So What Do The People Of Cuba Think Of Obama?

Posted May 21st, 2009 21:43 by Elisabeth

You may very well ask. So I did.
Responses ranged from “He seems a good bloke, the future looks more hopeful now” to “The future looks more hopeful now, he seems a good bloke”. I am, in the interests of political science, obliged to report what I get and it really was that unvaried. I phoned friends in Havana in case this was a rural aberration and got the same answer. The people of Cuba seem to be agreed on the following: Mr Obama Seems A Decent Bloke And The Future Looks Better With Him In Charge.
‘Better’, of course, is a relative term. Better than the last three US Presidents? The illiterate homicidal maniac Bush, whose family fortune came from his grandpa’s banking service for Hitler and his pals and enabled daddy to buy the presidency? Poor old President Gore, the only US President ever to have won an election and lost it in a coup d’etat? Or Clinton, chiefly remembered for his loose zip?
Usually the US President is not a popular guy around here. Cubans do not want Yanqui imperialism any more than they ever did, though in big towns you can see them developing a taste for the sort of consumer goods that US investment would bring. That’s been their way into other countries that fought them at great cost (e.g. Vietnam) and then found US business worming its way into their economy. The Cuban people are aware of the risks of doing biness with them, but they’d also quite like the latest mobile.

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So why is Obama acceptable? I modified my question and asked what Cubans like about him. What impresses Cubans about Obama is his actions. A politician who acts, rather than just talks about acting, is an amazing creature.
He closed Guantanamo. Cubans feel very strongly about this. It’s bad enough that the US has a naval base on Cuban soil but torturing and abusing prisoners there is just too much to bear.

  • He is taking troops out of Iraq. Probably a higher percentage of Cubans than Americans can actually find Iraq on a map and we care what happens there.
  • He sent a delegation from congress to meet with Castro. Cubans love visitors. The visit was enormously positive for both sides with the congresspeople returning to Washington to report that both sides were ready to talk.

And what do Cubans hope for from Obama? Top of the agenda are resumption of diplomatic and economic relations and the release of the Miami Five, held in US jails after an unfair trial for spying on a group suspected of planning terrorist attacks on Cuba.
Everybody loves him now, although there is some consternation in Cuba of the constant references to the first ‘black president’. We don’t think he’s very black at all.

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Posted January 14th, 2009 23:41 by Elisabeth

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Things are still messed up by the hurricanes which have made a mess of the food supply. Ike, particularly, blew down huge numbers of banana trees, as well as our house. Other stuff, like boniato, salad and the like has been planted and will be providing food again soon, but he platano is a big tree which has to grow again, fruit and mature. It’ll b

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e about a year before we have a reliable supply again.

All this is particularly tough if you keep pigs because the big ‘platano burro’ or ‘tambura’ were always a good standby for them and us if leftovers were scarce.

To add to our problems, we have a clampdown on people selling things. Any things. No-one wants to sell you pigmeal (OK, it’s often stolen from their work) or even palmice (little buts which are the fruit of the Arroyo Palm) in case they get caught which they might well do if anyone sees you leaving with a big sack of something. It is undoubtedly a good idea to stop the selling of stolen goods and no-one likes the profiteers who buy cheap crap in dollars and then sell in pesos for a ridiculous profit. However, to me, banning sales of food, pigfood and building materials when we need these things so desperately is a step too far.

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The Story of The Car

Posted January 12th, 2009 23:38 by Elisabeth

Cuba is a strange country if you’re used to everything-for-sale capitalist economics. Beef, for example, can be sold only by the state. It is forbidden to kill your own cow to sell the meat and penalties for doing so are high. Buying potatoes privately means surreptitiously giving the seller your money and a carrier bag and waiting while he or she goes to where the sack is hidden. You wait outside and, when you’ve got your spuds, depart quickly and discreetly. It is easier in many countries to buy cocaine than it is to buy potatoes in Cuba and the procedure is similar.

Likewise cars. Anyone can buy an old heap but better quality cars are sold only to businesses and foreign residents. For this reason, which I will always regret, I got involved in a very tedious business.

An idiot of the Husband’s acquaintance wanted one of these posh cars. He offered a substantial amount of money to anyone who’d sign the papers in the name of a foreign resident. I was very hungry. I agreed, on the basis that it was legal- I was buying something which I was entitled to buy.

The papers signed, we went home. Pigs came and went, things were fine. Eventually I traveled to Matanzas to open and close a bank account to give the impression that I had money. During this journey, The Idiot managed to lose my luggage and I swore I’d have no more to do with the wholehing. It all went quiet. Pigs came and went, daughter visited from England.

At the start of 2008 all my pigs died from pneumonia. This left me both upset and broke and so, when The Idiot got in touch again to say that he’d managed to bribe some officials into selling him the car, we had to go along or go hungry.

I don’t believe that honest people get rich in Cuba- working a real job is low paid. The government compensates for this by making all necessities either free or cheap, but no-one’s salary allows for luxuries. Bribes are often offered, and often accepted.

Anyway, eventually, after weeks of hellish conditions in my sister-in-law’s awful house, The Idiot found a car he liked, paid me some money for my part and I went home.

Hurricane Ike came and went, taking our roof with it. I got my own house, lovely new pigs and then The Idiot appeared on the scene again. He wanted the car registered to his address to ease the suspicion of the local immigration authorities. He wanted the Husband and I to divorce and for me to pass the ownership to the Husband. This worried me because although it’s legal, it looks suspicious. I wasn’t keen to divorce, but The Idiot threatened to go to the authorities and have me removed from the country if I didn’t. Once again I signed papers I didn’t really want to.

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All this shows is that, no matter how hard you try to make a fair society, the rich and vain will stop at nothing to get what they want. If all this is ever investigated by the Cuban Transport Ministry, they’re really going to wonder what use the Husband, heavy drinker and non-driver extraordinaire, has for a car…

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Welcome to Cuban Sow

Posted August 18th, 2008 20:00 by Emily

Conversations With a Cuban Sow is the forthcoming book by Elisabeth Bird, an English national living and working with her disfunctional in-laws in Cuba.

 This is Elisabeth’s blog, compiled from letters sent to her daugher Emily over seven years and gives a fascinating insight into the daily toils and troubles, highs and lows of life in Cuba, both political and personal.