London taxi driver Tony Caccavone’s love affair with the people of Cuba dates back two decades.
One day he found himself chatting with some of customers and discovered they were Canadians, not Americans as he had initially assumed. So where do you Canadians go on holiday when you’re not visiting London, he asked. Cuba, they said.
That conversation inspired Mr Caccavone to shortly afterwards visit the Caribbean island. That happy holiday resulted in the 73-year-old widower deciding to make a trip every year, and to decorate his traditional London taxi in the colours of the Cuban flag. He used that flag to educate his customers with his take on Cuba and its controversial history.
It also meant that when Mr Caccavone’s taxi had come to the end of its 400,000-mile life, he decided that rather than scrapping it, he would donate it to the Havana’s Motor Museum. That donation, and Mr Caccavone’s efforts to make sure it happened, are the subject of a short film, Taxi to Havana, by New York-based video journalist Tom Pietrasik.
“Short films benefit from strong characters, and when I first met Tony I knew he would make a great subject for a film,” said Pietrasik. “Tony's affection for Cuba is rooted in his socialist beliefs and I was impressed by his enthusiam to tell complete strangers of Cuba's achievements.”
Mr Caccavone, who helps run a Cuba solidarity group in London which collects items such as braille readers which they donate on their annual trips - “It’s not a beach holiday” - makes no attempt to hide his affection for the late Fidel Castro, or his revolution.
Speaking from London, he said the 1959 overthrow of the dictator Fulgencio Batista was a “people’s revolution” that had the support of the masses. He said that for decades, the US and other leading powers had enforced a “genocidal blockade” of the island.
“After the USSR dissolved, the Cubans were having to get formula milk sent from New Zealand, because America would not provide it,” he said.
He said that most people were not aware of the true nature of the Cuban people’s struggle and of the role of the US and countries, because of the mass of propaganda from the West and the “biased reporting” of the British and American media.
“The reason the West has been unable to overthrow the Cuban government is that it has the support of the Cuban people,” he said.
He said that reports of Castro imprisoning opponents and homosexuals were incorrect and part of the propaganda campaign.
He said that he believed Castro had remained true in his promise to the Cuban people after he seized power. “I believe he is God’s representative.”
As it was, Mr Caccavone’s most recent visit to Cuba coincided with the passing away of Castro, whose death at the age of 90 was announced ten days ago.
He said the mood throughout the country was sombre and then many people, tourists among them, were signing condolences books that had been set out for people to share their memories.
And as to his own feelings when he heard the news? “I had a tear in my eye.”
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