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Hemingway Adventure

Havana, Cuba (fifth day)

Havana, Cuba 
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Itinerant fire-eaters outside the hotel. It's a busy patch with rickshaw drivers, newspaper-sellers and hookers for competion.
Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureStill very hot and today the wind has shifted to the east, blowing a sulphurous stench across the city from a chemical works down by the docks.

As usual, no sooner have we stepped outside the hotel than heads turn our way and people sidle across offering us everything. Basil’s christened it Vampire City but in my experience this happens in the vicinity of any tourist hotel where there are rich people in a poor country. Two streets away you will be totally ignored.

Today the Granma salesman who told me to fuck off is full of good cheer as he has with him Granma International - English edition.

I fork out 50 cents for a copy and scan it as I walk down a narrow street incongruously called O’Reilly. I read of Cuba’s record tourist figures, with Canadians and Italians leading the way, ahead of Germans and Spaniards. When Hemingway first walked these streets in the 1930s, Cuba was virtually another state of the USA, with its stranglehold on sugar, fruit canning and organised crime. All that changed with the Castro revolution, secured and bankrolled as it was by the Soviet Union. In the early 1960s Cuba abruptly became off-limits to Americans, a volatile flashpoint, the country most likely to spark off the third world war (though the US, inexplicably, held on to their naval base at Guantánamo).

Now the Russians have packed up and left and Castro is more interested in co-operation than confrontation. There are over 340 separate joint-venture projects and this week alone Mexican, Guatemalan, Norwegian and Spanish trade missions are in town.

The US government is not so keen to make up. It is not being allowed to by those Cubans who fled to America when their land was confiscated without compensation by Castro. They wait and watch from the comfort of nearby Florida and insist the pressure be kept on. Congress obliges them by maintaining a trade embargo. The Helms-Burton Act not only forbids American companies from carrying on trade with Cuba, but seeks to penalise non-American companies as well.
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Havana, Cuba (fifth day)
  • Country/sea: Cuba
  • Place: Havana
  • Book page no: 213

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