Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

December 31, 1998, Cuba Free Press.


HAVANA - Before 1959 in Havana we had a tradition of going to the dances at Tropicala Gardens or other dance salons to await the arrival of the New Year and to listen to the sounds of orchestras such as Jorrin and his Cha, cha, cha, "Arcaño with his marvels" or the great Benny More.

But now, only a year or two away from the new milennium, Havana at night has turned dangerous. That's why many, such as Armando Pino, 66, a retiree, remember with nostalgia the bohemian days in the 1950's, when the Cubans would go to clubs and bars such as "Monseugneur," where famous piano player Bola de Nieve would play the requested tunes.

You could dance to the sounds of those soft dance songs, interpreted by the best groups, in any Havana casino. Much to Armando's regret, those days are but a memory.

The evening options to await 1999 in the Cuban capital were limited to your ability to get dollars so as to spend the evening in some comfort unless you had the courage to attend a public dance where the parties have movie endings, with fist-fights, shots, arrests and dozens of police ready to "neutralize" the partygoers.

Merriment in Cuba has been expensive for some time. At the Havana seawall, at the "Salsa Palace", at the Riviera Hotel, a ticket costs $15 - 300 Cuban pesos. But if the orchestra is a popular one - like "Pablo FG" or the "Charanga Habanera," the price shoots up to $25 - 500 Cuban pesos, just to dance to the tunes of a fashionable band.


In a country where the average salary is 200 pesos per month, you really need an income flow in the U.S. currency to be able to listen to Cuban music - or what is commonly called popular creole music. If you want to eat or drink something at the "Salsa Palace," it can add up to $100 - 2,000 Cuban pesos - the equivalent of 10 months worth of salary for an average employee. That's the going rate.

The Cuban musical bands and their fever for the "greenbacks" have made their appearances all the more out of reach. Nearing the new millennium, it is very rare, almost a luxury, for a Cuban to be able to attend live performances of popular groups like the "Van Van" or Isaac Delgado. But even worst is that when you leave one of those hard currency clubs, one of the violent criminal gangs found throughout the city can jump you to steal whatever little money you have left or take from you anything of value, such as a Seiko watch, an Italian Fariani shirt or Nike sports shoes.

That's why it hasn't become uncommon for some, upon leaving the discotheque, to arrive at home or the police station to report the theft while wearing their underwear, provided that it isn't a brand name. But it's really a small minority of people who can go to "bacilar" - enjoy themselves - in places where only dollars are accepted. The great majority will wait for the New Year at home with a piece of pork meat, purchased with a great deal of sacrifice, and a third rate bottle of rum. And they're hoping they'll be able to eat the next and future days.

Generally, the average Cuban spends his meager savings at the end of the year. But not simply to celebrate a new anniversary of the revolution, which this year made 40. Always there's the hope that things will improve for themselves and their families. Only the brave ones take to the streets looking for parties which, with few exceptions, have as entertainment first-rate bands. Herded together behind a fence, they drink some brew kept in thermos/tanks, sold under the guise of "beer". Invariably they are under the close watch of the so-called Police Special Brigade which is ready to pounce on anyone involved in the slightest commotion.

There's a rumor among the people that those dance happenings are in fact police raids to arrest the criminals who attend, en masse, to "kick it up."

Hence, the days when you would attend La Tropical gardens, surrounded by lush vegetation, where Armando Pino met his wife to the tune of Benny More's band, are no more. What remains is the risk of attending one of the public dances: Far from meeting a new love, you might end up in the midst of a riot.

Havana is not as violent as Medellin or Rio de Janeiro but it's well on its way.

By Iván García, Cuba Free Press.

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