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Sundry notes on return from Cuba

By Wu Ming 4, July 2004 Fidel with a I Love NY t-shirt
As I head away from the Malecon towards the old city, through the groups of people lingering at the edge of the demonstration, I hear someone call out to me, "Ehi, Italy! Silbio Berlusconi…hah hah hah!"
I don't know whether to laugh or feel embarrassed. Getting the piss taken out of you like this in the streets of a country which, by European logic, is considered a dictatorship - and right at the end of a Castro rally - says a lot about the political reputation Italians enjoy abroad.
I push on towards the older labyrinth, trying to escape the implacable sun. It's the hottest June of recent years, and in May not even the rains came. The sea breeze feels like a giant hair dryer blowing into the face of La Habana. Because of this, the march against the blockade was organised for early morning, right in front of the North American Interests Bureau, the large cement building overlooking the Malecon where every day entry visas to the U.S. are granted or denied. Given the impromptu nature of the event, organized with a minimum of notice, only four suburbs were mobilised: roughly two or three hundred thousand people that filled the seaside promenade and were now moving in an orderly fashion towards waiting buses.
For forty five years the Americans have asked themselves how the Castro regime is able to enjoy such incredible popular support. For forty five years the Americans could have given themselves a simple answer: it's because of them. The Cuban revolutionary spirit, with a pedigree that's at least a century and a half long, has survived the shifting sands of history steeling itself through arduous effort to resist the economic siege of the largest world power, continuing to sustain a socialist model a few miles from the cradle of global capitalism. The discomfort of the Cubans isn't political, as the nearby yanquis would like to see it; rather it's social, it depends on the lack of options. This puts them in league with all of the world's poor countries, with the difference that here a welfare system exists and resists. The paradoxes are what keep this island moving forward, fragmenting it and holding it together at the same time, preventing it from disintegrating.

Standing on the rocks in the tiny port of Cojimar, I watch my Cuban friends fishing with nylon thread. The night envelops the sea, but the lights of the large suburb of Alamar stand out against it, almost making the crumbling blocks of flats seem beautiful. The sound of an open air club throbs in the distance. . It's been years since Hemingway used to come fishing here. Television crews once wanting interviews with the ancient Gregorio Fuentes, skipper of "Papà" Ernest's boat who died some time ago at 104, no longer come either.
Felix and Augustin don't give a damn about Hemingway, or of the commanding bronze bust behind them, a homage made by the Cojimar sailors to the foreigner that was in love with their island. Island of Cuba"The problem with our life is the absence of any prospects," says Augustin.
"I want to travel, to see the world," adds Felix, who is younger, "I don't want to live and die under the same sky. We're shut in here, always in a state of alert. We can never let our guard down, relax a moment. Now that Nazi Bush is acting the madman out in the world, we're more imprisoned than before."
I tell him that maybe if Kerry wins the elections in the United States on November 4, something could change, the blockade could loosen.
Felix shrugs. "Maybe."

Ah yes, the blockade.
"Do you have any idea what it means for us not to be able to buy what we need in the United States?" asks another Cuban friend. "To have to buy it in Canada or Japan? It means it costs double, because of transport and all the rest. And why? Because the mafiosi that live in Miami are hand in glove with Jeff Bush, the governor of Florida, the one who organised the poll-rigging in 2001 to make his little brother win the elections. It's one big clique of politicos supporting each other."
From here, from the tenement suburbs of La Habana, things take on different facets, which are difficult to perceive from Europe. The truth is that with Clinton the situation was different. The Democratic Presidency had made a small concession to the Cuban expats in Miami, approving the infamous Helms-Burton law that reinforced the blockade against Cuba.
But then in reality the law was by-passed, applied only partially. The Clinton presidency forged an accord with Castro: 20,000 entry visas per year to the United States, with a clause allowing migrants to return to Cuba once a year for family visits. There were even two daily flights guaranteed from Los Angeles and Miami to La Habana.
With Bush things have changed. Just in the last month the anti-Cuban laws have been implemented with greater zeal, the blockade has returned to resemble an anachronistic iron curtain. Visas have been reduced down to 10% (2,000 a year), and the provision for family visits limited to one every three years. A foolish choice, one which has even split the expat anti-Castro front (and this is a new political occurrence). There are two million Cubans in Miami alone, and hundreds of thousands more scattered throughout the United States. Many of these don't give a damn about the arguments of Castro or Bush, they only want to be able to go and visit their mother before she dies, bring her some medicine, embrace their relatives. The result, therefore, is that for the first time an American presidency has been able to make an enemy of a section of the Cuban community. The times are changing and may yet hold some surprises.
I listen to Felix's legitimate demands, like I do many other young Cubans who are intolerant of this life as it drags on, slow and uncertain. Immobility and uncertainty for the future intertwine. What will happen when Fidel dies? Shrugs, arms raised outwards. Fidel in the jungle on la SierraI tell myself that everyone should be able to travel. Human beings should be free to move, to migrate, try their luck elsewhere, see the world. How many times have we written and talked about it in the demonstrations that have crossed Europe in recent years… The law provides that Cubans can leave the island only if they have a formal "invitation" from a foreign citizen who acts as a guarantor for them. Or in the case of family visits or reunions. Then there is the largest hurdle: money. There are only very few Cubans with the means to travel overseas.
Needless to say, in spite of the many accusations leveled at the Castro regime, this rigid migration control is in the interests of precisely those developed countries that attack Cuba for its violations of individual freedoms. It's our policy, that of the wealthy countries, that calls for restrictions on circulation, rationing the number of people allowed to leave.
Felix winds up the nylon thread after putting another fish in the bag. He drinks another mouthful of ron from the bottle and says, "I've lived here all my life, encircled by the sea. Finally I've found a way to leave…"
Felix has no intention of giving money to the people smugglers or risking his life on a raft. That stuff's for the crazy and the desperate, he says. He tells me of an ex-convict from his suburb that, as soon as he was released from jail, paid an amount to some blokes from Key West to come and pick him up, "right here," (he points to a place on the rocks). No one's had any news from him for two years.
Felix and Augustin laugh, "That one thought he was headed straight to Las Vegas…and he's probably finished as a criminal somewhere. More or less what he was doing here. That's providing he was able to get there at all."
No, Felix will leave with a better plan, because he doesn't want to end up a bum on the edge of an American metropolis, and the States - the lifelong enemy - don't attract him one bit. This summer he's marrying his Basque fiancé and finally he'll be able to come to Europe. But it's not Cuban law that's forcing him to put a ring on his finger to be able to see the world. The reality is that last year, his fiancé's simple formal "invitation" was enough to get him an exit visa from Cuba, but not an entry visa into Spain. It was Mr Aznar who shut the door in Felix's face, not Mr Castro. It's just the same with George W. Bush cutting entry visas for Cubans coming to the USA. Fidel doll

While we talk on the beach of Megano, my girlfriend points out that the government should allow Cubans six month exit visas to look for work abroad, renewable every year. The same proposal that a part of the Italian left has suggested for migrants that arrive in our country.
Just another reminder that Cuba's problems are "our" problems, that is the world's, if we are able to think of similar solutions for both contexts. The Cuban anomaly provides a unique and privileged vantage point from which to observe globalization. There is a strange sensation you feel on this island: of being at some extreme, forgotten edge of the empire and of history and at the same time of being in the eye of the storm, at the heart of contradictions - a stone's throw from the American colossus.

In fact on this island it's easy to get hold of the wrong end of the stick, thinking all the problems converge here and are tied up with the regime that's survived the collapse of socialism. It's easy to be tempted into simplification, fishing for crabs and thinking they're marlin, as if freedom of circulation wasn't also a crucial issue at home, or in the United States. As if Schengen and the European unified policy hadn't created a huge gap between "us" and "them", between those who can move throughout the continent and the world in freedom and those who do it whilst having to submit to - or clandestinely trying to get around ­ every kind of restriction.
As I was saying, the wrong end of the stick.
An Italian tourist who feels like talking clenches his teeth and curses a policeman who walks amongst the beach umbrellas. The poor bloke wearing boots and a beret at the height of Summer becomes the symbol of Castro's police control.
"Bastard," grumbles the dentist from Milan who plays at being a Cuban expert. He brags about his own experience and of his wife with her firm body. He smokes a cigar stub and combs the few hairs he has left. Then he says he knows about skin ailments and, he specifies, venereal diseases, with a wink and a nudge. Not a bad person. Just a dim bloke that ignores the fact that the so called "grey beret" police corps were formed with the specific task of protecting the tourists. When I go and have a swim, the melancholy cop puts himself under the beach umbrella next to mine and waits until I return from the foreshore to recommence his solitary stroll. Only once does he come up to me and warn me to be
careful with my personal belongings. "The expert" mistakes the bloke that guards his wallet, his flip flops and the sunglasses bought from the beach vendors, for a rigid sentinel of dictatorship. If he'd been robbed he'd probably have accused the Cuban police of inefficiency and laziness. Cuba and the US shaking hands

From the last time I was here four years ago, the laws against those who "straddle" the tourists (male or female), have been hardened. Today you end up inside after only the second Police warning. The women's prison for the jineteras [horsewomen = hookers] - has an ironic name: Villa Delicia. In reality it appears that it isn't a tough jail; they often carry out their sentences doing socially useful jobs, like sweeping the streets for example. The sentences, however, remain disproportionately lengthy.
Libertarians like me don't like restrictions, and prisons even less, but the fact that Bush has recently accused Cuba of fostering sex tourism in order to squeeze money out of foreign yuppies has a paradoxical ring to it.
Maybe it's more pertinent to ask where the legions of tombeurs de femmes are coming from. Canada, Italy, Holland, Spain, France, Germany etc. The rich, democratic, civil West comes here to screw in someone else's poverty and revolution, distributing money and maybe even taking home the most beautiful girls. Nothing disreputable about it; let's be frank, this is neither the place nor the time to be moralistic. In fact an invasion of horny tourists is better that an invasion of marines, and condoms are without doubt preferable to bombs. But it should be clear that an invasion is still what it amounts to. There are roughly two million tourists each year that bring fresh and irrefutable dollars. The repressive way chosen by the regime to defend the island without giving up on tourism is the attempt to maintain the arrivals while preventing Cuba from becoming the giant bordello for foreigners that it was before the Revolution. All this can seem hypocritical, even despicable, but those ready to criticize aren't ready to confront some extra problems and think about what risks are run by the casual evening escort.
The bulky Roman financier that I met on the beach complains about the police state, because last night the woman that rents him his room asked for the papers of the girl he was taking to bed. In reality any landlord that didn't do so would risk loss of license and very high fines if it's later found out that the escorts coming to their home are prostitutes or persons of interest to the police. In short, it could pass for co-conspiracy. I tell him, "Sorry, but listen, in Italy it works the same way. If you bring a guest to a hotel, they have to show i.d., and I imagine the reasons are more or less the same."
While I observe his thoughtful expression I think that sometimes we're so used to speaking badly about Cuba, and yet we forget about speaking badly of Italy.
A few days later a Cuban tourist guide tells me that in his country freedom of information is rare; there's an information monopoly in force that doesn't allow the whole truth to filter through. And then he smiles, adding, "Of course, you Italians aren't exactly much better off."
There you go, exactly. tabloid junk: Castro dead of heart attack

Castro doesn't have a lot of time left: 79 springs and some people are now even talking "cancer". Whatever the case, the end of the Lider Maximo's political life can't be far away and what will happen after nobody dares say. His role now is already a symbolic one more than anything, and in a recent interview he himself complains that his deputies don't tell him the whole truth on the state of things in Cuba.
And yet on the level of dialectics the old lion doesn't appear to be missing a beat, even with the economic and political difficulties he's been coping with since the fall of the USSR. The thing that surprises me most traveling the roads of the island is discovering via the huge billboards put up by the state the rhetorical and symbolic shift towards globalization themes. Alongside the evergreen classics, like "SIEMPRE REBELDES", "SOCIALISMO O MUERTE" and the effigies of Che, new slogans have cropped up that mirror the Cuban regime's attempt to approach the neo-global movement. "OTRO MUNDO ES POSIBLE" (Another world is posible); "CUBA DEMONSTRARA' QUE OTRO MUNDO ES POSIBLE" (Cuba will show another world is possible); the word "SOLIDARIDAD" (Solidarity) pulverizing "NEOLIBERISMO"; and the most entertaining one: ALCA/PONE LA MAFIA AL SERVICO DEL IMPERO" (The FTAA puts the mafia at the service of the mpire)["Alca pone" = "Ftaa puts"].
But that's not all. There are many slogans that sing the praises of energy and water conservation. The art of recycling and getting by in Cuba is vaunted in every suburb, you only have to think of how the Cubans are able to keep the early fifties Buicks, Plymouths and Chevrolets on the road. There isn't a street corner where you don't see a small group of people intent on fixing something. That this is due to shortages and that the intention of the regime is to encourage frugality to reduce costs are points both beyond doubt. But that this should necessarily be viewed as a negative is disputable.
It's something else Felix makes me understand during a second night of fishing. I explain to him that the problem of the wealthy nations is the opposite to that of Cuba: we over consume in order keep our economy moving forward. At home we don't repair cars forever, they're sent to the scrap yard after a few years with state incentives. At home, things that are out of fashion, outdated models, old items are thrown away or substituted. I try and explain to him that our development model has something perverse and self-destructive about it.
He laughs and tells me, "You know what you should do? When you return to Italy write to the big wigs and tell them to contact our Comandante.
He's the biggest recycler in the world. Here we don't throw out anything. Send your old computers to us so we can put them in the schools. Give us your cars and the rest as well, because we need everything here!"

In effect this already happens. When I visited the Island of Youth in '98, I found there the red buses with yellow roofs that I used to ride on as a boy in Bologna in the 70s. A gift from the Emilia Romagna region. The garbage trucks of La Habana on the other hand come from the Basque Countries. And so it goes. Cuba is a giant open air workshop in which discarded first world goods still in working order are recycled.
Or maybe I like to imagine it like that.
Every now and then the water runs out (but all Cubans have a tank on the roof of their house to compensate in emergencies). Every now and then there's a blackout, because of rationing, or failures in the electricity grid. No one goes mad over this, no one despairs. They turn on a torch and wait for the lights to come back on. I think of the lights in the banks or the shops that are left on all night. I think of the infinite waste of material, drinking water, electricity, cellulose that distinguishes our "highly advanced" countries, and of the objectively unsustainable nature of such a model, driven by the idea of infinite development.
It appears that even the old wolf Castro has understood it and ­ at least on the rhetorical level ­ is playing the alternative card. Well, it won't be an easy job, given that Cubans completely lack an ecological sensibility and still throw paper and cans on the ground, on the beach and in the sea (exactly like in Europe). National TV has just started showing educational commercials about respect for the environment ­ it will take time for a sense of collective responsibility to be born.
Nevertheless I wonder if there might be something to be learned from this island.
For example, it leaps out at you that Cuba is probably the most mixed country in the world. Whites, blacks, half castes and all the shades in between fill the streets and live side by side. It makes you laugh to think of the problems back home. Parent committees that complain about the favoritism given to children of immigrants when accessing child care. The places are counted: four dark kids to one white, those most in need win and the Italian child is left out. In Cuba the solution would be simple: if child care is a right, then build another centre and send all the children, whether they're white or black, according to the real needs. Ah but you make it sound easy, ah but where's the money going to
come from, ah but what about this, ah but what about that…ah bullshit.
We're the wealthy ones, they're the poor ones. We shut down child-care centres, they build them. We make them charge, they don't: how the fuck is it possible?! Then people ask themselves how this regime has been able to survive the collapse of socialism…the truth is that here, with all the problems and the shortages, the paradoxes of "our" world are the ones that come to light.
Diego Maradona shows Fidel his Fidel tatoo on the leg
Maradona and Fidel posing together for a photograph

Even Fidel's rhetoric has been subject to anti-global and Zapatista influence. Due to his advanced age, "Grandpa Fidel" no longer dispenses five or six hour speeches but limits himself to 45 minutes. And they're no longer really addresses: in the last rallies he read two personal letters addressed to George W. Bush in which, apart from putting the environmental question at the forefront, Castro adopted the tone of a
Western movie, a showdown at the OK Corral launched from one boss of the Florida Straight to the other. My father, who is by now a naturalized Cuban, tells me about the May 14 "march" - a tide that filled the Malecon - and of Castro's closing lines. Many here still quote them a month later, some seriously, others jokingly, as if repeating the dialogue of some film.

"Mr. George W. Bush [...] Since you have decided that the die is cast, I have the pleasure of saying farewell to you like the Roman gladiators who were about to fight in the arena: Hail Cesar, we who are about to die salute you!
My only regret is that I will not see your face because you will be thousands of miles away while I'm on the frontline ready to die fighting in defense of my homeland."

I decide to make it to the second appointment on June 21. Same day, same time, same place. In front of the North American Interests Bureau, the only yankee diplomatic office on the Island. But first I need to understand something, because I feel I've missed a few chapters - that there are some elements missing. A year ago the Cuban regime was definitively off-loaded by the Italian Left (up until that point there'd only been criticism), the day after the arrest of dissident intellectuals accused of having plotted against the country. The Left Democrats organized a conference on freedom of speech in Cuba; the Communist Refoundation Party wore sackcloth and ashes and so on. It had come out that the ranks of democratic dissidents had been greatly infiltrated by state counter-espionage agents, right to the top levels, and some intellectuals were put in jail, etc. In Europe there were cries of prisoners of conscience and Castro was depicted as a Stalinist dictator. Provisions for sanctions were made against Cuba. Above all, the push was lead by Spain and Italy. In fact here demonstrations were organized in front of the embassies of both countries, pointing out that in the same period they were condemning the repression in Cuba, Italy and Spain were lending their military support to the invasion of Iraq.
At best you could say that the European sermon was just, but the preachers weren't worthy of delivering it.
I've certainly never liked regimes, whatever their ideological colour. But did at least one of our lefties get off their backside to take a plane, come here, and try and understand something of that terrible story? I don't think so. There were too many things to think of, there was the imminent war, and no one thought for a second that essentially it was about exactly the same war, fought on different fronts.
Given I don't like regimes and I don't like summary sentencing in absence of the condemned either ­ even if it is a more "democratic" judge than Fidel Castro ­ I'll try and reconstruct events and circumstances, a piece at a time. What emerges is a story of intrigue, rogues, and unusual spies. the five cuban agents

It starts in 1997. At the end of summer that year a few central American mercenaries with links to the CIA are able to enter into Cuba and place small bombs in the foyers of three hotels. The aim is to undermine the nascent Cuban tourism industry that's given the economy a boost after the crisis of the nineties. A young Italian who's traveled to Cuba for years with his father on business and for holidays is seated in the foyer of the Hotel Copacabana at the time of the explosion and catches a shard of glass in the throat. He dies due to loss of blood. His name is Fabio Di Celmo.
The next year Castro sends the FBI a detailed report on the plans of the Cuban mafia in Miami to harm the island. Castro's sources are five counter-espionage agents that have infiltrated the balseros in Florida. They are uncovered and arrested (they're still in jail in the United States).
In 1999 the Elian Gonzales case explodes and protracts until 2000. A young boy taken by his mother on the rubber boat of a people smuggler is the only survivor when the journey ends in shipwreck. An enormous political game between the two sides of the Florida channel is played on little Elian's head. In the end Castro will win out, an American court will recognize the father's right to take his son back with him to the island.
In 2001 Bush wins the elections with the ballot rigging in Florida. In September the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon shake the world. Bush's holy war on terror begins. Cuba ends up on the list of rogue states that support international terrorism.
The United States invade Afghanistan, then, in 2003, Iraq. In Cuba there's growing concern.
2003 is precisely the crucial year.
The international situation is explosive. Bush is scary, he's declared a preemptive war that, he maintains, will last thirty years. There are more than a few third world countries that tremble at the thought. After Afghanistan and Iraq, who'll be next?
The CIA doesn't waste time: it incites rolling strikes and protests against the government of Hugo Chavez that has nationalized the Venezuelan petrol wells and promised agrarian reform.
Meanwhile already in September 2002 a new head of the North American Interests Bureau has arrived: James Cason. His resume describes a person always in the right place at the right time: Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, etc. A respectable face for other people's dirty tricks?
Nothing is more likely. Between the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, Cason meets with all the dissident Cuban intellectuals and journalists, urging them to make their voices heard and guaranteeing his office's support for their activities.
Let's stop a moment.
In the same months, two Cuban domestic flights are hijacked by desperados armed and ready to do anything to leave the island. A coincidence? Following this, a ferry that does the commuter trip across the bay of La Habana is hijacked by a group of former criminals with pistols and knives. The tourists taken hostage are able to jump overboard and the hijackers are captured by the Cuban coast guard. Tried with a summary judgment they are shot to death for piracy and acts of terrorism.
Meanwhile Cason continues his campaign of initiatives in support of the dissident "intellighenzia". The dissidents come and go as they like at the Bureau of North American Interests, and a press room is set up for them in the building. Cason offers them economic help, grocery supplies, medicines they can give away to make themselves liked, precious United States entry visas, contacts with ex-pat groups linked to the old Batistan mafia. It's pretty evident that the operation takes shape as an attempt to create a "democratic" opposition that renders itself visible and lays the foundations for a destabilization of the regime.
We come to March 2003, in the days when Bush orders the invasion of Iraq. On March 29 in Miami the anti Castro ex-pats organize a rally in favour of the Iraqi invasion flaunting the slogan, "Today Iraq, tomorrow Cuba!" In Cuba a state of alert is ordered for the Defence Committees of the Revolution and the civil militia.
Cason's operation, however, has already been blown wide open days before, because infiltrated agents of the Cuban secret service have come out and denounced the maneuvers in progress. Numerous dissidents, active for years, end up in jail for having accepted money from a foreign power for the purpose of spying against the state (and not for crimes of conscience, as it was suggested in Europe). a funny piece of newspaper

I come to a full stop and try to reflect. I'm radically against the death penalty. I'm radically against disproportionate sentencing, in fact I've never believed in the usefulness of prison. Therefore I can do no less but to oppose the choices made by the Cuban state at this juncture. But I'm not pretending to be holier than thou either and I pose myself some questions.
The premise that there should be an opposition to the government in Cuba should be as legitimate as it is in any other country. What doesn't seem justifiable, however, is that such an opposition should look for support from those people who have kept the island under an economic siege for forty five years and maintain close contact at the highest level with the Miami bosses. Would we, in Italy, justify a political group that had ties with the Albanian mafia of the KLA or some Islamic inspired bombing outfit? Is it possible that these dissident activists can be so stupid?
Evidently yes. But why?

I go to read a book of interviews with the Cuban counterespionage infiltrators. I try and cast a critical eye over the regime's version and begin to glean some sense from it.
These groups were active for over ten years. They were opposed by the regime, controlled by the regime, according to standards that for us Europeans evoke Orwellian specters. But they weren't persecuted (if it is true they were able to continue their activities: above all the collection of testimonials on civil and human rights violations) until they placed themselves in the hands of Mr Cason. The descriptions of the dissident milieu made by those who spent years amongst it make you think that these people's foreign allies were their most serious problem.
Instead of sustaining the most lucid critical minds, the Americans gave space and offered assistance to the most boorish and untrustworthy detractors of the Castro regime. The concept of "transition" that the Americans have in mind is, as usual, totally simplistic, racist and utilitarian. The result is that besides a few sincere and serious people, there's a stream of reprobates, aspiring journalists, failed hacks and general opportunists that have spied the opportunity of a trip to the United States in business class and the acquisition of political exile status, all pushing and shoving to take whatever bone is thrown at them. In other words: some useful idiots. There's no other way to explain why individuals that call themselves democratic should have accepted support from people who have always treated Latin America as their backyard and done as they pleased with it. It's no coincidence these organizations only had a few dozen militants and the average person on the street in Cuba is practically indifferent to their fate.
Finally, the peculiar fact is that the majority of the moderate minds among the top dissidents were…undercover agents whose position was to develop the critical and information gathering activities without entering into a lethal embrace with the Americans. Basically the moderate minority within the "dissident" groups, the supporters of a soft transition, were made up largely of Castro supporters, incognito.
As I said, an island of paradoxes.

We arrive in the vicinity of the stage by taxi, taking a side street. They'd told us they wouldn't let us even get near it, but we immerse ourselves in the sea of people without any trouble and find a raised position where we can listen to Fidel's speech. Despite his age, the Comandante nevertheless is able to be less rhetorical than the young orators that precede him.
One of the points Castro hammers the most is freedom of circulation. He laments the recent restrictions of the blockade and the cutting of visas. He laments the fact that North American citizens aren't able to visit Cuba, on pain of reprisal from their own country. The conclusion also deals with the same topic.

"Mr. George W. Bush [...] You surely know that 44 million people in the United States lack medical insurance and that at some point in a two-year period, 82 million Americans had no insurance and could not afford the astronomical costs of essential healthcare services in your country. A very conservative estimate indicates that many tens of thousands of lives are lost every year in the United States because of this, perhaps thirty or forty times the number that died in the Twin Towers. Someone should calculate this exactly.
In a short five-year period, Cuba is prepared to save the lives of 3,000 American poor. It is perfectly possible today to forecast and prevent a heart attack that could be fatal and alleviate illnesses that lead inevitably to death. These three thousand Americans could come to our country accompanied by a relative and receive medical treatment absolutely free of charge.
I wish to ask you a question, Mr. Bush, about ethics and principles. Would you be willing to give those people permission to come to Cuba on a program designed to save a life for every life lost in that horrendous attack on the Twin Towers?
And, if they accepted the offer of those services and decided to come, would they be punished?
Show the world that there is an alternative to arrogance, war, genocide, hatred, egoism, hypocrisy and lies!
On behalf of the Cuban people,
Fidel Castro Ruz"

The old leader has finished. The crowd trickles away in a thousand directions. All that's left are the blinding sun and Cuban barbs about the lider minimo that fate has assigned to us Italians.

I return home reluctantly. I return to work, to the over consumption of energy and to e-mail.
While I review the 84 that have accumulated during my absence, I think of Felix and all the young Cubans like him. Maybe he'll be able to reach Europe. He said he wanted to travel across it all, to see Madrid, Paris, Rome. And he wanted to experience cold, real cold, make snowballs and finally eat red meat, which in Cuba is a rarity.
I hope with all my heart that he makes it and I've set a rendezvous with him for New Year's 2005 in Spain. I tell him not to get his hopes up, but I don't think he does. He's just another young person like many others who wants to see the world and live with his girlfriend.
Maybe at thirty he will be able to escape the Cuban anomaly and the slow repetition of the days. To find change, the life transformation that he's always hoped for, without ever ceasing to love his island.
Waiting for him out there is the world anomaly, which in reality is the same as the Cuban anomaly. My attention is drawn to an email from a few days ago.

"N.400/A/2004/671/P/ Rome.
SUBJECT: Authorization of exit from and reentry to national territory granted to foreign citizens in possession of a receipt for application
of the renewal of residency visa.

In order to facilitate exit and reentry to non EU citizens that have applied to renew residency visas in the appropriate police branches and
are in possession of the relevant receipt, the following conditions must be met for them to leave from July 1 to September 30:
a) The exit and reentry from national territory will occur through the same border post;
b) The foreigner will have to show passport or equivalent i.d. document, the receipt of the application for visa renewal, copy or original of the
expired residency visa or of the one whose renewal has been requested;
c) the personnel in charge of border controls will see to it that the exit stamp is placed not just on the passport but on the aforementioned
receipt as well;
d) the trip should not include transit to other countries within Schengen.


Bienvenidos a Europa Libre.

Translated by Jason Di Rosso

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