Even Gentlemen's Quarterly, in its current issue, has a fashion feature—spectacularly vapid even by GQ standards—showcasing some Cuban-American actor I'd never heard of, modeling clothes no normal man can afford, against the dismal reality of ruined buildings and ancient cars that is Havana today. I suspect the model's designer shoes probably cost more than the average Cuban earns in a year.
The sudden hubbub is not what irks me. Al contrario, may American tourism to Cuba open up completely, and soon, and rain much-needed cash on the long-suffering Cubans.
|That certain charm of poverty and dilapidation.|
The scenes are admittedly arresting, fed by equal parts of curiosity and novelty. For more than fifty years Cuba has been ninety miles away from the U.S., and yet, for American tourists, as remote and exotic as Pyongyang.
But why doesn't the sight of a once beautiful country, now lying in pieces, arouse some reportorial curiosity, to wonder what caused this multi-decade disaster—an eternity, for sure, for people who've had to live through it—and how can Cuba recover from it?
This week, Public Televisions's News Hour, chimed in with its own tour-de-naiveté, Jeffrey Brown reporting from Havana. (For the record, we watch the News Hour nightly, and I have come to covet Brown's luck to get all the fun, short-sleeve assignments, while Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff remain glued to the news desk, talking about racism, terrorism and worldwide mayhem.)
|The key to happiness according to Ché: Centralized planning.|
|One of Leal's restorations in Old Havana. The|
grillwork alone is worth a UNESCO medal.
Leal, a talkative, chubby middle-aged man sporting sunglasses and a white Panama hat, proudly touted his restoration accomplishments, like a hacienda owner waving at the fields of sprouting new crops.
Three years ago, Stew and I saw the slivers of Old Havana Leal has restored, and his projects are in fact excellent, almost museum-quality, and much more impressive than some of the restorations we've seen here in San Miguel, which often consist of yet another schmear of cement and paint.
Indeed, the restored part of Old Havana has a Disneyland quality to it, as if someone had dictated the work down to its most minute detail.
|Waiting for Eusebio: Most of Havana's|
beautiful buildings still wait to be rescued.
Yet, such obsessive government control—the basic premise of Cuba's disastrous socialist economy—is what led to the wholesale deterioration of the city in the first place, and what is going to prevent its resurgence any time soon.
What Havana needs, and which neither Leal nor Raúl Castro is willing to permit, is billions of dollars in private investment—some of it no doubt from Cuban-Americans in the U.S.—rather than more socialist micro-management.
Ah, but do you really want McDonald's and Starbucks to take over Havana? That's the old refrain you hear from some folks, who then urge you to visit Cuba soon before it's "ruined" by the "American tourists coming in."
Sadly, to a large extent Cuba and Havana are already ruined. The most optimistic spin on the devastation is that because there has been no money to fix or do much of anything, at least many of the city's grand old building still stand. In tatters, but still standing, and I suppose, we should be grateful for that.
|A Cuban Toyota waiting for a ride.|
In Cuba the same synergy should be unleashed to bring back Havana from the edge of destruction.