Blog Archive

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Day eight

By Kevin Lizarazo
January 14, 2012

Carlos Pacheco, arguably the friendliest bartender in all of Havana, greeted the group with smiles and good conversation. Carolina Hidalgo/JWW

As I write this, I am a mile high in the sky, headed back to the frigid New York weather that I can’t quite seem to get accustomed to.

I’ve met many people in Cuba, some of which have given me their phone numbers to keep in touch. I’ve met people like Joel Offeril, a 39-year-old bicycle taxi driver who tried to get me to come to a restaurant he receives a kickback from. His hustling quickly turned into a discussion about how the Cuban healthcare model saved his life after a horrible workplace accident left him burned and scarred many years ago. He also told me about his expenses as a bicycle taxi driver and how his salary still doesn’t quite cut it, and how he does not like having to buy expensive groceries at the market when his family’s ration cards don’t cover the food required for the month.

I’ve met Carlos Pacheco, an elderly bartender at the Inglaterra who writes songs for his wife and wishes that the Cuban economy would change so that his 26-year-old daughter wouldn’t have to leave the country in order to prosper.

I’ve photographed, filmed and spoken to Rodovaldo Suarez, a 34-year-old blind guitarist and singer-songwriter. Suarez believes that music is like the air that he breathes, and has sung since he was able to talk. He told me about the campesino influences in his music and his journeys to France and Italy to play at concerts. He has two objectives: to make a living and to be noticed. Suarez tells me that the only things he can do are sing, playing guitar and sit on the sidewalk playing his original songs right next to La Bodeguita del Medio, the famous bar where Hemingway got his mojitos and where state-employed musicians usually perform and drown Suarez out with their multiple instruments.

At La Dichosa, a bar in Old Havana on Calle Obispo, Dagoberto Lopez-Rodriguez passionately tells me with ron (rum) on his breath that salsa is merely the result of the combining of various derivations of Cuban “son,” which is where all Latin-American music comes from, he claimed.

I’ve been out of the United States before. I’ve been to Spain, Italy and France, for vacation. Even in my youth, I still felt a decidedly American presence during some moments in those countries. In Cuba, I didn’t feel any of it. Castro and the Revolucion did a good job of removing the essences of Americana from the streets. I was detached from my smartphone and from the world at large for a week. I’d looked forward to Cuban coffee seven days a week instead of a venti caramel frap. Living in a socialist state is incredibly different from a capitalist state. I am grateful to have been a part of the team that spent a week in this rather beautiful, antiquated city.

I look forward to organizing the entire experience into a format to share with the rest of my peers in the United States, so that they may appreciate a piece of the truth of the Cuban way of life.

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Day seven

By Frank Posillico
January 13, 2012

The group checks out AP's Cuba offices. Carolina Hidalgo/JWW

For our last day in Havana we had a lot of last minute things to do.

After holding our little news meeting in the morning, we went to El Prado to interview a “facilitator,” who really functions as a real estate broker tying home sellers to home buyers. Philly worked on that story.

Highlight of the day was the later visit to the Associated Press office. It was located on the sixth floor of an office building in Havana where you could see most of the city. It was great to learn about how these journalists cover the country that is not that kind to letting them go off on their own and do what they want.

After the tour of the AP office Carolina, David, Philly and I broke off from the rest of the group to go get some last minute things done. We went and shot David’s stand-up in front of a policlinic that we found. We got some more b-roll for the packages and I found a taxi driver that I interviewed about his car and the challenges of keeping it going. The cars in Havana really impressed me. They were beautiful American cars that you don’t really see anymore and the fact that they were still running blew me away.

Chris, Ethan, Adam and Paul went with Professors Ricioppo and Howell for the group’s second visit with Marta Rojas, to finish videotaping her recollections of Fidel Castro’s first attempt to overthrow Batista in 1953.

That night we went out to dinner with the travel agency and captured video, edited photos and wrote up notes for the rest of the night before getting a hour or two of sleep and then heading to the airport.

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Day six

By David Morris
January 12, 2012

Rick Ricioppo/JWW

Today, we visited the Latin American School of Medicine to meet with the director of the program as well as six American students who began studying this year. All education in Cuba is paid for by the government, so for students from Latin America, Africa, or other low-income regions of the world, it is a very attractive program.

There is a small catch, however. The government does not allow foreign students in the medical school to remain and practice what they’ve learned in Cuba. The government mandates that these doctors return to their home communities and practice what they’ve learned there. Philly asked the director why the Cuban government would offer free medical care to foreign students if they were not contributing anything to the country, which is a very interesting question. The director basically responded that Cuba wants to contribute educated doctors to the entire world.

Philly later told me she felt that the director’s answer was a load of bologna, but I slightly disagree. Medicine and health was always a priority to Fidel, but a program like this serves also as good publicity. There are so many negative things the US says about Cuba portraying them as impoverished terrorists, so the country must do something to make up for the bad press. I think a medical school is a great way to do that. I also found it interesting that the director of the medical school agreed that doctors should be paid more, but she told us that the Cuban government is working on ways to make this possible.

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Day five

By Paul Harding
January 11, 2012

Rick Ricioppo/JWW

Today, instead of following the group I went with Professor Howell and David to meet a woman named Marta Rojas, an 82-year-old Cuban journalist who was an eyewitness to the attack at the Moncada Garrison. Led by Fidel Castro, the attack is widely accepted as the starting point of the Cuban Revolution.

She told us an amazing story of how she and another journalist were able to sneak photos of the incident past the established military at the time, who were of course lying about the course of events that occurred, and publish a story under intense fear and surveillance from the Batista regime. I decided to do my multimedia piece on her, as she was a remarkable person who I think people really need to see and hear. She also signed one of her books for me, an English translation thankfully, and I’ll start reading it as soon as I get home.

After that we also made a trip to the university, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to give a speech there. We weren’t allowed to get in but we saw and talked to some people on the street about it and found out that none of them even knew he was there. I’m going to write a full story on that as well, as it shows just how ill informed the Cuban people are. Today was the most interesting day I’ve had, and I’m starting to really have fun on this trip.

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Day four

By Adam Khorasanchi
January 10, 2012

Rick Ricioppo/JWW


Today we visited a polyclinic, part of the primary care system here in Cuba. Given that I am an aspiring family doctor, it made sense to visit a country that has prided itself on delivering free, universal health care to all of its citizens.

We met with doctors and nurses who answered all of our questions about the clinic. This particular clinic serves the surrounding neighborhood, which consists of 27,818 people or 7953 families. It provides specialized services such as orthopedics, endocrinology, and ophthalmology. I found it remarkable that the doctors live in the same building that they work in. Although the clinic is officially open from 9-5, these doctors make themselves available twenty-four hours.

Furthermore, doctors make home visits for those who are undergoing rehabilitation as well as assess a person’s living conditions. The clinics are plastered with informative posters, such as one that described the ways in which you can eliminate mosquito breeding sites. Posters like these are part of a larger campaign that stresses prevention and promotion. Such efforts are likely the reasons why Cuba has been able to do so much with so little.

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Day three

By Philly Bubaris
January 9, 2012

Frank Posillico / JWW

Today we took a tour of Old Havana with our tour guide and then had the rest of the day to explore and write stories on our own. The tour through Havana was cool but Tatiana kept getting annoyed with us because we were pausing to take photos. So I couldn’t really listen to what she was saying because I was rushing to take pictures and listen at the same time. But we went to a bunch of cool places and, through that, came up with interesting story ideas.

I had a lobster kabob for lunch, which was delicious. After lunch, we went back to the hotel and that is when the adventure began. We all walked down the street to get to the book market that is in one of the four plazas in Old Havana. We were there for about an hour and I made a new friend named Roberto Rodriguez.

After that, we walked to an open-air market with about a dozen people who sell their goods for money. They pay a portion of their earnings to the government for allowing them to have their own businesses. I met a man named Walter who makes little boxes, bookmarks, vases, and whatever else he can make out of wood. He then writes sayings in Spanish on them and sells them to tourists. We interviewed him because he spoke English, though he was still hard to understand. He said he had a brain injury of some kind, so he was mixing up his Spanish and English. I asked him very simple questions and he answered them all with a smile. He said that selling things for money is capitalism, and he doesn’t do this to make money, he does it because he loves it. Very interesting. At the end of the interview, he gave me one of his boxes and read me the quote in Spanish and in English. He hugged me and made me feel very welcome. This was a special experience for me.

I am starting to see now why people like to study abroad. It is weird. I don’t feel like I am in a foreign country. Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet. But, it is just unbelievable to see the way the other half lives. There is no way to really explain Cuba to anyone until you go there. It is not at all what I expected. People are just hanging out in the street, drinking rum, driving around in old cars, and loving life. No one is texting or worrying about anything but that moment. Right now, I still just think this is really cool. It hasn’t changed my life yet. But, I anticipate that it will.

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Day two

By Ethan Freedman
January 8, 2012

Ethan Freedman/JWW

Today’s main grabs, for me at least, was interviewing a Canadian tourist who spoke about the difficult nature of telecommunications in Cuba, and interviewing a book seller who is representative of what is essentially the new private sector.

The people of Cuba typically do not have much phone access, and it is usually terribly expensive to use. The tourist was telling me that when people call each other, they usually talk for two seconds and hang up as to not use up their minutes.

The man who sold books was one of the many Cubans who had to switch over from a government job to a private one because of the economic turmoil in the country in the early ‘90s. Both interviews portrayed a Cuba that was fundamentally different from America, one that seems to struggle with many of things Americans take for granted as fundamental.

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Day one

By Chris Cloonan
January 7, 2012

Rick Ricioppo/JWW

In days preceding our trip to Cuba, I had been nothing but excited to visit the communist nation that is off limits to most Americans. Even during the moments saying goodbye to my parents at the airport, and later on the flight over the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico, my anticipation never waned.

But as soon as I saw our plane flyover Cuban land, I had an instant panic attack. Images of the brutal treatment political prisoners receive in communist North Korea flashed through my mind. “I’m entering a totalitarian regime!” I remember saying to myself, mid-panic. “What in the world was I thinking?!”

The calm, cool, and collected Chris Cloonan had vanished. Intimidated and scared Chris Cloonan had arrived. It was at this moment, ironically, that I was thankful that I had chosen to go to Cuba. Before college I had planned on not studying abroad; instead spending my money on a trip to North Korea after I graduated. I realized then how badly that could have potentially gone and how unprepared I was to take such an adventure.

I entered airport security with the rest of the group. One by one, we passed through. I was forced to attempt to communicate using my basic Spanish skills, something that only made the situation worse.

After believing I had successfully gotten through screening and am on my way to meet the rest of the group, I was called back.

“Oh my God,” I thought as my face turned ghost white. “My fate is entirely in their hands, out of my control,” I think to myself. I turn around, feeling as if I am walking into a death chamber. “What is your nationality?” the guard asks. “A…A…American,” I reply. And that was it. He thought I looked Cuban and was curious.

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