Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

Havana, October 16, 1998, Cuba Free Press.

A CONTRADICTION CALLED "EXPOCUBA" By Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press.

HAVANA Located some 20 kilometers from the center of the capital, ExpoCuba is the most important convention center on the island. Its construction was inspired in the North Korean tradition: To permanently show off how positive was the application of the "Suche idea;" i.e., the ideological tenets of Kim II Sung, the North Korean commandant.

Even though we know little about North Korea here, given the close and intolerant societal system reigning in that region of Asia much more so than the Cuban, which is a lot to say or about the particularity of the Asians, it is to be believed that in spite of the hunger which has taken the lives of more than two million people, it seems they must be very disciplined, as they trek through the expositions which praise the Great Leader and his works.

Such is not the case of ExpoCuba. From its inauguration in 1987, it has had a good flow of people, particularly Saturdays and Sundays. However, there are few nationals visiting the exposition halls, including the pavilions which cover our history and national contributions throughout the 14 provinces and the Isle of Youth. You would think that since they are permanent exhibits, the people would already have seen them.

But Janet Izquierdo, a 20-year-old student, came this Saturday for the first time. "If I went through the different halls it was to shorten the walk to and from areas where I could get something to eat," she said disappointedly. To her surprise, she found that unless you make a reservation of one or two weeks ahead of your visit, you must stand in the long queue line at La Fuente, the only cafeteria in which you can be served on a first-come basis. The only other place is El Ranchon, a bar which was serving as the special of the day a fish hamburger.

Kids and cyclists fare better. At the entrance to the facility, each kid receives two tickets. One grants them the right to purchase a bunch of sweet crackers and the other one allows them to buy a serving of ice cream. Those who get there by bicycle have the possibility of buying a quarter of a chicken and a soda, at the BusyKiosks.

One visitor said, "I live some 15 kilometers from ExpoCuba and my wife and I come here on Wednesdays (it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays). We buy two rations of chicken with which to feed our two children. We return on Saturday, with them. My wife carries the boy on the handles of the bike; he's just turned one. I carry the girl on the back of mine; she's seven. We take two trips so that we can guarantee them enough protein for the entire week."

They make such sacrifices on a weekly basis, except when it rains or when ExpoCuba closes for - for example - the International Fair in Havana. Mario Alvarado, 35, and his wife, Sofia de la Nuez, 32, obtain two U.S. dollars when they buy them (21 for 1, at the present exchange rate).

"In order to buy the food," explains Sofia, "we have to resolve it that way because we only make between the two of us the equivalent of US$25 a month. Not enough even for cooking oil. Luckily we have relativeds living in the country who send us lard."

Like Mario and Sofia, almost 100 percent of the people who go to ExpoCuba go there to get the food, a practice which has become almost official for almost three decades in Cuba."

Those who don't have bicycles or who don't want to use this alternative source of food, can go there either on one of the buses which go to ExpoCuba on the weekends or a train - which doesn't always work with the needed frequency.

ExpoCuba, the Lenin park, the two zoological parks (the old and the new), the Aquarium and the Botanical Garden offer different cultural/entertainment activities. Oftentimes you can take the kids there, not simply to enjoy yourselves but so you can eat the ice cream which you can not enjoy at home.

"To me ExpoCuba is a contradiction," says Roxana Penalver, a retiree at 66. "It is the permanent exposition of the accomplishments of the revolution. However, the people come here to find the things that they can't find any other place. I myself come, every week, with my three grandchildren, to buy crackers so that they can snack on them during the week at school.

"Thats because I am forced to save the only piece of bread that they are allotted so that they can eat it along with clear coffee, in the morning for breakfast. They are all over 7 years of age and don't have the right to the liter of milk. That's why I always say that the idea of ExpoCuba is a good one, only that it backfired."

By Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press.

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