About 17 years ago, my crazy obsession with Cuba began, and it seems to grow stronger each year. While 1999 isn’t really that long ago, things have certainly changed. Back then, packing for a Cuba trip meant spending about $500 on four or five dozen rolls of film and some batteries. Unfortunately, that was always followed with a $1,000 bill for film processing, too.
Let’s fast forward to this week. Fidel Castro has died and the “Cuban Tractor Beam” is in full swing, and despite the fact I’ve just returned from the island, I’m off again tomorrow to see what’s going on down there. These days, packing consists of a ton of memory cards, an iPad Air and a cellphone, which works just fine for me.
But beyond photographic supplies, another change has finally begun. For decades, most Americans have been unable to visit the island. For sure, part of the reason is to cut off money to the Cuban government, but another convenient advantage of this outdated policy for the U.S. government is that they can pump the American people full of propaganda, the same kind they accuse other governments of doing.
To be sure, the reaction to Castro’s death has been, well, let’s just say “different,” depending on which side of the Florida Straits you’re on, but the fact is, a large percentage of Cubans on the island support their government, I know some of them personally. I’ve never made a big deal out of it, I don’t even talk further with them about it, as it is their right to like or dislike. It is also their choice to join or not to join the Communist Party. I know one family in particular that is split down the middle and believe it or not, they all still love each other. Who knew?
For many years, it has driven me crazy when people try to compare Cuba, a small, third-worldish country, with the mighty U.S.A. It is well beyond an “apples and oranges” kind of comparison. Instead, try comparing Cuba with Haiti. I’ve never been to Haiti, but by many accounts of Americans who have freely traveled there, it seems clear that Haitian life, too, is “just a little” different than ours. For instance, about 10 years ago, I started a small collection of articles about Haiti, including one on how they eat dirt cookies. Yes, people in Haiti, at times, eat dirt cookies. Google it. I also have a front-page article in the Miami Herald showing children climbing through garbage dumps searching for food or accidentally discarded items. We won’t even get into ‘wet foot/dry foot’ in this space … today.
With wall-to-wall coverage of Cuba this week, it is a popular belief that the thousands of Cubans lining up for hours to pay their respects to Fidel Castro at the Revolution Square are being forced to attend. All I can say is that after almost 40 trips to Cuba, I have never seen or heard evidence of this. Does that make it true? Of course, it does not. I will leave you with some immortal words, “Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”