cornflakes and lobster
or... how fidel kicked my yanqui ass
--the great thing about travel stories is how very often they write themselves--
july 18, 2009
just landed in la habana, chicos y chicas!
a quick, but expensive, 1 hour flight from montego bay, jamaica, to... the land of fidel.
no longer the quick 75 buck, two prop, plane ride from back in the day, it's now the big buck, maxi-exploitation fare from any and all cooperating countries ferrying still-illegal american travelers to... the land of fidel.
still... it's exciting as hell. not only the illegal, will-i-get-caught part, but even more, the chance to see communist cuba before... the end of an era. before... the passing of the castros.
expectation #1: now i'm just as idealistic and romantic as the next left-leaning, ex-hippie, now bobo (bourgeois bohemian)... about cuba's revolucion... about fidel's miraculous escape from, and defeat of, cuba's two-faced presidential politician, chameliano batista, who managed, simultaneously, to be best friends of both ike eisenhower and meyer lansky during cuba's glamorous, drug-dealing, and hooker-happy 1950s. i mean, who else but fidel has historically stood up to the american capitalistic behemoth for the last half century? (january 1, 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of castro's revolutionary victory over batista.) who else but fidel (and perhaps che) has been a role model for every would-be revolutionary... from the SDS's and weathermen's mark rudd of the 1960s, to the 21st century's hugo "bush-is-the devil" chavez of venezuela? i mean, how can one not but admire the mere tenacity, dedication, and willfulness of el fidel in the face of multiple kennedies, a nixon, a reagan, 2 bushes, a bay of pigs, a missile and sugar crisis, not to mention countless death threats and assassination attempts over the last 50 years?
expectation #2: so it is with unbridled enthusiasm that i've finally come, illegally, to "isolation island", fidel's communist cuba of 2009... which by the way, was not, at first, communist at all. no... that was due in great part to vice president tricky dick nixon's arrogant and insulting reception of the victorious castro in 1959, when young dicky and old uncle ike drove the american-friendly fidel straight into the hungry arms of nikita khrushchev's soviet union... by immediately putting an embargo on cuban sugar, and by putting out a particularly unwelcoming carpet to the shaggy-haired castro and his equally shaggy-haired fellow revolutionaries, who more than anything, simply wanted to oust the corrupt and odious batista... to establish a more equal and just society - by kicking out the american mafia, by nationalizing fat cat private housing and making 80% of cuban citizens mortgage-free home owners, and by eventually turning to, and accepting the support of, the original communist "evil empire", the 1960s soviet union, who no doubt, did indeed want a political, military, and economic foothold in the american hemisphere.
well, it turns out that there are 2 different cubas, as far as i can see, in 2009. the first is the romanticized one, the country that can claim a higher literacy rate than most nations in the world, the nation that trains its doctors so well that they are in high demand all over the planet, and the nation that has continued to idealize its infamous revolucion, even in the face of 50 years of american hostility and much of the world's utter indifference and isolation. this cuba proudly showcases its still-running, red and white 1957 chevies, like the one above, driven by our new doctor friend, elian, who has just picked us up from the havana airport. this cuba still operates the 1930s classic hotel nacional in havana's formerly ritzy neighborhood, vedado, where, if you have the big bucks, you can still pay for a first class, 5 star "vacation"... in food-strapped la habana, 2009.
...which is because, you see, the classic 1950 chevies, and the decrepit 1940 packards, and the work horse 1960s russian voltas... all, in fact, reek gasoline as they motor along the mostly empty highways. all their brakes squeal, all their steering wheels shake, and all their transmissions have been repaired so many times, that to say that they all are unsafe monsters of the road, would simply be a generous under statement.
...which is also because, the other cuba of 2009, you see, is the one where there is not enough food to eat for its people, where there are not enough jobs for its citizens, where doctors are paid so little that they have to moonlight by driving taxis, and where the long arm of communist bureaucracy and the law have people fearing cuban prisons even more than death itself. the other cuba of 2009 is this terribly unglamorous country - without drugs or whores - but with such an oppressive and depressing slate of problems - that it simply knocks the shit out of any and all romantic fantasies of the great 50 year revolutionary experiment. because... other than the party-lined, insulated, and voice-overed tour groups... or the fat cat comforts of those wealthy enough for the hotels nacional... it seems clear to me that the last 50 years, especially at this time of world economic crisis (which has hit cubans particularly hard), has been, for the most part, one colossal failure!
of course, this is only one disappointed gringo's opinion and first impression.