Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From Varadero, In the Province of Matanzas

i'm being tortured. waking up and walking across the street to the beach for a swim before breakfast, then fitting another two or three in during our busy days - pulling weeds on an urban organic farm, visiting the museum of the battle of ideas, meeting with men and women who worked for, and continue to build, the peoples' revolution. today we're off to the bay of pigs - about a 2.5 hour bus ride from where we're staying.

most of us are staying in the casa del carino - the house of loving care - in veradero. some of the men are bunking in a church about a 20 minute walk away. the house was donated by a benevolent man, to be used as accomodation for groups like ours. it's literally across the street from one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet.

i'm sharing a room with 7 other women, who seem intent on maintaining a level of air conditioned cold that is intolerable to me. i joke with them - it's colder than a witches mitt, colder than a canadian winter, i didn't travel south so i can sleep under blankets, i do enough of that at home. some of them are willing to compromise, to set the air conditioner to 28. but i wake up in the night and it's set at 25 or, like last night, at 21, and someone has bug spray on them and it's getting in my nostrils and my lungs and my cells and i grab my yoga mat and my pillow and light blanket and go sleep outside on the picnic table where the natural weather is quite comfortable. i'm fairly good friends with the picnic table, after two nights there, it's under cover so as long as it doesn't storm like the first night i'll be alright. (the first night i got control of the air conditioner and now they're on to me so as quickly as i change it, the cuban woman on the bunk near the controls adjusts it to cold and i head for the picnic table.) it's not the most comfortable place to sleep, but i wake up to an amazing sunrise, change into my swim suit, and work out my body's kinks with a morning swim in the healing waters of the tropical sea. i might also note that my tinnitis has returned .... and i think i saw some chem trails ... maybe that's what causes the annoying ringing in my ears?

an aside: tom smith is telling us about their july 26th experience. he, ellen, jim, and lucius and reps from the venceremos brigade were up at 2, left by 3 am, and went to the airport. it's about a 55 minute flight to the city where the event was held, and there were thousands and thousands of people. lucius was ushered to strand in a place at the front of the speaker's podium. there was a choir to the right, and presidente raul stood right in front of the podium where lucius was. the sun began to rise, and the heat, but they endured and listened to speeches from the ministers and accomplishments they've made in the various provinces. there were also provinces that received awards for the work they had done, and the focus of the celebration this year was on the province that made the most progress after the devastating hurricanes of last year, rebuilding and restoring things to normal. most of the parents of the cuban five, who are currently imprisoned throughout the united states, were on board their plane.

jim told us that raul's main focus was about maintaining the goals of the revolution, the need to build a supply of water through dams, and encouraging the people to do this work. he said there's been enough thinking about hurricanes as something horrible, it's necessary to think of them as part of the norm and just get prepared for it. during the three hurricanes last year, which devastated over half a million homes, only 8 lives were lost because the cubans focus on preparedness and emergency training.

after it was all over, lucius disappeared and they learned later that he had flown back in the president's plane.

the president challenged the people to work harder. he apologized for the sun rising and the way people were positioned in front of it and if he could he'd turn the world around so they wouldn't have to suffer the morning heat. he talked about putting the land back into the hands of people, concerns about maintaining self sufficiency in food production.

end of aside.

thinking about cuba, this being my second time here and i'm able to build on my foundation of knowledge (this is such a different place, a different head space), but still i have a few concerns. i've spent a few days in varadero, the number one tourist destination in cuba. it's right up there with other world class destinations in the caribbean. there are 5 star hotels. the cubans are very intelligent. they know about the evils of capitalism, how it encourages greed, and their how to deal with tourist and tourism courses include an understanding that tips are to be shared, and some given back to the revolution to maintain a health care system for all. but still, it seems clear that cubans living in tourist areas are livin a slightly higher standard of life than others who do not have acces o tourist dollars.

on the way here lisa told us that this area was owned by wealthy united statesian families, and the mafia, and the beaches were all privatized. there was nothing in the way of reasonable accomodations for the people, who were treated as slaves and kept as peasants. after the revolution, money was diverted from havana to the rural areas so they could build houses and hospitals and develop their communities, rather than moving in droves to the cities which would no doubt have become ghettoized as they're unable to accomodate all of that. this is inspiring, and one clear example of why we love the revolution.

but here's a concern -- the cubans are big consumers of animals. there doesn't seem to be much awareness of the amount of energy and resources needed to produce animals as food. their imaginations seem stifled by these traditional (and oppressive and unhealthy) eating patterns. the attitude, the belief, that animals are destined for use by humans can be seen in some of the wild cats and dogs. many of those are well tended, in much better condition than their mexican counterparts, wandering freely. but occasionally we see emaciated dogs, diseased, barely holding on. maybe it's a judgement call, but i'm quite sure that people who don't see animals as food treat animals differently. in the tourist area of varadero there's an aquarium with trained dophins. that's one concern.

here's another one. we've had very little fresh fruit provided to us and i'm convinced that they're diverting fruit and other food production to those hotels. and other resources, like water and energy for air conditioners. sure, it's true that there's no gambling in the resorts, the cubans realize that gambling was responsible for the horrific conditions that existed prior to their revolution. and it's also true that the money they earn from the tourists and, presumably, from the partnered relationships they've established with other nations in building and maintaining thei hotels, offers some pay back. there's no doubt that the distribution of wealth does reach the people, in the form of education and an amazingly high standard of health care that includes preventive and dental maintenance. plus, they're sponsoring all those young students from all over the world, turning them into doctors at no personal expense. there are doctors in honduras where previously there were none (and those, since the coup, are concerned for their lives), there are doctors all over africa and south america and in the ghettos of the united states working in public health clinics. all those tourist doctors no doubt help fund that.

but .... everything comes with a price. as the revolution evolves and changes, will the cubans remain true to their core values? do they ask themselves "what would che do?" do they consider the vast amount of energy, food, and water diversion necessary to accomodate an ever increasing number of five star tourists? yesterday representatives from the tourism industry told us there are many plans for more hotels. we saw where a wetland is being destroyed to accomodated another marina. do they realize the reprecussions of damming rivers and flooding fields? if someone speaks against unmitigated growth of the tourist industry, would their concerns be heard? if they were able to organize a group of people to protest the damming of wild rivers, would they be greeted with police and imprisonment, as we are in canada? what would happen if they were to insist that the world change to meet cuban standards, rather than cuba changing to meet the world's standards, if they were to offer smaller and simpler accomodations, ecotourism for example?

we're passing through the city of cardinas, which can boast the only statue of a bicycle in the world. there are many bicycles there. our hostess, the macrobiotic woman whose name i don't recall, is telling us that the blockade, and the fall of the soviet union, resulted in a lot of bicycle riders during the special period when there was no oil available. the people became increasingly healthy, expanded their lung capacity. then, when oil became available again, many people got back in their cars. our hostess was one of those. i told myself i'd not drive my car everywhere, she said, but i do.

so i wonder .... will the cubans be able to curb the seemingly universal human greed component that kicks in when wealth is plentiful? will they know when to say enough is enough? or will they, like so many in the rest of their world, justify their use of the natural world for the purposes of selfish human consumption?

in some ways i'm living in paradise - for one more day until we return to havana. the sun and sea and tropical rains and greenery are magnificant. in other ways i'm being tortured - unable to sleep comfortably, and tormented inside at the idea of cuba promoting human health and comfort at the expense of the environment, the earth, and all her sentient creatures. but i'm not really in a position to comment on that. it's their revolution, and they'll evolve it however they collectively decide. and they do make great efforts, it seems, to hear each other's concerns. i just hope someone's voicing them.