Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

April 2, 2018

Número Cinco

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 7:58 am

Final Thoughts on Cuba

 

 

The Revolutionaries are dying out. Tourism has eclipsed agriculture as a major revenue source. The life blood of Cuba – music – got a transfusion from the Rolling Stones. Even amid the recent anti-NRA backlash, Cuba was a powerful undercurrent. And the island’s birth rate and child mortality rate made me simultaneously flash back to Bolivia in 1970 and flash forward to the world I won’t live to see.

 

I. Politics –        Raul, Fidel’s brother, has said he will retire from the presidency in April. Three of the most famous (still living) stalwarts of the Revolution are going with him. They’re all over 85.

            Who will succeed him? Anti-Cuba fanatics here in the U.S. continue to label the government a “repressive dictatorship.” While everyone we spoke to in Cuba scoffed at this catch phrase, there’s no doubt that leadership since 1959 has been a one-man show. Nothing unusual about that in Latin America. A sharp Paraguayan lady named Beatriz one lamented “why is it that we Latin Americans always tolerate strong men for presidents?”

 

 

            But Cubans have not embraced the Castro family un-critically. What the Cubans told us about the brothers: they are effusive in their love and admiration of Fidel; derogatory about Raul. He has not connected emotionally with the Cuban people and has simultaneously rankled hardliners by saying that Cuba needs younger leadership and by his détente with Obama and the U.S.

            How it works:

The president is elected by a Council of State.

That Council is formed by the National Assembly.

The Assembly is composed of one member for every 20,000 Cubans, elected by local (municipal) and regional (provincial) voting.

At the municipal level, membership in the Communist Party is not required to be nominated.

“Assemble to nominate delegate (date & place)” Sign on neighborhood building

Interesting to note that Raul’s son is not eligible to become president because he did not get elected to the National assembly.

Also interestingly, Raul’s daughter, Mariela, a well-known LGBT activist, could be eligible. But she says she’s not interested. “Who do I want for the future of the country? I have no idea. In all those I look at, I see virtues and defects – including my dad.”

 

 

II. Cigars –        It was a family-owned tobacco farm. After 1959, the government took it over. The brothers got wages, usual benefits (health care, education, literacy) and can keep about ten percent of the crop for their private (although clandestine) sale. Tourists stream thru their farm and populate the surrounding agricultural zone of Viñales.

This brother hand-made cigars from broad, cured leaves. He discarded the central “vein” of each leaf. “Too much nicotine in there,” he explained. They recycle that part as an organic insecticide. Cubans exuded pride about their organic farming initiatives. We saw organic farms in several areas, including the city. But this one – the Finca Agri-ecológica– in Viñales, was large.

 

 

III.  Beaches –              On the southern coast, the sea is blue, sandy, warm. A stark contrast to the brown, foaming waves that battered the Malecón.

 

All beaches are public. Cubans and tourists shared. Tourism booming.

But the Sonic Attacks!!

We explored the exterior of the US embassy (still cleaning up post-hurricane). We experienced no symptoms. Saw no anxiety from embassy employees.

There have been reports that the Russians had used sonic attacks in the past. Required investigation. So we went to their embassy.

Symptoms experienced there were of questionable veracity. A few more Cuba Libres may help.

But more professional investigators came up with a plausible explanation. Computer scientists from Univ. Michigan found that similar high-frequency signals like those recorded in the US embassy can be elicited from security systems which use ultrasound. Signals from such motion detectors can become audible if another near-by U-S device induces interference. The inaudible 32 kHz signal then becomes an annoying high-frequency “tinny” sound of 7 kHz which matches the Cuba recording.

“Cuba is the Safest Country for Tourism.”This pronouncement by the International Tourism Fair in Spain, January 2018.

Is it safe in Cuba for the same reason it was in Paraguay during the 1970’s? A populace terrified to break the law in a Police State with torture chambers and the inclination to drop dissidents from airplanes? Where you can’t go a block without seeing police, as in Argentina, Uruguay, Northern Ireland?

Actually, the only cops I remember seeing in Cuba were directing traffic around an accident and occasionally pulling over speeders on the divided highway. Saw less police presence in Cuba than in downtown Seattle.

 

IV. Cars –        On his explorations, Steve found some of those who maintain Cuba’s iconic but aging fleet. Some had garages:

Others worked in the streets:

My vote for funkiest:

And, after a Tropical Depression sucked some of the heat and humidity from the air, our favorite convertible:

V.  Music –      We heard it everywhere. Jazz, Rumba, Son, Salsa, Rock. Felt as though music might be more important than food to Cubans.

In 2016, the Rolling Stones scheduled a concert in Havana. There were beaucracratic barriers, but as Keith Richards said, “the Rolling Stones can do things governments can’t.”

The Obama – Castro détente resulted in the first visit by a U.S. President to Cuba since the Revolution. It was scheduled on a day that conflicted with the Stones’ planned concert. So Mick and Company moved their performance date.

Keith again: “Basically, Obama was our opening act.”

Crowd estimate: a half million.

Explains the Sticky Fingers decals on many cars.

Our host, Abel, played for us the “Havana Moon” video. Then he returned to his Hollywood westerns with Spanish dubbing. “Isn’t that stuff prohibited?” we probed. “How do you get news, sports, movies from the U S on government-controlled TV?”

His smile sparkled. He pulled out a small electronic device. “El Paquete,” he introduced us to the plug-in that he (and much of Havana) gets delivered every week by street entrepreneurs.

No Iron Curtain here.

 

 

 

VI. Art –       In addition to music, art is ubiquitous in Cuba. As with all art, some of it was good. They sell it on the streets and in studios. The most fascinating venue was the Fábrica de Arte, a re-purposed factory where we had an espléndido dinner (Happy B’day to one of us), then explored the internal labyrinth. The place throbbed with some primal Latin music. Young Cubans, dressed chic, exuding cool, strolled around us, drinks in hand.

 

 

 

 

VII.  The Yummy Revolution-

                                           What we expected: rice, beans, water

                                           What we got:  lobster, wine, crème brûlée

The wave of free-enterprise enthusiasm sweeping the island spawned paladares– restaurants catering mostly to tourists. As mentioned in Número Dos, our friends had given a favorable review to one of these near our B & B. And the restaurant nestled into the Fábrica de Arte had served food as tasty as you’d mouth-dissolve in any upscale U.S. place. With prices to match.

But these were somehow – – – disappointing.  I was looking for something different. Something – – – Cuban.

On a night of warm Havana drizzle, we were led by a Bouncer-bodied maître d’  into a room of pristine white walls hung with sensuous paintings by local artists. Beneath the sultry gazes of painted girls with naked breasts and ebony-muscled musicians, we settled into a table. White cotton tablecloth, gleaming stainless cutlery, a candle.

A young waiter with slick black hair, wearing a starched white shirt and black slacks, trembled a little while striking a match to light the candle. Then, careful to approach us from the left, he handed us, one-by-one, large, professionally printed menus.

A half-dozen Appetizers; entrees of beef, chicken, seafood; even a couple of vegetarian options; a wine list. Most dishes were what you’d find in Europe or the U.S., translated into Spanish. The lone traditional dish: Ropa Vieja (more tasty sounding if not translated). “Old clothes” is shredded beef.

“Sorry, Señores,” sheepishly. “Only the pasta you can not have. Everything else.”

We had to ask.

“There is very little gas today,” his dark eyes moistened like a schoolboy awaiting discipline. “Enough to cook the seafood but not enough to boil the pasta.”

No importa,” we tried to reassure him. And ordered Chilean wine. He bowed awkwardly as if it were his first time and backed out of the room.

“Love it. Not enough gas for pasta.”

“Clearly it’s not that they can’t afford it. The paint in this place, based on prices we saw in the government store, is worth a small fortune.”

Our waiter re-appeared and cradled the bottle in his French-cuffed arms for Steve’s approval.

Then there was a struggle.

Corkscrew, foil wrap, bottle, cork, all too confounding. Our poor waiter, his lips pressed together so tightly I thought they’d bleed, flailed to maintain dignity as the process frustrated him.

“Have you ever opened wine before?” Steve disarmed his question with a laugh.

The Cuban kid imprisoned within starched cotton and a façade someone had taught him, relaxed enough to laugh in reply. Steve pulled the cork – slowly so the kid could watch – then handed the bottle back to him so he would be our waiter again.

In the gleaming dining room – mimicking the cold sterility of some upscale Miami place – the food tasted like in the States. But beneath the vibrant eyes of the paintings that watched us, attended to by a waiter who was now a friend, the experience had become, at last, Cuban.

As we rose to leave, a waitress brought us each a paper flower. White, of course, but obviouosly, thankfully, hand-made.

On an afternoon of glaring sun, enroute to the Oriente, our guide told us we’d stop at what he promised would be a “wonderful restaurant.” The road meandered thru thick green hills, where the cows and horses outnumbered cars, houses were sparse, crude and unpainted, and the roadside vegetation grew taller than our vehicle.

The restaurant was someone’s farmhouse, unpainted, chickens running free. Raw wood tables on the packed-earth in front of the house, a thatched roof above for shade. The kitchen was a wood-fired grill outdoors. The bathroom was a latrine. Family members, aged between ten and seventy, attended us wearing simple dresses, faded, threadbare.

We requested beer to quench (and to avoid potential dysentery from water). The menus were hand-written, mis-spelled and food-stained pieces of paper. There were, as I recall maybe four choices.

Those who had the lobster, served in this most primitive of settings, burst with uncontrollable praise about its flavor for days thereafter.

As I observe the enthusiastic efforts of these budding entrepreneurs, I can’t help but see the same spirit in what Cubans created during the pre-Revolution days and have reproduced since in Miami. Then I compare this behavior to that of to other Latin Americans: Paraguayans, Haitians, Bolivians. There appears to be a strong gene for Capitalism in the Cuban chromosomes.

“The future of Cuba must include some private enterprise without ever abandoning the accomplishments of the Revolution.”

                                                                        This young museum docent

 

 

VIII.  Racism –                        Fidel addressed the legacy of slavery head-on. He saw overt racism as a direct conflict with his goals. He passed policies to desegregate beaches, parks, work sites and social clubs and outlawed all forms of legal and overt discrimination, including discrimination in employment and education. Political representation by Afro-Cubans doubled. We met black-skinned physicians and other university graduates. However, toward the end of his time, Fidel admitted that full social integration was elusive:

“We discovered that marginality and racial discrimination with it are not something that one gets rid of with a law or even with ten laws, and we have not managed to eliminate them completely in 40 years.”

The poorest sections of Havana were, disappointingly, the Blackest. BTW, researching the demographics of Cuba is frustrating. The percentages are all over the place. Folks whom we would call African-American might fall into the “White” or “Mulatto” categories in Cuba.

But I never sensed the alienation and anger there from dark-skinned folks as we do daily (even if subconsciously) here in the U.S.

Center: the Orthopedic Surgeon we interviewed

 

 

IX. Sexism –        we met women who were veterinarians, physicians, entrepreneurs. Cubans were proud to point to their record on equal access. The recent election resulted in over 48% of the National Assembly being women.

 

 

X.  Z P G –        “I worry about our future,” Alex told us. He is an Ob-Gyn doc who drove us to eastern and southern parts of the island. “Our birth rate is falling dangerously close to our death rate.”

Cuba death rate:  7.29 per 1000

          birth rate:   11.02 per 1000

          Pop Growth Rate:  0.14

Birth rates generally far exceed death rates in “Developing” countries and Growth Rates exceed 1.0 . I observed one of the major factors for this phenomenon in Bolivia in 1970 where the Public Health physician in charge had been unsuccessful at getting women to accept birth control. They had multiple pregnancies with the associated serious medical complications.

However, the child death rate was 50% by age 5. Adult children care for their parents in old age (no Social Security, Medicare or pensions in Bolivia), so women were having five or six kids hoping three would survive to adulthood.

He approached this issue from a Public Health perspective. Vaccination of children resulted in lower child death rates and, soon, more little mouths to feed. At which point women knocked on the hospital door, seeking birth control.

I suspect similar mechanisms (in addition to social / religious pressures) drive birth rates in other “Developing” countries where a projected 900 million more will be born over the coming ten years. While in “Developed” countries, where pensions, social safety nets and health care are much more accessible, only an additional 56 million are projected.

Zero Population Growth, which Cuba is rapidly approaching, is primarily a characteristic of “Developed” countries like Iceland, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Japan and others.

The U.S., on the other hand, looks like this:

            Death rate – 8.38 per 1000

            Birth rate – 13.83 per 1000

            Pop Growth Rate:  0.75

Which would be Okay, I suppose, if we would feed and care for that population. But an estimated one in eight U.S. residents do not have enuf food. This in a country with a whopping 40% of food waste.

 

 

XI. More Revolutions –        Fascinating to note the roles of two Florida-based characters in the recent March For Our Lives. Emma Gonzales wore a jacket plastered with slogans when she spoke in D.C. Prominent on her right sleeve was the flag of Cuba. And Marco Rubio took to the microphones to tell the kids that he didn’t support their efforts. Is the Cuban expatriate population finally abandoning it stance of vitriolic hatred toward their ancestral island? If so, the Cuban Revolution, which has continued to be fought in the U.S. for the past 59 years (long after the shooting stopped), is coming to its conclusion just as the last Revolutionaries fade from the scene.

 

“History will absolve me.”

                                                Fidel   Oct 1953

 

 

 

XII. Punchline –          Ironically, Cuba now looks more like a “Developed” country in spite of its crippled economy (thank you, Embargo):

  • full-scope social safety net for heath care, education, food, shelter

  • literacy rate of 99.7%

  • approaching Z P G

  • burgeoning small-scale entrepreneurship available to the population

  • societally addressing Racism

  • societally addressing Sexism (48.8% of National Assembly is women)

  • gun-death rates comparable to the Netherlands and Britain

While, also ironically, the Trump-led U.S. is decaying from its previous “Developed” status:

  • deteriorating social safety nets of health care, pensions, public education

  • literacy rate of only 90.4 %

  • Capitalism that has degenerated into all-consuming Greed and the shrinking of the Middle Class

  • Racism rampant and denied (see Obama Presidency)

  • Sexism continues in many sectors including Tech and Politics (only 19.6 % of congress is women)

  • Out-of-control gun violence

  • Food waste in the face of hungry citizens

Looks to me like the 242 year-old Idea that has been the U.S. peaked in the decades between WWII and the end of Vietnam and is deteriorating into two populations: a small ruling class of the wealthy with no loyalty to the U.S. (either in paying taxes or in locating its manufacturing), and a poorly educated (and increasingly poor) populace – – –

while Cuba’s 59 year-old Idea, resilient in the face of economic bullying, shows the world a Socio-Economic model for the Future.

Advertisements

February 27, 2018

N R A vs Public Health (again)

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 11:12 am

 

                               

 

There’s a reason that NRA-purchased politicians don’t want CDC to gather data on gun-related deaths. Doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. (see prior post, below). But there IS data on this Public Health epidemic. And that data points us toward WHAT WILL WORK as Treatment for this lethal disease.

 

Yes, gun-related deaths IS a disease. And the patient is the community – i.e. US. In Public Health, the Physical Examination is DATA and Treatment is PREVENTION. I assume that you are doing what I am – talking / confronting gun-loving friends and acquaintances. Thought I’d share some talking points.

 

DATA (the Physical Exam)

 

  1. Our patient (the U.S.) has a higher gun-related death rate (10.2 per 100,000) than Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea and at least 19 European countries (they range from 4.8 to 0 per 100,000).

 

  1. Our patient has a higher number of mass shootings than those countries.

 

  1. Our patient has a higher Gun Density rate (89 guns per 100 people) than those same countries (range 46 to 1 / 100).

 

  1. Gun Laws in these countries vary, but are stricter than in the U.S. Canada, for example, has three categories of guns: Nonrestricted (e.g. hunting guns); Restricted (e.g. handguns); and Prohibited (automatic weapons).

 

  1. Within the U S, States that have stricter Gun Laws have lower rates of gun-related deaths. Examples: Hawaii, Mass, N Y, Conn all have laws on background checks, permits, difficult concealed weapon permitting, and no “stand your ground” laws. Their death rates range from 2.5 to 4.3 per 100,000. Arkansas, La, Miss, Ariz, Wy have either no laws or much more lax laws. Their rates range from 16.7 to 19.8.

 

  1. Moreover, states with higher Gun Density rates have higher gun-related death rates, mirroring the data from other countries.

 

  1. “Mental illness” is present in Canada, Australia, Japan, U K and all other countries, yet gun-related death rates are not as high as here.

 

  1. Schools are not the only sites where shootings take place. The worst mass shootings in the U.S. in the last 20 years took place in theatres, army bases, offices, churches, universities, nightclubs and outdoor music events. Moreover, 98 % of all gun deaths are NOT Mass Shootings. They are suicides, individual homicides, and accidental shootings (sometimes involving small children).

 

  1. Re Arming Teachers – Two points: Reagan was shot while surrounded by armed Secret Service guys; there WAS an armed officer on campus in Parkland, Fla. I could find no data on the efficacy of this policy.

 

  1. Re “taking away our rifles,” an AR-15 or AK-47 is NOT for sport. Here’s how a Florida physician described the injuries in Parkland:

 

                        I was looking at a CT scan of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

….Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim’s body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and they do not bleed to death before being transported to our care at a trauma center, chances are, we can save the victim. The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different; they travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. 

 

           

  1. The N R A – originally founded in 1871 to promote marksmanship and safety, it was hijacked in 1975, becoming an intolerant vehicle for bullying politicians and citizens with a black vs. white vision of its one single cause: covering for gun manufacturers as they sell more guns. It’s become a fundamentalist Taliban-style crusade.

 

                                                         guns_country

 

  1. The Second Amendment – you should really read it. It is only one sentence. Written in 1791 (no automatic weapons then) and (erroneously) interpreted by the Supreme Court in 2008. It clearly refers to “militia.”  Today, that is the military. Some have pointed out that it also refers to “the State” rather than “the Nation,” implying its purpose was to control slaves in the South.

 

 

TAKE AWAYS (the Diagnosis)

 

  1. Gun Density is a major risk factor for a high gun-related death rate.

 

  1. Easy Gun Acquisition is also a risk factor. Strict laws are associated with lower death rates.

 

  1. Being in school is not a risk factor (less than 1 % of all gun deaths). Therefore, turning schools into virtual prisons will not stop the vast majority of shooting deaths.

 

  1. Mental Illness afflicts non-shooting populations world-wide, independent of gun deaths.

 

  1. Mass shooting deaths (even high-profile ones involving White kids) constitute only 2 % of gun-related deaths in U.S.

 

  1. Automatic / military style weapons ARE a MAJOR risk factor for mass shooting deaths.

 

 

PREVENTION   (the Treatment)

 

  1. Ban all automatic, semi-automatic (military style) weapons and devices which allow a weapon to fire multiple rounds quickly.

           

  1. Any politician-proposed action short of the above should be rejected as B S. This includes minor tweaking of background checks, raising the age to purchase guns and automatic / military style weapons, token increases in Mental Health funding. These are distractions, meant to quiet the outrage, with no data to support their effectiveness.

 

  1. Treat any politician-proposed action which is not objected to by the NRA as B S.

 

  1. If our current elected representatives won’t do it, elect politicians who will.

 

  1. Push voter registration of 17 year-olds. They’ll be electing new representatives soon.

 

  1. Lobby congress to direct the CDC to gather data and report annually on this epidemic. Repeal of the Dickey amendment needed.

 

  1. Treat the N R A for what it has become – a cover for the gun manufacturing industry (interesting read here about the man and the company that built the Parkland weapon) and an organized corruption machine which purchases our elected officials who sacrifice us for gun manufacturer profits. Pressure Amazon, Apple and other companies associated with the N R A to divorce themselves from this lethal parasite in the body of our patient – the people of the U.S.A.

 

  1. After achieving the above, move on to address the 98% of gun deaths which are not high-profile mass shootings.

 

  1. Sometime in the future, bring the Second Amendment back to the Supremes for another interpretation.

 

 

As a Public Health professional, a gun owner and a former member of the N R A, I’ve had enough. Even my gun-loving, hunter – buddy has admitted that there is no sporting use for automatic weapons.

 

The kids of Parkland are trying to ignite a movement like ours in the 1960’s that pushed back against an immoral war, disenfranchisement of Blacks at the voting booth, and the treatment of women as second class citizens. We know this scene. They will be attacked for their activism, just as we were. We need to have their backs. To rescue our kids and grandkids from this epidemic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 17, 2018

Public Health and the N R A

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 6:03 am

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 10:07 am Edit This

(Re-posted from July, 2016)

 

Well, they did it again.

Thursday (July 7) some Democratic and Independent congresspeople tried to get the Dickey amendment language removed from the 2017 Health spending budget. This would have allowed the CDC to fund research on firearm injury and death, so that we could have solid facts on this Public Health epidemic.

Dickey himself has reversed his position on his own eponymous amendment of 1996 and recommends that we allow the CDC to study this Public Health issue (see previous BLOG of June 19). But NRA-influenced congresspersons killed that effort. And, as more Americans are also killed, accurate data – also known as the truth – will be withheld from us all.

 

 

The horrific killings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas this week scream from the headlines, skewing – again – our picture of gun violence. These high-profile killings, which are a symptom of something badly diseased in the body of our society, are not the only killings from guns that we suffer.

There are also incidents like Texas mom Christy Sheats gunning down her own daughters. Sheats is alleged to have written on her Facebook page: “it would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away, but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.”

This pre-Dallas (Houston area) tragedy is a stark example reinforcing the findings of the now-classic 1993 Public Health study which showed that households with firearms actually experience MORE homicides than gun-free households (see previous BLOG and original article for details).

That was the study that triggered the Dickey amendment.

Aside from the death statistics related to guns (mortality rates), there’s the issue of non-fatal serious injury (morbidity). In the absence of CDC compiled data, we still have some idea of the scope of this issue. From 2010 through 2013, an average of 76,164 people went to hospitals annually for treatment of gunshot injuries. That’s 208 seriously injured people each day, more than eight every hour.

That, folks, is an epidemic.

 

 

If killings and injuries are the SYMPTOMS of this disease in the body of our society, how is the body’s “immune system” responding? Of course, our individual bodies’ immune systems are defenseless against bullets, but society’s body has responded:

1. congressfolks who profit from lobbying by the NRA have responded by maintaining the Dickey amendment, in hopes of keeping us in the dark about this epidemic;

2. investors in gun manufacturing have responded by profiting from the value of firearm stocks. In the few hours between stock market close on Thursday and the opening bell on Friday, the Dallas shooting occurred. Friday morning, Smith and Wesson stock and Ruger stock both INCREASED by 3 to 5%.

If that’s society’s immune system at work, we need a new immune system.

Skewed impressions about gun violence – which are produced in this data void of the Dickey amendment – lead us to react with overheated emotion, anger, and finger-pointing. Almost always, in my experience, fingers point away from the true cause of the disease under these circumstances.

If we want to do something that may actually work (because it’s based on logic and reason, not emotion), we need to utilize the same problem-solving process we use in Medicine every time we see a patient:

1. Examine the patient (in Public Health, we need accurate data to do this)

2. Diagnose the disease (for P.H., it’s a community-wide disease, not just one individual)

3. Treat the disease (P.H.’s main treatment is Prevention).

But we’re not doing that. So, on the day that headlines scream “First Death from Zika in the U.S. !!!” there were (an estimated) 208 serious injuries and 82 deaths from firearms.

You know what to do.

 

References: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, CDC, New England Journal of Medicine, Daily Kos, New York Daily News.

Comments Off

January 16, 2018

Cuba, Número Uno

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 7:11 am

 

IMG_2217

 

 

 

“That Hijo de Puta Raul Castro,” blurted our dreadlocked taxi driver. “We need someone younger to lead this country.” His words of insult and passion spewed, incongruously, from a wide smile.

 

Everyone’s Friend, on the seat next to him, ventured “are you allowed to talk like that here in Cuba? We ” – he indicated this Invisible Observer in the backseat – “don’t want to go to jail with you.”

 

Taxi Man removed his hands from the wheel to adopt the position of the Cuban shrug: elbows pulled against his sides, palms outstretched, facing forward. “Como no. why not?” he laughed.

 

So, even before the Havana airport had receded in the taxi’s decades-old rear-view mirror, we were into politics.

 

Everyone’s Friend prodded him on with his chortling Spanish. Horse-drawn wooden wagons and smoke-belching motorcycles passed us on the other side of the divided highway.

 

“We’re a different generation,” Taxi Man continued. “The Revolution was already over when I was born. We need to elect new leaders – younger leaders. We want more freedom, a better economy.”

 

“Who owns this taxi?”

 

“Me. With the earnings, I can feed my family more than just what I buy with the ration card.”

 

Che-Cuba-Propaganda-Billboard-1024x546

How Capitalistic of you, I.O. thought in the back seat. A billboard filled with Che’s iconic face flowed by, flanked by tall palms and a stray horse who chewed the lush grass. But mental gymnastics attempting to link that face with Taxi entrepreneurship were interrupted by the word “Trump” from within E. F.’s effusive Spanish.

 

Taxi Man’s reaction was swift “Está loco ! Completely crazy,” he mixed his languages. “Obama, he was opening things up. Now this Loco comes in and, for us, it’s four more years of Bloqueo.”

 

He swerved his rattling taxi down city streets, avoiding small lakes that were disguising large potholes. He let us out in front of a decades-old colonial style house. Paint peeled from it, as it did from most of the neighboring buildings. Our two companions waited inside for us.

IMG_7140

 

“We are poor, Taxi Man smiled his parting words to us. His white teeth glittered against his black skin. “And you can see things are crumbling. But you will be safe in the streets. We like Americans. The Bloqueo and Trump? – this is just politics.”

 

IMG_2055

Cuba, Número Dos

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 7:10 am

 

Mildew gnawed at the houses. Wires overhead drooped, entangled each other, some dangling like amputated jungle vines. Tree roots heaved up fractured chunks of sidewalk. Residual puddles from yet another hurricane-driven ocean surge festered with algae in front yards, basements and flooded garages. The street had more potholes than a California freeway.

 

As I said, the flavor of dark and dingy.

 

IMG_2045

 

Russians, of course, had been here. They of the Block-of-Cement school of architecture. But this was Vedado – reputed to be the snazziest neighborhood in Havana. It had been a dense forest left untouched as a barrier to pirates until the late 1800’s. Then, over the first five decades of the 1900’s, Vedado had spawned houses for the wealthy and casino-brothels for U.S.- based gangsters. This house was no decaying Russian box. It was a decaying home of some long-gone wealthy Cuban, its Art Deco exterior slowly evolving into a laboratory culture plate.

 

IMG_7140

 

The Russian contribution to all this was their withdrawal from Cuba in 1991 leaving fewer resources for Public Works.

 

We’ll see if the people are as beaten down as their infrastructure.

 

Tita, beside her husband, welcomed us at the threshold with a broad smile and flashing Castillian eyes.

 

IMG_0630 (1)

 

Inside: tile floors, high ceilings, thick walls. What the well-to-do in Latin America demanded to combat the heat. Everything, though old, was clean. Furnishings were sparse.

 

Our room: two beds with sparkling clean sheets, a tiled bathroom, and the best feature – a modern air conditioner.

 

“Do you manage this house for the government?” the Invisible Observer asked Tita.

 

Her black eyes flashed. “This is my house. You are my guests. Breakfast will be ready en seguida,” she smiled.

 

Her son, Alberto, in white shoes, sox, pants, shirt and cap, headed to the kitchen.

 

He takes his role as chef seriously. Sartorially.

 

IMG_2293

 

Our travelling partners, Dr. Robot and Flyboy, joined us for fruit, pastries and coffee. They caught us up on their previous twelve hours on the Socialist Island. Tita had directed them to a restaurant a couple of blocks away which they described as “great.”

 

Turns out that, seven years prior, a policy change in Cuba allowed small to medium sized self-employment enterprises like Tita’s “casa particular,” Taxi Man’s business, and paladares such as where our friends had enjoyed a dinner “as good as any in the States.” There are several hundred such categories including hairdresser and auto mechanic.

 

IMG_7074

 

Abel, Tita’s husband, smiled as we ate, then settled into a stuffed chair to watch TV. Official news flickered, focusing on stories with very different slants from those seen in the U.S.

 

Still puzzled by Taxi Man’s dissent, I.O. asked Tita about her parents and the Revolution.

 

“I come from Camaguey,” she straightened a little with pride. “Where we speak the best lexicon in Cuba. I was born in the 1960’s – after Fidel’s conquest – but both my parents supported the Revolution. And so do I. Did you have enough to eat?”

 

Our tour guide knocked at the door. “Your car for the day,” she flourished her arm toward a pristine blue and white De Soto. If any of us were disappointed that it wasn’t a convertible, we kept it to ourselves. Perhaps we were too busy breathing. The air was so thick, that inhaling felt more like sucking. It was only nine A M but our shirts were soaked with sweat and our skin as sticky as chewed bubble gum.

 

IMG_1933

 

De Soto Man had retro-fitted air conditioning into his 1950’s engine compartment. Ah-h-h. Forget convertibles.

 

IMG_1973

 

We would learn in the coming days that several things we’d seen were not as they appeared. Many of the 1940’s and 50’s era cars no longer drank gasoline. People were subverting the T V propaganda dished out by official channels, and Alberto’s white clothing (which we would see on many others) had nothing to do with the kitchen or his role as breakfast chef.

 

But on this muggy De Soto-ed morning, we set off to discover historic Havana, music and the 200 year-old ghosts that haunt Cuba to this day. Even older ghosts awaited us in Cuba’s mountains.

 

1509660829742-cuba-cars

 

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.