Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Malecon as Pier

The Malecon as Pier / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma
Posted on February 21, 2015

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 — Jose Manuel is 70
years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana's
Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen
almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that
used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. "We
kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel
on it, my grandmother did every now and then." Now, while the evening
falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and
before him a sea without boats extends to infinity.

Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common
in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August
of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo
of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry that links the two shores has
resurfaced as a result of talks between the governments of Cuba and the
United States.

This week, the entrepreneur Brian Hall, who leads the company KonaCat
with headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, made public his interest in
operating ferry trips to Cuba from Marathon's yachting marina on 11th
Street. Hall told the daily digital KeysInfoNet that he was confident of
getting available space for his 200-passenger capacity catamaran with
which he plans to travel between the Florida Keys and Cuba twice daily.

The news has barely reached the Island, but since last December 17 when
Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the process for reestablishment
of relations between the two countries, the return of the ferry has
become a matter of importance for many nostalgic people. In addition to
the economic concessions and the political détente that this
reconciliation would bring between the two governments, connecting both
countries with a maritime route would have, besides its practical
effects, a strong symbolism, many assert.

All great human endeavors have something to do with madness, say the
elders. The ferry service that connected Florida with the Cuban capital
started with the efforts of a man. Henry M. Flagler, an oil magnate who
in 1886 founded the Florida Faster East Coast Railway for railway
construction and exploitation of Florida's east coast. In spite of the
great obstacles imposed by the geography of the keys and the constant
danger of hurricanes, Flagler's madness led him to trace the rail lines
to Cayo Hueso, where the service was inaugurated in January 1912. That
work would be considered by many as the eighth wonder of the world,
besides being the boldest infrastructure built exclusively with private

Once the railway was in Cayo Hueso, some way was needed to overcome the
distance to Cuba. So was born "the train moving over the waters" as the
ferry was also called and whose Havana-Cayo Hueso service was
inaugurated January 5, 1915. The first shipment consisted of a batch of
refrigerated cars, and the boat received the name of Henry M. Flagler,
in homage to the visionary entrepreneur who had died two years earlier.

"We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never
travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then."

The dispatch of products between both shores grew like wildfire after
that moment. In 1957 it came to more than half a million tons of
merchandise in both directions, to which was added the transport of
passengers and cars. The sea connection between the two shores lasted 46
years, and some remember it as if it were yesterday that the last boat
had sailed.

"My grandmother frequently travelled to Florida on the ferry," explains
Jose Manuel, who has had a bad day for fishing. "We were poor, but part
of my family went there to work and sometimes would return the same
day," he says wistfully. Near the fishing pole, seated on the wall of
the Malecon, a teenager listens to the conversation and smiles with
incredulity. He is of the generation that cannot conceive that at some
point the Malecon was not a barrier that separated Cuba from the world
but a point of connection with the neighbor to the north.

The line tightens, and it seems that something has bit. Jose Manuel
concentrates on recovering from the water what is going to be his supper
tonight, but in spite of his concentration he manages to say, "The day
that I see that ferry arriving here again I will be able to die in peace."

Translated by MLK

Source: The Malecon as Pier / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma | Translating Cuba

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