It's far from perfect, but who in
 Washington would have bet ten years ago when the Cuban
 economy seemed headed for Hell that Cuban socialism under
 Castro would both survive - and offer gradually improving
 material life to its citizens?
 By Saul Landau
 A two-hour drive from the noxious fumes of Havana takes us
 to Vinales, in Pinar del Rio, Cuba's western province. Fidel
 Castro has ordered all nooks and crannies of the city
 sprayed so as to eliminate the dreaded Aedis Aegypti, the
 mosquito that haunts the Caribbean and whose bite can cause
 dengue fever which, in its extreme form causes serious
 illness and even death.  In the picture postcard setting,
 the hotel overlooks a valley filled with manicured fields of
 tobacco leaves and palm trees, with farmers guiding yokes of
 oxen pulling ancient wooden plows. Seated at the next table,
 a middle aged woman, dressed in expensive plain lace dress,
 with a high collar and long sleeves, pronounced, in a voice
 resembling Margaret Thatcher:
 "I find this place just like China. I hated it, you know,
 but it fascinated me." I listened and watched in disbelief
 as the man seated across from her, presumably her husband,
 dressed perfectly for the tropics in a blue blazer, starched
 shirt and public school tie mumbled his assent. Perhaps all
 those layers shield him from mosquitoes? I imagined people
 like these nouveau upper class English tourists in the 1920s
 visiting their colonies in Africa, sipping their mojitos and
 smiling disdainfully at the dark skinned Cuban waiter vainly
 intent in extracting a large tip from these parsimonious
 This is one view of "revolutionary" Cuba, 2002, a country
 that relies on stingy and judgmental European visitors, some
 of them unfortunately drawn to the island by the lure of
 gorgeous young women and men - or even girls and boys. But
 Cubans living in Florida and elsewhere have become even more
 important than tourism for the Cuban economy. Cubans living
 abroad contribute almost a billion dollars a year to members
 of their families who live on the island. The dollars end up
 in Cuba's central bank. How ironic! Fidel's foremost enemies
 have become the mainstays of the economy they swear to
 destroy? Not only did he induce the United States to import
 his most ardent foes, people who now cause problems for us
 instead of for him, but his very presence as the eternally
 disobedient one provokes Washington to maintain a trade
 embargo that has led to downright implausible economic
 In a recent 60 Minutes episode, Armando Perez Roura, one of
 Miami's leading Castro-hating windbags, argued that the US
 trade embargo and travel ban remained necessary measures so
 as not to provide the hated "dictator" with one cent. Yet,
 the same Castrophobe admitted that he regularly sends his
 baby brother on the island $300 remittances - like many of
 the decent, family-loving, Castro-hating Cubans living
 abroad. Otherwise, he opined, they would starve to death.
 Not true, of course, but the fact remains that Castro's
 fiercest enemies have become his economic backbone --
 without most them daring to admit it to themselves. Together
 with tourism, remittances from Cubans living mostly in the
 United States make up Cuba's main sources of foreign
 revenue. Mining is third and sugar has become a distant
 fourth. But the Cuban economy is hard to discern. In the
 streets, idle men congregate on corners; those working don't
 overly exert themselves. Yet, Havana is also a city of
 people in motion, or waiting at bus stops or trying to hitch
 a ride. Where are they going? In the short term, to work,
 home, school - to a tryst or a meeting. In the long term?
 The expression on one woman's face reminds me of Edward
 Munch's painting, The Silent Scream.
 How odd to see the ubiquitous billboards with revolutionary
 slogans urging the people to strive for the purity of
 purpose - including hard work -- that Fidel Castro, Che
 Guevara and the bearded guerrillas brought to state power
 some 43 plus years ago. Alongside this exhortation,
 carnality and commercialism blast their messages, inherent
 in the kind of tourism that flows to tropical islands.
 I remember a Cuba that from the early 1960s through the mid
 1980s had almost no tourists. Instead, the late Soviet Union
 provided the island's population with basic needs, not
 luxuries, not anything that could even mildly suggest that
 consumption could offer a viable way of life for a sane
 society. Now, tourism, the necessary but very double-edged
 sword that helps maintain Cuba's economy, has offered its
 devilish temptations to Cubans and the shiny glitter of
 individualism beckons a people whose heroic sacrifices
 helped change the destiny of several African nations and
 indeed altered the course of history in our own hemisphere.
 I watch the English tourists stroll down the country road in
 Vinales and chat with the farmer whose tobacco plot adjoins
 the hotel land. He will, of course, try to sell them his own
 hand rolled cigars for a much lower price than the stores or
 the street hustlers in Havana, who offer either fakes or
 cigars stolen from the factories to the tourists. They, like
 the farmer, need dollars to survive in the modern Cuban
 economy. Later, sitting on his back porch, sipping the
 sweetest grapefruit juice I've ever tasted - from his tree -
 I ask the farmer to assess the current situation.
 The sixty five year old man wipes his brow, smiles at his
 wife who has served the fabulous juice, and replies: "my
 kids have all graduated from the university, my grandkids
 are all in school. But I was born here in Pinar del Rio
 [Cuba's western province and choice tobacco soil] and got no
 education." He lights one of his own "tabacos" and
 continues: "I was diagnosed as diabetic a few years ago.
 Twice a day I have to inject myself. It costs nothing. Sure,
 there are shortages, but we farmers understand that life
 means uncertainty, hard work. And everyone makes mistakes. I
 have no complaints," he smiles at his wife, who does have
 The stuffy, upper class English tourists, for one thing,
 drove a very hard bargain for the cigars and behaved as if
 the old couple were lesser people, "as if they were superior
 to us." She scowled. "Who do these people think they are?"
 she asked rhetorically. "You shouldn't have sold them
 anything," she scolded her husband. He smiled at his wife's
 pride, her dignity. "We don't need their $10," she snorted,
 referring to the price they paid for 25 first class cigars.
 But they did need the dollars, to buy necessities for their
 grandchildren - items the state used to provide before the
 Soviet Union, the sugar Daddy, collapsed.
 It's Cuba, 2002, the last socialist country or island in a
 sea of turbulent capitalism. Fidel still preaches the old
 values, reduced to billboard slogans and sermons on the
 daily television round table. Socialism, revolution,
 anti-imperialism - words that put a glaze over the eyes of
 many of Cuba's youth who think of the United States as
 paradise. These kids feel deprived because in their
 childhood they received their needs from the state. Now that
 the state has been forced to reduce its subsidies, people
 complain. But most mature Cubans realize that their free
 health care and education, with all of its problems, means
 more than a shot at becoming a millionaire in the United
 I think of Cuba's continued survival as a kind of miracle
 after the Soviet Union collapsed. Up to now, Cubans have not
 discovered great reserves of oil nor found strategic mineral
 deposits. Cuba's government has refused to make concessions
 to the greedy multinational investors looking to exploit
 both workers and resources. Its people still receive
 subsidies to meet part of their monthly needs - albeit less
 than a third of what they received when the Soviet Union
 provided them with its beneficence. Cuba continues to offer
 scholarships to third world youth who want to study medicine
 and Cuban doctors still treat the Ukrainian kids who
 suffered radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl disaster.
 "This place is totally unrealistic," a Cuban-American
 complained to me at the airport, referring to the
 difficulties Cuban government officials placed in the path
 of investors, in the path of capitalism.
 I agreed. Cuba, I thought to myself, seems like an airplane
 in a decade-long holding pattern, with no clear plan of how
 or where to land yet determined to convert non convertible
 material into fuel. Fidel has turned his enemies' hatred
 into economic support, his people and natural resources into
 lures for tourism. It's far from perfect, but who in
 Washington would have bet ten years ago when the Cuban
 economy seemed headed for Hell that Cuban socialism under
 Castro would both survive - and offer gradually improving
 material life to its citizens?
 Saul Landau is Director of Digital Media and International
 Outreach for the College of Letters, Arts and Social
 Sciences at the California State Polytechnic University
 Pomona. His new film is MAQUILA: A TAKE OF TWO MEXICOS.