Saturday, August 4, 2012

After I landed in Havana

   After my (in)direct flight from Tampa to Havana, the clock started ticking.  I only had a week before I had to return.  My wife was waiting for me and my grandfather at the airport.  I was extremely happy to see her since she and my two kids had gone three weeks earlier.  Everything in the airport went smoothly.  I hadn't exceeded the pounds permitted in my baggage, so there were no charges.  But since my last time in Cuba, I noticed that the airport had been redone quite nicely.  When I got to my mother-in-law's house in Regla, my kids spotted me and wouldn't let go!  I'm glad they hadn't forgotten me especially since every time I tried to talk to them over the phone while we were apart they seemed much more interested in getting back to whatever they were doing and didn't have much to say!  They were having to much fun.

   From that point on, things were rushed.  My grandfather came along for two reasons.  He's 90 years old and in pretty damn good shape.  His brother is 96 years old and isn't so he wanted to get to see him since he had the opportunity.  The other reason is that his grandmother had built a chapel back in the 1880's in Pinar del Rio and he wanted to go there while he is still able.  He hasn't been to the chapel in over 60 years and nothing was going to stop him from going there now.  He had contacted the priest prior to the trip so he knew my grandfather was coming.  Oh yeah, the priest turned out to be a relative.  Now I'm not religious at all, not even a bit (I'm pretty sure the term is atheist). I understand that religion is important to some people so for my grandfather, going to the chapel was fantastic. 

   The plan was originally to leave the first morning, Sunday, and drive straight to San Juan y Martinez in Pinar del Rio and go to the chapel.  But the priest wanted us to give him two days to clear the path to the chapel first, which was overgrown with marabu.  So instead we went to Las Terrazas, where the late musician Polo Montanez lived.  We stayed the night there and headed off to Vinales the next morning.  We stayed the night there and caught some of the baseball game between the U.S. team and Cuba.  Basically my kids wanted to be in the pool in both places and we didn't get to see much, but what we did see was beautiful.

   The third morning we finally headed to San Juan y Martinez.  We met the preist there at the church in that city.  He's the person who had the keys to the chapel and had the path cleaned up to make the trip possible.  The scratches on his arms from the marabu showed us that plenty of work had been done.  We followed him to a house where we waited for him to get a truck and a chorus to sing during a mass he was to give for my grandfather.  We hopped in the truck and made our way 12 kilometers up a hill that would have been impossible to scale with a regular car.  And when we got to the top, my grandfather was finally able to see the chapel that he hasn't visited in over 60 years.  As he said, "mission accomplished"!

   The preist gave a mass and the chorus sang.  After that, he asked my grandfather to say a few words which was pretty difficult since he was pretty chocked up and emotional.  Like I said before, I'm not at all religious, but it was truly a beautiful moment seeing the happiness of my grandfather.  There is a plaque on the wall dedicated to his grandmother who died in 1925 when he was only three years old.  Things got cut a bit short because a storm was coming and we had to make it back down the hill and the chorus had their instruments with them and wouldn't want them to get destroyed in the rain.

   We made it back to the church in San Juan y Martinez, dropped the preist off, got some gas, and then we were off to la Ciudad Pinar del Rio.  We ate lunch at the top of the tallest building in the city.  (Our taxi driver most certainly made his commission for bringing us there which was fine by us since that was his only chance during the trip to bring us to a place that didn't bring us a menu with prices!)  Then we were off to La Habana.

Cuba "Experts" at the Hilton Miami Downtown

This is a response to the meeting of Cuba "experts" at the Hilton Miami Downtown.

Of course Cuba is facing a difficult economic situation. Twenty years ago, the collapse of its trading partners, a loss of about 90% of its trade, was devastating. Everyone on the planet is aware of this. Contrary to its biggest adversaries' predictions, it survived. Part of the survival mode included a tightening of society which supplied adversaries ammunition in their attempts to discredit the revolution. Despite the island's adversaries public confidence in Cuba's demise, their uncertainty lead them to push through the Torricelli Act and subsequently the Helms-Burton act in order to stack the deck against Cuba's survival. They failed.

Fast forward 20 years and the Cuban revolution continues. In the mean time, the ties with Latin America have strengthened as population after population has elected governments which are rejecting the idea of being the backyard of the United States. All over Latin America, people and leaders never miss an opportunity to praise Cuba for its steadfast determination not to return to its neo-colonial status. No longer do the nations of the world make up excuses to support the embargo that the US chooses to maintain against Cuba, so much so that the policy itself has become one of the main points of contention in the hemisphere which could end up being the end of regional organizations and alternative organizations have already been created without the participation of the United States. The isolation of Cuba is actually becoming the isolation of the United States. (To be clear, I'm not saying that countries are going to embargo the US, but that they are much less concerned with the hypocritical positions that it takes. The diplomatic influence is at an all time low and is likely to remain that way.)

The reason these "experts" must compare Cuba with China or Vietnam is that they have a need to analyze Cuba simplistically. They aren't involved in the process, they haven't much influence over it, and they have a dogmatic opposition to Cuba's political establishment. Many of the "revelations" of these "experts" have already been spoken about in Cuba and they are merely regurgitating them. They seem unable to imagine other possibilities for Cuba's future. Why must it be only this or that?

The need for Cuba to adjust itself to today's realities is a given. Why wouldn't Cuba maintain a high level of control over its major industries? Why would it need to micro manage the tiniest parts of its economy? Why wouldn't Cuba determine the rules for foreign investments and partnerships in the country? Cuba's transition from its former model to whatever it becomes doesn't have to be prescribed from outside. Should Cuba hasten its transition? Some may believe so. But I believe that the caution that Cuba is proceeding with is partially due to its knowledge as a witness to the terrible disaster that occurred in the former Soviet Republics thanks to a shock therapy.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe is correct when he says that the situation is "delicate and difficult". He cites the lack of materials as a problem. Isn't the extra-territorial nature of US laws a large factor in obtaining many materials? Of course it is, but that's the point of the laws, make it difficult for Cuba.

Joaquin Pujol says that many of the self-employed were not working in state jobs, were possibly students, or were already self-employed but illegally. Quite possible. But he fails to take in to account the people who are not self-employed but are employed now in the private sector. Who are they? If they had been unemployed before, they now aren't. If the had state jobs before, they are probably earning more now than before. And if they were students, well they have now joined the workforce. What's his point other than to downplay the positive aspects of the reforms?

As for Vegard Bye, he simply thinks in the China or Vietnam scenario showing his lack of depth for Cuba analysis.

If this article is meant to be about the economic model, it is strange how it ends up talking about the political one. The idea that solid economic situations are directly due to "liberal democracies" seems to be oblivious to the crisis in Europe and the United States, both considered meccas of liberal democracies, both suffering from near economic implosions within the capitalist system, and both suffering from discontent among workers that dwarfs the examples of discontent that we are supposed to imagine are on the verge of a "Cuban Spring" on the island.

This is in response to the following article: