The reality of life in an isolated state
Cubans have scant access to manufactured goods, no matter how hard they work or how much they earn. Clarita Derwent, from our supplier Cuban Adventures, explains: “That’s the difference between Cuba and most developing countries; you can be in a very poor African nation, but if you have money you can still walk into a shop and buy what you need, even if millions in that country can’t. But in Cuba, because of the blockade, it’s not that they haven’t got things because they haven’t got money; it’s that they haven’t got things in the country at all. Once I was in a town and people were getting really excited about drinking glasses coming into the store. Everyone flocked there to buy them until they’d sold out, as there might not be more for another six months.”
What you can do
Take items to donate - whether to your hosts, hotel staff, in schools, residential homes or hospitals. Many items simply don't exist; and for the brief time that they do they may be obtainable only in sought-after CUCs. The list is endless: pens, pencils, exercise books, toiletries, umbrellas, clothes, shoes, guitar strings, over-the-counter medicines, sticking plasters, sunglasses, reading glasses, kitchenware...
If possible, don't deposit all your gifts in Havana. This is where most stock arrives anyway; it's also where most tourists arrive, and donate their gifts. The poorest area is the southeast around Santiago de Cuba - items here will be even more warmly received. But in any of the provinces you will find poverty is higher, tourist jobs scarcer, and the need for donated goods greater.