It’s Still December 17th in Cuba

Vicente Morin Aguado

Foto: Elio Delgado Valdes
Foto: Elio Delgado Valdes

HAVANA TIMES — For the first time in ages, Saint Lazarus was not the star of Cuba’s December 17th celebrations, not after Obama and Raul Castro took center stage to announce the year’s most important event (though some believers attribute recent developments to the miraculous intervention of Babalu Aye, as the saint is known in the Yoruba religion, whose anniversary never ceases to mobilize Cubans).

The first surprise was the news itself, which was announced with a degree of discretion unusual for the world’s leader in sensationalist media and the habitual chatterbox style of its counterpart. Once again, the much-questioned Catholic Church contributed to common sense and noble Canada, that lovely country, contributed much more than the one million Canadian tourists who visit Cuba every year.

In the afternoon, Havana was calmer than expected. Near the main radio and television broadcasters, demonstrations in favor of the accords that were evidently organized by the government were staged. Beyond this area, at the busy intersection of 23 and L streets, the rest of the city processed the huge surprise slowly – it seemed like a lot had changed in a very short time.

Raul Castro, and then the press, obliged to echo his words, reminded us of Fidel and his Volveran (“they will return”), a phrase that is clearly foreign to this new situation. It really comes as no surprise. Lenin, Mao and Uncle Ho remain peacefully embalmed and, without being publicly offended, their heirs undertake reforms that would have been unthinkable to these legendary communist leaders.

We do not yet have a consensus (it would be impossible to have one such a short time after the announcement, particularly when the development is a lot even for its architects to process). The skepticism in Cuba is to be expected after so many years of authoritarianism. No one with a bit of common sense, particularly if they live in Cuba, can deny the changes taking place, even if they ask for more or are alarmed by the scope of the reforms.

Havana from above.  Photo: Elio Delgado Valdés
Havana from above. Photo: Elio Delgado Valdés

I recommend readers have a close look at the declaration of the United States and the pronouncements of the presidents of both countries.

Though not surprising, it is important to underscore US sincerity:

“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.  Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. (…) We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”

To this end, the Cuban president made a concrete appeal, in keeping with his work style:

“I call on the government of the United States to remove the obstacles that prevent or restrict ties between our peoples, families and citizens of both countries, particularly those related to trips, direct postal services and telecommunications.”

The problem is that, after so many years of defying the empire, the 44th president of the United States has decided to defy his hitherto celebrated opponents.

For the time being, as they say in Cuba, “the table has been served”. The difference now is that it was served from the White House.

It is no ordinary buffet: it has all the magnificence of those who handle the world’s money. In Cuba, the majority are in need when it comes to eating. That is the challenge facing those who, from a broad variety of standpoints, celebrate this development, which Obama described as follows:

“(…) our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. (…) Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.”

The response of Cuba’s leader can be summed up with his closing remark:

“As we have said before, we must learn the art of co-existing with our differences in a civilized manner.”

Celebrating these developments, a friend of mine exclaimed: “Now what?

PS: Raul Castro’s recent statements do not change my opinion: it is still December 17 as far as I am concerned!
Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]