First Cuba Dispatch

Our man in Havana reports


HAVANA, Cuba—Cubans make an extra hard effort to pronounce "Butch" without sounding like they are talking about Bush.

When I arrived at the Cuban International Press Center Tuesday morning, the first thing I was handed was a two-sided sheet of paper titled "The Cuban Truth About: Plan of the Bush administration to destroy the Cuban Revolution."

And in just one day here two Cubans have said "Bush fukkie," and made slitting motions across their necks.

In all fairness, Cubans make lots of slitting motions across their necks. Sometimes it follows statements about Bush, and sometimes following a beard-tugging motion that alludes to a dictatorial personality a bit closer to home.

It's not always clear if this is an external, or a suicidal threat.

But "Butch" is a different story. Idaho Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter and the politicians from at least 28 states who have visited the island since 1999, according to a recent AP report, represent a very real way that Cubans are undermining United States Cuban policy. It comes simply by selling badly-needed food to this Communist state.

These food products include the bottle of America's Corn Tradition 40-proof vodka that one of the throat-slitting Bush haters had just polished off in the park.

Or maybe it was the Creole chicken I had for dinner Tuesday. (But not the Cristal beer ... definitely not made in the United States).

And, if the 19 Idaho farmer/capitalists traveling with Otter are successful, then dairy, grain, seed and meat products from Idaho will soon be shipped here as well.

Oops. Did I forget potatoes?

But the captains of Idaho industry are not counting their chickens before they hatch.

"Sooner or later, things will change down here, and we'll be able to get better trade with them," said Randall Lindley, a Darigold board member.

I spoke with Lindley in the lobby at Cuba's flagship Hotel Nacional, where Otter's delegation is staying.

The Idaho delegation spent Tuesday morning meeting with representatives of Cuba's import arm to find out what the isolated nation needs. Otter said that his team then called home to find out which of those needs could be met.

Otter is hoping to emulate Nebraska's recent $30 million in sales to Cuba, but said no deals have been sealed yet.

"I would expect to at least try," to meet that amount, he told a reporter from the Spanish news agency EFE.

Otter said he worked to end the trade embargo against Cuba while in Congress, and will do the same as a governor.

"I thought it was bad policy when I was in Congress, I thought it was failed policy in Congress and I haven't changed my mind at all," he said.

The Idahoans, dressed largely in sports jackets and polo shirts, left for dinner Tuesday night in their big tour bus. Without the press.

The Boise Weekly correspondent dined on arroz con pollo at a Caribbean dive bar, bought a round of beers for some other soon-to-be-30-somethings and played name that tune with cell phones.

The sun set over the deep harbor, leaving Havana basked momentarily in a pink warmth.