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Tools of Imperialism: Some Things You Won't Find in Cuba

Imperialism comes in many surprising forms…

Keeping a revolution alive for 52 years is no easy matter. In their time as top dogs of Cuba the Brothers Castro have dealt with invasion, missile crisis, economic collapse and embargo, all the while keeping up a steady stream of revolutionary, socialist, anti-imperialist rhetoric. That kind of lip service to an ideology is pretty staggering.

It hasn’t been easy for the Brothers Castro; there have been compromises and sacrifices in the name of the revolution (these sacrifices are usually made by the Cuban people on behalf of the brothers). The revolution itself has had to change and morph over these 52 years, becoming at times more communist, and in recent times more capitalist.

While there have been concessions, there are certain forms of capitalist, imperialist devilry that the Brothers Castro have always taken a firm stance against. Illiteracy was hounded off of the island with the other tools of imperialism early in the revolution. Anyone who has paid attention to the list of items you cannot bring into Cuba will know that porn, too, is one of the more nefarious disguises worn by imperialism (pseudo-prostitution however is no problem).

There are a great many other things that the Brothers Castro have been at pains to keep away from their island (interestingly nuclear warheads was not one of these). In this they have been aided, perhaps surprisingly, by the US embargo. If the embargo was lifted Cuba could be flooded with capitalism in all its many guises. As long as the embargo remains though, the Castros have a far easier time preserving the purity of the revolution.

The most insidious threats to the revolution are, of course, the least obvious ones. The following contraband items may seem innocuous, but their conspicuous absence in Cuba can mean only one thing; they have been deemed too dangerous, too corrupting to be tolerated on the island.

Toilet Seats

Perhaps toilet seats are just too obvious a reminder of the old order, when a ruling class would sit on their thrones and shit all over the Cuban people. Whatever the reason, toilet seats are pretty hard to come by in Cuba. The better hotels and tourist facilities will still boast seats, for the comfort of their enfeebled, capitalist clients, but a real revolutionary forgoes such extravagancies and perches directly over the porcelain.


Funnily enough the Brothers Castro decided not to include stamps, envelopes, or communication with the outside world on Cuba ration cards. It can cost a pretty substantial part of a monthly Cuban wage to have a letter sent out of the country, and even then a censor will probably revise it before it leaves the island (apparently incoming mail is uncensored though). Corresponding with capitalism is, after all, a dangerous matter. Still, if you want to help a Cuban out without buying his cigars or daughters, you could offer to carry a few letters out of the country for him. Sure you’d be rebelling against the revolution, but you’re already a corrupt capitalist anyway.

Natural Light

Nothing fosters socialism like a dark room with no natural light or air. This may be why, in rooms for rent all over the country, the windows – if they exist in the first place – have been sealed shut. After a few days in an airtight box even the most imperialist of tourists will be feeling far more revolutionary. This doesn’t mean such rooms are cheerless though. The local taste for hanging curtains over blank plaster walls is far more cheerful than natural sunlight could ever be.


Contrary to what many may think, the Internet is not a capitalist invention. Despite the aforementioned qualms about communicating with capitalists, the Brother Castro have no problem with providing Internet access to the people. The Internet is available in Cuba; you just can’t actually do anything with it. The Internet is not capitalist, but inboxes, drop-down menus, downloads and facebook definitely are. The Castros have apparently learned the lesson that other longstanding regimes didn’t; sever lines of communication and people revolt, but keep the lines open and ineffective and people sit at home waiting for Wikipedia to load.

More than One Napkin

In the decadent west you can order a coffee with a lid, ask for a tray to carry it, pick up a handful of stirrers, a few more napkins, some sachets of sugar and twelve straws to drink it with. In Cuba such squandering is deemed counter-revolutionary, which is why when you order your food it comes with precisely one napkin, often placed under the meal to remind you to use it only after you have eaten. Unlike in the declining west, where everything is disposable and wasted the moment it is made, in Cuba everything is of value, which is why stirrers and drinking straws will be washed and recycled. No one would ever suspect this, except that some cafes do a pretty bad job of it and leave the straws encrusted with the residue of yesterday’s mojito.


The greatest threat to the enduring Cuban revolution is probably flavour, which is why it has been forcibly banished from the island. To clarify; flavour only corrupts when it is eaten, which is why the drink and smoke in Cuba can be so rich and still be revolutionary. When it comes to food though, the blander the better. Standard condiments are salt, pepper, and maybe a greasy bottle of vinegar (in one restaurant I asked if there was any hot sauce. The waitress told me there wasn’t but that pepper did the same thing). To ensure blandness, most dishes are served separately – the rice on one plate, the beans in a bowl, the salad at some distance, the bread on its own dish – thus preventing accidental cross-flavouring. This assumes that the meal is comprised of multiple parts. Just as often it consists of one very bland, often-stale item, served over its own napkin with nary a condiment in sight. It is said that standard issue weapons for the Bay of Pigs invasion were ketchup, mayonnaise, and maybe a rifle.


Phil Johnson

Phil Johnson is an editor at Road Junky and more of his work can be read atHe keeps a his blog. You can also enjoy his bountiful wit via Twitter.