Spending a week at a resort in Cuba can easily distort your view of what the country is like. People are being entrepreneurial and there is plenty on sale – tours and trinkets and, of course, rum and cigars. But make no mistake; this is still the land of Fidel and Che.
It is obvious once you leave the artificial and carefully isolated worlds of the resorts. The images of the revolution are everywhere, posters with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s face and slogans, monuments to victories of the revolution. Travel down to Santa Clara and you are welcomed to the city of Che Guevara.
Is it a façade? Some Americans say so – they insist that the Cuban people yearn to be free of the yoke of socialist servitude. Of course, these are the same prognosticators who insisted the Iraqi people would welcome them as liberators and the wars of the Middle East would be ‘self-financing.’ Didn’t quite work out that way, did it? I sometimes wonder where those guys are now – Cheney and Wolfowitz and the rest. Back cowering in their bunkers I suppose.
Many Cubans are deeply proud of what they have wrought in the face of opposition from the most powerful nation in the world. They readily acknowledge that some of it was done with the support of the Soviet Union – but if anything they are even more proud of what they did after the Soviet system collapsed and they were left truly on their own. Many Cubans resent the interference of the USA – interference that has gone on since the days of the Spanish American war. They do not hesitate to inform you that the existence of the naval base in Guantanamo Bay (and you know, they say, what is done there) is illegal not only under international law but under American law.
Winning over Cuba to the American way will be a challenge.
One of the most moving sights I saw in Cuba – saw anywhere in some time – was the memorial to Che Guevara in Santa Clara. The external part was all monumental – a 20-ton bronze statue of Che in guerrilla outfit and rifle, gazing resolutely to the future. The friezes were equally monumental. But the interior of the memorial – where no photos are allowed and no mementoes provided is a fundamental reflection of the legacy of Che to ordinary Cubans.
It is a chamber like a mountain cave – there is a small pool and fountain with plants lit by a tiny skylight. Along one wall are life-sized cameos of heroes of the revolution – those who died in battle or like Che in the effort to spread the cause farther afield. Che is there but his face is no larger and has little more prominence than all the others. These are simple human expressions, some grim, some laughing, all intense and determined. Men and two women who died doing what they believed to be right and necessary.
This was the true memorial – human faces sacrificed to build a humane society. It’s hardly perfect. There is a lot of poverty but little inequality. Health care and education are free and access to the best universities is provided based on merit rather than money. Everybody works at something and no-one goes without the basics of life.
I wonder if it can survive the coming onslaught of American money and attitudes. I hope so.
And that’s ten minutes (Cuban time)