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It was a slow news day when Bill did speakPosted: August 29, 2012

Perceptions by Gerry Warner

Well “Kootenay Bill” has done it again and I for one would like to defend him, if not explain him, which is no easy task, but hang on to your seat, I’m going to give it a try.

According to a Canadian Press story this week, our sometimes, misunderstood  MLA, reaching back to the red-baiting , McCarthyism of  the 1950s, said a fellow MLA was in danger of falling into the clutches of communism because he recently spent a week at a Cuban beach resort.

Here is the quote posted by CP Aug. 28 at 6:18 a.m.  “Sometimes when people are most relaxed, such as after a refreshing holiday in the Caribbean, they are most likely to express their innermost thoughts,” said Bennett. “In this case, Jagrup Brar (Surrey-Fleetwood MLA) may well have given us a glimpse into the secret desires of the B.C. NDP caucus.”

Now do you think for one darn moment that our Bill, volatile as he can be sometimes, is seriously suggesting that a week of R&R in Cuba would give anyone a “secret desire” or inclination to become a communist?  Piffle, I say! Close to 300,000 Canadian tourists-a-year travel to Cuba, according to a recent Globe and Mail article, including I dare say, many from Cranbrook. In fact, Canada sends the most tourists to Cuba followed by Britain, Italy and France. The last time I checked none of those countries had suddenly turned communist and I don’t see much prospect of Canada going commie either.

And now, painful as this will be, I must bare my soul and be completely honest with you gentle readers. I hope you’re sitting down for this because I’m about to make one of my darkest revelations. About three years ago – gasp! – I, and my good wife, spent seven sunny days in Cuba. Oh the horror! Just like Kurtz said in ‘Heart of Darkness,’ there are times when you’re touched to the deepest recesses of your soul.

I’d never been to a communist country before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would Cubans have curved horns sticking out of their heads? Would the hammer and sickle be flying everywhere? Would there be nightly lectures at the hotel on Karl Marx or Che Guvera? Would I inevitably feel myself sliding into the yoke of communism? Would life ever be the same?

But you know something, it wasn’t like that. Maybe it was all those free mojitos I drank by the beach. Or maybe it was the turquoise, blue waters flowing over the white sands of Veradaro Beach? And the low prices on anything you bought was very pleasing to a cheap, old, fiscal conservative like me. I almost thought I’d died and gone to that great Wal-Mart in the sky. In fact, I even met a Canadian down there who worked at Wal-Mart.

And the Cuban people? You’ve never met friendlier, more self-effacing people in your life. Anxious to please, catering to your every need and proud of their country, but not uncritical of it either if you get to know them well. We had a guide who would often make critical remarks about the Castro regime even though he was also quick to say how much the bearded, communist patriarch had done for the Cuban people and how life had improved since the repressive Baptista regime that preceded Castro.

You may then ask, is Cuba a socialist utopia? Far from it. Just as you might expect, poverty is everywhere. With the exception of China, communism seldom leads to economic growth or a higher standard of living – and worst of all – it never seems to lead to democracy.

But you know something, if you have your eyes open and ears listening during your Cuban vacation you’ll soon discover that Cubans are not as politically naïve as you may think. The internet is seeping into the country. So are TV signals and news from around the world by shortwave radio. Some Cubans even own smart phones and computers and travel abroad. Try as it might, the Cuban dictatorship can’t keep the free world at bay from the Cuban people and has started to relax the harsh communist system. Cubans are being allowed to buy houses, cars and consumer goods for the first time. The regime is softening. Can democracy be far behind?

Now getting back to “Kootenay Bill” and his ditzy comments. Obviously he didn’t mean what he said. He was just having a little joke on us on a slow news day. That Bill. What a kidder he is. And does he ever know how to grab a cheap headline.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who is now a City of Cranbrook councillor. The view in this column is his and is not associated with the city or council.

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