Confusion About the US-Cuban Relationship

[ Written sometime while in Havana shortly after finishing The Cuba Reader: History. Culture, Politics ]

So here is where I am confused:

  • Batista was corrupt and Cubans were happy when he was ousted.  But many wealthy Cubans emigrated (immigrated?  I forget the difference) from Cuba to the US.
  • Revolution: The most poor were no longer hungry and now had land of their own.  But, Fidel, and the state, took businesses and property, money and possessions from everyone who had them in order to redistribute the wealth.
  • “Infant and child mortality and life expectancy continue to rival or surpass those of other wealthy industrialized countries, including the United States” (p.  596 Cuba Reader).  But people can’t afford (or it isn’t available to them) to buy soap or cooking oil.
  • Cuba sends thousands of medical workers overseas a year to volunteer their services, but leaves a starving dog to die in the street.  (As far as I’m concerned this can not be brushed off as cultural, if you have the expertise to have one of the highest infant and child mortality, then you can see a starving dog and know that it too can be helped.  And should be helped.)
  • Pedro Pan was set up so that Cuban children could come to the United States to escape Castro and Communism, but Castro said that the rumors circulating that he was going to round up children and sent them to the Soviet Union for indoctrination was perpetrated by the CIA and United States in order to undermine him.
  • “Since 1990, the Cuban government, without outside support, has fought just to stay afloat, to retain basic medical and soil services, as well as its vast education complex, and to provide some subsidized food and other goods to the population.” (pp. 624 Cuba Reader) But, in 1993 the US tightened the embargo, the 1996 Helms-Burton Act “impedes foreign investment by opening US courts to lawsuits against foreign companies that do business in Cuba (how this is even allowed is beyond me…), the 1994 Clinton lead “wet foot, dry foot” (not necessarily unfounded but another notch), on 9 November 1999 the UN voted on whether the US should lift the embargo and the vote went 155 to 2, the US and Israel the only “no,” the US had “lifted bans on the sale of food and medicine to Iran, Libya, Sudan, and North Korea, the only country that was still denied humanitarian assistance was Cuba.”  (All this knowledge and the wording of the first quote, makes me really sad and disappointed in our country, I get that the Cuban Missile Crisis was really not good (like could have destroyed the entire planet) but is that still a reason 54 years later we are still punishing the people?  Punishing Castro is probably what we tell ourselves but as usually it's the people as pawns that pay.  I want to look into whether there were humanitarian, private based ones, organizations coming to Cuba to help.  Tom said he’s been coming here with doctors from Texas for 17 years.)
  • Fidel tried, tries, hard to keep his people free from capitalism and imperialism, tries to keep society egalitarian but at the cost of a city in steep decay?  (For me I can’t stop thinking about the ethical question surrounding this.  I still think capitalism and free-markets are a better reality than what I can see around me right now, but then I know that capitalism does come at the cost of having a class of poverty.  Which is more ethical?  An entire nation in poverty or a small number in poverty?  Then I say, well the more well-off people will help those in poverty.  Or I think that communism stifles desire for change, it kills the spirit and motivation for working hard to do better, and possible in its place leaves a “What the point of trying attitude?”  I want to know how Fidel and Raul live, how do the state diplomats live?  Is Castro starving?  Is he rationing out his own food, can he buy soap and cooking oil?  Does his house lose electricity for at random times, does he have to access the internet from the public streets?  Is his house crumbling and falling apart?  Me thinks not.)

Negro, Blanca, and el Corazon

[ 4 August 2016 - Thursday ]

From yesterday: I just got back from dinner at this little restaurant I’ve passed a couple of times called Havana 61.  It was totally closed off from the street so I assumed it would have air con (as they call it here).  I was glad that I dragged my tired self out of my hotel room at 1830 because the place was small and any later I wouldn't have gotten a table.  I was sitting between an older German couple (the woman had the most gorgeous hair!) and a couple about my age, the woman was American and speaking of her phd, the man not American.  I couldn’t figure them out, lol. 

In Centro

Anyways, I was walking home from the restaurant…literally two blocks from La Gárgola Hostal, when I’m stopped by an older man asking where I’m from.  The answer “Estados Unidos” always gets them. (:  And I think this guy was a little drunk.  He was telling me that it was his 60th birthday and introduces a few other men as his nephew, his brother, his other brother.  One of them gave me the hand motion for “He’s crazy” (to which I wanted to be like, “Then help me for cripes sake!”  Secretly I think they all like to see the foreign American woman in awkward but trying to be polite agony.  Ugh lolTo be honest I’ve “stuck around” to hear out a lot of these awkward conversations - awkward because I never know where they are intended to go… and 85% have been harmless and I’ve been able to “Hasta luego, mucho gusto!” my way out of them.) The guy was telling me that Germans and Italians see him as a black man, but Americans don’t really care.  He kept saying “el negro” referring to himself and “blanca” referring to me, and then saying something about el corazon and Obama.  LOTS of talk about Obama.  I think just having a “el negro” president has helped our international standing more than anything other single thing could.  Trump…..could take it all out.  One security guard wanted to know what I thought about Trump and he pretty much said that America was “loco”…  There’s a man who does this street act with two dressed up Dachshund dogs where he has trained them to give a high five when he talks about Obama and a growl/bark when talking about Trump.  I actually decided earlier today that I would play a little social experiment and wear my "Trump Eres Un Pendejo" shirt around just to see what reaction I get.  It reminds of being in Croatia in 2008 and a restaurant owner asked what we thought about Obama.  I do believe, if my memory serves me correctly, in a group of Republicans I was the single person to say enthusiastically “Obama!” 

If the rest of the world can see what half of America can see, but moreover the rest of the world sees what half of American CHOOSES NOT TO SEE.  Makes me mad and sad.  Dare I say it, but I doubt you’d find a Trump supporter in Cuba, Latin America, or mainly anywhere outside of Europe really.  Although they’d probably not even venture to France these days given the irrational and misplaced fear of "the radicalized."

In Centro

Maybe I shouldn't be smiliing...

Near the entrance to Havana's Chinatown, contrasts of decay and restoration.

I was caught in conversation with another random guy on my exploring yesterday who was trying to tell me that the American and Cuban governments might not agree but the people are…. “lo mismo” I supplied.  Giving away that I understood more than he initially thought.  Couldn’t play dumb anymore (:  Except when, god help me, some people talk to me and there’s music playing in the background and they seriously have some sort of “country”accent  (for lack of a more appropriate term).  Then I can’t understand anything and look at them blankly feeling bad.

Guapos (:

Museo de la Revolucion

Looking down the Prado

Funny little graffiti (:

In Clandestina 

2 Cubans Left in Cuba

I have this underlying feeling that all Cubans are trapped.  I still don't know enough about the past and present reality of the situation to fully comprehend the extent of the their trapped-ness though.

The Australian I met rode around in one of 1950s almendrones cars - which as it turns out are ALL either shared taxis or taxis meant for tourists.  She was telling me that she hadn’t heard anyone say anything bad about Fidel but during that ride the driver said that if Cubans were allowed to leave and go to America, there’d only be two Cubans left, Fidel and Raul.  

Funny but heartbreaking.  In so many ways.  

Pronunciation, Esto No Es Un Café, Trump and Other Idle Writings

[ 1 August 2016 - Monday ]

Hooray!  At breakfast today I had a conversation in English with two women, one from the US and another from Perth, Australia.  They are leaving tomorrow morning but told me I really had to go to the Fabric des Artes.  So I guess I’m going.  And it really is only open from Thursday to Sunday and in the evenings.  Maybe as a last hurrah I’ll visit on the 11th and call Amanda.  I am just worried about not having CUCs left over because the women said that there was art for sale and even an architecture student exhibit.  

Even the playground show national pride!

Sanctioned or Unsanctioned?

Habana 1791 - A perfumeria in Havana Vieja 

Habana 1791 - A perfumeria in Havana Vieja

They were restoring and repainting this beautiful building, its newness and cleanliness was almost absurd compared to everything surrounding it.

Check out that chair!

This afternoon / evening I want to sort out my photos and look at what I have and what I need.  I feel like I have a better handle on what I’m looking for and need to see how much of it I actually have.  As well, I want to (maybe here maybe at home?) type up the notes in my sketchbook, I think a few of the sound bytes there might be worth a blog post…perhaps it’s best to do while in Cuba.  

Fin de Siglo department store

Mid-century details in a bookstore

All the important people...

Guarding the calle into Havana'a Chinatown

The woman who made my eggs this morning told me my Spanish pronunciation was really good. (:  Her compliment is going to make me flounder now!

The patina is problematic but it is also beautiful.

It wasn't until I was going through my photos that I noticed "CDR Viva" painted on the door.  (CDR = Committees for the Defense of the Revolution / Comités de Defensa de la Revolución)

One of the major points that’s he’s (The Embodied Image) trying to make is that our materialistic and consumer culture is consumed by imagery.  Cuba not so....?  If in America we aspire because of the work of images (so true) then how to Cubans aspire?  Still the image I’d bet, they do have tv, magazines, some internet.  But maybe there are other ways of aspiring?  And other uses for the image.


For dinner, I went to the Esto No Es Un Cafe, the name of which of course I appreciated, and had a really good “pollo pollock” with rice and vegetables.  Who ever said that Cuba food was bland was totally correct, but also very wrong, or perhaps didn’t eat at the right places?  I’ve had a handful of really good meals here!  Equally I have had a handful of poor meals in the US.  On the way back a woman sneezed these three really loud sneezes and I said to her through the window while passing by, “Salud.”  I hope I got it right….  I also HAD to stop to pet the two teeny tiny chihuahuas sitting on an older man's lap, they had the cutest underbites.  Two mojitos and I’m acting giddy (: and making friends with everyone! 

I was thinking about my speculative drawings and I want to do one that sums up how I feel after most trips to other countries.  That we have these views of people, exotic / deserving pity / what have you, but in actuality they are just like me and you and are just trying to live their lives.  They want friendship and love, novelty and loyalty, they have children and pets and homes that they hang pictures on the walls of, mostly they want to be comfortable and they want to be understood.  That’s it.  That’s always it.  But no one comes to an architectural exhibit to see a photo or a “speculative image” of the life they are already familiar with.  Maybe I can give them both.  The architectural image and the image of reality.  

Also, everyone wants to know what I think of Trump.  Like 8 years ago when traveling in Croatia when people would ask what I thought of Obama.  (I loved him; they loved him.)  I feel upset all of a sudden.  Because if the rest of the world can see what many Americans can see, but moreover the rest of the world sees what an alarming number of Americans CHOOSE NOT TO SEE.  Makes me mad and sad.  I doubt you'd find a single Trump supporter in Latin America let alone Cuba.

Not everything is photogenic...

Historic pharmacy set up for tourism...

...actual operating pharmacy.


Okay this hotel went from gloriously amazing to stifling hot hell hole.  The power went out and now there’s AC, which isn’t the end of the world but there isn’t even a fan or any moving air...forget about trying to sleep. 

U.S. Embassy and The Wall of Flags

[ 26 July 2016 - Tuesday ] 


As I wrote yesterday, the American Embassy is in the Vedado neighborhood where I am staying and is also not far from the Hotel Nacional.  Built beside the embassy is the Monte de las Banderas (Wall of Flags) and down the street from that is the USS Maine Memorial.  As I walked around I started to notice the really funny way that all these pro-American AND anti-American buildings, statues, and plazas were built in relation to one another, it was like diplomatic urban anachrony whiplash.  Traveling west to east here's what I saw:

1. Cuban Police Station with Cuban Flag

2. Embassy of the United States of America with American Flag

3. El Monte de las Banderas with Cuban Flag(s)  

4. José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform / Tribuna Antiimperialista José Martí (Notably the location of anti-American protests over the custody of Elián Gonzalez occurred.)

5. Statue of José Martí holding an infant (his son?  a representation of Elián González?) and pointing towards the American Embassy.  The statue's plaque reads: To timely impede with the independence of Cuba, that the United States extend through the Antilles and fall, with that force, over our American land. All I have done until now and what I have left to do, is for that. - José Martí, hours before dying in combat.

6. USS Maine Memorial built in 1925 in honor of the American sailors who died in the 1898 explosion of the Maine.

Along the José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform, bookended by the US Embassy on its western end and the USS Maine Memorial on the eastern end. 

The US Embassy with the Wall of Flags standing in its foreground.

A little bit about the embassy and Wall of Flags:

In January of 1961, President Eisenhower closed the American Embassy in Havana and severed all diplomatic ties with the country.  It wouldn't be until another 54 years and 11 U.S. presidents later (to Cuba's one president) that diplomatic relations were officially restored between the United States and Cuba on July 20th 2015.  Previously in 2006, an electronic ticker with 5' tall letters was installed on the fifth floor of the embassy, although at that time it would have been referred to as the American Interest Section Building, NOT an embassy.  The ticker was installed under the guise of reporting local news to ordinary Cubans but more often than not flashed criticisms of the Cuban government and pro-democracy propaganda messages.  Obviously this was no bueno for Fidel so in response he erected 138 flags at the westernmost edge of the José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform.  The reason given for the black flags was that they represented the victims of the Bay of Pigs Invasion / Battle of Playa Girón and other attacks on Cuba made by the United States.  But Fidel knew what he was doing...all those flags waving in the wind successfully served to block the view of the 5th floor ticker's messages.    

While the ticker's switch has been permanently switched to the off position by order of President Obama in 2009 and there only flew one lone Cuban flag the day I visited, at one point the site looked like this:

What the Wall of Flags / Monte de las Banderas would look like full of flags. 

What the Wall of Flags / Monte de las Banderas would look like full of flags. 

In this view the photographer has his or her back to the American Embassy and the mourning flags have been replaced with the Cuban national flag.

Another time when the wall was full.

Another time when the wall was full.

And from the afternoon that I visited:

El Monte de las Banderas

Embassy of the United States of America

Base of the El Monte de las Banderas

"Homeland or Death"

At the end of the plaza is the USS Maine Memorial.

USS Maine Memorial

Interesting stuff...the Wikipedia page on the USS Maine Memorial in Havana reads:

The monument was crowned with an American eagle. Its wings extended vertically in such a way that a hurricane damaged the monument the following year. The original eagle was replaced in 1926 by one with horizontal wings. The first one is now in the U.S. Embassy building in Havana.

There were originally three busts of Americans: President William McKinley, who declared war on Spain; Leonard Wood, first military governor in Cuba, and President Theodore Roosevelt.

On 18 January 1961, the eagle and busts of the Americans were removed by a mob, because it was considered a "symbol of imperialism". The following inscription was later added:

To the victims of the Maine who were sacrificed by the imperialist voracity and their desire to gain control of the island of Cuba
February 1898 – February 1961

(A las víctimas de El Maine que fueron sacrificadas por la voracidad imperialista en su afán de apoderarse de la isla de Cuba.
Febrero 1898 – Febrero 1961)

The eagle's head was later given to Swiss diplomats. It too is now in the Embassy of the United States, Havana building. The body and the wings are stored in the Havana City History Museum. The museum's curator believes that good relations with the U.S. will be symbolized by the reunification of the parts of the eagle.

USS Maine Memorial - On top, where once an eagle stood.

And some extra-curricular reading if anyone is interested:

The Architectural Importance of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba

Cuba 'Blocking' American Messages - This one I love because you can see Fidel in that teeny little photo STILL wear his fatigues. Even more on the topic here.

Cubans, Swiss, Americans..oh my!  I didn't realize that the embassy never really closed...shoulda figured with us being imperialist and all though...