Cuba, the Pearl of the Caribbean

By Martín Guevara

The Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana. Photo: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — The pretty girl, no longer so vigorous, though still quite beautiful, slowly returns to the lap of the beloved and hated prince.

Since the discovery of America, Cuba has been the coveted bride, the treasure sought by the magnates of the time.

Back in the days when, in Tordesillas, the New World was divided into Spanish and Portuguese property, the “Pearl of the Caribbean” already enjoyed privileged treatment. There, palaces, fortresses, mansions and cities that weren’t built in the old continent were constructed. Spanish nobles moved to the island.

The proud ships loaded with the wealth extracted from the new continent passed through Cuba on their way to the metropolis. Of all the lovers the crown had in the course of centuries, Cuba was the best treated.

When it let go of the hand of the aged and impoverished Spanish crown, the Platt Amendment placed it in the firm arms of the fledgling modern magnate, the United States of America.

When this relationship grew cold, because the bride of the rich and famous decided it was going to try its luck at autonomy, when it pretended to become independent, it was once again being courted by a suitor who, though lacking in lineage, had unparalleled power.

Two years after the triumph of the revolution, without mincing its words, Fidel no longer swearing that he was fundamentally opposed to communism, beautiful Cuba became the official bride of the Soviet Union, with whom it already maintained an unofficial relationship (known by everyone in the neighborhood).

Though the land of the soviets was at the time one of the two major world powers and, in this sense, Cuba could boast of its powerful partner, the truth of the matter is that glamour and sophistication were painfully missing in that relationship. The island found itself in the brawny arms of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

For Fidel, it was enough for Moscow to promise to maintain the island, in exchange for delivering its soul at the crossroads.

When Gorbachev came to power, however, the USSR betrayed Cuba. It decided to leave it for more sophisticated and better-dressed girlfriends who had a more modern look to them, even though they were not as tasty. Cuba felt deeply offended and tried to persuade Moscow to stick with her in the times. The relationship was dying, Moscow refused, like an elderly man who wishes to devote the dying throes of its virility to a cougar who’s a thousand years younger and infinitely more vivacious.

Photo: Mona Biegstraaten
Photo: Mona Biegstraaten

The truth is that Fidel Castro did not seek the opinion of any of the millions of skeletal zombies who zigzagged along on their Chinese bicycles, skirting the swarms of thirsty mosquitoes on the island that didn’t find a single drop of blood that was worth their while under those skins, gnawed by cheap rum, bad food and the nightmare of power-cuts.

The Cuba of the Brothers Castromasov said: “Really? Well, I’m going to stand tall. Socialism or death! My people will die of hunger or lice, but they will never surrender!” Then it went out into the world in a crazy fit, as though possessed by a demon it could not keep in check, to look for a new husband. Fidel had derided the Chinese and publicly condemned them back in the day when it looked as though the Soviet Union would last forever and it was convenient to play the role of a staunch anti-Maoist. “No way!” said the Chinese in a very Chinese way.

Nevertheless, the island was already an experienced and mischievous survivor, and it had no choice but to go in search of a simple, vulgar, foul-mouthed boyfriend that could not be introduced to one’s parents. It had no other alternative, it had to find it and it had to be “well off.”

When Cuba Met Venezuela

In the sixties, seventies and eighties, Fidel Castro would have considered someone like Chavez a populist and, in the best of cases, a revisionist, an opportunistic military leader from the ranks of the traditional army that could never have embodied the possibility of serious change – an appealing ruler who was not to be taken seriously, on whom the USSR would have immediately instructed Cuba to turn its back.

The times had changed, however, and comrade Chavez became the standard-bearer of Latin America’s revolution.

All the while, the graceful palms, the sweet-smelling air, the beautiful sand and cities of Cuba cringed when they recalled they were the bride of that abomination.

fidel-y-chavez-cubadebate
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Photo: cubadebate.cu

Cuba had nothing against Venezuela. In fact, it adored it, but not as a girlfriend, perhaps only as an afternoon fling, a friend and confidant it could speak to about trivial matters.

For the first time, the Pearl of the Caribbean knew the crushing feeling of having been something and being nothing, like a tango or a nightmare.

Then came Obama and, little by little, Cuba began winking at him. Raul Castro began to sending coded messages through his diaphanous fan. Barack got the message.

He was in need of a good hit, to use the parlance of baseball, as, lately, his noble goals weren’t exactly working out for him. Perhaps he also thought a gesture that gave some meaning to his Nobel Peace Prize would come in handy, shifting the chronology a few years here and there.

The Pope, hoping to modernize the Church up to a point, also showed a courageous attitude in uniting in holy matrimony the former lovers. Cuba has returned to her former prince and, by the looks of it, it is rekindling past passions, as it is not only beautiful but candid.

All that remains to be worked out are the terms of the pre-marital contract and the type of couple they want to be for this, their new and glamorous union, portrayed on the covers of the flashiest magazines dealing with social events around the world.

But, make no mistake: Cuba will have a proper marriage, lest the neighbors start rumors that, when the princess is in a tough spot financially, she goes out to whore around the world.


31 thoughts on “Cuba, the Pearl of the Caribbean

  • July 14, 2015 at 11:59 am
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    Socialist have a habit of declaring victories while all the while ignoring the facts. Buildings in Havana are collapsing every week. Record numbers of your paisanos are escaping Castro tyranny by rickety rafts every month. Everything from condoms to cooking oil are in short supply. People wait in line for hours to fill propane gas tanks and check email. Classrooms lack pencils and schoolbooks. Hospitals encourage patients to bring their own sheets and towels. Where is your victory?

  • July 14, 2015 at 10:13 am
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    You know you have been defeated in your quest to portray Cuba as a losing proposition and to demonize Fidel and Raúl; your feeble attempts to prove me wrong by deconstructing my answers and putting words in my mouth have come to naught; your accusations regarding my residence have already been countered and you have no more recourse.

  • July 13, 2015 at 10:00 pm
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    Victory? Almost 20% of the population has fled or been forced to leave. More than half the population live in substandard or worse housing. The moral decay brought about by generations of institutional corruption is almost irreversible. Where is the victory? Even you dare not return to Cuba because you know you can’t live as well in the land of your birth as you do on foreign soil. Your claim of victory rings hollow and hypocritical.

  • July 13, 2015 at 2:28 pm
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    Sorry man, but I have this thing called a life and it often gets in the way of our cat and mouse political back and forth, however, this will be brief.
    1)You can post any anecdotal experience and I can do the same ad infinitum, it’s not tenable proof of jack; anything could have happened in his post, the Brazilians might be responsible for the conditions or the remote location necessitated tent and cot. Cuban doctors that went to Pakistan after the earthquake had to do the same because there was nowhere left standing or safe to set up their clinic/treatment room and living quarters.

    2) As you have explained before, many people in Cuba make $20.86 in USD, or ~500 pesos a month, yet he makes $500 USD or ~12,500 pesos a month and that is indeed a lot of money in Cuba.
    3) The Cuban doctors that went to Pakistan told me (my anecdotal rebuttal) that their families in Cuba were sent half their salary, they got half and an stipend. They ate local bread and whatever fresh veggies were available; their meats, however mostly came out of cans but their grateful patients would provide what they could and brought chickens, apricots, garden veggies, milk and eggs. So they ended up with plenty of money to spend when they got to Lahore before coming home.
    4) I see the Sanctions from the EU vanishing, I see the USA Blockade crumbling, I see Cuba is off the list of terrorist supporting countries, I see China investing money in tourism, trade and other developments, I see Russia re-establishing strong economic ties with us, I see more and more food and medicine trade between Cuba and the USA, I see less shortages, I see more money in the hands of Cubans and I see more and more hope in Our soul that this is indeed the victory we worked so hard for.

  • July 13, 2015 at 1:24 pm
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    No, already looks like Cancún makes no reference to the Hotel Zone in Cancún but many other parts of the City, expanding, developing and modernizing from North of the viaduct that connects the “mainland” to the island where the the Hotel Zone is, and all the way to the water. New housing, marinas and shopping centers. It is also evident all over the city itself as Mexican tourism expands. I stayed in a hotel for Mexicans and low-budget N.American or European tourists in the city itself, not far from the Viaduct and within two blocks of a totally modern, air conditioned, shopping mall complete with all the stores, food franchises, boutiques and supermarkets you’d expect to find anywhere in Canada or the USA, except right smack in the middle of a beautiful Mexican town and facing a cobbled, colonial square.
    For your information and to destroy your feeble argument about what I meant by “where the tourists don’t go”. There are tourists, Mexican and White all over the City itself, and as I explained before, the Hotel Zone is outside the City on an island, are you following me? There are tourists in the markets, budget hotels and strip malls growing all along the Viaduct in the City itself and also on the road to the airport. Where they don’t go is to the shanty town where the head of the taxi drivers union took me to meet some of his men, where the staff of the deluxe hotels in the Zone live, where the workers building the marinas and malls dwell with their families in shacks, the best of raw bricks, some even stuccoed and white-washed. Here the streets are not paved, poverty is rife, electricity dangerously rigged, running water and plumbing absent in many places and there is absolutely no reason for a tourist to be there; and that’s exactly why he took me, to see what all the wealth in Cancún is built upon. Check- Mate.

  • July 13, 2015 at 8:48 am
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    ….still waiting

  • July 12, 2015 at 10:50 pm
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    I’ll get you later, Moses, just finished kicking Carlyle’s arse again and communicating didactically with IC instead of trading cannonades for a change, and have company coming soon; good night!

  • July 12, 2015 at 10:47 pm
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    You write, “…. to the West of Havana already looks like Cancún, full of shopping centers, boutique hotels, high rise buildings and marinas.” This reference compares Miramar to the Hotel Zone in Cancun, does it not? Surely it does because by contrast later you write, “I have been to Cancún and seen the dire poverty where the turistas don’t go!” It would take an adult to admit that you were wrong. Yet you wallow in name-calling as your response. By the way, have you to San Miguel de Padron, Boyeros or even parts of Cero. Cancun poverty is Beverly Hills by comparison.

  • July 12, 2015 at 10:41 pm
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    I don’t have to be good at it to hit it right on the nail with you, you are such a huge target! Every house I have been in Cuba had a flushing toilet, some had no plastic-seat/lid, some had to be flushed with a bucket of water stationed right by, but all flushed just fine. I had many warm and tepid showers from roof-top tanks, had very much welcomed cold showers after a hot day in the sun, I have no problem with that at all and neither do most Cubans in Cuba, USA bunch excepted. Now, I know that in your case there is a built in, traditional reticence to bathe as your ancestors in Scotland and most of Europe never did; and when you crossed the Atlantic, you brought this “reticence” with you as most White people in the USA and Canada have terrible, personal, hygiene habits. They don’t bathe enough and depend on strong scents to cover up the stink, like in Europe in ye olde days of yore.
    I can understand not wanting to bathe with cold water in an Aberdeen winter, and that warming water required a lot of wood or coal which was not affordable to the average Scott, but on this side of the Atlantic, there is running hot water available everywhere in Canada and the USA. I can send you instructions on how to wash your arse with just a can of cold, tepid or warm water and a bar of soap, it works for the front also and is gender neutral; your Cuban wife will appreciate it very much when you learn…
    In Cuba the Natives and the Africans taught us to be clean, to wash our private parts, to jump in the shower, river or pool 2 or 3 times daily, as needed or just for fun, and because we are very poor, to keep our houses and yards clean and immaculately tidy to demonstrate our self-worth and personal pride in the absence of fancy furnishings and trappings. Here in the USA and Canada, houses are messy, kitchens full of unwashed dishes, clothes on the floor, beds unmade, and everything is constantly sprayed with that febreeze, cancer-causing crap, or scented wicks, oils or candles because houses smell bad from the people, their clothes and shoes, their stinking pets with their shit boxes inside and because houses are not aired enough. Most people reek of hair-stuff, of deodorant, tooth paste, skin cream and, on top of it all, perfume. Try riding an elevator in office-land, or getting on a crowded bus/subway.
    I use no scented powders, except talcum with baking soda for my shoes, however, I can tell you the scent you are just starting to notice coming from me is the smell of Truth! You are soooo easy…

  • July 12, 2015 at 9:41 pm
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    Bien Sur (“Sure” in French), Moses, but Playa is starting to look like Cancún, I don’t think (look back), I said anything about the Hotel Zone, you did to win an empty argument; you are childish indeed!

  • July 10, 2015 at 12:59 pm
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    OK, and your point? I still say that the Hotel Zone in Cancun blows away anything going on in Havana.

  • July 10, 2015 at 9:39 am
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    I have been to Cancún and seen the dire poverty where the turistas don’t go!

  • July 9, 2015 at 7:48 pm
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    Don’t bother trying to insult people, you are no good at it Gomezz. How many casas in Cuba have a bath – cold showers are the norm. Where do you get a men’s scented powder – why from Labiofam of course. Can we expect a third scent named Gomezz?

  • July 9, 2015 at 12:38 pm
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    Your math is bad. There is a brigade commander of group of Cuban medical staff currently assigned to a remote posting in the interior of Brazil who is 52 years old with nearly 30 years of serving the regime. His wife and my wife are good friends who speak to each other at least once a week. According to your comment, even after 30 years he still owes the Castros for his medical education? This is his third mission. He was in Nicaragua and Venezuela years earlier. Both missions were PAID missions where the Castros billed thousands of dollars per month and yet he has never earned more than $500 per month. You allege that the Castros pay basic expenses. HE LIVES IN A TENT AND SLEEPS ON A COT. The tent and the cot were donated by the World Health Organization (WHO). He buys his own food and is wearing my old Levi jeans. Last year, growth in Cuban GDP and PPP were LESS than the year before. Last Cuba ‘reported’ growth of less than 1%. By what measures do you see Cuba “rising”? By the way, usually when you smell “doo-doo” it’s wise to check your own shoe first.

  • July 9, 2015 at 9:09 am
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    It is you that can’t see us rising because you hate it so much, you are simply in denial. This year was better than last year and it has been this way since 1994. If these Cuban Doctors were USA doctors and they had to pay hundreds of thousands of U$Ds for their education and their maintenance while in school, your critique would make sense, but it’s nothing but hot air and insults, your specialty, since these doctors in Cuba received an education paid for by the Cuban People, as do USA citizens who cannot afford Medical School in that great country of yours. Just like paying Student Loans in the US and Canada, the debt is paid out from what Brazil charges and the Cuban Doctor gets a very good return because the Cuban Government covers their basic expenses in Brazil and they do not have to pay money out of their pockets. So, once again, you’re full of doo-doo, it stinks and you ought to take a bath, then a powder and then a long, long hike; and take your friends IC and Carlyle with you!

  • July 8, 2015 at 12:24 pm
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    You write. …”we are rising once again.” I don’t know what’s worse, if you are just saying that to be contrary or if you really believe it. Especially if you are comparing economic growth in Cuba to that of the US. Morally, spiritually, by whatever measures you choose, conditions are worse in Cuba this year than the were last year. By what measures is the US ‘going down’ militarily? Do you just write your comments without thinking? We can debate all day about what the US did or did not do in Cuba. What is not debatable is the use of force. Cuban leadership “whored” the Cuban people and Cuban resources willingly. Even to this day, the Castros bill the Brazilian government more than $4000 per month for the services of each Cuban doctor. Yet, the Cuban doctor providing the service receives only about 20% of that amount. The real pimp here, taking their 80% off the top are the Castros.

  • July 8, 2015 at 8:43 am
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    Ike was a pimp and Tina his # 1 in the stable, he married her so he could keep what she made and keep exploiting her talents, not just sexual but artistic. Instead, Tina eloped with his new # 1 whore, sent him divorce papers and took what she wanted; she confronted him in Harlem with a .38 Special and put him to shame. Ike was never the same after that, a forgotten jerk better known for Tina than for himself. We, Cuba and Cubans, under the leadership of (I put this in just for you, Moses) Fidel and Raúl Castro Ruz have done the same to you, USA.
    We beat the invasion, We beat the Blockade, We beat the fall of the Soviet Union and our trading network, We beat the EU Sanctions, We beat the USA Bio-Warfare attacks, We beat the terrorist attacks launched from the USA, we outlasted you and now, as you (USA) go down economically and militarily and morally and culturally into the mess you have become, we are rising once again.
    Now, Cuba was no whore but the abused child of the USA; taken as she was freeing herself from Spain to begin life as a new country. You (USA) invaded, took us by force, raped our resources and turned us out to do tricks for your friends, White USA citizens and Mafiosi.

  • July 7, 2015 at 2:29 pm
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    You have not been to Cancun if you think that there is anything in Havana that remotely resembles Avenida Kukulcan in Cancun. Yes there have been improvements in Havana over the last 5 years but there is no comparison to the work that has taken place over the same period in Cancun. I know both places very well. Also, depends on where you lived before Castro’s revolution as to whether it’s better. Most Habaneros and Santiagueros, are worse off. Their buildings have seen little or no maintenance since 1959. Their streets are broken and their infrastructure is crumbling.

  • July 7, 2015 at 2:16 pm
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    Bad analogy. For Ike and Tina, it was that Ike could not keep up with the fervor surrounding Tina’s career. That’s to say that Tina was growing and Ike was not. In the US /Cuba relationship, the US (Ike) has grown exponentially. Tina (Cuba) has not only stagnated but in some cases contracted (insert sugar industry). You are wrong again.

  • July 7, 2015 at 10:05 am
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    Of course, Uncle Sam was the Pimp, you are right, but not the best; it’s kind of like the Ike and Tina Turner story…She outgrew the hell out of him and beat him to the punch. Go Tina, Go Cuba!

  • July 7, 2015 at 9:53 am
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    Havana is rapidly modernizing, right now the Playa District, to the West of Havana already looks like Cancún, full of shopping centers, boutique hotels, high rise buildings and marinas. We want modernization, better roads and municipal services but we also want to maintain and improve such cultural jewels as Old Havana, Chinatown, The Spanish Forts, the buildings on the Prado Boulevard and the Malecón in our Capital City. This has already been happening and with the coming of better times, it will increase and expand. Tourists can also visit Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Camagüey or Santiago for that “Ye olde” feeling… But this lady doesn’t want us to be trapped in the past, she just doesn’t want Cubans to be lured into the rush-rush routine of contemporary consumer society, living in and amidst graceless architecture and having long commutes to work (Miami, Scarborough, Alamar), the Brave New Future already in full swing here in the “Developed World”. Unfortunately, this has been with us since the demise of the Soviet Union and even before, with Soviet style architecture and community development… But it’s still much better than a shack or a bohío where the large majority of our people lived before the Revolution.

  • July 7, 2015 at 7:48 am
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    I do not like to be considered a simpleton, but basically the solution is found in the history of finance!! Unless there is growing equity and taxable profit on cash flow in the private sector, all other conversation is just noise!!

  • July 6, 2015 at 7:39 pm
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    Poetry it ain’t!

  • July 6, 2015 at 4:58 pm
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    Many Canadians want to retire to Cuba and enjoy the friendly people of Cuba.
    Gordon Robinson Port Alberni B.C.
    [email protected]

  • July 6, 2015 at 11:43 am
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    For the sultry, salty-sweet, and passionately poised island she is to North America, you, Martin have metaphored your way into a fittingly appropriate introduction to the latest dusty-paged pocket pulp novel featuring the time worn players of world influence betting their best bluff to win the Wheel of Fortune trip to the promise of golden beaches, bronzed women, 3 AM jazz in a forgotten Hemmingway haunt, sweaty flamenco dancers, and a 51% stake of their investing capital.
    Well done my friend. Politics can be romantically messy and satiating… for a time.
    Hopefully for Cuba, a sweet romance in the sacred sun of the Caribbean won’t be hijacked by a bad marriage.

  • July 5, 2015 at 4:22 pm
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    Cuba might have a better option! With a resurgent Russia and an ever-stronger China, Cuba could get back together with Her former amor– or this being more modern times, even form a menage a trois!.
    Then, Cuba could sing:
    “He went away and you hung around
    And bothered me, every night
    And when I wouldn’t go out with you
    You said things that weren’t very nice.
    “My boyfriend’s back, and you’re gonna get in trouble…”
    etc.

  • July 5, 2015 at 9:43 am
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    Here is what is wrong with your seemingly well-intentioned comment. You said that you don’t want Havana to “modernize” into a Cancun – style American influenced vacation spot. Well, if you were Mexican and you shared that opinion, you would have Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey as large, modern and efficient cities so you would be well to regret that Cancun had been converted from its former sleepy Mayan resort destination to Spring Break ground zero because at the very least you have modern in these other cities. Cubans want modern too. They want everything that you have in Canada. It is unfair of you to hope that Cubans stay trapped in the past so that you can keep your annual exotic vacation experience.

  • July 4, 2015 at 11:53 pm
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    Oh my!!! As a Canadian and looking at the Castro/Kennedy “shenanigans” (although I truly believe Cuba was used as a pawn between the Americans and the Russians). I truly hope and believe that America and Cuba can be a good mix as long as Cuba retains 60 % control and America 40%…. As a long time tourist to Cuba (since 1990) lloving the people and safety, I would hate for it to become another “Cancun” with all signage in English and McDonalds etc popping up in every city. I just hope the hard working people of Cuba begin to have a better and hopeful independence in all of the workings/governmental decisions in Cuba….,

  • July 3, 2015 at 11:49 pm
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    Wonderful article Martin, beautifully written and a great summation.

  • July 3, 2015 at 10:21 pm
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    The U.S. is unlikely to play sugar daddy. Not this time. Nor does Cuba favor such a relationship. Cuba by now has figured out it better sustain itself. The Greek model of dependency on others is no way for a sovereign nation to act. For Cuba it is a race against time as Venezuela can carry it only so much longer.

  • July 3, 2015 at 2:23 pm
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    To carry forward Martin’s labored metaphor, the US is fully aware of the whorish past it’s new Cuban girlfriend brings to the relationship. For a while, we will treat her like the lady she pretends to be. But before long, as US businesses invest and Americans visit and buy property on the island, Cuban will be turned out and put back on the corner. After all, there is no better pimp than the US.

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