Cubans Look to Break Down Misconceptions

BY Cat Wise  December 20, 2010 at 2:39 PM EDT

During The PBS NewsHour’s recent trip to Cuba, we asked people what they thought was the biggest misconception Americans have about Cuba.

Here are some of the people we met and their responses:

mos1.jpgAntonio Perez is a 37-year-old security guard at a government ministry. He makes 380 pesos a month, around $18 in the U.S. Perez is a huge fan of the Havana’s Industriales baseball team and he tries to catch as many games as possible during the season. Perez says Americans don’t realize that Cuba is a very strong country.

“We love our commander-in-chief. We need to be respected because of the principles we believe in,” Perez said. “We defend the things that most people in the United States forget about. For example, a lot of people with money in the United States don’t help people who have no money.”

He also believes the U.S. misuses its power. “America thinks it can fix the world, but it can’t,” he said.

mos2.jpgMercedes Martinezis an exuberant 60-year-old retired dental technician who has lived in the same house in central Havana all her life. Martinez thinks Americans have a mostly bad impression of Cuba, but she says there are many good things about the country like the educational system and health care.

She says political problems between the United States and Cuba have torn families apart.

“My sister left for Miami in 1980, so angry that she won’t come back. I want to visit her but I have been denied a visa many times. I would like to see her before I die,” she said.

Martinez also believes the U.S. “blockade” has gone on long enough. “When I buy my chicken at the store it comes from America,” said Martinez. “Why is that? If it was really a blockade, why are we allowed to get chicken from the U.S? I think it should end.”

mos3.jpgGeorlay Napoles ekes out a living on the streets of Havana by selling scissors for 10 Cuban pesos, which is about two U.S. cents. At 32, Napoles has a girlfriend who is eight months pregnant and he’s very worried about how he will support his child. On the day we met him, he sold only one pair of scissors.

When asked what Americans don’t understand about Cuba he replied, “You don’t know the reality of Cuba. We are not happy with our government. People are not happy here for many reasons.”

He said a lot things, like meat and clothing, are expensive for average Cubans. Napoles pointed to the old pair of jeans he was wearing and explained he would have to save up for months to afford a new pair. “Try to understand me,” Napoles said. “We are not free. You are free.”

mosl.jpgJorge Alfonso has been covering Cuban sports teams for the weekly publication Bohemia since 1968. He says most Americans probably don’t realize that the United States and Cuba have always had a shared interest and history with baseball.

“In Cuba baseball is more than a national pastime. It’s a national passion,” said Alfonso. “Baseball was the first sport that Cubans played. It was introduced to the island in 1866 when two U.S. sailors taught dockworkers in Matanzas Bay how to play.”

He says many Cubans today try to follow U.S. baseball, but it’s hard given their limited access to the Internet and U.S. television. Alfonso thinks exchanges between U.S. and Cuban baseball teams could help to bridge the political gap between the two countries.