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    Havanans Await Obama with Anticipation or Indifference / Iván García
    Posted on March 15, 2016

    Ivan Garcia, 15 March 2016 — Sipping every now and then from a plastic
    bottle with murky spirits that brings tears to his eyes, Arsenio is
    trying to sell a collection of outdated junk and a handful of old
    magazines from when Fidel Castro predicted that the days of “Yankee
    Imperialism” were numbered.

    With two down-at-the-heels partners, they’ve thrown down a raggedly red
    blanket where they’re showing off their inventory in a doorway on Carmen
    Street at the corner of Diez de Octubre, in the Vibora neighborhood, a
    half hour drive from downtown Havana.

    A pair of worn out shoes, a cathode ray screen for a jurassic computer,
    and several Tricontinental magazines with phrased from Che Guevara
    manage to sell for 90 Cuban pesos (about 4 dollars) to an IT guy who
    buys used equipment to sell off the pieces.

    “But I had to cart off the old shoes as well, which I will toss in the
    first container, and the magazines, but at least I can use them for
    toilet paper,” he said.

    If Obama’s visit is a nuisance for some, it is the homeless who are
    swarming all over the city.

    According to Arsenio, “Every time someone important comes to Cuba, the
    police collect all of us who sleep in the streets and put us in a
    shelter in Calabazar (to the south of the capital). When Pope Francis
    came in September, they picked me up. Now it’s rumored again that they
    are going to ’clean up.’ The good thing is you get breakfast, lunch and
    dinner and a bath with a pressure hose. The bad thing is that it looks
    like a prison.”

    In tune with the upcoming visit of U.S. president Barack Obama, Havana
    is preening. Important streets are getting hurriedly repaved, state
    brigades are repairing leaks in the public sewers, and fumigating all
    the neighborhoods to control the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits
    dengue fever, Chikungunya and Zika (three cases of the latter have
    already been diagnosed on the island).

    So as “not to disfigure the ornament,” the homeless, alcoholics and
    mentally ill who live like Gypsies in a city that before 1959 was
    considered one of the most cosmopolitan in the Americas, they are
    “disappeared” for a few days, in the style of ethnic cleansing.

    They will not be able to see Cadillac One, the presidential limousine
    known as The Beast, making the rounds of Havana. Barack Obama’s visit
    has generated unrealistic expectations among many people. Too much, perhaps.

    Everyone, in one way or another, is asking for something. The
    olive-green autocracy wants Obama to end the embargo, return the
    Guantanamo Naval Base, shut down Radio and Television Marti, authorize
    the use of the dollar, allow tourism and approve millions in investments
    in state enterprises.

    The dissidence is not far behind. Some want to talk with Obama to take
    selfies and later hang the photo on the wall. Others, who approve of the
    US president’s road map, remind him that the Castro regime hasn’t moved
    any of its pieces.

    Opponents like Antonio Rodiles and Berta Soler expect a face-to-face
    chat with the White House chief, to tell him that negotiating with the
    dictatorship will strengthen the repressive mechanisms and offer him the
    example of the dissidents who are beaten every Sunday for peacefully
    protesting in a park in Miramar.

    Many ordinary Cubans, if they could, would like to socialize with Obama
    to tell him about their hardships. Which range from frivolities to the
    most absolute conviction that the Yankees should pay for the disasters
    in Cuba caused by the “blockade.”

    Roinel, with a degree in history, understands this national posture of
    constant requests and complaints. “The lack of institutional mechanisms
    to channel popular demands, living subsidized by the state, and the
    propaganda of almost six decades that the country doesn’t work because
    of the ’Yankee blockade,’ has made it easier for people to ask others to
    demand the government give them their rights.”

    Asking is a constant in Cuba. Of everything and everyone. For your
    relatives abroad to send you money, recharge your phone, and send you
    the latest brand name jeans or Nikes of Adidas.

    Nadine, a sociologist, can’t say with certainty when Cubans began to see
    themselves as victims. “I think it all started with the coming to power
    of Fidel Castro in January of 1959. Poorly paid work, collectivization,
    and citizen defenseless ness created people who demand more of others
    than they do of themselves. Literally, people without shame.”

    There is also a segment of Cubans, particularly among the young, who are
    only interested in the part of Obama’s visit that involves observing
    first hand the paraphernalia of the Secret Service and the deployment of
    innovative technologies.

    “It’s all the same to me what Obama says or doesn’t say. What I want is
    to see the gadgetry of his bodyguards and The Beast, that we only see in
    Hollywood movies or documentaries on the Discovery Channel,” says
    Yusnier, a high school student.

    And some are indifferent. Like Josefa, a housewife. “Is he going to cut
    the prices of tomatoes at the market? Bring an agreement to sell
    low-cost beef? Demand that Raul Castro increase the pensions of the
    retired? If so, his visit makes sense. If not, the only ones who will
    benefit is the government.”

    For some, Obama’s visit will be historic and a turning point in the
    future of the nation. For others, smoke and mirrors. And for the beggars
    like Arsenio, it is boarding a police bus heading to a shelter with
    three meals a day. But without freedom.

    Source: Havanans Await Obama with Anticipation or Indifference / Iván
    García | Translating Cuba –

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