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In Cuba, We Breathe the World Cup

June 5, 2010 1 comment

The world is a football. With the end of the leagues on the old continent, people’s mouths are watering in Cuba. On 11 June, something great starts: the World Cup in South Africa.

Already in the sports clubs, they are setting up sweepstakes. Brazil, as usual, has the advantage in the betting. Mauricio, 32, a hotel worker in Saratoga, bet 50 convertible pesos that the Brazilians would lift their sixth World Cup.

“If they win, Dunga’s eleven will let me pocket 500 convertible pesos. A group of ten people each decided to go for our preferred teams. I know that Brazil is going have the upper hand,” he said optimistically, while preparing an Alexander cocktail at the bar of a downtown Havana hotel.

Spain and Lionel Messi’s Argentina are the other two great heavyweights that Cuban fans have fallen in love with.

The team selection of the mustachioed Vicente del Bosque, with his successful mid-field game and predatory strikers (such as “El Niño” Torres, “The Kid” Villa, and Pedrito, of Barcelona), has a strong likelihood of lifting the Jules Rimet trophy of beaten gold.

It’s now or never for Spain. Never before have they had much chance of being world champions. But Argentina is Argentina. And when you have a player like Messi with more than enough talent, it doesn’t matter that they have as controversial, unpresentable and pathetic a manager as Diego Armando Maradona.

Italy and Germany also have fans on the island. The Blues (the Italians) with their tough and nasty game don’t win any applause, but they are the reigning champions and are always a rival to watch out for. Germany has a rational and efficient team, like any product made in Germany.

The Germans seem like robots. Because they sweat, you realise that they are human. They run up and down, neatly, as if they were the military. The centre field players have the physique of NBA players and wingers thrash up and down the entire game. Watch them like German tanks.

The France of “Scarface” Ribery has supporters on the island, but not many. We also have the Clockwork Orange Dutch. They’re better than “The Tulips” — the team from Holland — but they lack that bit of luck mixed with a good pair of balls which is what brings victory in the end.

In Cuba, with a lack of good sporting events, we eagerly await the Cup. In these humid days, sports fans have nothing to watch on TV. The crazy ones on the patio dream that one day Cuba may be present in a World Cup. It will be difficult.

The football that is practiced in the green cayman is mean and coarse. Like eleven tough guys trying to play a violin. They look like wrestlers. They are athletes running around the court without rhyme or reason. Puppets who mistook their trade.

We will have to wait many years to see a national team in a World Cup. Since 1938, Cuba has not been involved. So the solution of enthusiasts of the beautiful game is to support any other team that takes part in the South African World Cup.

Habaneros, orphans of good football, bet on the concrete and magical touch of the green and yellows (the Brazilians), the magic of the white and blues (Argentina) or the compelling game of the red fury (Spain). They believe that any one of them could be the champions. There is no room for the others.

Iván García

Photograph: Aris Gionis, Flickr

Translated by: CIMF

The Transition of the Castros

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

A door has opened.  Slightly, but there are signs that something is moving.  The government of the Castro brothers asked for help in a very low voice.  And they decided to ask the Cuban Catholic Church.

The calculated strategy has its logic.  They had to look for a solution to the 21 years of lethal economic crisis as well as a dignified exit from the difficult internal political scene that has produced worldwide repercussions, starting with the death of the peaceful dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the marches of the Ladies in White, and the hunger strike of the journalist and psychologist Guillermo Fariñas.

The Castros have realized that one cannot permanently be immersed in a state of war and on various fronts at the same time.  Especially when the country urgently needs credits and investments in order to start the motor of economic productivity.  The brothers are not dumb.  If they continued buying time with patriotic discourses their roofs would come crashing down.

The economy does not understand ideology. It is a science. And it is screaming for reforms. Such reforms would serve to maintain them, or any future aspirants, in power.  Yet they took their chances with the Catholic Church which now, more than ever, is in need of credibility.

And cardinal Jaime Ortega happily accepted his role as a mediator between the Ladies in White and the government.  According to speculations, it was not an idea that was born from Ortega’s desire.  It was the Castros who served as the architects of an agreement with “those inconvenient ladies”.  When they would see them with their desire, their flowers at hand, and demanding freedom, they would set the streets of Havana on fire.

The negotiations could be a rehearsal for the future.  It’s likely that when the president Raul looks at himself in the mirror he will see the face of Jaruzelski.  And perhaps in cardinal Ortega’s role he will remind himself of Wojtyla of Krakow.

Both men want to make history.  They don’t want to be remembered as indolent and lazy people who did little to save the nation.  The government and the church are doing what they know how to do, in roles they prefer.  Important protagonists within a society in crisis.

They do not prevent the leaders from being afraid. They know that in that future that creeps up on us they will have to enter into dialogue with the internal dissidence and also with the exile.  The regime has not prepared its mediums for that option. However, sooner or later it will happen.

The first step would be to cease the escalating violent verbal attacks against those who choose to dissent.  Later, they must give the people more diversity.  Soccer in June, and beach vacations during July and August recess.

The task that awaits the General is a task of titans.  Reshaping the economy using unpopular shock methods. Stocking up the markets and improving the deplorable quality of life for the majority of the population.

And, overall, they must design a viable future.  It’s not an easy task.  For all of them it will be necessary to engage in political pacts with peace and concordance.  There is no other option left for the Castro brothers.  The role of the church as mediator is an initial strategy.

It’s true that they pay no attention to the dissidency.  But in the long run they are going to have to sit down at the same table.  The beginning of the dialogue between the government and the church could be the beginning of the end for the closed system.

Upon opening a space within society that would allow them to continue governing, the Castros are sacrificing a quota of power.  And that’s how we come to this marriage of convenience.

In sum, neither one or the other is left with much options.  The church because for 50 years it was more of an enemy than a friend to power, and their limited hopes have been reduced to just preaching in temples.  And the government because it wishes to continue running the country in the style of China or Vietnam more than that of Caracas.

Each person decides their own percentages of benefit or harm.  Many think that the government is digging its own grave by starting this transition.

I don’t believe it.  Perhaps Castro II will emerge even stronger if he triumphs in his role of “savior of the country”.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.