Sometimes, international diplomacy just gets weirdly funny. Today’s news from Cuba falls under that heading.
President Obama will be attending a Western Hemisphere summit in Cartagena, Colombia, April 14 and 15. In preparation for the summit, a Colombian designer is creating “guayabera” shirts for the attendees. The shirts are hard to get good pictures of, which is why the one on this article is for a boy’s shirt. In white, the traditional color for a guayabera, the details are almost impossible to see. The shirts are distinguished by the small pleats, groups of them running vertically on the front and back of the shirts. Some variations have embroidery panels as well. They are very popular in Florida among retirees and among older Cuban-Americans.
The shirts were invented in Cuba and were originally known as yayaberas because they were first made in an area of Cuba around the Yayabo River. Other accounts say the shirts were called guayaberas because it was possible to carry guavas in the oversized pockets.
Well, retired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is shocked, shocked I say, that a Colombian is creating these shirts for a summit his government is barred from attending, and has been for 50 years. Canada and the United States do not want Cuba represented, while most of the other 32 members want the country to attend. Castro wrote an editorial for a Cuban newspaper in which he said “What’s curious, dear readers, is that Cuba is forbidden from attending this meeting, but not the guayaberas. Who can stop laughing?”
Fidel retired from leading the country in 2006 and turned it over to his brother Raul. For the past couple of years, Raul has been quietly transitioning Cuba to a free market, private enterprise economy. Cuba was a pure communist country, and every shop, factory and restaurant was owned by the government. One town and one type of business at a time, the government is entering into lease-purchase agreements with the employees of businesses. The employees will be working for themselves and for eventual ownership of the store or restaurant.
Cuba is also on the brink of entering the oil market as a producer. They are exploring for oil off their coast. The United States is the only nation that still maintains travel restrictions and a goods embargo on Cuba. Even Canada is investing in them.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, and the government owned economy with it, Russia went into a free fall. The first successful entrepreneurs were criminals. The Russian mob exploded not just in Russia but world wide. Tens of thousands of people went without paychecks for months. Eventually, Russians retreated into electing a former member of the KGB just to create stability. He’s still in charge today and looking at doubling his rule to a total of 24 years. The lesson learned by China and Cuba was simple – change the economy first and the political system second. It Cuba pulls it off, it will be a stunning piece of history – a blood-soaked revolution which led to a totalitarian state which bloodlessly transitioned to a free republic.
Original guayaberas are sewing masterpieces. Not the mass produced things you can get today, but the old ones, the hand sewn ones with their precisely measured pleats, hand embroidery and complex construction. No matter what their origin, their light-weight, fine-gauge cotton or linen makes them perfect in tropical climates. Polyester guayaberas are a heinous aberration.