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realclearworld

From Our Friend Carlos Eire

Che in the shop of a Geneva Tobacconist

Che in the shop of a Geneva Tobacconist

Our treasured friend, Carlos Eire, has just returned from Europe. Here's his gem about some Che encounters:

A fine day in Geneva, with Che’s ghost

Europeans are the people who keep Castrolandia afloat, so I thought nothing would surprise me over here, concerning Cuba. At the age of 58, however, I should have known better than that. Surprises never end. Hell is as limitless as the human imagination, and so is evil.

And the worst thing about the evil kingdom of Castrolandia is the way it uses capitalism to further its own ends while denying all the benefits of a free economy to the people of Cuba.

So, on a very sunny morning, I walk by a tobacco store in Geneva, Switzerland, which has a large sign proclaiming that it sells Havana cigars, and I am compelled to go in, as if suddenly bewitched. I know that every one of the dozens of tobacco stores I have seen over the past week sells Cuban cigars, but I have felt no need to check them out. Damn it. I have to walk into this one, just to see what is going on.

This is no kiosk selling postcards, magazines, or Swiss Army knives. This is the Ritz of tobacco stores. Spotless glass cases, so perfectly gleaming that you expect an alarm to go off the minute you touch them. A salesman dressed in a coat and tie, and neatly creased slacks. Oak panelling on the walls. Cigar boxes displayed like jewelry, all with familiar names. Partagas. Cohiba. Montecristo. I have to fight back the tears, and the rage.

The walls are covered with exquisitely-framed photos of leather-skinned old Cuban men involved in cigar production. I remember how we didn’t have rednecks in Cuba, not even among the fairest-skinned Gallegos and Asturianos. No. We had leathernecks. The sun tanned your hide so fiercely, that you ended up with small ravines rather than wrinkles, and skin as tough as anything used in the manufacture of shoes, belts, and handbags.

Anyway, these old men are staring at me from the walls, and I can’t bear to look at their faces. They stayed there, and I got away. These are the men who work the fields, who are no more than quaint primitives to the Europeans who travel there for fun or spend small fortunes on the cigars they produce. Each frame around their faces costs more than these slaves earn in a whole year, and the cigars in that store alone cost more than they could ever earn in a million years. Their photos are there to evoke a sense of the exotic, maybe of Rousseau’s noble savage. After all, Rousseau was a native of Geneva, and has an island named after him there, where Lac Leman turns into the Rhone River, just around the corner. Perfect place to depict noble savages, this store.

Some of these viejos in the photos are white, some are black, some are in between. They are all my uncles, so to speak, no matter what. They are staring at me, and this store is selling the fruit of their labor for exorbitant prices. I feel ashamed of my good fortune: here I am, in Geneva, strolling down the Rue des Alpes, and there they are, still slaves of Pharaoh. They speak to me, loudly, inside my conscience: “cabrón, que haces aquí?”

As I look away from one photo, a display catches my eye. It’s too much to take in, so I have to stare at it for a while. It’s Che, of course. He has to be there. The store wouldn’t be complete without him. Pharaoh’s henchman, the holy Argentine: his face, his words, and his signature etched on a box that costs so many Swiss francs I can’t even calculate the dollar amount. And next to it, an ashtray, also emblazoned with his face. “For Fine Havana Cigars,” says the box in English.

I suddenly remember that I have a camera with me. I ask the owner in my broken French: “May I please take a photo of the monster?” He looks puzzled. “He was a murderer,” I blurt out. “I am Cuban, and he killed some of my relatives.” And he replies in his perfect French: “Not just yours, but those of so many others.” I am too stunned to realize that the man knows the full truth, but is still willing to market Che and profit from his image. It’s only about an hour later that the full horror of the situation hits home. That whole store is a microcosm of the evil that is Castrolandia, an evil so profound that it defies human logic. This is a level of exploitation so deep and twisted that I doubt that either Marx or Lenin could have ever conceived of it, even in their wildest dreams.

And I wonder as I download the photograph I took, how many other Cubans might have walked into that store, and how many bought cigars and handled them as if they were consecrated hosts, or holy relics which need to be rescued from infidels – or, in this case, from fidelistas.

13 comments to From Our Friend Carlos Eire

  • Rayarena

    My admiration for Carlos Eire is boundless. He had the intellectual integrity and principle to tell the New York Times that he wasn't going to play by their game when they tried to get him to write an opinion piece attacking his own people. Other Cuban-American "intellectuals"--and we know who they are--would have sold their integrity [they do it every day anyway] for the notoriety and "prestige" that comes from having the putrid Old Grey Hag publish one of their pieces. I read "Waiting for Snow in Havana," and many of Eire's other thought-provoking pieces. Chalk another one to Eire with this excellent analysis on Che worship in Europe.

  • Henry Agueros

    Dito to Rayarenas statement.

  • Reading this makes me question the idea that it is castro's anti-Americanism that the world finds so seductive. Perhaps it is an even more repugnant quality that draws so many, especially Europeans, to the Cuban dictator--racism. Where else is an openly "colonial" impulse given a politically correct cover? The regime even provides tour buses, from a comfortable distance of course, for the tourists to view firsthand the “people” of Cuba.

  • Rayarena

    Ziva,

    Excellently worded!!!!!:

    >>Perhaps it is an even more repugnant quality that draws so many, especially Europeans, to the Cuban dictator--racism. Where else is an openly "colonial" impulse given a politically correct cover?<<

  • [...] Babalú Blog: Carlos Eire, perseguido por el fantasma del Che en Ginebra. [...]

  • asombra

    Great piece, as one would expect from Eire. It goes without saying (or rather, it SHOULD) that the patrons of such a super upscale, super deluxe establishment are absolutely NOT the poor, the downtrodden or the oppressed (who are absolutely NOT wanted there). It also goes without saying that, even if "Che" were half as good as his myth claims, using him as a marketing tool in such an establishment for the HIGHLY PRIVILEGED is an obscenity of hypocrisy and the crassest sort of shameless, unscrupulous opportunism. But hey, it's just business, after all. Besides, the Swiss are great at spotlessly pristine surfaces, but don't scratch them too vigorously or you'll wind up with unpleasant surprises. Just ask their bankers.

    I have only one quibble with Eire's piece. Instead of "A fine day in Geneva with Che's ghost," I would have titled it "A fine day in Geneva with Che's pimps."

  • Interesting to read this, having just returned from Germany. One day I did a quick trip across the border to Holland -- to the town of Groningen. The city was having a lovefest with Cuba, including the museum having a special art exhibit from Cuba from 1868 to present ... featuring mostly revolution propaganda. (See this: http://www.groningermuseum.nl/index.php?id=4135) Groningen had banners hanging everywhere: "Cubaweek" June 17-20. I wondered how Cubans reacted to this festivities.

  • [...] Eire, back from Switzerland, has written a superb essay, A fine day in Geneva, with Che’s ghost Europeans are the people who keep Castrolandia afloat, so I thought nothing would surprise me over [...]

  • asombra

    It's astonishing how people wallowing in money, privilege and luxury, the people that keep this cigar store in business, still get some sort of kick out a vile, murderous psychopath like "Che." Is it some kind of warped penis envy? Arrested adolescence? Infantile utopianism? Guilt complex? Or is it simply massive indifference to the suffering and misery of others, as long as it's sufficiently fashionable and progressive-looking? They are beneath contempt.

  • Mr. Mojito

    Asombra,

    I'd like to think it is more benign and shallow. As Humberto has pointed out the famous picture resembles "Jim Morrison" and does look "cool" if you forget the context and brutality behind it. Lets hope that these buyers if anything think he's a musician or at the very least only saw the scrubbed down and romantic "Motorcycle Diaries" film - and thus see him as a shaggy travelling beatnik.

  • Chris41Ohare

    I just finished my second reading of Mr. Eire's book "Waiting for Snow in Havana" and am overwhelmed by his honesty and sensitive perception. I know from experiencing my own losses and injustices, though insignificant compared to Mr. Eire’s and his family’s, how the resulting pain and anger can be overwhelming and become a steering current to a person’s life course. Mr. Eire is rightfully indignant about most people’s unquestioning acceptance of the glossed over version the world seems to have for the fate of Cubans. These people must be half conscious to ignore the slavery and suppression of the Cuban people. I thank Mr. Eire for his insightfulness and courage. I hope his words can wake up some of these people.
    Pardon me for borrowing a phrase from his book but I think I have found another “proof of God's existence”-, it’s Carlos Eire.

  • Honey

    Chris,
    Ditto, inc.