Twenty minutes after I arrived at Jose Marti Airport No. 2 in Habana, Cuba, on Dec. 27, 2015, a 24-year-old young man told me that he was Cuban and that he was going to use his right to vote to remove Castro from office. He talked proudly of his 18-hour work day, his $350 monthly salary – comparable to the salary of doctors – and railed against Cubans who don’t work but receive food, education, housing and health care practically free. This may be part of the new face of Cuba, as the U.S. under President Obama and Cuba move relentlessly toward improved relations in spite of a stubborn Congress.
My fifth trip to Cuba was in 2013 as a member of the Richmond, California-Regla, Cuba, Friendship Committee. The delegation included the then and present mayors of Richmond, California, Gail McLaughlin and Tom Butts, plus eight others. (See “Richmond’s people to people delegation: How beautiful is Cuba!”)
We received red carpet treatment because of our years of work for the release of the Cuban 5 and promised their families that we would double our effort to free them. The Cuban 5 were released in December 2014.
This trip, Dec. 27, 2015, to Jan. 14, 2016, focuses on an Osha-Ifa Ilé Addé Yerí from Regla, the celebration of the 57th year of the triumph of the revolution, small business development and cooperatives. Osha-Ifa has a sub-unit called Proyecto Orunmila, a team of anthropological researchers and publicists.
The team has developed an “invaluable piece of history and identity that abridges a significant culture of endurance and struggle for survival of the African Heritage in Cuba in different fields such as 1) religious beliefs, 2) social behavior, 3) politics, 4) nutrition, 5) philosophy and 6) the family.” My commitment is to help Cuba by helping Proyecto Orunmila officially publish and distribute these important documents.
Since the “Special Period,” the 1990s, Cuba has been celebrating anniversaries in municipalities and homes instead of in large parks which could require great expenses of resources. Here in Regla, a municipality of 45,000 population, 15 minutes from Havana, the family I’m staying with in their Ile Osha or religious house passed the day quietly with great meals of vegetables, rice, beans, meat, papaya – which they call fruta bomba for the resemblance of this fruit with the artefact – and Bucanero, a Cuban beer.
The food was prepared by a young man from Mayari, a true Hombre Orquesta, or a multi-tasked man. Intriguingly, even the beaches such as Boca Ciega, Jibacoa and La Costa plus the surrounding luxury homes and hotels built for the rich before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and now open to all were quiet.
The first of January 1959, Commadante Fidel Castro Ruz told a gathering of thousands of people congregated in Parque Cespedes in Santiago: “Finally, we have arrived in Santiago! The road has been long and hard but we have arrived … The Revolution begins now. The Revolution will not be easy, the Revolution will be a hard business and full of dangers above all in the initial stages” (Granma, Jan. 1, 2016).
The story of our efforts to help Afro-Cubans start small businesses is more difficult and requires the selection of individuals with a business sense, training, financial support, trust, commitment, monitoring, hard work and sacrifice. Ernesto Janet, my partner here, and I are in discussion with home owners about converting private homes into tourist rental spaces, expanding a hair dressing business to include braiding and a Yoruba religion and cultural tour.
The title of this article is a quote on a large billboard in a municipality of Habana. The citizens of the U.S. must end the embargo against Cuba, the longest trade embargo in the history of the world, in spite of an indifferent and uncaring U.S. Congress. We will also take back our constitutional right to travel to Cuba at prices more reasonable than the prices I paid a charter air line service.
“Tell no lies; claim no easy victories.” – Amilcar Cabral
From Regla, Cuba, January 2016
Willie Thompson is professor emeritus of sociology, City College of San Francisco. Email him at [email protected]