Cuba is an enigmatic Caribbean island
between the Caribbean Sea and the North
Atlantic Ocean, 150 km south of Key West,
Florida, and slightly smaller than
Pennsylvania. Its climate is tropical,
moderated by trade winds and has a dry
season. May to October is its
rainy season. This large island has
many natural resources such as cobalt,
nickel, iron, ore, chromium, copper, salt,
sugar, timber, silica, petroleum, lots
of arable land, and of course, the famous
seas around Cuba are spectacular and the
fauna is equally impressive with its 13
feet-long, 300 pound leaping
crocodiles, the most aggressive in the
world, and beautiful parrots which pair for
life. The hutia is a large rodent
which abounds and the Trogan is the national
bird. But to understand the nature of
the Cubans you have to go back to 1492 when
Columbus discovered the island full of
native Amerindian population of Cuba began
to decline after its development as a
Spanish colony during the next several
centuries. Large numbers of African
slaves were imported to work the coffee and
sugar plantations. Havana, its
capital, became the launching point for
treasure fleets bound for Spain, sailing
from Mexico and Peru. Spanish rule was
severe and highly exploitative, and
occasional rebellions were harshly
suppressed. It was the US intervention
during the Spanish-American War in 1898,
that finally overthrew Spanish control.
In 1902, the Treaty of Paris established
Fidel Castro led a rebel army against
Batista to victory in 1959, the
year I visited Havana. His iron rule
has held the regime together since then.
As a student, I had taken the ferry from Key
West with my school friend and stayed with
her family in Vedado. I remember the
guajiros (agricultural laborers) filter into
the streets of Havana congratulating
their Fidel for his victory. I was
having a rum and Coke, with a twist of lime,
(my favorite drink) at the bar of the Hotel
Nacional, when Castro marched in wearing
battle fatigues, flanked by El Che (Ernesto) Guevara
from Argentina, and Camilo Cienfuegos.
The women in the room rushed to them
screaming as if they were rock stars.
When they sat down to order drinks, I asked
them to autograph my cocktail napkin.
I have no idea where it is today.
Probably torn to shreds by my Cuban friends.
remember the guajiros sitting on top of
buses with loud speakers blaring Castro's
diatribe, while I was at the Tropicana night
club watching a colorful show of
scantily-clad women in feathers moving their
hips to bongo drums. Castro was on TV
for days talking non-stop as cigar-chomping
Cubans gathered around the open-air
bars watching him and applauding his
Cuba's Communist revolution with Soviet
support, was exported throughout Latin
America and Africa during the 1960 to 1980s.
Following withdrawal of the former
assistance of about six billion dollars
annually, and the US embargo, the island
suffered economic difficulties.
Illicit migration to the US shores on
homemade rafts, alien smugglers or via
the southwest border is a continuing
problem. Cuba has only one political
party: Cuban Communist Party of PCC, with
Fidel Castro Ruz, as first secretary.
Private citizens in Cuba are prohibited from
buying computers or accessing the Internet
without special authorization.
Foreigners may access the Internet in large
hotels but are subject to firewalls.
The average Cuban's standard of living
remains at a lower level than before the
depression of 1990s due to domestic
inefficiencies. The government in 2004
strengthened its control over dollars coming
into their economy from tourism, remittances
Prior to Castro's rule, the country was 85%
Roman Catholic, and had a nominal share of
Protestants and Jews, and those who
practiced Santeria, (a form of witch craft.)
In 1999 they established the death penalty
for certain drug-related crimes; yet their
territorial waters serve as transshipment
for marijuana bound for the US.
have many fun-loving, boisterous Cuban
friends in Miami, who love to dance, and who
taught me how to cook "arroz blanco con
frijoles negros y lechoncito, con
platanos maduros; y flan con crema y un
cafecito bien fuerte con mucha azucar," (white
rice with black beans and pork, fried
plantains; egg flan with cream and strong
black coffee with plenty of sugar.)
Celia Cruz, the embodiment of the Cuban
music and Latin flavor, used to shout from
the stage: "AZŚCAR!"