Cuba, Castro and Socialism
I see lots of talk about Cuba, Castro and socialism in the news recently thanks to Bernie Sanders. Last year Susan and I, along with two of our friends spent a day in Havana and I thought I would share my thoughts on what I saw as we strolled not just the tourist areas, but the back streets as well.
The ship docked at dawn and before long we were standing in a time warp, transported back to the early sixties where time seems to have stopped. Most of you have seen the old cars and happy tourist driving around in them. What you don’t see are the locals who don’t depend on tourism to survive.
We start at the customs desk as we disembark; a young girl in her early twenties is checking our documents. She is dressed like a school girl/stripper; black leather looking skirt, black fishnet stockings and a severely tight white military style dress shirt. She never smiles or makes eye contact but is wearing heavy makeup. Her demeanor seems oddly forced.
We don’t have a booked shore excursion; we thought we would wing it and just walk the city. We don’t get far. Across the street from the dock a young man approached us and offered to guide us through Havana and see what most guides won’t show the tourist.
He spoke excellent English and was fluent in French as well. His price? Whatever we felt like tipping him at the end of the day and he would work for as long as we wanted his services.
We walked through the main streets with most of the other tourist and I began taking in the sights and sounds. It seemed typical of most South American ports, the architecture was beautiful but up close it was heavily decayed; cracks in the concrete, wood window casings that were falling apart, peeling, fading paint etc.
I had a strange sense of unease as we worked our way into the lessor traveled streets. Most of you know my history as a police officer and one thing I still enjoy doing is reading people.
The younger generations I see on the busier streets appear happy and content. Street vendors of all ages are everywhere selling trinkets, hats and cigars. Some are seriously aggressive, which I found common in all the ports on this cruise.
First, I notice that many middle aged locals are sitting outside their apartments. Why aren’t these people at work was my first thought. There were lots of older people as well sitting around with nothing to do, and I felt like I was intruding on their misery.
With little exception, I felt these people were sizing us up as the enemy. And then I knew why. This generation of Cubans had grown up and were forced to serve in the military, and their only enemy was us. Castro made sure they knew the United States and the Yankees were their bitter enemies.
At one point I saw a health clinic and I remember thinking I would have to be dying to want to go in there. Everything inside looked not just old but ancient and unclean.
I saw lines of people outside various businesses, I’m not sure what they were hoping to buy, but they all had a vacant look in their eyes. That look seemed to be everywhere. Desperation.
No attempt has been made on any of the buildings here to hide the decay. The cities infrastructure was in shambles, electrical lines spliced haphazardly with bare wire showing and some hanging down within easy reach, water pipes were leaking and I’m not sure if most of these homes had either power or water. Many of the buildings had signs that at one time, repair or rebuilding had been started and then abandoned years ago.
Every now and then we passed men pushing carts selling vegetables and fruit that looked as if they were on the edge of rot. Every other street had dozens of garbage dumpsters that were brimming with rotting filth. The stench covered the entire street.
The only joy I saw in Cuba was the young, even our guide who was in his middle twenties seemed somewhat happy. I remember watching a line of ten year old students walking through the city square dressed in their red uniforms, singing songs as they made their way back to class.
I’ll be honest, it was the best stop on the cruise. Having been raised in South Florida with the Cuban community; finally seeing this historic city was an amazing experience.
I wish that all the Bernie supporters, and those on the far left that think like him, those that believe the lies of socialism could visit this city and see for themselves the utter sadness of its people.
I know what most of them will say; ‘that’s communism.’ But socialism is simply communism’s little brother.
Remember, Castro fought to free his people, and then executed or imprisoned everyone that disagreed with him.
We left William Kings with a nice tip, about half a day’s pay for most of us. We learned later that it was the equivalent to a month’s pay for a doctor working in Havana.