An Eye-Opening Cuban Vacation.
Please keep this in mind, friends: The following was NOT written by a "Cuban exile, hard-liner, Republican crackpot" (like me). What the Cuban exile crackpot presents here is a very crude translation of an article written on Oct. 25 in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo by a backpacking tourist from Spain named Isane Aparicio Busto, who had just returned from Cuba. Like so many "hip" European tourists to Cuba, Isane might be expected to sport Che Guevara's's face on her backpack or T-shirt. I suspect she won't now.
I say "very crude translation" because Spaniards claim that Cubans don't speak Spanish properly. Perhaps, but we at least pronounce our S's properly and without contorting our mouths to where we resemble someone trying to spit out a mustache hair. At any rate, here goes:
"We arrived in Cuba without political prejudices, without any intention of setting foot in Varadero Beach, intent on seeing the country outside the much-lauded tourist areas, recalls Spanish backpacker Isane Aparicio Busto. "The blow was shocking. We left with our perceptions about the reality of the Cuban Revolution - and even with our prior social and political principles - demolished.
"All we'd heard about from many Europeans who traveled to Cuba was the rum, the happiness, the salsa, the Caribbean party atmosphere. But they hadn't mentioned the prostitution either - so we should have known they weren't totally leveling with us. We'd traveled to Mexico City and Caracas and known the horrible slums on the outskirts of these cities. But through old Havana we found ourselves walking constantly through a miasma of pestilential odors, with morose faces looking at us from decrepit doorways. My friend and I kept looking at each other asking, 'Where in the hell have all the people traveled who kept telling us poverty doesn't exist in Revolutionary Cuba?'
"We saw police everywhere. And it soon became obvious that Cubans are the victims of the 21st century's version of apartheid. Hotels for foreign tourists, stores for foreign tourists, buses for foreign tourists - a world apart that Cubans themselves are prevented by the police from entering. So we asked a few Cubans how they felt about this system.
"And they all answered - while looking around - that it was fine, had to be done that way. That it was the proper way to protect tourists because many Cubans are scoundrels. So was this that proud nationalism of Revolutionary Cuba we'd heard about? The nation's impoverished people forced to treat foreigners with such meekness and deference - to grovel before them?
"We wanted to stay away from the hotels and tried staying at the house of a Cuban lady named Mari. On the first day there, the block chieftain for the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution shows up and says she's out of line and either she pays her the fee we've been paying or she'll promptly report this to the police. So we leave.
"We learned that the Cuban system is nothing but misery, moral mendacity and abuse. The system simply smothers you. And yet this revolution (with its Che Guevara banners) has sold itself to the youth of the world as a paradigm of equality, liberty and national liberation. And the leaders of the government that governs my country (Spain) simply refuse to come out and call this place a dictatorship. The Cuban people's personal aspirations seemed completely mutilated. I've never felt such anguish about a nation and a people in my life. If I were a Cuban, I'd certainly be on a raft."
That "Varadero" Isane mentioned is the gorgeous beach east of Havana where millions of Cubans cavorted every weekend - at least during Cuba's stint as a racist-fascist U.S. satrapy terrorized by crooks and gangsters.
In 1959 Fidel and his vanguard of the downtrodden rose in righteous fury. Inflamed by a patriotic fervor, they ended foreign humiliation of Cubans. Of this we're assured by everyone from Charles Rangel to Noam Chomsky to Robert Redford to Jesse Jackson to Norman Mailer to any Ivy League history professor.
Now, after 47 years of this fervently nationalist revolution, the best of Varadero Beach is barricaded against Cubans by armed police and reserved for rich foreigners, their local footservants and prostitutes. Jimmy Carter, Barbara Boxer, high-rolling trade delegations from Nebraska to Louisiana to California to Maine are welcome - not to mention Isane herself. Let a non-governmental Cuban citizen try to enter and he's bludgeoned with Czech machine-gun butts.
And I suspect Isane didn't know the half of it. She probably didn't know that prior to the glorious Revolution, Cuba had a high standard of living - not only higher than the Venezuela and Mexico she'd visited, but also higher than half of Europe - and boasted almost DOUBLE her native Spain's per capita income.
Revolutionary Cuba's early Minister of Industries and Bank President Che Guevara had quite a base to work with. Yet it normally requires an earthquake, volcano, tsunami or atom bomb to match Che's industrial and economic achievements in Cuba. Indeed, Tokyo, Pompeii and Hiroshima have all recovered. Havana, richer in the 1950s than Rome or Dallas, now resembles Calcutta, Nairobi or Phnom Penh.
One place where Cuban exiles agree wholeheartedly with Castro is regarding his exalted post as a Third World leader. He and Che made Cuba into a Third World country all right.