Cholera in Cuba
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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”
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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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