Cuba: Where Real Politics Are Cooking / Iván García

You can’t imagine the quantity of pacts, commercial treaties and political deals that are planned over mojitos, cubalibres, and daiquiris. Perhaps you don’t know a part of those who risk investing in the island took their first step when their heart was trapped by a mulatto woman with an insatiable sexual appetite.

Robert, an Italian impresario with slicked down hair and the life of a playboy, wasn’t convinced by the Castros’ ideology, nor the precarious guarantees made by laws about investments to open his wallet and take on a deal in Cuba. No. It was his people. Above all, his women.

“In the mornings, while I’d drink coffee, I would talk with people. A good deal, honor, and material poverty convinced me to start a business. I’ve contracted some Cuban friends of mine under the table. It’s the best way to help them”, comments the Italian.

Helping person to person works better than many think. Entrepeneurs are few on the island. Almost all are married to Cubans, or have a side thing going with a stunning black woman. Local bedrooms have a certain share of responsibility for signing commercial deals with the government.

The special services know it. And one of their strategies with businesspeople, politicians, and foreign journalists is to wrap them up in the arms of a good looking young man or an irresistible woman. Testimony to that peculiar form of doing business is the National Hotel. And not just now, rather from its foundation, 80 years ago.

This mass of facades and windows was inaugrated in 1930. Situated on Taganana Hill, across from Havana’s Malecon, it has hosted hundreds of famous people: Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando, Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Maria Felix, Libertad Lamarque, Agustin Lara, Ernest Hemingway, Romulo Gallegos, Jean Paul Sartre, Pierre Cardin, Naomi Campbell, Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner, Pedro Almodovar and Juanes, among others. And also gangsters like Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano.

Captivated by the magnificent sea view have been personalities of the stature of Winston Churchill, Nelson Rockefeller, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, or Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin.

On its colonial style patio, where in the 18th Century the Spanish situated the Santa Clara Battery, which formed part of the defensive system of the city, you could see politicians and empresarios walking around Havana, in informal chats with consultants and assistants to the creole leaders.

Between glasses of beer, mojitos, and rum Collins, real politics cooks; after which the governors or ministers will probably give their approval.

On occasions, bed will convince those doubtful businesspeople. Politicians escape by the skins of their teeth. They come for a few days and are used to being in the public eye. “Even still, some fall to the temptations of big butts or brown dicks”, says an employee.

The National Hotel was declared a National Monument in 1998. A simple room costs 150 dollars a night. The suites, 510 dollars a day. Modest or luxurious, its rooms guard many secrets.

In Cuba, some drinks or a bedroom sometimes has more power than official speeches. Believe it or not.

September 12, 2010