Mass protests erupted in Cuba on Sunday – the first in decades. The response was predictable, all the way around.
The Communist government (which has only been in power for 62 years without elections) blamed the U.S. embargo, COVID and the Cuban-American “mafia” in Miami. Havana blames everything – including hurricanes and sunspots – on the embargo.
If COVID is to blame, why were protestors carrying signs demanding “Libertad” (Liberty), instead of “Take back your crummy virus.” And why were they carrying American flags, if our embargo is responsible for their plight?
The response from the Old Gringo in the White House was also not unexpected. The president bravely declared that, “We stand with the with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom.” My father used to say, “That and a buck will get you a cup of coffee in a cheap restaurant.”
Ah the joys of socialism.
In 1959, when Castro and his Marxist mafia took power, Cuba was one of the fastest developing nations in the Hemisphere. Other than the U.S. and Canada, Cuba had more television sets per capita than any other nation in the Americas, as well as a burgeoning middle class. Marxism cured all of that and has since done a number on Venezuela (an oil-rich country with rolling blackouts) and Nicaragua.
Polls show a majority of 16-to-23-year-olds (most on the Daddy-dole at home or in college) view socialism favorably. I wish I could take them to see socialism in action in Cuba, as I did in 1998.
I was there for a week as a journalist. As I watch the protests, memories come flooding back.
Havana is crumbling. There isn’t money to fix it or any reason to do so. Tourists seem to prefer ruins.
I saw and heard more in that week than at any other time in my life.
I met a brilliant neurosurgeon who started a successful hospital for patients who needed brain surgery. The regime kept pressuring her to take more medical tourists (a great cash cow). When she finally rebelled, she was fired from her own hospital, and reduced to being paid $20 a month and using a bicycle for transportation.
I visited with Castro’s first ambassador to Belgium — an elderly dissident living in a one-room apartment with his parrot Michael Jackson, who moonwalked. “The bird is freer than I am,” he mournfully observed.
The future diplomat was with Castro when he led a guerrilla band in the Sierra Maestra. “Didn’t you know he was a communist?” I naively asked. “Of course not,” came the reply. “He wore a crucifix around his neck. Che and the insiders knew, not the rest of us.”
The doorman at my hotel told me he was a civil engineer, but he had a family to support. He said he could earn $15 a month as an engineer or $20 a day in tips, That’s the genius of socialism: It turns engineers into doormen.
I went into a pharmacy whose shelves were almost bare. Hiding on one was a bottle of iodine and a solitary box of band-aids. I saw a man sitting on a street corner behind a card table, refilling disposable lighters. I saw hungry people taking fruits and vegetables from a field. When I asked one what was up, he replied: “They say these are for the people. So, I’m the people!”
The day after Castro gave one of his edifying 3-hour speeches. I was having coffee with an English teacher. “So, what did El President say last night,” I innocently inquired. She replied in an undertone with an expletive. Then she leaned closer and whispered, “I would like to…” well, not wish him a happy birthday.
My last night in Havana. I met a young man who was selling postcards on the street, to supplement a meager income from guiding tourists.
“I shouldn’t talk like this to a stranger, but I’ve had a lousy day and just don’t care,” he confided. He came to Havana from the provinces to study physics, but quickly decided there wasn’t a future in that, or much of anything else.
“You gotta help me to get out of here, man” he pleaded. “I don’t want to end up like them,” he pointed with his chin to oldsters passing by. “They’re zombies.” “Maybe I could marry an American” he suggested.
“Well, you’re good-looking, I’m sure we could find a young woman to marry you” I joked.
“I don’t care how old she is. I’d marry a 90-year-old to leave.” He wasn’t joking. I gave him a little money (a loan, I said) and the business card of someone in what passed for a U.S. embassy.
If he stayed, he may be the next president of Cuba, if there are ever free elections. Joe’s cliches won’t make that happen. Besides, what if Bernie and AOC find out?