Conversations with a Cuban -- a September 2003 extended e-mail conversation regarding many of the above perceptions of Cuba and Cuban life -- this is highly educational to read.  This person lives in Havana, Cuba, but was on travel out of the country during these conversations.

For purposes of personal safety upon his or her return to Cuba , the identity and location of the Cuban individual quoted below was not made known to the author.  The verbatim "conversation" is presented in it's entirety in chronological order. Spelling errors have been intentionally included to preserve the authenticity and flavor of the conversation... [nickname suppressed] replaces references to the individual at his/her request to preserve anonymity.

Sept. 22, 2003

Hi Mike, I happen to pop up with your web address and read your report on Cuba (my notive country). Your report seemed an honest apprecaition but I do not agree with some appreciations. There are some very gross mistake to start with perhaps result of the short term visit. Cuban TV in 2000 was of two channels (now is three and in a few months 4) but broadcasting time is several hours in the morning from 7:30 am to 8:30 am on one channel.  Then it stops and starts again at 12:00 noon and ends at 1:30 pm. Then it stops again and starts at 5:00 pm and ends usually between 11:00 pm and 12:00 midnight. On Saturadya and sundays it stays on up to 2:00 am usually.  Over the week there are several film sections on TV mostly showing recent american films although a lot of latin american films are also shown. On saturday night they is a very popualr program giving two films (90 % blockbuster american films) in a row.  It may surprise that as a result of the embargo law Cuba is perhaps the only country in the world which shows, within a three month period since they are released on the movies, the newest american blockbuster. So we get to see in TV, very fast, films like StarWars (first episode, the other one about the clones), harry poter all parts, lord of the ring, spider man, the matrix and the matrix reloaded, ... etc. On summer the TV gets expanded to broadcasting the whole day and lot of programms from abroad.  All over the year we have programms which usually broadcast the Discovery Channel documentaries (this is very popular), cartoons are mostly american on the type of mickey mouse, donald duck and so on. We have music programms with the worldwide hits of the season including american artist, you can mention any. So Cuba TV is far from being just "oficial propaganda" and political rethoric.  Of course thera are lot of political programms and so on but you can not reduce the TV to this, that would be unfair and will give wrong assesment of Cuba TV.  All this can be easily checked out by some one visting Cuba, He just have to turn TV on or see the week programming of TV.

Your assesment of Cuban parks is also unfair.  Havana is a city with a lot of parks. LOvely parks with trees and the rest.  Dont say my city is ugly.  I will agree with you that for example the district of Centro havana is rumbling and there parks are seldom seen near malecon and they are indeed dusty.  But Old havana is full of small parks with threes and gorgeous atmnosphere. Ther is a big green area known as metropolitano park within the city that people know it better for Almendares and the Bosque de la Habana.  Another important park is parque de la Fraternidad. Very near where you stayed ther are lot of parks, you can stroll by the street linea and see no less than seven parks in a 3 km distance.  All full of trees and grass areas. You can also go to nearby H park where there is a very well done statue of John Lennon.

Lack of agricultural markets. There are at least one free (on the sense of market) agricultural mark in every district of Havana. Prices there are high and people sell directly the farm products. The state tries to bring prices done by supplying cheaper product to these markets. Some times it works, some times not. One pound of pork meat is nowdays around 25 pesos (around one dollar). The markest gets pretty poor on summer because our climate is not good for vegetable at that time of the year you then see more fruits, on winter is a bit better. State own agricultural markets are much cheaper but then you dont find meat there although you find things like tomato, aguacate, banana, egg plant and other stuff.

Almost everybody votes. Its hard to explain why it happens I guess that a mixture of circunstances.  But it is not as simple as because people are affraid.  I know people who usually do not bother to vote and they do not get "punish" for that.  There is undoubtelly a strong "preasure" over you to vote but it does not go down to loosing your job or your house. It is a plain lie if somebody told you that you can get punish if you vote for the wrong person.  When you are in votinh booth you are alone and with you conciusness so nobody will tell if you voted this or that way, or you just spoiled your ballot in civil desobidience. All other stories I can say firmly is a lie .  I have been voting in Cuba for a while and I never had any suggestion that I was being watched (they would lack the infrastructure to that in all voting houses in the country anyway) or that my ballot had been marked so they could tell. This is not a political statement, I do not engage in political arguments anymore I just saying a fact driven by my own experience. I always asked myself why you have to lie in order to show that you are against Castro. Can there be an honest political opossition that just say: look in Cuba this and that is very well done but this and that rottens. Plain, simple. They have to invent some rubish or follow the "political line" of the hardliners in Miami who are worst than anything you can think off: old Batistianos and Batistianos relatives (look into the background of senator Licoln Balart and Ileana Ross).

I was surprise with your survey about Elian Gonzalez. That does not show that people did not want Elian to come back but instead showed that you were talking to "selective" persons or practicing a very poor pooling criteria.  Almost everybody in Cuba was with Elian father. That is to say, that Elian should be with his father where his father decided. If his father thought Cuba was the place to live then he should come back to Cuba. The father actaully showed that he wanted to live in Cuba and I think people should respect that and people did.  Although this became a very political thing (which by the way started with the stuberness of Elians family in Miami not to hand the kind to his father) the bottom line was quite humane. Elian should be with his father. The question was not if he should be in Cuba or Miami or anywhere else. People were very emotional about Elian for the simple reason that everybody felt they could be Elian father tomorrow. Put yourself in such situation. People were angry (really outraged) at Elian family in Miami. Thay had simple kidnapped the kid under some political stand ! The mother who went to march were not forced (you can do that once, twice, three times but not almost everyday for almost a year) they were simply showing their anger about the whole Elian affair. My mother was there (quite an unpolitical person) because she felt a sense of solidarity with Elians grand mothers who spoke on TV asking people support from bringing Elian back with them. Nobody forced my mother who by the way is a pensionist which the state can not really harm. She went with bunch of neighbors women all friend of her. I think Mike you missed the point there.

About Fidel. The most I can tell you about that avoiding to get into a long discussion is that people feellings about Fidel are very mixed depending on who talked to and usually the see positive and negative things. Its not black and white. He still has alot of support and now he has a lot of deractors also.

Farmacies and health system. I just point out something. Nobody dies in Cuba for a lack of money to buy a medicine. And the most advanced operations you can get freely with top notch doctors who only earn 40 bucks a month.  Critical medicines for cronical diseases are avilable to the patient and they got a monthly quota of their needed drug. HIV positive get for free their cocktail. That pretty much more that you can say of any third world health system and even of U.S. health system anyway. How much people in Latin America or those several millions with out health insurance in U.S. will be very happy to see that the only obstacle between them and the medicine they need is a one or perhaps two hour line in front of a farmacy.

I just to be a very political person before.  Nowdays I avoid such discussion as being useless. I have become very skeptical about politics and ideology.  I can tell you a lot of things I disagree in Cuba, but I really felt that you had a very unbalanced view of Havana, again perhaps you talked to a very closed spectrum of people. Cuba is a very complex country. Freedom is a nice word when it means something, but is often used (by all factions) as an empty word to sustain their stance.

It is not fair neither Mike to disregard your friends view as you do in your end note saying that he was "brain washed" by the goverment who put up a show. Why dont you put his note plainly with out your "editorial comment". Reader are usually inteligent people who can make their own mind about something they read. It is a very usual thing, when it come to talk about Cuba, to disregard the views of somebody who is with the Cuban goverment or speak well about some Cuban reality as being a party line guy who does not want to loose his well renumerated job. While people abroad do not realize that Cuba, as any other contry, is not a black and white society living up to some prefabricated Orwellian idea, they will fail to see why has Fidel Castro survived so much years.

[nickname suppressed]

PS: For the record I am not following any "party line"" and my monthly income in Cuba is about 40 dollars. And I am writing to you from outside Cuba, in a pretty democratic country right now, no preassure over me.

Sept. 22, 2003

[nickname suppressed] Thanks very much for your comments. I really do want to know and publish the truth. I wish that I had spent more time in Cuba and gotten to know the situation better. It was an exceptional experience. I am fascinated by your comments, and take well your suggestions, including that to present my friend's comments without a biasing introduction (I will do so). I think your comments add tremendous value. And, you are in a unique position to correct incorrect impressions.

May I publish your corrective comments as a note on my web site, attributing them to you with your e-mail address (written as "[nickname suppressed] " (or however you prefer... Anonymous if you prefer) so as not to get you on automated spam lists. I may also correct my initial comments by inserting some quotes of your corrections, which I have no reason to question.

Thanks again! Tu amigo. MLB

Sept. 25, 2003

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your answer. I aknowledge from the beginning that you were making your best to be objective. If I would had though otherwise I would'nt had made you any comment.

I do not expect that you take my comments as good for granted. They are at the bottom just my personal view. A normal Cuban citizen living in Havana. Some of my points are easily checked out, as the one about Cuban TV, or the parks. Others are more subjective and other cubans may have a complete opposite view. About my comments of elections perhaps an interesting thing will be that you go to Cuba in an election period. Polls are open so you can go in and see what is happening and then you can post in the web about it.

If you want me to comment about some other subject please feel free to ask, but hurry I will be in Cuba next week and from their I have no access to
internet :(

You can publish my comments on your web site. I will be honest to you, my name is not [nickname suppressed] this a name I just took. There are lot of reasons for doing that, some of them personal others you can imagine as you were in Cuba and you saw the highly political atmosphere. You will have to decide if you will post the comments of somebody that is not willing to give his identity. I can only say that in spite of that my comments reflects what I feel. Please do not use my name or email (I can be recognized by my nickname) I would not like to see me involved in a political argument back in Cuba.

Perhaps one day we can meet without the anonymanity. I will be certainly glad as this will mean that things have change.

Sept. 25, 2003

[nickname suppressed] , Thanks for the reply. I'll be adding your comments to my web site this week, while respecting your privacy, as you suggest. I hope your return to Cuba goes well, and that some day we are able to have free open communications from anywhere anytime. I would love to hear from you in the future on your next trip out-of-country.

Yes, I would really like your opinion on these questions: (what a great opportunity for me!)

"Has Castro's experiment really failed?"
In some ways, many great social success have been achieved, but at the expense of too many freedoms?

Is it true that cell phones are not permitted... PCs, and Internet access as well? What are your feelings on those restrictions?

Evidently you are free to travel to and from Cuba. Have you ever considered "not going back?" What keeps you from staying wherever you are now?

If an anonymous poll were to be taken of all Cubans, where it was completely safe to express one's opinion, how, do you think, would Castro come out on a scale of 1-6? 6. Best leader in the world. 5. Doing a great job. 4. Doing a good job. 3. Doing an okay job. 2. Doing a poor job. 1. Worst leader in the world.

In your estimation, if every Cuban had the right to emigrate to The United States, Canada, Mexico, etc., what percentage would want to leave?

If I'm getting to personal, or these questions are not safe to answer, just ignore them... What is your occupation in Cuba? How can you afford to travel on a $40/month income?

Tu Amigo,

Sept. 25, 2003

Hello Mike,

>"Has Castro's experiment really failed?"
>In some ways, many great social success have been achieved, but at the expense of too many freedoms?

It depends how you measure failure. The social experiment in terms of justice is a huge success, in terms of economy its hard to tell because the effect of the embargo spoils any measure of it. I think there is no objective way of splitting the effect of the embargo and the effect of failed economical policies. Both sides tend to draw attention to what is politically better for them. The Cuban goverment blames the embargo to be responsible of the economical failures, the U.S. goverment blames the failed economical policies. Who is right? who knows. Probably both.

Going back to the question, has it been a political sucess: again mixed response. On one hand the Revolution put Cuba in the World map, it gave us a sense of pride on our nationality. This sense of pride is carried even by those today outside of Cuba against Castro. They are known because they oppose the Cuban revolution which was probably one of the biggest world
event in the second half of the XX century.

The Revolution also restored a sense of rights. Before 59 Cuban peasant did not have many rights, they were pushed around by landlords and american companies. Black people were marginalized. Women did not count. Cuba was a country of corruption and the backyard of U.S. The Revolution gave a lot of political rights to all this people: peasants, women, black people, workers. For the first time they had the right (not in papers but truely) to speak and really make a difference in decision making. You can forget about multipartidism, before 59 only one party counted in Cuba, the party of U.S. All the other parties lived to comply with the orders of the U.S embassador and when that did not happen then some Machado o Batista came a long to put
things right.

The Revolution also gave people the right to not be murdered because of political opposition, or to be dissapeared or to be tortured. That is something you dont hear much nowdays but is true. My uncle once told in a political discussion we had: You dont know what it is to have the fear of not knowing if somebody is coming to nock on your door any night and take you away and be tortured and murdered. That type of things were common in Cuba before 1959. In spite of what those so called dissidents say today, none of them had been tortured or killed for political opossition.

So poor people felt that simple and essential poltical and civil rights had been restores to them. So it that sense the Revolution was a big (huge, awesome) sucsess.

On the other hand it failed to live up to those expections in a lot of directions, for example the right to travel, the right to stay out of politics, the right to oppose official opinions. Individual rights are sacrified for what it is considered the rights of the colective. In that sense the Revolution has come short of what you would expect.

It also fails to give a hope of improvement to the individual after he finish school. Let me explain that. Cuba has a great educational system and health system. So you are born in a Hospital, get proper medical care and your chances of being healthy are then very high. Then you grow up with carefull medical attention, enough food and no need of working as a child. You get to good schools, books are for free, pencils, and so on. Teachers are of good quality, and if you have the intelligence you go up to the University. You get in the University, good education, good teacher and superb programs. Books again for free, if youre family can not afford it you get a monthly income by the state and a place to live while you are studying. You finally get graduated as one of the best prepared graduate person in all latin america and beyond. Comparable to any graduate person in any first rate country in the world. Even better prepared that graduated
people in some first world country. And then ... you only get the chance of a job that does not cover your economical needs. That person knows that if he goes to somewhere else in Latin America or even in U.S. or Europe his chances of getting a good job are very high. Yet in Cuba, the same goverment that took you up to this point can no longer fulfill your expectations. He
can not give you a house, a decent salary and worse of all he can not give you the hope that with your work you could improve your live. Beyond satisfying the basic needs of everybody (and I say everybody, is a lie that if you do not agree with the political system you are refused to get free medical care or your children are banned from school, thats a lie) and getting a basic social justice to everybody, the Revolution is not able to get you more or to give you the chance of achieving an improved life standard. Some people will argue that it is already a huge acomplishment to give everybody in a country what the Revolution gives to Cuban. But as you saw in the streets of Havana thats not enough. It is basic human condition to want to improve your life, especially if we are talking about basic things like a house, a decent salary and so on. That is the biggest failure of the Cuban system and the biggest one behind all the balsero phenomenon and the emigration and all that stuff.

>Is it true that cell phones are not permitted... PCs, and Internet access as well?

Cellular phone I dont know. Internet you can not see in private houses. Yet you have it in the University for all students unrestricted, and you can also find it in the so called young clubs of informatics, which at least there is one in every district of Havana. I do not know if the internet is restricted in the young clubs, I know is not restricted in the University. PC you can own. I have one. They dont sell them though to the public. You have to get by a foreign friend or get it in when going abroad. The last option is a bit tricky but I do not want to make this comment unreadably

>What are your feelings on those restrictions?
Go to my first answer.

>Evidently you are free to travel to and from Cuba. Have you ever considered "not going back?"
Not for the moment.

>What keeps you from staying wherever you are now?

I love Cuba, in spite of everything. If everybody leaves what would be of my country. I love Cuba history and I am proud of being from that tiny island. Once I was very involved with the Revolution and I thought it was the solution to every problem. Today I am disenchanted. Cuban should move forward (not backwards to the Miami gang but forward perhaps to a Europe style of society).

Perhaps tomorrow I decide to leave. It depends also on my family ... and my chances abroad.

>If an anonymous poll were to be taken of all Cubans, where it was completely safe to express one's opinion, how, do you think, would Castro come out on a scale of 1-6?
3. Doing an okay job. <--------------------

He is honest and he fights for what he believes in ... even if what he believes in is no longer true. He is probably the last romantic guy in the Universe, but romantic guys ...... can harm a lot in the name of great ideas.

>In your estimation, if every Cuban had the right to emigrate to The United States, Canada, Mexico, etc., what percentage would want to leave?
At the begining perhaps a lot. Then it will quickly settle down. No more that 10% of the current population.

>What is your occupation in Cuba?
I am a University graduated in a professional job.

>How can you afford to travel on a $40/month income?
I can not afford it. I have been invited. I get invited abroad every now and then. I get then the chance to support my family.

Well Mike thats all I can say. The only advice I can give is this: if you want to understanbd Cuba stay away from prefabricated ideas and so called independendt organizations. Read a lot from the true sources and not from interpreted opinions. Go to newspaper of the dates where events happend. Read Cuba non politcal literature it says much more than propaganda. See
Cuban films from Cuba, they say much more than a thousand political statements.

I hope you go to Cuba again. Send me a email and perhaps I leave you a note by the place you are staying.

[nickname suppressed]