Membership

The objectives of the Friendship Association are to establish, promote, and foster a spirit of friendship and closer ties between the citizens of St. Augustine and the citizens of Baracoa.  As a member you are asked to abide by the principles of the Friendship Association and to help us build bridges of friendship. You may be asked to address questions about the organization and its goals. A good tool to help you familiarize yourself with our initiatives is our website. We ask you at all times to be respectful of the laws of both countries.

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Travel to Cuba with today’s realities

There has been an antagonistic relationship between the governments of the United States and Cuba for over 60 years. The U.S. is offended that Cuba remains a Communist regime. Cuba is offended by the economic embargo it considers responsible for impoverishing its economy. In spite of recent efforts at normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries, both these obstacles remain in place.

Until about 25 years ago the Cuban economy was, practically speaking, guaranteed by the Soviet Union. More than 80% of Cuba’s agricultural production was absorbed by the Soviet block in exchange for Soviet technology and oil.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, the consequences were disastrous: from one day to the next there was no market for Cuban products and no fuel. The entire infrastructure of Cuba began to crumble. Anywhere else in the world there would have been a social collapse, but Cuba already had a contingency plan, based on the possibility of a United States military blockade. The plan was put into immediate effect in what the Cubans refer to as “the special period in a time of peace”.

Bullocks replaced tractors; bicycles and horse-drawn carriages replaced automobiles and buses. Families were reduced from a middle class standard of living to virtual poverty, a situation that demanded major political and social adjustments.

Funds that ordinarily would have been channeled to social services were diverted to build an impressive tourist infrastructure. Today the Cuban economy is pulling ahead again – thanks in great part to the development of the tourist industry and to social and economic reform that have permitted Cubans more private enterprise and freedom to travel.

The Cuban people have learned to live with two parallel economies: one designed for the tourists and the other for Cubans. Strict laws have been introduced to curb corruption, the black market and prostitution.

Many visitors are shocked by the apparent disparity of this economic divide, while others have capitalized on their own relative “wealth” to engage in exploitative social and economic relationships. We do not want to be part of these unfortunate consequences. Independently of our individual political beliefs, we want to join efforts with the Cuban people to build friendships of mutual respect and pride.

You will find the Cubans gracious hosts. If you don’t speak Spanish, you might try to learn a few Spanish phrases to be able to express your appreciation.

Please avoid making promises or building expectations that you may not be able to keep. Do not think that a few handouts can resolve a situation of poverty. From a visitor’s perspective, what might seem like a gesture of kindness and generosity may feel humiliating to the recipient, or create a sense of dependency on begging from tourists. Please do not give gifts to children in the streets.

Please be sensitive to the political situation in Cuba. Cuba is a Communist country. As visitors we are expected to abide by Cuban laws. We encourage you to speak to as many people as you wish and exchange ideas with them. You may, of course, engage in political discussions, but it is considered rude to criticize the government or its leaders.

If any concern arises that you feel might affect the overall Friendship Association program, please advise the delegation coordinators as soon as possible and let them deal with it. Prevention is a lot easier than damage control.

FAQs:

Communication with home:

Calling home is easy and expensive. You can call from your hotel room (very expensive) or from the Post office/telephone company down town (cheaper). Best is to get a calling card from the Post office so you can call from any phone. You will be given the numbers of the hotels for your families to be able to reach you in case of emergency. Email is more difficult outside of Havana, but if you really need it, the Telephone Co. sometimes has computers they rent with internet connection. Be sure you know how to download your mail from the Internet BEFORE you leave as they probably will not be able to help you with that aspect. You can also purchase a cheap phone and get a Cuban phone number, but for such a short trip it probably isn’t worth the trouble. If you have an android or Iphone you can get email. The major hotels have WIFI and main plazas do also. It is $2/hour.

How much cash to take?

At the moment there is still a 10% surcharge for changing U.S. dollars into “convertible pesos (CUCS)” the only currency tourists are supposed to use. YOU CANNOT USE A U.S. CREDIT CARD or TRAVELLORS CHECKS yet. This may change at any moment. Most hotel rooms have safes. Dinners can run from the equivalent of $7-25 plus drinks (water, beer or colas) which run from the equivalent of $1-3 each. You are allowed to bring $400 of goods back to the U.S. including alcohol and cigars. We suggest bringing $500-$1000 depending on your interest in art and mixed drinks.

Electricity:

Cuba uses 110 volts like the U.S. They have begun using 220 for some outlets but they are marked. Some of the electrical outlets are round instead of flat but most always the hotel staff can figure out how to make your hair dryer or razor work.

Freedom to photograph:

You can photograph anything except military installations and communication facilities. It is polite to ASK before taking a person’s photo, even children. It is NOT polite to photograph falling down buildings or deplorable toilets when our hosts are present. They are very sensitive to their economic situation.

Preventive meds/shots:

You are obliged to have Cuban health insurance (included in the delegation price). Some people have found that preventive antibiotics make the trip much more pleasant than trying to avoid certain foods and getting sick anyway. This is optional. Consult your doctor and get a prescription from him/her. Bactrim or Cypro seem to work well. There are NO shots needed or recommended. If you have any special meds or dietary needs, BRING THEM WITH YOU. There are no Walgreens in Cuba. Other things you might want to bring: Pepto-Bismol, maybe even Imodium, antibiotic cream, anti-fungal cream, anti-itch meds like cortisone, insect repellent, sun screen. If you should become ill or have an accident, the Cubans will take excellent care of you.

Water/food:

You are not allowed to bring fresh food into Cuba. You can bring sealed trail-mix type items. Bottled water is available almost anywhere. So are beer, rum and cola drinks. You can find plenty of good food in the hotel restaurants or in “private” restaurants, called “paladares”. Choose a place that is well known and clean.

Dangers:

No more and much less than in most countries of the world. Just be prudent and don’t flaunt your wealth and don’t leave your camera and bag or wallet lying around. We suggest you leave your passport and other valuables in the hotel safe and carry a copy and your hotel card. That is enough for the police if anything should happen.

What to wear?

It is almost always hot. Either dry hot, or wet hot. January/February is a bit cooler. Baracoa has heavy rainfall. Wear light cottons, bring a rain poncho and windbreaker. Culturally you are safe if you dress cleanly and neatly but not ostentatiously. If you are meeting with people or going to their homes, dress nicely – no cut offs or stained tee shirts. Young Cuban women have begun to wear shorts. You can wear shorts around the hotel, but otherwise, Capri pants, skirts or long pants are more in tune with the locals. Men can get away with shorts. Cubans love to dress up and dance. Bring a sexy dress or a nice dress shirt and long pants for evening gatherings. Guayaberas are perfect. No ties or jackets necessary. Sandals and walking shoes.

Washing your clothes:

Hotel service will wash your clothes for you. Be advised, it’s expensive, but quick if it doesn’t rain. No Laundromats. Or you can do your own laundry. Please do not let the hotel towels fall into your suitcase. This will hold up the entire delegation until they are accounted for.

Gifts/donations:

If you are invited to someone’s home it is polite to bring a gift. A bottle of wine or rum is fine (There isn’t much else to buy). If you want to bring something from home a nice soap or similar will do. If you expect to meet and get to know artists they are always in need of tubes of acrylic paint and brushes.

PLEASE, DO NOT HAND OUT PENCILS OR ANYTHING ELSE TO CHILDREN ON THE STREETS. This may be gratifying to you in the short-term, but it will have devastating long range consequences on the population if the relationship between visitors and the locals becomes one of begging. Our donations will be channeled in such a way that they get to those who need them. Tipping is acceptable and a real necessity to the existence of the workers. 10% is good.

Cultural differences:

The Cubans are very polite, warm and friendly. They are also trusting and believe that if you say something you mean it. We try not to make promises that we may not keep or to build up expectations. They are also very proud and will offer you their last bit of food. Try to be sensitive to their financial limitations. We encourage you to invite Cuban friends to eat or have a drink with you, but always pay for them. If they are with you in a cafe or restaurant, they would have to pay in convertible pesos which would be about the equivalent of a month’s salary.

Hustlers:

There are locals who hustle visitors. They are usually easy to detect – they speak passable English, they are very friendly and they offer to help you do anything for free and say they want to practice their English. This is your choice. But they will expect something in return. This goes for men and women. Please do not embarrass us by trying to take a Cuban into your room for any reason. They WILL be stopped forcibly and possibly punished.

Updated September, 2016