Huffington Post: The Russians, Back in Cuba With Their MasterCards
The plane touches down in the middle of a Havana night and tourists pass through the international airport terminal where dozens of Cubans offer them taxis, rooms for rent, rum or mulatas. A young man approaches a short, dumpy visitor and, squatting close to his ear, asks, “Mister, you like cigars?” but the answer comes with a strong and well-known accent that tells the daring vendor the origin of the traveler. These are the new Russians who come not for business but for pleasure, who have stopped calling each other “comrade” and who now carry their Visas or MasterCards. In short, they seem less and less like those who for decades sustained our social experiment.
It has been over fifty years since the Cuban government resumed diplomatic relations with what was then called the Soviet Union. Those who lived through that time have told me it wasn’t easy to overcome the accumulated prejudices against the inhabitants of the first socialist territory in the world, those who were seen by many of my compatriots as part of an advanced colonization. Life demonstrated that the alarmists were not entirely wrong.
In the great naivete of our collective childhood there were no differences between Ukrainians, Turks or Lithuanians, as we believed them all a single extension ruled from the Kremlin. On the other hand, the cultural abyss between the homeland of Lenin and our fun-loving Caribbean island made one scholar admit that “Cuban and Russian hearts beat on completely different frequencies.” However, geopolitics tried to match us up, without much success. Unlike other European countries, where Communism rolled in with the tanks commanded by Stalin, in our case it came with a subsidy, with boats full of oil that called at the ports of this Island every month.
“The Russians are coming!” cried some, frightened, while others responded, “Welcome to the Soviets!” Choosing between one word or the other was, for a long time, more than a linguistic dilemma, it was the taking of an ideological position. When Cubans of my generation started to be aware of the world, in the early eighties, no one was tearing their hair out to choose between these two words that history had forced to be synonymous.
So we watched Russian films and rode in Soviet Ladas. The downtown restaurant Moscow disappeared in a mysterious and voracious fire, and to the west of the city they raised a hideous building that would serve as the headquarters of the USSR embassy, which we jokingly christened the “control tower” both for it architectural profile as well as its political evocations. Those were the gray times, when we kids lived trapped between the teary Eastern European cartoons and the interminable discourse of the then robust Maximum Leader…….Read More
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