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Posted January 18, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Culture

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BY RON MENCHACHA | Charleston Post and Courier Staff

At the port of Havana, a harbor pilot boat steams out toward the mouth of the harbor, likely heading to a rendezvous with an inbound cargo ship.

Dockworkers and truck drivers stop for food breaks in the maritime district.
Eduardo Gomez stands under the awning of a roadside cafeteria tearing into a pork sandwich. A little black dog, a perrito, circles his feet, eager for a handout.

Gomez has been loading and unloading cargo at the port for 25 years. His job is good, he says. He makes the equivalent of 10 U.S. dollars a month.

A tattoo on his left bicep says “Maria” in honor of his mother. She lives in Miami. He gives an American her phone number and asks the visitor to call her to let her know he is doing well. He says to make sure to say that you are calling for Malanga, his nickname.

Mandy Fernandez, a Havana native, joins the port workers and washes down his pork sandwich with a glass of pulpy orange juice.

His monthly food ration from the government is six pounds of rice, four pounds of sugar and seven eggs.

He could buy more food with the money he earns driving tourists, but he would rather use that money to buy commodities other than food.

“In our (peso) store, it’s just the basics. In the (American) dollar store, they have everything. You are never going to see the meat in our store.”

It’s worse for people in the countryside because they get smaller rations, he says.

“He don’t give a (expletive) about the people in the country.”

Who is “he?”

“You know who he is,” he says. “The one with the beard.”

Fidel Castro’s presence is subtle. There are occasional billboards and historic photos of the Revolution, but as one walks the streets it’s easy to forget that this is a communist country.

From a street near the port, massive cargo ships are visible inside the terminal. Packed hull to hull, they are rusty and deteriorating.

Fernandez says the ships have been there for years. They can’t be used to ship cargo to a foreign country because that country might seize them to collect debts owed by the Cuban government, he says.

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