My recent trip to Cuba opened up a heated debate and taught me so much!
On January 9th, I had just returned to Colombia from Cuba. My memories of Cuba and my time spent there are still vivid and keep pulling me back. I have memories of political discussions, places that recalled the revolution, and places where the revolutionaries and their supporters resisted an invasion by anti-Castro soldiers, backed by the US.
I have memories of classic American cars – some used as taxis and some used as private vehicles. There were bicitaxis — powered by men and women pedaling their customers. There was artwork, dance and music. Oh, was there music! There were sunsets over the Malecon and sunsets over the rooftops.
And experiments in socialism, reforestation projects, long processes for producing pure Cuban cigars and jokes about Vitamin R — yes, that ever present liquid produced in Cuba — rum.
And yes, there were shortages, shortages of eggs, water, milk and so much more — with people struggling to survive. No matter what your political vision was for Cuba, everyone agreed on several things. The 65 year old blockade imposed by the US on Cuba needed to be lifted. Free education through university needed to be preserved. And health care needed to remain accessible to all.
Yes, I want to go back to Cuba, despite some discomfort with the political and economic situation in La Habana and elsewhere throughout the country. This wasn’t the first time I’d gone somewhere amidst controversy. My participation in a US Peace Council delegation to Venezuela in 2014, Syria in 2016 and my visit to the West Bank of Occupied Palestine in 2013 were not universally well-received either.
But my purpose in going to all those places was to see with my own eyes what was happening to these countries, rather than to be at the mercy of a heavily propagandized US media.
I will write a series of articles about what I learned in Cuba — starting with my arrival in Cuba on New Year’s Eve and continuing throughout 9 days of exploration.
I arrived in La Habana, Cuba on New Year’s Eve 2023. The following day was January 1, 2024, the 65th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. My friend and I went to the National Theater to see the ballet. What we saw was the Cuban National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” a ballet my late mother danced in with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Years later, my mother helped choreograph a nearly annual production of “The Nutcracker” with a local ballet school in New Jersey.
I don’t know how many times I have seen “The Nutcracker” performed live, but it was probably some 15 – 20 times. With all due respect to my mother who worked with a cast mainly comprised of ballet school students and a few professionals hired specifically for the occasion, and to the New Jersey Ballet’s fine production, the production of Cascaneuces (The Nutcracker) by the Cuban National Ballet was the best I had ever seen!
It was quite a welcome to the country that sparked controversy before I began my journey.
In fact, Cuba has been the subject of much debate and discussion for almost as long as I have been alive — with the Cuban revolution that succeeded on January 1, 1959.
Before the ballet, there was a commemoration of the 65 years since that day. After the ballet, we walked to Revolution Plaza, with a statue of Jose Marti and illuminated images of Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara on buildings in the plaza, formerly known as Civic Square.
I will return to this theme shortly, but for now will publish this piece. If I waited to post until I completed my story, I think the piece would be far too long to read at one sitting. Please stay tuned.
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