I came across a Times of London travel section report by Brian Schofield that represents the loathsome tourist: Cuba up in smokes:
Mojitos, cigars and tinpot socialism can be a bewitching but bewildering blend, as Brian Schofield discovers on the Cuban tobacco trail
Brian landed from his (I assume) native UK in Viñales, Cuba, and was given a tour of the local cigar factory by a gentleman named Jesús, whose written accent disappeared on the Times editorial floor.
Brian is not above describing the locals with the worst cliches, because as we know all of os leettell braun peepol are the same:
As we sip scalding creosote around a knotted kitchen table, a farmer who looks like the inspiration for Slowpoke Rodriguez (the slowest mouse in all Mexico) silently rolls a few smokes from his own collection of rum-and- honey-soaked leaves.
The farmer’s derided hospitality and strong coffee afforded Brian the opportunity to praise the two-tier economy:
Cuba wisely has two currencies: a cheap one that only the locals can use, and a pricier one for you and me, to deter Thailand-style penny-pinching travellers
Brian is blind to the fact that the travellers are from overseas, as Cubans are not allowed to leave their island-prison without the blessing of their not dead Comandante. Brian continues on his admiration
Back in town, judging by the fresh paint, cropped lawns and local army of noisily cheerful children that characterise the parish of Viñales, the off-white market is proving an efficient way of distributing the pesos of the valley’s foreign visitors to its local residents.
Going by that description one would think that Brian was visiting the Bahamas, but what he regards as an efficient off-white market is in fact a black market system of poor people trying to eke an existence — within an opressive economy where the average guy makes $20 a month (with a minimum wage of $10/month) — from rendering services illegally to tourists like him that come looking for cheap cigars, cheap booze and something else (which becomes clear at the end of the article).
Self-absorbed in his blindness, the two-tier economy isn’t there “to deter Thailand-style penny-pinching travellers” like him, but to oppress the people who can not buy things unless they have dollars, even when their owning dollars is illegal.
Brian’s admiration for the “freshly painted, wisely off-white market efficiency” doesn’t stop there:
The sum of all these shenanigans, combined with a government that’s always looked after the country folk first, is that it’s hard not to conclude, rocking on the porch of your casa with a glowing cigar in one hand and a cold lager in the other, that this is a pretty damn desirable postcode. Life here is good
Life is so good in the pretty damn desirable postcode of the island prison that
- Guillermo Fariñas is starving himself for internet access and freedom of expression
- AIDS patients are compulsorily quarrantined
- Women prostitute themselves to buy food and medicine (see link above)
- As I mentioned before, the minimum wage is $10/month
- Cubans have been living on food rationing since 1962, and even many of those items are frequently not available
Brian finds food rationing rather quaint and later in the article describes
a corner ration shop where the locals still exchange their stamp-books for cheap food, wartime-style,
as if he was describing a plot line in the film Hope and Glory.
But back to some unpleasant facts on Cuba:
- Political prisoners in Cuba are isolated in latrine-like dungeons
- The “local army of noisily cheerful children” is composed of children who belong to the state
Not my idea of “a pretty damn desirable postcode.” As for the government that “always looked after the country folk first”, I would like Brian to have a brief conversation with a Cuban woman I knew in Puerto Rico who was raped by a miliciano in her first round of compulsory service cutting cane in the country at age 12. The miliciano wasn’t bothered by the fact that she was a country girl, and he knew that she and her family had no resort against his crime.
A crime that was repeated a thousand times. Not that Brian would know or care. He’s comfortable in his belief that this is “a government that’s always looked after the country folk first”.
Blind to those facts, Brian asserts that
if you’re holidaying in Cuba and you don’t become fascinated by the realities of life, you’re not really holidaying in Cuba
Too bad Brian doesn’t know of Orwell Today, Cuba Archive, and The Real Cuba before he went holidaying in Cuba, but I doubt he’s interested. Sensitive and perceptive guy he is, after touring the tobacco factory and wondering if it’s a sweatshop (hint to Brian: it is), he asks a worker named (you guessed it!) Maria (no written accent for her, either), who of course wasn’t in a position to complain about conditions at the said sweatshop.
Brian culminated his Cuban holidaying with another local attraction,
an enjoyable morning spent with him and a charming woman who probably wasn’t his sister
The report ends with a slight realization that not all is so good in the pretty damn desirable postcode of the island prison
I suspect it’s impossible genuinely never to forget the look on someone’s face, but theirs will stick for some time — expressions toxic with the bitter, violent avarice of those who are sick and tired of being poor and jealous. This revolution may not have long to live.
But the Times gives you all the info you need to get there. After all, we’ve had bewitched Brian to point the way through the bewildering blend.
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