Lasting Impressions of Cuba


“Anarchy is like custard cooking over a flame; it has to be constantly stirred or it sticks and gets heavy, like government.” ― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held much promise for the working class during the 19th and 20th centuries. I won’t go into the sordid details, you can read the history here Anarchism in Cuba.

Yet, what I would like to discuss are my lasting impressions of Cuba. First, Che is everywhere. Forty-five years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine doctor who led the 1959 Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro — his portrait is the most reproduced image in Cuba.

His face appears repeatedly on murals, water tanks, billboards, and even plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and bikinis. While extraordinarily popular as a figure of revolution where children are taught to see him as a hero from a very young age, his image is used to promote commercialism in Cuba. My impression is that he has become a pattern and a design to sell to tourists, and I think they have gone too far and misrepresented Che. Would you buy a bikini with Che’s face on the butt of a bikini bottom?

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Part I: A Day with a Cuban Family in the Barrio


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
― Plutarch

When Sandy took us to meet her large extended family in Marianao, Cuba, I had no idea what to expect. We had only been in Cuba for one day and I had no understanding of life in a communist country. My understanding of communism was that everyone in the Cuban society received equal benefits derived from their labor. I thought that it was a classless society where the government controlled everything and where wealth was redistributed so that all are of the same social and financial status.

NOT. SO. 

We arrived in Marianao surprising Sandy’s family because she had told them that she would visit the following Monday. The matriarch of the family, wrapped in her worn cotton dress, limped to the door and showered hugs and kisses on Sandy. Then, she showered us with hugs and kisses, too!

She is 97 years young and still going strong thanks to socialized medicine in Cuba. She lost a leg many years ago, but she received a plastic leg that enables her to walk. All medical care is free in Cuba…or so we thought. The matriarch’s daughter showed us a plastic bag filled with medicines for her and her mother. She said that she has to pay for them, and that medicine is dispensed on a sliding scale depending on the finances of the family. Since she is a teacher, she has to pay for the medicines.

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A Sea of Humanity


“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”.~ Mahatma Gandhi

Last week I had an opportunity to experience a sea of humanity in Los Angeles, CA. I flew from Nicaragua to march in solidarity for human rights and immigrants throughout the world. It was one of the most meaningful days of my life.

750,000 people of all races, nationalities, genders, and ages marched through the streets of Los Angeles. The reasons we marched were as numerous as the problems we face throughout the world. Yet, it was as if we were floating in an ocean of serenity, swaying and bobbing peacefully… gleefully… shoulder to shoulder…heart to heart.

a-sea-of-humanity

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Names Have Power!


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Names

“Names have power.” ― Rick Riordan

In today’s tumultuous world, our names have power. We add our names to lists to protest injustices, to march for human rights, to sign petitions, to join groups, to vote. Together our names represent justice for all, We the People, and strength in numbers.

I saw this barrel of rocks in a park Christchurch, New Zealand. It is the wish of the people of Canterbury that this cairn remains here until democracy entire is returned to them.

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Let’s Get Real About Consumer Protection Rights in Nicaragua


                                  “Debt is the worst poverty.” -Thomas Fuller                                                                                       

When we were shopping for appliances in Nicaragua, I didn’t understand the prices that were displayed. All I wanted to know was the total cost of a refrigerator, but instead the prices were listed in monthly installments on stickers that must have been glued on the appliances with super glue because they were impossible to remove!

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It didn’t take me long to figure out that the majority of Nicaraguans can’t afford to pay the total cost upfront. Not only is credit “king” in Nicaragua, but the lack of consumer protection, the outrageous interest charged to buy on credit, and the lack of education about consumer rights in Nicaragua combine to make the worst poverty.

So, Let’s Get Real About Consumer Protection Rights in Nicaragua. (or the lack of them)

The first Consumer Protection law for Nicaragua was passed in 2013. Below is the link for the law in Spanish.
Law 842: Law of the Protection of the Rights of the People who are Consumers and Clients

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Somali Refugees: A Burden No One Wants to Share


While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives. ~ Antonio Guterres

I’m back! Back from a long journey in which I learned the art of letting go. But, before I write about what I learned from those experiences, I will start at the beginning of our journey.  We used to fly out of Managua because the tickets were cheaper to the states, but now Liberia, Costa Rica beats the airline price from Managua by at least $400 for each round-trip ticket for our route.

We packed light knowing that we would return with many supplies and books for my children’s library. Leaving Nicaragua at the border was easy. We simply showed our residency cards, paid 200 cords apiece to leave and walked to the Costa Rica side of the border.

The closer we got to the Costa Rica immigration office, the more armed and shielded police we saw. What was going on? We knew the Cuban refugees who had been detained at the border were gone. Overturned garbage barrels, trash littering the streets, and stray dogs running with bits of garbage treats they scavenged reminded me of a scene out of Mad Max Thunderdome.

IMG_1795At the Costa Immigration office, we were the last ones to have our passports stamped. I thought it was strange because there are usually long lines at the border. The officers appeared to be distracted and they never asked us for proof of leaving the country, so we gathered our luggage and started to walk out the door to catch the bus to Liberia.

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So You Want to Move Abroad if Trump is Elected President?


If Trump wins the U.S.Presidential elections, where are you going to go? It looks like Canada is not an option anymore.

But, never fear. Don’t lose hope. Nicaragua is always nice! 🙂

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How to Get Absentee Ballots for U.S. Citizens


Voting-Quote-1My husband and I have always exercised our right to vote in local, state, and national elections. Even as expats, we continue to vote for we believe that “the ballot is stronger than the bullet.”

With important elections in the United States now upon us, I want to explain our process of receiving absentee ballots and voting from Nicaragua.

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Wet Foot, Dry Foot: Cuban Refugees Halted at Nicaraguan Border


“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” ― Carlos Fuentes

 

Standoff at the border. Álvaro Sánchez/The Tico Times

Standoff at the border.
Álvaro Sánchez/The Tico Times

The scene at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border this past weekend is reminiscent of a Syrian refugee camp, but on a much smaller scale with about 2,000 Cuban refugees who are walking to the U.S. hoping for permanent residency.

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Let’s Get Real About Gun Ownership in Nicaragua


UGH! I am so frustrated with the politics in the United States over gun-control. I am not sure what can be done to stop the massacres in the U.S. So, I did a little research on where are the world’s guns and which countries have the highest rates of firearm murders.

Piecing the information together, thanks to Gun Homicides and Gun Ownership listed by country, gave me a better perspective of Nicaragua and where it stands in relation to  other countries in the world.

Let’s get real about gun ownership in Nicaragua. What are the laws, the procedures, and reasons to own a gun in Nicaragua?

The average total of all firearms in Nicaragua is 350,000. The average number of firearms per 100 people is 7.7.
Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.29.51 AMThe average homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 people in Nicaragua is 5.92.
Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.32.11 AMThe percentage of homicides by firearms in Nicaragua is 42.1% or 338 firearm homicides.
Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 8.33.37 AMThe information from this article tells me that the U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people own guns. Nicaragua’s rate of gun ownership per 100 people is 7.7… which is considerably lower than the U.S.

The U.S. does not have the worst firearm murder rate in the world. Honduras wins the prize with a staggering 68.43 murder by firearm rate per 100,000 people. Nicaragua, which shares a border with Honduras, has an average of murder by firearm rate of 5.92 per 100,000 people. This indicates to me that Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in Central America and they must be doing something right to halt gun violence.

What are the laws of gun ownership and the procedures for registering a gun in Nicaragua?

Thanks to Darrell Bushnell ( a U.S. expat living in Nicaragua) and Paul Tiffer ( a Nicaraguan lawyer) this article explains everything you need to know about Registering Firearms in Nicaragua.

One overlooked item in this list by many countries: certification by a psychologist or a doctor to prove that the applicant is mentally and physically able to carry and handle a weapon.

An expat friend bought a gun in Nicaragua and registered it according to the laws of Nicaragua. His psychological examination was done in Spanish with a certified psychologist.

I understand that gun-control and registration vary from state to state in the United States. However, it is of my opinion, that if the federal government enacted a law that specifically required a psychological and physical examination for prospective and legal gun owners,  then we could better track the people with mental illnesses applying for and/or registering already owned guns. This appears to be a practical solution to reduce gun violence in Nicaragua.

I also find it interesting that a gun must be concealed at all times in Nicaragua. There are no special licenses for concealed weapons.

Why do people own guns in Nicaragua?

First, the majority of Nicaraguans do not own guns, at least not legally registered guns as reported in the statistics. How would one find the number of illegal guns possessed throughout the world? They can’t gather statistics on guns that aren’t legally registered.  The population of Nicaragua is 6.17 million people. The average total of all firearms in Nicaragua is 350,000 with the average number of gun owners being 7.7 per 100 people.

Guns are expensive to buy in Nicaragua. The registration and licensing procedures are time-consuming and expensive for the average Nicaraguan. 48% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of the population lives on less than one dollar a day.

Nicaraguans cherish their machetes. They use their machetes for work, for protection, and for safety. They are cheap and readily available. Now, if I could find homicide rates by machete for Nicaragua, I suspect they would be very high, certainly higher than homicide rate by firearm.

What do responsible gun owners do with their guns? I really don’t know the answer to that because there are so few people that I know who own guns on Ometepe Island.  Our expat friends who have legally registered guns use them for protection. We have a pellet/BB gun that we use for shooting rats in our garden. I only know of one incident where a legal gun-owner in Nicaragua used a gun to protect his family from a home invasion. The perpetrators entered the home with guns, and were shot with the homeowners’ legally registered guns in their attempts to strangle and possibly rape the homeowner.

Paul Tiffer concludes by saying, “You may buy or own as many guns as you wish but you will need a separate permit for each one. You should use a lawyer or perhaps a friend in the police department to help you walk through the process. Having a firearm without a permit is automatic confiscation, jail time and a fine on top of it.”

This information was an eye opener for me. I hope you find it helpful.

If you live abroad, do you know the legal process to buy and register a gun? What are the statistics on homicide rates by firearm where you live?