Cuba: A Dry Run

North of Havana is a fantasy world of mangrove-lined cays and green water flashing with tropical fish—perfect sea-kayaking country. But the line between what's permissible and what's not in Castro's kingdom falls in a gray area, and comings and goings by water always mean trouble.

Aug 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

ADAM AND I STROLL up to Santa Clara's central plaza. We buy penny cups of espresso at the open-air coffee stand and watch the bustle. Dangling earrings and high heels are out in full force. A young man sipping from his cup beside us says, "Where you from? Alemán? Italiano?"

I love this part. "Estados Unidos."

His head pulls back, eyebrows lift. We get this response everywhere. Often it's followed by a question about the boy Elián. But not this guy. He begins to vent. "There are two Cubas," he says. "There are the people and the government. Everybody knows this, that the government is for itself. The people are suffering."

Adam and I look uncomfortably around us. This is the first time anyone has spoken openly and critically about the government within earshot of other people, and we've heard wild allegations that every fifth or tenth person in Cuba is a government informant. I wonder if the man is crazy. He tells us that a few years ago a tugboat called the 13 de Marzo, loaded with 71 illegal emigrants, was heading for Florida. The Guarda Frontera let it pass into international waters before turning the fire hoses from one of its frigates on the open boat. Mothers held babies up over their heads so the soldiers on the frigate could see who they were attacking. The 13 de Marzo sank, with 31 survivors to tell the story.

On our way back to Fernando's, Adam was quiet.

"Do you think it's true?" I say. "About the boat?"

"It's fucking grim if it is," he says. We later find out that it was.

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