Letters from Havana: Pt 1

Dr. Jaume Gelabert Director, Arcadia in Spain


July 20, 2015

The windshield had a crack from one corner to the other of the glass. The interior of the car was stripped away from any comfort- even safety belts. The MP3 player was, however, top notch: it could read the titles of the songs, the artists, and even the LCD display had short animations of surfers and motocross drivers doing stunts in vibrant electric blue. The large, wide rear view mirror had some sticker letters on it that read 'El Rey' (the king), as well as a Cuban and an American flag wrapped around it. Hence, I asked: 'So, have you seen more Americans in Havana lately?' 'Oh yes, asere (buddy), tons of them! They all want to come before the whole thing changes', said the cab driver, smiling widely in this multiply repainted '53 Chevrolet.

Indeed, 'I want to go to Cuba before it all changes' is, by far and large, the most common line when you tell someone from Europe or the US that you're going to Cuba. Undoubtedly, the anachronistic reality of Cuba (tourists' latest smartphones alongside American cars from the fifties, the '53 car equipped with an MP3 player!) has probably become one of the major attractions of the island. The old cars, the fumes, the occasional horse carriage on the street, the intoxicating air of the Caribbean, the cigars, all of that is Cuba, a Cuba that may change its face soon. How soon however? It's impossible to say, although the anticipation, the buzz on the street indicates that sooner than we may think.

Since December 17 (a date not chosen randomly: it's Saint Lazarus Day, whom for Cubans is the enabler of miracles), the Government of the United States and Cuba have taken giant steps towards a full fledged reconciliation. Cuba is no longer on the 'terrorist nations' list, the five Cuban prisoners accused of spying in the US, captive since 1998, have been freed and returned to Cuba, and all signs indicate a more lax approach to travel to the island for American citizens and (hopefully!) the end of the embargo. Many Cubans have family members in the US, not only in Florida, but pretty much in every state. Most Cubans, also, are very excited for the change, the promise of more freedom and prosperity and the attitude towards more Americans visiting the island is of warm welcome and eager anticipation. In a way, the disruption of international relations has been like that of separating two old time friends bound to reconnect despite all hurdles. Most habaneros also concede that the change will not be overnight and it will be largely led by the Cuban authorities, not the US. However this, the opening of the US Embassy in Havana on July 20 is a stepping stone towards what many Americans and almost all Cubans wish: a peaceful, fruitful reconciliation free of reprovals.