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"There's a manifested explosion of capitalism here; Che is probably rolling over in his grave."
- Kirk Stephan

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An Iowa Yankee in King Castro's Court
by Kirk Stephan, in Cuba, from Iowa, USA
Mar 29, 2000

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Havana nights are quiet this year, like a huge post-game amphitheater. The days are much louder, though. The completed crackdown on "crime" has kept the drinkers, carousers, and loose women off the dark streets, but budding commerce has its effect in daylight.

Merchants and street hawkers have appeared everywhere (in contrast to only a year ago when classic Communism still prevailed) and their cries have a strange familiarity. In a year or two I think this noise will rival that of Boston or Mexico City, but so far it remains a bit subdued, almost polite. And Cubans are NOT polite, or quiet, or shy; they don't have the time and they're much too busy being passionately into something.

Even when they know you can't follow what's being said, Cubans can't slow down to the normal rhythm of International Spanish. They care much too much about what they're saying and too little about a foreigner catching the drift...

I thought maybe a revolution was brewing when I first entered Jose Marti park in Central Havana a few years back. Every day a group of 20 or 30 men gather to yell and scream and gesticulate. When I moved closer and strained to understand the rhythmic language (actually Spanish, but in disguise) I was stunned to discover they were arguing about American baseball ! And the gist of the day's question was: " who were the best players of the 40's and 50's: Ty Cobb, Ralph Kiner, Babe Ruth..."

Even in its heyday the American people were never as serious or emotional over baseball as the Cubans are. This anomaly, for me, is the only boring thing about these people (I never liked baseball !)

There's a manifested explosion of capitalism here; Che is probably rolling over in his grave. "Shopping" is the latest word to be added to the Cuban language, and threatens to succeed baseball as the most popular sport. I think every citizen in Havana who isn't actually at work somewhere is out window-shopping at least. Some still don't have money to put into it, but their interest is as avid as those who do. Stuff abounds. I keep wondering where it all comes from.

Chicken for example. Legs. Millions of them, in shops and cantinas all over the country! At first I wondered about some strange communist conspiracy to geneticize the growing process. After traveling a bit here, however, noticing there's hardly any livestock being bred in the country, I discovered the truth.

All those legs come right from Tyson chicken factories in Arkansas! Bill Clinton's buddy supplies those suckers to every Cuban and tourist belly. He does it, though, through an international conglomerate operating via Venezuela-- proving for the billionth time that laws are for the little people. (Get it? We have a total embargo of Cuba going but the big guys are still making bucks from it...)

In general I'm anti-progress and never appreciated even new models of automobiles (the coolest part of this country may be all the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's American cars everywhere on the streets). So, with only nostalgia for company, I pack up to see the 'Oriente', the eastern parts of the island, where I'd not been before.

Apartheid is alive and well here: you gots the Cubans and you gots the tourists. Fidel does not want them to mix, for all the obvious reasons; outside opinions never favor the rulers. So the new "Via Azul" bus for tourists is a bore. The video is horrible and the air-conditioning overwhelming. I was warned of the latter and my Cuban friend in Havana had lent me her sweater so I was warm enough. My French seat-mate was interesting but the video-volume didn't allow for much talk.

Street observations..

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