By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez (Photos: Esteban Manuel Gómez Becerra)
HAVANA TIMES — March promises to be an unusually momentous month for Cuba in terms of rare visits. The norm is to see heads of State and high-level ministers and officials from historically friendly countries and institutions come to the island.
Seeing set foot on the island a US president coming on an official visit for the first time in nine decades, a Major League team (from no other place than Florida) and a rock band of the stature of the Rolling Stones (considering the controversy surrounding the banning of rock music in Cuba) is another thing altogether.
These are unusual episodes, the product of a new era in which Cuba begins to reinsert itself in the world. Radical socialism, or communism, did not manage to uproot the cultural foundations of the West, of which we are part. So much indoctrination, brain-washing and being hammered with an ethos and culture so diametrically opposed to ours did a lot of damage, but did not change our basic makeup.
One pretended to be an atheist in the Marxist style, but prayed to God under one’s breath. One insulted a business person in public, but, in private, and whispering, one bought whatever he was selling. One accepted any prohibition stemming from “ideological” considerations, but, in the privacy of one’s bathroom, alone, sang the most polemic songs.
That is what one gets when one tries to impose something on people. One gets even worse results by imposing aberrant, unnatural and foreign things, stifling freedom and doing so in the name of freedom. I suppose that this is simpler for North Korea’s dictators, thanks to the despotic culture rooted in their traditions. In Cuba, however, in the West, it is not so simple.
The thousands of young and not-so-young people who will attend the Rolling Stones concert are completely unaware of the historic polemic that shook Cuba’s extremist past.
The Cuban who writes these lines is not ashamed to confess that he is unaware of the details and has only heard the occasional, fleeting comment on the matter, but nothing concrete. Of course, I’ve heard enough such comments to believe them. I was born in 1975 and Cuba’s media hegemony does not yet allow me to explore those dark corners of our recent history.
The Tampa Bay game in Havana will be sensational. Many of us love baseball and dream of seeing our national series go up in rank, or the creation of a professional league that will offer a quality show, in step with the talent of many of our players.
Professional Sports have always been criticized and undervalued in revolutionary Cuba. The leaders have been demonizing the commercialization of Sports for decades. These same people, however, announce the visit of a Major League team like the Tampa Bay Rays or the Baltimore Orioles (who came in the 90s) with a great song and dance. It’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?
Obama, the courageous president who dared break the ice, is to come on the 21st of the month. The game between Tampa and a Cuban selection has been scheduled for the 22nd, and that’s where Obama will be. It will be a highly symbolic event. On the 25th, the Rolling Stones will own the stage.
Baseball is something that unites us, something we have in common as nations. It’s a passion at both ends of the Strait of Florida and it is highly symbolic that Raul Castro and Obama should attend the game at Havana’s Latinoamericano Stadium.
The event is so significant that stadium restoration efforts that had been underway for months or years will now be finished in a few days. Obama is lending a hand, because they wouldn’t have been finished before December without his visit. People only work well and quickly here when there’s a political motivation at work somewhere.
The Cuban media are expressing much discontent (and not exactly representing popular sentiment in this) because Kerry and Obama have announced they will meet with members of dissident and civil society movements outsider the official agenda. They see this as meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs.
I am reminded of the similar stance assumed by men who mistreat their families, when a police officer or friend wants to intervene or mediate the conflict. They call these intruders and proclaim their right to have their own “family matters” left alone. It is a simple defense mechanism that allows them to get away with murder.
It is not uncommon for Cuban leaders who visit other countries (where the Right is in power) to meet with left-wing parties and sympathetic social movements. No one feels offended by this. It is quite ironic, as is this entire dysfunctional system.
I welcome Obama, the Tampa Bay Rays and Rolling Stones. In old magazines, our people read how different luminaries from different spheres always made an obliged stop in Cuba. While building the earthly paradise they promised us, they deprived us of five decades. We want to be let back in now and play a role in the world.
Let Obama come and pitch the first ball. Let Tampa Bay be pitted against our talented players. Let the Rolling Stones offer their best concert to date. These are good signs, no doubt, indicating that we are slowly getting back on track. The die has been cast.