Obama Is Surrounded By Symbols To Win The Hearts Of Cubans

Havana is preparing to welcome US president Barack Obama. (14ymedio)

Havana is preparing to welcome US president Barack Obama. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 March 2016 – He arrives on the Island on Palm Sunday, will attend a baseball game, and has already spoken by phone with the most popular humorist on the Island. Barack Obama’s plane has not yet landed and already he has stolen the hearts of a legion of admirers through a series of symbols. A meal in a paladar (a private restaurant), a phrase from José Martí in his major speech, and a mention of Cachita, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, would complete his upcoming gestures of enchantment.

On Saturday night Cuban TV broadcast a video in which the humorist Pánfilo called the White House to talk to the president of the United States himself. A masterstroke of the Obama administration, it thus placed itself miles away from Cuba’s powers-that-be, who lack any talent for laughter. Through the character of this old man who is obsessed with his ration book, the president of the United States addressed the Cuban people and did so in their own language.

This morning, for a few hours, people will put aside conversations about high food prices and complaints about the collapse of transportation, aggravated by the security measures that plague the city. On the streets there is a resurgence of jokes starring Pepito, the mischievous child of our folktales, who emerged from his long silence to laugh even about the great visitor’s mother-in-law.

Symbols are a part of Obama. For black and mixed-race Cubans his coming is a reminder of how remote the arrival of the Cuban president seems to some of them. Cuba’s historic generation, white and rancid, has ruled for more than half a century over the destiny of a people whose skin tones span the racial spectrum. In the poorest neighborhoods, the occupant of the White House has many fans, and in those same areas the popularity of the Plaza of the Revolution is taking a nose-dive.

The man who today will descend the airplane stairs with a firm step, trotting as usual, will present a strong contrast to the gerontocracy that dominates Cuba. In a country with a serious demographic problem, where the majority of young people dream of emigrating, this leader born after the events of the Bay of Pigs is read like fresh page in a history book with too many volumes dedicated to the past.

He is also coming, with his family, to a nation where we never knew who Fidel Castro was married to and where, for decades, his children were never officially presented in public. He will visit the cathedral in Havana and for his major speech on Tuesday they have chosen a historic theater, one of the few places on the island where ideology has not been able to remove its purely cultural connotations.

However, with each symbolic chord Obama touches in the popular imagination, he assumes a responsibility. The expectations are overflowing because Cubans want to cling to any hope that makes them believe the future will be better. The dreams of economic relief, the end of food shortages and improvements in the country’s infrastructure, are at their highest point this Sunday but have a short expiration date.

People want Saint Obama to work miracles. They have placed candles on his altar and said a prayer that he will bring them the prosperity promised by others for more than half a century. For many families, the most anticipated marvel is summarized in it being easier to get a plate a food, a desire expressed in the street with every possible rhyme that joins Obama’s name and the popular word for food: jama.

Thousands of parents across the country are putting on the shoulders of the visitor the responsibility of convincing their children not to leave on the rafts of despair. They believe that he will be able to stop this incessant flow that is bleeding the country, if only he manages to persuade them that a new Cuba is just around the corner. For the nine migrants who just died trying to cross the Straits of Florida, it is a chance that comes too late.

The marvel others are expecting from Obama is connectivity, as if in Air Force One the United States president will have brought the fiber optic cable that will lift the Island from the precarious state of its internet access. The man who has used social networks intensively in his political career is seen as someone who can do a great deal to sneak Cubans into cyberspace.

In the prisons, thousands are waiting for the president of the United States to achieve an amnesty. Opponents of the current government project major openings in political spaces and room for expression. In the hospitals, patients await the arrival of resources to upgrade deteriorating emergency rooms, and in the Cuban countryside expectation of access to machinery and seeds bears the face of Uncle Sam.

Obama arrives in Havana on the first day of Holy Week. Awaiting him is the glory of his popularity and the cross of excessive hopes.

72 thoughts on “Obama Is Surrounded By Symbols To Win The Hearts Of Cubans

    YOUTUBE: Joven cubano hace una protesta silente en La Habana – Joven cubano hace una protesta silente en La Habana porque el gobierno castrista le quitó el bicitaxi, único sustento de vida. La gente al ver la represión le gritó “BATISTIANOS” a los uniformados.

  2. The US Prez BHO trip was about hope for Cubans. A commentator said that the visit was symbolic, but that symbols are important.
    The even better news is that there are real opportunities too, even if change is still in the beginning stages and happening slowly…

  3. NBC NEWS: Voices: What The Rains Washed Away in Cuba – by Carmen Pelaez — Havana’s in such a state of disrepair that every rainfall leads to derrumbes, buildings that collapse on themselves, resulting in injury or death for its residents. They don’t topple over as it rains, they crumble once the sun bakes the compromised structures. But I couldn’t have expected what would come crashing down after President Obama’s visit. For decades the Cuban people have been told that Uncle Sam would storm the streets Havana, ushering back Cuban exiles who lived to to get their revenge. The regime insisted that the Cuban people ‘resist’ imperialist aggression at all costs, even that of their personal freedoms. Their propaganda was so threadbare it was transparent, but for those blinded by fear, it still carried enough weight to keep Castro Inc. afloat.

    President Obama stood at the podium as the bi-racial leader of the free world, a man that by all Revolutionary accounts shouldn’t be able to get anywhere in the US. and called the Revolution’s bluff by reflecting the beliefs of the Cuban people in his own history and experience.

    I watched from the ‘monument’ of Miami that Obama gave my grandparents credit for building, and I wept. I thought of what it meant to Afro-Cubans, the most disenfranchised members of Cuban society, to hear that the most powerful man in the world say that he was no different than them. I sat stunned at how he honored the the Cuban spirit that has always bent towards the arc of freedom by expressing how he believed ideals were best realized in a democracy.

    In less than an hour President Obama confirmed that the struggles Cubans had endured for more than 50 years did not have to define their future. If we believed in ourselves as much as he did, we could pull Cuba out of this black hole it had been lost in for half a century, thereby honoring the losses we’ve endured by insuring a future for our beloved island.

    The muted applause in the theater full of functionaries thundered in the hearts and minds of many Cubans around the world. With a confident smile and new swagger, the President headed out to meet with Cuban dissidents fighting for the very same ideals that he spoke about from that stage, proving words were nothing without decisive actions.


  4. The Castroit regime has asked for everything and obtain most of them, but the Obama administration so far has not been able to get any concession from the regime. If the U.S. would lift the embargo, mainly the regime ruling elite will greatly benefit from it, since it control all means of production, and the regular Cuban population will benefit very little from it.

  5. In Cuba, Prosperity is a Crime

    Michael J. Totten
    22 March 2016

    So Barack Obama went to Havana, the first time in almost ninety years that a sitting American president visited Cuba, and the first time in more than fifty that the Cuban government would even allow it.

    On Monday, his first full day down there, he said he spoke “frankly” to President Raul Castro about human rights behind closed doors. Most likely he did. But then the two men emerged for a chummy joint press conference. It looked a little unseemly, as if Obama was willing to whitewash the Cuban dictatorship in front of the cameras.

    It matters, and it matters a lot. If Cuban dissidents think the United States government doesn’t care about them, that it only cares about diplomatic relations and business deals with the dictatorship, they’re more likely to lose hope and give up. It’s a lot harder to overthrow or reform a regime that’s backed by the United States that one that is not.

    But if they see that the United States government does care about them and their problems, if they know that the United States will put pressure on the regime to get its boot off their necks, they’ll keep on keeping on. The government, not the dissidents, will clearly be on the wrong side of history.

    Tuesday was different. Obama gave a speech that was broadcast live on Cuban television to 11 million people. He spoke in the Great Theater of Havana, built in 1838 when Cuba was a rich country, long before the communist bulldozer immiserated the overwhelming majority. This was his chance to show everyone whose side he’s on, and he took it.

    “We should not ignore the very real differences we have about how we organize our governments, our economies and our societies,” he said. “Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state. The United States is founded on the rights of the individual.”

    Indeed. In Cuba, only the state has rights. Individuals are treated as the property of the state the way slaves were treated as the property of the plantation.

    Click link above for full article.

  6. Pingback: What the f*** is wrong with Obama? | I am Puddin'

  7. NY TIMES: Along With President Obama, the 21st Century Visited Cuba – By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
    It was a message that Mr. Obama delivered visually as much as verbally. In Cuba, where two-thirds of the population is black or mixed-race — and Mr. Castro and the vast majority of his government are white — a mixed-race American president embodied possibilities that most Cubans consider out of reach. Outside that theater and throughout Cuba, Internet access ranges from sluggish to nonexistent, and change is equally slow. The wounds that Mr. Obama spoke of are the defining grievances of Mr. Castro’s lifetime and that of his older brother, Fidel.

    At a news conference last Monday at the Revolutionary Palace, Mr. Obama was confident and in his element as he addressed reporters and fielded questions, while Mr. Castro, unaccustomed to such an exchange and apparently irritated with his translation headset, showed his age.

    “The iconic image was Castro getting all huffy about some pretty anodyne critiques of the human rights situation in Cuba,” said Michael C. Desch, a political-science professor at the University of Notre Dame.

    “The gestalt of the visit for Obama was very much ‘I know you’re on your way out, and I’m going to speak to the Cuban population about what the future looks like after you.’”


  8. THE STATE DEPARTMENT RESPONDS TO THE DICTATOR Fidel Castro’s MONDAY RANT ON CUBADEBATE ABOUT THE OBAMA TRIP @ 18:40 minutes ON THE VIDEO -U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT VIDEO: Daily Press Briefing – March 28, 2016 – Spokesperson John Kirby leads the Daily Press Briefing at the Department of State on March 28, 2016.

    Fidel reminds us:

    Obama made a speech in which he uses the most sweetened words to express: “It is time, now, to forget the past, leave the past behind, let us look to the future together, a future of hope. And it won’t be easy, there will be challenges and we must give it time; but my stay here gives me more hope in what we can do together as friends, as family, as neighbors, together.”

    I suppose all of us were at risk of a heart attack upon hearing these words from the President of the United States. After a ruthless blockade that has lasted almost 60 years, and what about those who have died in the mercenary attacks on Cuban ships and ports, an airliner full of passengers blown up in midair, mercenary invasions, multiple acts of violence and coercion?

    Nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this dignified and selfless country will renounce the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth they have gained with the development of education, science and culture.

    I also warn that we are capable of producing the food and material riches we need with the efforts and intelligence of our people. We do not need the empire to give us anything.


  10. I am an American and I have no illusions that my government is perfect or even close. I also have very deep roots in Cuba. Going back to the ten years war and through the Spanish American war my family there have given lives, land and money. In spite of the differences in both counties I hope that one day these great countries will have mutual respect and a lasting relationship. Recently there has been dialogue between these countries and a glimmer of hope, then Fidel opens his mouth. He will be a constant reminder of the struggle these two countries continue to have.

    WASHINGTON POST: Fidel Castro says Obama’s ‘syrupy words’ were enough to cause a heart attack – By Karen DeYoung
    President Obama’s “syrupy” words about brotherhood and shared history, and his call to leave behind the enmity of the past, were enough to give Cubans “a heart attack,” former president Fidel Castro said Monday in his first public response to Obama’s visit to Cuba last week. “We don’t need any gifts from the empire,” Castro wrote in a scathing article, addressed to “Brother Obama” and published in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party newspaper.

    Castro, after a long and somewhat rambling recounting of the failed U.S.-sponsored exile invasion of Cuba in 1961, and a critique of U.S. policy toward racism in southern Africa, wrote that he doubted Obama was unaware of the history between Cuba and the United States.

    He offered a “modest suggestion” that the American president reflect on that history “and not offer elaborate theories about Cuban politics.”

    “Each of us probably had a heart attack” while listening to Obama, Castro wrote. “After nearly 60 years of ruthless blockade. And how many have died from mercenary attacks on boats, in Cuban ports, on an airplane full of passengers that exploded in full flight, in mercenary invasions and multiple acts of violence and force?

    “No one should fool themselves into thinking that our noble and generous people will renounce their glory and their rights, and the spiritual wealth of our educational, scientific and cultural achievements.

    “I’ll add that we are capable of producing our own food and the material wealth we need from the labor and intelligence of our own people,” Castro concluded.

    The article, which was published in full on Granma’s Spanish website, did not initially appear on the English-language site.


  12. sandokan posts: “Havana Hides its Beggars”.

    I wish United States would, at least on the days when Raul or Cuban Ministers come to New York!

    500 000 Americans will sleep on the streets tonight.

  13. Pingback: Obama Jama | THE TEXAS SCRIBBLER

  14. In advance of Obama visit, the repression has been extended to the most defenseless and vulnerable. The Castroit regime police is rounding up beggars and forcedly intern them in facilities such as La Colonia, to keep them out of the view of journalists and others visiting Cuba during Obama’s visit.

    Obviously, the forced internment of these defenseless and completely vulnerable people is a gross violation of human rights by the Castroit regime that care mainly about its own political image.

  15. Havana Hides its Beggars

    Mayeta Labrada
    March 18, 2016

    For several days, brigades from the Ministry of Public Health are interning the city’s beggars in health facilities to get them off the street. (14ymedio)

    14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 17 March 2016 – Fixing up the Latin American Stadium and repairing the streets where Barack Obama’s motorcade will travel are just a part of the preparations before the coming of the president of the United States to Havana this Sunday.

    Nancy Navarro, a nurse at the January 1st Teaching Polyclinic in the Playa district, told 14ymedio that there was a meeting at her workplace to prepare a census of the people wandering around the city. The process also included an assessment by professionals specializing in mental health, who in the company of other technicians are responsible for picking up the beggars, “on the street or even in their homes.”

    A doctor from the Fifth Canaria Health Center in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, said that “seniors roaming the streets of Havana’s various municipalities will be interned” there. The employee acknowledged that she expected an influx of a little more than 200 elderly, “although this is a very high figure for the facility because it does have ideal conditions for sheltering them.”

    Yaneysi Rios, a doctor at the 14th Clinic in the municipality of Habana del Este, explained that many homeless people do not have family and need to be hospitalized for life. “It is up to us to see to these people who belong to our medical center, many are elderly and that have no family nor do they receive care from any parallel institution. In reality they need to be hospitalized for better care of their health,” she added.

    One of those elders who wanders around the city is Rogelio. He can be seen in a centrally located park in Vedado as well as in the remotest neighborhoods on the outskirts. “I’m retired from transport for more than 15 years ago and since then I collect cans in different places and in nightclubs. With over 42 years of work I have no place to live, so today I stay here and tomorrow there,” he said.

    Now he is trying to hide from the eyes of the police and medical teams who are inspecting the streets. He does not want to go to a detention center because he prefers “to have my independence.” Xiomara Kindelan agrees with him. Her 69-year-old brother was taken to one of those temporary centers while she wasn’t home. “Truly he roams” she declared, “but if they had told me to control him so he would not to leave the house for several days, I would have no problem, ultimately he is my younger brother.”

    Neighbors on Monte street, in the municipality of Old Havana, watched when employees from Public Health approached several people begging in the streets and put them on a bus. A worker from Community Services in the area said that since early Monday the raid has been massive: “I have not seen anything like it and I have spent years working here, anyone with the hint of a being beggar was forced on the bus, many are elderly people living in the area who have children and grandchildren who are dedicated to their care.”

    Reinier Lopez, a resident of Monte Street at the corner of Angeles, said he was angry because his grandfather was taken away “like a dog in the street… I do not agree with these actions, I am a trained young man and for five years I have devoted myself to my job, my house and caring for my grandfather who is 78. Now he is in a place for people with mental disorders it is not the right thing when you have family members who care for you,” he argued.

    Although these measures were never officially announced, some homeless migrated to more distant neighborhoods, while the families of others are hosting them temporarily until Obama finally says goodbye to the island and life returns to normal.

  16. FORBES MAGAZINE: Obama’s Apology Tour and Latin American Dictators – by Mike Gonzalez

    However, President Obama’s visit to Havana cannot now be understood without his sojourn in Buenos Aires.

    Here’s why: His words in Argentina cast his speech in Cuba in sharp relief. In Havana, the President offered but timid support for human rights in Cuba, devoid of any denunciation of flagrant abuses that continued to rage on the island even during his visit (and even swept up people he was supposed to meet). Yet in Buenos Aires, he strongly denounced an Argentine military dictatorship that dissolved more than three decades ago. The denunciation came, of course, with the requisite expressions of contrition over any possible U.S. involvement. But worse—much worse—is that, in Cuba, Obama asked Cubans to forget not just what’s happened in the past, but what it is happening right now. In Argentina, however, he wants to remember.

    In fact, on Cuba, the President seemed to be under the illusion that “reconciliation” is underway. He mentioned the word five times in his speech to the Cuban people.

    In the first mention the President said, “I’m hopeful for the future because of the reconciliation that’s taking place among the Cuban people.” But as the son of a cultural anthropologist, Mr. Obama must have recognized he was speaking during Holy Week to a nation that though officially atheist has been reared on the traditions of Roman Catholicism, one of whose seven sacraments is that of reconciliation—which involves both confession and penance.

    The Argentine military dictatorship lasted seven years, from 1976 to 1983. During that time 9,000 people disappeared, according to the National Commission on the Disappeared, in a country that is today 41.4 million. The Commission further estimated the “real numbers to range between 10,000 and 30,000.” The dictatorship rose as a response to the Cuban-backed Montonero guerrilla movement in the 1970s and ended while Ronald Reagan was president. Since then, Argentina has had democratically elected governments.

    Cuba’s military dictatorship has been in place since 1959 and has been run by only by two men, first Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul. They have taken a rich country and turned it into a pauperized command economy. The Cuba Archive Project, which meticulously records deaths and disappearances on the island, puts the number of dead so far at over 7,000, in a population that is now down to 11 million.


  17. ART NEWS: Lynn Hershman Leeson Is Making a Documentary About Tania Bruguera – By Alex Greenberger – 03/24/16
    During a recent talk at Brooklyn’s Light Industry held in honor of a new monograph of her work, Leeson unveiled a preview of her latest project: a full-length film about the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera.Leeson’s documentary is tentatively titled Tania Bruguera: A State of Vulnerability and will focus on the aftermath of Bruguera’s experience in Cuba. Bruguera’s political performances have been censored in her home country, where her passport had at one point been confiscated after she joined 40 activists in a protest against Cuba’s suppression of civil rights. (Bruguera has since gotten her passport back from the authorities.) The artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer put Leeson in touch with Bruguera’s sister, who then helped Leeson contact Bruguera. Because they felt as though their emails were being surveilled, they met in New York, where Bruguera came up with the idea to see Frank Ochberg, the psychiatrist who was on the committee that formalized the term “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Bruguera and Ochberg spoke for 12 hours, and Leeson plans to edit their conversation down to 75 minutes.“Tania feels that all of Cuba suffers from post-traumatic stress,” Leeson said. “They don’t know their rights. They don’t know how free they could be.” Leeson added that her film will also include other issues related to private and cultural forms of censorship.“She said so much in the film about the situation in Cuba that it’ll only make it worse for her,” Leeson continued. “But on the same note, if it gets seen a lot, it will protect her as well, in a way.”

  18. Who are Rolling Stones and why all that noise?
    Raul, a Festival of Revolutionary Music would fit Cuba much better!

  19. If it’s true that Fidel is still in charge, this rant shows how out how out of touch he is, and how fragile Castrismo is…


    CUBAN EXILE QUARTER: The British take Havana again: The Rolling Stones rock Cuba

    The British empire invaded and occupied Havana in March of 1762. They traded Havana back to Spain in exchange for all of Florida in 1763 and two hundred years later another British invasion, this time with rock n roll music, not military fleets invaded and conquered the world. The Rolling Stones were one of the shock troops of British rock n roll.

    Their music and presence banned from Cuba by Fidel Castro during their heyday in the 1960s through the 1990s only now when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 72, Charlie Watts 74, and Ron Woods 69 will Cubans be able to finally see them play in Havana. This is because the Rolling Stones came into existence in 1962, and the following year in Cuba that kind of music was forbidden.

    On March 13, 1963 Fidel Castro gave a speech were he openly attacked “long-haired layabouts, the children of bourgeois families,” roaming the streets wearing “trousers that are too tight,” carrying guitars to look like Elvis Presley, who took “their licentious behavior to the extreme” of organizing “effeminate shows” in public places. The Cuban dictator warned: “They should not confuse the Revolution’s serenity and tranquility with weaknesses in the Revolution. Our society cannot accept these degeneracies.”

    The punk rock band Porno para Ricardo summed up the old official attitude with the chorus from the one of their songs La Puerca Roja: It’s only rock n roll pero te molesta (but it bothers you)

  21. So the visit was a success, but what struck me most was the comment from Carlo Alberto Montaner about Fidel. Real change won’t start until Fidel is gone…


    CHRISTIANITY SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE: Cuba Baptist pastor arrested 21 Mar 2016
    Baptist pastor and prominent religious freedom activist, Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, was arrested on Sunday 20 March by Cuban state security agents, just hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Cuba for his official visit. Before his arrest, Reverend Lleonart Barroso told CSW that his home and church in the village of Taguayabon, Villa Clara Province, had been surrounded by police and state security agents since early Sunday morning.

    Following his arrest, Reverend Lleonart Barroso’s wife, Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez, was put under house arrest. State security continues to surround their home, where she and their two young daughters are locked inside and the authorities have cut her phone connection.

    The arrest of Reverend Lleonart Barroso, who is a member of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, came only a few hours after the violent detention of scores of human rights activists linked to the Ladies in White while they were on their way to attend morning Mass on Sunday 20 March.

    Before the phone lines were cut, Marcheco Suarez told CSW that she had been informed that Reverend Lleonart Barroso had been taken to the city of Santa Clara, where the authorities had refused to allow any food or liquids to be brought to him. She expressed concern for his health, stating that he was feeling very unwell over the weekend; his skin and the whites of his eyes had turned yellow and his stomach was distended, after a stranger pricked him with a pin while the pastor was riding public transport last week. No one from his family or church has been able to communicate directly with the pastor since his arrest.

    “Last night we began Holy Week, and my husband could not give the church the sermon he had prepared… we continue to do all that we can for him and for all the activists who woke up behind bars.” Marcheco Suarez told CSW

    “President Obama has an extraordinary challenge. He will go into history as the first US leader to either give a great boost to the old Cuban dictatorship, or he will be remembered as the one who found the antidote to eliminate it. For the moment, we will see if he, at the very least, vehemently condemns the human rights violations that this regime commits every day. For now, all I can say is that there was a huge contrast between Obama’s big smile when he arrived in Havana and saluted the lackeys of the system, and the repressive environment which the real Cuba breaths, something which I’m sure he won’t be able to truly appreciate in the short hours of his visit to the island,” she added.

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