By Lorenzo Martin Martines
HAVANA TIMES – I’m a regular guy, just like the thousands that walk around my city. I was born in Havana, in the 1970s, when the dream of the 10 million-ton sugar harvest was going up in a puff of smoke and coffee blended with peas made an appearance in Cuban kitchens.
I grew up with “Basic”, “Non-basic”, and “Directed” toys (1), once a year, running around with improvised toboggans and learning to ride a bike on my friend’s. My swimming school was in the sea pools along Havana’s Malecon and my trainers were the biggest ones in the group… and we didn’t follow orthordox training methods.
I learned martial arts by fighting with my fists at 4:30 PM, after school finished and I would eat the sweetest mangoes that were “stolen” from Presa de la Guayaba. Emilio Salgari’s books would make me dream of distant seas full of evil pirates and I was the good pirate avenging wrongdoings. Elpidio Valdes and Tio Estiopa would fill my afternoons, before watching FAR-Vision or the adventures of the hour.
In short, I was a happy child, from my neighborhood, from my time… We were happy with little, and we didn’t even notice we were poor, poor to the point of being in poverty. We were happy and we would proudly shout “We’ll be like Che.” We were happy and we’d make jokes about the gay guy, the Christian and anyone else who was different or had mannerisms that would allow us to call them “bourgeois”.
I grew up and matured, I studied and started working. During all of those years, poverty took a stronghold in Cuban society, and it soon became clear to me. During this period of growth, I witnessed the Mariel boatlift, and hate rallies. I admired those who went to far off African lands, longing for freedom, spilling their blood as if they were heroes. I watched the televised trial and sentencing of generals and high-ranking leaders accused of drug trafficking or treason.
I witnessed the “Rectificacion de errores” (2), the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. The loss of hope, the Special Period and the 1994 rafters’ exodus all marked my youth. Hunger also came knocking on my door and it was a miracle I didn’t eat my cat.
My friends began to disappear at that time, one by one but constantly. Many took to the sea on a raft, embarking on the adventure of crossing the Florida Strait and I would like to tell you that they were all lucky, but they didn’t all manage to reach land.
Over those years of my youth, I witnessed the glorious rebirth of prostitution, covered up with the euphemism “jineteo”. Glorious rebirth because it became the lifeline for thousands of families, who ate and put clothes on their back thanks to the bodies of the Caribbean’s most beautiful daughters. Glorious because it brought over hordes of tourists longing to take a little bit of Caribbean heat back with them, and I don’t exactly mean the sun. It wasn’t long before men also joined the profitable market of bodies.
Our brave troops to welcome tourists quickly began to disappear. Most of them married these tourists and managed to rebuild their lives elsewhere, far from their beaches and families, being relentlessly pursued by the European cold. Others weren’t so lucky and ended up in prison, and because there wasn’t a specific article in the Penal Code against prostitution, they were charged with being a “social danger”.
I watched Fidel Castro take a fall, back in 2004 in Santa Clara. I watched him retire two years later and pass over power to his brother Raul Castro, that dynasty. I also watched Raul retire and pass on power to a president who was loyal to Party, via the democratic method of pointing him out with a finger.
I’m still surviving, despite the “Coyuntura” (temporary crisis), COVID-19, 11J protests, two years of social distancing, Currency Reform and the return of blackouts.
After over 50 years of this adventure called Life, I can tell you I had my own family. My children are hiding from the cold today, far from the sun of their Homeland and language, in search of a better future.
As you can see, I’m just your regular guy, from my country and generation. A regular guy who is asking himself today why my friends, family and even children, had to leave. A regular guy who lost his smile and purpose in this city, which is only full of new empty hotels today, with neighborhoods falling to pieces and loved ones disappearing.
1 – Basic, non-basic and directed toys: Distribution system in Cuba, back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where three toys were sold per child, every year. Toys weren’t sold the rest of the year.
2- mataperreando: Playing in the street and wandering the neighborhood.
3- chivichana: a kind of toboggan made with bearings and wood, which Cuban children use as a vehicle, propelled by another child who pushes or by the impulse provided by an inclined street.
4- Rectificación de errores process: carried out by the Cuban Communist Party starting 1985, like the Soviet’s Perestroika.
5- La coynutura: euphemism with which the oil crisis that Cuba began to suffer from September 2019 was baptized.
6- 11/J: On July 11, 2021, a part of the Cuban population, mainly young people, took to the streets to demand better living conditions, the end of the communist government and freedom, but they were brutally repressed.