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Ruining Cuba

April 9, 2016

Here’s an recent op-ed by Natalie Morales in Flood Magazine that’s both interesting and snarky. I found her advice about clothing amusing, for one thing. It reminds me of the post in January about "North Korea with palm trees."

Please Stop Saying You Want to Go to Cuba Before It’s Ruined

Editor’s Note: Natalie Morales’ Op-Ed was written before President Obama announced his intention to travel to Cuba and is not in any way intended to be a response to the president’s remarks.

Just last week, I was at my friend Michaela’s house dropping off a bag of stuff I’m sending to my family in Cuba. Her husband, Fred, is visiting Havana and was kind enough to be my courier. Among the things I sent with Fred were two packages of Cuban coffee. Yes, that’s right: I’m sending Cuban coffee to Cuba. It’s absurd and hilarious and I got a real kick out of telling everyone I came across that day about it. This is because Cuban coffee is too expensive for the average Cuban to buy in Cuba. […] I, on the other hand, buy it for three bucks at Target.

Coffee is just one of the things my family in the States sends to my family in Cuba. Usually, monthly, we send money, medicine or syringes for the diabetic aunt (since the hospital doesn’t have any unused disposable ones), baby clothes, adult clothes, shoes, or food (there’s a website for Americans to buy food that is sent to Cuba, but at an absurd upcharge). They cannot survive without our help. For many Cuban-American families all over the States, this is just a regular part of life, another bill to pay each month.

Here’s a terse explanation of why: a doctor, a lawyer, or another similar profession that is considered to be high-earning everywhere else in the world will make about twenty to thirty dollars per month in Cuba. Yet shampoo at the store still costs three dollars. This is because everything is supposed to be rationed out to you, but the reality is that they’re always out of most things, and your designated ration is always meager. […] That’s good ol’ Communism in practice.

Now, knowing this, picture me at any dinner party or Hollywood event or drugstore or press interview or pretty much any situation where someone who considers themselves “cultured” finds out I’m Cuban. I prepare myself for the seemingly unavoidable “Ooh, Cuuuuuba” — as if the country itself were somehow a sexy woman or delicious food — followed by the inevitable, “I have to go there before it’s ruined!” I try to be polite, because I am aware that, oftentimes, people who think they are very thoughtful are the least thoughtful. So I ask, “What do you mean by ruined?” and they always say, “You know, it’s so cool looking! It’s stuck in time! They have all the old cars and stuff… Everything’s gonna change soon!”

So depending on the situation […], I will say some version of this: "What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba? Running water? Available food? Freedom of speech? Uncontrolled media and Internet? Access to proper healthcare? You want to go to Cuba before the buildings get repaired? Before people can actually live off their wages? Or before the oppressive Communist regime is someday overthrown?" […]

If you want to go to Cuba, I want you to go. I do. But can I ask a favor? Be aware of what’s going on there. Try, if you can, to stay in people’s homes — casas particulares — instead of hotels. They’ll take much better care of you, the food will be much better, and you’ll be putting a little less money into Castro’s tourism pocket. When you go, ask the people to tell you what’s really going on… not the version they’re supposed to tell you. […] Also, for God’s sake, please don’t wear a fucking Che t-shirt.

H.T. Jeff G

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