212. Cuba 1: Just imagine

mogotes valle de vinales cuba by roadsofstoneJust imagine.

Picture a beautiful country of fertile green plains and lush, forested mountains.

A country washed by warm tropical seas, blessed with the finest beaches in the world.

A nation with a proud history extending across three millennia and more. A land coveted by great empires and fought over for centuries — where the fate of our planet was decided, many times more than once.

balcony architecture parque marti cienfuegos cuba by roadsofstoneThink of a country rich in art and architecture, with nine World Heritage Sites for culture and nature.

Wander streets at the cradle of music and dance, listening to rhythms echoing all around the world.

Dream of stunning cities, beautiful towns and remote villages, set across a landscape unblighted by shanty towns or ghettoes. A land where men, women and children of all different colours live side by side, and where racism is confined to the past.

Envisage a country with excellent health care which is free and accessible to all. A society where life expectancy rates equal those in the United States, and where infant mortality rates are significantly lower.

plaza mayor trinidad cuba by roadsofstoneImagine a nation with more doctors per head of population than almost anywhere, which provides thousands of medical staff each year to humanitarian missions in developing countries across the globe.

Think of a small, poor country which has achieved the world’s highest literary rates, and where university education is free.

Envision a people and a government committed to preserving their natural environment, in a nation with one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world.

Imagine a society built on dreams of equality, set firm against corruption and crime. A fiercely independent country, founded on utopian ideals and principles written in blood. A land where the past meets the present, and the future looms uncertain. Think of a nation which has proved infinitely adaptable, whilst standing staunch and uncompromising to a fault.

palm trees tropical sky cloud varadero matanzas cuba by roadsofstoneClose your eyes beneath palm trees. Scent the warm breeze of paradise, and feel hot sun on your skin.

Open your mind for a moment, and dream far across the gates of freedom. Listen to gunshots, drowned long ago beneath the blue waves of a faraway beach.

Capture the vision of this incredible, contradictory country. Immerse yourself in its beauty and charm. Steal a taste of its fascination and flaws.

havana vieja in old havana cuba by roadsofstonePicture this country you’ve never seen, which lies just a few miles away.

Imagine Cuba.

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9 responses to “212. Cuba 1: Just imagine

  1. Sounds terrific Roads.

    Never been, though I know I’d love it there. Travellers speak of gentle decay, of gas-guzzling dinosaurs lurking in the shadows, of rum & rhumba, swarthy sweat and flashing smiles …

    Heading the other way today; Singapore-bound on the A380 Leviathan, hoping to snooze the half-day away in the belly of the Beast. Running with the Singapore Hash on Friday, a tough initiation into steamy sauna nights and dripping jungle trails washed away with chilled Tiger beer on the half-lit road.

    I’ve been keeping an eye on this parrish, most recently for any signs of transatlantic debate over the recent act of mercy/ folly bestowed upon the Lybian Rudolf Hess. OK a provocative and misguided comparison perhaps … still, I suspect McGrahi’s (sic) guilt is as opaque as that nefarious envoy of 60 years ago.

    With not a murmur I thought I might take this opportunity to light the blue touch-paper. The dirty deed (done not, as some had hoped, dirt cheap but it seems at some cost) the lead to Megrahi’s release on compasionate grounds has unearthed a bed of worms. Our radiowaves are filled with indignant Americans wailing and gnashing their teeth at the fallability of a legal system that could leave such an important decision in the hands of a man, to use their vernacular, operating way above his pay-grade.

    I fear the alternative – decline the deal and pave the way for an ultimately posthumous public enquiry and, as seems likely if half the evidence being banded about is to be believed, aquittal – would be far more damaging to the allied security/ intelligence forces. Megrahi was always a scapegoat, albeit one with a certain amount of dried blood on his woolly coat. A fallguy to detract attention from the inconvenient truth that Lockerbie and PA103 was state-sponsored terrorism. For whatever reason ‘we’ did not have the stomach for a fight with Gaddafi Duck and so the dice rolled and the die was cast, and Abdelbaset fit the bill.

    Meanwhile Gordon ‘Oliver Hardy’ Brown twiddles with his ill-fitting tie, makes plump-handed gestures towards the England cricket team and tries not to soil himself as the American searchlights scan Downing Street for signs of political leadership. Brown’s last act as an international statesman was to call the Colonel and ask if he wouldn’t mind turning it down a bit as we’d all like to go back to our summer snooze.

    Republican tooth-grinders are rearing up over Britain’s lilly-livered approach, neatly side-stepping awkward questions about US legal anomolies of recent times such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo bay. Post and kettles gentlemen, post and kettles …

  2. Clearly ‘pots’ and kettles … my corpulence has manifested itself most apparently in the digital area: Edward SausageFingers strikes again.

    Sorry for hijacking your intruiging Cuban postcard Roads; by all means shift this inflammatory gibberish to another less sunlit corner of the site …

  3. Indeed Roads. For time spent ruminating on history appears to be time wasted, certainly in the murky realm of international politics.

    What irks me is not the decision taken last week – that was rightly a matter for the legal system that incarcerated Mr Al-Megrahi. Whats scrapes at my veins is the self-righteous tub-thumping of Big-Bully America, even as she packs up her cordless hammer drills and empties her bloody waterboard vessels, railing against injustice and the flauting of law like a harridon from That Scottish Play. Nothing will bring back the lost souls of Lockerbie, a point not lost as I type, sat here next to the mighty behemoth that will, I trust, carry me over troubled, oily waters and turbulent lands into the Far East.

    As you say, fate has passed judgement on the man, though I heard a US commentator remark yesterday that evidence of his illness is questionable. Should he make a Lazarian recovery – rumour has it he will take to the dance floor with the Colonel in some kind of twisted red-rag buttock-baring ceremony aimed at the incandescent west – we can all shake our heads and tut knowingly.

    One wonders how far we are from the emergence of the real Judge Dread.
    ‘I AM the law.’

    As the often prescient comic book genre frequently reminds us, who watches the Watchmen?

  4. You cut straight to the quick, Sweder. Cuba and Libya — parallels, yes, but close similarities? No.

    ‘We call for justice, and justice tempered with mercy,’ said the Scottish First Minister.

    ‘This man should have been put to death, long ago,’ said Mr Bolton, US former Ambassador to the UN.

    A review of the evidence always left unpleasant doubt that McGrathi’s involvement was marginal, and uncertainly proven. He looked a convenient scapegoat, with an appeal still pending which would have long since been silent if Mr Bolton had his way..

    Now there are oil contracts in sight, and compassion is back in fashion.

    But it won’t change the man’s fate, since the measure of Libyan healthcare means that this problem won’t endure. The decision is made, and the die were cast here, a long time ago. Time to move on, and lift a long glass of rum to a better future. Let’s not break our souls on the rocks of the past.

  5. I’m strongly in favour of keeping the judicial system firmly separated from politics.

    In this case, the man is dying — the realities of terminal prostate cancer are present within my extended family right now, and they just can’t be faked. From a compassionate point of view, the sentence is done. McGrathi has no life left. Granting him the dignity of dying with his family is a privilege that the Lockerbie victims were not allowed, but in offering this we are serving the principles and standards on which our society is based.

    The victorious homecoming played out in Tripoli was appalling, but could have been avoided if the release had been handled better — in any case, this was a failure of diplomacy and not of the judicial system.

    To turn our back on compassion and play fast and loose with penal decisions in the name of politics is misguided and dangerous. Revenge has no place in our courts or prisons, nor on the international stage either. Those who believe in an eye for an eye have understandable reasons, but they forget that compromising our values leads us to sink even lower than those whose actions we so strongly condemn.

    I have no truck with the likes of Mr Bolton, who have brought us rendition, waterboarding and prisoner abuse in Iraq. To bring this conversation back to Cuba, where we started, it’s no small observation that many of the worst human rights abuses committed by the United States under the previous administration were carried out on the island of Cuba.

    There are many reasons to be critical of the Cuban government and how the country is run. I’ll go there. But our moral qualification to do so has been much undermined by the events in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and we have a long way to go in demonstrating our good intent to the world before the mirror of our own elevated principles can be once more wiped clean.

  6. ‘…many of the worst human rights abuses committed by the United States under the previous administration were carried out on the island of Cuba.’

    I guess that’s what sparked me off here in the first place. Hypocrites like Mr Bolton stand as a shining example of why the US (and by association the UK) can never truly seize the moral high ground – unless of course it’s at one of their nightly rallies on Fox or Sky. I applaud the bravery of the Lybian decision. I also hope with all my heart for a serious and, as much as possible, independant review of the original trial, and close examination of the tectonic fractures beneath the case for the prosecution.

    Having lost as close a friend as it’s possible to have to cancer all too recently I can also testify to the irrevocability of that particular sentence. There’s no glory in Megrahi’s release, at least not for him or his family; only suffering, pain and tears. Those that wish him ill should hang out the bunting.

    Apologies once again for the intrusion. RoS has been such a rich source of insight and debate in the past I couldn’t resist.

    I’m looking forward to more on Cuba, untainted by the jabberings of insolent plebs : )

  7. Thanks, Sweder. As it happens, Cuba has five high profile prisoners in US mainland jails (I don’t mean Guantanamo) who were arrested for spying, a claim that is denied by the Cuban government.

    An energetic campaign for their release has so far yielded no success. The Cuban version of yellow ribbon comes in the form of huge roadside and city centre billboards with the simple message Volveran — they will return.

    One day they will, and no doubt to a reception for heroes, and indeed it’s now thought-provoking now to realise that it’s exactly the uncomfortable prospect of that jubilant homecoming which may prolong the Cuban Five’s captivity.

    Meanwhile, no problem for raising Lockerbie this week. It’s been dominating the news. Over at From Scratch, the story forms the subject of this week’s Cartoon of the Week.

    The political (and worse, economic) isolation of Cuba has parallels with the long trade embargo imposed on Libya after the shooting of Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London during 1984.

    While working for a Canadian company some years ago, I travelled to Libya during a period when international flights were not allowed to enter the country (just as there are still no flights into Cuba from the US, 48 years after JFK imposed his trade embargo on Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.

    As this series progresses, I’ll explore these issues further, and in particular look at how the dream of a utopian and egalitarian sun-blessed nirvana turned into the modern reality of an economically crippled (yet beguiling and enchanting) pariah state.

  8. I was minded of your piece last evening when I had occasion to escort customers through the hallowed, white-washed halls of Raffles.

    Looking down from the ballustrade outside the Long Bar (where discarded peanut shells provide a crunchy greeting to goggle-eyed tourists and thirsty city types alike) onto the immaculate courtyard I was struck by the paradox: so like the Cuban haciendas yet worlds away from the wind-blown delapidation and inherent poverty. Sustained by indulgent opulence, served by turban-clad Indian attendees and crawling with well-heeled westerners this colonial oasis amidst a forest of sky-scraping steel and glass couldn’t be much further removed from your island.

    My soul cries out for something more than calculated cultural titillation. I’ve always preferred Kuala Lumpur to its higher-flying peninsular cousin. Malaysia wears the slightly soiled cloth of real history, lacks that shimmering vaneer of freshly-polished lacquer omnipresent in today’s Lion City. I yearn for the sordid nooks and crannies of the Jocky Pub and its nefarious clientelle, the smokey, iniquitous dens swept away by the Sultan of Brunei when he purchased and developed the Orchard Road shopping centre. A new, cleaned-up version of Bugis Street, replete with revamped tourist-friendly ladyboys and a far-too-smart flea-market reveals the touch of a super-slick, highly polished establishment. Visitors speak of their delight at strolling the well-lit, safe, clean streets with their shiny new bars and their squeaky-clean cover-bands but I’d rather have some unsettling shade to relieve the burning imperial light. This hospital-clean homogenised facade is not for me.

    Singapore reminds me of WestWorld, that brilliant, ahead-of-its-time 1970’s movie starring the incomporable Yul Brynner as the relentless robotic gunslinger. A perfect world populated by automatons where everything is laid on for your pleasure and delictation, leaving one to hope for something unsavoury lurking just beneath the gleaming surface. The only slinging ’round here occurs nightly in the Long Bar where Singapore Slings, tasty yet deadly trademark Raffles beverage, empty wallets and loosen lips long into the hot, close night.

    Sounds like I need to get on that Hemingway trail, get my butt to Cuba : )

  9. Thanks, Sweder, for your rapture on Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, more than worthy of an entire guest post on its own.

    What makes a tropical paradise? It’s a very good question. Pre-revolutionary Cuba was the island where America let its hair down in the sun and through the hot and steamy Caribbean nights.

    A den of corruption and iniquity, especially through the years of The Prohibition, Cuba thrived throughout the first half of this century — a Latin haven for those who preferred to keep their fun safely offshore.

    All that was swept clean away with the Revolution, and much more besides. Music, dance, and a love of life — the essential spirit of the country — these all survive, but the corruption, gambling and prostitution are no more.

    Does the character of the place endure? Well, the bohemian essence of Cuba which attracted and so enchanted Hemingway is still detectable, but in some ways Cuba presents a ghostly reflection of its past, much of which has not so much been sanitised as fumigated clean out of existence.

    A tropical island paradise? Maybe, or maybe not — that’s very much for you to decide as this series rolls forwards. And in the meantime, many thanks for all your thoughts.

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