Magazine article The Humanist

Seven Days in Cuba

Magazine article The Humanist

Seven Days in Cuba

Article excerpt

The island of Cuba and its circumstances, both presently and historically, are not easy subjects. The effect Cuba has had on the United States and its politics goes back more than two centuries, but perhaps more importantly is the profound and enduring effect the US has had on the life of Cuba and its people.

My wife Karen and I had the very recent privilege of spending seven days in Cuba under the auspices of an organization called People to People International. It is presently not easy and now nearly impossible for Americans to set foot on Cuban soil, based upon the dictates of the Cuban government and new directives and policies of the Trump administration. In fact, the rules became more restrictive the very day we departed, and even these special People to People programs are in jeopardy, which prompts me to want to share what I learned in my time there. It is not my intention to make a political argument here, but rather to write from the perspective of a humanist, a poet, and this magazines arts editor in the hope that I might be able to scratch away at a pane of glass that has been painted over to see if a little light might be allowed to pass through.

The idea of these People to People programs is to forge communication between Americans and Cubans in a manner that is intimate and personal and provides a poignant exploration of the culture and humanity of the Cuban people. As such, it's not a vacation in the traditional sense, but more an educational and diplomatic endeavor. For seven days we went from one part of Cuba to another and met with painters, potters, dancers, singers, sculptors, musicians, historians, architects, naturalists, farmers, ranchers, baseball heroes, and even what is, in a way, a new breed of Cuban called an entrepreneur. There are many of those and the number is growing. It was a delightful, colorful, enlightening and exhausting experience that I am unlikely to ever forget.

Historically, Cuba was a colony of Spain that was populated with slaves the Spaniards brought from Africa to cultivate and harvest sugar cane, a new and very desirable commodity in Europe and its colonies in North America. Over centuries the British and the French grappled over the island as well, and the mixture of the indigenous peoples with these groups lent a rich and complex culture to the island that persists today. Cuba only won independence from Spain in 1898, which makes it a relatively new nation. The man credited with achieving that was a poet named Jose Marti, whose likeness and legend are everywhere in Cuba.

The present state of things came about with a revolution in 1959 led by Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara. Our guide described Cuba as "socialist," which I found to be part truth and part propaganda, but that's another debate. With the death of Fidel Castro and the ascent of his brother Raul, there have already been many changes to Cuban society that are very encouraging to the Cubans. The Cuban people, by all accounts, loved and admired Fidel and they mourned his death. They saw him as a savior of sorts who instituted many programs that bettered their lot appreciably in comparison to what they suffered under the profoundly corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista. The problem is that Fidel accomplished it by repression and subjugation, sometimes brutal in nature. Incidentally, he holds the Guinness world record for most attempts on his life, at 638. Clearly he wasn't loved by all of his people. Like with religion, living under a certain set of beliefs and circumstances for long enough can seriously warp one's sense of reality. Surely the Cuban people have such delusions. It's not unlike what was said about Benito Mussolini, that no matter what people accused him of, he made the trains in Italy run on time. There are things of which the Cuban people are very proud, among them the fact that they get free education and healthcare. For people who have very little materially, these are not small things. …

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