Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reporting from Havana, without Press Credentials

Reporting from Havana, without Press Credentials / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 19, 2015

Ivan Garcia, 16 August 2015 — Twenty-three-year-old Liudmila spent the
evening of August 13 dancing the guanicheo —Cuba's latest dance craze —
at a discotheque in the quiet neighborhood of Miramar in western Havana
with her latest romantic conquest: a tall young man from Kansas with a
wispy red beard who came to Cuba to collect information for a
documentary on marine species and ended up falling for a lighthearted
and cheerful girl from a tough neighborhood in the old part of the city.

"It was great. First we went to the Casa de la Musica in Miramar and
then to a jazz set at the La Zorra nightclub on La Rampa. Now we're
here, waiting for the flag raising ceremony and Kerry's speech," says
Liudmila, seated on a sidewalk along the Malecon. Her American
boyfriend, Roger, is trying to take some photos of the crowd gathered
here to celebrate the historic event.

Hundreds of Cubans converge on the areas surrounding the US embassy in
Havana, a six-story building clad in Cuban limestone and large sheets of
green glass. Designed by American architects Max Abramovitz and Wallace
K. Harrison, the building began operations in 1953.

Elena — a slender, talkative woman with auburn-tinted hair — is trying
to block out the sun with a parasol. A space opens up in the crowd and
suddenly she can more clearly see the arrival of the delegation headed
by the Secretary of State John Kerry.

"When I came here before to welcome foreign dignitaries, I did it
because I was under orders from union officials and party bosses where I
worked. Now I'm retired, so I'm here voluntarily," she says. "It would
have seemed impossible back then that Fidel or Raul and the United
States would end up 'balancing the books' (negotiating)."

A little after six in the morning people begin to gather. Everyone wants
to witness the official opening of the diplomatic mission. The public
has been granted access to Calzada Street, as well as to the
thoroughfare bordering the Malecon. Barricades mark off the area and
security personnel maintain a low profile.

It is a novelty to see Cuban security officers working with Secret
Service agents, who are responsible for protecting the secretary of state.

One of Kerry's bodyguards, who could pass for a player in the NBA, is
wearing a navy blue suit that clearly is too small for him. In spite of
the intense heat, he tries to keep up appearances and gamely poses for
journalists not accredited by the US government, as is the case with me.

Teresa, the daughter of a former political prisoner, also wants to see
the stars and stripes being raised. "My father lives in Miami and he
does not agree with the new policy. But we Cubans are fed up. With the
(Castro) government, with the blockade (embargo) and with US policy
towards Cuba because it affects the average citizen, not the government
leaders," she says, dressed in white and wearing religious bracelets on
her right wrist.

A woman who lives nearby arrives, carrying her shopping bag, to watch
the historic moment. "After I left the produce market, I came straight
here," she says. "I have faith. I hope relations with the United States
improve our quality of life. And that the government lifts the
blockade," she says.

Chat with almost anyone watching events from the sidelines — dissidents,
revolutionaries or average citizens — and you will find that, in one way
or another, they believe it is Obama's responsibility to involve himself
in Cuba's future.

However, opposition figures such as Antonio Rodiles, Berta Soler and
Jorge Luis Perez Garcia blame the US president for "legitimizing the
Castro brothers' dictatorship and encouraging repression."

They spent seventeen consecutive Sundays being beaten and insulted while
protesting at a park a stone's throw from Fifth Avenue in Miramar.
Another faction of the dissident community — this includes Manuel Cuesta
Morúa, Laritza Diversent y Miriam Leiva — support the new accord.

But it is not easy to cut the umbilical cord of fear. Talking with
Havana residents such as Josue, a taxi driver, and listening their
expectations of future relations between the two countries, one might
think Cubans are either naive dreamers or simply misguided.

They live in a world of science fiction. Josue already foresees fast
food restaurants on every corner, Apple stores and a rejuvenated Havana
filled with skyscrapers.

"Miami will go back to being a country town. Havana was always a
cosmopolitan, seductive city," he says after watching the flag of broad
stripes and bright stars being raised.

Many believe that a generous Uncle Sam will open his checkbook and
rescue the ruined buildings and third-world infrastructure that now
characterize Cuba, a country with a million college graduates but
streets like those in Zimbabwe.

Whether you are talking about people phoning relatives in Florida to ask
for a hundred dollars or the plethora of dissidents who think nothing of
hopping on a plane to Miami to discuss things they cannot talk about
openly in Havana, countless Cubans think it is the responsibility of
Americans to build a new and better country.

Meanwhile, the quaint perceptions of Americans who visit the Castros'
ideological madhouse have changed little. If Cuba before 1959 was viewed
as a giant casino where everyone smiled, played maracas and danced the
rumba, the island is now synonymous with vintage American cars and
buildings in ruin, a country disconnected from the modern world.

A good example of this symbolism were the three Chevrolets intentionally
parked on the Malecon, directly facing the rostrum where Kerry was to
deliver his speech.

The intended message was clear: the United States has come to save Cuba.
And in one way or another many on the island believe it.

Source: Reporting from Havana, without Press Credentials / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba -

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