Sunday, June 12, 2011

Golf, The Sport of Aristocrats, Returns to Communist Cuba / Yoani Sánchez

Golf, The Sport of Aristocrats, Returns to Communist Cuba / Yoani Sánchez
Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez

The sprinklers cover the wide, softly undulating area with moisture. Cut
so neatly, the grass looks artificial, and the little carts loaded with
balls shine like the drawings in an animated cartoon. Everything is so
perfect it hurts to look at it, so carefully prepared it looks unreal,
dreamy, far away.

The new golf courses that are beginning to extend across Cuba appear
profoundly strange to the national eye, aware as we are of the
deterioration and improvisation that runs through the rest of the
country. Their emergence has been preceded by infinite whispered
discussions about the appropriateness, or not, of building these spaces
for the luxurious entertainment of tourists in the middle of an economic
crisis. Popular jokes, the criticisms of those who for years haven't
believed in the efficacy of government plans, and even the odd chorus of
a reggaeton song, have nurtured the absurdity that these pockets of
ostentation signify in our straitened circumstances.

The last word in this discussion has been the Sixth Congress of the
Cuban Communist Party which approved the creation of these pompous
entertainment venues for tourists. Number 260 in the Guidelines approved
at this Party event confirms that priority will be given to the
"development of these services: medical tourism, marinas and boating,
golf and real estate, adventure and nature tourism, theme parks,
cruises, history, culture and heritage, conventions, congresses and
fairs, among others."

The official justification has been the dire need of the national
coffers to entertain visitors with their splendid pockets and well
supplied wallets. "All-inclusive" travel packages have proved to be a
highly profitable business for the Island's authorities. Though a good
part of the financial slice they provide goes to foreign tour operators,
enough remains in the country to support the hotels.

Thus, the new marketing strategy includes the promotion of other, more
glamorous, recreational options that will attract the world's tycoons,
millionaires and aristocrats. A curious twist on the part of a
government that confiscated and demonized private clubs which, before
1959, offered their members a little diversion with the club and a ball.

For decades the image of a gentleman in Bermuda shorts hitting a ball
was the maligned stereotype of a past that would never return. In fact,
many clubs to the west of the city, where wealthy Cuban landowners and
businessmen engaged in the practice, were turned into military bases,
schools, or recreational centers for workers and their families. "All
this to now return it to the bourgeoisie," say the most recalcitrant
Cuban Communist Party militants.

And it's true, they're back. Although they are aesthetically beautiful,
these green expanses provoke doubts in us rather than certainties. Our
suspicion is not rooted in a rejection of this sport of eighteen holes,
as if we cling only to baseball, the national pastime. Rather the
uncertainty comes from knowing these recreation sites will be developed
in a country marked by inefficient production, improvisation at every
level, and the poor quality of most services.

If we add to this the lack of water which the current drought has
worsened, then it is normal for the man on the street to anxiously
wonder how they are going to maintain these impeccable lawns, other than
at the cost of further reductions in the supply of this precious liquid
for urban areas. The fear is, as happened with previous projects, that
the whole economy is now focused on supporting the new idea of "luxury
travel," to the detriment of development projects perhaps less lofty,
but more likely to come to fruition.

Taken from Internet: Cristobal Herrera / AP

But the main complaint is knowing beforehand that all the investment in
these areas is not aimed at us. That among the prerequisites to cross
the thresholds of these leisure resorts is not just a check with numbers
of more than five digits, but also the possession of a passport of any
other country except our own. To know that they are there but they don't
belong to us, is one of the aspects that causes the greatest discomfort
among a population that is not yet accustomed to being second class
citizens in our own nation.

Without our presence, the golf courses will seem more unreal, or perhaps
they will look exactly like similar facilities located in Thailand or
Bermuda. They will, perhaps, be little spots of efficiency and comfort
speckled across an Island submerged in the longest material collapse of
its history. With perfectly cut grass watered by a constant sprinkled
rain, these golf courses will enhance the contrast between tourist Cuba
and the real Cuba, between those who hit the snow-white balls and those
who can only watch from the other side of the fence.

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