Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Want To See Misery During Your Vacation? Then Cuba’s Probably The Place For You

Derrumbes-9An Amelia Island friend recently told me that he and his girl friend are planning a vacation trip to Cuba because, he said: “I want to see the old American cars and Cuba before it’s full of McDonalds, Burger Kings, neon lights, etc.”

Really? In that case the two of them should take a trip to any of the other Latin or South American Third World hell holes such as El Salvador, Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic, the interior of Mexico or even Hacienda Heights in L.A. They won’t find many American fast-food eateries and neon lights in those wretched places but at least some of their money might find its way to the locals, whereas in Cuba, it goes directly to the Castro family.

In the mid 1980s I crossed through Check Point Charlie into East Berlin for a one-day visit. There were no McDonalds, Burger Kings, or neon lights in the East. In fact there was absolutely nothing to buy and less to see. And what my colleagues and I did manage to observe was directed by minders who kept us out of areas they didn’t want us in, and stopped us from talking to folks they didn’t want us speaking to. And almost 50 years after the end of World War II there were still visible piles of rubble left from that conflict. Not only was the city drab and depressing and the people glum and sad looking, but in the few shops available, there were long lines of dour folks waiting to purchase anything from salt to sauerkraut. One of our West German guides told us that when East Germans saw a line, they got in it, even though they didn’t know what it was for, because whatever it was — sheets or sausages — they needed it.

After crossing into the East we were each obligated to exchange our dollars and/or West German Deutschmarks for what I recall was about $25 worth of East German currency that was worthless in the West, and we later discovered, almost worthless in the East, as there was nothing of value to purchase. While attempting to spend as much of it as possible in a shabby gasthaus, we still ended up with a pocketful of currency that the West would not accept and the East Germans refused to exchange back. Just prior to crossing back into West Berlin, we stumbled upon a small shop about the size of a closet with a sad-looking middle-aged lady leaning against the bottom half of a Dutch door with a few bottles of booze lining the four or five wooden shelves behind her. We bought almost her entire inventory and attempted to give her the remainder of our worthless currency as a tip, which she refused to accept. The looming Wall with its mine field, guards and dogs, “get-out-of-the-car” inspections demanded by surly soldiers with machine guns, and the intimidating questioning by the “volpos” as we reentered the western side is material for another column.

A few days after arriving back in my Paris apartment, I opened a bottle of the East German purchased Coffee Liqueur and poured some into an aperitif glass. The stuff was awful, completely undrinkable. I corked the bottle, placed it on a cordial cart and whenever friends would gather at my place and my liberal acquaintances would begin extolling the virtues of socialism, I would serve them a drink of this East German swill. Following the first taste they would grimace and say: “Dave, this is terrible. What is it?” I responded, telling them: “It’s just a small glass of what you’re talking about.”

Like East Germany, prior to 1989 when the Wall came down, taking a tour to Cuba, is for folks that slow down to look at a traffic accident with multiple fatalities and injuries, to observe the misery of others.

And don’t let anybody tell you that their tourist dollars will help the local population. In Cuba, that doesn’t happen. The government controls all economic activity. Frank Calzon, executive director for the Center for a Free Cuba, says in Cuba, “companies do not pay their workers directly, but rathertippingincuba05 compensate the government, which decides how much money to dispense to the workers. The Cuban system is one of indentured servitude, with the government loaning out its citizens for profit.” Nobody does business with Cubans, he says, they do business with the Castro brothers, who are now worth an estimated $900 million. For the typical Cuban family socialism would be a giant step up.

President Obama’s assertion that his new policy shift toward Cuba will help the Cuban people is complete BS.

In order to prevent ordinary Cuban citizens from acquiring and accumulating capital the Castro regime has created a two-currency system, which my friend will discover upon his arrival. One is the convertible peso (CUC) used by tourists to pay for their hotels, meals, etc. Cubans don’t have access to CUCs as they receive a monthly salary of $19.00 and are paid in the Cuban peso (CUP), a currency worthless outside of Cuba. Sound familiar as in the now defunct Communist Eastern Europe? Most of the money that tourists spend in Cuba ends up in the pockets of the regime. The communist government owns most of the hotels and at least 51 percent of any resorts. Even taxi drivers are obligated to turn over a certain amount of cash to the government monthly as are small dining establishments, stores, etc.

For decades Cuba’s sponsor was the Soviet Union and when it collapsed in 1989 Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan regime subsidized the Castro boys. But when that fell apart following the collapse of commodity prices and mismanagement the Castro brothers drifted until their savior Barack Obama arrived on the scene. Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea, a neurosurgeon at Jacksonville’s Baptist Health, explained Obama’s move to drop the U.S. embargo in a recent Florida Times-Union opinion editorial: “Cuba’s repressive apartheid now has the imprimatur of an American president. Imagine Abraham Lincoln saying, ‘We will help the slaves by ending the isolation of their masters and engaging them economically.’ ”

The problem with Cuba wasn’t the U.S. embargo, it’s their system that doesn’t work.

Old_Havana_CubaAccording to journalist James Kirchick, a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative, tourists to Cuba are treated to a filthy Havana, reminiscent of a “bombed out Beirut”, heaps of rubble and trash, decaying buildings, horrendous food that makes airline fare appear gourmet, and people picking through garbage. Not exactly my idea of a welcoming vacation spot. There is something despicable about leftist tendencies to romanticize a nation that persecutes a destitute populace that risks their lives trying to escape their island misery.

Maybe as my friend looks down from his airplane he’ll spot a raft or rickety boat crammed with people trying to flee that communistic cesspool and he might get a clue. But I doubt he’ll admit he may have made a mistake.balseros

Prior to leaving for that Caribbean hell hole he may want to talk to local restaurateurs Marisol Triana and Chris Garcia, second generation Cubans from Miami, who own and operate Hola Cuban Café, the popular eatery located behind the Palace Saloon and across from, Dog Star on North 2nd Street, but I doubt he’ll listen no matter how compelling their story. What should occur is a deeper appreciation of the American way of life. We’ll see.


Starbucks! Who Cares? The brouhaha over Starbucks’ red cups is meaningless as far as I’m concerned as I don’t frequent Starbucks for the same reasons I don’t frequent McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut or any other sterile chain store. In these places the containers the food comes in are as tasty as their contents; you can’t get anything “your way” as it is all prepared following a corporate formula; the service is indifferent; and prices, particularly at Starbucks, are outrageous. I don’t care what they color their cups or what they put in them, I’ll continue to skip the new Starbucks next to a Mattress shop in the parking lot of the Island Walk shopping mall that offers only a view of cars going back and forth on Sadler, and will continue to patronize the cozy locally owned downtown Amelia Island Coffee Shop at 207 Centre Street, where I can sit at inside or outside tables, read a newspaper, chat with folks walking by and enjoy the ambience and Christmas decorations of the historic downtown area, particularly during the Christmas holidays. The reasonably priced and delicious homemade cookies, pies, cakes, scones and other pastries as well as soups, sandwiches, etc. make the Amelia Island Coffee Shop downtown an ideal spot to take a break while doing Christmas shopping in the historic town, decorated especially for the holiday sdeason. The only reason to go to Starbucks would be if your car broke down in front of it, it was raining, and you desperately needed to use a restroom, and even then, depending on the line, you might find a practical use for one of those silly red cups.


Mayor Miller: Johnny Miller won the straw vote for mayor of Fernandina Beach and will now be in charge of conducting orderly and organized City Commission sessions. I’ve been highly critical of Johnny during his past two years as a City Commissioner, but now it’s time to wipe the slate clean and give the mayor a chance to see how well he can direct the commission. In our commission form of government the mayor has no greater official authority than any other commission member, but is the principal ambassador of the city and as such will be the face to the community and the outside world, reflecting how we are portrayed. I have to give him credit, as recently he contacted me twice — once to provide me information for a very informative item in this blog and again to inform me that one of my neighbors was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. For that I am grateful. Even though I do not agree on any of Mayor Miller’s more liberal stances, I am anxious to see how the personable Palace Saloon barkeep does in his new position and wish him well. As Chuck Berry once sang: “Go Johnny go!”


The Enemy Within: Following the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday President Barack Obama spoke at the G20 Summit in Turkey and said he will not change his strategy against ISIS even as criticism of the administration’s failed campaign against the terror army mounts. I assume this strategy is the same one he said he didn’t even have a year ago. He also added that he does not plan to re-evaluate his Syrian refugee policy. The comments of this delusional, arrogant, narcissist left me and most others I spoke to very concerned about this administration’s resolve, motives, and strategies. Just a few hours prior to the Parisian attacks Obama said “ISIL has been contained.” This guy does not inspire the least bit of confidence. There is no FDR type “A day that will live in Infamy.” There is no John Kennedy-like: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Nor was there anything close to President George W. Bush’s ” I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” And he certainly didn’t display Ronald Reagan’s resolve as he never forgot whose president he was, or whose safety was his responsibility. On several occasions—including the invasion of Grenada, the bombing of Libya, and the interception of an Egyptian aircraft carrying a notorious terrorist—Regean brushed aside the objections of allies to act decisively in the defense of the United States.  He made it abundantly clear that the United States neither seeks or requires the permission of others to prosecute effectively a war of self-defense.  Obama’s and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s policies are dangerous threats to our nation. Their open border policies and, now, the insane dumping of some 10,000 unvetted Muslim Third World refugees onto our shores is terrifying. Obama’s releasing of some 9,000 U.S. prisoners, his determined closing of Guantanamo, his continued release  of these terrorists and plans to scatter others in prisons around the U.S. is beyond insane. Following the Paris attacks Florida Governor Rick Scott put the citizens of our state first and told the Obama administration that Florida will join with some 30 other states and will not accept any of the Syrians. Other than Jefferson Davis, I can think of no other American who has done as much damage to this country as Obama. And Hillary Clinton, whose inept tenure at the State Department as part of this failed administration, paved the way for the current Middle East train wreck  is nothing more than Obama in a pants suit.


Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Lacey and Will Smith of Jacksonville have two small children fighting cancer and you can help them with mounting medical bills Sunday, December 6 from 3-6 p.m. at the downtown South 3rd Street Green Turtle during a benefit barbeque. For just $10 you’ll get a pulled pork sandwich and a choice of green or baked beans and a bag of chips prepared by the competitive barbeque team Smoke ‘n’ Da Cockpit, a group of personable local air traffic controllers who often provide charitable benefits and cook great BBQ. Some 100 advance tickets are available from the Green Turtle’s Jeff Werder and if all 100 are sold the Cockpit cookers will grill and sell $10 pork chop sandwiches to walk-up folks. This evening from 5-7 Steve & Donna Raszkins’ A Taste of Wine By Steve’s wine tasting in Palmetto Walk at 4924 1st Coast Highway will feature what Steve says is a great Thanksgiving wine — Beaujolais Nouveau while next week, November 27 they’ll have an “after-Thanksgiving” special, but my favorite is Friday, December 4, when they treat us to an indoor/outdoor Champagne tasting. Call ’em at 904/557-1506. The Historic Fernandina Business Association and Pajama Life will be hosting its annual Black Friday Pajama Party & Costume Party 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, November 27 in downtown Fernandina where merchants will be offering special discounts and refreshments for shoppers. Dress in pajamas and enter the pajama contest where prizes will be awarded for the best individual, best group and most creative pajamas. Pajama Dave Voorhees, will be hosting a block party on South 2nd Street with family activities and live music beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting throughout the event by Jim Bacaro, Dan Voll and Michele Anders, Sean McCarthy, Hotshot Carter and Ernie Elum while Santa will cruises Centre Street.

  • Comment (11)
  • I went to Cuba with Road Scholar this past April. I am very glad I did. It gave me the opportunity to put cash in their hands and leave the clothes I wore plus the supplies Road Scholar suggested we bring. It is another world.
    They don’t have “Cuban” sandwiches in Cuba. They don’t have sandwich shops.
    There are slums and there are beautiful tourists areas where people never see poverty.
    Do I want to go back? No. But I’m glad I went and helped the people in tip jobs that get to keep everything you give them.

  • A well written and accurate comparison of East Germany and Havana. Having had the privilege of serving three tours of military service in West Germany with an occasional visit to the eastern sector, I can attest to the starkness of the darkness of the eastside where there are no neon or fluorescent lights after sundown, and the west that flourishes with open restaurants, gasthauses, theaters and hotels after dark. During the mid eighties, as a pilot, I flew into Jose Marti, Havana airport on a number of occasions. Havana at night reminded me of East Berlin. Cuban police armed with machine guns searched my aircraft before boarding passengers looking for stowaways. Not unlike the VOPOs (Volkes Polizie) of Berlin.

  • Sounds like Mary has the right idea using the Road Scholar program. And bring clothes, instead of putting currency in the pockets of the wrong people also makes sense.

  • Hey Dave, helluva good perspective on your venture into the East German nightmare. But, I would like to see a blog on your losing a perfectly good Sherman tank in the woods of West Germany and your transformation from a tank driver – on the spot – into a journalist. And the nice thing, it’s a true story. They don’t come any better than that.

  • Dave, it is ironic you bring up East Germany. If Western European countries had forbidden their citizens to travel to Eastern Europe after WWII (“Because they are communist!!”), the Iron Curtain would probably still be up. Our absurd 55 year long travel ban was one of the factors that helped Castro to maintain his tight grip for so long.
    Interaction is way more efficient than isolation.

  • Dave, so happy to hear you have an open mind on at least one subject. Mayor Miller, just wondering how long it will take for him to become meat in your grinder once again. I do give you credit for at least your open mindedness, only hope he will get a fair shake. Your view are both interesting and interesting and good reading. Cuba is as you said a poor country. Will our tourist dollars help, I really don’t know. I will say it is about time we as a world leader at least offer the olive branch to them and see where that leads. It is easy to keep the status quo, that would be simple. It is however much more difficult to re establish ties with them, that would be what most would call leadership. I know you don’t agree, and I respect that, but leadership it is never the less.
    With respect to ISIS. To start with, you are wrong in your statement that the 10,000 refugees are un vetted. They have been through about a 2 year vetting process. That is a fact. With regard to the fight with ISIS. I understand the frustration with many, myself included that it appears we aren’t doing enough. We have actually dropped about 5,000 bombs on ISIS to date. Is that enough, I really don’t know. One point of view I think would be good for all to explore is this.
    ISIS cares nothing for human life. I think that is something we all can agree on. Does it matter to them if is Americans, Christians, Muslims, Jews, or their own die? NO. Simply put they don’t care who dies, themselves included.
    It also is a fact that their hatred for Americans is one of their best recruiting tools they have. With the invasion of Iraq the Americans re enforced that hatred they have us us. It was fertile ground for them to recruit so many disenchanted young men who watched as their country was torn up by years of war.
    If one was to assume the more aggression we take, the more they will recruit one would also have to think what is really the way to stop them.
    ISIS is a fight like we have never fought before. It’ not a nation or government we are against such as the case with Japan, German Korea or Viet Nam. ISIS is a world wide cancer of hatred and cold blooded murder, all under the presumption it is Gods will. This also is a fact.
    ISIS wants nothing better than to recruit more and to spread more both in the middle east and the west.
    If this, for a moment is a true assumption, what better recruiting tool would they have than have Americans return with solders and engage in another ground war. Keep in mind, they have no value for their own life. They don’t care how many of theirs are killed, the bigger the war, the better propaganda.
    My point here is simple. If you were ISIS, who would you want as our next Leader? That is an interesting thought. Do you think they would want someone who promises expanded boots on the ground? Personally I really think that would play right into their hands. I am not saying this to boost Hillary and bash Trump. Bashing Trump, and I think you would agree that would be just too easy. Point is simple: we should think long and hard with respect to what we do. I don’t think more troops will do anything. I do think, more has to be done however, be it limited Special forces on the ground, more airstrikes, better intelligence, de-funding them or finding ways to interrupt the vast social media programs they have. It has become crystal clear ISIS just doesn’t exist in Iraq, or Syria. ISIS is global. They are in every country right now,including ours.
    If I was to make a prediction, and GOD knows I hope I am wrong, what better way to help they effort but to do something on US soil before next Nov causing more fear and panic and helping to elect someone who will rush in and fall into the trap they are setting for us. Just a thought Dave, just a thought

  • Dave, you are a good man to wipe the slate clean with soon to be Mayor Johnny. His heart is in the right place although his mind sometimes veers off into left field.
    One other “power” of the Mayor is that he will get to cast the last vote on all matters coming up before the Commission. It can be a lot of pressure on contentious issues when the vote coming to him is 2-2 and he has to decide pass or fail.
    Keep up the great work.

  • Actually John, it was not our travel ban that helped the Castro brothers to maintain their Cuban paradise, it was the Europeans (and Canadians?) who neglected to join us in the economic embargo. The Cubans can thank them for their misdirected economic help.

    By the way, it’s “Rhodes” Scholar, not Road Scholar. The former is a student at the University of Oxford and the latter is likely a student of the School of Hard Knocks. (Been there, done that.)

    And finally – Beauty (and taste) is in the senses of the beholder. I’ll give Amelia Island Coffee props for ambiance, but their (black) coffee is decent at best. I generally don’t drink the coffee/cream/sugar combinations, so maybe I’m missing part of the experience. Or – maybe I should try their espresso.

    Frankly, I’m not much of a Starbucks fan either. They certainly brew a good cup of dark coffee, but if you ask for a “dark” in the afternoon you either get nothing or wait a few minutes while they custom brew a “pour over” of the dark stuff.

    As Dave mentioned, Starbucks prices are sky high. Certainly a factor that keeps my caffeine hunger in check. But, if you invest in a Starbucks Debit Card, you’ll get discount offers and an occasional freebie that helps defray some of the high prices.

    If you’re in a hurry for the dark stuff at a reasonable price, head for Dunkin Donuts and take your coffee to the closest waterfront park for the ambiance.

  • Heard an interesting take on Castro’s Cuba the other day. Wish I could remember where I heard or read it so I could give proper attribution. It was that Castro’s Communist regime was very good at some things such as education, medicine etc. They were just not very good at breakfast, lunch or dinner.


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