We're staying in the Hotel Nacional, a favorite of Mafia financier Meyer Lansky. With the support of the CIA and the money laundering services of American banks, they had turned Havana into a sewer of gambling, prostitution and drugs. Meanwhile the Cuban people were poor and illiterate.
Today, as we walked the squares of Old Havana, we saw the faded glory of monumental buildings like this Hotel, stuck in a time warp since we Americans instituted the embargo after Castro's revolution. The people of Cuba, meanwhile, are literate and healthy, yet unable to afford--or even have the chance to buy, as private enterprise is still so limited--not just new cars but even toiletries and household goods so universal and cheap for us. They've made lemonade out of lemons, repairing old Chevy's, Buicks and Fords, painting them Pepto Bismol pink, lime green and sky blue, and driving tourists around who are old enough, like us, to remember actually owning such cars.
It's odd being in a country devoid of almost everything commercial. There are no billboards advertising products, only ones that preach propaganda. One I saw compares the continuing embargo to genocide.
An overstatement, for sure, but close enough to the truth to be uncomfortable.
As our photographer-guide, Joel, told us, "Sometimes we don't have all we need, but we are happy people."
Sure, thousands of Cubans have left here, risking their lives at sea, for the freedom of speech and press and assembly that we have, and the opportunities of our free-market economy.
But it is inexcusable that we continue the embargo while we support repressive other dictators all over the world.
Surely it is time to admit the CIA was defeated by a college educated guerrilla named Fidel. As Trump supporters have become fond of saying recently, to those of us horrified by his election, can't we just get over it and allow the Cubans to prosper?