My wonderful friend and fellow author Irene Peterson always seems to find something interesting to send my way. Whether it’s something about a weird paranormal adventure or in this case, the land of my birth — Cuba.
Yesterday Irene sent me a link about the renovations going on in Old Havana. The New York Times article talks about Eusebio Leal Spengler and how Mr. Leal was given extraordinary powers by my friend (NOT!) Fidel, who allows Mr. Leal to collect taxes and use the profits from tourism in the old center to rebuild this area. (Collect taxes and use the profits? Sounds suspiciously like capitalism to me, but what do I know?)
Anyway, it brought me hope to see that Old Havana, which was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, was being revived.
My mom didn’t talk about Cuba very much. Hardly at all, really but my dad and grandparents mentioned it often. All the time and always in very glowing terms. That’s a picture of my mom and dad on their wedding day. Didn’t they look great? My mom was so beautiful. People used to stop her and ask her for her autograph because they thought she was the actress Leslie Caron.
But back to today’s thoughts. As I said, it gave me hope to see the restorations because of the stories that I’ve heard about the Floridita, Bodeguita del Medio, Ambos Mundos and other spots that were filled with so much history. From celebrities like Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power to sports figures like Joe DiMaggio to literary types such as Ernest Hemingway, Old Havana saw them all! My dad and grandparents (and even my mom on occasion) would relay tales of spotting such notables in and around Old Havana.
My grandad would talk about the fisherman that he knew who was the inspiration for Hemingway’s OLD MAN AND THE SEA.
So many stories and now, some hope that all of these areas will survive so that others will still be able to see them. So that my daughter and I will one day be able to see them.
Mixed in with that hope, however, there is sadness. Nearly fifty years after the revolution that was supposed to make life better, life is unbearable for most Cubans. The New York Times article speaks of that as well. It mentions the typical monthly Cuban incomefor the employees in this tourist area — $10 to $20 Cuban Pesos with a bonus of $12 in hard currency (does that mean US Dollars, I wonder?).
Who can live on that?
Some people will say but look at their educational level! Most of Cuba is literate. To that I say — so where will they use that education? What will they read? More Castro propoganda?
People (like Michael Moore) draw attention to their medical system. So why is that this wonderful system lacks so many needed medicines?
Castro points his finger at the U.S. and the Embargo, but the reality of it is that many other nations trade with Cuba. Tourists from Europe, Canada, Mexico and elsewhere visit the island in droves. Does Castro really mean to say that their money and investments aren’t any good? That the only money and investments that will make a difference to the Cuban people are those from the United States?
Kind of twisted logic, isn’t it?
What saddens me more is that the Cuban people continue to suffer, caught in this game that has been being played now for nearly 50 years. Worse, that Castro’s little friend in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is following the Castro blueprint, busily nationalizing various businesses, taking control of oil properties as well as cracking down on the press and media who dare to challenge him.
Castro may be gone soon. He’s getting old. But the seeds he’s planted have taken root in many places. I only hope that the Cuban people will one day be free and can experience the freedom and opportunities that my adopted homeland, the United States, has provided me.
Like the liberty to write these thoughts in this blog.