In early January, Brad, Jane, David and Amy spent two fascinating weeks in Cuba on a trip led by our colleague, Judge Isaac Borenstein, who is also a Visiting Professor of Law at Suffolk Law School. We were there to teach classes and conduct trainings as part of an educational exchange about the uses of mediation and other conflict resolution processes in our two legal systems, particularly in the area of family law. In addition to 24 students from Suffolk Law School, we also worked closely with faculty and students from the law schools of both Havana and Matanzas.
Education in Cuba is free for all through post secondary school, including, for example, law school. On the one hand, this leads to an impressively educated and literate society. On the other hand, the economic realities have created a peculiar disconnect between education, professional standing and earnings. Many people we spoke to, though highly trained as engineers, historians or doctors can’t afford to pursue their professions, opting instead to work as drivers or waiters, positions which allow them to tap in to the foreign currency system. We did hear some distress about the impact this had on students’ motivation and on a national “brain drain.” Our own experience, however, was of an extraordinarily motivated student population: a core group of several students and professors hitchhiked each day from Matanzas to Havana (about an hour and a half each way – assuming the car doesn’t break down!) in order to participate in our classroom presentations.
The Cuban cars truly live up to their reputation. Buicks and Chevys from the 40’s and 50’s all kept running can be seen as evidence of incredible ingenuity and perseverance by their owners.
While there are visible signs of poverty, there is also tremendous pride and generosity. We were fortunate to be hosted to two family dinners. This lavish spread at our hosts' home in Matanzas featured, among other things: shrimp, yucca, sweet potatoes, malangas (a root vegetable related to taro), plantains, and -- of course-- rice and beans. And terrific flan as well.
Cuba's rum is famous for good reason-- daiquiris, mojitos, piña coladas, dark rum straight up-- all delectable.
Music was everywhere: jazz clubs, Afro-Caribbean drumming, salsa...
And baseball is as deeply engrained there as in Boston. The souvenirs we distributed from our own Medias Rojas were well received.
We were all struck by how warmly we were received in Cuba. With the exception of the Museum of the Revolution, which boasted some pretty heavy handed anti-imperialist rhetoric, any anti-US sentiment we heard was strictly related to the embargo, which seemed to be considered a policy issue between our governments, and not a problem in the relationship between the people of the two countries. It was exciting to be in Cuba when the thaw in relations was so fresh. While there are concerns about what the impact there may be, there was an enormous amount of optimism for the future.