Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Cuba

By: daveto
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I wanted to see it before Castro died. And I wanted to see it as a Cuban (or as close to that as I could manage), hence the stay in Havana.

I probably asked a dozen or so Cubans what they thought would happen after Castro died. Early responses tended towards "carry on", with brother Raul likely doing the carrying on. Many would expand on this, with the general theme that things were getting better (economically; bottomed out after the break-up of the USSR), and that they really like what they've got: free education, free medical, minimal crime, and a standard of living perceived as better than most of their neighbours', etc.

Towards the end of my stay I was getting more interesting and varied responses, and mostly on the negative. Some didn't hesitate to disrespect and mock Castro (especially after a few drinks), some echoed the acid words of his ex-wife(?) that he'd turned Cuba into an island jail. Many, you could tell, hoped (desperately!) for a thaw with the US and an opening (re-opening) of Cuba to Americans. This though they likely knew (through mainly painful experience of several previous generations of Cubanos) the downside of being an American playpen. But money talks.

As an aside, Cuba's still pretty much shuttered. TV channels are state-owned and educational or propagandist, immigration (new blood) is about zero, so, outside of tourists, you've got conraband Internet and contraband satellite tv as peepholes on the outside world.

Anyway, at some point I realized it wasn't a coincidence that the answers changed (towards the negative towards Castro) as I became less of a tourist. Early on I was getting the 'pat' response. I could have been a spy(!) .. bottom line, opening up to a complete stranger wasn't worth the risk. But walk the walk, even for a tiny bit, and you get some acceptance. That was my feeling.

Finally, America will be disaster for historic Cuba. And for Castro's Cubans, who (Habanos, at least) have a fierce pride and live a lyrical if somewhat sparse and uncomplicated life.