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  CAYO SANTA MARIA, Cuba—The other week, when the most popular man in the world and our humourless chap who seems likely to lose his job later this year met in their mysterious confab in Ottawa, they emerged with the usual palaver of platitudes about undying friendships and interlocking interests. The one thing it is guaranteed they never discussed was Cuba.

            One reason was Cayo Santa Maria, a magnificent resort run by Spain’s Sol Melia, world’s largest resort hotel company that has more than 300 hotels in 27 countries—everywhere on the globe except Russia, Canada, the United States and Australia.

            There are 28 cabanas sprinkled through 12 acres of palm trees. The digs are equal to any Toronto hotel room. The food is wonderful, unending. Six immaculate tennis courts. A basketball court. A superb gym, with 21 expensive pieces of equipment. A spa. The white sand beach, stretching to the sky, is softer than a baby’s bottom. Four restaurants—with unlimited drinks. A different brilliant floorshow in the theatre each night. Music all day. everywhere.

            There are four bars, two of them open 24 hours—with unlimited drinks. How Sol Melia can give away free drinks for 24 hours each day is a puzzlement, but you don’t become the world’s largest resort chain by being dumb. One of the two largest curvaceous swimming pools—50 yards long speckled with islands of palm trees—ends with a bar jutting into the water (drink while you swim) and decorated with three flags, the Canadian one, the Ontario one and the Quebec one.   

There are 700 guests here; 528 of them are Canadian. Sol Melia now has 24 similar resorts in Cuba and reports the Canadian ratio is basically the same. Fidel is very grateful for the money. The Canucks are very grateful for the sun.

Would-be travellers, I’ve learned since last being here in 1998, no longer go to travel agents. They go to the Internet. So we observe, in Cuba, Middle Canada. Orangeville, Picton. Nanaimo, Sudbury, middle-class Quebec. There is, in view, more worrisome bellies, and tattoos, than can be imagined. And too many 50-year-old women who should be put in jail, in bikinis that are designed to conceal but instead reveal expanses of flesh that hitherto could be seen only in the shower. There is nothing more pitiful than a 60-year-old male, pretending to be a teen-ager, wearing a baseball cap. Backwards.

Director General of the resort, Alonso Morillo Rodriguez, is from Spain. He inspects his estate each day on a Vespa scooter. Head Chef from Italy. Head of Food&Beverage from Venezuela. The ticket, for a couple on a two-week package including charter air fare from Canada: $4000.

In 1959 law school grad Fidel Castro and med school grad Che Guevara marched out of the mountains and into Havana as dictator Batista fled to Europe with his buddies and a reported $300 million. Moscow had gleefully found a little communist brother 90 miles from Miami. As P.J. O’Rourke put it, “The Cuban got the luxury of running their economy along the lines of a Berkeley commune, and like California hippies wheedling their parents for cash, someone else paid the tab.”

Castro has now outlasted 10 American presidents. He is an ailing 82 and this month was revealed as mastering how to blog his friends; while younger brother Raoul runs the show as the island of 11 million still leads Latin America in health care and education ideals. There are 40 universities in Cuba and yes there are doctors driving taxis and our waiter at dinner confesses to being a graduate teacher but can make “far more” by carrying dishes.

Big Brother Moscow disappeared in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and, by coincidence, Canada’s giant Sherritt International Corp. arrived in Cuba the same year. What we now have is communism mixed with capitalism. Tourism, thanks to all those Canadians, is now the country’s top foreign currency earner. Sherritt has two-thirds of Cuba’s domestic oil production.

It has drilled more than 160 wells on the island. The product is sold to the government of Cuba. Most of it goes to the state’s power plants which generate the bulk of Cuba’s electricity. That consumes 31,600 barrels a day. Sherritt is in for the long haul. It is estimated the island may contain more than nine billion barrels of oil. More good luck?  Cuba also possesses about a third of the world’s nickel reserves. Sherritt, which is heavy into nickel around the globe, has a huge mine here.

In 1996, the U.S. State Department wrote a letter to Ian Delaney, chief executive officer of Sherritt, informing him that heretofore neither he, his wife, his children, his relatives, or his eight board members would be allowed to set foot on American soil. This was the infamous Helms-Burton Act, devised by the wealthy Cuban-Americans in Florida (Bacardi Rum etc.) to topple Fidel and starve his island. Former president Jimmy Carter said, “I think of all the things that have ever been done in my country, this is the stupidest.” The United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the American embargo on Cuba by a vote of 137 to three. The three? The United States, Israel and Uzbekistan. The Delaney family exists quite well in Toronto.

Canada’s attitude (financial) to Cuba is embarrassing. The U.S. attitude (starvation) to Cuba is shameful.

That’s why Barack and Steve never talk about Cuba.

www.drfoth.com   drfoth@sympatico.ca

 Fotheringham – April 17, 2009