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.)

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.  

The Commanding and Emancipating Image

From: The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture by Juhani Pallasmaa 

"Images are deployed for countless purposes, but there are two opposite types of images in relation to the individual freedom of the subject: images that dictate, manipulate and condition, and others that emancipate, empower and inspire.  The first type is exemplified by images devised for political and consumer conditioning, the second by emancipatory poetic and artistic images.  The first category narrows down, confines and weakens the freedom, choice and individuality of the subject by means of focusing and channeling his/her attention and awareness into a forced pattern, often grounded in the subject’s sense of guilt and inferiority.  The latter category of images opens up, fortifies and liberates by means of strengthening personal imagination, emotion and affect.  The first category of images weakens us and makes us more certain of ourselves and dependent on authority, whereas poetic imagery reinforces our sense of self, autonomy and individual independence.  The poetic images are images of individual integrity and freedom."  [ pp. 021 ]

These two types of images are almost entirely what I have seen in Havana so far and it makes sense that they would be on the extreme ends of the spectrum.  

Below are the images used in the book as examples of the Commanding Image (left) and the Emancipating Image (right).

Examples of the Commanding and Emancipating Image in Juhani Pallasmaa's The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture

And just a few examples of what I found in Havana...  


The Commanding Image

Hanging in a business

At the Museo de la Revolución

And my personal favorite...although there were actually so many of these types of photos at the Museo de la Revolución that it was hard to choose a favorite.

FIdel Castro, José Martí, and twin toddlers.  BAM!


The Emancipating Image

"Hip Hop Forever" on a petrol  tank outside the Bacardi building.

A gallery off the Plaza Vieja

A photograph I purchased at the Obispo Street Market, it's probably one of my favorite "souvenirs" from Havana.  Along with the photo of El Dandy....more to follow on that! (:

Art being made and sold on a Saturday morning on the Prado.

"Ideology Colors Interpretation"

Excerpt From: The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics 

Edited by Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff

Pope John Paul II clasps hands with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana on Jan. 25, 1998, at the end of his five-day visit to the island.  Image Credit: Ruth Fremson / Associated Press

Pope John Paul II clasps hands with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana on Jan. 25, 1998, at the end of his five-day visit to the island.

Image Credit: Ruth Fremson / Associated Press

"The following joke, circulating in Cuba at the end of the 1990s, pokes fun at the ways that ideology colors interpretations of events on the island:

When Pope John Paul visited Havana in 1998, he was personally welcomed by Fidel Castro, who invited him to tour the city.  They rode in the Popemobile, and since it was a warm day, they opened the roof.  Everything was fine until they reached the Malecón, when suddenly a gust of wind blew up and swept the Pope's zuchetto off his head and out into the sea.  There it floated, bobbing on the waves.

"Don't worry, your Holiness," exclaimed Fidel, "I'll get it for you!"  He jumped over the side of the Popemobile, leaped over the seawall, and sped out over the water.  Yes, he actually walked on top of the water, all the way out to where the zuchetto lay floating on the waves.  Then he turned and dashed back, still skimming over the surface, leaped over the seawall, and jumped back into the Popemobile, without getting a drop of water on his clothes.  "Here, your Holiness," he panted.

The next day, newspapers all over the world reported this amazing incident.

In Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, the headline read "Fidel is God; He Walks on Water."

In L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the headline read "Pope Performs a Miracle: Makes Fidel Castro Walk on Water."

And in the Miami Herald, read by the Cuban exile community in Miami, the headline read "Castro Doesn't Know How to Swim."