Welcome, Mr. Kerry / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 16, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 15 August 2015 — In Luis García Berlanga’s impressive 1953
film, Welcome Mr. Marshall, the mayor, priest and townspeople of Villar
del Río await the visit of George Marshall, the American secretary of
state from 1947 to 1949. In the film, Marshall is believed to be
carrying in his briefcase a blank check, drawn on funds from his famous
plan, to promote the recovery of dictator Francisco Franco’s Spain. On
August 14, 2015, at eight-thirty in the morning, John Forbes Kerry, the
man from Obama’s team who is responsible for conducting US foreign
policy, landed at José Martí Airport in Havana.
It is yet to be seen what Kerry is carrying in his suitcase. It is very
likely he will not be coming to Havana just to hoist the Stars and
Stripes, have a few of mojitos and recite the usual mechanical speeches
and diplomatic niceties so common in modern politics.
According to some diplomatic sources, Kerry will be toting his verbal
shotgun, loaded with subtle rebukes to violations of human rights and
political freedoms by the Castro brothers’ military dictatorship.
Of course, he will also be selling promises: visions that a market
economy and financial capital will bring two hot meals a day and a
better quality of life.
It is suspected that Kerry will further deflate the US economic and
financial embargo with a package of new proposals. To make up for
brushing off dissidents and independent journalists, he will host an
afternoon event for a dozen or so opposition figures.
The move leaves a bad taste in the mouths of some in the dissident
community. Obviously, they do not expect Mr. Kerry treat them like
royalty. His visit is governmental in nature and the Cuban opposition,
repressed and harassed, is a loose bundle of associations and political
parties without a large base of supporters.
But at the same time they do not want to just have a chat in the
kitchen. This somewhat reflects the feelings of Antonio Rodiles and
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, who declined his invitation.
“I do not believe just having a polite conversation is enough to address
the serious and responsible debate we are seeking. That is why Berta and
I have decided to decline the US embassy’s invitation,” said Rodiles
said in a telephone interview.
Other invitees, including Manuel Cuesta Morúa and Miriam Leiva, will
attend. It will be seventy years since Secretary of State Edward
Stettinius, Franklin Roosevelt’s last foreign secretary, visited Havana
in the spring of 1945 and the first visit by an American
political heavyweight to the communist island.
Since the December 17 thaw, when both nations climbed out of their Cold
War trenches, congressional representatives, senators and members of the
American media jet set have been given tours of Havana.
The presence of academics, politicians and journalists — interested in
analyzing who the winners and losers are in the new diplomatic deal, or
in predicting whether the Obama doctrine’s new formula can establish
democracy in Cuba through investment, tourism, and mutual respect — have
relegated the voice of the street to the background.
As usual, Afro-Cubans are the big losers in this new environment, though
not through any fault of the White House. The political wariness of
President Raul Castro, who after eight months still has not implemented
a policy to benefit entrepreneurs or create economic opportunities, has
shifted the mood from anticipation to resignation.
The regime knows that it is entering uncharted territory. Reinventing
Marxist socialism after fifty-six years of economic disaster while
running the country as though it were a military barracks is no small thing.
One misstep and the fragile house of cards collapses. The general’s
government knows this, so it plays defense and lowers the shade. What is
at stake is the continuity of the Castro system and its grip on power.
To contain the erosion of five and half decades of economic follies, it
needs dollars and a legion of Yankee businessmen who can bring with them
a new Marshall plan. But in moderation.
This is why official media outlets, circumspect and dull as usual, have
barely covered Kerry’s historic visit.
On the afternoon of August 13, while television reporters commemorated
Fidel Castro’s eighty-ninth birthday, near the US embassy in Havana the
hustle and bustle of the national and international press as well as
heightened security measures were clearly in evidence.
Nearby streets were closed to vehicular traffic and Cuban flags hung
from some balconies. Area businesses, most privately owned, were also
“I can’t wait for Kerry to leave. I’ve gone three days without any
business,” says Julian, the owner of a small cafe near the embassy,
which will is closed from August 3 to August 18.
The bustling triangular park where people wait to apply for American
visas was deserted. There were only policemen in blue uniforms and
people in civilian clothes or on bicycles. Some foreigners tried to pass
themselves off tourists, but their physical build gave them away as US
Secret Service agents.
Around 9:45 am on Friday 14, fifty-four years after it came down, the US
embassy in Cuba once again hoisted the flag of broad stripes and bright
After the celebration, many jaded Havana residents with no future asked
themselves how improved relations with the United State will improve
their lives. They expect more of the same from the Cuban government.
Breaking through the wall of stagnation and gaining the trust of a
regime that focuses more on political and social controls that
generating a powerful middle class will be a formidable task for the
Meanwhile, the townspeople will be watching as the procession goes by,
just like in Berlanga’s film.
Source: Welcome, Mr. Kerry / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba –