Tag Archives: cuban embargo

Day 1, Year 0: Cuba and the USA

A bunch of people have asked about what I, CCG, personally think about recent groundbreaking announcements vis-à-vis Cuba, the US, and their respective release of prisoners. Some of you folks who follow my blog, but also a rash of people who read my dispatch for the Daily News (New York’s hometown paper!), came around querying. So to complacer them, you, and me, I’ll give you some of my thoughts on this, Day 1 of Year 0.

For me, the tangible effects this is going to have on Cuban families (and I mean that in the most expansive, criollo way possible) is the most important issue. Any improvement in trade, telecommunications, travel, postal and embassy (!) services, immigration policies, and transparency, translates into some sort of improvement for Cuban families. Ahora: the question is at what cost those improvements? Therein lies the rub, which is why it deserves is own short discussion.

I’m hearing a lot of static in the international media/blogosphere about the ‘Americanization’ of Cuba. First off, I suggest anyone using this term study up on Simón Bolívar, with a little José Martí thrown in for good measure. Second, the idea that US companies like McDonald’s and Starbuck’s are going to roll in and over the island disregards two very important components of the Cuban political reality: 1) the state remains steadfast in its commitment to complete sovereignty and 2) they’ve been thinking about this day for over 50 years. It also ignores two important factors in Cuban daily reality: 1) there are more pressing material problems than satisfying a Big Mac/Frappuccino craving and 2) policy makers are aware of the health dangers (ie chronic disease) burgers and milkshakes pose and so should work to keep them out – protecting public health is especially important in Cuba where the government maintains a universal, free system and regards health and well being as a human right.

Taking these realities into account doesn’t mean that no US chains will stake their claims here, but I think the Cubans will be strategic about whom they let in. Marriott, Hilton and other hotels, Cargill, ADM, and their big ag interest friends, Home Depot, telecommunications providers – these are all likely candidates for early entry into the Cuban market. McDonalds and Starbucks, not so much. Maybe it’s too rosy a picture, but I don’t think the folks running the show are just going to open the floodgates and let US interests run roughshod over the place.

The ‘run run’ (as we say here) amongst some, is that the policy changes won’t stick or even be enacted. One camp reasons the Cubans will finesse a flip flop, while the other argues the US Congress and/or next President (should it not be a Democrat or Rand Paul), will roll back whatever Obama and company have in store for the next year. These bits of ‘logic’ defy logic. First of all, the Cubans would be completely loco to announce such policy changes and then not pursue them – this is just a recipe for disaster given the current context on the island. And as far as Washington goes, US business interests want in on Cuba, like yesterday. The bottom line (pun intended): The desire for increased commerce and trade will trump any tantrums thrown by hard-line Cubans and Republicans regarding Cuba. As Obama has said repeatedly (paraphrasing Einstein), pursuing the same actions over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. And the embargo is a self-defeating policy – another opinion voiced by President Obama in these past few days.

Leaving politics aside, this is an incredibly emotional moment – especially for those of us who have been adversely affected and working so tirelessly to have this Draconian policy reversed. Obviously, change isn’t going to happen with the flip of a switch. There are a lot of messy threads to untangle, many policies and steps to analyze and tweak. For example, the 50% or so of Televisión Cubana that is pirated from US channels – HBO, Showtime, Discovery, ESPN – is going to go by the wayside, sooner rather than later. But after ‘no es fácil’ (it isn’t easy), our favorite saying here is ‘algo es algo’ (something is better than nothing). And the announcements of this past week are a very big something.

Just now, my 51-year old neighbor stopped by. “I never thought I would live to see the day. I knew The Five would return home in my lifetime, but I never thought I’d be alive to witness the normalization of relations. It is a great, great moment in our history.” She came over to congratulate me on the new era of US-Cuban relations (this is happening all over Havana these days: whether stranger, friend or neighbor, everyone is greeting each other with claps on the back, hugs and shouts of ¡felicidades!) and to let me know she’s already renovating a room in her house to rent to Americans, once they can travel here freely.

Personally, I can’t wait. Vamos bien.

Advertisements

47 Comments

Filed under Americans in cuba, Communications, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Cuban phrases, Cuban Revolution, dream destinations, Expat life, health system, Living Abroad, Raul Castro, Travel to Cuba

Things I Don’t Miss about the U.S.A.

[tweetmeme source=”connergo” only_single=false]

Most Cubans get a queer, screwed up look on their face when they learn I’m from the States but choose to live here. It’s logical: for so many people the world over, the USA is the land of milk and honey, of unfettered freedom and opportunity. I can only think that these folks know nothing from taxes and $200 pap smears, the Patriot Act or hate crimes.

But I know what shade the grass is on the other side; Considerable is the time I spend trying to explain this to my Cuban friends, colleagues, and strangers on the street (see note 1). This is like trying to explain the color of beets to a blind man or the importance of Les Paul to someone who doesn’t play the guitar (see note 2). Too much just doesn’t compute.

 Needless to say, I’ve had 7 long years to think about life over there, about what I miss and what I don’t. Here’s a snapshot about those things I’m happy to live without:

 – Panhandlers

– From MJ to Ms Schiavo, unrelenting media coverage of dead and dying famous (and not so) people

– TV commercials (see note 3)

– Antibacterial everything

– Scented toilet paper

– Telemarketing

 – Road rage

 – Anti-smoking Fascists

 – All that dog eat dog

– Hidden (and not so) cameras and the nonstop surveillance that comes with “modern” life

– $400 mammograms and $200 pap smears (see note 4)

– Pro-war people

– CNN

– Shoveling snow & raking leaves

– Mormons

– Sirens

– Children who can’t entertain themselves

– People texting and tweeting in the middle of conversations

– Epidemic obesity

– Electric flushing toilets (especially the hair trigger kind that are flushing before you’re finished)

– And the latest discovery on my trip back “home”: advertising on plane tray tables.

Notes

 1. Apparently being a blondish haired, blue eyed, be-freckled Yuma gives every Tomás, Ricardo, and Enrico here the green light to talk me up. The Cuban-foreigner dynamic is insanely complicated and something beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say that every time I step out my door there’s someone invading my personal space with their personal questions.

 2. I was very saddened to learn of Les Paul’s recent death. He holds a special place in my heart and I know was an inspiration to many generations of guitar players.

 3. One great upside to government-controlled media is that there are zero TV commercials. This means when I’m watching The Reader or The Sopranos, I get it all uninterrupted (and mostly) uncut.   

4. Is it just me or is it totally sick that someone should have to pay such an outrageous amount of money for preventative medicine? You can bet if it were the men of the world with boobs and vaginas it wouldn’t be so.


6 Comments

Filed under Americans in cuba, Living Abroad