A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 16 - Cuba

By Neil

sunny 31 °C
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Fasslane, Scotland - 1962

Chief Petty Officer Brian William Cooke, Royal Navy, of Her Majesties Ship Anzio, a submarine support vessel, was on “20 minute sailing alert”.

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Good Lord ! Who is that handsome fellow ? I do believe it's CPO Cooke, RN

HMS Anzio needed to be ready to sail in 20 minutes due to a small issue on the other side of the world in a little place called Cuba. The alert status meant that the crew slept on board, including CPO Cooke. At that stage, he and my mother, Betty, had a 3 month old son, my elder brother Stephen.

On October 15th 1962, an American U2 sky plane had discovered that medium range nuclear weapons had been installed by the Russians in Cuba. Why was this a big deal ? Look at the map.

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Map showing just how close Cuba is to Florida

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The deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba in 1962.

The hands on the Doomsday Clock, the virtual clock operated by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board since 1947, used to show how close the world is to a nuclear (and now climate) holocaust, were at 7 minutes to midnight, with midnight indicating the start of the holocaust.

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The Doomsday Clock is now at 2.5 minutes to midnight - mainly due to climate issues.

The US President, John F Kennedy started an arms blockade on Cuba on 23rd October 1962, stating that the nuclear missiles must be removed from Cuba. The Russian President, Nikita Khrushchev said “Nyet. Buggery offski”. Both sides had their hands on the big red button and in a very tense 24 hour period, nuclear war was a very real reality.

This stand off, eventually resolved on 28th October 1962, was called the Cuban Missile Crisis and is commonly believed to be the closest the world has come, so far, to nuclear war.

As an aside, the Russians had tried to keep the installation of nuclear missiles on Cuba secret, so much so that they didn't even tell their own military the truth about where they were going and why. They even kitted out the soldiers being sent to Cuba with cold weather gear and called the program “Operation Anadyr” (Anadyr is in the Russian Far East and we're going there in 2 months time) to keep the secret as long as possible.

Cuba

Cuba. Blimey. Where to start ? There is only one place to start.

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Fidel Castro – 13th August 1926 – 25th November 2016

Fidel Castro led the Cuban revolution, overthrowing the heavily US aligned Batista dictatorship. Along with Che Guevara and Fidel's brother Raul, they started an uprising (which nearly failed on numerous occasions) which eventually toppled Batista and saw Fidel become leader of Cuba on 1st January 1959. He remained President of Cuba until 2006, when he handed over power to his brother Raul Castro, who remains President today.

After all I’ve written about the battle between America and Russia for supremacy of influence control in South and Central America, Cuba was our chance to really see what happens when America has no influence. And the country is communist. It was an eye opener.

Safety:

The first thing about Cuba, is that there are no, zero, none at all, safety concerns. Someone said, if you wanted to, you could sleep on the streets and be safe. This caused us to sit up and take notice. Particularly having been so alert and so careful for all of the previous 16 weeks (except French Guiana).

Education:

It’s free and it is very good. Many people have university degrees, some times many. The literacy rate is 99.98%.

Healthcare:

It’s free for everyone, and it is of a reasonable quality. Michael Moore, the American film producer has a fabulous segment in his film “Sicko” where he takes people injured in the 9/11 attacks on New York, and who’ve been denied medical care in the USA, to Cuba and they get treated. Free.

Democracy:

Er, you can vote for anyone as long as his first name is Raul and his surname is Castro.

Free Speech and Free Press:

There isn’t free speech and there isn’t a free press. Apparently the Communist Party still have a delegate in each residential building or complex.

Car Ownership.

In the US, car ownership is about 850 cars per 1,000 people. In Cuba, it is 38. It was only in 2011 that the private sale of cars was legalized. The government also recently stated it would allow the public to purchase cars without a government permit (previously rarely granted) although with a 400% mark up on the cars, this reform has not in fact had much impact for most Cubans.

Business ownership:

Until recent reforms, all business was government owned. It is only in the last few years as Raul has allowed a raft of reforms to stimulate the economy that small and medium size enterprises have been legalized. And this has change has been very slow, mainly starting with hostels, restaurants and and taxis.

Equality of Income:

This is, to me, where Fidel, if he was alive, and Raul, in his place, have limited the opportunities of their people. That’s being kind. Yes, there is equality of income in Cuba. Everyone is dirt poor. The annual income is US$240. Per year. For everyone. Well done Fidel. Good job Raul.

Humans are naturally industrious. They want a good life. They want to work hard. They want their children to be able to have a better life than them. They want to be able to do good things. All of this is not allowed in Cuba. The people’s ability to use their great education is severely limited. There are no jobs to be had, no matter how highly qualified you are.

There is, of course, a balance needed in equality of incomes; America has gone too far in the inequality. In my view, Australia is ok, but the Scandinavians have got it just about right.

Equality:

A positive outcome of socialism in Cuba, is that equality extends across society in terms of race and colour and there is extremely little, if any racism.

This is very unlike the rest of Central and South America where the equality disparity is significant between the main groups; Latino’s (people of Spanish descent), Indio’s (indigenous people), and black (people of slave descent).

Cuban life

Don’t get me wrong, there are cool aspects of Cuba, like the cars. They are, quite simply awesome. Castro placed a ban on the import of all foreign cars for about 40 years, which meant that the Cubans had to keep the old ones going. With a ban on the import of parts as well, this was a real challenge!

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Most of the cars are from before 1959. Note that example of fine engineering, a Russian Lada, in this photo.

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A Ford Coupe from the 1940’s

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A modern Cuban taxi. From what ? The 1930’s ?

Plus the one that Nikki got me a ride in. A 1958 Ford Edsel 400 cubic inch (6.55 litres) V8 petrol.

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Yes, yes, yes. The cars are cool, but what about the story of the owners? This bloke is the owner of the Edsel. Trained mechanical engineer. Worked in a factory as an engineer for 20 years until the late 1990’s until the factory closed due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and it's economic support of Cuba. As there was no other work as an engineer, he bought this old Edsel, did it up and it’s now his living. We met a lot of highly qualified people in similar situation. And when we asked it this might change, he said Cuba is like no where else, it is Socialist, and this is what it means to be socialist...

The Music

The music is awesome. And Everywhere. And very high quality. Every restaurant, bar and cafe seems to have a resident band that play through out the day. Everywhere you are, you can hear music.

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Band in a bar in Havana.

The buildings are incredibly run down, except in a few places. The Old City has been going through a major regeneration over the last decade or so, with a fund being set up to renovate and revitalize areas that had become very dilapidated. Here is some of the major sights from the Old City:

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Ah Fidel
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Ah Che

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Apart from some nice buildings, above, there is also the statue of a naked woman with a fork and high heels riding a cockerel. It means….. Well, I’ve no idea….

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So Havana to me is all about the cars and the music. The food? Well, I’m probably not feeling that charitable due to the food poisoning I got on day 2. Having been on the road for 128 days. I suppose it was inevitable, but….

We did go to some cool restaurants in Havana though, like this one:

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Cool restaurant in Havana.

Plus, of course the restaurant that we went to to celebrate me and Nik stepping out together for 10 years!

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Cuban Propoganda.....

There is a bit of propaganda, although to be honest not as much as we would have thought. Nik went to the revolutionary museum whilst I was indisposed following a dodgy prawn. There was a cartoon.

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The Parade of the Cretins (from left to right):

Bautista: “Thank you cretin for helping us to make the revolution”

Ronald Reagan (dressed as John Wayne): “Thank you cretin for helping us to strengthen the revolution”

George Bush Senior (dressed as Julius Caesar): “Thank you cretin for helping us to consolidate the revolution”

George W Bush (dressed as Schultz from Hogans Heroes (note the upside down book (see note below))): “Thank you for helping us to make Socialism irrevocable”.

(Note, below is the photograph of “Dubya” being informed of the 911 terrorist attacks whilst reading to kids in a school. Take a close look at the book)

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After Havana, we got a bus to Trinidad, a town south east of Havana. Trinidad is probably the oldest “intact” colonial town in the America’s. The stand out’s were the group of blokes playing in one of the squares.

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The bloke in the middle is playing a Marimbula

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A Marimbula. A box with different sized metal to give different bass notes.

Plus of course, the Beatles are really big in Cuba. In Trinidad is “Bar Yesterday”.

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Here are scenes from Trinidad:

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Trinidad main square

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View from the Bell tower.

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Donkey in the street in Trinidad. Nikki said it didn’t look happy. My view is that donkey’s are not supposed to look happy. They’re donkey’s. They’re made to look sad….

In the 1820’s, a house was built that is now called Casa Cantero. I’ve lived in houses with high ceiling’s before; 4 metres, 5 metres. But 8 metres?

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Now that is an old sewing machine….

If you’re going to display some wine you should display it on a bed…

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Aha! Then it was PIG TIME!

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Sorry, thought we were talking Pork Spare Ribs slow roasted with a BBQ sauce…. but no, I’m talking about the Bay of Pigs. La Bahia de Cochones. Once again it’s history time. We wanted to get a bit of beach time and Playa Giron, or as its known in the west, the Bay of Pigs, was our destination. It was also the destination of 1,400 CIA trained Cuban exiles in April 1961. The plan was to invade Cuba, wipe out the Cuban air force, whereupon crowds of Cuban rebels would join the invaders and overthrow Castro.

It was, for the Kennedy administration, an unmitigated disaster, from the point of view of not only not overthrowing Castro, but, more seriously, cementing and confirming his revolution. Following the attack, the phrase “Socialismo ou Muerte !”, Socialism or Death, became part of the Cuban vocabulary.

Playa Giron now? It really is a microcosm of Cuba. The beach and the waters are truly beautiful, juxtaposed against socialist failures (see below).

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The Scuba diving is awesome (although I didn’t get to do any, unfortunately, I only got to snorkel):

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Scuba diving at Playa Giron (not me unfortunately)

What really struck me though, was this:

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A resort had been built, maybe 30 years ago in the 1980’s, and it looks like one of those fabulous communist “Look what we can do!” projects that, probably, Castro opened with big ceremony but then the money ran out…

Oh, and the curtains in Hostel Luis, Playa Giron…

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The curtains in Hostel Luis, Playa Giron Cuba. Complete with fake red roses. Nice !

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The Special Period

Did I mention the average Cuban income per year of US$240 per person per year? I mentioned the battle for influence and control between the USA and Russia earlier on. The Russians, wanting to support this fabulous example of socialism, poured enormous buckets of money into Cuba from 1959 through to when the Soviet Union went belly up in 1989/ 1990. Then, for Cuba, the teat ran dry. And for the Cubans things seriously went bad. Virtually overnight half of the industries closed and the economy shrunk by 60%. Fidel announced a “Special Period in a Time of Peace” and some serious belt tightening went on. I’ll leave you with the biggest “Oh My God!” moment I’ve had since former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott awarded Prince Philip a Knighthood in the Australia Day honors...

Between 1991 and 1994, during the above mentioned "Special Period", the average Cuban lost ONE THIRD OF THEIR BODY WEIGHT ! For me that would drop me from 73 kg’s to 51 kg’s. That’s insane!

I’m really, really glad we went to Cuba. I don’t think it’s really possible to understand the reality of communism without having been there. I’m really looking forward to going to Russia!

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Posted by capetocape2017 07:34 Archived in Cuba Tagged of cars che bay fidel pgs

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