: Elian at 16

Apr 7th, 2010, 01:17 AM
Cuba releases photos of 16-year-old Elian Gonzalez – This Just In - CNN.com Blogs (http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/04/06/cuba-releases-photos-of-16-year-old-elian-gonzalez/?hpt=T2)

Elián González: Cuban boy who caused diplomatic row is now a young man | World news | guardian.co.uk (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/06/elian-gonzalez-cuba-picture)

I wonder if he's happy with the way things turned out.

(edit) Should have stuck this in "everything else, eh". Can it be moved?

Apr 7th, 2010, 01:30 AM
I think it's safe to say he's not living the "regular Cuban life" that his mom died trying to get him away from. All in all, her sacrifice may have been worth it for the betterment of his life in this particular case but in general I don't believe Cuba is the most fantastic place to live. Having never been there, I wouldn't know though. ;)

Apr 7th, 2010, 06:41 AM
I think it's safe to say he's not living the "regular Cuban life" that his mom died trying to get him away from. All in all, her sacrifice may have been worth it for the betterment of his life in this particular case but in general I don't believe Cuba is the most fantastic place to live. Having never been there, I wouldn't know though. ;)

It all depends on your frame of reference and what's important to you. I was in Cuba in February and talked to a lot of locals. Overwhelmingly, most of them were very happy. They have nearly 100% literacy, free university, universal healthcare, virtually no crime, nearly a 100% employment rate, no homeless, and they live on a beautiful tropical island paradise. Things were a lot better there in terms their basic freedoms than what we are told over here. You can't plot to overthrow the government or anything like that, but dissenting opinions are certainly allowed.

The sticky wicket is that they also have very little private ownership of anything, very little say in their government, and the US embargo has hurt their economy drastically.

There are a lot of things that had me thinking it would be so hard to live that way, but an almost equal number of things that had me thinking that they had things much better than we do. My wife and I loved it there so much that we are already planning our return trip. The question is, would I want to live there permanantly? I could definitely see myself retiring there if I was able to get a visa to do so (easier said than done).

Apr 7th, 2010, 11:39 AM
As long-time ehMac "residents" know, and you may infer from my moniker, Cuba is my "thing". It's been the focus of my research since the early 1990s. To date, I've made 19 trips, the longest being a four-month fieldwork stay for my MA thesis. In the past four years, while doing my PhD here in Mexico, I've made annual month-long focused research visits. I have an extensive network of academic, government contacts and longstanding friendships. I also have a few Canadian and American citizens in my social circle, all long-term Havana residents (at least 20 years each) who inform my views. That's for context.

Life in Cuba is far from easy. There are many material deprivations - lack of available products (moreso in terms of variety than categorical) and certainly a lack of purchasing power among the broad population. The economy might be described as "impossible" by all measures known to those of us who have been raised in a capitalist society, but it sure is a survivor. Despite two massive disruptions in 50 years (the 1960 break with the U.S., which had been Cuba's principal (practically sole) trading partner, and in 1990/91 with the dissolution of the COMECON Soviet trading bloc), Cuba has managed to maintain economic growth, equitable distribution, a guaranteed minimum of protections (food, shelter, health & education) and in many cases, excessive services / entitlements.

Politically, Cuba's system of representative government (in which there are no political parties, but the Communist Party acts as the guiding force of the Revolution), citizens have a much stronger connection with their municipal and provincial representatives than we in Canada might. There are no dirty ad campaigns nor wild promises made "if I am elected". Individuals from every voting district (roughly one city block) are nominated by their neighbours, their CV is posted publicly alongside the other candidates, and after (much!) public meeting and discussion, election time comes, secret votes are cast by all, and the winners are chosen. Each post *must* have at least two candidates, and the winning candidate must gain at least 50%+1 of the vote. The Communist Party and its officials are forbidden by law from endorsing, supporting or promoting any candidate. It is, however, not surprising that the majority (though not all) of those elected are members of the party, since membership is reflective of those who are highly motivated toward supporting the Revolution and working to improve Cuban society.

The national elections are an interesting case, too. The election commissions take nominations from municipal and regional commissions (made up of workplace representatives, unions, party officials, other mass organizations like the Federation of Cuban Women, etc.). The nominations at this level contain people who have usually been nominated for other levels of local government, people who are recognized as contributing to Cuban society, and there is significant attention given to ensuring that the candidates are representative of race, gender, age, etc. The "full slate" can be approved as proposed (the option promoted by the government campaign) or individuals may be approved / rejected by the voter. The "full slate" is intended to give those who may not have national notoriety (again, remember no advertising / PR campaigns by candidates) a chance to participate at the national level of government.

It's a system that is *very* different from our own - but it is most certainly not the nefarious evil commies-or-nobody regime that Washington (and the National Post) likes to portray.

Now... with apologies for the very long intro... on to Elián.

His mother, who is heralded as some sort of angel in Miami, was misguided and irresponsible. Taking a young boy on a dangerous rafting expedition across the Florida Straits constitutes child abuse. She gets half the blame. The other half lies with the U.S. government, which has, since 1966, encouraged illegal and life-threatening migration across the Florida Strait through the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act (aka "Cuban Adjustment Act"). The people portrayed as "fleeing an evil communist dictatorship" were doing nothing of the sort: they are no different than the tens of thousands of people who attempt to cross the Mexico-US border every year in search of the streets paved with gold. They are economic migrants (and were recognized as such by a leaked U.S. Immigration Service internal memo in the late 1990s).

The U.S. economic embargo: Don't let anyone tell you it has no effect: the embargo, known as the blockade in Cuba, has far-reaching effects, such as a standing order to arrest the CEO and Board of Directors of Canadian Company Sherritt, a mining firm which has had investments in Cuba for over a decade). It has created severe impediments to trade between Cuba and it's regional neighbours in particular, and increased overseas shipping costs tenfold due to bans on ships landing at Cuban ports (which are thereafter banned from U.S. ports for a six-month period).

So the equation is this: Embargo creates economic hardship in Cuba (PUSH effect). People get fed up with decades of this, and want to go "where all the rich people are" (i.e., the USA) to find their dream. They hop on rafts and try to cross to Florida, where they are granted fast-track citizenship if they place foot on dry land (PULL effect). The images of the rafters (balseros) makes great six-o'clock evening news video: these poor Cubans escaping evil Fidel. Justifies the hard-stance of U.S. foreign policy vis-ŕ-vis Cuba, while the reasons for their illegal migration go unmentioned. It's taken as "common sense" that Communist Cuba is a terrible place to live, and of course these people want to be "free"!!

Elián's kidnapping and elevation to the status of child-saint in Miami was also child abuse. The psychological impact of this event was undoubtedly profound, as he was pitted against is father and homeland in the crazed miami exile community and Florida media. His return to Cuba was nothing short of miraculous...

In Cuba, the government was very protective of Elián once he returned. He was provided with 24/7 security coverage, as more than a few U.S. "reporters" (almost none officially registered as such) attempted to "discover the truth" about Elián's return to Cuban life and his "communist indoctrination". The North American media simply couldn't understand that children in Cuba could possibly enjoy a good life - that they play, go to school, have families who care from them, etc. They couldn't get past a half-century of "commie! COMMIE!!!" thoughts that have filled their head. The ethnocentric prejudice was overwhelming and disgusting.

Back to my personal experience: I have a good friend in Havana - a professional, academic, single-mom. I met her and her husband when they came to Canada and she pursued her PhD. They happily went home at the end of their stay here. They certainly have gripes with the Cuba of today, but I would say no moreso than any of us griping about the new 15% sales tax in Nova Scotia nor the imperious proroguing of Parliament by Harper.

On my most recent long-term stay in Cuba, my friend's now-ex-husband had fallen ill and was in a weeks-long recuperation. I volunteered to fill in with their son, taking him to three-nights-per-week karate practice at a public park a few blocks from their home. It was a great opportunity to see Cuban children (boys and girls) enjoying themselves in a structured recreational programme. There was no singing of the Cuban republic anthem at the beginning. There were no communist party officials giving speeches. There was no indoctrination, no posters of Fidel, nada... just the karate instructors, the kids and their parents looking on. It also gave me a chance to get to know other parents from the barrio.

Cuban children are the privileged in that society. They are guaranteed supplemental food and milk, beyond what is guaranteed to the adult population. The "libreta" or "ration book" is often misrepresented in the mainstream media as being all that Cuban families get for sustenance, a ridiculous inference. There are markets, stores, etc. in which goods are purchased, just like here. The libreta is the guaranteed minimum... the basis upon which Cuban society is sustained, but it's not some sort of alimentary straitjacket!

I'm an insatiable media-watcher, obviously with a particular inclination to Cuba coverage. I am soooooo tired of reading opinion pieces or travel articles (or worse) from people who go to Cuba for a 2-week all-inclusive vacation and come home, representing themselves as "experts" on all things Cuba. I've spent nearly two decades of my life and career studying Cuba, and there's no way I would represent myself as an "expert". Few Cubans I know would do the same. But I am informed, I have a perspective that few other non-Cubans have if they've not set foot on the island (or off the resort). I speak the language. I have close friendships. And though I lean left in my personal politics, I've yet to see a political force / party that hasn't been corrupted by the one weak link: human beings (I can't stand, for example, the ridiculous infighting between Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, Maoists, etc., when the common "enemy" - capitalism - benefits from that disjointed opposition).

Lastly... four years in Mexico now. And before that, two years working in Jamaica. Comparing those two examples with the rest of Latin America, and what I know about life in Cuba? Cuba wins, hands-down. The poverty I see here in Mexico on a daily basis is infinitely worse than any deprivations experienced by anyone in Cuba.

Apr 7th, 2010, 11:51 AM
Awesome story Mark! Thanks for sharing it!

Apr 7th, 2010, 12:09 PM
^^ A great read with my morning coffee. Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately till now, the closest I've gotten to Cuba is through some of it's fantastic music – Compay Segundo, et al. We're not the "all-inclusive" type and look forward to a lengthy visit in the years ahead. The way you've described it, is as I've imagined.

Apr 7th, 2010, 03:55 PM
CubaMark - Awesome! Thanks so much. I have a much better view of Cuba now even though I've not been there (yet). I usually hit the Dominican for Vacation but maybe this time I'll head a little more West instead to Cuba.

Apr 7th, 2010, 04:47 PM
Thanks, all - glad it was informative.

One additional promo for Cuba tourism: In Cuba, the resort areas were developed in the 1990s in joint ventures between the Cuban government and foreign companies. In 99% of the cases, the Cuban government held 51% of the deal. The contracts stipulated 15- or 20-year terms, with a guaranteed minimum profit-sharing scheme. Those who jumped in, had deep pockets and patience, made out pretty well.

So did Cuba - at the expiry of the agreements, the resort properties became / become 100% Cuban-owned. Although the government renegotiated a number of the agreements, and has since hired some of those same foreign hotel companies to continue managing the resorts, your tourism dollars spent at those resorts accrue to the Cuban government, supporting health care, education, infrastructure, etc.

This is unlike tourism in, say, Jamaica - where the resort companies rake in the dough, provide (essential, though deal-with-the-devil-ish) employment and local income and - maybe - some taxation, but for the most part those tourism dollars go into shareholder hands and/or make a very few individuals very wealthy.

Cuba's tourism model should be emulated wherever tourism is a viable economic option. Cuba was, though, in the very enviable position of having a massive resource (pristine beaches, and a "forbidden, exotic" allure) that made it very attractive to foreign investors. When the US finally lifts its ban on American citizens' travel to Cuba, Cuba's economic development will take off, with or without the general embargo. The socio-cultural effects of a flood of US tourists, though, is a topic for another day...

Apr 7th, 2010, 05:29 PM
If the whole Elian episode had taken place when it did...Bush would never have won Florida and Gore would have been the president. This crucible changed history in a very significant way.