Friday, March 12, 2010

Mar. 8- Todo Incluido: “It’s Time to Change”

The tourist resorts in Cuba are a weird circus mirror reflection of socialism on the island. You arrive at one of these 1980s modernist Soviet-style cement-block complexes and receive your “todo incluido” bracelet that provides you with unlimited access to the bar and an excessive buffet with all the food that one could possibly eat. The rum is cheap, the drinks all taste like alcoholic Tang, and the food lacks subtlety, but the mountains of food in a land of scarcity is quite shocking. While I can imagine tourists complaining about the low quality of the food, they are missing the point.

What is not included in the “todo incluido” package is any contact with the real life scarcity that almost every Cuban has to confront on a daily basis. The lack of money, rice, eggs, cheese, toilet paper is all carefully cropped out of the frame that the tourist sees. This is of course no different in Mexico, Jamaica, Los Angeles or any other neocolonial economy where the tourist is kept at a safe distance from reality. It reminded me of the conversation I overheard on the airplane to Cancun where two guys talked about how they were afraid to leave their Sandals resort in Jamaica for fear of being mugged. What is different in Cuba is that it is supposed to be different here.

The problem with Cuban socialism is not the tourist resorts, but that only the tourists have access to the plenty that should be distributed to everyone. Inside the tourist resort I saw a cook throw away an egg she was frying because it didn’t form a perfect round shape. Outside, it is hard to even find eggs. Inside fat tourists pile their plates high with several different kinds of meat, cheese and fish. Outside, Cubans eat gooey peso pizza and sandwiches with a thin slice of mystery meat on it. Inside, there is access to the Internet and CNN. Outside, well, you get the idea.

As we travelled across the island through Camaguey, Santiago and Santa Clara, there was not even a whisper about the “dissident” who had died during a hunger strike a few days earlier, or the others who were arrested while trying to attend his funeral. For days there was no official mention of the death, but eventually the state media had to respond, and they did so by blaming the death on the “imperialists” the “mercenaries” and the foreign press. The few Cubans I talked to who knew anything about the hunger strike death echoed the state media explanation. Most Cubans, however, were too busy dealing with their everyday problems to notice. It was strange to read the international press on the few occasions I could and see how distant its concerns were to the vast majority of people on the island. The press both inside and outside of the island seemed to be describing a fantasy Caribbean island that only existed in their minds.

Another “dissident” in Santa Clara has vowed to continue his hunger strike until his death unless twenty-six political prisoners are released from jail. I didn’t know about this until I was back in Havana and was able to get access to the Internet. But while I walked through an alley behind the main square in Santa Clara I saw a graffiti that repeated the words that the Juanes sang when he performed at the Peace concert in Havana in the fall. It read: “It’s time to change.” Maybe Cubans should get bracelets too, allowing them unlimited access to food, drinks, and nice beaches. Until then “todo incluido” is a tourist fantasy sucking precious resources and mocking a

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