A Glimpse of Cuba From A Cuban American Austrian (Economist)

A Glimpse of Cuba From A Cuban American Austrian (Economist)
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A Glimpse of Cuba via CSInvesting

These vignettes are a glimpse of my experiences and the people met while visiting Cuba to see relatives this October 2002. All of the names have been changed to protect these contacts. Cubans shared their thoughts and stories at the personal risk of harassment, detention and even years in prison. I feel obligated to share what they told me with friends and perhaps the press as well. Any comments and criticisms are welcome.

Ay Cuba! Finally, after years of curiosity, Havana came into sight under my plane’s window. Cuba is the largest island in the Greater Antilles, a long extended claw that is home to Fidel Castro as well as about 11 million other Cubans. At 21-23 degrees north, Cuba lies on the same latitudes as Algeria, Egypt, India, Mauritania, Oman, Vietnam and Hawaii. My stated purpose—necessary for the US to grant me a general license to travel to Cuba–was to visit my mother’s cousin whom no one from the Cuban side of my family had seen since the beginning of the Revolution (1959). But what I really wanted was to explore the land of Rum, Rumba and Revolution for the next three weeks.

Cuba’s poverty issues

While in Cuba, I would come to fall in love with the graciousness and humor of its people, the beauty of its land and climate and the charm of its architecture. But I would leave grieving over the poverty in the country, the grinding oppression, the lack of any semblance of human and civil rights, and the pervasive fear by Cubans of their own government. Though many Cubans would greet me with a smile, their disaffection and dwindling faith in the Revolution shocked me. I learned that the Revolution was for sale.

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Ever since my father died five years ago, I have had a passion to learn more about my family’s roots. My father, an American, met my mother in Havana while on a business trip. It was love at first sight. They wed in 1954, years before the takeover by Castro in 1959. All but two of my mother’s relatives left Cuba by 1960 after their businesses and freedoms had been confiscated. My mother neither spoke of Cuba nor of her relatives still there. She even declined to visit her former friends from Havana who had settled in Miami. Not being a sentimental woman, she refused to reminisce about the past, especially a tragic past. She felt that Castro had laid waste to Cuba. She had moved on with her life.

I had pestered her with questions about her childhood. What she remembered most were the parties in Havana. She came of age in the early 1950’s—the belle epoch—of Havana. My father used to joke that that is why the Revolution occurred—the rich were oblivious to the problems in the country. My Mom partied while the sugar cane burned.

Fidel Castro’s lies and oppression

I also begged my Cuban Aunts and Uncles for their remembrances of Cuba. Though I forget the details of their stories, I remembered their loathing of Fidel Castro’s lies and oppression, their sadness over losing their country and how they didn’t think my traveling to Cuba was such a bright idea. They worried that Castro’s thugs would hurl me into one of his island Gulags for some imaginary offense. One friend thought that my incessant curiosity would cause me to ask impertinent questions resulting in a stay behind bars. Later I would learn that tourists were almost a special, protected class. As one Cuban told me, “We have fewer rights than a dog while foreigners are treated like royalty.”

For my first night in Havana I chose to stay in an upscale hotel. The prices were as expensive as a hotel in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda, but the services and food were miserable. Maybe the only reason Fidel was letting me onto his island was so my dollars could help bail out his plunging economy.

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