The Odd Pot

Belly of the beast

The Soviet tank Fidel used during the Bay of Pigs invasion.

(Note: An updated version of this, combined with its sequel, can be found here, titled “Cuba: a communist hellhole.”)

* * * *

What’s up with you?  Show me your identification, he barked in Spanish.

He was a communist security goon, a young guy who looked a lot like the bourgeois working stiff who installed the Venetian blinds in our downtown casita last year.

We had just exited the Airbus A320 at Havana’s Jose Martí International Airport and were walking through the entrance hall toward the immigration booths.

Why did he pick me to hassle?  That’s easy. I was not in Bermuda shorts, and my shirt was not flowered rayon. I was not part of a geriatric tour group. I sported neither sandals nor white knee socks.

There was no Nikon dangling from my neck, and it appeared that I was alone because my child bride was about five feet to my side in the crowd, and we’re an unlikely couple anyway, visually speaking.

I showed him my Mexican passport, and he peered at it.  I don’t look like a Mexican. Where were you born? What are you doing here?  What did you do for a living?  How long ago did you retire?

On being told I had been a periodista (newspaper guy), that really gave his commie antenna a boner. What kind of news? Politics maybe?

But after seeing that I was part of a tourist couple, he settled down, and told us to have a nice visit in Cuba.  He went on to harass some other lone traveler.

Welcome to the belly of the beast.  The Communist Beast.

Hanoi in the salty air.

(Aside: This is a long item. First, we’ll touch on some good and fun stuff.  Down the line here, we’ll get to the nasty part.  Hang in there.)

* * * *

We had prearranged a car and driver and, after quickly passing through immigration and customs, we made the long drive up a broad avenue toward the once-elegant, but now tatty, neighborhood of Vedado where we stayed eight nights in a guesthouse.

Miles and miles of drab concrete buildings with peeling paint, buildings of unclear purpose.  No stores, no commerce, people who looked like they had no place to go, standing on street corners, awaiting transportation to God knows where or why, in wrecks of old Red Chinese buses.

The few billboards we passed sported weary revolutionary slogans, the occasional famous mug of Ché Guevara and also Camilo Cienfuegos, the wildly popular young revolutionary who vanished at age 27 in a plane crash ages ago.

Fidel wiped out the competition, I am fairly convinced.  And then deified him.

And old cars, lots of old cars.  Soviet junkers and those ancient American rides of the 1950s.  Everybody knows Cuba is full of stranded cars from the Golden Age of American Transportation, but I was shocked at the quantity.  They are everywhere.

They range from wrecks held together by tobacco spit and duct tape to absolute cream puffs with the majority falling somewhere between those extremes.

What I didn’t know, and you likely don’t know it either, is that Cuba is also full of motorcycle sidecars. But let’s go straight to the old cars.

* * * *

Old Cars

We rode in two.  The first was a cream puff 1959 Buick Invicta convertible.

My lovely Mexican sits behind the wheel of the 1959 Buick Invicta.

We rented it for an hour’s ride through town and along the Malecón, the broad boulevard that runs along the coast in downtown Havana.  The owners, two brothers, sat in the front seat while we sat in the rear.

I asked if they had been outside Cuba. It’s almost impossible to leave, they said. One smiled and said:  That’s why Cubans are world-champion rowers.

One of the brothers said:  We have three major problems in Cuba.  Food, transportation and (pregnant pause) you-know-who.

I facetiously said to him: Yes, but you have all this equality!

He answered:  That’s all a lie.

Our chauffeur drove the lovely convertible about town for us.

Our other antique ride occurred another day as we walked out of the elegant Hotel Nacional which sits atop a high bluff overlooking the sea and the Malecón.

There he was, looking like a movie star from an old Latino film poster, our young cabbie, tall and bonkers handsome.  My child bride blanched at the look of him.  Oh, my!  I cared only for his car.

Her breast didn’t stop heaving till later that night, perhaps the next morning.

It was a 1951 Chevrolet Fleetline, quite clean but showing its 61 years.

View from the back seat. Much of the interior was jerry-rigged.

We asked him if he’d ever visited Mexico.  Oh, no, he replied.  We can’t travel.

The movie star charged us five pesos for the lift, which brings us to money.

* * * *

Money

The dictatorship invented a second currency for the tourist trade.  It’s called the convertible peso, and it’s worth about 25 regular Cuban pesos.  This causes a bit of confusion.

Tourists are supposed to stick to the convertible peso, even though you can get your hands on the regular peso with a little effort, but it’s unlikely you’ll want to buy anything priced with the regular peso.

All the good stuff is priced with convertible pesos.

Regular Cubans, with some rare exceptions, cannot afford things sold with convertible pesos so this keeps them away from you, and that suits the government just fine.  Separate and no way equal.

The convertible peso, and the tourist things associated with it, add up to this: Cuba is not a cheap place to vacation.

Taxis, for instance, cost far more than they do in Mexico City.

For tourists, that is, not for Cubans who pay in the other currency, making it far cheaper for them. There are surreal aspects to visiting Cuba.

* * * *

Museum of the Revolution and the Corner of Cretins

We hit this place on the first full day.  It’s in Old Havana, and it was the presidential palace of the last dictator, Fulgencio Batista.  The current dictator lives elsewhere on the outskirts of Havana.

There is one of Ché’s old berets, and you can see Batista’s gold-plated telephone in his office, which has been preserved.  And there is the secret door he used to escape down a hidden stairway on his final day.

Reagan

There are bullet holes in the marble wall of the grand entrance stairwell, an earlier revolutionary attempt that failed.

And there’s El Rincón de Cretinos, the Corner of Cretins, a wall of huge caricatures that show Batista, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II.

Strangely, the American president who launched the Bay of Pigs invasion, John F. Kennedy, is not included.

Out back under a massive roof is the Granma, the yacht that brought Castro and his misguided, seasick band from Mexico to Cuba, beginning the revolution that finally did succeed — to the detriment of Cubans.

* * * *

Tourism!

Old Havana and, one assumes, the beach resort of Varadero, about 60 miles east, which we never got to, is chockablock with tourists, loco with tourists. You would not believe the level of tourism.

Calle Obispo, the pedestrian street that slices the heart of Old Havana, crawls with tourists.  It’s like Bourbon Street except there are no strip joints.  Communism is sanctimonious, you know.

Sitting in the crowded departure area of the airport later, I saw flights to Paris, Moscow, Amsterdam, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Rome, Cancún, Mexico City, Madrid, Frankfurt, Montreal, Lima, Milan and others.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, as all communist nations do sooner or later, Cuba was in a grievous bind.  The Castro boys thought of tourism and, only about 2.5 years ago, made contacts with tourist agencies all over the world.

Come on down!  Por favor!  And since Cuba has that certain mystique, thanks to Ché, the beards and berets, they came on down, they flooded down, bringing real money with them, fistfuls of cash.  Glory hallelujah!

Both Cuban currencies are absolutely useless off the island.  It is play money.

Tourism and Hugo Chávez keep Cuba above the waves these days.  Something must serve as a life raft because Cuba really doesn’t do much of anything.

A series of articles (links at bottom) in The Economist  magazine recently pointed out that Cuba is incredibly nonproductive.  And if you get off the tourist trail, which we did a bit, you can see that not much is going on.

In downtown Havana, beggars are not rare.

More on that later — and other sad stuff — but let’s keep to tourism for now.

* * * *

Hemingway’s House

This is a major tourist draw and with good reason.  I found it fascinating.

The same agency that picked us up at the airport sent a car to the guesthouse one morning, and we were chauffeured the 15 miles or so to where Hemingway lived outside Havana.  The house is as he left it shortly after the revolution.  You cannot go inside, but all the windows are open for peering and photos.

Hemingway’s bedroom as he left it before moving back to Idaho.

And as Fidel’s Granma sits under a huge roof behind the Museum of the Revolution, Papa’s beloved fishing yacht, Pilar, sits under a huge roof behind this house.

A biography to read, published last year, is titled Hemingway’s Boat.

And now let’s move on to other aspects of our Cuban vacation tour.

* * * *

Ways to get around

To see as much as possible, we took various modes of transportation.  There was the horse-drawn carriage, the big tour bus with seats on the roof, tricycle taxis (think rickshaws), Vespas with fiberglass roofs and two rear seats (Coco Taxis!) plus real taxis too, most of which were old Soviet Ladas.

The driver of the horse-drawn carriage, who gave us a running commentary on Cuban history, said (dropping his voice considerably):  Between Batista and Castro, many of us think it’s Castro who’s the dictator.

Before Castro we could do lots of things, travel . . . lots of things.

It surprised me that he would say that to strangers.  The truth is that Batista was a dictator, and Castro is one too.  You don’t have to vote, not that you can vote in Cuba.  You cannot.

That same carriage driver opined that if Hugo Chávez dies, Cuba is going to be in even worse straits.

Of all the transportation methods, the Coco Taxis were the most fun.  But let’s move on now to propaganda.

* * * *

Granny and the telly

There are just five television channels in Havana, and I’m betting that’s the case over the whole island. I did not watch TV there, but I saw the channel list. Here’s what the communists will let you see.

And few Cubans are permitted internet access.  More on that down the line.

1. Rebel TV. I’m guessing All Fidel, All the Time.

2. The Education Channel.  If you’re old enough, you remember that name from your childhood. Bored everybody to death.  In Cuba, it’s actually called The Education Channel.

3.  The Other Education Channel.  I’m not making this up.  It’s called, with typical communist flair, The Education Channel 2.

4. and 5:  Something with more typical names.

Old men stumble around Havana every day hawking Granma, which is not only the name of Fidel’s invasion yacht, it’s the name of his newspaper.  You don’t see many newspapers, which are the hallmark of freedom.

Under the banner, it tells you quite clearly:  Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.  This is not Topeka, Toto.

It’s not a big paper, and on this day there are eight pages, three of which are sports, an opiate of the masses.

Two inside pages are a speech by Fidel.  Snooze.  And a full quarter of Page One is a piece that tells you to look inside for the speech by Fidel.

Another Page One story, another quarter of the page, is a paean to Hugo Chávez.  Another quarter notes a visit from a Vietnamese communist leader.  Inside is a long praise of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung.

North Korea is about the world’s most backward and totalitarian nation where most people walk around hungry. Remember that your friends say a lot about you.

* * * *

Goofy tourist gear and the bozos who buy it

All over Old Havana tourists can (and do) buy cheap cotton caps and berets sporting the Red Star and the photo of Ché.  I’m betting these things are made not in Cuba, but China, because, as I’ve noted, Cuba does not produce much of anything.

The clueless tourists eat this stuff up, and you see them everywhere with their cute little caps sporting the Red Star, a symbol of mass murder.

Communist regimes killed far more people in the 20th century than Hitler did.

If you visit Cuba, don’t embarrass yourself and the people who love you back in the Free World by wearing this gross stuff.  Thanks.  Your karma will take note.

* * * *

Castro’s Old Havana

Combine the French Quarter of New Orleans, Old San Juan and St. Augustine, Florida, and you don’t approach the incredible Habana Vieja,  Havana’s original quarter, once the pride of the Spanish Empire.

You would be shocked to see what the communists have done to it.  What they did to it for 50 years is nothing, and much of it has collapsed.  That which has not collapsed appears on the verge of doing so.

In sections of Old Havana it looks like bombs were dropped, but it’s just previously beautiful Colonial architecture that was allowed to collapse due to neglect.

Communism and Beauty are opposing forces.

But there is good news. Renovation is slowly happening with the assist of UNESCO. Most of Old Havana has not been renovated, but what has been is strikingly lovely.

The dictatorship is participating to the extent that it can, of course, to bolster tourism.

Tourists walk through Old Havana’s back streets like circus clowns in a war zone.

* * * *

No internet for Cubans

During our eight days in Cuba, we rarely saw a soul staring at a cell phone, laptop or tablet. Cell phone service is prohibitively expensive for most Cubans due to the puny pay they get from the government when they get anything at all.

Internet connection is prohibited unless you have permission from the government, something that’s almost impossible to obtain.

We saw one internet café.  It was in the swanky Hotel Nacional, which most Cubans cannot even enter, and to use the internet there you must show your passport.  No Cubans allowed.  Just tourists.

Just tourists.

* * * *

Getting out of town

We wanted to see the countryside, so we rented a taxi to drive us to the Valley of Viñales, a beautiful area about 100 miles west of Havana.

Our taxi contained two cabbies.

What makes Viñales striking is the topography.

The route from Havana to Viñales is an autopista, and our ride there was very revealing. We headed out of the nation’s capital and we drove and drove and drove, seeing not much of anything but countryside.

No commercial businesses, no billboards of note (just the occasional communist slogans. ¡Viva la Revolucíon!), no motels, hotels, almost no gas stations, no tractors, no horse-drawn plows, virtually no cultivated fields, very little of anything at all.

Cuba hard at work doing nothing.

And very few vehicles either. We pretty much had the autopista to ourselves.  In addition to the rare car or truck, there were people now and then standing and waiting for something. A ride.

And there were homemade two-wheel wagons drawn by skinny horses half off the pavement.  A few people were standing along the roadway selling homemade cheese, which looked dreadful.  The cabbies stopped and bought some.

Selling the cheese is illegal, and if the hawkers are caught, they are jailed.

Aside from this, nothing much is going on out there in the countryside.

* * * *

The pirate cabbie

Here’s why we had two cabbies.  The previous day we were approached by a pirate cabbie who took us to the fortress of El Morro on the other side of the bay, waited, and brought us home.

We asked if he could take us to Viñales the next day.  His car was a 35-year-old Soviet Lada that was incredibly well cared for, but I still doubted it would make it to Viñales.

He said he’d try to find a better car for the next day, and he showed up in an old Citroën, but it was newer than the Lada.  The driver was a legal cabbie in case we were stopped by police on the highway.

Were our pirate cabbie to be caught carrying tourists without a taxi permit, he would go to prison, he told us.

He also told us this:  His name is Lázaro, and he is 44 years old, a doctor (gerontologist) who abandoned his profession in 2008 because he couldn’t support his family on the government payroll.

Lázaro

Now he works as a cabbie without permit.  It’s a risky business for him, but he makes more than he did as a doctor.  Having a private practice is illegal.

Communism deplores ambition.

Lázaro desperately wants to get out of Cuba, and it looks like it’s going to happen.  There are various methods, most of which are beyond the reach of your average Cuban.

If you find someone in another country who will marry you, for instance, the dictatorship will usually let you go.

Or if you already have relatives outside Cuba, you can go.

But here’s the hitch: You must pay over $1,000 for an exit visa.  Virtually no Cuban has that kind of money, so it’s essentially a deal-breaker. A brick wall.

Luckily, Lázaro can scrape it up. He owns the Lada and he owns his small home. He’s going to sell both because he must raise $3,000 to take his wife and son with him.

He already has provisional permission from the dictatorship to leave with his family. He’s treading lightly these days, working only enough to feed his family every day. Then he goes home.

He has a relative living in Florida, and that is his connection to freedom.

* * * *

What Lázaro told us

Food is rationed for Cubans.  Here’s what each person gets per month:

1.  Eight eggs.

2.  Half pound dark sugar.

3.  Half pound white sugar.

4. One pound of soya, not beef.

5.  A very small quantity of black beans, which I neglected to note precisely.

6.  Milk for children stops at age 7.

7.  Rice was eliminated after a natural disaster hit Red China some years back.  Fidel sent the rice to China, and the rice ration has not been reinstated for Cubans.

There are likely a few more items on the monthly ration, but you get the idea.

Farmers can raise cattle, but they can only sell the beef to the government.  If they sell it privately and are caught, they are jailed.

There are worker unions!  But they support the government, not the workers.

There is free medical care!  For non-government workers.  However, if you’re a government worker, and so many are in the Cuban communist world, your meager salary is docked 70% if you’re hospitalized.

For outpatient care, you are only docked 50% of your puny salary.

There used to be rations for clothing, but that’s been eliminated.  New clothing must now be bought with the convertible peso, making it outrageously pricey.

Government pay in Cuba is very paltry.  A “good salary” would be 200 regular pesos, which is about eight convertible pesos, or eight bucks.  Most get less than that from Uncle Fidel.  The convertible peso is pegged 1-1 to the U.S. dollar.

No one is unemployed in Cuba.  Unemployment is zero!  If you are without work, you are not unemployed, you are “available,” according to the government.

The jobless rate is always zero.  Obama, consider this approach.

* * * *

Suzette the servant

Suzette works every day, no weekends ever, as the servant in our guesthouse in Vedado.  She is a widow, age 48, and she dearly wants to escape from Cuba.

Suzette

Every morning, as she served our breakfast, she would ask if there were any way we could help her move to Mexico.  A job or maybe find a man who would marry her.

Clearly, she knows nothing of the $1,000 exit visa, and we did not tell her.  She would welcome us to the breakfast table every morning with a kiss to our cheeks.

Suzette hasn’t got a chance in hell of escaping Cuban communism to find a better life.

* * * *

At last: the conclusion

This is a police state, a dictatorship of the worst kind: Communist, based on an economic notion that bears no connection to fiscal reality or human nature.

It has lots of clueless supporters in the Free World, people who point to free medical care and free education.

San Quentin federal penitentiary offers the same.

Communism will always fail in time. The Soviet Union lasted a little over 70 years. Red China, taking a gradualist approach, has made great moves toward capitalism as the regime tries to save itself.

Castro has survived over half a century, but when the Soviets deserted him, Cuba found itself in shark-infested waters. The island turned to tourism and Hugo Chávez, who it appears will be killed by cancer in short order.

(Update: And it did!)

Tourism is supporting and prolonging the difficulties and sad lives of the Cuban people. Don’t play a part.

There is no freedom of speech, no right to vote, no opposing political parties, no free press, and liberty is restricted.

If you go to Cuba as part of a tour group and/or you speak poor or no Spanish, it is highly unlikely you will see the grim realities of the island clearly or at all, and that’s the way the dictatorship wants it. It’s no accident.

We won’t return, but it was an interesting experience.

* * * *

Happy university!

We made this trip for our tenth anniversary.

On the morning of April 20, my child bride woke up in the Havana guesthouse, reached down deep into her shallow pool of English, an eternal work in progress, and said:  Happy university!

* * * *

(Here are links to the three short but revealing articles on Cuba published recently by  The Economist.  Let’s label them one, two and three.)

68 thoughts on “Belly of the beast

  1. Thanks for the elaborate and breathlessly awaited report!

    Did you know that the Granma set sail to Cuba to start La Revolucíon Cubana from the port of Tuxpan, Veracruz, México?

    The closest we have been to Cuba, and the closest we ever want to be was the Café La Habana, on Avenida Morelos, at the corner of Av. Bucareli, in México, D.F. We had breakfast there last Sunday. The atmosphere is great and the food is ordinary. The coffee is fair to good, depending on which of us you talk to.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

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    1. I forgot to mention that the Café La Habana in México City is a spot where Fidel and amigos plotted the Revolucíon. You can get a feel for the past while drinking your café Cubano.

      Saludos,
      Don Cuevas

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  2. Thank you for the informative but utimately bleak picture of Cuba. This is what happens when power hungry imbeciles take over and inflict their warped sense of values on the masses. I’m sure most of the young men join the army for a regular meal, but, I can’t help but think there would be a revolution to send the dictator and his cronies on they way.
    Francisco

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    1. Francisco: Joining the military for a spell is not something you have a choice about. It’s obligatory.

      During the better part of a day we spent with Lázaro and the other cabbie, I was amazed at the level of frustration and anger I saw in them both. It was so sad.

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  3. As part of my job, I went to Cuba six times in 1976. The Canadian company I worked for was among the first to introduce tourists to Cuba. Of course the goal of the Cuban government was to provide much needed hard currency. The poor country had many problems even though Soviet “sponsorship” was still going strong… Below is (a rather long) account of my first visit. You don’t need to post it… but it does illustrate that not much has changed on “La Isla” in 36 years… You and I do not always share the same views, but I agree that Cuba is a sad example of how Communism does NOT work.

    “To call the fledgling Cuban tourism industry Spartan would be a generous critique. I had been warned that the usual amenities were probably going to be in short supply, but my many previous travels had not prepared me for what we experienced.

    Upon arrival, the Cuban authorities asked for our passports and dollars then exchanged money for us. We held the frayed Cuban currency in our hands and tried to discern why our precious identity documents weren’t returned. No satisfactory explanation came forth. The official firmly told us, “Your passports will be returned when you depart Cuba.” Everyone on the flight felt somewhat nervous but we all resigned ourselves to the requirement.

    Our hotel in downtown Havana provided a trip back in time – all the furnishings, appliances, decoration and (I suspect) the staff, were of early fifties vintage. We always felt we were being watched and in fact, this proved to be true.

    At the hotel, I learned of a floor declared: Prohibido – out of bounds – but I managed to get a glimpse of it. It was the casino!

    Intact since Batista’s fall from power, all the gaming tables were draped with frayed velvet coverings and the crystal chandeliers were coated with at least twenty years of dust. My mind filled with images of Hemingway, the mobsters and their platinum blond, baby-doll girlfriends. An elderly elevator attendant sneaked me in there and I asked him if he’d seen the place in its heyday. His bony black body seemed to slump submissively and his ebony eyes became furtive, “No señorita, people like me couldn’t come in here.”

    In Havana, we were not allowed to take city transportation and explore on our own. No out-of-the-way restaurants existed. No tours could be purchased that would take us off the beaten track. Only the government-run tourism stores offered shopping options. No artisan markets, no sidewalk vendors, no private commerce of any kind. Our official Cuban guide, Veronica, accompanied us everywhere. She would count us as we entered the elevator to go to our rooms at night and she’d be waiting patiently when we descended for breakfast the following morning. We began to suspect she slept in the lobby. She took us to see many monuments of la Revolución, including a cigar factory where men and women labored in an impossibly hot, humid warehouse-like building, all the while listening to patriotic Cuban music.

    During the time we visited, the workers had wide smiles glued on their faces. People on the street would not (could not?) talk to us, and even the children avoided our attempts at making eye contact.

    The faces and famous quotations of the world’s socialist leaders had prominent places on thousands of gigantic billboards around the city. Day and night, the radio played recorded speeches by Fidel Castro, interspersed with Latin rhythms.

    Now all this was fine with me. Every country has its own customs and ideology. But for me, the cuisine has always provided a paramount component of traveling, and I felt severely challenged by the food we were served. In Havana, we ate rice & beans…beans & rice…one day we got ham hocks! No one offered us regular coffee or black tea, just chicory without any caffeine or chamomile – manzanilla – tea. However, we did have a choice of alcoholic beverages—Cuban beer or Cuban rum. I drank neither of these, so found myself forced to abstain and believe me, I needed a drink! For some odd reason, not even fruit was available.

    We spent the second part of our Cuban vacation at a beach development. The brand new property, located in the middle of nowhere sat smack-dab on one of the most incredible beaches I’d ever seen. Every day at the resort Playa Sur, I tied on one of my new bikinis and strolled for kilometers along the sparkly sand. By the end of the week, all but a few tiny triangles of my formerly aspirin-white skin were toasted to golden brown.

    Our group sure couldn’t go anywhere prohibido from where we stayed (unless we’d had the ability to walk on water all the way to Florida). But good news came at dinner time, the Havana rice & beans rations were a nightmare of the past. We were supremely content after feasting on seafood harvested right from our shore. We delighted in the day and night entertainment provided by excellent Cuban musicians, and by this time I had learned to drink ron con limón – rum with lime. Our group swooned and swayed into the wee morning hours.

    I had the opportunity to speak with the hotel staff, band members and other people I met. I applauded what they told me about their health care and educational systems and was further pleased by the evidence of social equality I could see all around me. Yet I picked up on their frustration.

    Being exposed to western tourists did not encourage blind allegiance to la Revolución. Women wanted me to give them my clothing and the men asked for Canadian cigarettes. Human nature is hard to deny; people are people all over the world.

    So as interesting and educational as our week had been, none of us regretted getting on board the Mexicana Airlines plane bound for southeastern México.

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    1. Joanna: There’s no space limit on comments here. No problem.

      Cuba has changed a lot since the 1970s, but it’s still lousy for the Cubans.

      As for food, most of the tourist restaurants these days are government-owned. They can look quite snazzy, but the ones we ate in served mediocre fare at best, and the service is pretty much couldn’t-care-less.

      There are private restaurants now, a small percentage still, called paladares, which you always see written on the signs outside along with the name. One was just a block from the guesthouse where we ate every night and a couple of times for lunch too. It was really great food, great service, great atmosphere, great everything. So good it would almost justify another flight to Cuba. It opened only a couple of months ago.

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  4. Thank you for your travelogue of Cuba. Now I can close that chapter of possibilities of where to go and see for a while. Glad to have you back in the ol mountains.

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    1. Rancho: Cuba presents a dilemma for tourists. It is certainly an interesting (one-time) experience on the one hand, but you’re definitely supporting the dictatorship (although in a very tiny way individually) on the other hand.

      As for being back in the mountains, I’m glad too. We spent one night in Mexico City after the flight before coming home on the bus. The contrast between bustling Mexico City and the dead zone of Havana (outside the tourist areas) was stunning.

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  5. Gosh, Felipe, that was a great trip report, bleak as it is in most respects. Much more stark than my husband’s description when he went in 2005. Makes me glad all the more that I didn’t go with him!

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  6. I love the picture of your mujer in the old Buick. The rest sounds like — a real trip.
    Did Hemingway’s boat have its name on it?

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    1. Andean: It was a real trip indeed. And yes, the boat had the name on it. There is some dispute in circles who are concerned with such things that the boat is actually the Pilar. Apparently, there are details that don’t seem quite right to some “experts.”

      The majority of opinion, however, is that it is the real deal, and I accept that.

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  7. Really interesting. Now that I’m retired, definitely a trip to take. Thanks for all the insights. Good to have you back and Happy Anniversery.

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  8. Excellent article, señor. I can tell it must have drained you writing it, but thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. Cuba has been crossed off our list as a result, too many other places to see. Welcome home and happy university!

    P.S. Wouldn’t you love to have that beautiful ’59 Invicta to tool around Patzcauro?!

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    1. Thanks, Charles, and I am heartened to hear you will not be contributing to that Cuban mess even in the small way that each tourist does. It adds up though, big-time.

      Funny you should say it, but it did kind of drain me to write all that. Took three days and many hours.

      That Buick? Boy, oh, boy, would I love to have that thing, but it was just one of many. It was incredible.

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  9. Hola Felipe!

    Great post! Wow, as I was reading it, I thought that it was indeed your longest post ever!

    It is quite sad for the Cuban people that Fidel hasn’t gone the way of the Chinese. Not only are the Cubans poor and deprived, but they must also be rather bored with the lack (illegality) of any meaningful work. Sounds like a huge waste of human potential.

    The details on the cost (to gov’t employees) of healthcare was quite an eye-opener too. Seventy to fifty percent is far from free, and makes even out-of-pocket medical expenses in the USA look cheap by comparison. And given the structure of the “economy,” the majority of people with jobs must be government employees.

    The good news here is that Hugo Chavez is being treated in Cuban hospitals, and while I don’t doubt the doctors are reasonably qualified, the lack of supplies is probably a big problem. Hopefully his death will be the catalyst to real change in Cuba. Frankly, as an imperialist Yanquí, it can’t come soon enough in my view.

    Meanwhile, thanks for essentially warning people away from Cuba. If people will work for $8 USD per (day? week? month?) you can see how far even the comparatively paltry amounts you spent there go toward supporting the regime.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we are glad you’re back as we were suffering “Unseen Moon Withdrawal” in your absence.

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    1. Kim: I was also surprised to hear that government employees have their salary deducted while in the hospital and even for outpatient care. But it is free to those who are “available” or have work of some non-governmental nature.

      As for the Cubans being bored, those involved with tourists act pretty much as you would expect, but my wife and I walked a good bit through Vedado every evening and another good bit through the back streets of Old Havana on some afternoons. Often doors and windows were open, and you could see people just sitting in there, staring. There was a good bit of domino-playing, a Latino tradition. I guess that passes the days, weeks and years.

      Speaking of lack of medical supplies, we peeked into a few pharmacies, which were universally grim, and what we saw on the shelves was pathetic. Lázaro told us that getting medicine is an ongoing problem.

      Lázaro was an incredibly sympathetic man and clearly very intelligent. I liked him very, very much. It was sad.

      As we drove through the countryside that day, I saw relatively few homes. Cuba’s population is about 4 million and half of them live in Havana. And there are other cities on the island too, of course. It occurs to me that farming has pretty much vanished. If the government feeds you even a minimum, why plow the fields? That’s backbreaking work.

      Apparently, Cuban communism did not go the forced labor route like the Soviets and Red China in the old days. I’m thinking that many rural people simply quit working, moved to a city, and took handouts.

      I forget if Lázaro told me the $8 was daily, weekly or monthly. I can’t believe it was daily. The other information he was giving me was all monthly, so I would guess it’s monthly. Any way you cut it, however, it’s not much.

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  10. P.S. You should post some pictures (assuming you have them) of the grim, peeling-paint, communist buildings. All anyone ever sees are the charming bits of Havana that look like some colonial city in Mexico.

    Kim G

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    1. Kim: I did not take photos of the back streets of Old Havana. Guess I should have. My wife asked me one day, in all seriousness, and not knowing much of Cuba before the trip, if bombs have been dropped in the old town. It was that bad. And some was so deteriorated, though people lived in most of it, that it resembled what I would think the alleys of Calcutta are like.

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  11. You surely have changed YOUR tune. I remember your worship of Guevara and your wish to join him in the jungles. You might enjoy Andre Cordresco’s book about his stay in Cuba. He spent a lot of time with the locals. Enjoyed your interesting account of your visit. Lee

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    1. Ah, Lee, what a surprise. Changed my tune? Of course. Forty-five years have their effect on people. The young should be idealistic, as I was in my early 20s, but one gets older and wiser as one trudges through the years collecting experience and perspective.

      And, of course, Castro joined the communists after the Revolution. I was rooting for him before that.

      I searched Andre Cordresco on Amazon, and nothing turned up. I have never heard of him.

      In any event, thanks for the feedback, and I wish you well.

      (Note to others: Lee was my first wife and the mother of my daughter.)

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      1. I think she means “Andrei Codrescu,” a one-time New Orleans based writer and NPR commentator. His viewpoints on NPR were always very amusing.

        Kim G

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  12. Thank you for sharing your visit with us.

    It brings me pause, and a deep appreciation for our freedom.

    Lilly

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      1. Having spent so much time in Mexico has given me a deep appreciation as to how clueless the average American is about how fortunate s/he is. People here have no idea how good they have it.

        I wish they’d get a clue; it could solve a lot of problems.

        Kim G

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  13. Your post is an excellent glimpse into the life of a Cuban citizen. Earlier today, I was talking to a misguided but naive Honduran who thinks Cuba is the model for Honduras. She would hate it. She is an ambitious young lady who makes her own way in the world. Communist and Cuban ideology would kill her spirit. Thanks for the report, amigo.

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    1. Laurie: Ignorance abounds. My wife ran into a young acquaintance at the gym two nights back. She’s about 24 years old. On hearing of the Cuba trip, she was soooo thrilled. She wants to go because it’s such a wonderful place. Cuba is a rich country, she is convinced, and everybody is treated equally and supported by the government. It’s just a few notches below Heaven on Earth.

      One’s head swims at times.

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  14. Wonderful insights and reporting from shoes on the ground! You still have the ink in your veins!

    I love the story brought to me in print and reported in unadulterated facts, as you and the Lady took in a very lively self tour of the Island. The old cars and motorcycle sidecars bring images to the mind! Wonder when dollars will invade and make this a thing of the past. Maybe a ticket to Mexico or Florida to the owners.

    You tickled me with the story of the Lady’s heartbeat picking up while riding in the cab. Girls are so fickle! God Bless Them! By the way, just wondering about the thoughts of the Lady Z of this oppression upon the Cuban people?

    Just want to say, all the great reporting was much appreciated, and I hope to see more stories about this Adventure in coming posts!

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    1. Thanks a bunch, Señor Parker. Speaking of dollars, you can still take U.S. dollars there and switch them to convertible pesos, but U.S. dollars are the only currency that gets hit with a 10 percent surcharge on the changeover. Cuba doesn’t do that to other currencies. Just a little jab in the ribs to Americans, I guess. I took cash in Mexican pesos in a money belt because my Mexican bank (credit card, debit card), Banamex, is owned by Citicorp, and I doubt I could have used those cards in Cuba. They won’t accept any cards remotely connected to U.S. companies.

      What did my wife think of the situation? She went there with far less background information than I had, but she has become a real opponent now. She sees it as I see it.

      More posts on Cuba? I don’t have any plans for that. I doubt it will happen. I think I am Cuba’ed out.

      One aspect I did not mention is that Havana appears to be the Bangkok of the Western World. Prostitution, both full-time and as a sideline for some women (and men too), is very evident.

      There was a Spanish businessman, obviously wealthy, staying in one of the other three rooms in our guesthouse. He told us he flies to Cuba about TEN TIMES a year. Leaves his wife at home. Suzette the servant whispered to us one morning that he brings a different girl to his room virtually every night.

      From what I have heard and read, this also is a big money-maker in Cuba.

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  15. Aside from similar observations on the bland food it is almost as if we visited different countries. Perhaps beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. I have somewhere a photo of a vendor in the Cardenas public market selling rice by the kilo. Very cheap (even by Cuban standards) at 3.5 Cuban pesos (about 14 cents) per kilo and no ration card required.

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    1. Ah, Croft, I had been wondering if you would chime in, and you did! Yes, we clearly visited two totally different countries. You visited your Marxist paradise, and I visited Cuba.

      (For others: Croft, a very personable, well-intentioned, although ultra-leftist Canadian, visited Cuba in 2010, and his blog has lots of posts about that, the overwhelming majority being photo posts, and great photos they are, showing happy people, etc.)

      I just revisited your blog and went through everything you wrote. The word dictatorship is not seen even once, even though that is precisely what Cuba is. The tight control of the internet? No mention. The lack of the right to openly criticize the government? No mention. No free press? No mention. Extreme difficulty in escaping Cuba? No mention. Etc., etc.

      Everything is nice in your Cuba, and Cubans are happy campers.

      Your take on that is due primarily to two things: You are a committed leftist. And you don’t speak Spanish which, as I mentioned in my post, severely restricts communication with everyday Cubans. Your interactions, it seems, were entirely or almost so within the tourist industry there.

      I think that your take on Cuba is shared by most visitors, alas. I am in the minority. No doubt.

      Regarding the rice thing, what I was told was that the dictatorship dropped it from the monthly ration allotment. Obviously, from what you saw (I saw no rice), rice can be purchased on one’s own. Good for them.

      In many ways, Cuban communism appears to differ from the Soviet and Red Chinese versions. The lady who owns my guesthouse told me she bought the house in the late 1990s, and they pay a hefty amount to the dictatorship to run the guesthouse. So the dictatorship is not all-owning of everything or at least not these days.

      It was difficult to pin down some details on exactly how things work, especially now when some relaxation is taking place in some areas of Cuban life. It’s in a state of flux and transition.

      So we saw different Cubas. I put to you that the well-oiled Cuban tourist industry, combined with your natural inclination to favor collectivism, to view it very positively, left you with a less-than-objective view of the situation.

      Mirriam-Webster Dictionary:

      Dictatorship: 1. A form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or small clique. 2. A despotic state. 3. A government organization or state in which absolute power is so concentrated.

      Cuba qualifies on all counts.

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      1. We were in Cuba only seven days, five of which we spent in Varadero. This was a mistake but we were traveling with our son who has been to Cuba many times. They are beach people so we went along. Next time we will spend all of the time in Havana and area instead of only two days. When in Old Havana, we spent many hours wandering the streets, both in the tourist areas and side streets.

        My son’s Cuban friend, who accompanied us, had a grocery list from his wife of things she could not get in her town of Santa Marta. She had invited us over for dinner and wanted to prepare her specialty of scalloped potatoes. At the time there was a shortage of both potatoes and onions. We went to the public market in Havana to look for these two items, both of which we found. This was a “peso” market, full of Cubans and their National Pesos and no tourists. Potatoes were hard (but not impossible) to find and everything else seemed to be in acceptable supply. We actually do speak enough Spanish to get a good idea of what is going on around us but we did find that most Cubans speak English. I do not mean only in the “tourist” areas but also in our friend’s neighborhood and in the Havana market and on the streets of Havana.

        The scalloped potatoes were delicious served with Roly’s specialty of barbequed lobster. We supplied the wine (Chilean). Roly was very proud of his lobster acquisition as, although Cuba produces great lobster, it is almost impossible to buy locally as it is exported for much needed foreign cash. One of Roly’s neighbors worked in the lobster industry so it was not a problem for him. This is much like the difficulty (impossibility) of finding decent lumber in Canada. All the knot free wood is saved for export and is unavailable to the average Canadian.

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  16. Well, looky here. Sometimes things just get handed to you right on time.

    Here is a news story from this morning about two Cuban actors defecting to the United States. I wish them well.

    http://tinyurl.com/87tau8a

    Why does no one ever defect from the Free World to Cuba? Why does no one ever row from Miami to Havana?

    I dedicate the news of this event to my two best left-wing pals, Croft and Babs, both of whom are, not coincidentally, big fans of Obama.

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  17. Thanks for the dedication mi amigo! There actually is a list of Americans who defected to Cuba although I admit it is a shorter list than that of the Americans who defected to Canada during the Vietnam era. Many of those are still here even after Clinton forgave them. Several of our elected government officials are former Americans who made the move thanks to the Vietnam War.

    As an aside, I see Marco Rubio, a contender for the VP slot under Romney always claimed to be the child of Cubans who fled the Castro regime. Unfortunately his claim did not survive simple research which clearly shows his parents fled Batista’s Cuba, not Castro’s. That should make him popular with all you Castro haters. Or will this fact be overlooked? What do they say? The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Friend”? This would make Rubio’s family friends of Castro! Ouch!

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    1. Croft: Though literally true by definition, I would not use the word defect to apply to anyone leaving the U.S. to go elsewhere. It’s simply a matter of packing a suitcase and doing it. No problem. Even those Americans who moved to Canada to escape the Vietnamese War only had to drive over the border at their leisure. No problem again. Their departure was no crime. Dodging the draft was, however. Another issue altogether.

      As for the Rubio thing, I forget the details, but the story was distorted by the left in an attempt to discredit him as I recall. Turned out not to be as advertised. No matter. I sure hope he’s nominated for VP. Love the guy.

      But let us not get off on a Rubio tangent here, por favor.

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      1. I think fleeing your country to avoid being forcibly sent off to fight an unjust war you do not believe in could be defined as defecting. Escaping the draft was illegal at the time and for many years those people could be and were arrested if they returned to the USA.

        Many of the so called “defectors” from Cuba were the result of Castro emptying Cuba’s prisons and insane asylums and putting all those folks on government supplied boats heading for the “Land Of The Free”. Pretty smart move if you ask me.

        We actually met a Cuban who attempted to sail to Miami on a stolen boat. He was caught and jailed, not for leaving the country but for stealing the boat from the Navy. He is now one of those Cuban artists, happy in his work. He said he was twenty years old at the time and hated working in the Navy. He heard that everyone in America was rich and had beautiful girlfriends and fancy cars. He decided he would try that life for a while. Unfortunately he did not steal enough gas for the boat.

        We also met our friend’s father-in-law, an elderly gentleman who fought in the mountains beside Castro. He was quite old but his eyes lit up when he talked of those times of Revolution.

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    2. The difference between Americans who “defect” to Cuba and those who go the other way, is that the Americans are free to return any time. And aside from a $2,000 fine for traveling to a prohibited country (which may not even be levied), the American returning from Cuba can go back to his former life. In contrast, I rather doubt any Cubans once defected return, and if they do, I suspect they find themselves in a whole lot of trouble.

      Cuba may have its positive points, but freedom isn’t one of them.

      Kim G
      Boston, MA

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  18. I think that Croft should make his next extended journey to Cuba instead of Mexico and then report back to us.

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    1. Connie: He vacationed in Cuba about 18 months ago for a week, spending the majority of his time in the beach resort of Varadero and then two days in Havana. The problem isn’t that he has not been on the island. The problem is his leftist politics and obvious willingness to forgive the Castros absolutely anything. No freedom of speech, internet prohibited to almost everybody, total media control, no right to criticize the government, virtual impossibility to leave the island, the sad-sack economy that simply does not function because communist economics never work, one-party dictatorship. He simply ignores all of these things. So I repeat: Makes the mind reel.

      To some problems, there are no solutions.

      In some areas, people are just hopeless. But I know Croft, having met him in person and having dealt with him online for years. He’s a good and kind guy. He is simply myopic when he comes to leftist politics.

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  19. Well, well, well … not only was this post fascinating, but the comments are also fascinating and telling.

    Felipe, I did not say it in my first comment, but I think your fluent command of Spanish has to have given you a much different (and likely truer) viewpoint of Cuba than is available to the average non-Spanish speaking visitor. And I think your post benefits from that fact, as you and La Señora were able to have conversations where people weren’t constantly thinking about the fact that they were speaking to foreigners. Especially in the backs of cabs, where people weren’t constantly looking at your face, I’m sure you heard things that wouldn’t have been heard in English.

    I also have to agree (again) with your point of view on Americans with little Spanish misunderstanding Mexico. As my Spanish gets better and better, I discover more and more. I think the same must apply to Cuba. Tourist Spanish isn’t sufficient to really get the sense of a Spanish-speaking place. You really need to be able to have real conversations where you aren’t constantly wondering what the other party said.

    Thanks again. This post was really fascinating and I hope you feel it was worth your (considerable) effort.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’d like to see Cuba, but have no interest in lining the government’s pockets.

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    1. Kim: The Cuban accent is very strong and different. I had lots of trouble with it. Most of the communicating was done by my wife with me listening in and scribbling in a little notebook I always carry.

      You are right in that tourist Spanish will not get you into the Cuban (or Mexican) heart in the slightest. I also had the advantage of my wife’s very empathetic nature and demeanor. People really opened up to her. It was a sight to see.

      Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them.

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  20. The article on Cuba was interesting for me as a child of the 50’s. So much “propaganda”, both pro and con has been written about Cuba that it is hard to know what is real. Having read your blog for some time I have a sense of your leanings and can, therefore, understand the point of view this was written from. Some of the story is not new but is, nevertheless, still disheartening. The misery of people and the things rulers do to their own people will never change. The powerless will always be the victims of the powerful. Thanks for the trip.

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    1. Phil: Thanks for the feedback. Your comment, as you know, was left in the Guestbook, but I have moved it here. It’s still there too. Guestbook entries that relate to specific posts will, in time, lose their context, so it’s better here.

      But no matter where they show up, I appreciate feedback.

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  21. One of your comments and a reply from Kim inspired me to do a search on Cuban exiles returning to Cuba. I found this article which chronicles a visit by a refugee who had returned for a visit. It shows a couple of things, 1) they are allowed to freely return and 2) they are allowed to speak against the government in a public forum while in Cuba.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/former-hard-line-exiles-return-to-cuba-to-talk/2012/04/06/gIQAUzzYzS_story.html

    I have read elsewhere about a Cuban exile who returned to visit an ill parent. He was harassed a little by immigration at the airport who wanted proof that he had enough money to support himself for the length of his visit but other than it taking him a little longer to get through the booth at the airport, he had no problems. I cannot find that link.

    In both cases these people were returning for a visit, not to live and there are many other links to stories about ex-Cubans returning. It is not an unusual occurance.

    Here is an article from 1980 about a group of disillusioned Cuban refugees trying to return to Cuba by boat but were stopped by the USA Coast Guard who says one of their jobs is to turn back boats trying to reach Cuba..

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1873&dat=19800915&id=U4gwAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UeAFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1305,6567574

    This BBC article details how Marco Rubio’s parents actually fled Cuba two (or three) years before Castro took power and three (or four) years before Castro turned to Communism. Rubio does not deny the facts of the story and has changed his webpage to conform to the newly revealed facts. Regardless of your feelings for Rubio, he lied about the actual dates of and reasons for his parents exit from Cuba. To suggest his parents were confused about who was in power when they left Cuba is not reasonable or believable.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15412810

    Finally, here is a Blog written from Havana, Cuba by a young woman who left Cuba in 2002 but returned after a few months.

    http://desdecuba.com/generationy/

    I know you and I will ever agree on Cuba but this whole exchange does show how two people can get entirely opposite views from something they have each experienced. I guess it shows that we tend to see what we want or expect to see. I fear the the opening up of Cuba to rampant capitalism will lead to the most vulnerable of Cuban citizens going back to exactly where they were under Batista and before the Revolution. Memories have faded with time but the average Cuban was not better off back then. The wealthy,powerful and connected, yes, but the poor, no.

    Have a good day, everyone!

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    1. Croft: Exceptions to the norm. I’m glad some folks have it a bit easier. Cuba is one swell place.

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    2. I’m reminded of the Bible. No matter what justification or opinion you’re hunting, you can find it in there.

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    3. Croft: It comes to mind that during this entire discussion and your spirited defense of communist oppression that your assumption (I base this also on emails you have sent me) is there were only two roads for Cuba: Batista or Castro. You say often that it’s much better now than the Batista days, which it is in some ways and is not in other ways. However, dictatorships were the norm in Latin America for most of its history. There were other active dictatorships during the 20th century, and they are all gone now (save one: Castro’s), and have been replaced by democracies that function well to fairly well, depending on individual national circumstances.

      And some are left-wing democracies like Bolivia and Brazil. Leftist but still democracies where people can vote, learn about the outside world, aspire and go on vacation out of the country if they can afford to. Democracies where a person with intelligence, drive and ambition can better himself.

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  22. We just returned from a week in Cuba, arriving back in Yucatan yesterday. It was heart breaking to see how people are barely surviving in some cases. Its a beautiful country. The support for the system is particularly strong in rural areas as people there were in much worse straits under Batista. We did see rice growing in the fields and being dried on the roads in the country. We also saw it for sale in state stores, available through the ration books.

    We had a young guide for part of the time, still idealistic about the system although she expressed some disagreements and felt the system would change. She told us monthly salaries were 350 pesos per month and that all salaries were the same. Who knows. Mostly we were surprised at how openly she voiced her opposition to some things and my husband jokingly said she would get in trouble for doing so. She immediately stopped.

    The buildings are all falling down. Everyday people get up and try to figure out how they are going to get through the day. Clothing, food, furniture, cosmetics, medicines, all so difficult to find. We did find real croissants, which although they are only for tourists (I assume) in Cuba, are impossible to find in Yucatan.

    We struggled to understand the Cuban Spanish as well. They drop a lot of consonants and we had to concentrate to keep up.

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    1. Thanks, Joanne. Interesting. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the majority of people in Cuba today were born after the Castro takeover and, due to restrictions on foreign news, really would know little about outside Cuba. In other words, they don’t know what they are missing in the Free World, and are basing their favorable opinions on communist propaganda.

      I imagine she was referring to the regular Cuban peso with that monthly salary amount. What Dr. Lázaro told me (in CUCs) would amount to about 200 pesos a month.

      No Costco in your corner of Mexico? They have great croissants.

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  23. Chiming in late as I have been on route to Xico, Veracruz. A fine, fair and balanced account. I can find no fault in your report — honest, logical and well thought out. Thank you for the great effort.

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  24. Being a tried and true Canuckian, I think I’m neither a Leftist nor a Rightist, more of a Middleist. However, I do support our Medical System over that of the U.S., which I believe really handcuffs the American People.

    When I first went to Mexico some 26 yrs ago, I stayed at fancy hotels, drank way too much, did all the touristy things and always left with the feeling of what a great place Mexico was to visit. After I moved there, some 5 yrs later, and got involved with coaching baseball, sponsoring teams and living with the people, the Rose Tinted Glasses came off. I came home, went back to University, got a teaching degree to teach English and returned to do just that. Also taught some Plumbing Classes, my reason for sharing a little of my past, is simply this: You see what you want to see. If you stay in fancy Hotels, you only see what is there, once out with the average People, it’s a much different story.

    I did much the same in the Dominican Republic, escaped the confines of my All Inclusive Love Nest and went to see what the ordinary Dominican lived like, talked to some, came away with a different view from the Travel Brochures.

    I imagine when I do get to visit Cuba, I will not be spending my time at the Fancy Hotels, but will try and get out to see pretty much what you and your wife experienced. But I will sample the Rum, of course, as any true Harley Riding Individual must do.

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    1. Bob: I too consider myself a man of the middle, so we have that in common, among some other things.

      As for the U.S. medical system, anything at all would be superior. It’s a freaking mess due to lawyers and corporate greed (is this me talking?) and will become an even bigger mess with ObamaCare (yes, it’s me talking).

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  25. Juan Manuel Santos of Columbia or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela? Santos is a right winger whom I fear I would have little in common with, but Hugo Chavez? I would indeed enjoy sitting down and having a beer with him!

    You may not know this but Chavez was elected President with almost 60% of the vote, a figure American Presidents have not seen in many years.

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  26. It was interesting to read your account though I must say a lot of what you have said is misinformed and shows you are just as much the victim of a propaganda machine as any Cuban. Having lived in Cuba for 5 months, I can confirm that the country is, in many respects, inefficient and ‘getting by’ but by no means thriving. However, the reason for the vast vast majority of Cuba’s problems is the American embargo and not its communist government – after all, China is a one-party ‘communist’ state and is the most up-and-coming economy in the world, soon to over take the US no doubt. 90% of Cubans supported the Revolution and stood to gain from it – that’s why it took hold. Eighty-two people came over on a boat, all of which were killed bar about 20. Twenty men do not take over a country by chance. I am by no means a Communist, I have seen the realities of life in Cuba and I do not agree with all the Cuban government’s policies, however, having experienced living there and talking with Cubans from all walks of life, I feel your article paints an unfairly grim picture of Cuban life, does not give any sort of balance and does not give credit where credit is due.

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    1. Alex: Thanks for your feedback. I do, however, suggest that to a large extent you are viewing Cuba through rose-colored glasses. I see from your blog that you are young, in Cuba for a few months to study, and I would be safe in guessing of a left-wing political persuasion, as is common with the young, in spite of your protestations to the contrary. European or perhaps Canadian from your spelling of some words in English.

      Did you read the great articles on today’s pathetic Cuba in The Economist magazine that I include links to?

      You think the U.S. embargo is the primary cause of Cuba’s problems, and not the communist dictatorship? We certainly differ there.

      The embargo is lamentable, I will grant, but the rest of the world is perfectly willing to do business with Cuba and does to the extent that it is possible to “do business” with communism and the Castros.

      You cite China as a prospering communist state. China is prospering entirely because it is swimming to the capitalist side of the lake as quickly as it can while trying to maintain its communist façade for pure show. In time the communist charade will end, as it did so thoroughly in Russia.

      Alex, communism does not work.

      Yes, the Cubans did support the revolution half a century ago. So did I. It was young and romantic, and Batista was a pendejo. But that was then, and this is now. There were many dictatorships in Latin America at that time. Batista’s was just one. Putting the marginal case of Hugo Chávez aside for a moment, now there are no dictatorships at all save Cuba, and every Latin American nation is better off economically than Cuba. And they are all free.

      And there is not one of them that keeps its citizens virtually prisoner in their homeland, making it necessary to build rafts to “go abroad.”

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