Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oh the Cubanity!!!!(Part 7) Havana Heartbreak

When you look at a map of the Americas, right smack in the middle are two large bodies of water, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. In the middle of those are Cuba.  Havana is as close to the center of the Americas as you can get.  When I saw Havana for the first time, I understood its significance.  500 hundred years as the center of the giant Spanish Empire in the Americas. The imposing structures, fortresses, government buildings dot the city. Havana is not just some third world capital, it's one of the great capital cities of the world. The heartbreak is that 500 years of architecture from Colonial, Victorian, Art Moderne, Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern is all slowly crumbling to ruin. 

History stops in Havana in 1959.  From that point on technology, architecture, and culture froze.  Tens of thousands of U.S. made vehicles from 1945 to 1959 dot the highways, its a time warp. The government acts like the 1959 revolution was last Thursday. You can see that after'59 Havana as a  center of trade, culture and influence loses relevance behind the Soviet Iron Curtain.  Coincidentally, a sleepy southern resort city a few hundred miles away begins it's ascent as a major shipping, banking and center of confluence for the Americas. Fidel Castro can take a lot of credit for making Miami a global powerhouse.

I'm sure each new generation of Cubans read the tea-leaves or "caracoles" and see the hope of a brighter, freer, more prosperous Miami.  People grasp at the smallest signs that things on the island will get better on a large scale. Small things like cell phones, a Democratic administration in the U.S., less travel restrictions all add to the hope that somehow the government will open up and give Cubans the dignity and freedom they crave.

There were several instances where family members couldn't meet us at their homes because they were afraid of "being seen with Americans."  When my spouse's brother found out he had to take us to the "American" terminal he had to find a car that did not have "ministry" plates on them for fear of being reported to his superiors. There is a special terminal for flights to the U.S. The shock registered on his face when he saw that there were over 20 flights a day to Miami and New York. More flights than arrive at the domestic or international terminals combined. 

Ahh, but the beauty of Havana. The restored areas are precious. Beautiful architecture from so many eras, elegant mansions, town houses, palaces are everywhere. The Malecon and the Prado are long pedestrian walkways that are the lifeblood of the city. The nearby beaches with powdery sand and crystal clear water. Cubans are the same as in Miami, loud and boisterous and the city is alive with loud music, shouted voices and the desire by all Cubans to win the conversation.  Shy people don't have a chance in Cuba. Are they friendly? Not particularly, but either are Miamians or New Yorkers. City life is hard work, no more so than in Havana with it's shortages, red tape, lines and crowds. 

So I guess am glad I went. I accomplished what I set out to do. I met my in-laws (a non-event, because I took the grandson to them they didn't even notice me.) and it went well. I saw Cuba and got a better understanding of it as a place, which helped me to better understand my many Cuban friends, colleagues, and family.  I am reassured that my distaste for Fidel Castro and communism is not just because my government told me its bad, but because it is truly a stupid exercise in suppressing human endeavor and spirit. Finally it made me truly appreciate what we have here in America, a land without fear, which allows us to be all and anything we want to be.