New Years in Havana / Ivan Garcia

Fin-de-año-en-La-HabanaThe State brigade arrived in Vibora’s Red Plaza and in no time at all erected a slapdash wood and metal platform. On the nights of December 31 and January 1, a crowd fueled by cheap rum and bad beer will see in 2014 dancing to a Cuban timba orchestra.

The guys who set up the stage, ex-prisoners and amateur carpenters, under the blazing sun, had a good time drinking rum and tossing out rude compliments to the neighborhood women who do their shopping in nearby stores.

“It’s not easy working when almost everyone is celebrating, raising their elbows,” says Yaison, who have serving five years in prison for butchering cows, and not having too many job offers, enrolled in a People’s Power Brigade charged with looking after the equipment for the various political and musical activities.

In each of the 15 municipalities of the capital will be celebrations to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Revolution on January 1. Joshua, 16, a student, reviews the cultural scene. He thinks about going to a concert where Buena Fe or Descemer Bueno will perform, his favorite artists.

“The last thing we are celebrating is the anniversary of the Revolution. For young people, talking about Revolution is talking about the past. Something that no longer exists. Today, the reality is a badly managed country, with an economy in the tank, and a ton of young people who want to leave Cuba. I go to these concerts because I have no other options. Going to a good nightclub costs 10 CUC and my parents can’t give it to me,” says Josué.

Raudel, 19, dressed like a reggaetoner, with retro wave glasses and a body-fitting shirt, plays dominoes and drinks Havana Club out of plastic cups with three friends in a doorway in 10 de Octubre Street. Meanwhile, they listen to reggaeton at full volume on a small battery powered radio.

“We’ll greet the New Year with Alexander, El Micha or Los Desiguales, playing in Alamar or Marianao. It’s the only chance we fans with little money have to dance to our reggaeton idols without paying a dime,” says Raudel.

Apart from the economic crisis, the question mark of a future and the high cost of living, the refrain of ordinary Cubans is: bad weather, a good face.

On Carmen Street, a stone’s throw from Red Square in Vibora, thanks to private businesses or remittances from Miami, three families are repairing their homes. Due to the disbursement of hard currency , they will see in the new year modestly with chicharrones, fried plantains, beer, rum or red wine.” I’ve spent 3000 chavitos (CUC ) and I still have covered only half of the arrangements. I have to prioritize the repair of the house,” says Diana.

These days, thousands people search through the city’s farmers markets looking for pork, cassava, tomatoes, lettuce or cabbage, to prepare the traditional dinner: roast pork, white rice, black beans, yucca and salad. And, if all goes well, a couple Spanish nougats.

In 21st century Havana few talk about the Castros’ Revolution. Some, when they do so, it is to criticize the state of things. Daniel, 35, feels that he has no power to change the system so he lives in the present and enjoys whatever he can.

“The Revolution and its leaders are no longer the brilliant heroes they were three decades ago. They’ve faded. We see them as nostalgic old men clinging to power. In the era of the Internet and globalization, we deserve modern leaders. Many of those who celebrate the coming of 2014 in activities organized by the Party, if given the opportunity to emigrate, would do it without a second’s thought, they wouldn’t think twice,” Daniel affirms.

With two and a half million inhabitants, Havana is the heart of the island. In its streets, parks and corners, this New Year, people prefer to talk about telenovelas; the good showing by the Industriales in the  National Baseball Championships; whether Messi will soon rejoin Barca; or if Cristiano Ronaldo or win the Ballon d’Or.

Even the cash-strapped see in the new year with a dinner. This is the case for Renato, an old man beset by ailments who sells plastic bags at the entrance to a bakery.

“We are four friends and we each bring something. Then, on an old Russian radio, we listen to traditional boleros and sons. What we have in common is that our relatives have forgotten about us,” confesses Renato in a weak voice, muffled by the noise of the cars on a filthy Havana street.

Iván García

Photo: Buying pork in a specially authorized booth in Havana. From independent journalist Víctor Manuel Domínguez, for Cubanet.

3 January 2014