Loose in Havana, Gandalf and Elton John

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London has come to Havana. During this week of British Culture that is celebrated from the first of June in our country, even the climate has decided to be in sync with that of the other Island. Grey skies, drizzle, mist at dawn. All we lack is the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes sneaking around a corner or a magician knocking with this staff on the wood of our door. They are days of great music and a chance to appreciate unusual schedule in the movie theaters. Since last Tuesday they have been showing a selection that includes the 2013 Oscar winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, and also the biographical film Marley, about the life of the famous reggae singer and composer. The selection of cartoons for kids and teens will probably attract a good audience at a time when many are on vacation from school.

I have been enjoying some of the programming not only for me but also for many others. Especially thinking about those young Cubans , or forty years ago, secretly listened to an English quartet which the official media now play everywhere. The striking colors and the design of the poster for this “British Week” has evoked for me the iconography of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, and also the delightful adventurers in the Yellow Submarine. So some of us have also taken it as a tribute to those battered Beatlemaniacs from back then. These days, however, the greatest comfort comes from the window cracked open to let in this fresh air that comes to us from the outside. This gift of sensing that culture can make the Atlantic seem narrower, the passing years shorter, the losses recoverable.


18 thoughts on “Loose in Havana, Gandalf and Elton John

  1. During the decade of the 60’s, under Castro’s regime, the use of tie pants, long hair Beatles’ style and their music was considered an ideological deviation of the revolutionary principles. The young Beatle fans of that time were persecuted, expulsed from educational centers and send to the Military Units to Help Production (UMAP) forced labor camps along with dissidents, homosexuals, and other “scum” who had committed no crime punishable by law, revolutionary or otherwise.

  2. Marabu,

    Using Nick’s words, free education in Cuba is “complete nonsense”

    In Cuba, you get into college based on your connections, political record, and often bribes, which for women without cash, means sex.

    That’s also how you pass your courses.

    Sometimes you get in based on talent and marks, but not if you have a bad political record.

    If you don’t believe me, ask Fidel’s daughter, who took medicine in Havana and wrote how a professor accepted bribes to pass students.

    That was in the “honest days” of the revolution.

    Plus you need money to go to college. Many Cubans can’t go because they need to work and make money, just like under Batista.

    For about half of Cubans, going to college is impossible.

    At least under Batista, nobody was refused an education based on politics.

    Let’s talk about some of the real achievements of Fidel.

    I agree that erecting a statue of John Lennon is one of his greatest achievements.

  3. Don’t be coy, Nick, Rosa Parks was not the only thing that you mentioned about the USA, but you already know that.

    FYI, Rosa Parks was not the original woman to refuse to give up her seat on the bus. The woman who did was unmarried and pregnant at the time, so the powers that be decided that she would not reflect upon the black community in a positive way.

    Rosa Parks was a very brave woman, but you should know that her action was staged.


  4. Marabu,


    Leading figures in The U.S. Civil Rights Movement are indeed remembered and celebrated in Cuba.

    Rightly so.

    And Yes.
    Fidel was president for a long, long time & made many mistakes.

  5. Yes, Nick, I wonder if Cubans in Cuba commemorate Rosa Parks?

    By some historical coincidence, the blacks in the US gained the right to choose any seat on the bus approximately at the same time when Cuabans gained the right to free education.

    But Rosa was luckier then Fidel – she neve became a president, so she did not make the mistakes the presidents do. She will be remebered as 100% good while Fidel 50/50

  6. Anonimo,

    Mentioning Rosa Parks is not a dig at the USA.
    It is to mention one example of someone who did a simple thing and managed become a catalyst for a great change.

    I mention this wonderful lady from USA to illustrate how things always do change.

    There are bad rulings and laws in many places. They change. Times change.

    Dec 1st 1955. Amazing Grace.

  7. LOL, Nick claimed ,in another comment, that he does indeed criticize the UK, but he sure does get his (not so subtle) digs in at the United States, every chance that he gets.

    His latest comment, for instance, exposes a litany of suspected wrongdoing in the U.S., while we find out that “some stuff was banned in the sunny UK.”

  8. Help #4,

    Nope. It wouldn’t be a problem at all.
    In fact after now having read Yoani’s blogs, I might just do what you suggest.
    I’m often round that part of Centro Habana.
    I have some good old buddies there.

  9. Hi Mod….any idea about what’s wrong with the Spanish Blog ???

  10. The Beatles have been heard in Cuba for years and years.
    I think it was 60s/early 70s that they were banned. Crazy.

    That was an era when all sorts of stuff was banned in all sorts of places.
    For Example: Black people were banned from sitting on certain seats on the bus in parts of The Land Of The Free. Then of course along came Rosa Parks.

    Some stuff was banned here in sunny UK too.

    Cuba has apologised long ago and of course now there’s John Lennon Park in Havana where Old Fidel himself unveiled a Lennon statue a good few years ago.

    Paul McCartney (one of The Beatles not gunned down in NYC) paid a visit to Cuba recently to the dismay of some Miami hardliners.
    He was hanging out in Casa de La Trova, Santiago de Cuba listening to the toons.

    The Beatles were popular in the USA of course. They weren’t banned there. But I do recall John Lennon being under a lot of FBI harassment and surveillance and a long running legal attempt by the Nixon government to deport him due to his political viewpoint.

    Times Change.

  11. Beatles music coming to Havana, some 40 years later, represents “change” to you Marabu?

    How utterly pathetic.

  12. See, Yoani

    You claim that there is no change in Cuba, but in this post you contradict yourself.

    The Beatles were frown upon and their music banned in the 20th century, but the Yellow Submarine is welcomed and played in the 21st.

  13. Nick,

    Next time you’re in Cuba why don’t you drop in and see Yoani?

    That wouldn’t be a problem, would it?

    You’ll be there before she gets to England.

  14. What a lovely post.
    Yoani….What a positive start to my day.
    A big smile on my face.
    Gracias Mi Hija.
    What a pleasant contrast to the one eyed, dull and humourless ranting of some of your fans.
    Apologies that you have ‘our weather’ over there.
    (I’ll bring an umbrella next time.)
    We currently have bright blue skies here.
    Next time you are on your travels you’ll have to drop in and see us.

  15. Like Paul McCartney concert in Red Square in May 2003 before a crowd of 100,000, where the Beatles were previously banned by the Communist dictatorship, Bono will performed in Havana in a free Cuba in front of a much larger audience.

  16. Nick,

    If I am not mistaken, you and your countrymen have just received a huge shout-out from Yoani. Congratulations!

    You said in the last thread that you hope and believe a greater freedom of expression will occur in Cuba “over the coming years.” Over the coming years? Really?

    Why can’t that greater freedom of expression which you acknowledge does not exist in Cuba, come to Cuba right now? Why do you imply that this will take years to achieve? Why not tomorrow, Nick? Why not yesterday or the day before that? What are you afraid of?

    I’ll ask you again, what makes you so special that you have freedom expression and the people of Cuba do not? What sets you apart?

    Why, for example, is Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga imprisoned in Cuba?


    CNN BLOG: American jailed in Cuba to get checkup by U.S. doctor – by Patrick Oppmann
    Havana, Cuba (CNN) — A U.S. State Department contractor jailed in Cuba will be allowed to receive a medical exam from a U.S. doctor, a Cuban government official told CNN Wednesday.

    The family of Alan Gross, 64, for months had asked that they be permitted to send a doctor to examine the Maryland native who is serving a 15-year sentence for bringing to Cuba banned communications equipment as part of a U.S. government-funded program to promote democracy on the island.

    Gross’ family said that he has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration in 2009 and that a mass on his shoulder may be cancerous.

    The Cuban government countered that Gross receives medical care from Cuban doctors at the prison hospital where he is being held and that he is in good condition for a man his age.

    Jared Gensler, an attorney for Gross, declined to comment on the Cuban government’s allowing Gross to receive a visit from a U.S. physician or when the visit would take place.

    The change in course comes as Cuba has intensified its campaign to secure the release of Cuban intelligence agents serving lengthy prison sentences in the United States.

    Cuban officials argue that the men infiltrated hard-line Cuban-exile groups to prevent terrorist attacks on the island.

    But U.S. prosecutors called the men spies, and they were convicted in 2001.

    Four of the agents remain in U.S. federal prison. The fifth man, Rene Gonzalez, returned to Cuba last month after serving 14 years in prison and on supervised release.

    Gonzalez, who was born in Chicago, renounced his U.S. citizenship last month as part of a deal that allowed him to return to the island and not serve a final year of supervised release in the U.S.

    Cuba will continue to push for the four other agents’ release, Gonzalez said in a news conference in Havana Wednesday.

    “We have hope that if the American people know about the case, the facts, they will put pressure on the White House for a solution,” Gonzalez said.

    Last year, Cuban officials said they wanted to negotiate the jailed agents’ case along with Gross’.

    “The ball’s in their court,” said Johana Tablada, subdirector of the department that oversees U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. “We are waiting on the U.S. government’s response.”

    But U.S. officials have rejected calls for a prisoner swap, instead arguing that Gross did not spy during his visits to Cuba and should be released immediately.

    “Hopefully, a solution can be found that is mutually beneficial,” said Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, a Cuban organization working to secure the agents’ freedom. “All the families involved have suffered greatly.”

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