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Inside the mind of a raging liberal
Posted by RagingInMiami in General Discussion (01/01/06 through 01/22/2007)
Thu Jun 08th 2006, 01:23 AM
Click here to view the Havana photo slideshow. Or read my commentary about Havana and view the slideshow later, which is also linked at the bottom of the (yes, I know), very long post.



They throw the word “libre” around like we throw the word “freedom.” There is the Habana Libre Hotel (called the Havana Hilton during the 1950s), the Cuba Libre cocktail (which the locals will quickly tell you es una mentira) and signs displaying the words “Viva Cuba Libre” next to the Cuban flag are plastered throughout the city.

But only in the parts of the city where most tourists don’t venture. As if serving as a reminder to the Cuban people that they are free to purchase all the freedom fries they want, as long as they use Peso Convertible as opposed to Moneda Nacional.

After all, there are two currencies in Cuba. Two economies. The tourist economy and the local economy. The Peso Convertible is supposedly equal to one American dollar, kind of like a Disney Dollar except the Cuban government only gives you 80 percent for every dollar. Part of Castro’s cold war against Bush.

But Cuba is anything but free. If it were free, the Cubans would be allowed to walk down the street by my side without a police officer demanding their papers. They would be allowed to enter the hotel lobbies and get on the Internet, providing they are able to pay for it.

They would be able to buy a flight out of Cuba at a moment’s notice without having to go through an entanglement of bureaucracy that ultimately denies their request. Of course, not many of them would be able to afford the flight even if they had the freedom to come and go as they please. A doctor makes $30 a month and a college professor makes about $20 a month.

And if the United States were truly free, then I would be allowed to travel to Cuba without breaking the law. But that was one of the reasons I was there in the first place. To commit an act of civil disobedience. To protest the U.S. Government’s restrictions on Cuba. To send a big Fuck You to George W. Bush (more on that later).

It was my first time in Cuba, a country I have always wanted to visit because I had grown up in Miami hearing the Cuban old-timers (as well as my non-Cuban dad who used to live in Cuba in 1959) rave about the beauty of the island. And that week I spent in Havana confirmed everything I had heard.

It is a beautiful country; a magical country; a proud country; and an intoxicating country. It’s easy to fall under its spell. The laughter. The music. The climate. The vibe. The spirit of the people. La Cubanitas.

Cuba never stops singing. Songs of joy and sadness fill the Malecon, the ocean wall where the waves never stop crashing, sometimes fiercely as you will see in these photos.

While the tourists prefer to drink $4 Mojitos in Old Havana, the locals prefer to share a bottle of rum on the Malecon. And as I learned, nothing beats this. Especially at sunset when the sun sinks into the ocean and the sky turns all sorts of colors, including blue, red, orange, yellow, purple. It was during one of these moments where I realized the main difference between the Miami Cubans and the Cuban Cubans.

In Miami, the Cubans want it all; the latest car; the largest house, the trendiest clothes. Miami Cubans are generally more materialistic than other Latin American subgroups. But even when they get it all, they are never content because they don’t have what they really want.

They don’t have Cuba.

In Cuba, the Cubans don’t have much. Many ask you for spare change. Their faces light up if you give them some of your clothes. And many live in homes that would be condemned in the United States.

But they have Cuba.

But through all the magic and joy and laughter and song and dance on the island, there is a sense of desperation. They want change, but they are afraid of change. The revolution is in its 47th year. Most Cubans have known no other form of government.

They complain about working all the time and not getting paid.

They complain about the constant police surveillance and how they are constantly stopped and asked for their papers.

They complain about not being able to leave the country to travel the world even if they fully intend to return to Cuba.

They blame the system. They blame the police. They blame the embargo.

But they rarely blame Castro.

He is their savior, their messiah. Their daddy. Their Big Brother.

“Castro may not be perfect but if he enters the room right now, I will be yelling “Fidel, Fidel,” said one 27-year-old woman I met in a restaurant/bar.

“Fuck Fidel,” said the woman’s mother, looking around to see who had overheard.

“I don’t think he is a good leader, but I think he is a good person,” said a 24-year-old Cuban bagpiper I met on the Malecon who knew six languages even though he had never left Cuba.

Another man told me 70 percent of the people in Cuba are against Castro. Others told me it was about half that.

The Cubans do have free health care even though they are constant medical shortages. And they do have homes, even though it might consist of a single room behind a ragged curtain inside a former two-story multi-room house turned apartment building.

And they do have free education even though the doctors are forced to drive taxis to provide for their families and the college professors ask you for spare change after giving you a tour of the campus.

But if you ever have any medical trouble in Havana, have no fear because there is always a doctor in the house.

The best thing to do is buy Canadian Dollars or Euros and then exchange them for Pesos Convertibles. And then if you are brave enough, venture into the non-tourist areas where they accept Moneda Nacional. When I was there two weeks ago, it was 25 pesos nacionales for each Convertible Peso.

Once I caught on to the local economy, I started to save money. With tourist money, I was spending more on a Cuban meal than I do in Miami, a truly WTF moment. The problem is, it’s hard to find good food in the Cuban sector. The restaurants in Havana that serve the locals run on bare minimum.

Just because it’s on the menu doesn’t mean it’s in the kitchen. And just because the sandwich contains ham, cheese and pickles in the photo on the menu, doesn’t mean it will contain cheese or pickles once they give it to you They never seem to run out of ham, but it’s virtually impossible to buy any form of beef in Cuba (at least beef that is not mixed with pork and flour and passed off as a hamburger). Yet I saw cow pastures on the way to the airport.

While Cuba doesn’t have the extreme poverty I’ve seen in Colombia and in Mexico, the people do struggle. And although Cuba prides itself on its classless society, there are economic divisions within the country.

Those Cubans with family in the United States that send them money are better off than the Cubans who have no family in the United States.

Those Cubans that work in the tourist industry are better off than those who don’t work in the tourist industry.

And those Cubans who are approved by the government to rent their homes to tourists make more than those who were not approved.

And while there is not the violent crime that has plagued Colombia for decades, if you’re not too careful, some of the Cubans will swindle you out of your money, especially in the restaurants and bars. The best thing to do is pay for your drinks after each round because if you wait for them to bill you at the end of the night, you might get charged for everybody else’s drink in the bar. Maybe that is what they mean by Cuba Libre.

I was part of a group of Americans, lead by a New Yorker named Benjamin Treuhaft; a piano tuner who has delivered almost 300 donated pianos to music schools in Havana since 1995.

Treuhaft is also a political activist, the son of social critic and writer Jessica Mitford and California labor activist Robert Treuhaft. And he is extremely media savvy.

He had contacted CNN and other news organizations about our trip, setting up a press conference in Havana upon our arrival and a press conference in Miami International Airport upon our return. I was looking forward to it because I wanted to give Bush a piece of my mind on CNN. Unfortunately, we missed both press conferences because the plane arrived in Havana three hours late and in Miami, much later than that. We had flown on BahamaAir to and from Nassau and La Cubana from Nassau to Havana. Both planes tend to run on a lethargic/laidback Caribbean schedule.

But Treuhaft’s Cuban friends who had picked us up at the Havana airport confirmed the media had been there waiting for us. And CNN, Reuters and the AP showed up to one of the music schools in Havana to do stories on Treuhaft.

Most of the Americans on the trip came from the west coast on separate flights. I was traveling with Treuhaft and David, an African American Jazz musician who loved Benny More (famous old-school Cuban musician).

These guys made great travel companions. On our return through the Bahamas, as we waited in line to get processed through Homeland Security, we drank from a bottle of Cuban rum, preparing to test our fate with the feds. On our Customs Declaration form, when we were asked if we had traveled to any other country while we were in the Bahamas, we wrote “Cuba” in bold letters. After all, lying to a federal officer is a felony.

The three of us were immediately whisked aside as we stepped up to the first fed and he read that we had gone to Cuba. Then a tall African-American fed started lecturing us about the illegality of traveling to Cuba. Treuhaft told him the law was unconstitutional.

Fed: “So just cause you don’t agree with the law gives you the right to break it?”

Treuhaft: “If Rosa Parks didn’t choose to break the law in the early 1960s, where would the Civil Rights Movement be today?

Fed: (Turning to point to a picture of George W. Bush) “The policy was set by the President of the United States, who was elected by the American people.

That is when I stepped in.

Me: “That president stole the last two elections. He was not elected by the American people.”

Fed: (to another fed) “Take this guy to the back room.”

So I found myself in the backroom where I was ordered to put my luggage on a table so they can search it. I got a sudden sense of déjà vu of when I was a long-haired teenager and was pulled into the back room on my return from Colombia one year.

Then one of the feds started threatening me with the absurd notion that perhaps I would not be allowed back into the United States because I had traveled to Cuba, which made me laugh and mock her.

They kept stressing that it is “ILLEGAL” to travel to Cuba. I felt like I was in one of those notorious immigration debates on DU. “What is so difficult to understand about the word ILLEGAL?”

At one point, another fed brought David, the jazz musician, to the back room and began searching his luggage. Meanwhile, Treuhaft was made to pour out the rest of the Cuban rum. I was ordered to fill out a questionnaire, and was informed that I will be receiving a letter in the mail and possibly a fine. We have a lawyer who will defend us pro bono. I’m not going to pay a dime. In fact, I will go back to Cuba in the same manner.

An hour later, we were boarded on a plane back to Florida with Treuhaft bragging that he managed to sneak in a half-smoked Cohiba, which he lit up in Miami.

Despite all the inconveniences and threats, I was never scared. I knew I still had my rights. I knew I would not be jailed for speaking out against Bush (at least not permanently).

But I also knew that if I had been a Cuban citizen and these were Cuban federales, I would have most likely been jailed after accusing Castro of stealing every election since 1959. I would have become a political prisoner. After all, practically every Cuban I’ve met knows somebody who was jailed for speaking out against Castro.


Havana photo slideshow


This is me and a very beautiful Cuban woman I met, the only picture on this thread that I did not take myself.

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RagingInMiami
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13391 posts
Member since Fri Nov 12th 2004
Miami
Still Raging After All These Years.
Photos I took in NYC

Antiwar protest in NYC on April 29, 2006

Antiwar protest in NYC on April 29, 2006

Antiwar protest in NYC on April 29, 2006

Immigration rally in NYC on May 1, 2006

Immigration rally in NYC on May 1, 2006

Immigration rally in NYC on May 1, 2006

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