Exciting atmosphere. It’s 2:10 in the afternoon and outside the Yara cinema, right in the heart of the central 23rd Avenue, there are hundreds of people with T-shirts, caps, flags and scarves for the Spanish and other countries.
Most of the fans are young students from the nearby University of Havana, who wait, biting their nails, for the second round match between the Spain of Iker Casillas and the Portugal of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ubaldo Arias, 23, who studied this last year for a career in philosophy, is at the front of group supporting the Red Fury. Dressed in shirts of “Guaje” Villa, Fernando Torres and Xavi Hernandez.
They chant slogans. They are convinced Spain will be the new world champions. Some dark guys with their “canary” green and red mock them.
Arias and his band enter laughing, while fraternizing they tell them, “See you in the final.” There is still a stretch of competition. But the expected Spain-Brazil duel for the title is a real possibility.
A few minutes later the line forms. They start to sell tickets at two pesos (10 cents in dollars). The theater looks like a mini stadium. It’s full.
On the big screen they’re showing the last game with Lithuania. The room erupts with the racket of a thousand demons when the mustachioed Vicente del Bosque appears getting off the bus at the South African stadium.
The fans are chanting the names of the eleven Iberians, when they emerge on screen. “Ole, ole, ole Casillas, ole ole Tarzan Puyol, ” and so on until the 23 Spanish players get off the bus, on this island where it usually takes baseball to get most Cubans to their feet.
Since they started the second round matches, the theater management, ICAIC and the Institute of Radio and Television has the bright idea of showing the games on the wide screen.
People appreciate it. No alcoholic beverages are allowed inside. The various loyalties are discussed with passion and respect for the firm support of their different teams.
It’s true that Brazil, Argentina and Spain steal the show. But there are also, on the island, many rooting for The Netherlands and Germany. The good mood engulfs the bewildered tourists, who watch the enthusiasm with which Cubans enjoy the World Cup.
Latin American students are given their turn at the Yara cinema, to support the teams of their preferences. They are the coming generation. It could be the World Cup of America.
Four teams in the quarterfinals and a hunger for glory. It is not only Brazil and Argentina. Uruguay knows what it is to raise a cup and look askance at Julet Rimes’ trophy. Paraguay wants to make history.
But first they have to pass through comfortably placed Spain. While reaching the quarter finals, the different gangs enjoy the beauty of their triumph and suffer when their eleven goes tearfully back to the locker room.
No one can deny the good mood in the Yara. When David Villa scored the winning goal against Portugal that sent them into the quarterfinals, those in attendance, about two thousand of them, deliriously shouted GOOOOOOOOOAL.
At dark, many embraced. They jumped and shouted, “SPAIN! SPAIN!” These are the good things of football. The worse, the annoying high pitched noise of the vuvuzela. I don’t know how they managed to appear in Havana. But before such an event, someone passes them out. A World Cup is a World Cup.
Photo: Kaloain Santos
Summer vacation is here. This means joy for children, adolescents, and young adults. But many parents will have to take some aspirins. If they managed to save some money in the moneybox during the last year, like 45-year-old Mario Guillen, then they might withstand the blow.
Guillen, a steel mill worker who works 10 hours a day in a factory on the outskirts of Havana and dedicates his free time to making steel windows and doors, is a cautious man.
When he shattered his red piggy bank, he counted 438 convertible pesos (that is nearly 330 dollars). Sitting with his wife on a humid and rainy night towards the last days of June, they made some plans.
They have two sons, one is 10 and the other is 14. Both are on summer vacation from school. Guillen and his wife made their plans a month ago. “We are thinking of taking our kids to the theatre, to the theme park, a quality restaurant, and the pool. No beaches, they have told me that with oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico there have been numerous predatory marine animals that have migrated to our shores”, his wife, Mariana, worriedly states.
Rumors of fierce sharks and giant seals circling around the coasts off the beaches East of Havana really worry the parents. According to specialists and the official press, all these rumors are false. But some parents still harbor these fears.
The Guillen couple will also purchase provisions for the two months of vacation that their sons have. Now, instead of feeding them once a day, they will need to also be given lunch and snacks. “We’ll have to get some pork meat on the black market, in addition to fresh fish and chicken, rice, beans, oil, ham, sausages, and powdered soda. We’ll spend nearly 150 convertible pesos (120 dollars) on that,” points out Guillen while he makes calculations on his old Chinese-made calculator.
At least the Guillen family has enough money to plan their kids’ vacations. But if you ask Rogelio Ortega, a black man with huge eyes and a protruding belly, what recreational plans does he have for his 5 children, he’d stare back at you as if you were a strange creature.
“Same as always, lots of television. The boys could go play baseball or soccer on the streets, without shoes though, so they won’t ruin the few they already have. As for the girls, they’ll have to help their mom and grandma and play with their dolls. If I get my hands on some money, I’ll take them to the coast on a random weekend so they could go for a swim between the rocks,” he explains in a very calm manner.
“You are not scared of a possible wave of sharks?”, I ask him. Ortega pats me on the shoulder and says: “Those sharks are gonna have to be scared of my kids instead. If they see it close to them, it’s most probable that they will probably eat it, fin and all,” he says while laughing.
Families like that of Rogelio Ortega are already familiar with what summer vacation means. More of the same. TV, one meal a day, and the kids having to deal with it whichever way they can. Their finances don’t produce enough for any other option.
For Junior Mendoza, 20, a university student, vacations just mean work. “My parents don’t have the resources, I usually end up working in whatever clandestine job I can find for those two months. Sometimes I end up working at a cafeteria, an illegal cigarette factory, or even selling clothes and pacotilla (cheap merchandise). I’m the salvation of my family during the vacations,” points out the young man with a piercing on his right ear.
For now, the World Cup serves as entertainment for the majority of Cuban families. When June 11 comes around the series concludes, then that’s when the good stuff starts. An abundance of worries, lack of money, and lack of provisions. The government promised a wide variety of recreational options. A wide billboard announcing TV programs, including 55 new series and nearly 500 films. There will be sales of books, parties, fairs in public squares, and even some food offers.
Those who were able to save some money, like the family of Mario Guillen, will be aware of such events. Those who don’t have even a cent, like the smiling Rogelio Ortega, could not care less about what they offer for the 2010 vacations. For his family, summer is not a special event. On the contrary. It is a headache.
Photo: johnhope14, Flickr
Translated by Raul G.
There is still a labyrinth of parliamentary procedures. But the U.S. Congress is considering authorizing the travel of its citizens to Cuba. The measure appears to have great potential for adoption.
Already the Castro brothers are sharpening their teeth. If the gringo politicians say yes, cash registers will overflow with dollars. Let the ‘bucks’ (dollars) we are waiting for come, it could mean the government of the island!
And how needed they are. We know that the Cuban economy is not even treading water. For 17 years, since they legalized the possession of dollars in 1993, in large part, the emigrants, the despised ‘worms’, as Fidel Castro liked to say with some rage, are those who have kept the impoverished economy from sinking.
Yes. Its more than one billion greenbacks a year are the lifeline of a regime that has always been repulsed by the “American way of life.” The United States is public enemy number one for Fidel Castro. But there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since 1959.
And while you stir the guts of the old guerrilla commander, in this 2010, the land of Stars and Stripes is the leading seller of food to Cuba. Also their NGOs are the ones who provide the most help. And Cuban-Americans, are an important segment of the people who come to go sightseeing and spend hard currency.
The embargo is a fossil of the cold war. A joke. It only served as a pretext for Castro to maintain his authoritarian policies and to deny a handful of essential freedoms to his people.
It always had more holes than Swiss cheese. While Castro, the one with the beard, shouts himself hoarse in any public plaza, talking about what the country suffered because of the”blockade,” while hard currency shops and cafes sell Coca Cola and Dell computers.
For the rest, the world condemned the prohibitory and unilateral policy of Washington to Havana. It is healthy that the administration of Obama reconsiders. And demolishes all the scaffolding mounted on a stage that many years ago said goodbye.
Cuba is no longer a prodigal and conflicting son of the former USSR. Let it be known, Latin American and African guerrillas are not training in military camps on the island, to create pockets of civil war in other nations.
To not allow U.S. citizens to travel to the island was a major folly. It brazenly violated their rights. The champion of democracy and freedoms could not afford such nonsense.
Either way, Americans who wanted to, could come to Cuba through a third country. More than 50 thousand per year, according to reliable figures. Although they feared the Castros.
If the embargo ends and travel is allowed he will continue ruling with an iron fist all who oppose him, and then the eyes of the world will be on an anachronistic and undemocratic regime.
Already the local mandarins have tried out a few variations. If the Yankees take their foot off the accelerator, it could be that the Cuban government, kicking the ball back into Obama’s court, might make some mid-sized changes, maybe even some profound ones.
Those who govern our destinies do not believe in representative democracy. But will do what they have to do to stay in power.
No wonder that during the stay of the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, in the coming days, they will release 52 political prisoners from the Black Spring of 2003. As a reward for Spain’s Socialist Party, a faithful friend through thick and thin. And as Spain will be able to claim the laurels, it will not appear that such releases have been conditioned by the possible openings from Obama’s government.
With that, the Castros will kill two birds with one stone. They get the international pressure to ease up a bit, and incidentally, unlock the European Union’s common position. That fox Moratinos knows a thing or two. He already said there could soon be some surprises.
This summer brings a three-way political game. United States, Spain and the Cuban Catholic Church, which is chosen by the government to serve as mediator in the conflict with the Yankees and the release of political prisoners.
The brothers from Birán need peace and some leeway to implement a series of tough and unpopular ecnomic measures to get the country out of the hole created by bad management. If tomorrow the Yankees land in Havana, it won’t only benefit the managers of tourism. It will benefit the Castros, too.
And, of course, the Cubans who live on the informal economy. And there are many. Gringos putting dollars into the hands of private homes for rent and buying illegal tobacco boxes. Whores chasing after the blong guys, tall and unmarried from America, they might even propose marriage.
As I write this note the news still hadn’t run from mouth to mouth, but the neigbors I talk to receive it with great joy. Even the married and ex-military party militant. The happiest, the private taxi driver who brought me to a hotel and the waiter who served me coffee while I connected to the internet.
The two gave me an opinion that I happen to share: “If the Cuban government wants the Americans to come en masse, they’re going to have to eliminate that diabolical 20% tax on the dollar.”
Otherwise the Yankees are going to keep on visiting Punta Cana.
Photo: Patricio Bridges, Flickr