Cuba 2019 / Ivan Garcia

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Ivan Garcia, 26 September 2015 —  Let’s climb aboard a time machine. Into the future, of course. By now, Raul Castro has given up the throne. His son Alejandro has been tried for abuse of power, financial corruption and violations of human rights.

Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, the Cuban Martin Borman, has fled with a safety deposit box. His face appears on wanted posters issued by Interpol, which is offering a substantial reward for information leading to his capture.

Antonio Castro has had better luck. A wayward womanizer, he stole a couple of million and squandered it in luxury European resorts. In the end, however, evidence that he had helped Cuban baseball players to escape the island led to his release from prison.

Two years have passed since the death of Fidel Castro on January 6, 2017. His embalmed body was removed from the Jose Marti Monument in Civic Plaza (it is no longer called Revolution Plaza) and interred in Biran, his birthplace. Since bad stuff tends to be forgotten quickly, people no longer talk about him or his eighty-eight-year-old brother.

Cows have gotten fatter and dairy farmers can now sell milk on the open market. Cubans can now have cafe con leche and buttered toast for breakfast. A steak with a side of fries is no longer just a dream.

The education and culture ministries were merged and Lis Cuesta, the wife of Miguel Diaz-Canel, was named to lead them. Given her travel experience, well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez was nominated to be head of the Ministry of Tourism but she turned it down. Dissident attorney Laritza Diversent did, however, agree to organize an independent judiciary, while prominent dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua is preparing to run as president in the 2022 elections. He wants to be the Creole Barack Obama.

Opposition is legal and political dissidents are no longer physically attacked. The opposition is led by Antonio Rodiles, Berta Soler and Angel Moya, whose commitments to freedom and respect for human rights are unquestioned. What must now be done, they say, is to eliminate vestiges of Castro-ism, whose supporters still control 90% of the country’s businesses.

The waters of national life are somewhat calmer. The ration book was eliminated along with the dual currency system. Every home now has internet access and cybercafes offer free wifi.

Diario de Cuba and On Cuba Magazine compete for online readers. Varela is organizing an exhibition of humor at the Acacia Gallery next to the Capitolio, while Ivan Cañas is preparing a photo exhibition at Fine Arts. El Pais, Le Monde, ABC, El Nuevo Herald, Diario de las Americas, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Folha de S. Paolo and Varela magazine are for sale on newsstands.

From their respective vantage points in Madrid, Paris and Miami, writers Raul Rivero, Zoe Valdes and Carlos Alberto Montaner observe the island’s state of affairs and are considering whether to bring their works to the International Book Fair of Havana, now held in temporary kiosks along Paseo del Prado.

The Karl Marx is now the Miramar Theater. After a major renovation, it will be the venue some of the events scheduled for the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana on November 16, 2019. One of them is a concert of female voices from various countries: Xiomara Laugart, Argelia Fragoso, Vania Borges and Haila Mompié (Cuba), Julieta Venegas and Natalia Lafourcade (Mexico); Mala Rodriguez and Rozalén (Spain); India (Puerto Rico); Shakira (Colombia); Elida Almeida (Cape Verde); Maria Rita (Brazil); Alizée (France); Alanis Morissette (Canada); Emeli Sandé (United Kingdom) and Alicia Keys (United States).

The 2019-2020 baseball season has made a 180-degree turn. In the winter there will be a ninety-game tournament in which sixteen teams will participate: Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Industrial, Isla de la Juventud, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo. (The Havana and Metropolitan teams were both eliminated.)

The Premier games will be played in the summer with the top eight teams: the four stalwarts (Almendares, Havana, Cienfuegos and Marianao) and four additional teams (Vegueros, Azucareros, Ganaderos and Avispas).*  Except for major league stars, Cubans who work in different MLB circuits, the Caribbean and Asia may play. Dominican, American, Venezuelans, Puerto Rican players will also participate. One change will be that twelve players who have been recruited from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will play in the opening tournament.

All the provincial stadiums have been updated. The fans refused to allow the Havana Reds’ owner to demolish the Latino and in the east of the capital there was a plan to build what would be the “most modern baseball stadium in the world.” The old Cerro stadium has been decked out in the latest gear — a state-of-the-art scoreboard and giant screens — and is now a place where Cubans could enjoy pure, unadulterated coffee. (Production of coffee blended with peas was phased out).

Pito Abreu and Yasiel Puig have a major gripe with the club owners because they are not allowed to play for Cienfuegos, the team of their home province. Citing extreme fatigue, the Big Show stars must watch the games from the stands.

Sixty-years after the man with the beard came to power at the point of a gun, Cuban baseball is once again part of the MLB circuit. Major League clubs spend their pre-seasons in Cuba, as they always did before 1959.

Different major league organizations recovered lost ground and reopened dozens of training schools across the island. Adolescents and young people have come down from the soccer cloud and are once again playing baseball in the jungles or on street corners. They now realize that a baseball player earns more than a soccer player.

On October 10, the opening day of the season, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria is wearing a faded Havana baseball cap that has been in storage for six decades. He will hit the first ball, thrown by the reform-minded president Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first freely elected president since 1948. Later, the umpire will shout, “Play ball!”

Ivan Garcia and Tania Quintero

Photo: Landscape painted in 2008 by Arnoldo Nuñez Verdecia (Guantanamo, 1967). From an early age he was interested in drawing characters based on models from the surrounding countryside. A completely self-taught artist, Nuñez Verdecia is not a studio painter, preferring to follow the example of the 19th century French Impressionists. With an easel thrown over his shoulder, he goes out in search of subjects.

He is one of Cuba’s few plein air painters. Characterized by their secure, accurate and thorough brushwork, his paintings convey the greenery and freshness of the Cuban countryside. Some of his canvases are animated by the inclusion of peasants and animals. All the elements combine harmoniously to achieve an effect of visual beauty. His peasants never sit idle; they are always immersed in daily chores.

Since 1992 Nuñez Verdecia’s work has been included in exhibitions of landscape paintings at the Jorge Arche de los Arabos Gallery in Matanzas. He has also exhibited at the Victor Manuel Gallery in Havana, at Salon de Paisaje 2000 in Havana’s St. Francis of Assisi Basilica, and at a 2007 group exhibition of landscape paintings at the Hotel Melia Varadero

*Translator’s note: The last four team names in English are the Tobacco Farmers, the Sugar Bowls, the Ranchers and the Wasps.