Monday, April 6, 2015

Havana, Cuba - Part 1

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma.

I am an honest man
From where taje palm tree grows,
And I want, before I die
to cast these verses from my soul.

- Jose Marti (1853-1895)

I welcome President Obama’s historic move to restore relations with Cuba. Seemingly, he has hit snags on issues like the return of Guantanamo Bay base, but prisoner exchanges were done, thanks to Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina. It is encouraging to note that Fidel Castro is backing the U.S.-Cuba thaw. Hope the day will come soon to overcome remaining thorny matters.

I was in Cuba under the Castro regime almost 50 years ago. Cuba is 140 km from Key West, Florida. Havana was still under curfew, guarded by armed soldiers. Ocean front Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana’s symbol built in 1930, was my hotel with an unbelievable room rate of 6 dollars a day (one dollar = one peso). Gunshots at night woke me more than once, but I wasn’t scared at all. However, I was in no mood to take a stroll out. My recollection is that Universidad de la Havana was within walking distance from the hotel.

My assignment was to see if the Cuban Government’s Union Electric would barter sugar in exchange for a power grid distribution analyzer made by my ex-employer through one of the Japanese trading firms. At the time, there was rationing going on among the Cuban citizens, and anything beyond real basic necessities like medicines, power generators, etc. were all considered luxuries. I knew the answer before the official denial was given. My visit to Cuba was a brief, intermediate stop along the way for the rest of my sales calls to meet Mexican, Colombian, Venezuelan, and Brazilian representatives.

While waiting for the Union Electric’s answer, during the weekend, my trading agent in Havana took me to see a golf course in Varadero, about 140 km east of Havana. The Varadero club house was originally the “Mansion Xanadu”, a three-story Spanish Colonial Villa, built by Irene DuPont, great granddaughter of Eleuthere in 1930.
The area was deserted and the golf course was not very well taken care of at all. I saw four Japanese golfers tee off, and they were the only golfers of the day. There were no caddies or callers. In fact, there was no one around the course. I was then taken to the Varadero beach by a Cuban chauffeur arranged by my trading agent. Hemingway was said to frequent this beach. Photos were officially banned but I got a few with my camera (see photos). I got one also of the Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Moro from inside the car.

Back at the hotel, I went up to the top floor swimming pool and spent most of my time there in my private paradise until dark, swimming, sunbathing, reading, snacking, without anyone ever bothering me. The Cabaret Tropicana at the Hotel had the best show I’ve ever seen in my life. It was better than Franco Fontana’s Oba Oba, the Brazilian show I saw in Las Vegas at a much later time.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Arigato /thanks. I have recently returned from Varadero, Cuba It has certainly changed from when you visited. Can't wait to read Part 2!