June 25, 2018
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Maine tea party group hears account of life in Cuba, where communists are happy but life is hard

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

OLD TOWN, Maine — Life in communist Cuba is rough.

Tomorrow, if the law of averages holds out, three decrepit buildings will collapse in the sprawling capital city of Havana, which is home to 2 million of the country’s 11 million residents.

Cuban citizens must pay for their monthly ration of 10 eggs, half a pound each of chicken, ground meat and beans, 6 pounds of rice, cooking oil and sugar, plus milk if they are a pregnant woman or child. That’s only if stores have the products available.

Most people, especially outside large cities such as Havana, still travel by horse and buggy.

Members of the Penobscot Valley Patriots Tea Party group viewed photographs and listened to stories shared by Douglas and Deborah Schmidt of Holden, who recently returned from a tour of the country, during a meeting Tuesday night at Old Town Archery Center.

The Schmidts were part of a National Geographic expedition to Cuba in January, 54 years after revolution brought a communist government to power. They were tasked with documenting the trip through photographs, under close supervision by government officials, who took the group only to parts of the country they wanted shown, according to the Schmidts.

Deborah Schmidt said that what she saw shocked her.

“It was very sad,” she said after presenting a slide show with images from the visit. “And I’m sure we didn’t see the worst of it.”

The pictures show crumbling government infrastructure with businesses operating in buildings that have collapsed to the point where only the exterior walls remain. Residents pose for pictures with chickens on their heads and request money in return for allowing their photograph to be taken. People in Havana drive half-century-old American and Russian automobiles that arrived in the country before the embargo between America and Cuba.

Government officials monitored what the Schmidts photographed. Police and military members were off-limits, but some did slip into the frame while pictures were taken of other individuals, Deborah Schmidt said.

The police presence was widespread, but few if any officers carried sidearms because the government heavily regulates weapons. In fact, only 10 percent of Cuba’s military forces are armed, according to the Schmidts.

“Freedom of speech is very limited,” Schmidt said, adding that Cuban citizens seldom speak out against the government.

The Schmidts said patriotism was rampant and the government boisterously supported by citizens who largely believe in their way of life

Communist officials who shepherded the National Geographic group on the trip happily produced copies of the country’s constitution, which champions the country’s revolutionary history and the freedoms of its citizens, according to Douglas Schmidt. But Article 62 of that same constitution contains a provision that largely nullifies those freedoms, Schmidt said.

Article 62 reads: “None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to what is established in the Constitution and by law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism.”

Deborah Schmidt said the Cubans she spoke to wanted to see their nation prosper and grow — but only under communist leadership.

“They were happy to inform us that they are constantly in revolution,” she said. “It was not just an event that occurred in [1961].”

Correction: An early version of this story misquoted Deborah Schmidt. Revolution in Cuba ended in 1961, not 1951.

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