Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #3: The Unsettling Legacy of Castro

The first dose of Cuba you get when you touch down at Jose Marti international and take a taxi through the scorching plains towards Havana is, unsurprisingly, an unending stream of Barbudos.

Barbudos everywhere: on cracked streetside murals with paint peeling under the IMG_20170314_160319weight of Caribbean humidity, on the great, mold-stained billboards that line the autopista, on the side of foodtrucks propped up on bricks, or on heart-shaped posters seen fleetingly through the passing windows of
schoolhouses.

They are inescapable, these Barbudos. You can hardly walk twenty minutes throughout any point in Cuba without seeing a public reference to them.

Named for the roughshorn beards they cultivated during the Revolution’s early years in the Sierra, these three men- Fidel Castro, Che, and Camilo- have attained a level of grandeur unmatched in any third-world country.

Most prominent of these three, also unsurprisingly, is the gleaming image of Fidel. His face is such a common sight that it is easy to forget his posthumous presence, so muchIMG_20170315_175332 so
that his memory quite literally permeates the geography of the island.

So I ask the taxi driver the question on the first day, watching him weave easefully through the frightening traffic towards Havana: what do you think of Fidel?

Pues, he said, enunciating his answer in his thickly accented Cuban Spanish, siempre me ha gustado el. Hizo mucho para nuestro pais.

            It was only the first of many times I received a pleasing review of the dead leader- a characteristic introduction to the convoluted, unsettling, legacy of Castro.

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Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #2: The Cuban Intervention in Angola

If you walk the corridors of Old Havana, you can still see them gathered on the cobbled street-corners, these quiet old men. Grizzled and misty-eyed, often afflicted with PTSD, they sit in circles of plastic chairs and amicably discuss their pasts.

If you look into their eyes, you can see the memories of a war slowly fading into obscurity.

Veterans of Cuba’s fifteen year intervention in the Angolan Civil War, these viejos haveAngolan War 1 seen their fair share of warfare- the most vicious, in fact, that the island nation experienced in its whole three decades of militarily supporting leftist movements in Africa.

But it’s all disappearing now. As these men die, the herculean drama once played out by the Cuban people- whose retrospective numbers totaled hundreds of thousands by the end of the war- against UNITA, Zaire, the CIA, and South Africa in the name of international solidarity and anti-colonialism, is being forgotten by much of the Western World.

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Why am I going to Cuba? Cuba Unveiled, Dispatch #1

Next Sunday, March 12th, I will be boarding a flight to take a journey back in time.

Arriving before dawn at Orlando International that morning, two friends and I will check our bags, file through security, and board a JetBlue flight that will deliver us back several decades into the past.

cojimar-cubaRearing up into the atmosphere as the first rims of sunlight break the eastern horizon, our plane will follow southwards along the Florida peninsula and, after that, cross the glimmering cobalt emptiness of the Florida Straits. Then, if we are angled correctly against the windows, “it” will slowly begin to materialize: at first as an etching against the horizon, then as a green, wavering, oceanic mirage, gradually rising up into the assured image of tropical mountains and a city- a Botero painting rising like bread out of the sea. We will skid down onto the tarmac and, a few minutes later, take in our first breaths of the thick, palm scented breeze.

We will be in Cuba, and our journey into the past will have begun.

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Jose Marti: Martyr, Hero, Poet, Visionary

Before there was Castro, before Batista, before the ’58 Revolution and all that’s conspired since then, there was Martí.

Jose Marti, considered by many to be the original Cuban revolutionary, existed long before  Castro’s Communist rebels, and yet he fought just as hard to warn of U.S. Imperialism as he did to free his homeland from Spain.

Throughout the tumultuous history of Cuba, the legend of this man- now regarded as the martyr, political hero, and patron saint of a nation- has permeated the tumultuous history of this beleaguered Caribbean Island.

Jose Marti died an early death, though he lives forever as the creator of a Nation.

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In the face of Obamacare Dismantling, one man faces an uncertain future

Lew Barnes, 62, eases back into the wicker chair, sipping coffee in the frigid morning wind, and informs me matter-of-factly about how the new government will soon be leaving him to die.

 

Barnes, a surfboard maker and former businessman from Crescent Beach, is now in the fifteenth year of his bout with Leukemia. When he was first diagnosed back in 2002, doctors generously estimated that he had ten years to live; but thanks to four rounds of chemotherapy, he is still alive and well, talking to me here today beneath the oaks at Harry’s Café.

 

This, however, is by no means the end of his struggle with cancer. Surviving the disease has come at a costly price: paying for such expensive treatments meant losing $700,000 over ten years- nearly his entire net worth- draining both his bank account and his day-to-day energy.

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Skiing in Northern Montana, Pt. 1

You wake up in the morning to the sound of rats skittering above you.

Their little feet make quite the racket against the thin, plywood ceiling of the barn, and after five agonizing minutes of rolling over endlessly, trying to get in a last little bit of sleep, you realize you’re playing a hopeless game. Reluctantly, painfully, you get up and stagger out to the main living room.

Evidently, you realize as you look out the broad wall window that faces the lake, the rats came in for a reason. The world outside is enveloped in white. Snow spirals down silently in fat, frosty flakes, and when you press the palm of your hand against the windowpane, the glass is astonishingly frigid.

It’s gotten colder inside. The furnace probably hasn’t been replenished in four or five hours, and in the time the building has lost a substantial amount of heat; the temperature, you think, can’t be more than sixty degrees.montana-road

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An Obituary for the Blackfeet- and Ourselves

When you gaze up to the top of Chief Cliff, you can almost see, in your mind’s eye, the image of a Blackfoot Warrior gracing the horizon. Head held high, horse hooving the parched summer grass beneath him, he saunters about restlessly on the distant promontory of granite, surveying the shimmering lake and valley below. In the
bronze afternoon light, you can see the sweat glisten on the musculature of his body, and perhaps, the occasional glint of an arrowhead; in the smooth summer wind that sweeps up from the lake, the soft, painted mane of his stallion flows loose.

Suddenly, though, the daydream is over. A tractor-trailer loaded with pine-logs rushes pabeautiful-blackfeetst on Highway 93, abruptly jolting you back to the present day.

The landscape remains unchanged, but the distant man has vanished. It is 2017, and the tribe of the Blackfoot Warrior- the noble, fierce nomads that once dominated a vast swath of the continent- has been dead for over a century, castrated by modernity’s onslaught, a faint shadow of it’s storied past.

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Don’t judge Trump supporters; rather, understand them.

Trump supporters are not the monsters we think they are.

 
There’s a tendency amongst certain liberals to collectively imagine those who voted for Trump as a tribe of slobbering racists wearing grease-stained wife-beaters, hammering on about how whites are the superior race and staggering through the streets at night with their nail-studded clubs.
 
Guess what? That image is not just misleading, but wrong.
 
Some of my best friends voted for Trump. There is a reason people voted for him. The middle classes of industrial America were screwed by inhuman neoliberal policies which stripped them of their livelihoods, all because some opulent billionaires knew they could get cheaper labor elsewhere.
 
This is by no means an apology for Trump: if you’ve paid any attention to his Cabinet picks and current behavior as President-elect, you would know that you should be rightfully alarmed, frightened, infuriated.
 
Personally, I hate Trump’s guts, and know him for what he is- a slimy, narcissistic billionaire who cares only for himself.
 
But liberals don’t have any right to flaunt their moral superiority unless they recognize that there is a reason poor white Americans voted for the man. We need to practice our own preaching- to compassionately strive to understand people rather than find flaws by which we can judge them. This logic should apply to impoverished white America, just as much as we apply it to struggling latino immigrants or fearful Syrian refugees; humans are humans, wherever you go.
 
So if you know someone who supports Trump, don’t excommunicate them from your life because they’re another “deplorable.” Remember where they came from, and kindly explain to them that there is a world of better options than Trump.

Don Quixote’s Philosophy of Immortality

In May 2016, I picked up a book that, unbeknownst to me, would become one of the formative tomes in my life philosophy.

I had ordered it off the Internet on an inspired whim, after reading an archived New York Times essay from twenty years ago that had heaped lavish praise on the now-forgotten book.

Finding this particular book was no easy task. It lay untouched in the backlog of Amazon, gathering dust without any ratings or reviews. When it arrived in the mail several weeks after I bought it, I slid my knife into the cardboard packaging with the perverse glee of a kid opening a long-awaited Christmas present. The tome that I now held there in my hands was thick, old, aging. It looked like an antique, and when I buried my nose into the binding, the thin, oiled pages smelled like ancient Egypt.

DOn Quixote and Sancho.jpg

For the next four weeks I buried myself in the hypnotic perusal of its pages, which enraptured me with its story and subsequent essays, sitting cross-legged on a bench under the blaring sun at school, or nestled quietly with my dog at night. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could’ve pulled me away from it.

That book was Our Lord Don Quixote, by Miguel de Unamuno.

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Memories on the Election of Trump

I‘ve tried and I’ve tried again, but even then, words still cannot communicate the sadness, frustration, fury, nor angst I feel when faced with the fact that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

I’ve thought about this sobering reality many nights, and through many nights of troubled, uneasy, contemplation, I’ve lost countless hours of sleep. The image of an America run by Trump is an image I cannot erase from my mind:

A slimy, opportunistic billionaire, fanning the flames of racism and disillusionment as a means of consolidating his power; a nationalist propagandist and racial ideologue as the Chief Strategist of the Oval Office; a climate change denier placed like a gag at the head of the EPA, deliberately choking the one organization that has the power to curb the impending overheating of the Planet; and an entirely red Congress that will accept many of the policies laid forth by the Oval Office with complacency, maybe even happiness.

In the month since Trump was elected, I’ve thought about what the environment will look like when I finally have kids, ten, twenty years down the road. Will there even be an environment? Will it be one worth living in?

Since long before I was born, in the late ’90s, climate change scientists have been steadily unifying around the alarming fact that Earth has barely a few decades before complete ecological catastrophe ensues, engulfing all living beings on the planet and commencing what will be, as termed by evolutionary biologists, the most recent mass extinction in our history. The last time such an extinction occurred, the dinosaurs were annihilated.

But that’s talking theoretically about the environment. That’s to say nothing of what will happen to the environment on the ground during a Trump Presidency: to the forests, wetlands, and wildlands which I have so cherished through my life.

I’ve grown up exploring the wild lands of Florida. When I was a kid, I liked nothing more than to lay forward on the prow of our bass boat and feel the cold air rush past as we went down the St. Johns River, a watery mirage of herons, gators, and cypresses slowly sliding past.

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