Are the Spanish Returning to Cuba?

Fernando Ravsberg*

Spanish actor Willy Toledo says that, in Havana, he has found “one of the most beautiful cities in the world and by far the safest I have known.” (Photo: Raquel Perez)
Spanish actor Willy Toledo says that, in Havana, he has found “one of the most beautiful cities in the world and by far the safest I have known.” (Photo: Raquel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES — “Every time I’d defend the Cuban revolution, people would retort: if you like it so much, why don’t you go live in Cuba?” Spanish actor Willy Toledo tells me, adding: “now that I’ve actually moved to Cuba, they’re going crazy, because there’s nothing they can say to me anymore.”

Though a number of Spanish newspapers affirm he lives in a mansion, Toledo in fact lives among Cubans in a working class neighborhood, in a modest rented apartment that could use some more furniture and a new coat of paint.

“I don’t need anything else. I have my bed, my kitchen, my bathroom and my books, and I’m getting along just fine with that. I don’t tend to miss material things. I do miss people, and my city. I was born and have lived in Madrid my whole life and I am much attached to it, even though it’s become something of uninhabitable city.”

The Spanish right-wingers accuses Toledo of having many privileges denied Cubans, but the truth of the matter is that, in his own country, he also lived better than most, having been born to a wealthy family and earned a lot of money as an actor. “Of course, no one questioned that at the time,” he says to me, smiling.

He acknowledges that, in Cuba, having money can open certain doors and afford access to certain luxuries, but not all of them. He again laughs when he says: “You can spend days looking for a frying pan, and you still won’t find it, no matter how many euros you’ve got.”

He feels better in this Cuban reality than that of the tourist. “I enjoy experiencing Havana one day after the other, going to the movies, the theatre, to concerts, to dinners at friends’ houses. I have more time to read now. I didn’t have the time in Madrid, and I’m reading like mad now.”

I remind him that his native city is a hectic European capital and ask him how he is faring in Cuba’s peace and quiet. He replies that, today, his nights out consist in buying the occasional bottle of rum and “going over to a friend’s or the Malecon seawall to bend an elbow.”

He adds that, “there’s plenty of life in Havana, there are things to do every day. I do miss having an entertainment guide, like they’ve got in Madrid (…) but I always find out what’s going on anyways. In fact, I don’t have the time to go to all the places I want to.”

Playing Dominoes

By the looks of it, Toledo is not having a hard time adjusting. In fact, “it’s fairly easy. I’ve travelled across Latin America (…) and I think Cubans are a lot like Spaniards, in the way they speak, their sense of humor and the way they relate to others.”

For Willy Toledo, “Cubans are a lot like Spaniards in the way they speak, their sense of humor and the way they relate to others.” (Photo: Raquel Perez)
For Willy Toledo, “Cubans are a lot like Spaniards in the way they speak, their sense of humor and the way they relate to others.” (Photo: Raquel Perez)

He tends to avoid the old town, because they treat him like a tourist there. However, “I love to go to the kiosk next to my apartment to have a fruit juice in the morning, and the one across the street, to have an omelet sandwich, or just sit on the terraces where regular Cubans sit.”

He assures me he doesn’t even have any qualms about Cuban cuisine. “I like traditional Cuban food a lot. I’ve always liked it, not only Cuban food, but also Caribbean food. What I like the most is the rice there’s no shortage of it here!”

Known for his sympathies towards the Cuban revolution, the actor tells me he has discovered Havana’s charm. “In Havana, I’ve found one of the most beautiful cities in the world and by far the safest I have known.”

Toledo may be one of the more famous foreign residents, but he is by no means the only European to have immigrated to Cuba. Another Spaniard, married to a Cuban, has just moved into my neighborhood, a few blocks from where I live. They have just bought a small house with the money they put together from selling a business that barely gave them enough to live on.

Years before, his wife had secured Spanish residency through their marriage. Ironically, today it is he who is availing himself of their marriage to be able to reside on the island, where they can live better with far less money.

A few days ago, I was treated to a lunch of homemade ravioli prepared by an Italian whose Cuban wife returned to Cuba to wait for the European crisis to blow over. Seizing on the opportunity afforded by Cuba’s reform process, they plan on opening up a cooperative that will sell fresh pasta in Havana.

Securing Cuban residency, however, is no easy task. The immigrant must be married to someone with Cuban nationality or be hired by a company based on the island, and even then, many residents (myself included) have lived in the country for decades with a temporary permit that must be renewed every year.
—–
(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.


22 thoughts on “Are the Spanish Returning to Cuba?

  • August 22, 2013 at 8:23 pm
    Permalink

    Willy Toledo: “I love to go to the kiosk next to my apartment to have a fruit juice in the morning, and the one across the street, to have an omelet sandwich, or just sit on the terraces where regular Cubans sit.”: Lucky him he has the money to be served and eat in restaurants. It must be very pleasant living in Cuba, with enough pocket money, as a bootlicker of the Castro dinasty. I doubt this hypocrite will ever dare to enter surgery in an average cuban hospital.

  • August 21, 2013 at 1:17 pm
    Permalink

    Here are some figures for you:

    “In the first six months of 2013, 16,767 visitor visas were granted to Cubans — a 79 percent increase over last year, according to figures the Interests Section recently released in Cuba.

    Another 29,000 Cubans received visas to immigrate to the U.S. in 2012 – that’s 9,000 more than what was agreed to in the 1994 immigration pact with Cuba, following the exodus that sent some 35,000 fleeing by sea on homemade rafts.”

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/17/3569162/fabiola-santiago.html

    The emigration out of Cuba continues. Combined with the low birth rate and rapidly aging population, Cuba faces a staggering demographic crisis.

    The Cuban government acts soon to introduce real and substantive political, economic and legal changes, such that young Cubans will want to stay on the island and have more children. If not, then Cuba will enter a demographically driven collapse. The arrival of a few clueless rich playboys like Willy Toledo will do nothing to prevent the national suicide now taking place in Cuba.

  • August 21, 2013 at 12:32 pm
    Permalink

    I have done some research and I am unable to substantiate what I said about the numbers of Cubans granted visas for the US. Barring further information, I must concede this point to Griffin.
    But I think Griffin is out of date when he says that “…the Cuban government still refuses to allow many of them to leave.” Cuban law has changed dramatically and this was widely reported. I quote from an article posted by The Miami Herald January 11 of this year.
    “Gone is the reviled tarjeta blanca, the white card or exit visa that Cuba used to control who could leave the island.”
    “Now Cubans simply need a valid passport to travel — as long as they can get a visa from the country they intend to visit and a ticket for travel.”
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/01/11/v-print/3178584/brave-new-world-of-cuba-travel.html

  • August 21, 2013 at 10:55 am
    Permalink

    Willy Toledo announced his intention of moving to Cuba shortly after the Spanish government announced their plans to introduce a new higher tax rate for the wealthy. Hypocritically, he camouflaged his self-interest by decrying the “savage capitalism” of Europe.

  • August 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm
    Permalink

    If Willy’s opinions were limited to his personal experiences and his personal preferences, his comments would have merit. However, I have read his comments on several pro-Castro web sites indicting the US and Spain while applauding Cuba based solely on his perverted views. Given the choices his wealth, fame and passport provide, Cuba may very well be seen as a paradise. He can walk into any Policlinico and receive adequate medical attention. Given his capacity to leave a 10 cuc tip, he is assured of immediate service. If he needs a particular medication, he can go to any hotel pharmacy and pay the price asked. He can go to the Mercado 72 in Playa and buy beef steaks anytime he wants. From his perspective, Cuba is a wonderful place to live.

  • August 19, 2013 at 9:45 am
    Permalink

    So where is your evidence for this tax-evading motivation?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *