How Russia arms Latin America

How Russia arms America’s southern neighbors (via GlobalPost)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Russia’s push into Ukraine has put many on edge. But less known is that Russia is also strengthening its military links south of the Rio Grande and re-establishing itself as a power in the region. Vladimir Putin has been strengthening…

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    • SDPUS

      Ya, it is a pretty BS game. And it is directly in response to the USA militarizing places like Colombia, Honduras and the Costa Rican police force. Not to mention the USA’s own police militants. All under the guise of a drug war! Who do you BS governments really think you are fooling!

      • Frank Castle

        The Drug War is slowing dying off. MJ is being legalized in the States with other changes to follow.

    • Ben

      Russia has a right to put bases where ever they can. US has bases everywhere. I surport Russia putting a few bases in Latin America. US agenda of control needs to be slowed big time.

      • SDPUS

        A better idea would be to support a reduction in bases of everyone. Don’t support a policy of confrontation. War spending is as corrupt as it gets, and that includes the drug war.

        • expatin paradise

          Increased militarization is troubling, no matter where it occurs. The US flexing its military muscle around the globe is just as troubling as is the recent increase in military activity by Russia and China. It would be nice to see an agreement for a reduction in bases similar to the disarmament agreements that brought a few moments of sanity, but I doubt that we will ever see such a thing. The US has always put bases in its enemies’ back yards but almost brought a nuclear war when Russia put missiles in Cuba fifty years ago. The US and Russia are both practicing old mafia-style protection rackets, making “offers that its weaker ‘allies’ can’t refuse.” Those countries that don’t accept generally see coups, especially where the US is involved. Those who trust the US or think that god is on its side will defend its actions as necessary to maintain peace; however, terms like “peace-keeping forces” are generally nothing more than oxymorons.

          • SDPUS

            Unfortunately, expatin paradise, you articulated that perfectly. Well said.

          • Ben

            You have some good points.

          • gc

            sure real smart.create geopolitical voids so the good guys fill them. china, russia, iran. you betcha. a genius. NOT! i hate the usa govt, but you’ll hate all the other power nations a lot more.hope nicaragua takes guanacoste because i guarantee you odumbo and kerry will just talk about it. hell my property values would go up.

            • disgusted

              gc, you need a tin foil hat . Just teasing, this has really gotten to some of us here. Have a shot of guaro and Imperial chill!

            • Andrew

              Ben, the gringo wannabe with the gringo (anglo) name is better left alone. He’s training with a group of militia up in the hills North of San Jose. They run around with camo clothes and face paint and shoot each other with paintball guns. Methinks the loser has way too much free time on his hands. Ben, have you stolen anything today?

        • Frank Castle

          That is a much better idea!

    • http://alligatorsnroadkill.blogspot.com/ John Dungan

      All I know is that when someone condemns the U. S. for its past support of dictators in various locations, I have to wonder what the Russians will put in place of such leaders? I mean, who ruled Soviet Russia? What is Putin, if not a dictator? Whose rule of Venezuela only ended with his death? Who ruled/rules Cuba? Nicaragua? Think about it.

      • gc

        ben and spdus have a love affair with stalin, mao and marx.

        • SDPUS

          I am a supporter of Democracy, and few places on earth are currently providing it. Our country (USA) has turned into a clear cut Oligarchy, not much different than Russia. I do find your queer comments rather sexy though gc…lol

          • gc

            the usa has never been a democracy, it is a republic. comparing putin’s russia to the usa? just stupid. how can someone so uneducated be allowed near young people? oligarchy, the communist’s dogwhistle

            • SDPUS

              Oligarchy: a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique.

            • gc

              dumb idiot. that i snot the usa. just harry the retard reid.

            • disgusted

              gc, Is right USA is a Republic. USA is not OLIGARCHY, Maybe CR has some old family that still in control. Be interesting happy hour with gc, Ben, SDPUS, JohnD. and few others. Whatdid the Russians say about USA system where 51% control the other 49%. Still long way not important as USA justice system is the best anywhere in the world. SDPUS, what country is democracy you said several?? Maybe Switzerland still a democracy.

            • SDPUS

              A Republic is a form of Democracy. To be precise it is an Indirect Democracy, where we vote in representatives. They are synonymous terms. Direct Democracies were around in Ancient Greece, when populations were small. Recent Supreme Court decisions have given corporations unthinkable power and influence. The billionaire class owns our government. That is not much different than how Russia fundamentally operates. Not putting Wall Street and Bank criminals behind bars is another example of how our country is currently operating. Prior to Reagan, this type of behavior would not have been tolerated. Now it has become the norm, and it has set a terrible precedent for others to follow. Hence why you just say the PLN loot Costa Rica. USA leadership has decayed in the eyes of the world, and for good reason. It will take decades to regain trust…

            • gc

              idiot. it is a democratic republic being turned to a social democratic nanny state. you have no idea what the differences are. i hope u r young to reap the rewards and payout your ass for a log time

            • gc

              no country is a democracy

            • Frank Castle

              You are right!

            • gc

              the last democracy on the planet was Athens. don’t any of you read?

            • expatin paradise

              When Sam Walton’s (Wal-mart) heirs hold more wealth than 40% of the people in the US, the Koch brothers spend more to promote their political agenda than the Democratic party, and billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s Faux News Network brainwashes the populous to support a government that doesn’t represent their interests, the US is an oligarchy. The only 51% controlling the other 49% are in the US congress, which is bought by the billionaires. A few billionaires through their super-PACs decide who runs for office and operate deceptive campaign ads to support or sabotage candidates. When a few wealthy individuals have this much political and financial control over a people, it is an oligarchy.

            • Frank Castle

              Of course, those folks on the left always forget about Bloomberg, Soros, Steyer, Zuckerberg, Gates,etc…I don’t like big money in politics either but it’s on both sides of the aisle. The Koch brothers are the Dems “Squirrel” call to distract others from the fact that their are many of their own billionaire supporters out there.

        • Ben

          GC is a NEO CON.

          • gc

            gc is a libertarian, you are a socialist parrot.

            • SDPUS

              gc is a tea party chump. Most likely funded by someone like the Koch bros or Rupert Murdoch, assigned (paid) to be an idiot troll to a certain group of newspapers. Do you even live in Costa Rica gc, or are you writing from your couch in Texas? Considering how hippie Eugene Oregon is, you really must have no friends. Just business as usual…

            • gc

              libertarian. you must be really stupid. atheist, not tea party. just like USA is not a democracy, nor is CR. you are just dumb as a post.

            • expatin paradise

              SDPUS, you ought to take your own advice and ignore gc. He is clearly an inarticulate jerk who likes to call himself a “libertarian” when he’s really just a right-wing nut job who criticizes everything good about societies as he takes advantage of those benefits. As is always the case with “libertarians”, his world view is entirely egocentric – only those priorities important to him have any merit, Since you can’t (and shouldn’t want to) get inside his head, you really can’t reason with him. His sole purpose here appears to be to throw out insults and taunts, albeit ones that are often so inarticulate that it is unclear as to their intended meanings.

              Ignore this clown. If enough people do it, maybe he’ll go somewhere else to post his crap. If he sticks around, watch for the same types of posts under a different name.

            • SDPUS

              Expatin, yes you are correct, I should. I first wanted to engage him a bit, as I knew he would keep putting his foot in his mouth. He has succeeded at isolating himself, as no one could consider his banter as rational.

            • SDPUS

              He says he was a advertiser. This article pretty much explains his strategy: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/fox-news-wing-nuts-go-mad-mainstream-media-follows-them-cliff-again

          • gc

            ben’s cuban lie. here is what i saw.

            Michael J. Totten

            The Last Communist City

            A visit to the dystopian Havana that tourists never see

            Spring 2014

            Ted Soqui/Corbis

            Downtown Old Havana, just blocks from the capitol

            Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 science-fiction film Elysium,
            starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, takes place in Los Angeles, circa
            2154. The wealthy have moved into an orbiting luxury satellite—the
            Elysium of the title—while the wretched majority of humans remain in
            squalor on Earth. The film works passably as an allegory for its
            director’s native South Africa, where racial apartheid was enforced for
            nearly 50 years, but it’s a rather cartoonish vision of the American
            future. Some critics panned the film for pushing a socialist message. Elysium’s dystopian world, however, is a near-perfect metaphor for an actually existing socialist nation just 90 miles from Florida.

            I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba—not because I’m nostalgic for a
            botched utopian fantasy but because I wanted to experience Communism
            firsthand. When I finally got my chance several months ago, I was
            startled to discover how much the Cuban reality lines up with Blomkamp’s
            dystopia. In Cuba, as in Elysium, a small group of economic and
            political elites live in a rarefied world high above the impoverished
            masses. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of The Communist Manifesto,
            would be appalled by the misery endured by Cuba’s ordinary citizens and
            shocked by the relatively luxurious lifestyles of those who keep the
            poor down by force.

            Many tourists return home convinced that the Cuban model succeeds
            where the Soviet model failed. But that’s because they never left Cuba’s
            Elysium.

            I had to lie to get into the country.
            Customs and immigration officials at Havana’s tiny, dreary José Martí
            International Airport would have evicted me had they known I was a
            journalist. But not even a total-surveillance police state can keep
            track of everything and everyone all the time, so I slipped through. It
            felt like a victory. Havana, the capital, is clean and safe, but there’s
            nothing to buy. It feels less natural and organic than any city I’ve
            ever visited. Initially, I found Havana pleasant, partly because I
            wasn’t supposed to be there and partly because I felt as though I had
            journeyed backward in time. But the city wasn’t pleasant for long, and
            it certainly isn’t pleasant for the people living there. It hasn’t been
            so for decades.

            Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as
            though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or
            the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart.
            Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at
            night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles
            through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single
            tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists,
            though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis
            arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke
            out a life in the ruins.

            Marxists have ruled Cuba for more than a half-century now. Fidel
            Castro, Argentine guerrilla Che Guevara, and their 26th of July Movement
            forced Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959 and replaced his
            standard-issue authoritarian regime with a Communist one. The
            revolutionaries promised liberal democracy, but Castro secured absolute
            power and flattened the country with a Marxist-Leninist battering ram.
            The objectives were total equality and the abolition of money; the
            methods were total surveillance and political prisons. The state slogan,
            then and now, is “socialism or death.”

            Cuba was one of the world’s richest countries before Castro destroyed
            it—and the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. “Contrary
            to the myth spread by the revolution,” wrote Alfred Cuzan, a professor
            of political science at the University of West Florida, “Cuba’s wealth
            before 1959 was not the purview of a privileged few. . . . Cuban society
            was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.” In 1958,
            Cuba had a higher per-capita income than much of Europe. “More
            Americans lived in Cuba prior to Castro than Cubans lived in the United
            States,” Cuban exile Humberto Fontova, author of a series of books about
            Castro and Guevara, tells me. “This was at a time when Cubans were
            perfectly free to leave the country with all their property. In the
            1940s and 1950s, my parents could get a visa for the United States just
            by asking. They visited the United States and voluntarily returned to
            Cuba. More Cubans vacationed in the U.S. in 1955 than Americans
            vacationed in Cuba. Americans considered Cuba a tourist playground, but
            even more Cubans considered the U.S. a tourist playground.” Havana was
            home to a lot of that prosperity, as is evident in the extraordinary
            classical European architecture that still fills the city. Poor nations
            do not—cannot—build such grand or elegant cities.

            But rather than raise the poor up, Castro and Guevara shoved the rich
            and the middle class down. The result was collapse. “Between 1960 and
            1976,” Cuzan says, “Cuba’s per capita GNP in constant dollars declined
            at an average annual rate of almost half a percent. The country thus has
            the tragic distinction of being the only one in Latin America to have
            experienced a drop in living standards over the period.”

            Communism destroyed Cuba’s prosperity, but
            the country experienced unprecedented pain and deprivation when Moscow
            cut off its subsidies after the fall of the Soviet Union. Journalist and
            longtime Cuba resident Mark Frank writes vividly about this period in
            his book Cuban Revelations. “The lights were off more than they
            were on, and so too was the water. . . . Food was scarce and other
            consumer goods almost nonexistent. . . . Doctors set broken bones
            without anesthesia. . . . Worm dung was the only fertilizer.” He quotes a
            nurse who tells him that Cubans “used to make hamburgers out of
            grapefruit rinds and banana peels; we cleaned with lime and bitter
            orange and used the black powder in batteries for hair dye and makeup.”
            “It was a haunting time,” Frank wrote, “that still sends shivers down
            Cubans’ collective spines.”

            By the 1990s, Cuba needed economic reform as much as a gunshot victim
            needs an ambulance. Castro wasn’t about to reform himself and his
            ideology out of existence, but he had to open up at least a small piece
            of the country to the global economy. So the Soviet subsidy was replaced
            by vacationers, mostly from Europe and Latin America, who brought in
            much-needed hard currency. Arriving foreigners weren’t going to tolerate
            receiving ration cards for food—as the locals do—so the island also
            needed some restaurants. The regime thus allowed paladars—restaurants
            inside private homes—to open, though no one from outside the family
            could work in them. (That would be “exploitative.”) Around the same
            time, government-run “dollar stores” began selling imported and
            relatively luxurious goods to non-Cubans. Thus was Cuba’s
            quasi-capitalist bubble created.

            When the ailing Fidel Castro ceded power to his less doctrinaire
            younger brother Raúl in 2008, the quasi-capitalist bubble expanded, but
            the economy remains heavily socialist. In the United States, we have a
            minimum wage; Cuba has a maximum wage—$20 a month for almost
            every job in the country. (Professionals such as doctors and lawyers can
            make a whopping $10 extra a month.) Sure, Cubans get “free” health care
            and education, but as Cuban exile and Yale historian Carlos Eire says,
            “All slave owners need to keep their slaves healthy and ensure that they
            have the skills to perform their tasks.”

            Even employees inside the quasi-capitalist bubble don’t get paid
            more. The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá
            International to manage Havana’s hotels. Before accepting its contract,
            Meliá said that it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The Cuban
            government said fine, so the company pays $8–$10 an hour. But Meliá
            doesn’t pay its employees directly. Instead, the firm gives the
            compensation to the government, which then pays the workers—but only
            after pocketing most of the money. I asked several Cubans in my hotel if
            that arrangement is really true. All confirmed that it is. The workers
            don’t get $8–$10 an hour; they get 67 cents a day—a child’s allowance.

            The maximum wage is just the beginning. Not only are most Cubans not
            allowed to have money; they’re hardly allowed to have things. The police
            expend extraordinary manpower ensuring that everyone required to live
            miserably at the bottom actually does live miserably at the bottom.
            Dissident blogger and author Yoani Sánchez describes the harassment
            sarcastically in her book Havana Real: “Buses are stopped in the
            middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some
            cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal
            belongings.” Perhaps the saddest symptom of Cuba’s state-enforced
            poverty is the prostitution epidemic—a problem the government officially
            denies and even forbids foreign journalists based in Havana to mention.
            Some Cuban prostitutes are professionals, but many are average
            women—wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers—who solicit johns once or
            twice a year for a little extra money to make ends meet.

            The government defends its maximum wage by
            arguing that life’s necessities are either free or so deeply subsidized
            in Cuba that citizens don’t need very much money. (Che Guevara and his
            sophomoric hangers-on hoped to rid Cuba of money entirely, but couldn’t
            quite pull it off.) The free and subsidized goods and services, though,
            are as dismal as everything else on the island. Citizens who take public
            transportation to work—which includes almost everyone, since Cuba
            hardly has any cars—must wait in lines for up to two hours each way to
            get on a bus. And commuters must pay for their ride out of their $20 a
            month. At least commuter buses are cheap. By contrast, a one-way ticket
            to the other side of the island costs several months’ pay; a round-trip
            costs almost an annual salary.

            As for the free health care, patients have to bring their own
            medicine, their own bedsheets, and even their own iodine to the
            hospital. Most of these items are available only on the illegal black
            market, moreover, and must be paid for in hard currency—and sometimes
            they’re not available at all. Cuba has sent so many doctors
            abroad—especially to Venezuela, in exchange for oil—that the island is
            now facing a personnel shortage. “I don’t want to say there are no
            doctors left,” says an American man who married a Cuban woman and has
            been back dozens of times, “but the island is now almost empty. I saw a
            banner once, hanging from somebody’s balcony, that said, DO I NEED TO GO TO VENEZUELA FOR MY HEADACHE?”

            Housing is free, too, but so what? Americans can get houses in
            abandoned parts of Detroit for only $500—which makes them practically
            free—but no one wants to live in a crumbling house in a
            gone-to-the-weeds neighborhood. I saw adequate housing in the Cuban
            countryside, but almost everyone in Havana lives in a Detroit-style
            wreck, with caved-in roofs, peeling paint, and doors hanging on their
            hinges at odd angles.

            Education is free, and the country is effectively 100 percent
            literate, thanks to Castro’s campaign to teach rural people to read
            shortly after he took power. But the regime has yet to make a persuasive
            argument that a totalitarian police state was required to get the
            literacy rate from 80 percent to 100 percent. After all, almost every
            other country in the Western Hemisphere managed the same feat at the
            same time, without the brutal repression.

            Cuba is short of everything but air and sunshine. In her book,
            Sánchez describes an astonishing appearance by Raúl Castro on
            television, during which he boasted that the economy was doing so well
            now that everyone could drink milk. “To me,” Sánchez wrote, “someone who
            grew up on a gulp of orange-peel tea, the news seemed incredible.” She
            never thought she’d see the day. “I believed we would put a man on the
            moon, take first place among all nations in the upcoming Olympics, or
            discover a vaccine for AIDS before we would put the forgotten morning café con leche,
            coffee with milk, within reach of every person on this island.” And yet
            Raúl’s promise of milk for all was deleted from the transcription of
            the speech in Granma, the Communist Party newspaper. He went too far: there was not enough milk to ensure that everyone got some.

            Even things as simple as cooking oil and soap are black-market goods.
            Individuals who, by some illegal means or another, manage to acquire
            such desirables will stand on street corners and whisper “cooking oil”
            or “sugar” to passersby, and then sell the product on the sly out of
            their living room. If they’re caught, both sellers and buyers will be
            arrested, of course, but the authorities can’t put the entire country in
            jail. “Everyone cheats,” says Eire. “One must in order to survive. The
            verb Ωto steal≈ has almost vanished from usage. Breaking the rules is
            necessary. Resolví mi problema, which means ‘I solved my problem,’ is the Cuban way of referring to stealing or cheating or selling on the black market.”

            Cuba has two economies now: the national
            Communist economy for the majority; and a quasi-capitalist one for
            foreigners and the elite. Each has its own currency: the Communist
            economy uses the Cuban peso, and the capitalist bubble uses the
            convertible peso. Cuban pesos are worth nothing. They can’t be converted
            to dollars or euros. Foreigners can’t even spend them in Cuba. The
            convertible pesos are pegged to the U.S. dollar, but banks and hotels
            pay only 87 Cuban cents for each one—the government takes 13 percent off
            the top. The rigged exchange rate is an easy way to shake down
            foreigners without most noticing. It also enables the state to drain
            Cuban exiles. A million Cuban-Americans live in south Florida, and
            another half-million live elsewhere in the United States. They send
            hundreds of millions of dollars a year to family members still on the
            island. The government gets its 13 percent instantaneously and most of
            the remaining 87 percent later because almost every place that someone
            can spend the money is owned by the state.

            Castro created the convertible peso mainly to seal off Cuba’s little
            capitalist bubble from the ragged majority in the Communist economy.
            “Foreign journalists report on the creation of ever more luxurious
            hotels, golf courses, and marinas,” Eire says, “but fail to highlight
            the very simple and brutal fact that these facilities will be enjoyed
            strictly by foreigners and the Castronoid power elite. Apartheid,
            discrimination, and segregation are deliberately built in to the entire
            tourist industry and, in fact, are essential to its maintenance and
            survival.”

            Until a few years ago, ordinary Cubans weren’t allowed even to set
            foot inside hotels or restaurants unless they worked there, lest they
            find themselves exposed to the seductive lifestyles of the decadent
            bourgeoisie from capitalist nations like Mexico, Chile, and Spain. (I
            cite these three countries because most of the tourists I ran into spoke
            Spanish to one another.) A few years ago, the government stopped
            physically blocking Cubans from hotels and restaurants, partly because
            Raúl is a little more relaxed about these things than Fidel but also
            because most Cubans can’t afford to go to these places, anyway.

            A single restaurant meal in Havana costs an entire month’s salary.
            One night in a hotel costs five months’ salary. A middle-class tourist
            from abroad can easily spend more in one day than most Cubans make in a
            year. I had dinner with four Americans at one of the paladars.
            The only Cubans in the restaurant were the cooks and the waiters. The
            bill for the five of us came to about $100. That’s five months’ salary.

            The Floridita bar in downtown Havana was one of Ernest Hemingway’s
            hangouts when he lived there (from 1940 until 1960, the year after
            Castro came to power). He was in the Floridita all the time—and, in a
            way, he still is. There’s a statue of him sitting on his favorite bar
            stool, grinning at today’s patrons. The décor is exactly the same, but
            there’s a big difference: everyone in the bar these days is a tourist.
            Cubans aren’t strictly banned any more, but a single bottle of beer
            costs a week’s salary. No one would blow his dismal paycheck on that.

            If he were still around, Hemingway would be
            stunned to see what has happened to his old haunt. Cubans certainly
            aren’t happy about it, but the tourists are another story—especially the
            world’s remaining Marxoid fellow travelers, who show up in Havana by
            the planeload. Such people are clearly unteachable. I got into an
            argument with one at the Floridita when I pointed out that none of the
            patrons were Cuban. “There are places in the United States that some
            can’t afford,” she retorted. Sure, but come on. Not even the poorest Americans have to pay a week’s wage for a beer.

            Cubans in the hotel industry see how foreigners live. The government
            can’t hide it without shutting the hotels down entirely, and it can’t do
            that because it needs the money. I changed a few hundred American
            dollars into convertible pesos at the front desk. The woman at the
            counter didn’t blink when I handed over my cash—she does this all
            day—but when she first got the job, it must have been shattering to make
            such an exchange. That’s why the regime wants to keep foreigners and
            locals apart.

            Tourists tip waiters, taxi drivers, tour guides, and chambermaids in
            hard currency, and to stave off a revolt from these people, the
            government lets them keep the additional money, so they’re “rich”
            compared with everyone else. In fact, they’re an elite class enjoying
            privileges—enough income to afford a cell phone, go out to restaurants
            and bars, log on to the Internet once in a while—that ordinary Cubans
            can’t even dream of. I asked a few people how much chambermaids earn in
            tips, partly so that I would know how much to leave on my dresser and
            also to get an idea of just how crazy Cuban economics are. Supposedly,
            the maids get about $1 per day for each room. If they clean an average
            of 30 rooms a day and work five days a week, they’ll bring in $600 a
            month—30 times what everyone else gets. “All animals are equal,” George
            Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, his allegory of Stalinism, “but some
            animals are more equal than others.” Only in the funhouse of a
            Communist country is the cleaning lady rich compared with the lawyer.
            Yet elite Cubans are impoverished compared with the middle class and
            even the poor outside Cuba.

            About half the dinners I had were acceptable, and a few were
            outstanding, but the breakfast buffets in my hotel, the Habana Libre,
            were uniformly disgusting. Bacon was half-raw, the sausage made from
            God-knows-what. The cheese was discolored, the bread hard and
            flavorless. Yet the grim offering was advertised in the lobby as
            “exquisite.” Maybe if you’ve spent your entire life on a Cuban ration
            card, it’s exquisite, but otherwise—no. The question wasn’t what I
            wanted to eat, but what I thought I could eat without my stomach rising up in rebellion.

            Leftists often talk about “food deserts” in Western cities, where the
            poor supposedly lack options to buy affordable and nutritious food. If
            they want to see a real food desert, they should come to Havana. I
            went to a grocery store across the street from the exclusive Meliá
            Cohiba Hotel, where the lucky few with access to hard currency shop to
            supplement their meager state rations. The store was in what passes for a
            mall in Havana—a cluttered concrete box, shabby compared even with
            malls I’ve visited in Iraq. It carried rice, beans, frozen chicken,
            milk, bottled water, booze, a small bit of cheese, minuscule amounts of
            rancid-looking meat, some low-end cookies and chips from Brazil—and
            that’s it. No produce, cereal, no cans of soup, no pasta. A 7–11
            has a far better selection, and this is a place for Cuba’s “rich” to
            shop. I heard, but cannot confirm, that potatoes would not be available
            anywhere in Cuba for another four months.

            Shortly before I left Havana, I met a
            Cuban-American man and his wife visiting from Miami. “Is this your first
            time here?” he asked. I nodded. “What do you think?” I paused before
            answering. I wasn’t worried that I would offend him. He lives in Miami,
            so his opinions of Cuba are probably little different from mine. But we
            were in a crowded place. Plenty of Cubans could hear us, including the
            police. They wouldn’t arrest me if I insulted the government, but I
            didn’t want to make a scene, either. “Well,” I finally said. “It’s . . .
            interesting.” He belted out a great belly laugh, and I smiled. His wife
            scowled.

            “I hate this place!” she near-shouted. Fidel himself could
            have heard, and she wouldn’t have cared. She wasn’t going to be quiet
            about it. Tourists who visit Cuba and spend all their time inside the
            bubble for the “haves” could leave the country oblivious to the savage
            inequalities and squalor beyond the hotel zone, but this woman visits
            her husband’s family in the real Cuba and knows what it’s really like.

            “His family is from here,” she said, “but mine’s not, and I will never
            come back here. Not while it’s like this. I feel like I’m in Iraq or
            Afghanistan.” I visited Iraq seven times during the war and didn’t have
            the heart to tell her that Baghdad, while ugly and dangerous, is vastly
            freer and more prosperous these days than Havana. Anyway, Iraq is
            precisely the kind of country with which Castro wants you to compare
            Cuba. It’s the wrong comparison. So are impoverished Third World
            countries like Guatemala and Haiti. Cuba isn’t a developing country;
            it’s a once-developed country destroyed by its own government. Havana
            was a magnificent Western city once. It should be compared not with
            Baghdad, Kabul, Guatemala City, or Port-au-Prince but with formerly
            Communist Budapest, Prague, or Berlin. Havana’s history mirrors theirs,
            after all.

            An advertisement in my hotel claimed that the Sierra Maestra
            restaurant on the top floor is “probably” the best in Havana. I had
            saved the Sierra Maestra for my last night and rode the elevator up to
            the 25th floor. I had my first and only steak on the island and washed
            it down with Chilean red wine. The tiny bill set me back no more than
            having a pizza delivered at home would, but the total nevertheless
            exceeded an entire month’s local salary. Not surprisingly, I ate alone.
            Every other table was empty. The staff waited on me as if I were the
            president of some faraway minor republic.

            I stared at the city below out the window as I sipped my red wine.
            Havana looked like a glittering metropolis in the dark. Night washed
            away the rot and the grime and revealed nothing but city lights. It
            occurred to me that Havana will look mostly the same—at night,
            anyway—after it is liberated from the tyrannical imbeciles who govern it
            now. I tried to pretend that I was looking out on a Cuba that was
            already free and that the tables around me were occupied—by local
            people, not foreigners—but the fantasy faded fast. I was all alone at
            the top of Cuba’s Elysium and yearning for home—where capitalism’s
            inequalities are not so jagged and stark.

            Michael J. Totten is a City Journal contributing editor and the author of five books, including The Road to Fatima Gate.

            • Ben

              What´s your problem? The problem with you gc is that you really never see any problems in the USA. So lets get the truth on the table about USA. Here is the truth about Wonderful USA.

              1. 48 million people on food stamps

              2. 30 million people without health care

              3. 18 trillion in debt and growing faster and faster

              4. 30 million homes in USA foreclosed between 2008 to 2014.

              5. 14 million people on the streets without a place to live.

              6. Highest incarceration rate in the world. Twice as high as Russia.

              7. 1 in 3 children go hungry everyday in the USA.

              8. Highest Gun murder rate in the world.
              9. More mass shooting than all countries combined in the world.

              gc those are just a few facts on your wonderful USA. Maybe you should go back and fix your wonderful country instead of bring your rightwing neo con lies to Latin America.

            • SDPUS

              Ben, gc has most likely never even been to Costa Rica. It has become blatantly obvious that he is just a paid troll. In the USA, all major newspapers have them. They spread their lies, insults and mischief as truth. They are funded by some billionaires interest group, looking to sway public opinion, for their own greedy need. Don’t give this clueless jerk another minute of your attention.

            • Ben

              I am done with gc thanks your right. Thanks you. Again sorry for the other day. Your a good guy.

            • gc

              he and you are uneducated parrots

            • gc

              tu idiota, yo se mas de ticolandia de usted. cuanto propertidads tu tienes in ticoville? uneducated moron.

            • Karen Mata

              Ben, once again:
              1 The US has had your back militarily for over 50 years. In fact I believe that CR requested we send marines over the recent border dust-up.
              Most ticos still squat to piss.
              2 We bailed you out repeatedly in the 80s and when you could no longer pay interest on your bonds, we paid them off for you.
              3 We’ve provided US scholarships for thousands of ticos over the years including Solis, and very possibly Chinchilla.

              The kill shot for CR was Intel’s departure, as other corporate interests will certainly take note.

            • Ben

              Another person that hates Latin America. America Airline offers a one way back. Do you pray for Richard Nixon everyday.

            • gc

              you are one sick person.

            • HONEST MAN

              Not a cool thing to say.

            • Karen Mata

              Ben, you’re dating yourself if you remember dicky Trick.
              I’ve got to assume there are several people posting under your handle. If not, then stop drinking the arsenic laced tap water.

              I’ve stated facts. There’s certainly no hatred toward the culture. I actually love the culture as my son is latino.

              I don’t have a high opinion of ticos though.
              I have a story in the next post.

            • Karen Mata

              It was 1995 Ben, and we had just purchased and moved to CR. We wanted to explore the country, and set off toward El General.

              We’re all in the front seat, with my 3 year old son, driving along and some tico workers are just staring at us, like mouths open, as we pass. Not one of them made an effort to flag us down, but rather they were expectant.

              The road was straight and level, and then began to descend, but the way we were stared at was just too odd. We slowed and thankfully stopped as we approached a washed out portion with a 300 foot drop.

              Repulsive is too kind of a word.

            • HONEST MAN

              Ben is right. USA is messed up.

            • Karen Mata

              Just last week you were departing CR for points south.
              Man, I need a score card to keep up with you.
              You’re OK Ben, but, c’mon!!

            • gc

              yeah lies a lot says he going back to cuba the paradise again. he is just an uneducated parrot.

            • HONEST MAN

              Ben is right about Cuba. g

            • Ben

              My business in CR comes first and demands most of my attention. Going to South America then back to Panama and then CR. Karen are you okay? I mean did you meet with your Tea Party group this week? Maybe turn Fox news off it might help you think better.

            • gc

              your business. now that is a hoot. thanks for the joke of the week.

            • Andrew

              Try using the word “you’re”, Ben. Since you are a closeted gringo wannabe, using the correct word: “you’re” might just help you pull it off. How’s your militia doing these days?

            • Karen Mata

              Ben, you’ve described yourself as a former US serviceman. (Me too, and a service academy grad)
              Which Ben will we get today? I await your permission as what I may watch on TV.

              Concerning russia, usa…
              How many millions of illegals are risking their lives to enter Russia?

              Knowing this culture as I do, I’m certain that if the US was still picking up the tab all would be forgiven.

              My girlfriends were quite uniform in their appraisal that CR men were repulsive.

            • Andrew

              Great points Karen. Just ignore Ben. Like many Costa Rican men, he has female genitalia.

            • Karen Mata

              Ben, this is the same Karen that you followed on disqus a few weeks ago. (I subsequently cancelled that account.)

              What’s with you??

              No, its that the gringos come to CR for the “teat party” as I understand.

            • gc

              i hate the usa government. it is not capitalist. it is a nanny state. cuba is a floating jail. and you do not know crap. btw moost off your numbers are wrong …. as usual

            • Andrew

              Ben are you a bitter jealous Tico loser?

    • CostaRicaChris

      What part of the CIA planted this story? Ukraine has no essential US interests. The US has no business there! The country is an artificial creation, post WW1. Previously it was divided between the Austrian Empire and Tsarist Russia.
      The US has tried to control Latin America since the Monroe Doctrine. In general, supporting banana fascist regimes has had negative results.
      This policy has as little moral underpinnings as ‘Manifest Destiny’. It is OK for the US to provide arms to extremist Islamic dictatorships like Saudi Arabia or to NATO countries on the Russian Borders.. What different logic is there to stop the Russians providing arms to LatAm? The logic is from the Industrial Military complex that Eisenhower warned us about!

      • Frank Castle

        and Costa Rica is part of New Spain? Give me a break. When the Soviet Union broke up, Ukraine became a country. It was recognized all over the world. Next thing you will be saying is South Sudan isn’t a country either. The Sikes/Picot agreement created the modern countries of the Middle East too. Aren’t they “artificial countries”? Maybe the Turks ought to reclaim them?

        What I would like to see is that NO MILITARY BASES are established in the Caribbean basin, period, Russian, Chinese or American. We don’t need an arms race here.