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Iowa Yankee in King Castro's Court

Gaviota, The Last Cowgirl in Cuba
(the revision-version of)
The: Iowa City Yanqui in King Castro's Court by K.Stephan

I become even more schitzy than usual when I visit Cuba; Comparing the resilience and vitality of the people with the shards of their ramshackle society is interesting at times and other times a heart-breaker. This last trip wasn't different, except for one new aspect...
December 1:The first inkling that things continued to change at an amazing pace was the absence of "smoke" in the passenger compartment as we took off from the airport in Cancun. I'd been used to getting some great photos of folk's faces amidst the air-conditioning steam that shot out of vents into the cabin just as the Russian jets of Cubana Airline would leave the runway. Alas, no more excitement here; Cuba has gone"Euro" with the acquisition of French planes. The Soviet presence has about played out. One thing about the flight stayed the same: the passengers all joined in applause for the pilot when we apparently had arrived safely on the tarmac (I'd believed last trip that this for the joy of reaching Cuba...not!)
Harry and I are excited; coming up is to be the first official celebration of Christmas in more than 30 years, since the time Fidel cancelled it in favor of the sugar harvest, which is about the same time of year.
We land at the new Terminal 3 of Jose Marti Airport, which resembles 1950's Omaha (or Cheyrnobol) architecture, and yells the fact out that the government continues to neglect historic-continuity with the construction of its new "tourist-oriented" buildings. The efficiency was here though; we passed through Immigration & Customs in record time and were amused at seeing dozens of bomb-sniffing "guard dogs" wandering through the large rooms; they were Cocker Spaniels(!) "Look at the ferocious beasts! Aren't they the famed North American attack-spaniels?" (We bit our tongues a few weeks later when Fidel put German Shepards and Dobermans on most street corners, along with a huge police presence !).
Driving into town in a "tourist-taxi" (private taxis no longer are allowed near the terminal) was still like passing through a movie of post-war crumbling edifices, many buildings actually resembling bombed out ruins, except for the many high-rise hotels visible on various horizons. These are of every conceivable design, including Omaha, circa 1955, and don't blend well with the classic, and splendid original structures, which sadly don't seem to be being preserved .
A melancholy reality of this wierd planet is that the more oppressed people of the place produce the most compelling music. This nagged at me on that first trip when I was hearing the most live sounds imaginable, on the streets and in cabarets. Salsa and Son and Carnival were rampant, and, carrying around the ideals of my college youth, saw nothing of the negatives lurking around the corners. During the early 60's Cuba had captured our attention and applause while we were busy trying to figure out America,our own insane monolith. Most of us "anglos" resist growing up til the last minute, if then, and so I drug along my "appreciation" of the revolution for quite awhile that first trip, oblivious to any oppression, even though my Cuban friends were already trying to explain to me some "realities".
Remember that the primary reason for my first visiting the island was to confirm or deny what Carlos, the ex-patriot living in Honduras, had been arguing with me: "how bad is it, anyway?", (especially contrasted with the mournful vision we found in Central America).
<The first part of "Iowa Yanqui..." can be found, w/photos, at>______________________________________
*Definitions from Cuba: Mojito:Me and Earnest Hemmingway's favorite drink, rum and mint leaf.
Gaviota: First foreign(Colombian) TV series to be allowed in to Cuba. A super-soap, packed with emotional drivel, guaranteed to make women feel stranger than fiction, and each of them, from one end of the island to the other, know every detail and delight in telling a missed segment to the unfortunate one who may have been bathing or working at the moment. Of course all Cubans also know every word of the cutsy theme song and burst out huskily with it on the streets.
Jinatera:Cowgirl, much more about her later...
Even though having promised never to do it, Fidel brought tourism to the Island. He thought he had to in order to save the crumbling economy and I think he also felt that the program would be simple and without ramification.There were however... A fine name for condensed capitalism would be tourism, and one, of course, can't exist without the other. So, with very little time separating the events, the first few happy-holiday visitors were joined by hustlers, thieves, drunks, blackmarketeers and rip-off artists.
The hustlers were to be called Jinateros(Cowboys!) and appeared as "guides" and helpers on the Varadero beach, about the second day.
About the third day, women, usually being stronger and smarter than men, took over the new profession or at least made the dudes look like pikers, since they discovered their own brand of hustle, specifically "partying".Now, all Cubans had been deprived of most luxury happenings and items since the Soviets had pulled out, at least 10 years before, so they were more than ready for this new possibility: Food, drink and gadgets suddenly were available, at least to the few who could meet a tourist, and a lively beautiful girl didn't have much problem with this.
The first 5000 Jinateras recognized the possible rewards of this way of life and, consequently, never asked for money, at least never put a price on her services, which were to be happy, have fun, and share some fancy living. She usually made out much better with this arrangement since foreigners appreciate "giving" attitudes (romance, parties, drink) and the lack of pressure (no price list/bill presented "a priori")!
So things went on like this for a few years, underground capitalism midst a communist paradigm...
Well, Harry and me had arrived this year, not to experience a "first" Christmas, for there was no evidence of the holiday at all (and we agreed that it was perhaps the most pleasant aspect; that no corny music was being blared through the streets, nor advertisements or any hoopla at all), but to see a major crackdown on the people who, by now, had a "taste" of free enterprise.
Quote from a Russian general: "Ridicule is not permitted under socialism" -H. Mitgang
For the year prior to this visit the foreign feminist and politically-correct press had been having a field day, particularly focussing on the prurient (how rare!) so that the Jinetera became the center stage of the newly discovered "Island sex paradise". Of course the salting of the stories with contiguous terminology helps so tidbits like "drugs" and "crime" were added. Fidel didn't like this.
Castro feels at one with what he thinks of as the "perfect revolutionary society of Cuba", and so when the press of the world began the feeding frenzy and the finger-pointing, he took it personally, and acted. Of course, he has the complete control necessary, the dictators equipment, to unillateraly deal with such events.
Harry and I had heard of the massive arrests but we were startled by the frequency of the sight. Remember that the year before it had been days before I'd even noticed policemen on the streets of Havana. Now they were approximately 2 per each block, and were shortly to be joined by Dobermans and Shepards, the people making wide swerving detours in flowing foot-traffic so to not get too close; they didn't appear too amused by the phenomenon. We'd also heard that roughly 5000 young women were being held in Havana prisons alone. I must've witnessed a dozen or so good-looking, well-dressed girls, every day being hauled away in squad cars; the accompanying cops didn't appear displeased with this new line of work. We also witnessed a similar number of men being stopped at random, searched, questioned, and usually, taken away, somewhere...
We ourselves were stopped, probably the 2d or 3d day, resulting in our taxi driver being arrested for not having paid the (huge) license fee necessary for carrying foreigners. I was stopped 3 more times in Havana while the bicycle rick-shaw drivers wheeling me about were given the same treatment (imprisoned) Just before one of these events the driver was explaining that this special fee was about $200/month (10 times what the salary of an average doctor would be!) and therefore would equal about 200 average trips, meaning a necessity of working, steadily, 15 hours a day, 30 days a month...
The crack-down on "free" enterprise is in full swing; 10 year prison sentences are handed down for the simple possession of beef, fish, or lobster, which naturally is reserved for the tourist hotels. One day near the beach, as Harry, from his neighboring balcony, proudly held up a monster 10 lb. lobster to show what we'd be having for dinner that night, I noticed all the neighbors on the block dissapearing into their houses and shadows. Fortunately no snitches or agents were around to question him about who the seller was. Raul, the hardy fisherman next door who nearly never went fishing any more since he wasn't allowed to keep his own catch (he has to turn it in to the government, who of course passed it to their tourist hotels) ducked the fastest.
This ratiocination of events in Cuba leads me to a bizarre vision of the future: Havana stands very little chance of not becoming another Juarez or Tijuana, with their controlled and horrific professional prostitution, gambling and gangsterism (a lot like present day Russia, too) . Historically this has been the payback for cultures which deny and try to suppress the natural instincts of their peoples.
"One deceit needs many others, and so the whole house is built in the air and must soon come to the ground..."-The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Baltasar Gracian y Morales (1647)
I'm sitting on my balcony overlooking the "Fe del Valle" park on Galiano. The trees are swaying and the blackbirds are tootleing some of their myriads of sounds. The tropical "grackle" slightly resembles our midwestern variety but stuns the ear regularly with bizarre and lovely trills and clicks and even oboe riffs seem to appear at times. The billygoat-cart is slowly making its way around the fringe, with the usual ½ dozen 1 and 2 year-olds giggling and chirping their own happy-delighted music, the 2 anxious moms and and one grand-dad following at a respectful distance-so as not to embarrass their little ones with "too" much concern. The sun is getting lower and the Cubans, always walking rapidly, and sometimes covering great distances in getting to their homes because of the lack of public transport, are thinning out a bit, and a couple of drunks make their appearance, adding slightly louder voices to the regular din. Suddenly there are shouts and 2 or 3 angry words from accross the park. I can't see well enough through the dusk to tell what may be happening, but I'm thinking it probably involves the guys drinking. Exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds from the moment of the shouting, up screaches 3 squad cars...and the noise dissipates. So does the crowd. The park empties as people leave in all directions. My thoughts are "boy THAT was damned efficient- 'probably police informants out there, somewhere..."
The usually sad moment, when its time to leave and say the "goodbyes to amigos" arrives, but with a melancholy I've been unfamiliar with before. I feel an anxiety to get out of the country as soon as physically possible,before things escalate. Too late, though. Castro is about to give his 6 hour major anti-crime speech. He did it. Old fuzzy face has decided on death penalties for treason and 6 other crimes. He's decided that the Cowgirls are in fact prostitutes and deserve 30 years each. I couldn't watch any more. A day later, when I picked up my date, Yudeysys, at her office at the computer center of the Capitolio, she asks me to walk 10 steps ahead of she won't be considered a hooker. Fidel said in the speech that ANY woman seen with a foreigner was a probable Jinatera, and should be stopped...!
So the sun begins its setting amidst the new soap opera called Cuba- somewhere between phony pretend-images like Gaviota and the un-nerving fear tactic called "over-the-hill-Fidel", and I'm wondering as I walk on the tarmac toward the French jet about these high-spirited and brave Cuban people: just how long they will put up with this crap.

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