E-mail says much of Cuba
By: Steve Rose, Memo
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 2:18 PM CST
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As you and your family celebrate and enjoy the holiday season, I would
ask that you read and consider an e-mail I just received from Cuba.
This e-mail tells you more about what it is like to live in tyranny than
all I could write in three columns, following my 10-day, 600-mile
journey to Cuba in November.
What this e-mail reveals, I could not confirm while I was there.
Although I spoke to dozens of Cubans and was allowed to go anywhere I
wanted, and talk to whomever I wanted, I never could pin anyone down on
what it really is like to live under Fidel Castro's regime.
As a result, my reports from Cuba were based on what I saw and heard,
not what I could not see or hear. As I said in one of my columns, I did
not visit the prisons where political opponents are held, or the fields
where opponents have been executed.
I knew that things could not be as rosy as they seemed, with people
smiling and seemingly happy in their life of bare economic survival,
with, however, free health care and free education through the
There were clear clues that there was not much freedom in Cuba. I wrote
about that. People there are not technically allowed to own computers,
although many do, and certainly they cannot access the Internet,
although, for some reason, some Cubans I met can access and send
e-mails. But, I must say, I saw or experienced no fear of speaking one's
mind. I knew, instinctively, that the fear must be there. But I could
not write my assumptions, when I saw nothing to back it up.
Well, the e-mail that just arrived tells you all you need to know.
It comes from the restaurant manager or head waiter of a small hotel
restaurant in central Cuba. As I wrote before, this man came over to my
table, when I was sitting alone. The entire restaurant was virtually
empty, because I had arrived just before the official opening at 7 p.m.
He stood at my table and told me in Spanish, which I understand well
enough, that he is an attorney and engineer who makes $20 a month in
salary. So, he must work this job at the restaurant to be able to make it.
At the end of the dinner, after the restaurant was filled, I left him a
$100 tip, which is equivalent to five months of salary. If someone here
made $50,000 a year, it was like leaving a $20,000 tip.
The man got tears in his eyes, and when I stood up to leave, he hugged
me right in the middle of the restaurant. "No one has ever done this for
me. Thank you. Thank you," he said. I shook his hand firmly and gave him
my business card and asked him to e-mail me, if he could, about how
things are going for him.
Here is the e-mail I received, translated from Spanish. I have left out
his name and left out the hotel's name for obvious reasons.
"I'm the restaurant manager of the Hotel … . You gave me your e-mail
to communicate with you, but it's very difficult for economic reasons. I
wanted to let you know that I wish you much health and prosperity this
new year and that everything is good in your work. I'm sorry. I have to
cut short this message. I know you understand."
"Your friend, … ."
When I think of the gifts I have given over all the many holidays in my
life, this ranks at the top. I hope you will think of my friend in Cuba
as you share your gifts. The real gift he deserves, none of us can give
him. And that, of course, is freedom.