Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

Oct. 1, 1999.


HAVANA - That phrase, "Cuba, the Grand Scenography," summarizes the opinions of a European who lived here three years.

To us Cubans, especially to "habaneros," it has always appeared that foreigners have a great time here. We see their fancy living quarters here, how they pay for things with credit cards, how they go to places that we aren't allowed to visit and drive around in their modern cars. Those without families go around with good-looking young women or men. Some take advantage of the island's climate and natural gifts to enjoy the beaches, pursue such tourist options as golf, tennis, diving, horseback riding...even fencing.

Usually foreigners live in the better residential areas. In their homes they lack nothing. On their roofs one sees parabolic antennas. If they ever tune in to our national television it must be on very special occasions. They have cellular phones, fax machines, electronic mail and when they want to, they can even surf the (inter)net. On the wide screens of their TV sets they can enjoy the latest movies from their homelands, from Hollywood...even those of a less public nature.

They mix their work with social activities and in most everybody's eyes they are living "la vida loca" (the crazy life) Cuban style. Very few of us get to know how they observe us and what they think of us Cubans, even when they leave the island. One of those foreigners, a European to be precise, said he left "with his heart gripped at seeing such a wonderful and hospitable people living without liberty and with such large numbers of people at the limits of misery."

According to this European, riding in a car with the A/C on and the windows rolled up did not keep him from seeing our realities.

"I got to know a lot about Cuba through the workers around the homes I lived in during my stay here plus the people I worked with in my job. It could be that they had their own agenda and interests in approaching me but they spoke sincerely of their existence, how they lived to pursue dollars and why so many of them simply wanted to leave the country."

This European befriended many different Cuban citizens. Many were well connected in official quarters, others were involved in illicit businesses.

"If there is anything I got a chance to see, in the 36 months I spent here, it was the large numbers of Cubans involved in these missteps, underhanded dealings and illegalities. We, the foreigners, were a beehive to those bees."

People's unhealthiness, the general deterioration, the growth of poverty, prostitution, the begging children and the old people scrounging through the garbage cans. Those things left scars on this person.

"I came across an old man eating leftovers and I had to stop. I got him into my car, took him home and forced him to bathe. I gave him some clothing and had my cook feed him. Before he left I gave him $20. I know it's not much but that night I slept well. Especially after I learned that that man had once been a professional. When his two sons left for the United States, they forgot about him. His wife died...and he decided to try his luck on the streets rather than go knocking on relatives' and neighbors' doors."

This foreigner took advantage of the many art and cultural events held in so many parts of Havana. "In contrast to the very poor quality of the food and daily living conditions in Cuba there are many opportunities for spiritual enjoyment. It seems a shame the authorities fail to realize that to attend a theatrical performance, a concert or an exposition, a human being must have some basic needs met. It is imposible to attend a cultural event if you are hungry, barefoot and if you have to wait upwards of three hours for your transportation."

Why do you say Cuba is "grand scenography?" "Because you see something which seems real...then realize it's not, it's decoration. Something which has propaganda value, but in most cases doesn't work."

Those words reminded me of a colleague, gone a year, who used to say, "In Cuba the normal is abnormal and the not." He was absolutely right.

Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press.

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