Redeeming Cuba: Historical Perceptions Through a Pop Culture Lens

IMG_6061We are all stamped mentally with our own personal imagery of Cuba in a peripheral way. We really cannot escape it: the epic stories of Fidel Castro’s meteoric rise, the Bay of Pigs disaster that, in the end, accelerated the communist legend overnight and created New Age Communism.

People of my generation grew up fearing the Cold War and the Iron Curtain like nothing else, often having childhood nightmares because our parents told us a complicated story at the dinner table that the world almost ended over a 9-day period, because Cuba let Russia aim active missiles right at our backyards. Literally, with only a few communist fingers tapping buttons, it would have been the end of the world as we know it.

My generation reveled in scenes from ‘The Godfather’ in Havana, where Michael left in the middle of the night because President Batista was being overthrown during the holiday gala in what is visually the coolest old city on the planet. This may have given many of us our only visual interpretation of the Castro Revolution – for me, it did!

However, my first personal experience was the 1980 Mariel boatlift, linked to the first collapse of the Cuban economy, that brought 125,000 Cubans into the U.S. on 1,700 homemade water vessels as Castro agreed for a period of approximately six months to let any Cubans leave the island for a brighter future during improving relations with the Carter administration.

The U.S. impact was really captured, in a very biased way, during the early parts of the movie ‘Scarface’ because some former criminals and mental patients were released into the U.S. as part of Castro’s plan.

As recent as 2004, Robert Redford produced the ‘The Motorcycle Diaries,’ based on Ernesto “Che” Geuvara’s 1952 memoir, which emphasized a need for a Marxist revolution in both Cuba and South America. This stemmed from Guevara’s personal assessment of the real cause of deep poverty throughout the 19 countries and his unwavering belief that if South American leaders could once build the Inca Empire in Peru, over six centuries ago, they just needed a new model to start again – and that it sure was not colonialism or capitalism based on what he personally witnessed on his epic ride.

His writings, his quest to change a large continent, and his pop culture appeal make him a more powerful world figure who still presides on the shirts of many teenagers as a counter-culture hero of socialism, before the CIA took him out years later in a Bolivian jungle, in 1967, in retaliation to his anti-U.S. acts.

Today, Che’s face is more present in Cuba than even the Castro Brothers because of his somewhat romantic journey, turning down a life of wealth to sleep with lepers and giving hope to ‘have nots’ throughout South America. Equally important, he left Cuba before the foundation started to crack years later – so to many Cuban locals, he never failed.

IMG_6197For all of us, Cuba has a complicated history in America as the forbidden place that we are not allowed to visit for over 60 years, yet we have deep compassion for the Cuban people through stories passed down from successful Americans whose parents and grandparents were forced out during the early days of the revolution.

They had to leave behind so much that tells us about the passion and potential of their people. This was captured by another local business leader on our trip with deep family ties to their hotel business in Cuba that was also lost. Even in just an encounter with a spirited Cuba today, you can still quickly see the artistic creativity, drive and perseverance of a beautiful people – regardless of what’s been presented by media and previous generations.

What would Che Guevara and Fidel Castro say today about their political partnership?

(This is the first in a two-part series.)

I’m not going to lie, I don’t really even like drinking rum or smoking cigars. But when I got my first chance to travel to Cuba and look inside the Castro hype, I was in from day one.

IMG_6054With the help of the leadership team and our amazing Bluegrass Chapter at YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization), we secured a license as a humanitarian group taking medicine and aid, and supporting local artists while studying their world-renowned arts.

This would give all of us our first real chance to take a deeper look at the communist political model up close and personal. The ‘Marxist Revolutionary’ school of thought has been our greatest ideological competition, and really, our greatest enemy for the last 100 years.

From the beginning, it was Fidel’s revolution and his partnership with Che Guevara, combined with other historic events, that have kept governmental resentment sky high, even now.

In a reflective way, I could not help but wish to have them be present today. I craved their presence so he could see how wrong his prophecy really was, and still is.

There was such a deep, imminent belief in both leaders that the Marxist Ideology could sincerely eliminate poverty throughout the 19 South American countries. They were arrogantly sure of it. We all want to eliminate poverty in the world more than anything, but this trip confirms everything I previously believed, which is that this is not the way whatsoever!

It was openly programmed into me, as a red-blooded American with a union brick layer father, the need for fair labor practices, the importance of private and public partnerships concerning key things like apprentice programming, and that ownership needed to make a honest profit for the risk they take daily – that if these things took place, then everything would be always be fine. These were the common sense fundamentals I grew up with!

We can also look at the irony of Peter Drucker’s 1954 classic, ‘The Practice of Management.’ Drucker believed CEO pay should not exceed 20 times the line-staff employee, which we may need to consider in the U.S. now more than ever, where CEO salaries are now at 330 times the basic employee in our capitalistic revolution 60 years later.

That epic work used to build our for-profit corporate organizations in America is a far contrast from Che’s early 1950s writing, which believed the exact opposite. But there are lessons in there somewhere for all of society.

IMG_6271Sony and I wandered by ourselves to real-life in Cuba on a Saturday afternoon, eating at a government-owned pizza cafeteria that was beyond gross and in the midst of beggars, hustlers and aggressive black market entrepreneurs all trying to find a way to survive on the government salary of $20 per month that 90% receive. I wanted Che Guevara and a healthy Castro, the original partners of New Age Communism, to have to peek together into every window with us so they could understand what disengagement really creates.

We saw three generations cramped into unsafe conditions with rationed foods, stolen American cars from the early days of the revolution band-aided together with bubble gum, a declining national population where boats do not even exist on the island for fear more will try to leave again, and workers packed into repair lots with one worker active and at least four watching because there are no parts.

What would Guevara and Castro’s conversation be today, as old men? Would they admit they were actually wrong, or wonder what they really accomplished?

IMG_6044Would they claim their ideologies had produced a ‘utopia,’ even under these conditions? How wrong were the Marxist doctrines of Guevara’s youthful writings, anyway?  I would just love to eavesdrop on their private conversation as we walked through the Museum of the Revolution, with cracked walls and missing light bulbs, and open mockery of many U.S. presidents on the walls. Would they whisper about their own mistakes, and how their prophecy failed in the end?

On the last night, Castro’s longtime personal chef cooked a wonderful dinner in one of the few private restaurants popping up now because the tone toward any private enterprising is starting to grow like mustard seeds. I stood next to him thinking he knows where Fidel is right now, and what if we could ask a few questions before leaving of the longest-running president in the world?

Was this what the final chapter of Ayn Rand’s 1957 classic ‘Atlas Shrugged’ would look like if the prime movers just walked away at once, in America or any country, as she eloquently depicted?

The Largest Hall of Fame Ceremony in the World!

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This week, the Signature Revolution continues to break elder care world records.

We recently helped establish a new Guinness World Record for ‘Longest High-Five Chain’ in the world when SHC of Terre Haute residents and stakeholders joined the community for the United Way’s ‘High Five Campaign for Every Child.’

And last week, the most senior athletes in the world competed in regional Senior Olympics events ranging from Tampa to Tennessee to Louisville, where hundreds and hundreds of elder athletes competed to win team championships and prestigious medals with cheering crowds.

But this week is even bigger.

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Gulfport: Amazing Story


Rarely in our lifetimes do we get the chance to bring something back to life.

We may ‘add to’ life as we contribute to our divine purpose. Maybe a few times we ‘co-create life,’ as parents. But to bring it back or restore it like Elijah, the great prophet, did in the Old Testament when he resurrected the young boy of the widow, is a miracle to truly celebrate.

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Becoming a CNA: A Pivotal Moment

Being a CNA is something we all should do to make us see the world through a new lens. I think about all the possible inflection points in life that really change how we view the world. My mind races through life events – getting your first paycheck, getting a degree, your first residence that is truly yours, losing a loved one close to you, making your parents proud, holding your child, seeing the ocean, etc.

But on my life’s reflection, becoming a CNA ranks up there among my life-changing events. ‘Why?’ you may ask. The nerves I felt walking in my first resident room, the fear and anxiety of failing to deliver great patient care, the exhaustion upon completing my shift knowing both mentally and physically, I had nothing else to give. It was also the crossing into someone else’s intimate world and trying to earn their trust, the classes that helped me realize just how much each CNA knows and the sense of private pride and joy when I did great work.

I felt both God and my deceased parents were watching over me, knowing I was doing God’s work like they both aspired to do.

Unveiling Our New Healthcare Tree Of Life


If you ever doubt the Kevin Bacon “six degrees of separation” theory, you just need to sit in a packed lobby in the coolest building in our city (known as Nucleus), and get ready to unveil the Health Enterprises Network Family Tree of Health-Related Companies.

The magical intersections are everywhere and as Malcolm Gladwell contends, you realize no one was really, truly self-made, because we all had unique opportunities. In Louisville, the original healthcare pioneers gave us a rewarding and deeply meaningful career path from day one. I stood there knowing it was only possible because of healthcare giants like Wendell Cherry, David Jones, Hank Wagner and so many others.

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