Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Obama Revolution and the Average Cuban

The Obama Revolution and the Average Cuban / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 9 April 2016 — Quiet has returned to the streets of
Carraguao, a neighborhood in the suburb of Cerro. There are no more
patrol cars, no local police or beefy foreigners who look like U.S
Secret Service agents walking around and checking everything out. But
two days after it took place, Berta — a fifty-six-year-old housewife —
remembers every detail of Barack Obama's visit to the Latin American
Stadium here.

"When The Beast (the presidential limousine) drove by, the the
excitement was tremendous," she says. "People were shooting videos on
their cell phones and chanting 'Obama, Obama.' A pothole on my street
corner that had been there for twenty-five years was patched for the
president's visit as if by magic. They painted all the houses and fixed
all the streets. People now call him 'Representative Obama.' In one week
he solved more problems than our local representative, a dim-wit who
can't solve anything."

Obdulio, a sixty-six-year-old retiree has lived his entire life in a
narrow, roofless building a stone's throw from the stadium. "For those
few days all business stopped," he says. "The guys who sell beef, take
lottery bets and hawk detergent and soap stolen from Sabates were frozen
in place. Everyone was out on the street. If they held elections here,
most people would vote for Obama. The negro has it all: charm, charisma,
simplicity. He is one hell of a president."

As always happens in Cuba, rumors and fantasies fuse with reality.
Almost everyone you meet will tell you he or she saw Cadillac One from a
few feet away.

The residents of Carraguao closely followed Obama's speech. "The guy
spoke in stereo. No one has ever told Raul Castro to his face that what
this country needs is a real democracy, not a fake one," says Joel, a
private-sector worker.

A little more than two weeks since Obama's visit, people on buses, at
transit stops and in lines at government offices are still talking about
their impressions and discussing the impact of his two-and-a-half day
stay in Havana.

Distributors of the paquete — the weekly packet, a semi-clandestine
compendium of TV serials, soap operas, sports shows and films on sale
for fifty Cuban pesos — have included homemade videos filmed during the
tour Obama and his wife took through the oldest part of the city and to
the Cuban Art Factory cultural center in Vedado to view a project by the
musician X Alfonso.

These videos have gone viral. While waiting for her daughter to finish
her English class at a private academy in Havana's La Vibora district,
Yanaida recalls how for several days, while waiting in line to buy
bread, all anyone could talk about was Hurricane Obama.

"The man hit a homerun. He seduced almost everyone. It shows how
well-prepared he was. People can't help comparing him to the old farts
we have, who don't know how to give a decent speech and only repeat
slogans. They promise a lot but never fulfill their promises," says Yanaida.

Several Havana residents interviewed by Diario de las Americas were
harshly critical of Fidel Castro's editorial entitled "Brother Obama."
Many question whether the elder Castro actually wrote the article.

"No one has seen him speak in public for years. Fidel is completely out
of it. An uncle of mine says they constantly have to change his diapers,
the disposable kind they put on elderly people. What is going on is that
neither he nor his brother's government likes the spontaneous welcome
Obama got and are starting to make trouble," says Juan Carlos, a taxi

YouTube videos showing Cubans criticizing the Castros and a letter by
the musician Manolin el Medico de la Salsa (Manolin, the Doctor of
Salsa)* are in wide circulation via flash drive along the width and
breadth of the island.

"Obama opened a lot of eyes in Cuba. What with food shortages and
scarcities, people never thought much about freedom of expression, going
on strike or forming political parties. But at least I am now starting
to get it, that this is a human rights issue beyond just health and
education," says a shopkeeper.

Sometimes a small spark can cause to a major short-circuit. In 1989 a
visit by Mikhail Gorbachev to Berlin and the yearning of East Germans to
leap over the wall ruptured the communist dike.

On December 17 (coincidentally the same date the restoration of US-Cuban
relations was announced), 2010 twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set
himself on fire in a public square in Tunis, fed up with the corruption
and excessive fines of the Ben Ali regime. His death ignited protests
throughout the Middle East that marked the beginning of the Arab Spring,
which the region's monarchies and military governments were no longer
able to contain.

John F. Kennedy's legendary speech on the western side of the Berlin
Wall in 1961 or Ronald Reagan's in Moscow in the 1980s were seminal
events for a countless number of citizens from these countries.

Obama's speech in Havana has left its mark on many Cubans. A revolution
is not always carried out with arms.

Ivan Garcia

Diario de las Americas, April 9, 2016

*Translator's note: A reference to Manuel "Manolin" Gonzalez Hernandez,
formerly a young physician and now leader of highly successful
timba/salsa band, whose criticisms of social conditions in his community
have led to numerous run-ins with the Cuban government. The singer and
song writer posted an open and very blunt letter to Fidel Castro on
his Facebook page in response to an article by the former Cuban leader
that was critical of Obama's visit.

Source: The Obama Revolution and the Average Cuban / Iván García –
Translating Cuba -

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