| 84 & 85. THE DEBATERS:
I'd just passed a guy washing a 50's car, the classic Cuban contrast to
the old, gray building row that led the street another half block before
the train tracks stopped it, and I was stopped by a bicycle. The
guy had almost clipped me and he wheeled and parked in my path to apologize.
"Where are you from?" When I told him, he yelled at his friends, "There's an American here."
The white guy washing the car and a black guy came and helped form a semi-circle in front of me. They wanted to know if I'd have to pay a very big fine for coming there.
I told them nothing would happen because the law against coming is against the law and can't be enforced. The car washer asked me what was the first law of America. He couldn't think of the word, though he spoke a little English. I assumed he meant the First Amendment.
He told me he worked in tourism and tourists had told him that Cuba should have a law like that, but he said they do. They have free speech with few exceptions, and the gang I was looking at were very free speakers and arguers. The car washer and the black guy, who was a nurse, were bosom debating friends.
The bicycler asked if I knew Lucius Walker, but his pronunciation of Lucius baffled me, so they invited me inside to see it in the newspapers. Past the old, gray front, the car washer had a slick home, with beautiful floors, well furnished for comfortable arguing, with big chairs around a coffee table and a modern CD player, which he turned off so we could talk.
OK, I had met Walker, who had recently crashed the Texas border again and was now in Cuba for the 26th of July celebration in Ciego de Avila, where the hurricane had hit hardest. But when they asked my opinion of the Pastors for Peace, I swallowed it and asked the nurse how crucial the medicines really were that the pastors were bringing.
My actual opinion is that the pastors should go to Haiti instead or figure out that Cuban are living good and start saying so. By casting themselves as saviors of a Cuban population suffering from the embargo, they falsely imply that Cubans are suffering, which implies that Cuba's system has failed, all of which is 180° off reality, and their frequent declaration that "the embargo hurts only the people and not the government" is outright misinformation, insidiously unjust to the government and helpful to Cuba's enemies.
The black guy said they were bringing medicines that Cuba was short of, that they could get and would get, but that were chronically short. Who knows, he said, someone might die in his clinic for lack of one of those medicines at the right time.
I asked if that was really likely because I constantly ask in pharmacies and ask medical people I meet about that. He said it wasn't likely. Cuba isn't really desperate for medicine. They produce close to 90% of what they need. And most of the rest comes from a list of countries he recited. But he thought the shipment the pastors brought would be symbolically important.
The car washer asked why he hadn't mentioned China. The nurse said China isn't communist, anymore, and that Cuba is now alone against the world. His friend disagreed, and they were at it. They argued about everything I said, and everything they said or read in the paper, and each presented his case like a Cuban, like Fidel, at great length. I knew a lot they didn't, but they knew a lot. Finally, I mentioned my survey, and the nurse caught me off guard. He didn't sign.
After over 80 interviews, I'd met my 2nd and 3rd non-signers 4 or 5 blocks apart. But the nurse was totally different. He was open and cheerful about it, everyone around him knew it, and he'd lost no friends, though it provided food for another fierce argument, because his arguing partner, of course, had signed.
He was for communism, he said, but he wasn't a joiner or a follower. I said I'm the same way, but, in this case, it wouldn't have hurt to bend. He said he could only sign once, and he knew everyone would sign, so it made no difference.
The bicyclist interjected that it proved nobody had to sign. The car washer said he wouldn't sign with a gun to his head, but to prove the unity of Cuba, yes. I said being communist is more important than being Cuban, but self respect and credibility as an existentialist may be equal to or more important than that. The nurse understood that, but his friends didn't, so we talked on. This has been a much reduced version of the conversation even to that point.
I took their picture outside, but I'd just snapped the interior and forgot to reset the lens opening, so it's a lousy picture.