—On December 31 my sister, visiting from Nicaragua, proposed we meet up with a group of friends at the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress (1774) on the east side of Havana Bay to await the New Year.
The idea seemed attractive enough to me, having always appreciated the setting at the 18th century stronghold. It also seemed an appropriate place to observe the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959.
The fortress, which feels like a small city of its own, has several museums including the office where Ernesto “Che” Guevara set up shop in the days following the Rebel Army entrance into Havana.
It usually closes an hour after the nine o’clock cannon shot that takes place every night in a carbon copy of a ritual dating back to colonial times. Back then, a shot was fired at 4:30 a.m. and another at 8:00 p.m. marking the opening and closing of the gates of the walled in city of Havana.
However, for this occasion the management had announced in the newspapers it would stay open until midnight to host the 21-gun salute to welcome the New Year.
We arrived at 6 pm. to watch the sunset from one of the most beautiful vantage points for doing so in Havana. Part of the group was already there and we waited a little longer until everybody had arrived before buying our tickets to go in.
As we crossed what had once had been the bridge over a deep moat, both Cubans and the foreigners with us were taken by surprise. Without sharing my thought with anyone I said to myself, “I don’t like the looks of this at all, it’s too peaceful for such a festive occasion. Maybe things will liven up after the 9 p.m. cannon shot.”
As we walked around the fortress grounds we noticed that there wasn’t any food or drink being offered in Moneda Nacional, the currency we Cubans receive our salaries in. The only establishments open that night all charged in CUC, the hard currency used mainly by tourists, people who receive tips or bonuses, or people with family remittances from abroad. To top that off, we learned that even those few shops and cafés would be closing at 10:00 p.m., the usual closing time.
So I asked myself, what is the Morro-Cabaña Park, which includes the San Carlos Fortress, offering me as a Cuban citizen? I commented to the group the way the beautiful, spacious and historic facility had changed since the late 1990s when there were daily cultural activities after the cannon shot. Each day of the week brought a different type of music and a public of all ages attended, including many tourists.
Why isn’t that the case today with so many excellent small bands in the city that would come and play if only they were asked?
Why only concentrate on the big events, like the annual International Book Fair, and forget about giving the public attending on December 31, or other nights, a worthwhile live cultural activity?
Instead we encountered a loud speaker spewing out Reggaeton until just before the cannon was shot off at 9 p.m. and then up until the 21-gun salute and spectacular fireworks show below over the Havana Bay.
I think what is missing is a management with a sense of belonging that takes the public into account. If they cared about the wasted potential of the magnificent facility they would be concerned about providing an attractive place to go out for Cuban families as well as for visitors to our country.
Otherwise, we are making very poor use of our most valuable historical patrimony, and guess who the big losers are?