“It’s very hot down in old Havana, people are waiting for something but nothing ever happens here.” – Carlos Varela
Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — On February 3, 1961, Kennedy signed Proclamation 3447, an “embargo on all trade with Cuba.” At the time, there was yet no special migratory legislation for Cubans and the Guantanamo Naval Base had been in operation on the island for 58 years that month, on the basis of bilateral agreements that had never been revoked.
At the young age of 33, Fidel Castro confronted Richard Nixon (also known as “Tricky Dick”), who had been vice-president during the Eisenhower administration, in the White House. The bearded leader was then dubbed a “serious threat to US interests.” Punitive economic measures began immediately, as did the trips to the Soviet Union by the communist members of Cuba’s revolutionary government, Antonio Nuñez Jimenez and Raul Castro among them.
The Tu-114 four-engine plane carrying Fidel Castro would not take long to arrive at Murmansk. It would be preceded by the visit of Yuri Gagarin (the world’s first astronaut) to Cuba, who would celebrate in Havana the defeat of Operation Pluto, developed by the CIA under Eisenhower and approved, with some reservations by Kennedy, who ultimately decided not to offer the Bay of Pigs invasion air support and gave the surprised enemies control of the air, one of the decisive factors behind the sweeping advance on Brigade 2506 and Cuba’s victory at the Bay of Pigs.
With the sensational show of power offered by the Soviets with their trip to the cosmos and the decision to supply us with oil and buy our sugar from us (two of the basic products embargoed by successive US administrative), the blockade was pushed back to the background and pretty much arrogantly dismissed. We were building socialism and, with Moscow’s aid, were destined to triumph.
A year later, we would live through the dramatic days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The final agreement reached by the United States and Soviet Union was publicly condemned by Fidel Castro, who, on expressing his “five points” of disagreement, turned the issue of the Guantanamo base into a priority. That just demand made an impression on me while growing up. Little, however, was said about the blockade, and absolutely nothing about the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“(…) time passed, and an eagle soared over the sea (…)” – Jose Marti
The above is not exactly a metaphor: black birds of prey would often fly across our skies. First it was the U-2 and then the SR-71 planes, tasked with reporting on any new mad strategy hatched by the Soviet and Cuban Communist Parties.
Despite such vigilance, hundreds of thousands of my compatriots flew over to Africa and secured military and political victories for the socialist bloc headed by the Soviet Union, until storm clouds that had not been forecast by our meteorologists darkened the heavens dreamt of by the Marxist-Leninists.
Case 1 and 2 of 1989 ended with the execution of four high officials from Cuba’s Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior, including two generals, one of them a “Hero of the Republic of Cuba.” The charges included corruption, illegal trade and drug trafficking. In the paranoid proceedings, they were also accused of high treason.
Nine thousand kilometers away, the people of Berlin demolished the wall that had divided Germany in two. Two years later, some Muscovite women would slap several soldiers in tanks at Red Square, signaling the end of Gorbachev and the rise of the hero of the day Boris Yeltsin.
The new Russian head of State called his counterparts in the Ukraine and Byelarussia to a brief secret meeting in Belavezhskaya, where, in a matter of minutes, they decided to dissolve nearly 70-years of modern history, identified by the Slavic acronym of “CCCP”.
For Cuba’s leadership, this meant losing its long-term political bet.
The eternal fighter Fidel Castro, however, was able to appease the protests of August 4, 1994 and to redirect the problem towards the north, to which thousands of Cubans on rafts fled, defying the implacable waves and sharks of the Gulf Stream.
Then came the miracle of a child who survived one of the many shipwrecks and whose return to Cuba was justly demanded by his father. In Cuba, massive demonstrations injected people with adrenaline, making up for the island’s many material shortages. The United States saw one of the largest media campaigns of its history.
At the time, no one talked about that piece of land the Americans refused to give back to us. Suddenly, they began giving us even the minutest details of Public Law 89-732, approved by Washington on February 11, 1965, an act Cuba called a “murderous law” responsible for the unstoppable exodus of my compatriots to that “convulsive and brutal North that has contempt for us,” as Jose Marti once said.
The votes against the US blockade at the UN General Assembly began to be given as much press coverage in Cuba as the gold medals earned by our athletes at the Olympics.
This coming February, I will have gone around the sun 58 times. The month will also mark another anniversary of the establishment of the US embargo.
Another cruise ship loaded with US students has just arrived in our country. Meanwhile, every morning, hundreds of people crowd before the US Interests Section in Havana, hoping to be granted permission to see their relatives beyond the sea.
I am again reminded of Carlos Varela and a wise saying he turned into a song: “you can’t fit all of politics in a sugar bowl.”