Sunday, December 04, 2016

"Revolutionary Yesterday, Hero Forever!"

"The Revolution, over and above the rights and guarantees achieved for all its citizens of whatever ethnic background or origin, has not had the same success in its fight to eradicate the differences in social and financial status for the black population of the country."
"Blacks don't live in the best houses; you find that they still have the hardest, most physically wearing and often worst-paid jobs and that they receive much less help from their family members no longer in Cuba, in dollars, than their white compatriots."
Fidel Castro, My Life

"My children go to school for free, their uniforms are given to us by the government. So they can read, as can I, where my mother could barely write her name."
"That still doesn't mean they'll have any kind of a future. They'll grow up here in Los Olmos and they'll probably die in Los Olmos."
Rosaria, 38, Los Olmos, Santiago, Cuba

"I had nothing a week ago, before Fidel died. I have nothing now, I'll have nothing next week and next month and next year."
Alberto, 67, former baker
Some 22,000 people reside in this overwhelmingly black barrio in the northeast sector of Santiago de Cuba. Here, two young boys try to fly a kite made from a garbage bag and two sticks.
Some 22,000 people reside in this overwhelmingly black barrio in the northeast sector of Santiago de Cuba. Here, two young boys try to fly a kite made from a garbage bag and two sticks.  (Rosie DiManno / Toronto Star)

Alberto, whose last name has been left blank to protect him from repercussions, is retired. The state grants him a princely monthly pension of $12. He lives in an impoverished community. And in that community live mostly black Cubans. Black Cubans still reel under racial prejudice and the class system excludes them from any hope of social mobility. Their housing is decrepit and unsanitary.

All Cubans, on the other hand, have what might be considered problems with living expenses, barely earning enough for subsistence, and hugely reliant on their relatives' remittances, who have long since departed the island for America, to send back U.S. dollars to help them live. In actual fact, Cuba itself is hugely reliant on those same U.S. dollars sent from Florida to keep the government itself afloat. Tourism, especially from Canada, cannot do it all....

Tourists often salve their consciences and feel particularly sanctimonious about travelling to Cuba by defending their decision stating that the Cuban people deserve better, and yes they most certainly do deserve better. Tourist dollars help Cuba, even if the righteous tourists never see the Cuba they cannot quite imagine exists, since Cubans are not permitted entry to those exclusive, guarded tourist destinations. And many tourists do take along with them badly needed medications.

The vaunted medical system that Cubans are so proud of and rightfully, provides them with education and with doctors to spare, but little in the way of updated medical facilities, much less the drugs and medications needed to help keep their medical conditions under control and surgeries well equipped for maximum efficiency and success. Perhaps a little less spent on military affairs, to transfer the savings to medical affairs...

The U.S. Coast Guard has seen an increase in Cuban migrants risking their lives to cross the Straits of Florida to arrive to safety and freedom on the south coast of Florida. While no one knows how many Cubans have perished in their attempts to leave Cuba and arrive in the land of Liberty which will allow them to stay if they can reach U.S. shores before they are intercepted, 2014 recorded the arrival of 3,737 successful Cuban migrants, while 7,411 were intercepted and returned to Cuba.

Fidel Castro's remains in the cortege carrying them across Cuba to Santiago where his revolution had its start will skirt past this town of 22,000 to reach Cementerio Santa Ifigenia for interment after an odyssey of 900 kilometres across Cuba's length, the trip in reversal to the one that Fidel Castro took to revolutionize Cuba and destroy the corrupt Battista regime with its close affiliation with the United States.  It was the Cuba that Ernest Hemingway knew and loved.

But Fidel Castro vowed to free Cubans from the Batista dictatorship and corruption and he did accomplish that. Unfortunately, freedom was not in store for the freed people of Cuba, but another dictatorship most certainly was. And a Communist way of sacrificial life that stifled all opportunities for social and economic advancement could be regarded as a corruption of the Cuban peoples' expectations....

People line a street to watch as the caravan carrying the ashes of Cuba's late President Fidel Castro arrives in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.
People line a street to watch as the caravan carrying the ashes of Cuba's late President Fidel Castro arrives in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.  (IVAN ALVARADO)

Those in the international community who toast and revere Fidel Castro never had to live under the Commandante's rule. The privation that Cubans have suffered through made some proud of their sense of self-reliant resilience, as though Communism demands constant sacrifices to uphold its principles of one-for-all- and-all-for one, which always exempted the leaders who knew of privation only by second-hand narration and observation.

Once the Caravan of Freedom has completed its trek back to Santiago where the revolution was lionized, supported and drew its fighters from, eager to join the adventure and excitement of guerrilla warfare, to culminate in the 1959 triumph proclaiming the revolution's success and the procession onward to Havana, the mourning will cease, and Raoul Castro will continue to rule in his brother's inimitable pattern.

"It's not right to recommend that anyone leave by raft, because it's a trip that can lead to death. But the reality of living in Cuba can lead to that ... and much more", said Rodolfo Liedes, 72, who arrived in Florida with 26 other Cubans seeking haven on a motorized raft comprised of empty 55-gallon drums after being sent to a work camp by the Cuban revolution, and being blacklisted from employment, in 1994.


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