“Please, I need a favor of you: Spread the word. Talk to the people about what you saw and enjoyed in Cuba. The good and the bad. We are not perfect.” I could hear Mauricio’s impassioned tone and his easy laugh through his email this week. This was not the first time Mauricio had indicated that we could help the Cuban people.
This is part of a series of portraits, La Vida Cubana (Cuban Life), that we’ll do to introduce you to the amazing and diverse Cubans we met.
Mauricio welcomes us to Havana.
Mauricio is passionate about Cuban life. He ardently wants you to see what he sees in Cuba: the soul-lifting music, the spirited people, the commitment to caring for all, the complexity of people’s relationship to their government. He reads history with fervor and has lived his own.
As a child, Mauricio was part of the crowds who raptly listened to Fidel speak for hours at a time. “It was not boring. He was just talking. It was a conversation. People would ask a question and Fidel would answer.”
Mauricio studied at Havana University in the Faculty of Nuclear Science and Technology (now the Superior Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology Studies) becoming part of the first graduating class of Nuclear Engineers. He worked in many roles, working his way up to supervising construction of the building for a nuclear reactor in Jaragua, Cienfuegos in central Cuba. In 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed there was an incredible economic crisis in Cuba resulting in its GDP dropping by 34 percent. This crisis led the government to abandon its nuclear program. Mauricio recounted, “There were 16,000 workers. Fidel said, ‘We will find you jobs.’ And he did!”
If there is one thing that characterizes Cubans and Mauricio has it spades, it is resilience. He says, “If a problem has a solution, why worry? If a problem has no solution, why worry?” Check out Mauricio sharing this message:
Mauricio could not leave Cuba in search of a more abundant life as others did because he had family who needed care. He decided to build on the opportunity that expanded tourism was offering. After all, his home was bigger than he needed and had an amazing view, bella vista.
In the Hotel National showing us pictures of all the famous people who frequented the hotel.
On our first morning in Havana, we rubbed the sleep out of our eyes to be greeted by the skyline mixing tropical tranquillo and businesslike high rises, morning sun bouncing off the ocean, and a Viva Fidel! Billboard across the way celebrating 58 years since the revolution. Mauricio met us on the balcony offering breakfast after a night of traditional Cuban salsa/cha-cha/rumba/son thundering rhythmically across the bay until all hours and warned us, “Cubans are very loud!” His delivery of coffee is much appreciated, as is his description of Cuban coffee which plays off of the letters in café: caliente, amargo, fuerte, y escaso. Hot, bitter, strong, and short.
Lucky us, enjoying Cuban life on Mauricio’s balcony. Waiting not so patiently for that hot, bitter, strong, short coffee.
Mauricio and his partner Sara fawned over Beija, making sure she understood that her jet lag needed to be resolved right away with some of his coffee. “Beija, you are so serious. In Cuba, to be serious is a crime!”
Mauricio understands travelers like us who want to dig deeper into Cuban life. He says, “The goal of my business isn’t only to make money; it’s also to make friends. I want my customers to fall in love with Cuba and with my house, and to feel that it’s their own.” We felt his dedication to his country and the context he gave us with his stories and explanations helped us to fall in love with it too.
He says that his transition into tourism has changed things for him and his family. “My family and I eat better, we dress better. I’ve been able to fix up our house; I can fill the tank and repair the old Moskovich auto that I inherited from my father, etc.”
Mauricio drives a bright yellow boxy 1984 Russian-built Moskovich
Mauricio left us with this: “After decades of misunderstanding, fight for Americans to come to Cuba and understand. The government isn’t suffering from the embargo and travel ban, it is the people. Isolating Cuba will not spread democracy.”
So we’ll also leave this with you. Go visit. Eliminate the embargo for the Cuban people.
Mauricio poured Cuba Libres (click link for the recipe) and told stories on his balcony.