La Cuba del Espiritu Cubano
Educational Program

Marea del Portillo

This was a lousy rainy day, not conducive to photography, but very conducive to standing in bus shelters waiting out the rain with other Cubans.  Despite the weather, the feeling that this program is traveling through history is palpable.  Along the way I kept recounting that we started in Bayamo one of the first cities in the country.  Then came the story of Hatuey and uprising by the Indians.  Yara was also the site of the first battle of the ten year war and connect to this, not far away, is were Cespedes freed his slaves. 

Sure it is a jump of 90 years, but now we are shadowing and crossing the infiltration route Fidel's band followed in 1956.  Dozens of monuments along the road mark the successes and setbacks of the revolutionaries -- mostly setbacks.  Our Cuban staff fortified this with additional information about the period.  

One of the more curious stories is how history repeats itself.  In 1868, in the first attack on Yara, only twelve attackers survived.  In 1956, Fidel left Mexico with 81 revolutionaries.  When they reassembled in the Sierra Maetra there were twelve (or maybe fifteen) left. Cespedes had also sought the Sierra Maetra as a refuge.  After that the similarities aren't so striking.  In the earlier conflict Cespedes died and the rebels capitulated after ten years.  In the more recent struggle Fidel would overthrow the government a little over two years later.

The ultra contradiction of the day was the hotel.  Here in the heartland of the revolution to gain sovereignty over of their country was a hotel that barred all Cubans at the gate, except for the hotel staff.  It is what is sometimes referred to as tourism apartheid.  Most of the hundred plus luxury hotel in Cuba are for foreigners only.  Even Cubans who can afford it are barred -- occasionally a few loyal workers get a pass to some one of these hotels as a perquisite for achieving a milestone.

Our Cuban staff had to leave and stay someplace else for the night.  The Cuban rationalization for these hotels is that they rake in foreign exchange.  Our weaker argument for staying there was that it is part of the diversity and complexity of Cuba, so legitimately part of the curriculum.  The rooms were large, comfortable and fully accessorized; the food was abundant, varied and excellent; and the staff was attentive, cheerful and professional. It was as if we left Cuba.  The hotel could have been in anyone of a dozen Mexican resort areas or in Florida.  Many members of the group also found the system that it represents disturbing.  And, it was no where near as engaging as the people-to-people experiences we had when we in homes in the city centers.

When questioned, none of our Cuban staff was particularly upset with the duality.  They felt they could lived comfortably enough without the hedonics luxury, and that the benefits to the island from foreign tourism outweighed a few negatives.  They tend not to directly address the issue of inequality from being forbidden to enter an establishment even if they had the money or if a foreigner was willing to pay for them.

For our part, no one in the group expressed remorse for our re-immersion back into Cuba.

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