We Cubans Need to Solve Our Own Problems / Ivan Garcia

Hombre-cargando-agua-en-Santiago-de-Cuba-_ab-620x330Fifty-four years, seven months and eleven days after that January 3, 1961— the day on which American diplomatic personnel closed their embassy — seventy-three year old Denis Sentizo, a heavy-set African-Cuban with an easy smile, did not want to miss a historic moment: seeing the stars and stripes waving again against his country’s intense blue sky.

“Right now I can’t help but think about my father, may he rest in peace,” says Santizo. “He worked as a kitchen helper at the US embassy in the 1950s. In 1961 the embassy closed and he couldn’t find another job, so he had to go cut sugarcane in Camagüey (500 kilometers east of Havana). He died in 1991 and would have wanted to live to see this moment. Given our geography and history, this promises more advantages than disadvantages.”

At 6:30 in the morning dozens of Havana residents begin to casually congregate in the streets surrounding the embassy, a six-story building clad in Cuban limestone and large sheets of green glass that first opened its doors in 1953, a stone’s throw from the Malecon.

Teresa Contreras, a store clerk, is one of those who decided to get there early. “I don’t know if the government of Raul Castro is planning economic or political reforms, but the situation is already changing. Things will get better for Cubans, God willing ” she says, making the sign of the cross with a plastic water bottle towards the people around her.

Waking up from a fifty-four-year slumber in which the two nations have been crouched in their respective trenches will be a litmus test for politicians from both sides.

There are those within both the dissident community and the Palace of the Revolution who look askance at the new agreement. Antonio Rodiles, a Cuban opposition leader, is not expecting anything from the thaw.

“Obama gave up a lot without getting anything in return. There were no calls or demands that human rights be respected,” says Rodiles. He and Berta Soler, founder of the Ladies in White, decided not to attend an event hosted by Kerry to which ten other dissident figures had been invited.

One segment of the opposition feels out of place in the new environment. “I see more opportunities under the new scenario for new political dialogue with the government. But as Cubans we must resolve the problems ourselves,” says Vladimir Romero, a human rights activist.

And since December 17, 2014 everyone in Cuba has been anticipating for more to eat, large-scale investment and broadband internet.

Never before has the opening of an embassy aroused so many expectations.

Last of a three-part series by Ivan Garcia on John Kerry’s twelve-hour visit to Havana. Previous blog posts in the series: Welcome, Mr. Kerry and Reporting from Havana without Press Credentials.

Photo: A man waits for the sun to go down to transport two buckets of water, Chinese-style, in Santiago de Cuba. From El Pais, July 2015.

Away from the media spotlight, Cubans on the outskirts of Havana and in towns in the country’s interior lack drinking water in their homes. A lack of rain due to a weak storm season has led to a fierce drought, a cause of concern throughout the island. The drought is forecast to worsen after November, the beginning of Cuba’s traditional dry season.

19 August 2015