The Bridge / 14ymedio, Pedro Junco Lopez

Barack Obama greets the Cuban people after his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.
Barack Obama greets the Cuban people after his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Junco Lopez, Camaguey, 27 April 2016 – Some have suggested I write about US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Cuba. A great challenge after so much criticism about it. However, despite the blockade I’ve suffered in international research, I lean to two very attractive topics—and as far as my information sources permit me to know—two that have been hardly discussed: first, the oratory style of the American president who, according to what they are saying here, “has the Cuban people in his pocket”; and second, “the bridge” between the two systems and societies, which both presidents brought up.

With regards to oratory, I will not dwell too long on that of the general-president, considering his having always been in the military, his extreme longevity, and his usual approach of reading his texts. Whether or not a man is an excellent orator has nothing to do with his other aptitudes. Oratory is an art, an art that isn’t learned, but that one is born with and perfects or doesn’t. But I propose to compliment Obama’s rhetoric, offering as a counterpart that of some contemporary Cubans speaking live.

I don’t think it was at Harvard where the American learned to launch these clear and precise parliamentary arrows in the form of short sentences; then he stops, tightens his lips and puts a brake on the overflowing words, giving the audience time to digest his ideas and then one phrase after another, repeats the pauses, often with a smile playing on his lips and without losing the thread of his exposition, without even looking at the script that guides him in his discursive ascent and ending with the clear solidity of a prophet.

How different is the style of some Cubans who speak haltingly, breaking their phrases as one who walks along a path strewn with large boulders that must be leaped over, taking a breath in the middle of well known phrases, seeking respite from the terror of making a mistake and expounding something that could upset whoever dictated the script.

We appreciate the serene movement of President Obama’s hands, always in a lilting rhythm in sync with the idea of the phrasing. How different from the immoderate flapping of other local speakers for whom the podium must be cleared of ornamental objects, lest one of their swipes knock the microphone to the floor or any other instrument on the set where they are talking.

The people of Cuba saw a president in the flesh who proposes and convinces, not the god who taught them to listen with meekness half a century ago: powerful, imposing, unanswerably humbling and always threatening.

But let’s address the detail of the bridge. Nothing in the theme surprises us, when many years ago the young Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona wrote and performed a song with this name; watching the video brings tears to the eyes of Cubans who have suffered a separation from their loved ones. This time the initiative came from the Cuban president: it is easy to destroy a bridge; it is difficult to build it back again; a straightforward simile, but concise.

So the naiveté of the general-president in “mentioning the rope in the house of the hanged man” surprises; and the condescension of the northern president in seeking a convergence between the two governments and not taking the bull by the horns and telling a story that surely he knows.

The first foundations of that bridge were built by the Americans and the mambises – Cuban independence fighters – at the end of the 19th century, when they fought together to free Cuba from Spanish colonialism. Today very subjective concepts are put forward about what led the United States to invade Cuba, drumming on “the ripe apple” concept. It would be good to detail when this apple ripened, with the two principals killed in combat and the stubborn position of the Spaniards not to abandon the island. In Spain to this day, when something goes badly for a citizen, they seek solace in the classic phrase: “More was lost in Cuba.” The Spaniards were so attached to our native land that no one was able to predict how many more years of fighting and how many human lives independence would cost.

The first foundations for the bridge were built on solid ground after the emancipation of the metropolis, and its horizontal beams were laid when industrialized sugar cane production, the great electricity and telephone companies and many others were brought to Cuba. Because on 20 May 1902, they lowered the American flag and raised that of Miguel Tourbe Tolon and Narciso Lopez—names that barely appear in our schools’ current history books—and the Cuban nation had 10 people for every square kilometer of the homeland.

Republican governments, despite the tyrannies of Machado and Batista, thanks to close negotiations with the neighbor to the north, paved the bridge with the building of the Capitol, the central highway and the walls of the Havana Malecon, despite the aberration of the Model Prison on the Isle of Pines.

They built hospitals, highways, local roads, and made our currency equal to the dollar, and Cuba was the most developed country in Latin America, thanks to a sugar quota with privileged pricing worked out with the United States.

Projects for a 96-mile highway between Havana and Key West had already begun: a physical bridge that would link the island to the continent. Had this project been completed, the tens of thousands of compatriots drowned in the Florida Straits would have completed their journeys with greater safety and comfort.

But who broke the bridge? Who led to Washington establishing a “blockade” against the revolutionary government for having confiscated without compensation the billions of dollars the Americans invested in the island during the Republican period?

Who destroyed the agricultural and urban infrastructure of this unhappy country that today will have no other pillar to lean on if Venezuela ceases to be socialist?

Who clings to refusing to see that without fundamental changes toward industrial capitalism and development today’s young people will continue the exodus and we will be left in this beloved land with only feeble old people, unable even to dig the graves of those who die first?


Editor ‘s note: This text has been published on the blog Fury of the Winds and is reproduced here with the author’s consent.