Ivan Garcia, 23 May 2016 — It was a warm autumn night in 2015. The Mikasuki casino, in a swamp in the Everglades, thirty minutes from downtown Miami, was crammed full of anxious people, frantically pressing buttons on the slot-machine screen.
The cushioned floor absorbed the footsteps of good-natured assistants who manoeuvred about like the captain of a drifting gondola, carrying their trays of drinks.
Some friends had taken me there so that I could see what the inside of a casino was like. I had returned from a three day journey to Costa Rica, intending to write various stories about Cubans stuck in Central America.
In Miami I chatted with some fellow-countrymen to find out their opinion about the fourth migration wave which was in progress and had led to the exodus of nearly 50 thousand Cubans in a year and a half.
In Sun City (as Miami is referred to) opinions were divided. People like Tomás, born in Caibarién, Santa Clara province, and retired from an electric company in Florida, voted with both hands up for Obama to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“It is the worst Cubans who are coming here. People who are naturally lazy and always shouting. With three months of cardsharping, and with their Social Security money, they go to the island to speculate with rented gold chains. Only when there is no more Cuban Adjustment Act, will the Castros just have to get on with it”, he said while knocking back a whiskey on the rocks.
At his side, a friend, a fisherman in his spare time, and also retired, was counting the hours until Obama leaves office, “he can go to Kenya or Nigeria, I don’t know, so long as he goes”, he said.
The Anglo-Saxon Americans I spoke to had a very bad opinion of Obama. They called him weak, that he had destroyed the middle class, they accused him of letting the Chinese steal their jobs, and that economic growth was a smoke-screen, because the new jobs were low quality and badly-paid.
Like many redneck Americans they yearned for someone like Donald Trump. Nevertheless, when they came to the subject of Obama and his policy on Cuba, although opinions varied for and against, the majority came to the conclusion that the greatest beneficiary was the government in Havana.
Good luck is seizing opportunities. And, one year and five months after the historic 17th of December, when the cold-war enemies agreed to raise a white flag, the return for the Cuban people has been very poor.
When you talk to the Cuban man in the street, many of them feel that a golden opportunity has been missed to reconstruct a stalled economy from the ground up and create a environment favourable to microenterprises and small family businesses.
After 17-D, things moved from exaggerated hope to blackest pessimism. In Havana, the recurring theme for many young people and adults are their plans to emigrate.
The olive green government’s wasted opportunity is what led Saúl, owner of a food business, to gather together as much money as possible in order to then leave with his family to go to the United States.
“I am up to here with their lies. The Communist Party Congress was the last straw. All that happened with the re-establishment of relations with the Americans, was the government gained time to prepare its plan of succession. Nothing is going to change in Cuba”, the businessman assured me.
Two months after Obama’s visit to Havana, people still remember the Secret Service paraphernalia, Air Force One, and The Beast, as his Cadillac is called. Quite a few people have kept or downloaded the whole of the speech made by the American president at the Alicia Alonso theatre.
They think of it as a swindle. Obama’s speech and the affection it generated in Cuba perhaps was the origin of an abrupt relapse in the Castro regime.
Although the government Talibans continue to think of digging trenches and planning imaginary combats with windmills, their myopia has cut them off from the wishes of the people.
People want to live in the best way they can. Receive reasonable salaries, have more than a black coffee for breakfast, and have a comfortable house to live in. Cuba is an albatross around their necks. Ignoring the opinions of its people, the government has bet on rigid fundamentalism and the insane defence of its positions.
Perhaps in 2017 the autocrats will miss Obama. In 114 years of the republic, no US president has offered his hand with such unexpected frankness to the Cuban people.
In my opinion, the government has calculated wrongly. For them, their ideology and the broken record of their propaganda has counted for more than the possibility of building a modern democratic nation.
When in November the US elections take place–and the Rolling Stones concert in Havana, and the catwalk glamour of Chanel along the Paseo del Prado have become anecdotes–then honest government officials will appreciate Obama’s gesture.
But I think by that time it will be too late. As always, the Castro brothers have decided for all of us the way forward for the nation.
Photo: Obama playing dominoes with the comedians Pánfilo, Facundo and Chequera. According to the columnist Mauricio Vicent in El País, “every Monday night at 8.30, when Cuban TV’s news, which takes a quick glance at the real national problems, has only just finished, Vivir del Cuento (Living to tell the tale), the most popular and most watched comedy programme, comes on in everyones’ homes. Pánfilo, its protagonist, is a grumpy retired man, who suffers the same day to day problems as any of his countrymen and who has spent half his life standing in lines”. …Taken by Martí News, which in turn took it from the White House website. The photo was taken in Havana, 21st March 2016, by Peter Souza, official White House photographer (Thank you).
Translated by GH