People in the street, who do not need neither the confirmation of an official program nor approximate itineraries, say that Barack Obama will arrive this Monday in Cuba on board the presidential plane, the Air Force One they’ve seen in movies. They also say that once here, he will use his over a million dollar eight-ton armored limousine, and that he won’t stay at Hotel Nacional or Habana Libre, “otherwise the tourists would have been already transferred”.
This is typical of transcendental and completely unexpected events; they cause a wave of spasms. Like, for example, the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998 that helped ease the relations between the island and the Catholic Church, which had been tense for decades. But neither presence of a Polish Pope, then a German one, and most recent one from Argentina, has disconcerted Cubans as much as the visit of the second North American president in the history of Cuba as a nation, and the first to come in nearly 60 years of revolutionary government.
A few years ago, the idea that relations between Cuban and its historic archenemy could be restored would have been almost a sacrilege. There was too much hostility, too many tensions, too high speech. But to think that a Yankee president — I hope the nickname is not taken as an offense— would travel 90 miles from north to south to spend two days in Havana would have been a scene worthy of Hollywood.
Because the presence of Calvin Coolidge in Havana in times of Gerardo Machado, back in 1928, was no big deal; but that of Barack Obama in the Havana of the Revolution is quite another thing. “Another thing” for which Cubans, at least the part of the Cubans I know, are not prepared.
For better —or should I say for worse?— we have the ability to lessen the importance of the most serious issues, to make fun of the facts we should be worried about. Half of the island is now gossiping about Obama’s visit by linking the event with the parks being painted, with the in a race against time-refurbishment of the Latin-American Baseball Stadium. The talk is also present in Internet, and even inside the homes, this intimate space where perhaps the fiercest ideological debates are taking place today, and where days ago I heard a phrase that is rather a classic joke: “Obama is coming to Cuba, did you now? But, mommy, what is it that the black one wants?”.*
Faced with such a hilarious and extremely serious question, one has to laugh, and then do the basic math: people have expectations, illusions, and faith that this event will improve the national economy. But above all, people have the good nose to realize that nothing, absolutely nothing, is as easy as it seems.
Obama is not coming here to apologize for the damage that the blockade has caused us. He hasn’t done it so far in any of the speeches in which he has referred to Cuba after the 17D. He has said —and he has made it very clear— that they are leaving behind an outdated approach that for decades has not helped them realize their interests, and that they should not continue doing the same thing and expect a different result.
His is a peculiar approach: he opens embassies and keeps the programs aimed at “empowering” the civil society, which is how they call the act of financing subversion. He brings Cuba out of list of countries that sponsor terrorism, he asks Congress to eliminate once and for all the US blockade on the island, but is inflexible when applying billion dollars fines to companies that try to infringe the blockade regulations.
However, we must give him credit for his courage. It’s not me who says so; it was Raul Castro himself who said that the 44th president of the United States is an honest man.
For less than what he has done in relation to Cuba, John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, without being able to finish his term, according to some conspiracy theories created by the North Americans themselves. The United States is a country of fundamentalisms, messianic pretensions, where either a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders can emerge.
I want to believe —and I say this perhaps to console myself— that we were prepared to deal with the largest empire that has existed in the world ever, in terms of confrontation, and that we will be prepared as well to deal with it on this side of the fence.
“See you in Havana”, said Obama to confirm his visit to Cuba. Within hours, the American president will enter into the history of his country and into ours with an act that has a lot of master move and kamikaze. This is what people in other contexts called “to burn one’s boats”.
But people in the street, who have made Obama’s trip responsible for the painting and beautification actions underway in Sancti Spiritus, are not trying to find the impossible and are waiting to see the arrival in Cuba of the only U.S. president of the last 11 administrations whom we have not screamed insults at.
At least so says my neighbour downstairs, who the other day asked me a question that has been bothering her until today:
“If we already have diplomatic relations, if we do not call on rallies to demand things from the Americans, how will Serrano (Cuban TV announcer) refer to the US President: will he say His Excellency or comrade Obama?
*This phrase is the line of a song that was once very popular in Cuba.
(Translated by Aracelia del Valle)