MAKICHUK: The Cuban condition, and the cat with no nose

The Cuban people continue to suffer under a repressive regime.
The Cuban people continue to suffer under a repressive regime.CairoStudio

A clever doorman, at a major hotel in Havana, summed up Cuba's current situation.

"Cuba," he said, "is like a beautiful woman."

"Very pretty, very nice ... but also, very complicated."

That would be an understatement.

Inflation, to put it nicely, has hit the island hard.

Prices have skyrocketed and the so-called Cuban advantage is gone.

It is now just as expensive as any other Caribbean nation when it comes to food and services.

And yes, even those services. The kind that involve female friendship for a short duration.

Apparently, I am told, it now costs between 3,000 and 5,000 pesos for an evening's entertainment.

Let's face it, Canadians go to Cuba for warmth and a sandy beach. Europeans come for sex.

This is just the way it is.

I stopped into the newest hotel in Havana, the Kempinski, to check out its fabulous rooftop bar and horizon pool.

It was impressive and, well, a great place to hang out for hotel guests.

But surprisingly, this five-star hotel had no coffee, none for its customers. And, no cigars!

Even though they have one of the nicest cigar bars in the city, with beautiful views.

The Kempinski washroom, by the way, had no water from the taps, none!

And this is a five-star hotel!

The rooftop patio of the Kempinski Hotel in Havana.
The rooftop patio of the Kempinski Hotel in Havana.Dave Makichuk photo

Yes, there are many good restaurants in the city, but you will have to pay for them and they want US dollars — not like the old pre-COVID-19 days, when you could get a plate of spaghetti for CDN$2.50.

Those days are gone.

My friend and I had a superb seafood dinner, a massive plate that had octopus, lobster, shrimp, fish and mussels, all for US$30, at a place called Cafe Laurent.

Between the two of us, the final bill was CDN$130. And it included a hefty gratuity tacked on, for good measure, 2,300 pesos worth.

I ended up giving my leftovers, about half of the dish, to a street person, who was over-joyed at such a dining bonanza.

The resorts, of course, are still a very good deal. These all-inclusives are still very attractive to Canadians on a tight budget.

The only problem, is that lately, they have been taken over by Russian tourists, who leave a lot to be desired.

Let's just leave it at that.

And, well, Hemingway's Floridita bar is still there, but packed to the rafters with tourists — the Daiquiris are still fantastic, though.

Be prepared to stand at the bar, getting a seat now is impossible.

But getting back to inflation, it was believed the pirates of the Caribbean died out in the early 1800s, after the navies of the nations of Western Europe and North America colonies in the region began combating them.

Well, I can tell you, the pirates are back.

Havana cab drivers are ripping people off, left and right and getting away with it.

And that wonderful Cuban government, as usual, is doing absolutely nothing to stop it.

To be frank, they never do anything, least of all help their own people — the new government is a disaster, from end to end.

I've seen them show up at fancy hotels, driving in big Mercedes-Benz limousines and expensive suits, parked next to beggars asking for a few pesos.

Lovely Miranda, the cat with no nose.
Lovely Miranda, the cat with no nose.Dave Makichuk photo

Meanwhile, Havana cab drivers are charging 4,000 pesos, to go one lousy mile, the equivalent of about CDN$30.

It's buyer beware on the streets of Havana and nobody gives a damn.

Except for one cab driver we found, a fellow named Yaimel, who treated us fairly and also spoke English.

Thank God we found one decent man to drive us around.

But to me, the essence of Cuba is something I discovered at the hotel where I was staying.

A hotel which shall be nameless, but let's just say, it has a unique history.

There, I found the resident female cat trying to make a living, struggling to survive.

What was unique about her, was that she had no nose. It had been bitten off in a cat fight.

The friendly and sympathetic hotel staffer told me, Miranda, has somehow survived living by her wits without a nose.

Begging from tourists and, all the while suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Not an easy life.

Well, as long as I was there, with my travelling partner, this cat would not go hungry. By chance, my thoughtful amigo brought a dozen tins of cat food in his luggage.

Hoping that we would see some Cuban cats that might need help.

Next, we found the name of a good veterinary clinic in Havana.

Our plan was to bring in the vet and have the cat treated at our expense. At the very least, perhaps the cat could get some shots or treatment on its missing nose.

We then approached the hotel manager for permission. We did not get it, but he said they have a vet that they deal with and they would call him in to help the cat.

They assured me, several times, the cat would be looked after, at no charge.

It was the least we could do, to help this unfortunate feline.

The Floridita still serves up great Hemingway Daiquiris.
The Floridita still serves up great Hemingway Daiquiris.Dave Makichuk photo

And that brings me to my comparison.

Havana, and Cuba, is just like that cat.

Wounded but struggling to go on, to stay alive and fight on.

Despite an unjust US embargo, despite a corrupt, incompetent government, despite a poor recovery from COVID-19.

I don't like the fact that most of the money Canadians and others spend at Cuban resorts all ends up with the Cuban military.

Feeding its existence and perpetuating a terrible government.

Which is why I try to tip everyone, give away things like clothes, medicines, electronic devices and used jewelry to the hotel workers.

I wish I could do more, but that is all I can offer. I can't change anything. Nobody can.

All I can say, is that I'm grateful to former prime minister John Diefenbaker, who told JFK to take a hike and maintained full relations with Cuba during the height of the Cold War.

As a result, Canadians get to enjoy a week or two respite from our horrific winters, at a reasonable price. The Cuban people remain fantastic and they love Canadians.

This week, CPC MP Stephanie Kusie made a 'historic trip' to Miami, to meet members of the Cuban Diaspora along with representatives of the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan exile communities in support of democracy and human rights in the region.

This is all well and good, but I tend to agree with former President Barack Obama on this subject.

Namely, the so-called freedom fighters in Miami have been carrying on the same way for 50 years and have achieved nothing.

Maybe, just maybe, it's time to try a new strategy?

An olive branch always works better than an adversarial threat, IMO.

President Trump kaiboshed that endeavor however and President Biden was too cowardly to move on it either and we are still at a standstill, when it comes to Cuba and the embargo.

So, the cat without a nose fights on. Just like the Cuban people.

Wounded yes, but resilient and unbreakable.

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