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.