Cuba is very much in the headlines these days. If things keep progressing as they have over the last six months, tourism will open up on an unlimited scale soon. As it is at the moment, going to this nearby island nation is limited to participants in cultural, educational, athletic and humanitarian projects. Recently close relatives have been added to the groups allowed to visit the country. Even so, people qualifying for entry are subject to rather expensive tour prices. One will pay over $3,000 for a week’s stay including airfare from Miami, your hotel and certain meals. This is per person on a double occupancy basis. For half this price, one can have a deluxe cruise or land tour to other countries and stay for twice the time. In other words, going to Cuba at the moment is subject to restrictions and is very expensive.
A popular song of the 1920s was “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A,” written by Irving Berlin. (Look it up on you tube. The original version is by a popular singer of the time named Billy Murray.) The opening lines are:
“Not so far from here
There’s a very lively atmosphere.
Everybody’s going there this year
And the reason’s very clear.
The season opened last July,
Ever since the U. S.A. went dry.
Everybody’s going there and I’m going too.
I’m on my way to Cuba.
I’ll see you in C-U-B-A!”
Here in the U.S.A., our puritanical heritage got the best of us in the early 1920s and organized religion managed to get laws passed enacting the prohibition of the sale of liquor, gambling and sex. Not to worry though because rum-running became widespread and organized crime took control of the distribution of alcohol. Chicago became notorious as a haven for prohibition dodgers during the time that became known as The Roaring Twenties.”
Meanwhile Cuba, located just 90 miles off the coast of Florida quickly became a marketplace for booze, gambling and sex. The puritans could go there for next to nothing and eat, drink and be merry all they wanted. They then could return to their hometowns and sing in the church choir on Sunday. Big time mafia people and crime lords took control of the island and soon Cuba gained the reputation of being the U. S.A.’s dumpster for sin.
Prohibition was a gigantic flop in its intention to purify the U.S.A. The anti-sin laws came to an end in the late 20s or early 30s but in portions of the Bible belt of the country, the ban on alcohol, prostitution and gambling lasted well into the sixties.
Cuba meanwhile continued being the place to go for every conceivable vice. Bars and whore houses in Havana like Sloppy Joe’s became infamous. Casinos flourished and brought tons of tourists in to feed the one-arm bandits and gambling tables. The nation was governed by dictator Colonel Fulgencio Bautista, who ran Cuba, they say, from poolside at the fabulous Hotel Nacional in Havana. He received all his orders from the American mafia and crime lords who in effect controlled the island.
In 1958 Fidel Castro came into power with a revolution that sent all these American mafia people running to Las Vegas to set up shop and peddle their wares. The problem was that Cuba swapped the devil for the witch. Castro put himself into the hands of the Soviet Union and turned the island into a Communist bastion. There he still sits today even though he has recently put his younger brother Raul in charge of things. The brothers Castro are still trying to keep Communism alive but managing only by the skin of their teeth.
A few months back President Obama participated in a face-to-face dialogue with Raul Castrol for the opening up of Cuba. Things began to happen very fast. For the first time in over fifty years, embassies of both nations were opened. For a while there, it looked like Cuba was on the very gateway of rejoining the world. One would think the opening up of this island nation would more or less happen overnight. Not so, unfortunately. The Republicans are totally against it, especially Marco Rubio who is of Cuban heritage. Most Cubans in Florida are dead set against letting the Castro brothers open up their borders. They figure that such an event would legitimize the Castros and Communism. On the other hand, a faction of the die-hard Communists in Cuba are dead set against opening up the island too. They fear their loss of power. So, at the moment it is a battle of egos. Once both sides soften their positions, perhaps Cuba will see a new updated version of “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A” being sung.
When the casinos re-open in Havana and the night life kicks back in, the tourist industry will take charge once again and folks by the tons will begin arriving. No longer will those three-thousand dollar a week tours be the only route to get there. Prices will drop dramatically once good ole capitalism springs back on the scene. The island in short order will become a new hybrid Disneyland-Las Vegas.
When I went to live in Cuba in 1950s, I could fly one-way from Florida to Havana for ten dollars. Ferry boats were making the trip for seven dollars. Inexpensive hotels and food were widely available and loads of tourist streamed in daily. This will happen again but I don’t suspect that Cuba will become sordid like it was before Castro. As I said, I suspect it will become a hybrid Las Vegas-Disneyland.
Here is a bit of information for those who wonder what the whole uproar concerning Cuba is all about. Why should people care? The answer is a simple one. The island has a great winter climate which snowbirds love. The place is uniquely different from Mexico’s Indian heritage and taco leaning cuisine. Cuba is distinctly European in culture and food. It is like a living, ongoing Broadway musical any time of the day.
In the pre-Castro days, Cuba was a one-city country—namely Havana. Once the island re-opens for business, every nook and cranny of this beautiful nation will be opened up by the tourist industry.
Benjamin Franklin had a maxim that stated: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I did both I think by going to live in Cuba in the fifties. Most of my adventures there during the revolution are recounted in my book CONTESSA. I think if you read it, you will see why Cuba deserves a second life.
So, I’ll See You In C-U-B-A!
(My next blog post will be November 19th, 2015)