US Interests in Cuba
Hola from Cuba! I flew in to Habana from Panama about a week ago and met up with a colleague from Berkeley, Edwin Aguedelo. We stayed in the Hotel Riviera for one night and have been staying at a casa particular
, a family-owned apartment since then. It's been a wild week at times, and awfully quiet at others. We've met a ton of people and received a near unanimous warm welcome as Americans. Some of these "friends" have been looking for ways to squeeze a buck or two or forty out of us. It's good that I'm doing Cuba early because it's hardened me up in a number of ways, one of which is my digestive system!
I'm still trying to figure out how money works here. For example, we pay about 5 bucks for a taxi ride across town, yet 6 bucks for an hour of internet. You can get a sip of turkish coffee from a street vendor for 5 cents, a scoop of icecream for 15 cents. The difference is if the state has determined that the product or service being sold is "home-made" or taxable by the state. So the ice cream is cheap but anything imported or packaged is not. There are separate currencies for each. What's interesting to me is the overlap of these two worlds: the one produced by the socialist state, and the other some kind of mediation between the outside world of global tourism and market exchange and the island of Cuba. We are crossing this boundary all the time as we walk around neighborhoods and eat where the locals eat, then head to the tourist area and observe the city which is being renovated with tourist dollars. Sometimes rotting buildings are standing side-by-side with freshly renovated ones.
People are living in the ruins of their city. Doors are open everywhere, music pumping in the streets, kids playing games--the streets are swollen with people at all times of the day. I've got some awesome sound recordings that I promise to share soon.
A quick bit about what I'm looking at here: I went to the US Special Interests Building which is the former US Embassy. It was renovated after the Revolution with mirror glass windows. Apparently a couple years ago there was a ticker-tape broadcasting messages to the Cubans like "why can't Cubans go inside Cuban hotels" etc etc. To which I believe Raul Castro had a $2 million dollar plaza installed which shouts back at the building: Patria o Muerte! Freedom or Death! Venceremos! We Shall Overcome!. A forest of flagpoles obscures the view of the building and also, I imagine the view of the plaza from the building.
Will write more when I have time.