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    US Interests in Cuba

    Nick Sowers
    Jan 17, '09 3:40 PM EST

    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.



    • nice travels! i sent your panama post to my friend kurt dillon. he is involved with canal zone and former military base master plans. his group called 'urbio'.

      Jan 17, 09 5:41 pm  · 
      Carlos Eduardo

      Kurt Dillon is friend of mine too and he es currently in Panama City.

      Jan 17, 09 8:03 pm  · 

      carlos, i went to school with dillon. not cornell. great pictures of panama canal zone on the other post.

      Jan 17, 09 9:19 pm  · 
      Carlos Eduardo

      Orhnan, Hi!, I think last night I read someting here about Kurt Dillon where you mentioned his impressionas about Decemeber 1989...I can´t find it...anyway, yes Kurt Dillon has been studying since many years this study case (Panama Canal Zone). I guess it shoud have also something personal because he was born here, actually he feels very identified with this country but his roots are in US and Old Panama Canal Zona thats an area that doesn´t exist anymore. I ve read a couple of very good papers published by him about this topic. And yes, Sam´s pictures are amazing.

      Jan 18, 09 11:20 am  · 

      dillon arrived in panama city the day before panama invasion and the next day, he was swearing and cursing as you can imagine and reporting the story from his mom's balcony on the telephone to me in los angeles. i could hear the bombs exploding.
      kurt has always been more panamanian than his european and american ancestory. he is as panamanian as it gets, as far as one's connection to a certain geography, i am sure of that.

      Jan 18, 09 2:21 pm  · 

      hey Nick, make sure and head outside of Havana - especially towards the south and take a look at the ecole de plastic arts, you will be amazed at what you see

      viva la revolucion

      btw how'd you get there?

      Jan 19, 09 12:07 am  · 

      a quick update on the US Interests Building: the windows still do function as a tickertape at night. I just took some shots tonight but don't have them on the computer yet. Tonight it was displaying:


      I gather this is news that Cubans don't get to see in their government censored press. (The plane crash in NY but all survived, can't figure out the Bush one , Lula approves of Evo.) I was looking through binoculars from about six miles away, but the flagpoles obscured much of the view.

      Orhan, thank you for forwarding the info. I would love to get some insight from someone who has been studying this for a long time. My email is [email protected]

      Jan 19, 09 12:29 am  · 

      oh and architechno, I'd love to make up a rebel story but it's just an academic license! hopefully things get easier soon...

      Jan 19, 09 12:31 am  · 

      So who installed the obscuring flagpoles? The Americans or the Cubans? I'm curious. Are the

      What do you mean by 'academic license'? When you arrive in the country (at the airport?) do they check your visa? If you didn't have the right papers, what would they do? I thought the Cubans didn't mind if Americans came. Or is it somehow the Americans who check your paperwork, and if so, where? I've always been curious as to how the whole mechanics of the idea of banning travel to a country actually works.

      Jan 19, 09 8:40 am  · 

      Manta, Cuba doesn't mind but if you don't have an academic permit from the USA than the IRS can bust your ass.

      Jan 19, 09 11:28 am  · 

      how would the IRS know you travelled to Cuba? I'm asking seriously -- I really have always wondered how it works.

      Because really, what's to stop Americans from just flying down to Mexico or something and then just getting on a flight from there to Cuba?

      Jan 19, 09 1:50 pm  · 
      Carlos Eduardo

      architechnophilia good recomendation. Art National School outside Habana are amazing!. Nick don´t miss it.

      Jan 19, 09 4:59 pm  · 

      actually the IRS doesn't care, it's the Department of Treasury that will bust your ass--though many independent travelers do not receive fines, even if caught with things like cigars--this is according to a variety of sources from guidebooks to lonely planet thorntree. People who attempt to sell travel services illegally--for example buying your ticket for you--are the ones who get severely penalized. And I guess if you try to sneak in a few boxes of Cohiba's... the customs agents will have a great party on your behalf.

      Jan 25, 09 11:34 pm  · 

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