Sunday morning in a provincial town in Cuba. We’d been chatting in a park for a good half-hour – and had migrated to a nearby open-terraced bar.
‘You know,’ the man said, ‘if this had been a few years ago, we’d have been interrupted by now by police asking to see my ID and wanting to know why I was talking to a foreigner.’
I’d noticed the difference. Compared with 10 years ago, people seemed more open, more relaxed. Less cautious and reticent.
There were complaints aplenty still, but they were more detailed and nuanced than before. Many had to do with the profound economic and social changes that the communist country is going through – the topic of this month’s Big Story.
Some things, like old Cold War allegiances, seemed to have stayed the same. One woman told me her heart went out to ‘that poor Assad’ who was trying so hard to ‘save Syria’, and she thanked heavens for Putin’s actions to ‘protect’ Ukraine.
Others confounded me in different ways. Like the taxi driver, who, after a long and cogent analysis of why Cuba was not ‘socialist enough’, had offered as a parting shot: ‘Say hallo to Elizabeth for me.’
‘Yes. Your queen. She’s a great lady, very dignified. Tell her Julius Caesar from Havana sends his love.’
This edition of the magazine also sees writers and activists Ilan Pappé and Norman Finkelstein debating whether the academic boycott of Israel is justified – a poignant question given recent events in Gaza. While our Worldbeater takes a swipe at Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, described as ‘a military strongman with an electoral fig leaf and a big ego’. Now there’s an image to conjure with.
Vanessa Baird for the New Internationalist co-operative.
The communist island is opening up for business. Vanessa Baird begins an investigation into what's going on - and what it means.
Say Cuba, and you will provoke some of the most polarised responses, even from people who have never been there.
The tropical island nation has come to symbolise so much – depending on your perspective.
But beyond dispute is its most remarkable story of survival. Few could have imagined that the country’s communist government, led by Fidel Castro, could have continued for more than a few days after the collapse of the Soviet Union that was its mainstay.
And yet, 23 years on, the...