Cubans Seen by Foreigners

Regina Cano

Photo: Caridad

“When Cubans try to get close to a foreigner, it’s not to make friends. It’s always with the intention of getting something in return.” These were more or less the words of a Latin American who lived in Cuba for several years. She was speaking with someone from the US.

I can assure you that I found this very painful to hear, because while this might be the general opinion about us, it’s unfair. It doesn’t reflect the feelings of everyone here.

It seemed to me that this person wasn’t being completely honest with herself, or that the depth of her analysis was shallower than I had hoped. I’m sorry that this person’s experience hasn’t been happy here on this island.

I must admit that, unfortunately, the occurrences in the past several years led to a behavior of “everyone for themself” among some Cubans, and the consequences of this can still be seen.

It’s true that economic instability began to arise starting in the 90’s, which made us appear to the world as people in need, which in turn made us look at the approach of a foreigner like a lifeline.

However, many Cubans also suffer manipulation by visitors, those who find a country with a black-market economy offering low prices – compared to the official prices. This allows them a bargain holiday with everything at arm’s reach: inexpensive food (including lobster and shrimp), cigars, rum, and women.

Here, they found cheap prostitutes (very cheap ones), especially when their ranks swelled after a wave of mange arose from the lack of food and the shortage of hygienic supplies. Thanks to this, we’ve had situations where prostitutes have been drugged so they could be abused. They’ve filmed them having group sex, with animals and who knows what else, possibly viewed over the Internet or in videos for sell, people say. These are prostitutes by necessity, without rights or protection.

Novelists, actors, screenplay writers and musicians have seen their art stolen when seeking to market their work. Others have been able to migrate based on contracts that turned out to be pure fraud, though others fared better.

I’m not here defending those people for whom the technology of the First World, or whatever world, make them want to sell their soul to leave the country. What I’m saying is that there are those here who don’t want to swap their lives for any of that, just as there are those who left the country through good friends or who got married for the best reasons.

I don’t deny or try to justify those Cubans who mimic the behavior of visitors, or those who snatch a purse or a camera out of the hands of their owners, or those who feign a pathetic “but I love you…”

There are also foreigners who come to Cuba to look at it as if going to the zoo. They want to see a country that still claims to be socialist: “What a rarity,” they say. Or look – “people are starving,” according to how we exaggerate here, though these same people declare to the world that they will resist, because that’s the official version assumed in one way or another.

It’s true! We’ve really suffered a tremendous attack, but we haven’t gone starving. We didn’t end up starving to death, though some people were permanently affected (by neuropathies or impaired growth).

Cubans were doubly mistreated: by our own domestic problems and by what was entailed in receiving visitors under such circumstances.

By not being able to “escape,” as they say, we don’t escape the various forms of trafficking. We supply the market for human organs (in a few instances) and the market for “slaves” (there was a huge business involving Cubans who got married and were then stripped of their rights while having to wait five years or more to become residents in the host country). Thus, I assure you, that not everyone is tricked or cheated by us.

But there are also many people who come to the island looking for kindness and warmth, as well as honest and frank communication; and despite the reputation that precedes us, good friends have come out of these encounters.

Among Cubans today, many still work hard to make a living. Many retain enough of a sense of decency as to not to view a foreigner as an ace in the deck, a horn of plenty or the El Dorado through which everything can be solved.

There’s no shame in a Cuban seeking or finding a foreigner who can offer them work or the possibility of employing them in some pursuit through which they can support themself honorably. This is what immigration represents: allowing them to leave a situation that doesn’t meet their needs.

Perhaps I’m falling short in communicating the whole story. Maybe there are others who can add to it with their own experiences or with those of others. But make no mistake: Cubans are not always looking to get close is to a foreigner to take advantage of them – okay!

Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

9 thoughts on “Cubans Seen by Foreigners

  • November 30, 2011 at 4:51 am

    You talk about prostitution so flippantly, as though it is a business. It is not a business. It is sexual abuse, no matter how you cut it.

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