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1998
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THE BULLETIN
   

Thank God for the Mojito ...

MATT WELCH IN HAVANA... The Mojito is now my drink, and I will my amend my lifestyle to accommodate it. The weather is agreeable, even the sudden rainstorms and wind. Warm and pleasant, just now getting some sun on my face. There are a good many people here who are interesting and show some vitality, not least of which is this guy who's letting me use his machine. Or Pepe, the 62-year-old retired architect and professor who's helping me track down Dihigo data for the pure appreciation of information (that's the rarest commodity on this island, rarer than eggs, or cheese, or toilet paper).

The cast of foreign characters is kinkier than Eastern Europe, though many of them are boring Marxists, or straight-up German pedophiles. There are thousands of interesting and beautiful buildings to look at, but they are in such atrocious condition that viewing them gives you tangible pain.

And this, finally, is the complaint of living here. This whole deal is a terrible, terrible shame, a waste of effort and once-good works from who knows when. Nobody works, everyone sits around all day, and the buildings slowly rot. I haven't described Centro Habana, and it's best not to. People live in unspeakable conditions and fetid decay, no clean water (if any water) anywhere, tiny rooms, narrow slivers of stenchy hallways with rats and cockroaches where there are 10 conversations at once and nothing approaching basic sanitation. Ninety percent of the buildings in Centro Habana, I am sure, would be condemned in any second- or first-world country. I can't imagine what horror ensues when the place heats up in the summer. Good Christ.

The shops are punishingly depressing, 25 cans of the same brand of condensed milk, and maybe a used toothbrush. And in these neighborhoods, you find delicious art nouveau confections, Miami-esque Art Deco buildings, cool-Ra anti-imperialist murals, whatever, all crumbling or collapsed. It would almost be better if the whole center of town was simply made of cardboard boxes, so you wouldn't be reminded that there was a time when at least 500,000 people in this country lived well.

Sorry for the shrillness; living here also throws you unwittingly into non-stop polemic, imagined debates with the Estella Bravos of the world about the finer qualities of planned economies, socialism, embargoes, whatever. It's not as if I had any doubt before I came, but Dear God will I not ever be able to fathom how one single sniveling San Francisco type can complain about America's imminent "police state" in one breath, then extol the virtues of the Cuban heroes in the next. Those people need a good clipping of the genitals.

I should stop here, and write more later. Please don't send back anything frequent; I don't want to harass this poor guy. Maybe a nice long letter/clippings/bulletins/non-political news about Cuba would be fine. E-mail here is dispensed by two companies, both of them state-owned, the second funneled through the first. They have 160 Internet subscribers (at $260 a month, "the most expensive in the world," said the poor schlup who works there -- this doesn't include hookup fee of $150), and their network is totally jammed. So they haven't accepted new applicants since December, and don't plan to for at least an other two months.

So we have this guy, and another French friend who can let us use his once in a while. The nut of our problem is two-fold: Do we want to live in this country, and pay exorbitant sums totally unequal to service, paid to people whose policy goals we don't share? And, if so, can we afford to wade through the tangle of processes required to accredit our news organizations (6 months, potentially) and ourselves (month to month, 60 bucks a pop)?

We might not have a choice in this matter, or we might. Some days you're thrilled with all you can discover and write about and sell, and some days you are a malinformed little cash machine dispensing dollars to deeply corrupt imbeciles.

A couple days ago, our economist landlord asked my wife how we liked Cuba. "With you, it was great," Emmanuelle said. "But with the authorities it wasn't so good."

Immediately the near-comatose communist grandmother leaped out of her rocking chair, screaming, "Of course you had a great time in Cuba! You had a great time with the authorities! Cuba is a great country!"


Write to welch@tabloid.net.






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in about America's imminent "police state" in one breath, then extol the virtues of the Cuban heroes in the next. Those people need a good clipping of the genitals.

I should stop here, and write more later. Please don't send back anything frequent; I don't want to harass this poor guy. Maybe a nice long letter/clippings/bulletins/non-political news about Cuba would be fine. E-mail here is dispensed by two companies, both of them state-owned, the second funneled through the first. They have 160 Internet subscribers (at $260 a month, "the most expensive in the world," said the poor schlup who works there -- this doesn't include hookup fee of $150), and their network is totally jammed. So they haven't accepted new applicants since December, and don't plan to for at least an other two months.

So we have this guy, and another French friend who can let us use his once in a while. The nut of our problem is two-fold: Do we want to live in this country, and pay exorbitant sums totally unequal to service, paid to people whose policy goals we don't share? And, if so, can we afford to wade through the tangle of processes required to accredit our news organizations (6 months, potentially) and ourselves (month to month, 60 bucks a pop)?

We might not have a choice in this matter, or we might. Some days you're thrilled with all you can discover and write about and sell, and some days you are a malinformed little cash machine dispensing dollars to deeply corrupt imbeciles.

A couple days ago, our economist landlord asked my wife how we liked Cuba. "With you, it was great," Emmanuelle said. "But with the authorities it wasn't so good."

Immediately the near-comatose communist grandmother leaped out of her rocking chair, screaming, "Of course you had a great time in Cuba! You had a great time with the authorities! Cuba is a great country!"


Write to welch@tabloid.net.






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