I Heart Democracy

Cuba: Part Dos

There’s something seriously wrong here. As I sit surrounded by family’s entire belongings, in a bus station that is crowded full of sour-faced tourists and desperate Cubans, I feel a horrible sense of déjà vu at the complete hopelessness of it all. My brother’s first reaction when he stepped off the plane was that Cuba felt like one big refugee camp and I’m starting to see it too. It’s like Children of Men gone Latino.

Because everything is difficult; from trying to rent a car from a man who has no knowledge when cars are available and no booking system, to turning up at the bus station to find all the buses for the next three days are full. There is something, or to be more precise, someone, who doesn’t want Cubans to travel. Sure, we can take an organised tour – we took one to Valle Vinales, and it was a pleasant enough experience, if you consider a Tour of the Gift Shops a satisfactory past-time (as the Canadians on our coach did after slugging back hundreds of free rum tasters before 10 am). But it wasn’t real. No tour organised as a tourist experience will, ever, be real. As our tour guide told us in hushed tones (‘if someone speaks too loudly here, you won’t see them again ‘), Cubans can’t really get around. Without the comfort of that overly air conditioned coach full of drunk Canadians, it’s a real struggle to get anything done here.

The problems we’ve faced haven’t just been the systems, but the people themselves. The Cubans we have been exposed to, from the Hotel staff to the local taxi drivers and shop owners, have never heard of the service industry. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a single person smile, or laugh, or crack a joke, since I’ve been here. Under the pressure of the highly regimented, militaristic Government, it seems like the people have broken. Everyone is surly, unhelpful, lazy… Imagine a Cuban version of Jack Dee in greater numbers. I mean, why should people be helpful, really? They’ve got fuck all here, the widest selection of anything is rum and cigarettes, flavour and variety in food are like a four-letter words, there’s such limited access to the internet that porn’s off the cards and Facebook is practically banned. I mean, Christ, you’d be so pissed off at the constraint of it all that you’d probably wouldn’t want to help the annoying smiling tourist, poking an expensive Canon camera into your poverty, guide-book in one hand, liberation in the other and the knowledge that they, unlike you, can get the hell of here. Because they can’t leave. With international travel almost impossible, this, really is, a life sentence. And it’s something that I can’t get my head around, everytime I think about all the things they don’t have access to, all the things they can’t do, a voice in my head quietly reminds me that they’ll never escape this: this is a goldfish-bowl of a pre-1984 world and there is no end in sight.

So what’s the solution? Well, as my mother just whispered to me ‘corruption breeds corruption’: we’ve just snuck onto a bus, thrown our luggage into the hold, crouched down by the loos at the back with our heads bowed and our pride swallowed and we’re attempting to sneak our way to Trinidad.

While my family and I were storing our valuables in our undergarments like Elizabethans fearing the Highway robbers, for the briefest of flashes, the thought crosses my mind that the Cuban government have been seeking council in too many smutty teenage films. I couldn’t help but think of the ending of Cruel Intentions:

Cecile: ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’

Sebastian: ‘Who says you can’t beat them?’

In a country that seems to have been so beaten down by the system, I wonder, just for a second, whether the Cuban government have learnt how to govern from Sarah Michelle-Geller and her friends.

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