Havana, Waiting for Obama… and The Beast / Iván García

Source: Iván García
Waiting for Obama… and The Beast. Source: Motorbit

Iván García, 10 March 2016 — It does not take a Secret Service expert to determine, by the rush of the building work, the sites which Barack Obama is predicted to pass by or stop at during his two days in Havana.

If Air Force One touches down at Terminal 3 of the José Martí International Airport, the presidential Cadillac would travel via the East-West Highway to link up with 25th Avenue and on to the residence of charge d’affaires, Jeffrey De Laurentis, in El Laguito, where, it is assumed, the Obamas will spend their only night in Havana.

Terminal 2, the closest thing to a train station, and where US flights are received, was ruled out for the president and his entourage, according to an official of the place.

The other point of arrival may be the Terminal 1. If so, then it is expected that the government of Raul Castro has prepared a popular welcome for the US leader.

The Castro brothers have a doctorate in multitudinous greetings for how high-ranking personalities that arrive to Havana are received. From Leonid Brezhnev to Pope Francis, the creole autocracy usually puts together huge receptions. When this happens, the capital is paralyzed for the day.

Urban transport is disrupted and thousands of workers and students are moved to different points where the procession will pass. There will be no end of paper banners and flags made in the Frederick Engels print works of the Communist Party, nor slogans and chants for the occasion.

However this time, a considerable segment of Havanans and residents of the western provinces would go spontaneously. Out of curiosity and a friendliness towards Obama. The fabled average Cuban would have a golden opportunity to record with their cell phones the passage of The Beast along Rancho Boyeros Avenue.

There are still two weeks before Obama arrives and already the rumours have started. “They say where The Beast passes the wi-fi and mobile phone sigals are disconnected for a hundred meters around,” says an engineer in telecommunications.

Not even Fidel Castro, with his impressive personal security entourage, comes near the deployment of men and technologies that is triggered by the movement of a US president.

Some people already say that they have seen, walking in the streets of Havana, overly burly, serious looking characters, scrutinising everything, and trying to pass as tourists.

“Police look the same in Cuba or Timbuktu. On Friday I saw two big men who looked like rugby players around the University of Havana. Their square jaws and military haircuts did not fool anyone. They were Obama’s secret service, “said Eugenio, a private taxi driver.

Inside the university the bustle of workers renovating the old institution was observed. “It is said that Obama will give a lecture at the Aula Magna,” said a teacher in a low voice.

True or not, San Lazaro Street, which flows up to the university steps, was re-surfaced and the road markings were painted with white lime.

In the old Estadio del Cerro a swarm of workers and funcionaries work without rest. On the field they replaced the grass and the clay was raised. The bleachers were painted deep blue and television broadcast cubicles were renovated.

“It’s amazing the things that happen in this country. Since 2009, work has been going on at the stadium, at a snail’s pace, and according to the schedule it was expected to conclude in 2020 as the authorities said there was no funding. But as soon as it was known that Obama would come to see Tampa Bay play against the Cuban team, the money appeared right away, “says a worker.

Dilapidated housing in the neighborhood of Carraguao, adjacent to El Latino, as Estadio del Cerro is known today, received a coat of paint and the inner streets were repaired. All of 20th of May Avenue is being revamped.

“Apparently ’the man’ will enter the Latino by this avenue. It makes sense, it is a wide street and in fairly good condition which leads directly to Paseo Street and the Palace of the Revolution. And the buildings and houses of this area are the best preserved. If he entered by Calzada del Cerro or Infanta, Obama would be frightened with dirt and destruction, “said Orlando, local resident.

Nilda, an employee of ETECSA, says her company will enable 300 telephone lines in El Latino. “And a wifi area as well. Things happen. If anyone requests a phone transfer you tell them that there are no lines. But for these things, resources appear immediately. Two months ago 50 lines went to the area of Laguito, where Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel lives.

Several areas of El Vedado, Miramar and Havana Vieja preen for the visit of Barack Obama. Also, a fleet of ’almendrones’ or old american cars are ready if the head of the White House wanted to tour the city in a convertible.

US officials, visiting Havana, like to ride in vintage cars dressed in crisp white guayaberas, take selfies in front of novel buildings and drink mojitos in El Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite bar. We’ll see if Obama skips the protocol.

Translated by: Araby