HAVANA TIMES — Cuba is returning to normal. What’s normal for Cuba is for people to struggle to survive, as Obama and the American Dream retreat, once again, to a distance of 90 miles.
The more skeptical of the lot avoid the issue or speak of it convinced that no visit or speech by a foreign president will bring about lasting change. The most loyal (not to a system that no one can define or an ideology that is increasingly confusing, to be sure) are hesitant to show admiration for the impeccable attitude of the president, who has all the traits ours lacks: charisma, a sense of diplomacy and political savvy.
Others are still processing the effects had by these developments. “Obama said what no one had dared say publicly before, and right in front of Raul Castro! What could Raul do, throw him in jail?” I heard a teenager say.
“Yes, I was embarrassed for Raul’s actions, not for my country,” a university student told me, referring to the press conference. “Some friends who work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me that after Raul Castro stuck his foot in it about the 47 human rights that are respected in Cuba, they had to include others that do not apply to our country, such as the rights of indigenous communities.”
“It’s a disgrace,” a neighbor of mine said, “that a foreigner should remind us that we can solve Cuba’s problems ourselves.”
The most optimistic are convinced we are seeing the beginning of a transition. Of the legendary Rolling Stones concert held in Havana, my nephew said: “I felt I was in a different country, a different time, as though I’d leaped forward into the future.”
“It was incredible, unforgettable, dreamlike!” rock music lovers said. For them, the concert was more than the official decriminalization of rock or an unacknowledged apology for the witch-hunts of the past. It is also the first of many such concerts to come, by world-renowned artists whom people were forced to listen in secrete for years.
The presence of huge cruisers in the Havana Bay area, the wave of tourists flooding the streets of the city, the establishment of the first Google office on the island, all this appears to be the materialization of Pope John Paul II’s call: “May Cuba open up to the world, may the world open up to Cuba.”
Others regard the panorama with a frown and refuse to be carried away by the enthusiasm. “I don’t even know what to think,” a friend said to me. “First, Obama speaks about agreements and reconciliation, then Fidel comes along with a diatribe about the past and the eternal enemy.”
“I think Obama was far too arrogant,” an English teacher stated, “when he spoke about elections in a country that isn’t his.”
“I knew that speech was a double-edged sword,” a Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) official commented, stressing that “we can’t let ourselves be deceived, we have to continue to follow the Party guidelines, that’s our Bible.”
Like after a magic trick, the most committed to the Cuban government scrambled to discredit the speech and to define their true position, to reestablish the mental order, to conspire with suggestion, convinced that, after the show, reality would impose itself again and the sea surround us once more (with its waves and sharks) – convinced this reality is more secure than the freedom offered by words.
To bring the curtain down and mark the limits in red, the media worked to reactivate confusion, paranoia and inertia. Fidel Castro’s voice-over narration, brought to us by Granma on a page with an endless “reflection,” lacking the legitimation and risks of a live presentation or an improvised speech, put an unpopular phrase out there: “we don’t need anything from the empire.”
Once again, he became the spokesman of Cubans without consulting us. Once again, he invoked a price he will never pay himself.
Against this inflexible and marmoreal policy, Barack Obama’s address and actions offer us an overwhelming contrast.
A politician who publicly addresses the aspirations of a people that, for decades, con only be whispered in private: access to the Internet, the freedom to set up businesses, the freedom to express ourselves, the absurdity of having a two-currency system, the pain of family separations…No grandiose sagas that are blind to our day to day aspirations and endlessly demand our enthusiasm, while the impersonal weight of history crushes us. A politician who does not invoke the dangers of foreign ideologies, stifling resentment and endless sacrifices.
A president who says, in front of our own president, that human rights are universal, that he is not servile and has no qualms about meeting dissidents, that does not speak in an angry tone of voice, making gestures with his index finger, but rather softly and serenely. A man who speaks, not of enmity, but of understanding. A government that does not inspire fear.
These are unprecedented developments that, in a few days’ time, shook the island, an island whose only visible movements, after more than half a century of stagnation, resembled those of a shipwreck: a movement towards the inside and downward. These experiences cannot be ignored, much less displaced through a long and agonizing necromantic trick.
No one who suffers history wants to remain its hostage. As Obama said, “for all of our differences, the Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives. A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride — a lot of pride. A profound love of family. A passion for our children, a commitment to their education. And that’s why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration.”
The contrast to Fidel Castro’s “reflection” is indeed stark. Words that heal pitted against words that seek to open fresh wounds. It has been demonstrated that thoughts become externalized, that they have the power to destroy or regenerate an organism.
Cuba already shows the signs of a metastasis and I am convinced that the immense majority of Cubans want the cure, not the cancer.