He is Obama, Not God / Iván García
Posted on February 28, 2016
Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2016 — Neither American economic power nor
Barack Obama’s oratorical skills seem to be enough to satisfy
exaggerated, unreasonable or personal demands from the diverse group of
Obama fans who make up Cuban society.
The national psyche is fixated on the underlying and widespread idea
among Afro-Cubans that foreign money, investment and commerce can put
the madness that is the national economy back on track.
After class at Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a high school located in
Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood next to a steel mill, a group of
students are chatting. “Dude, I swear, when Obama comes in March, I am
going to ask him to buy me a pair of Nikes. My New Balance shoes are
worn out,” says a boy amid chatter and laughter.
A teenage girl in the sixth grade says she would like to talk to Obama
about “fixing the school, which is dilapidated, and getting me a
scholarship to study film in the United States.”
One might think of such trivial requests and fantasies as forms of
child’s play. But speaking in a serious tone as he skillfully maneuvers
through a series of potholes on Tenth of October Avenue, Antonio’s
comments suggest otherwise.
A taxi driver who works twelve-hour days driving an old car with a Ford
chassis, a Hyundai engine and a German transmission, Antonio observes,
“I think this visit will be very important. Obama will probably bring
some good things. The government is fixing the streets and replacing
vintage cars with new American ones.”
Giorvis, a bricklayer, would like the Obama administration to approve
temporary visas for Cubans seeking short-term employment in the United
States. “I have a cousin in New York in real estate. He tells me that
they need workers. If they allowed temporary employment in the United
States, people would spend a few months there and then return to the
island. I assure you most people would not want to emigrate,” he says.
If the government of Raul Castro were to open an office where people
could submit written proposals to President Obama, the number of letters
it received would be surprising.
Starting with Nora, a plump mulata who sells paper cones filled with
peanuts for a peso apiece at the bus stop on the corner of Ascosta and
Pey streets. She dreams of getting a small loan to repair her
dilapidated shack. Then there is Osniel, the owner of a cafe who wants
to import food supplies directly from Miami. Finally there is Sergio, a
first baseman on a junior league baseball team who would urgently ask
Obama to sign an aggreement between the MLB and the Cuban Federation to
halt the constant drain of players jumping the fence. In one way or
another, every Cuban wants something from Obama.
But Obama is not Houdini. Over the course of twenty-four hours he will
have to listen to the strident rhetoric of military dictators demanding
the return of the Guantanamo Naval Base, the lifting of the “blockade,”
billions of dollars in reparations and the closure of Radio Marti and
its television affiliate.
According to a Communist Party official in Tenth of October, the most
populous burrough in Cuba, “expectations are that there will be a huge
reception and that he will likely give a speech in the auditorium of the
University of Havana or the Palace of Conventions. But not in the Plaza
of the Revolution. Since it’s the symbol of anti-imperialist resistance,
that would be a contradiction. Although, given the times in which we
live, anything is possible.”
One sector that would also like to speak frankly with Obama is the
dissident community, if there is time in his schedule to meet with them.
Within the opposition there are a variety of views and differing opinions.
On March 21 in 2003 — the same day of the month on which Obama will set
foot on Cuban soil — Jorge Olivera, a poet and independent journalist,
was one of seventy-five dissidents sent to prison on orders from Fidel
For Olivera the visit by the U.S. president could mark a turning point.
“I hope he meets with members of civil society and the opposition, the
old and the new. At least that is what he has suggested in several
interviews. I am one of those who believes this could be a watershed.”
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White — a group of women whose
peaceful marches led to three-way negotiations between the regime, the
Catholic church and the Spanish government to free prisoners of
conscience from the Black Spring of 2003 — is more skeptical.
“On January 28 the Ladies in White sent a letter to President Obama
describing concrete cases of human rights violations by the dicatorship.
[These involve] assaults Sunday after Sunday on our marchers demanding
the release of political prisoners, harassment, theft of money and
property by authorities, and threats to family members. We have as yet
to receive a reply from Obama. Our group will approve of Obama’s visit
to Cuba if and when he meets with independent members of civil society
and the oppostion. Otherwise, Obama will be complicit in the
dictatorship’s violation of human rights,” says Soler.
One month before Air Force One lands in Havana and the stunning
presidential limousine known as “the Beast” rolls through the city,
Cubans have come up with every observation, request and piece of gossip
“They say an aircraft carrier and a submarine are coming as part of the
secret service detail protecting Obama,” says a craftsman who sells his
products in the capital’s historic district. “Several avenues will have
to be fixed just so the Beast can get around Havana. What we need once
and for all is food, construction materials and investments from the
U.S. that will benefit Cubans, not the government.”
According to some polls, the U.S. president’s approval ratings in Cuba
are higher than those of the Castro brothers. And he is more popular on
the island than in his own country. In spite of the complaints by
average citizens, dissidents and the government, Obama elicits positive
reactions among Cubans.
El Negro, as he is affectionately called by many here, could boast of
being able to fill a stadium or plaza voluntarily. But fulfilling a
litany of requests is another matter. He is Obama, not God.
Source: He is Obama, Not God / Iván García | Translating Cuba –