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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
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:
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
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.
April 17, 2009