in many ways including telecommunications, it’s way ahead in other respects, such as medicine. Here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the country.
10. 5% Of Cubans Have Access To The Open Internet
You couldn’t even legally own a computer in Cuba until 2008. Even today, the Cuban Internet is said to be the most censored in the world. According to the Cuban government, in 2011 25% of Cubans had access to the Internet. But currently, only 5% have access to the Open (uncensored) Internet. Cubans can access Facebook and Twitter, but YouTube is prohibited. Most people don’t have Internet access at home and must go to government-run cafes for access. But, that is still unaffordable for most Cubans because an hour of access costs between $6-$10 an hour and the average Cuban salary is $20 per month. For years, Cubans have been working around this system by downloading articles on thumb drives and physically sharing them.
9. Cuban Researchers Have Developed A Lung Cancer Vaccine
After 25 years of research, in 2001, Cuba began making a vaccine for lung cancer. The active ingredient in the vaccine is a protein that people have in their bodies when cancer is uncontrolled. It has reportedly been tested on over 1,000 patients in Cuba. Gisela Gonzalez, who is the head researcher of the project, told Chinese newspaper, Xinhuanet, “The drug could turn the cancer into a manageable, chronic disease by generating antibodies against the proteins which triggered the uncontrolled cell proliferation. It is not possible to prevent the disease but this vaccine improves significantly the status of the critically ill patients.”
8. The Government Provides Free Penis Enlargement Surgery
Sure, in the United States insurance covers Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, but if you want to be a really big man, you have to go to Cuba where since 2009, the government began to offer free penis enlargement surgery. So how do you get your little boy to become a big boy? With an implant, of course. However, the country doesn’t actually encourage the average citizen to get the surgery because it won’t turn a thumbtack into a cigar. Penis enlargement can only increases length about one or two centimeter, so it’s only for very little men.
7. It’s Illegal To Sell Coca Cola In Cuba.
If you’d “like to buy the world a Coke,” you can do it in all but two countries, North Korea and Cuba. And you know what goes hand in hand with an ice cold Coke? Some Bacardi rum- aka a Cuba Libre. You might not know it but the world’s most popular rum, Bacardi was originally distilled in Cuba, but moved to Puerto Rico later on in 1960. The company is currently headquartered in Bermuda.
6. In 1959, Castro Banned Cubans From Buying New Cars.
In 1959, Cubans were banned from buying new cars. As a result, if you go to Cuba, the majority of vehicles on the road are “classic.” The law finally changed in 2013. But, that didn’t mean it was suddenly easier to buy a new car in Cuba. It’s still very expensive and cars are often marked up 400% or more. For example, in 2014, new Peugeot 508 models (Peugeot is a popular French car, which is no longer currently sold in North America) were being sold at the Havana dealership for $262,000.
5. Cubans Were Not Allowed To Own Cell Phones Until 2008.
Telecommunications in Cuba is complicated. In 2010, one million Cubans had cell phones, which was a major increase from 621,000 in the previous year. In 2008, the government allowed citizens to own and use cell phones and as a result, 330,000 Cubans purchased phones that year. However, prior to 2008, Cubans had access to black market cell phones. Additionally, cell phone service is still very expensive in Cuba and not affordable for most people living there. Americans aren’t able to use their phones in Cuba, at least until the infrastructure changes. ETECSA is the national phone company and they have roaming agreements with most major phone carriers, but not American ones.
4. Hours Before Signing The Embargo Against Cuba, JFK Imported 1,200 Cuban Cigars
On February 2, 1962, JFK told his press secretary, Pierre Salinger to buy him as many of his favorite Cuban cigars as possible (H.Upmann, if you were wondering). Salinger was able to obtain 1,200, which the president made sure were physically in the White House before he signed off on the trade embargo against the country. Today, Barak Obama couldn’t get that many cigars in the White House if he wanted to (at least legally) because although he lifted the embargo ago, there are still some restrictions. Americans are allowed to bring up to $400 worth of goods back from Cuba, but only $100 can be alcohol and tobacco.
3. In 2010, The U.S. Government Created A Twitter Clone For Cubans
In 2010, the US government tried to create a Twitter clone for Cuba called ZunZuneo, which is the Cuban slang for the sound a hummingbird makes. The goal was to create a service, which would encourage Cuban youth to revolt against the government. According to the Associated Press, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), “set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit[ed] unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.” The system operated on text messaging because it would bypass the Internet, which is censored in Cuba. However, ZunZuneo ceased operations in 2012.
2.You Can Visit Ernest Hemingway’s House In San Francisco de Paula
Hemingway first visited Cuba in 1928 and then came back in 1932. In December 1940, he purchased a property for $12,500 in San Francisco de Paula, which is a small suburb outside Havana. The house, called Finca Vigía, which translates to “Lookout Farm” was built in 1886 by famed Catalan architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer. He lived in the house from 1939-1960. The year after the American embargo against Cuba, Hemingway was undergoing treatment for severe depression in the U.S. and was ultimately unable to go back to his home in Cuba. He committed suicide in 1961. Today, the property is a museum and popular tourist destination.
1. The Government Provides Free Sexual Reassignment Surgeries
In 2008, the Cuban government began sponsoring free sex reassignment surgeries. Heterosexual sexologist, Mariela Castro, spearheaded this program. She is the daughter of Raúl Castro, who is President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba. Interestingly, Belgium has had a long-standing partnership with Cuba in this area of medicine and they assist with these surgeries, which are covered financially under Cuba’s healthcare system. Cuba actually has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and the world’s second highest doctor to patient ratio.
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