Essay Non-Fiction posted December 22, 2014


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some history and observations

Cuba--Just a Spit in the Ocean

by Spiritual Echo


While the media scampered in astonished chaos, Obama stood at the podium and declared an end to the hostility, a goal to ease trade embargos and attitude towards Cuba.

Fidel Castro, and now his brother, Raul, are preparing to die. They are old men. Cuba is up for auction; it needs new political and financial partnerships. There is a compassionate component, a history and self-dependence that each individual should stand back and evaluate before reacting to this announcement.

Just a breath over three hundred miles from Miami, eleven million people are close--very close to The United States--but invisible to the average American.

The exception to understanding Cuba and its people, is Florida, where a large population of Cuban exiles live. Little Havana, in Miami, has sprung a local appreciation and friendships with Americans that have empathy for the lengths to what Cubans have gone through to taste freedom.


The Cuban Revolution, that brought Castro to power, was waged in the fifties. Batista, the president who was overthrown by Castro, was a willing participant in stealing the island's dignity. The American Mafia dominated Cuba in full partnership with Batista who benefited financially from his liaison with the mob. The Syndicate controlled the sugar and rum industry. They also turned Cuba into their personal playground, building hotels, and introducing all forms of depravity for entertainment.

Sexual exploitation was offered up on stages for American amusement. Young women were paired with donkeys, children were offered up as after-dinner 'delight.' In a country where the president had forsaken his own people, turned a blind eye to the poverty, despair and needs of his citizens, it is not at all surprising that Cubans began to hate America.

During my first trip to Cuba, I joined a tour that included a visit to one of the mansions built by a wealthy American family and was duly impressed by the architectural beauty of the Colonial-Spanish palace. Certainly the estate required massive repairs, but it's spacious ballroom, vaulted ceilings and an atrium, a centre garden court resembling an exotic greenhouse, were all testaments to the opulence of the lifestyle once enjoyed in that home.

The final room, the master bedroom, was filled ceiling-high with remnants of America's residency in Cuba. A Shell gas sign, coke and liquor bottles, cigarette packages, a pile that resembled the collective recycled garbage of a neighbourhood, was on display. The tour guide proceeded to give a lecture to the tourists, invoking the crimes against Cuba perpetuated by Americans.

I was disgusted. I demanded to leave, but such arrogance was not expected and certainly caused the tour guide a moment of distress. I was, after all as he reminded me, a guest of Cuba and had paid for the tour. Moreover, as a Canadian, he did not understand my revulsion. I looked him in the eye, slipped him ten American dollars and told him I wanted to be returned to my hotel.

One of the first measures Castro did to return the island back to Cuba was to nationalize all American holdings. The Mafia lost control of their majestic hotels and Castro moved in families who needed housing.

Castro made universal medical care and education his primary mandates. He did all that. Above all else, Cubans received exceptional education, often being sponsored by the government to receive medical, engineering, and teaching degrees in International Universities.

The graduates tasted capitalism, but were forced to return to Cuba with their degrees. In Cuba, a doctor earns a modest salary, not much more than a labourer. Even with superb credentials, these scholars lived in poverty.

But let us not forget the belligerence of both Castro brothers, big fish in a small pond. American overtures to ease the tension between the two countries were dismissed. It is only now, when Cuba's future is at stake that meetings were initiated. We Canadians have invested in Cuba, as a trading partner, but we have ALSO exploited the country, sucking up cheap vacations, thereby floating the current regime to continue the dictatorship and the atrocities on human rights.

Tourism is the most important factor in Cuba's economy. Canadians have enjoyed cheap--extremely cheap Caribbean holidays. The cost for me to fly to an all-inclusive hotel and stay for a week is less than a round trip airline ticket to Vancouver, a city in my own country.

A one dollar tip--in American dollars--represents a huge gratuity. Many very well-educated professionals work in hotels, giving up their chosen vocation to mingle with tourists and be near visitors who might reward their smile and service. The ten dollar bribe I gave the tour guide represented a month's salary. Of course he took me back to the hotel.

Things we take for granted, are luxuries in Cuba. After each of my five vacations, I've returned home with an empty suitcase, giving away my clothes, cosmetics and even my toothbrush. I learned the hard way to bring individual packages of Kleenex. There are very few public facilities that offer toilet paper.

I learned from fellow vacationers why they were travelling with multiple suitcases. They shopped in Canada and left behind, crayons, paper and books for the children. Education is free and mandatory, but supplies are scarce. Visiting the local schools was a visual delight. Beautiful children in government-issued uniforms--not the drab utile sort, but red bandanas, crisp white cotton blouses and plaid skirts--proudly showed me their lessons.

Being threatened with a nuclear attack, entirely a Russian initiative, left scars on relations between America and Cuba. After seizing American assets, Castro's 1962 stand-off with Kennedy named the 'The Bay of Pigs,' left an acrid taste in America's craw.

Russia evacuated from Cuba in the early nineties when their own economy was in jeopardy. Most political pundits expected the collapse of Castro's Cuba once the Russians left. Without financial sponsorship, the infrastructure suffered. Roads, railway lines crumbled into disrepair. Rusting metal skeletons of incomplete structures line many landscapes.

Most people's knowledge of Cuba is limited to the American naval detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, a forty-five square mile military base on the south-eastern shore of Cuba. It is the oldest International military base America has and the only one in a country where there are no treaties, pacts or trade agreements. It was established more than one hundred years ago. Cuba is paid the paltry sum of four thousand dollars per year for the use of ocean-side property.


As we have recently heard on the news, the US military base in Cuba also participated in the torture of prisoners from the Middle-East wars. It is not the only place where drastic measures were taken. Torture was sanctioned and administered by American military. This history now sits on public display for everyone to consider. Every country bears the responsibility of its own shame.

Early in Obama's presidency, he made a commitment to close Guantanamo, and while his time lines don't match his declaration, the current negotiations to re-establish relations between The United States and Cuba are encouraging.

There are certainly stories about human rights issues, false and horrific imprisonments in Cuba, but we as global citizens, can not make a difference by shrouding ourselves in disgust and looking in another direction. Our political leaders continue to do business with countries that commit atrocities against their own people. What kind of hypocrisy allows us to accept the investment of China in the North American economy and would stand aside and ignore a little dot in the ocean, just outside our front door?

I do not condone or believe in Cuba's politics, but then again, America can't agree on their own domestically. What I absolutely do support is any negotiation that keeps us safe and moves us closer to peace. There is some altruism in Castro's working towards the survival of Cuba. He will not gain personally by any accords--he has little time left--but the wrong ones could imprison the Cuban people and pose a much larger danger to North America than the olive branch that now sits on the table.

Cubans should never have judged America by the mob examples, nor should the rest of the world judge these beautiful people through the eyes of Fidel Castro's politics.

This is one peace accord that is probable and perhaps the only one in our terrorized world that is possible.






Recognized


All those 1950s Cadillacs are still driving on the streets of Havana. A collector's dream should you care to purchase some hidden treasures when travel becomes open to US Citizens.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by cleo85 at FanArtReview.com

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