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Brooklyn Eagle’s Cuba Journal: Dispelling myths of Cuba

March 11, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: Daniel R. Antonelli, Andrea M. Arrigo, Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello and Leah Mallas enjoying a show at Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

When the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) took off for Cuba for a recent educational trip, there was hardly a consensus on what to expect. Some knew little about the country, while some thought they knew a lot. But by the third day, almost the entire group of 31 travelers realized that Cuba was much different than they anticipated.

Rafael M. Hernandez, an attorney, publisher of Temas magazine and visiting professor at Harvard, Columbia and the University of Texas, was brought in for a lecture that morning to describe how that country has been changing since Fidel Castro stepped down 10 years ago.

“This is a transitional situation,” Hernandez said of Cuba. “If you visit Cuba again two years from now, you will find many changes.”

Hernandez described a series of what he considers to be myths of Cuba spread by the American and international media: that Cuba will cease to be socialist once the Castros are no longer in power, that any dissent is prohibited, that the country can’t have democracy within a one-party system, that Cubans are cut off from the world, that all the young Cubans are desperate to leave, that Cuban emigres are all exiles and that the embargo must be lifted before any changes can occur.

“This is the way Cuba is described when you read The New York Times or the Washington Post,” Hernandez said. “Those ideas are accepted as political common sense about Cuba. And, of course, I don’t agree with these perceptions. I find all of them highly questionable.

“People think that any dissent is prohibited,” Hernandez continued. “According to this view, if I try to publish anything critical of the Cuban government, I will be censored. And if I dare to publish anything critical, I may be punished, I may be put in jail. In that case, I should be in jail.”

Hernandez went on to describe some of the major issues holding Cuba back politically. He cited hyper-centralization of the government and an over-extended bureaucracy as two of its biggest problems. He also advocated for decentralization and an expansion of the non-state sector of the economy — two things that he said are slowly happening already.

 

La Corona Cigar Factory

After the morning lecture, the BBA headed off to La Corona Cigar Factory where members got an opportunity to see first-hand how cigars are rolled. A couple of members even tried, with mixed success, rolling their own cigars.

 

Afro-Cuban Dance

The highlight of the entire trip for many, including BBA President Arthur Aidala, was an Afro-Cuban Dance show with Compania Habana Campas. Against a vividly colored background, the show featured different dance and drum ensembles that highlighted Cuban music and dance and showed off an incredible spirit.

Perhaps the best part of the performance was that it culminated in a huge group dance party with the 30 BBA members joining the dozen cast members on stage.

“Obviously, I like being in the middle of the action, so being invited on stage with the drummers and dancing with them was the highlight of the entire week for me,” Aidala said. “It was a lot of fun and it was like being invited into their world.”

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