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The Rediff Special/ Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Havana, Cuba
Is Castro fit to attend NAM?
September 15, 2006
"Every journalist who has come to cover the NAM (Non Aligned Movement) summit wants to know this," says teenager Ariana Olive.
"We are not going to be orphaned," she declares.
"Fidel Castro has put proper people in place and they will take care of our system," the teenager adds, "nothing will go wrong."
For 47 years, the Cubans have known only one leader.
A tall, bearded, charismatic man with a tendency to deliver long speeches (Castro's speeches often go on for five hours).
Cubans call him Fidel and most of them feel the former revolutionary, who turned 80 on August 13, is their only saviour.
After Castro was hospitalised with an intestinal disorder last month (reportedly the same ailment that felled actor Amitabh Bachchan last year), his brother Raul is in charge of Cuba.
Fidel Castro has not been seen in public after his hospitalisation though photographs of him looking cheerful have been published worldwide.
It is not clear if Castro is fit to attend or inaugurate the NAM summit. But the odds are that the Cuban leader, who has a great sense of drama, will turn the event into one last hurrah on the world stage. An international farewell with over a hundred world leaders in attendance.
In spite of America's 44-year economic blockade of the island you find that Cuban roads are neat, clean and well developed. No potholes greet you when you travel around Havana. The power situation is also good and there are no major power cuts in Cuba.
The Castro government's motto is that the basic necessities of life have to be met and everyone in Cuba gets that. Rice, beans, milk and sugar are available via a ration scheme. The state of the art health system is available to every Cuban citizen for free, and jobs are available for all. There are no beggars to be found on the streets of Havana and residents say Fidel feeds them well.
America's economic blockade has limited choices though, and Cubans don't have too many brand options.
The cars one sees on Havana's roads were built in earlier decades and one gets a 1970s feel on Havana's roads.
Since cars are few Cubans prefer to walk or hitch a ride than take a bus.
"It is the best option," adds Ariana. "Car owners are friendly and give youngsters a lift most times."
Naimis, who was born in 1966, says, "The only option we know after Fidel is only Fidel. There is no Opposition. He has done everything for this country. We are much better than any Latin American country. There is no poverty or hunger in our country compared to other parts of the world."
The Cubans are also a fun-loving people. Though it was a weekday on Thursday, popular venues like the La Bodeguita Del Medi restaurant -- where writer Ernest Hemingway, who loved Cuba, was a regular visitor in the 1950s -- are packed with people.
Something Hemingway said in Spanish hangs on a placard in the restaurant: My Mojito in La Bodeguita, My Daiquiri in El Flondita (I have a Mojito in La Bodeguita and a Daiquiri in El Floridita).
Couples, young and old, dance till 11 pm, kiss and express their feelings for each other freely. They are not bothered by the police as couples would be, say, in Indian cities like Mumbai or Meerut.
Though life appears Utopian in Cuba, the Castro government and its successors may find it increasingly difficult to meet popular aspirations, especially given the United States' Sanction Raj.
I asked Ariana what she desires most and she replied, "Probably a car to travel and enough money to fill gas in the car to go to work when I start working."
When asked if she was happy living in Cuba, she insists she is, then paused to say, "Human beings suffer for their wants. In our country there is no problem of food and health. We are much better than any other country in the world but then there is no end to human desire."
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