About Joe

After previously blogging from Mersin, Turkey and Adelaide, South Australia I'm now based in Perth, Western Australia. This WordPress blog at joe.in usurps my previous Blogger-based blog which ran from October 2003 to April 2010 at taheny.com.

Cuban Postal Systems and Mail Boxes

Posting letters outside the Nuevitas Post Office

Posting letters into the Correos de Cuba box outside Nuevitas Post Office

The Cuban postal system (Correos de Cuba) is both a cheap way for locals to communicate and a source of foreign revenue. See, Cuba produces two sets of postcards and two corresponding postage rates:

  1. A touristic card aimed at foreigners costs approximately US1.50 to buy and post internationally
  2. A corresponding Cuban propaganda post card with the obligatory Fidel Castro or José Martí quote costs an unbelievably cheap ~US$0.06 (1.45 CUP) to purchase and send.

Continue reading

Cuban Signs, Branding and Marketing

Truck with plain, brand-less bags of water crackers in Pinar del Rio

Truck with plain, brand-less bags of water crackers in Pinar del Río

Post-Revolution, Cuba has been run as a totalitarian state with the government controlling all production and distribution. With no competition, such a system has little place for advertising or branding. In addition, Cuba’s mass media is all state-owned and commercial-free.  Indeed, Cuba’s marketing expertise lies in propaganda. Interestingly, propaganda in Spanish translates as advertising.

Only recently have Cubans had self-employment options, planting tiny capitalistic seeds and increasing branding and advertising’s importance. Now many Cubans run their own restaurants, guest-houses, transport and other businesses. Below are selected advertisements, signs and brands from Rocío and my visit. Continue reading

Cuban Ingenuity and Repurposing

Bike chain lock on outdoor kitchen, Viñales

Bike chain lock on outdoor kitchen in Viñales

Cubans are great at recycling, reusing, repurposing and modifying objects to extend their usefulness. The limited availability of resources caused by both the communist state policies and US embargo have forced their frugality and ingenuity. This was especially true when the Soviet Union collapsed, causing the 1990s Special Period when extreme rationing occurred.

This hardship-induced resourcefulness has had a positive consequence of lower waste levels, reducing environmental pollution.

Following are some of the examples of frugality and ingenuity Rocío and I saw on our Cuba trip. Continue reading

Shopping in Cuba

Havana hardware store window display

A dismal hardware store window display in Havana

Shopping in Cuba involves buying what is available, not what one desires. Stores have limited variety, especially those aimed at Cubans. An extreme example of this was the bakery Rocío and I saw selling only one line of bread. Continue reading

Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR)

Havana graffiti stating Viva CDR 28 (Long Live CDR 28)

Havana graffiti proclaiming Viva CDR 28 (Long Live CDR 28)

Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (Comités de Defensa de la Revolución), otherwise known as CDR, exist in every Cuban neighbourhood. Established on 28 September 1960, less than a year after the Cuban Revolution, the volunteer-run committees monitor and report on counter-revolutionary activity and promote social welfare. Stephen Smith’s Cuba: The Land Of Miracles quotes a BBC reporter aptly describing the CDR as “a cross between the neighbourhood watch and the Gestapo”.

During our visit, Rocío and I witnessed many CDR references throughout the island. Continue reading

Cuban Communist Country Products

During Rocío and my visit to Cuba we saw multiple old and modern artefacts from other communist or former communist countries. Considering Cuba’s post-revolution political alignment and the United States embargo this should not have been a surprise.

Communist Crockery

A tip for those visiting Cuba: at your guest house check under the china for its origin. With limited access to goods, Cubans often keep items for decades, including their stoneware. We noticed this at our first meal in Cuba with crockery made in Czechoslovakia, a European country last existing in 1992.

Crockery made in Czechoslovakia at our first Havana guest house

Crockery made in Czechoslovakia at our first Havana guest house

At Santiago de Cuba we used a porcelain coffee set produced in Bulgaria, most likely from its pre-1990 communist period. Continue reading

Cuban Propaganda Against the United States Embargo

For six decades the United States of America has imposed an embargo (el bloqueo in Spanish) on Cuba. Separated by less than 200 kilometres, this action by the world’s largest economy has heavily restricted Cuba’s commercial, economic and financial options. The embargo has also shaped modern Cuba’s uniqueness as a country and provided the totalitarian Cuban government with a convenient (and sometimes legitimate) bogeyman to blame. During our Cuba visit, Rocío and I saw several examples of anti-blockade propaganda.

UJC sticker on wall in Old Havana

Young Communist League (UJC) sticker on wall in Old Havana stating yo voto vs bloqueo (I vote against the embargo)

Continue reading

Buildings of Havana, Cuba

The Neo-Mudéjar Ursulinas Palace (Palacio de las Ursulinas) building in Old Havana

The Neo-Mudéjar Ursulinas Palace (Palacio de las Ursulinas) building in Old Havana (Habana Vieja)

To my untrained eye, Havana’s buildings were special. To architect Rocío’s, they were inspiring. Interesting buildings or aspects of buildings appeared around almost every corner and this blog post documents a tiny proportion of them. Continue reading