The Museum de Revolución is the only attraction I want to go to immediately, the rest can wait until the end of the month when we meet friends back in Havana. I have also vowed to walk the entire length (5 miles) of The Melecón like a Habanero, after seeing a travel programme set there in my youth. We will do this twice, buy a bottle of rum and large bottle of coke, share and make friends. As you can imagine a Revolutionary ‘History is written by the victors’ Museum it is very partisan affair with blood splattered clothing of fallen ‘socialistas’ and ‘Cuban Freedom Fighters’ and the many souvenirs and trinkets aplenty. The US and the then US backed President Batista forces are referred to as ‘The tyranny’ like an unimaginative wrestler. A black and white photo of bloodshed of the rebel reads, ‘the Cuban Freedom Fighters being molested by the tyranny!’ ‘Molestation’ is a euphemism here! Massacres happened on both sides in equal measure. But by 1959 The Castro Brothers and poster boy, Che Guevara were rolling into Havana atop tanks smoking cigars. Whatever your views; and no system is perfect, but when they took over a small few and Americans (Gansters, Politians, etc) were doing very nicely. A million people did not go to school from a population of 7m (now it’s 11.5m), and Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the entire world, yes, the entire world! As well as some of the best doctors and hospitals, I googled about lifts in Cuba – it is more expensive to live on a bottom floor flat than the top, as nearly all apartments don’t have lifts. It is amazing how many Americans are either going or thinking of going to Havana for a ‘different’ kind of lift! People, pre-1959, were often starving in the countryside, this in a tropical country that was easily capable feed itself. So whatever turmoil the revolution brought for the few back then, you could see why it was not long before the revolution was snowballing to Castro and co.
So historically back in 1959 revolution was more beneficial for the many not the few, and so was born The Cuban Republic, and the great animosity between a superpower and little tiny Cuba. Cuba is the ONLY country to defeat America in a Latin or South American conflict, so you can imagine how well that goes down with dick-swinging men in power? The botched Bay of Pigs invasion is still a cause of embarrassment for some at the top of the US military.
In 1963 the world was on the brink of nuclear disaster, like never before, (hopefully). A tour I successfully tried to get on while in Havana but failed, was a tour of the nuclear bunkers, a friend had been and said it had been fantastic and insightful, an elderly woman took them deep under Havana and summed the view of probably the entire world’s populous back then, as, “We were all absolutely terrified, we thought the missiles would fly and we would immerge into a nuclear wasteland.” Cuba would not have survived without the muscle of Russia, it’s bit like a the runty school bullies mate taunting you with the knowledge there is serious backup! But survived they have, in whatever form that is? Against the embargoes of many countries, the collapse of communism and Venezuela.
Don’t forget to add to the animosity of the USA occupying a part of Cuba down in Guantanamo Bay; this is a legacy of the Spanish/American war over a century ago, and America says it is essential for guarding the Panama Canal, it obviously isn’t with their influence in Panama itself as well as neighbouring countries, such as Coast Rica. You would be rightly pissed off if a foreign country occupied your land. Imagine how Americans would feel if say Iran controlled Boston, or Mexico occupied Florida? It looked as though this might change under Obama, but is unlikely under Trump. US service personnel hate Guantanamo (GIT-MO also, ‘Old Droopy’), it is the only American base servicemen and women cannot step outside in the whole wide world! They are prisoners! I’m sure the irony does not escape them either, when the festival fireworks erupt and samba music fills the air.
We have the obligatory photo taken on the tank outside them Museum that Fidel Castro has ridden into Havana on in 1959. The Lonely Guide book makes me giggle as walk the short distant to have a look at ‘The Granma’ yacht that the revolutionaries crossed on from Mexico in 1956 to unsuccessfully have a go at a revolution, a botched ‘try before you buy’ attempt: “The Granma yacht is guided both night and day continually, I assume this is to stop someone stealing it and escaping in it!”
It has not been easy over the years and decades, and people have suffered, as I will elaborate in later blogs, but young or old, Cubans are patriotic, even if the differing generations don’t agree on the best way forward. The outward internet-looking under thirties are not children of the revolution, they are the offspring of a global connected world, they see what it offers and of course they want a chunk of it. The old men that run the country know this; they don’t like it, but needs must when the devil drives. It will be interesting to stand behind unorganised rich Americans at money exchanges just to register the shock and expletives when the Cuban authorities tax them 10% to change over money – that’s the price of progress after so many decades of mistrust.
So Cuba is steeped in politics, it, among other things is what defines it. It is changing because it has to now, it has been abandoned by new oligarchs, dodgy presidents, and Venezuela is in turmoil, not helped by the crash of the oil price. It will survive because whatever the people are, they are incredibly resilient, it is their DNA, but change is blowing in with tourism, Americans that don’t already know the warmth and intelligence of the Cuban people soon will and by a process of osmosis they will meet and love Cubans, because we are not different, we all want the same things; to love and be loved, happy and healthy friends and family and enough to get by comfortably.
Hasta la vista, habaneros.
Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.