For free speech, that was pretty damn expensive

1 Sep

 

Conner Gorry, author of one of my favorite blogs hereishavana.wordpress.com, and essentially who I want to be when I grow up, describes most people’s reactions and opinions regarding Cuba as “polarized” and “bombastic.” Maybe because I live in the South and people are too polite to say what they really think, I haven’t experienced any strong reactions when I tell people I’ve spent time in Cuba. However, a Nigerian cab driver who delivered me from the Tampa airport to my friend’s house to pick up my car after I returned from Cuba had a very strong (and ill-informed) opinion about the island that he repeatedly referred to as  “rogue nation.”

Let’s back up. It’s 12 p.m. and I just walked through the automatic sliding glass doors to the “Ground Transportation” area of the airport, wheeling my clunky gray Swiss Gear suitcase behind me, already exhausted from being up since 5 a.m. and going through customs in Cuba and the U.S. and preemptively exhausted from the seven hour drive to Charleston that looms in front of me. I hop into the first available cab, a nondescript grey sedan, give the driver the address, and watch him punch it into his cell phone while maneuvering out of the airport, thinking that dying at the hands of a cab driver in the Tampa Bay area would be an unexciting end to what has been a very eventful last few months.

When he gets going, he asks me where I came from, and I told him Cuba. He said that he’s never been, but would like to go and reached over to the front passenger seat and grabbed a massive book and held it up for me to see—Fidel Castro’s autobiography.

“I’m reading this. This man is nuts,” the driver declared, “He’s unstable. He’s taken the country hostage. You can’t do that. People are suffering there!”

I was completely taken aback. It’s not like Cuba is one giant leper colony.

“Umm…I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily suffering, I mean, I’ve spent four months there…”

Despite having never set foot in the country, this man, apparently, was very well-informed about the quality of life in Cuba.

“Oh no, they’re suffering. You’ve just been brainwashed by the Communists.”

Excuse me?

I realize that the majority of the time that I have spent has been in Havana, the capital city, where the standard and quality of life is probably significantly higher than the rest of the country. I know that the country isn’t industrialized or very wealthy—the average Cuban’s salary is approximately equivalent to $20 a month—but the people I saw weren’t out in the streets dying of infectious diseases without access to clean water.

“No I haven’t,” I said, “I’ve just seen what I’ve seen.”

“You have a boyfriend there don’t you?”

Guilty.

“What does he do?

“He’s a student.”

“His parents must be wealthy then, and work for the government so he can afford to go to school.”

“Well actually, education is free there. He doesn’t have to pay to go to school.”

This assertion of a true, easily provable fact apparently was just me spitting socialist propaganda.

“You’ve been brainwashed. It’s a rogue nation,” he insisted again.

“Ok, what do you mean by ‘rogue nation’?” I asked, wondering how he defined one and where exactly he got his information from (seeing as how he had earlier informed me that he was a ‘scholar’ and did a lot of self-studying).

“Fidel Castro has taken the country hostage. We live in an evolved world and capitalism is the only way. He needs to renounce communism so the U.S. will trade with them and free his people.”

Interesting thoughts friend.

“Yeah, but what about China?” I asked, “They’re communist.”

He dodged the question.

“One person cannot rule a country for so long. It’s just not right! Fidel Castro is not qualified. He is a fighter, he doesn’t know anything about leading a country.”

Fidel Castro went to law school and became a lawyer, a path that, unless I’m quite mistaken, many U.S. presidents have also taken, including the one in office right now.

I was spared from sharing that tidbit with him as we arrived at my friend’s house, an hour after leaving the airport.

“You know, I like the way you think,” the driver told me, “You’re questioning things, experiencing things. That’s very good.”

A little bit surprised and slightly mentally exhausted from his constant attacks, I thanked him and looked at the meter to see how much I owed. $58. Damn. He was exercising his right to free speech, but I certainly had to pay for it.

 

*Note: Higher education is free in Cuba, but students do have to “pay” for it in a sense, with a year of military service (for guys) and two years of “social service” after graduation (essentially two years of internships). Regardless, students aren’t plunged into a decade of debt just to get a degree, which is kind of neat.

*Also note: I’ve still got a LOT to learn about Cuba, and, dear readers, I hope to impart that knowledge as I learn it. I recognize there are successes and failures of the Revolution, and, like all systems, nothing is perfect. This is merely a space for me to share what I’ve seen and learned, and I hope that it motivates you to try and experience Cuba for yourself and form your own opinions.

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4 Responses to “For free speech, that was pretty damn expensive”

  1. Adam September 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    You’ve been brainwashed by the communists.

    • gschrubbe September 4, 2012 at 8:14 am #

      Maybe not brainwashed. Just brain sponge-bathed.

  2. zucchero81 September 4, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    Great post! Having been to Cuba as well, it’s visibly apparent that the kind of stark poverty you see in ultra-capitalist countries like the US is not present in the former. It’s true, though, that the revolution has made many mistakes and needs to fix them. Many Americans will readily give you their opinion about Cuba, with the typical statement “you’ve been brainwashed by the communists,” ironically not realizing that that statement itself is a product of brainwashing and propaganda on the part of the US government and media. I’m sure you experienced the endless propaganda on the part of the Castro government against the West too. Of course this is part and parcel of the unwillingness of either party to listen to the other.

    If all US citizens could travel there legally and be allowed to freely exchange ideas with Cubans, the propaganda on both sides of the Florida straits would be shattered. But until the US ends the blockade, relations between the two countries will never heal.

    • gschrubbe September 4, 2012 at 8:17 am #

      Thank you! It is truly amazing to me the misinformation (or really no information at all!) that the average U.S. citizen has regarding Cuba (but to be fair, the average U.S. citizen doesn’t usually know a whole lot about any of Latin America).
      I agree wholeheartedly with all of the points you made- I guess only time will tell if the embargo will ever be lifted.

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