Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Future horrors

As if the agonies of the Middle East were not enough, we have the Bush administration and Cuban exiles salivating over the impending death of Fidel Castro. (Actually, Florida Senator Mel Martinez is floating a rumor that he is already dead.) They believe they are finally going to get a chance to reduce the uppity little island to the miserable condition of the rest of the Caribbean states. Maybe they can recreate Haiti, or if the Cubans are lucky, the Dominican Republic.
  • Cuba -- Life Expectancy: 77.41 years
  • Haiti -- Life Expectancy: 51.78
  • Dominican Republic -- Life Expectancy: 67.63
You see, our regime and its oligarchic friends in Florida have PLANS.

A plan announced by the State Department two weeks ago provides $80 million over two years to help with a post-Castro transition. The United States would also send special monitors and advisers to Cuba in the weeks after a full transition began.

Yeah, probably plans for something like all the good they did parachuting Ahmed Chalabi into Iraq.

I visited Cuba in 1988. Unlike many U.S. progressives, I didn't love the society; it seemed intellectually cramped and repressively hetero-normative to this lesbian woman. We were repeatedly told to see marvels that were contradicted by the evidence of our own eyes: for example, "there is no racism in Cuba," though at least two-thirds of the prisoners in a women's prison we visited looked Black to this gringa.

But I had previously seen Nicaragua. I knew what a poor country that had been robbed by years of U.S.-sponsored (Somoza) dictatorship looked like. And Cuba was light years better for most of its population than that. There really were neighborhood health centers that took care of the needs of most people. There really was something like universal literacy. Among many, there seemed to be an honest belief that the country used its resources, however limited and despite obstacles created by the U.S., for the general welfare.

On May Day, May 1, 1988, Havana celebrated International Workers Day. This was a genuine Big Deal, a national holiday. Nobody went to their jobs. Workers paraded and so did the army. Just as Castro was revving up to speak, a true tropical downpour let loose, what my mother used to call a "trash mover-gully washer." The assembled crowds broke for cover as thunder cracked.

Somehow, with a couple of friends, I missed my ride to the place we were staying. We were stranded in Havana. The electricity was going on and off. We learned that some neighborhoods had flooding.

Eventually my little group of gringos got to the main bus station, also the dispatch point for taxis. This was not a socialist show place, but a dingy municipal building. Scores of Cubans had the same idea. Meanwhile, most taxi drivers weren't working. We formed two lines, seniors and women with children in one, healthy adults in the other. And we waited. And waited. Occasionally a taxi would pick up a group, first one from the shorter special needs line, then one from our line. Off and on the storm raged again.

I'm not going to tell you that Cubans were cheerful about waiting in those lines. Patiently enduring might be more like it. Eventually taxi drivers learned there was a bonanza available and we got to the front of the line. That's not the story.

The story is that in five hours in line in the Havana bus station, we saw only one beggar. If you've ever been to any poor country, anywhere, you know what an anomaly that was. There is certainly no urban bus station in the United States where you would see only one beggar in five hours. Maybe Cuba locked up its poor, but somehow I doubt it -- that solution to poverty is simply too expensive for a developing country.

I haven't been back to Cuba since 1988. From what I've heard, the collapse of the Soviet Union and dollarization mean there are beggars now. How many more will there be if/when the U.S.-based exiles get their hands on the island's safety net?

Havana bus station


Zak said...

The Cubans have played a very positive role in the earthquake areas of Pakistan apparently..while I don't believe in the communist political system..I do believe the development of the system and its spread did force conservatives to accept social justice as a legitimate demand.

Mark said...

Excellent piece. I spend about a month each year in Cuba and it is nothing at all like the Orwellian nightmare its detractors make out. Poor, yes, but first world standards of health and education, superb sports facilities and a vibrabt culture. If only the American economic blockade was lifted they could begin to tackle all the other problems, like poor housing, peeling paint, lack of consumer goods etc. I've travelled widely in Latin America and the Caribbean, and quite honestly if I had to live as an ORDINARY person, I'd rather be a Cuban than any other nationality. Get well soon Fidel!

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