Cuban initiative

From a trip to Havana in the fall of 1980, I returned with two small statues of African female warriors, one with a machete, the other carrying a rifle. These were gifts from a government official who handed them to me after I stopped to admire them. It wasn't until I approached a Cuban customs clerk that I noticed that at the bottom of each statue was a metal stamp that read "Property of the Central Committee." My traveling companions, a group of Protestant church officials, suggested that maybe I was being set up.

Their fear had more to do with a cold-war mentality than the manners of our host in Havana. As it turned out, no custom official bothered to check the stamp and no one asked for my purchase papers. We were, after all, U.S. visitors on a trip designed to build bridges between Cuba and the U.S. What the incident suggested to me then, and what seems even more significant now, is that Cuba's communist leaders were always more Cuban than communist.


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