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.)

Black on toilet paper

[ 7 August 2016 - Sunday ]

I felt like a sack of shit (as Martin says) today - hoping this cold goes away fast.  I've run out of the Hotel Nacional tissues and have been going through Hostal la Gargola toilet paper like mad blowing my nose, the housekeeper probably is wondering what the heck I'm doing, lol.  Running out of tissues to blow my nose with is something that I wouldn't worry about for half a second in any other city or even country.  But I seriously haven't seen a single grocery or "convenience" store anywhere!

So I kind of just wandered around not sure what else to do with myself, lots of things were closed since it's a Sunday and I didn’t really have the energy for much else.  I ended up sitting in a park for an hour or so just people watching and reading, trying to not think about the starving dog on Obispo as I watched two healthy ones playing in the grass together.  

Traveler's Low

[ 6 August 2016 - Saturday ]

Soo, I did the unthinkable today, I attempted to book an early flight home.  As fate would have it the travel agency I tried didn't have any available flights.*  (Glad I didn't book that one way ticket as Martin suggested I do - apparently flights are scarce and I might have run out of cash in the meantime!!)  I feel like there have been a lot of little things leading up to this point of wanting to be back home.  The “Hola linda!” comments that used to be quasi-funny but at least tolerable are now annoying.  A guy yesterday started talking to me, asking where I was from, what my name was, etc which all felt pretty harmless but after talking for a bit I began to leave, saying “ciao,” and walking away and I could tell that he was following me, calling out something to try to get my attention.  I pretended to not notice until I couldn’t any longer.  Then he asked where I was staying (not telling you that…) and whether I wanted to go to massage parlor (huh?  nooo….) and that he’d go with me if I wanted (hell no……)  Then as of yesterday morning, I’ve been hit hard by a cold (I sneezed so much yesterday that my abs were sore this morning, my throat is killing me, my nose won’t stop running, and I’m achy.  Please don’t let it be Zikka!  The starving dying dog is laying in the same exact spot as every other day sometimes with uneaten food placed beside him.  Then yesterday evening I also saw a dog with a leg so mangled you could see the bone.  I think that’s what sent me over the edge. 





* It's not as simple of course as just hopping onto Kayak and booking a flight...

A Dog of Havana

[ 4 August 2016 - Wednesday ]

I slept pretty poorly last night and can feel it in my eyes this morning.  All day actually I was feeling melancholic.  Martin had moved the previous day into our new apartment in Kerrytown, an old barn on Depot Street that’s been restored and converting into living spaces.  I was looking forward to seeing pictures of that and of the dogs that he picked up from the kennel.  When I got to the internet hotspot though I saw on the sidewalk the same starving and dying dog and it broke my heart all over again.  I walked around the rest of the day feeling sad and overwhelmed by this place and by all the sad, horrible, and unfair things in the world.  When I came back to the spot where he was this morning he was gone, but moved down the sidewalk about twenty feet.  Still just laying there.  

Sometimes I feel that I have a warped sense of sympathy.  I saw children sleeping on the streets in Mumbai but a starving dog makes me cry the hardest?  Animals are the most innocent of all I think in this world, but are children not just as innocent?  I don’t know, can’t tell, haven’t figured it out yet.  

It’s times like these when I think of the design blogs that I read, the beautiful interiors, the perfectly designed restaurant bar and I think we’ve lost sight of reality.  While people all around the world live using cardboard boxes as walls, others are wondering whether “Handsome Grey” or “Moonshine Beige” is the best color for the foyer.

It felt unkind to take that photo of the dog but I wanted to remember him.  To make him feel like he wasn’t alone.  To give some sort of validation to him, yes you do exist.  I see you.  I acknowledge your pain.

I'll even say that he looks "okay" right here but imagine three days later, hasn't moved but ten feet and definitely hasn't eaten.

…I saw yesterday (3AUGUST) more people, tourists, trying to help the poor little dog.  Some people had given it food and water.  Their compassion made me cry too.  It made me think (something that I already know but find it easy to lose sight of) is how humans can be good too. 

… 6AUGUST edit.  I haven’t been back to see if he is still there today, even thinking about him makes me cry.  But I did see a Cuban help him yesterday!  The first Cuban I’ve seen to even acknowledge him, while others sit by with their pet dogs!!  I just don’t see how that happens.  How do you have a pet dog and sell puppies in cages on Obispo but don’t feel any sympathy or responsibility for this starving dog?  I just can’t stop thinking about him and crying.  I keep thinking about Tom saying that Cuba desperately needs people to come in to help with animal care and at first I didn’t really see what he meant.  The streets aren't “overrun” with strays and people have well taken care of pets but the number of cases of neglect that I have seen now makes his comment clear.  There were a few people (British, Australian, one Swiss) on their last day of a tour at breakfast this morning and the woman was telling how she didn’t like Cuba.  That on her first day here she figured out it wasn’t a place she liked(maybe I’ll write more about this actually...) but she said she didn’t like the poverty, pollution, and the animal neglect.  She said everything is in ruin and meant it literally.  In the country she had seen starving animals all over and said in particular this starving mother dog with teets all swollen from frequent and probably recent use was entirely skin and bones but was the sweetest dog she could have imagined.  She found someone to sell her costume jewelry in hopes that the money would go to taking care of the dog.  (Optimistically trusting, the cynic in me feels.)