Ivan Garcia, 6 October 2017 — On Friday, 29 September, a light intermittent drizzle and overcast sky lent a mournful touch to the area around the United States Embassy in Havana.
The six-story building with tinted glass and stone-clad facade, where every morning hundreds of people line up for consular appointments and dozens of dissidents wait to connect to the internet for free, seemed abandoned.
A few cars with diplomatic plates were parked in a side street very close to the main entrance of the embassy. Hurricane Irma’s furious winds and flooding from the sea caused damage to the building and and visa interviews had been postponed.
But the food service businesses and those dedicated to filling out visa forms were still at work. Pedro, 78, residing in a nearby building, works advising those who travel to the United States.
He charges the equivalent of $23 USD for shooting photos, filling out the visa application form and then sending it online to the consular office. On Friday afternoon, when it was learned that the Trump administration would indefinitely suspend the issuing of visas, Pedro was in his living room helping Daniel, a client with plans to fly to the United States before the end of the year. “I hope that the sea will recede and the embassy will return to serving Cubans who emigrate under the family reunification program. So far nothing has been said that these agreements have been broken,” says Daniel trying to be optimistic.
Pedro, owner of the small ’legal’ business, is not as optimistic. “I sense that this diplomatic war has just begun. Behind it is the intent to end the 20,000 annual visas that, under an agreement with Bill Clinton, they began to issue beginning in 1994. Anyone who is knowledgeable knows that Trump and the Clintons are political enemies. Trump has gotten it into his blond head to bury the entire legacy of Obama. The guy is worse than a hurricane. I support my family thanks to this work. If the embassy closes, I will have to find something else to do.”
Several private cafes and food outlets were deserted. “Ninety percent of our clients are the people who are doing immigration paperwork with the embassy. If the Yumas now decide to close it, I will have to turn in my business license,” says David, owner of a paladar (private restaurant) near Rivero Funeral Home.
In the park on Linea Street at the corner of L Streed, near the Camilo Cienfuegos Clinic for foreigners, several people connected to the internet via the wifi available in the park openly expressed their concern. “Good grief. It’s always the same: . It always happens the same: the American government gets into with those people and it’s the ordinary Cuba who always loses,” said a loud Havanan, holding his smartphone in front of his face while chatting with a relative in Florida.
Danay, a high school student, after speaking with the father through the IMO application, told Martí Noticia his impressions. “My mom and I wanted to emigrate to the United States this past July. But my dad, who has lived in New Jersey for fifteen years, told me to wait until the end of the year, so when I get there I can start college. And now look at the bomb that Trump just dropped. ”
Since the immigration agreements agreed upon by Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro in 1994, nearly half a million Cubans have been able to emigrate in an orderly, legal and secure manner to the United States under the family reunification program.
After this temporary suspension, Cubans with plans to emigrate or visit their family in the North, began to generate unfounded rumors. “This was coming. Trump is the most anti-immigrant president in US history. Using the acoustic attacks as an excuse, they want to do away with 20,000 visas a year. Cuba was the only country in the world that had that privilege. First it was Obama, repealing the wet foot/dry foot policy. Now Trump. You will see that in the end they end up overturning the Cuban Adjustment Act. But even more to blame than Trump, are the Cuban-American members of congress who claim to defend the interests of the people on the island, but always end up fucking over the Cubans,” says Julian, self-employed.
For lack of detailed information, Cubans do not understand why the US government decided to temporarily close the embassy. The story of the acoustic attacks on a score of US officials reads like a script by John Le Carré.
“If the Russian weapons used by the Cuban armed forces are more than forty years old, where the hell is G-2 [State Security] is going to get an ultra modern sonic weapon. Nor do I believe the version that North Korea or Russia mounted that operation without involving the ’apparatus’ [State Security]. Nothing works here, but State Security has it all under control. That story is longer or parts of it are missing, things that have not been told,” says Livio, a retiree.
In a survey of 23 people (neighbors, friends, acquaintances and relatives), 12 responded that they believed the regime of Raúl Castro was not behind these acoustic aggressions, due to lack of technology; 6 said that if “Trump has taken these measures, it is because it’s some kind of trick,” and 5 said they did not know anything about it.
In the opposition, opinions are diverse. Manuel Cuesta Morúa, an academic, believes that “the Trump government has been quick to withdraw half of its diplomatic staff.”
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an economist, believes that “it is a sovereign decision of the United States government, because the embassy is part of its territory.” The veteran opponent thinks that “this decision will affect air flights, trips of Americans to Cuba and the entrance of dollars into the coffers of the regime”. And she points out that the regime’s response could be more repression. “I was going to travel to the United States and the Cuban authorities did not let me.”
The opponent and former political prisoner Angel Moya, husband of Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, agrees with Roque “that the United States has every right to protect its diplomatic officers who were subjected to a sonic attack,” he said, and added, “The Cuban population is very uninformed. Official sources have not reported that some Canadian officials were also affected. The reaction of the regime can manifest itself in several ways. One of them would be to repress even more regime opponents who are supporters of the Trump government.”
According to Juan González Febles, director of the weekly Primavera Digital, “The first beneficiary of the closure of the embassy is the regime. Now independent journalists and human rights activists cannot connect to the internet for free at the US embassy. It has also changed the situation for those who qualify for the family reunification program. A considerable part of Cubans, at some point, are planning to emigrate to the United States. Those 20,000 visas were an escape valve. With this measure, the most conservative wings of the dictatorship and exile won. And of course, the regime’s response will be to increase repression against the opposition.”
If they agree on anything, the dissidents interviewed agree that the decision to partially close the embassy is the first move of a strategy that could bring consequences in the political and repressive environment within Cuba.
The honeymoon between the Palace of the Revolution and the White House extended for two years. With the arrival of unpredictable Trump, analysts hoped that getting involved in the Cuban issue was not in his interest. But the reality has been different.
The US president has set out to reverse Obama’s policies. And Cuba was an important piece in that legacy. The feeling is that we are living the first chapter of a story that promises to be more extensive.
A battle in the style of Donald Trump. And waiting for the olive-green response from Raul Castro.