Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

Aug. 13, 1999.


HAVANA - Thanks, God, that those Pan-American Games are over. It's not that I dislike sports but everything here gets turned into politics! The sports commentators sound like communist ideologues. To tell the truth, I enjoyed the gymnastics and the synchronized swimming. But the baseball and boxing, it was nothing more than a face-off to see who would take home the most medals. Cuba had to place no worse than second place. Behind the United States of course but ahead of Canada. I don't know what the problem is with the Canadians but I know everybody was aiming for no worse than second place.

On top of everything else we had to listen to hours and hours of political speeches. Stuff about drug traffickers, immigration. It was frightful!

At least they did not stop the soap operas. Those take everybody's mind off their problems. While they are on one seems to disconnect from our "same of the same." This daily schizophrenia of living in a country with many champions and medals but very little to set on our tables.

There were 42 countries competing in Winnipeg. Only 25 took medals home. Some took only one: Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Trinidad-Tobago. But as far as I know, in none of them do people have a ration booklet and even their poorest get to drink a glass of milk and eat a piece of meat - at least once in a while.

In my house nobody remembers the last time we ate steak. But I believe it was in 1997, during the papal visit to Cuba. A relative living in Spain had managed to send us a nice piece of meat which he bought for $39 through a friend. What an occasion! That day we celebrated by cooking black beans, plantains. We even bought a dozen Cristal beers to toast the pope and the banquet.

Even though the Columbian soap-operas are boring and the acting awful, one likes to watch them. They are always having coffee, sitting around a dinner table. And such dinners and beautiful homes! I can't fully enjoy them since my Russian TV is only black and white. A neighbor of mine with a large screen Sony frequently jokes with me, "I really can't eat a thing; I am stuffed from what they showed in today's episode!" It makes me laugh.

Cubans really are funny, sometimes. Take the old man on the corner. Tomas. He says he appreciates how the government looks after his dental health. But Tomas has no teeth! When we ask him what the deal is he breaks into a wide grin and says, "You see, daughter, everything the government sell through the ration book is soft, so you don't have to chew too hard. Even their green peas soften after a hard boil and then you can swallow them. Even at the butcher stores they sell soft things only: Texturized ground meat, artificial 'cortadella,' even soft hot dogs!"

If you want to "play hard-ball," meaning eat well, you have to carry a satchel full of money to the agro-stores. There you can buy fruit, vegetables, ham, lamb and pork. For chicken you have to pay with dollars and for beef, well, that is food for the Gods - or for the leadership. One can not find it just anywhere. Especially since the troubles they had a while back at the slaughterhouses, with the butchers and their stealing. One has to be lucky to find any beef, as lucky as we were back in 1997.

I realize the only reason we were able to have that banquet was because of my relatives in Spain. Still, I prefer to thank the Pope for it. That is why I still hold on to the poster depicting him as the Messenger of Love and Hope. There are some who say the King of Spain may prove to be another divine messenger. Of course with Cuba's venality on the matter of politics, who knows if he will even come! I would like for him to come. "Juan Carlos I" has a certain grace. I am sure his visit would be good for Cuba. But you want to know something? I want many people to come and nobody to leave. No matter how good, bad or in between we are. This is our country. And one should be buried right where one is born.

Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press.

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