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Santiago November 13, 1992 - Politbureau Member Bristles At Questions

By Bob Van Leer

  TeachingSon(SANTIAGO, CUBA, Nov. 13, 1992) - Our first stop this morning was at Revolucion Square which is a typical example of Russian heroic art.

  There is a huge statue of Gen. Antonio Macheo, a hero of the 1898 war against Spain. Macheo is on a horse, of course.

  This is accompanied by huge steel structures, which we were told were to give the impression of cane knives used to fight the war.

  In a sweltering conference room under the art we met with Santiago Cuban officials. The air conditioning was off, blamed of course on the embargo. 

Politbureau Members

  Estaban Lazo is the secretary of the Santiago Communist Party and a member of the Cuban Politbureau, the ruling organization of the country.

  He is probably the most influential person to meet with us. Lazo is a huge black man who looks like a football linebacker.

  He has what the military calls "command presence"; he looks like he should be in charge.

  We were told there are no precise figures but blacks probably make up more than half of the Cuban population.

  He was accompanied by Reynaldo Endi Endi, president of the provincial assembly. Lazo explained the relationship saying the party doesn't administrate, the government does.

  Lazo was doctrinaire. He said after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Cuba had to face the reality of the blockade.

  A new textile plant is running at only part capacity because of a shortage of raw materials. A big oil refinery at Santiago is running at less than full production because of a shortage of incoming oil.

Lack Of Oil

  Lack of oil is one of the themes that has run through every meeting we have had. The Soviets subsidized the price of oil to Cuba giving 6-7 tons of oil for a ton of sugar.

  Cuba now gets 1.7 tons of oil per ton of sugar on the world market. Lazo refused to be pinned down on where Cuba is getting its oil now. "With the Toricelli amendment, only the very brave will sell us oil." The oil Cuba produces is a dirty oil, heavy and high in sulphur. It is used mostly for power and cement plants. Priorities are given to food production and tourism over consumer goods.

Go Back To 1958?

  Lazo bristled when I asked if Cuba will go back to 1958 without Russian subsidies. He said, "It will never be the way it was in 1958. What we have built cannot be destroyed".

  He cited the increase in the numbers of doctors, nurses and hospitals. He hopes to be able to pay for this with profits from tourism and reduced dependency on imported products.

  New strains of sugar cane are being developed that need less fertilizer and insecticides.

Breathing spell?

 Lazo feels that a number of Cuba's social problems have been solved such as health care.

  He thinks this gives the government a breathing spell to handle the problems caused by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the U.S. embargo.

  The government can now ask the people for a "period of sacrifice".

  At first when Cubans mentioned this "special period" or "special time" we thought they were describing something.

  But this is its name, "the special period", which is defined as the time after the fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1989.

NoFearOld U.S. Cars Going

  Fred Knecht, Pennsylvania publisher, was here on a tour in 1981. Changes he noticed are Havana is more rundown than then but the people are better dressed.

  He said in 1981 most cars on the street were old U.S. cars in bad condition. They are mostly gone. Some are still around but are in better repair. Most cars appear to be Japanese with a few Russian Ladas.

  Lunch was a whole roast pig at a farm outside Santiago. We were treated to roast pig and trimmings and a Cuban band.

All Heads And Legs

  After lunch, I wandered off and found where the pigs were raised. They are about half the size of the U.S. domestic hogs and with long legs and not very fat. Piglets look to be all heads and legs.

  I crossed a creek and found a small residential area. These were tiny dwellings on a road that was a dirt track.

  My being there caused people to come out of their houses and look at the strange monkey that wandered into their zoo.

  After lunch we were taken to Cathedral Square in downtown Santiago.

  It was a pretty place dominated by a huge cathedral for a diocese founded in 1522. Remember, this was only 30 years after Columbus made his first voyage.

  Around the square we were constantly sought out by hustlers, mostly boys and young men.

  The man who sold us pesos yesterday was at the square and immediately sought us out. I didn't trust him and finally persuaded him he'd get no more from me.

  A woman in an art gallery wanted us to get her soap. We were later in one of the hard money stores and bought her a bar and took it back to her. She may actually use it to wash her kids. But also she may resell it.

Must Not Sit Well

  It must not sit well with the populace to have stores we can shop in but the locals can't.

  In the evening we were entertained by a folklore dancing troupe, the Folklorico de Oriente.

  The dancing was at the home of Jose' Marselles, a Spaniard who is manager of the Leningrado Motel at San Juan Hill.

  Our guides were not clear how a Spaniard lived in such a fancy house except insisting the house was owned by the state.

  The dancing and singing was decidedly African and the troupe was excellent. The performance was cut a little short because of an unexpected rain.

  Tomorrow we will be doing some sightseeing and then start the trip home. Saturday night we are to be back in Havana.


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