To our friends Evelio, Tony, Marisol, to Luis  & guides and representatives from Cuba Autrement,

Cuba Passionnately

Cuba apasionadamente

Visiting Cuba is an old dream.

As in Vietnam, a dream with some apprehensions about the political regime, even if we understand that a revolution can be justified. Sharing the values of libertarian socialism, it is difficult to understand the importance that people give to the state and its heroes, in any system whatsoever. Just as it is difficult to understand the confusion that exists between socialism and communism.

The study of the different revolutions, whether in France, USSR, China, Vietnam, Iran, seems to demonstrate that if it is often necessary to put an end to despotic and unjust systems, revolutions often reproduce what they denounce.

The aristocracy has taken the place of nobility in France, gradually transforming what they like to call democracy into an oligarchy.

In the USSR, in China, in Vietnam, the class struggle gave place to a form of political stratification, the exploited class becoming the exploiting class, the members of the party or the army having privileges which the people did not have, to lead to the emergence of an economic and political elite, a middle class that do not differ much from the imperialism they denounced. In Iran the ayatollahs have established a much harsher and discriminating religious dictatorship than the feudal system of the Shah. The Revolutionary Guards practice more torture, imprisonment and execution than the Shah police.

We discovered Cuba in our parents'magazines and newspapers and in television reports on the Castro Revolution, later on East-West tensions with the installation of missiles and the threat of a new world war.

As a teenager, most of our friends wore T-shirts with the portrait of Guevara or displayed posters of Che in their room, identifying their pubescent revolt with that of the guerrilla, forgetting that he was first of all a fighter. I preferred Gandhi to him.

Later we discover Cuba through its culture: music with salsa and Compey Secundo, poetry with Jose Maria de Heredia, cinema with Strawberries and Chocolate, Habana Eva, 7 days in Havana, Farewell Cuba, Return to Ithaca .

The Opening: as in Vietnam, Cuba seems to be engaging in a policy of openness and flexibility, especially since the takeover of Raoul Castro. This seems to benefit both tourism and Cubans, despite the embargo of the Americans who still have not supported that they be deprived of their grip on the country.

The gradual opening of these countries (Vietnam and Cuba) to tourism to the point of becoming "trendy" destinations prompted us to discover them before they became branches of globalization, temples of business and marketing.

What tourism: we discover that the majority of tourists, especially North Americans (USA and Canada) go to Cuba because it is the "exotic" destination closest to their airports. Many tourists go to Cuba to go to the beach, to dive, to do some visits and to lock themselves up in clubs to sip "drinks" or treat Cubans women as consumer products.

What seems maintained by the tourist agencies: during our attempts to find local agencies, we were often criticized for not wanting to make a seaside stay, certain agencies presenting a stay in Varadero as compulsory if we then wanted to benefit from excursions.

If group tourism is very organized and does not go off the beaten track, apart from the backpackers who travel solo with local transport or by bicycle, individual à la carte tourism is not yet firmly rooted in habits.

Doing an individual tour by car with driver in Cuba is not easy. It was not obvious for the West and the Center, it was practically unthinkable for the East until we discovered an agency that does it masterfully: Cuba Autrement.

As for what to see and do, there are indeed all the vestiges of a colonial past. Cities, streets, dwellings, forts, churches that still perspire the Spanish presence allow you to discover the richness of a culture, but also to understand why at some point it became unbearable.

Apart from architectural terms that keep coming up: Gothic, neo-gothic, classical, neo-classical, most guides(except those from Cuba Autrement) repeat endlessly what happened, never mentioning why and how it happened, nor how it is going today. They tell the story of independentists like a refrain  depending on the "plazas" or "parks" that we cross.

Almost all heroesl, with the exception of José Marti, come from wealthy families, landowners, sometimes slavers, mostly Freemasons. The majority of them of Spanish origin revolt against the system and against the Spanish, claiming a Cuban identity.

Ignacio Agramonte (1841-1873), originally from the Camaguey region, in opposition to Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, whom he criticized despotism. He trained in the art of war and fought many battles against Spanish troops, which earned him the name "El Mayor". He died in an ambush in 1873 at the age of 26.

Manuel de Cespedes from Bayamo (1819-1974), like most of the others, studied and traveled to Europe before turning against the Spaniards in 1866. He freed his slaves, paradoxically enrolled him in his liberation army and led fighting against Spanish troops. First president of the free republic, he was deposed by his peers because of his personality. He died at 55 while fleeing the Spanish.

Antonio Maceo, originally from the region of Santiago de Cuba (1845-1896). The least Spanish of all: his father is a half-hearted Venzuelian and his mother an Afro-Cuban. His family lives on a large farm. Refused in schools because of its crossbreeding, it is educated by tutors. At 19 he became a freemason and became closer to the revolutionary independenceists. He also fights for the abolition of slavery.

In 1868, with his father and his brothers, he joined the "Mambis" movement. Under the tutelage of Maximo Gomez, exceptional military leader, he quickly became an active fighter and a fine strategist. He fought many battles and survived many injuries, which earned him the title of "Bronze Titan".

He went into exile, until José Marti invited him to join him to continue the fight against the Spaniards. Disembarked in Baracoa, with Maximo Gomez he goes back to Havana. He was killed at 51 by the Spanish.

José Marti, (1853-1895) The one I prefer. Coming from a modest Spanish family living in Havana. He discovered independence activism with Rafael María de Mendive. At 15 he founded the first anti-colonial newspaper "la Patria Libre". In 1859 he was arrested, tried for treason, sentenced to forced labor and exile in Spain (1871) where he took courses in letters, philosophy and law. He frequents Spanish socialist and anarchist circles. He continued his trip to France, England, Mexico, Guatemala. Marti returns to Cuba at the end of the 10 year war (1868-1878). Accused of conspiracy, he is again deported to Spain. He escapes, travels to Venezuela, to the United States where he refines his independence ideology with a socialist character. He is neither anarchist nor Marxist and unlike other "revolutionaries" refuses to import an external ideology. Supporter of the need for a class struggle, the development of agriculture, he advocated the abolition of slavery, solidarity between people and between classes, the right to education. He provides for the organization of the working class so as to bring it to the same level as other actors in society, not wishing that the exploited class become exploitative, so that the different aspects of society are respected.

In 1895, accompanied by exiled Cuban independentists Marti disembarked in Cuba to join Antonio Maceo and his army. He was killed in an ambush in 1895. Too bad, I wish he had gone through with his ideas. It might have been different!

Independent, Cuba will slide gently under the American yoke which without seeming to tend to replace the Spaniards with the blessing of Batista. This will result in the Marxist revolution that will follow.

To the shortened history is added the jewels also shortened of Cuban tourism: tobacco and cigars, rum and its derivatives, mojito, Cuba Libre, daïkiri, pina colada, casa de la Trova, dream beaches: Varadora, Caya Coco, Guardalavaca and a bunch of others.

So much so that at the end of our first trip, we asked where the Cubans are today in all of this. Because they are first of all that we wanted to meet. Spanish palaces, the 10 years war, the revolution, is good to understand but concretely today ?

The Cuban paradox:

Our first meetings with Cuba led us to become aware of the important trauma that its inhabitants faced: Spanish colonization, but also British, French. The barbarity of pirates who roamed the Caribbean. The indigenous and African slave trade. The wars of independence and finally the Castro revolution with its constraints, its periods of shortages, its economic "errors". The Soviet era followed by emptiness, when Moscow gave up. If it is obvious that the revolution brought more social justice, in particular at the level of health, education, certain infrastructures, at the economic level, independently of the American embargo, it seems that it there are still things to do.

Cuban soil is fertile, but monoculture impoverishes it. Cubans are hardworking, brave and overflowing with creativity, but opportunities are rare.

There are exceptional artists in different fields, very competent engineers in many fields, doctors who are among the best doctors in the world. Cuban industry and commerce are very dependent on the outside world, particularly in terms of raw materials. The American embargo is a scourge for this country.

Added to this are natural events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical storms that ravage everything in their path, regularly wiping out in a few hours what men and women have taken years to achieve.

As everywhere in the world, when new resources appear, the evolution of a two-speed society seems to call into question the values that were the strength of the revolution.

As in Vietnam, since the country's opening to tourism, which has become one of the most important resources, a form of "capitalist" opportunism has taken hold, creating social inequalities where the revolution was supposed to bring some justice.

Many Cubans receive aid from expatriate families which allows them to have funds and equipment to open private restaurants "paladars", guest houses "casa particulars" which bring in foreign currency. Some foreign investors create new wealth, notably through tourism.

Unlike many countries in Asia and elsewhere, tourism in Cuba is expensive. The prices of tourist services and benefits are high compared to the local standard of living and compared to what is practiced in many countries, especially in Asia and Southeast Asia.

Hence the considerable differences in income and living standards between people who work in tourism and others. Today there are Cubans who ride in Mercedes and Cubans who ride in horse-drawn carts, not to mention those who only have their feet to move. There are restaurant servers or musicians who have higher incomes than a doctor or an engineer. There are shops for the wealthy where you pay in dollars or CUC and state stores for others where you pay in pesos. Certainly wages have been increased several times lately ... Is this the case for all?

What touched us the most in Cuba is that its history and its revolution, whatever we may say, have protected it from globalization and its perverse effects. There is still a lot of authenticity in this country. McdDonald and other temples of international bullshit have not yet cracked down.

Cuba has not yet lost its soul, its culture, its particularity. Unlike all the countries that have been smoothed out by the steamroller of globalization, Cuba has something fundamentally different to offer to those who wish to discover it.

What makes us regret having missed our revolution.

There is one thing that they all have recently: a mobile phone with WiFi connection, Whatsapp and internet. Like everywhere in the world, the "smartphone" generation is more often seated than standing, busy reading or sending SMS, paying no more attention to what is happening outside their screen. Capitalism is making its revolution with mental manipulation creating addictions and stereotypes on a planetary scale.

We discover a people who looks happy, who likes to laugh, dance, share. An open, friendly, united, resourceful, hardworking, courageous, sometimes distant and yet so warm people.

It is a country where we learn to put things into perspective. It is also el pais de los abrazos. It is a country where we would like to come back and maybe live.

As for Cuban music, it is present everywhere, with more or less happiness! Apart from the Guantanamera, Hasta Siempre, and other Chan Chans who haunt tourists on every street corner and in every bar, apart from the Secundo Company, there is an exclusively female orchestra exceptional in Cuban music: Divina Banda.

  1. PuceCuba is one of the rare countries to offer medical aid (at a high price) in the fight against COVID_19. After having sent medical teams to fight against Ebola in Africa, to fight against the medical desert in many countries of South America, Cuba sends medical teams and nurses to Europe to help the teams which are at the end. 36 doctors experienced against Ebola and 15 nurses came to Italy (23/03/20). The French overseas departments and territories have just asked for the help of Cuban medical teams in the COVID_19 pandemic. Beyond the controversies surrounding the marketing of these medical teams, well done.

I hope that this will give food for thought and encourage European countries to go beyond the embargo of the fuckin' Trump and his followers.

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