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    Cuba’s hard truths exposed

    Cuba’s hard truths exposed
    Lane, Friday, September 13, 1:48 AM

    Cholera is a potentially fatal, water-borne, gastrointestinal disease
    usually associated with poverty and inadequate sanitation. Some 600,000
    people contracted the disease in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, 8,000
    of whom died.

    It is not the sort of illness that you would expect to find in Cuba,
    where Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution ushered in an era of free
    high-quality health care and excellent public health — or so we are
    often told.

    The truth about Cuba, however, is that the revolution’s achievements
    were never as great as its propagandists claimed and that economic and
    social conditions on the island trail those of many Latin American
    countries Cuba once surpassed.

    Cholera has returned to Cuba for the first time in more than a century.
    In three reported outbreaks since the summer of 2012, more than 600
    people have been sickened and at least three have died, according to
    official Cuban data.

    Of course, no one can say for sure whether these figures tell the whole
    story; they have been grudgingly admitted by a regime that is both
    totalitarian and eager to reassure the tourists upon whom it depends for
    hard currency.

    Cuban authorities did their best to play down the bad news about cholera
    until visitors from Europe and Latin America — as well as a Cuban
    American from New York — contracted the disease this year and their
    cases made the press abroad.

    Meanwhile, another kind of devastating truth about Cuba is influencing
    international public opinion in the form of “Una Noche” (“One Night”), a
    brilliant new indie film by first-time director Lucy Mulloy. After
    premiering at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals in 2012, it is in
    limited release in theatres and available for download on iTunes.

    Whereas the cholera epidemic bespeaks the decline of physical conditions
    on the island, “Una Noche” dramatizes the heartbreaking moral and
    psychological decay of the revolution’s subjects, especially Cuban youth.

    Denied free expression, forced to hustle incessantly for life’s
    necessities, bombarded by propaganda and hounded by brutal police, young
    Cubans live in what Mulloy aptly calls a state of “nervous desperation.”

    As one of her Cuban characters mutters, there only two things to do in
    Cuba: “sweat and f—.” Prostitution, sexual and otherwise, is the
    dominant mode of human interaction, but every transaction is ultimately
    rigged in favor of the authorities and the tourists whose dollars help
    fuel the regime.

    The brothers in charge of this corrupt madhouse, Fidel and Raúl Castro,
    never appear in the film; they are not mentioned by name, much less
    criticized. One wonders if this was the price Mulloy paid for her
    apparently extensive access in Cuba. It hardly matters, since the
    audience knows who has been in power for the past 55 years and who is
    accountable for what Cuba has become.

    The film’s turning point comes when Raul, a teenager eager to escape
    this crazy-making milieu, assaults a tourist he has caught having sex,
    for cash, with his mother. She needed the money for AIDS medicine.

    With the police hunting him in every alleyway, Raul decides to flee to
    the United States. He and two companions take to the sea on a precarious
    raft fashioned from stolen styrofoam and bartered inner tubes. It is the
    same desperate course taken by tens of thousands of Cubans, many of whom
    have died in the attempt.

    I won’t spoil the ending except to say that the movie culminates on a
    realistic note — which, since it’s about Cuba, cannot be a totally happy
    one.

    Mulloy’s camera takes in Havana with the precision of a documentarian
    and the rhythm of a rapper. The result is a pulsation of conflicting
    images — fetid hotel kitchens, speeding police cars, street fights,
    parading hookers, jet-skiing foreigners — as hectic as the city itself.

    She slows only occasionally, to linger on collapsed walls, patched-up
    roofs and crumbling sidewalks. It’s as if Havana had been hit by some
    massive artillery barrage — but we know this is the urban legacy of a
    half-century of communism.

    “Una Noche” may do for nervous, desperate Havana what “Slumdog
    Millionaire” did for the shantytowns of Mumbai: portray it in a visual
    idiom that resonates with the new generation of pop-culture consumers
    and touches their hearts.

    At least, I hope “Una Noche” has that kind of impact. Because another
    truth about Cuba is that Americans have grown too complacent about the
    Castro dictatorship. Enough already with the benign neglect. Enough
    already with the excuses — the U.S. embargo chief among them — and the
    phony promises of “reform.”

    Enough already with a system, just 90 miles from our shores, that offers
    its people no sane alternative but escape.

    Source: “Charles Lane: Cuba’s hard truths exposed – The Washington Post”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-lane-cubas-hard-truths-exposed/2013/09/12/aa32fb02-1963-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html

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