HAVANA TIMES – One eats more roast pork and black beans in Miami than in Havana, the mojito has become a drink selling better in Berlin bars than in Varadero taverns, and the founding anniversary of the Republic is a date that is celebrated more in exile than within the Island’s borders. Cuba has become a country on the run and the current migratory exodus continues to atomize the nation, spreading its human capital and its traditions throughout the planet.
This 8-part special series, under the title of Cuba, The Island in Flight, is the story of a rafter-on-foot who made the route from the Cuban capital to Florida, crossing a good part of Central America and Mexico. His journey was full of very tense moments, through border crossings, bribes to police and military to turn a blind eye, intimidating coyotes and frugal meals. But above all, it was a journey marked by the dreams of reaching the United States.
The country where Alejandro Mena has his roots is not the place to harvest personal or professional fruits, much less civic ones. He had sensed that for years, but it was after the popular protests on July 11 that he confirmed what he feared. That Sunday, the 34-year-old young man joined a river of people who cried out for freedom through the streets of Havana. It was one of the happiest days of his life, as he later told his friends and family. But the joy of seeing people react and call for democratic change in the country was short-lived.
Mena saw how a friend who was at his side was violently arrested shouting ‘Patria y Vida’ [Homeland and Life]. Although he managed to evade police operations and return to his house, his young friend did not suffer the same fate. He was beaten, his whereabouts were unknown for several days and, finally, when he was released, the police pressure and threats had been so great that he decided to emigrate as soon as possible. That young man, enterprising and patriotic, was one of the most loving people of history and national identity that Mena had ever known. Seeing him leave was very painful to process and convinced Mena that there was no future on the Island for people like his friend and neither for him.
Then came the goodbyes. Saying goodbye to his family, his neighborhood, his dog Kathy and getting on a flight to Managua. The rest of the route is told in detail in these articles. Despite his light baggage, Alejandro Mena took with him a part of the country that he now tries to rebuild from exile. Recipes, music, memories and dreams make up part of those suitcases that every migrant carries on his shoulders. He took the Island with him to ensure that it could be freer and here he tells us about the enormous weight of carrying a country for thousands of kilometers.