Tuesday, August 31, 2010

International Inspirations: An Introduction to Cuba

It was my friend's Israeli beau whose comment reminded me of the urgency of all things relevant. "Once I left Cuba, it was gone for me." Experiences go by so quickly - and some linger beyond their time - so if I'm to provide timely insight, I better get on the ball.

Here is the first installment in a series that will discuss my time and observations while on an official research delegation to Cuba in June 2010: "Cuba: A Paradox in Paradise"

I. Introdution: Cuba-ism

When Picasso experimented with cubism, the form did not develop overnight. Rather, he made technical geometric sketches to lay the groundwork for creating his paintings that depicted many images from one central figure. The mystifying glory was that one could see the same face from many different angles. Thus, I relate cubism to Cuba; not only because of the similarity of the words, but also because Cuba is multi-faceted, designed to create certain perceptions, yet cannot be contained to one explanation. It is, in this sense, a modern work of art as a country sculpted from classic principles and the vulnerable instincts of a shunned genius.

Cuba is as brave and ambitious as Picasso, as time and effort has led to its multi-faceted culture of Socialist secularism. The result is what I am calling Cuba-ism, which means that many worlds exist within one. It is a complexity that represents both optimism and uncertainty. Where one smile glows, another face grimaces, thus presenting to the world a magnificent puzzle that will be crafted by its opportunities to showcase domestic accomplishments and carefully tap into international market potential.

The party line is a sharp edge, softened only by the warmth and intellectual capacity of its people. It has a meticulous design that pulls many parts into one in order to function as an advancing society. Everyone has to work together in solidarity to support not only the status quo, but also the peace it ultimately seeks to maintain. Cuba, as we were reminded, is a country that is not at war with anybody.

Incidentally, the Cuban government regulates almost all aspects of life, and descent from the party line of the central government is dangerous territory. Despite the revival of many domestic food sources and international bartering, many go without having their basic needs met. Being denied access to the American market is only one hurdle that prohibits Cubans from having access to everyday goods. There are two currencies – one for the Cubans and one for the tourists – that create a vast disparity between hard work and reward. They also hear a lot of rumors and truths from those who defected to become refugees in America. Without the freedom to question the powers that be, many mouths turn down as they go hungry.

This warm and well-educated population is optimistic about opportunities inspired by domestic accomplishments and international market potential. The government has succeeded in securing certain favorability from and promises to its people – by way of free education and health care – but its strength still depends on the work ethic of the population and the help of international players who see it as an ally. Until it can better refine its role in the world, Cuba will continue to lack definition. No matter which face is pointing forward, there is always another side to the coin.

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