Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama / Iván
Iván García , 22 June 2016 — The park at Galiano and San Rafael is a
beehive of activity. At one end, several teenagers play soccer, using a
school desk as the goal, while 50 men and women are connecting to the
Internet, sitting on wooden benches or the ground.
Conversations with relatives or friends mix together. Here the wifi is
confined exclusively to talking with family through IMO or chatting on
Facebook, the island’s new virtual drug.
Of course it’s also used to flirt with a foreigner, commit camouflaged
prostitution or request money from a cousin in Hialeah. Darío, an old
man of indefinite age, among the hubbub and heat, sells salted peanuts
at one peso a cone.
The peanut seller remembers that three months before, on Tuesday, March
22, a disproportionate police deployment in the park scared off the
hustlers, prostitutes and marginal people.
“It was already known that Obama was going to give a speech in the Gran
Teatro of Habana, on Prado between San Rafael and San José, beside the
Capitolio. The whole zone was taken; I never saw so many security guards
together. In the neighborhood they said that Obama was going to walk
along the San Rafael boulevard and talk with the people. The police let
pass only those who lived around there. They told people to remain at
home,” recalls Darío.
Erasmo, who resells Internet cards, comments that “on that day the
businesses were basically quiet. Throughout Central Havana there wasn’t
a prostitute, drunk or beggar scavenging food in a garbage bin. I went
up to the roof with a friend, and with my mobile phone, I recorded the
moment when The Beast — Cadillac One — arrived at the San Cristóbal
paladar [home restaurant], on San Rafael between Campanario and
Lealtad,” he comments, and he shows his video as evidence.
“I’m never going to erase this from my phone. This was the most
important day of my life,” Erasmo adds.
After crossing Galiano, the multi-colored, narrow streets of San Rafael
are less agitated. Ruined shells of buildings, women always selling
something and a swarm of private shops.
Roger, nicknamed “El Pali”, is an extroverted, talkative guy who sells
bananas and meat in a State agro-market on the corner of San Rafael and
Campanario. He confesses that he’s an “excluded.”
“I was a prisoner in the U.S. Then I was released, but I went back in
the tank for a robbery in New Jersey. In any event, I’m more American
than Cuban. Before they sent me back to Cuba I was in the U.S. for 22
years. I even have a son over there. The day the President arrived,” —
his work buddies laughed their heads off — ” I planted myself on the
balcony of a friend’s house with an American flag and yelled in English.
I don’t know if Obama heard me, but before he went into the paladar, it
looked like he saw me on the balcony,” said El Pali.
On the same block where the private restaurant, San Cristóbal, is
located, there are seven small family businesses. Barbara rents out
rooms, and in a narrow apartment which looks out on the street, Sara, an
old retired woman, sells freshly-ground coffee. Just in a house next to
the paladar, a poster indicates that the president of the CDR resides there.
“But the woman never does anything. She also was with the neighborhood
people at the party, getting drunk with those who came to see Obama,”
says a blond in denim shorts and rubber flip-flops.
In the doorway of the San Cristóbal paladar, at 469 San Rafael between
Lealtad and Campanario, the doorman, a corpulent negro dressed in a red
shirt and dark pants, is on the hunt for clients with a menu in his hand.
But his excessive prices horrify the average Havanan. A plate costs
around 30 dollars. And a good mojito, six. “Eating there can give you a
heart attack. But you have to go with a suitcase full of money,” says a
The doorman, friendly and relaxed, was there on the night of Sunday,
March 20, when Obama’s wife, two daughters and mother-in-law went to
dine at San Cristóbal.
“There was tremendous intrigue in the neighborhood. The zone was full of
police. In the morning some gringos came and told Raisa and Cristóbal,
the owners, to reserve all the tables, that some American officials were
coming for dinner that night. No one imagined that it was Obama. I saw
him from the same distance that I’m talking with you. The President and
his wife shook my hand. I went for a week without washing it,” he says,
Ninety days after Obama’s visit, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés’
business has benefited. “A lot of foreigners want to sit at the same
table and eat the same meal as Obama. Thanks to Saint Obama, the paladar
is always full,” affirms the doorman.
Walking in a straight line down San Rafael, leaving the boulevard and
going down the busy street of Obispo up to Oficios, in a small garden at
the back of the Rubén Martínez Villena municipal library, Michelle
Obama, her daughters, Sasha and Malia, and her mother, Marian, planted
two magnolia bushes.
“The magnolia is a shrub that survived the epoch of the dinosaurs. An
American told me that the variety planted belongs to the Magnolia
virginiana. On the morning of March 22, I had the luck to see the First
Lady and her daughters when they came to plant the flowers. I was very
happy, since in the late afternoon on Sunday the 20th, it rained a lot,
and I couldn’t see Obama at the Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral,”
relates Alberto, a used-book seller in Old Havana.
Michelle Obama, a sponsor of the Let Girls Learn project, on Monday,
March 21, joined a dozen students in the Fábrica de Arte Cubano, on
Calle 26 at the corner of 11th, Vedado. The meeting barely was mentioned
in the press, and it wasn’t possible to identify any of the young women
Although the trivialities and the sensationalism caused by President
Barack Obama’s travels throughout the world also affect the people of
Havana, many think the most impressive part of his visit was the speech
he gave in the Gran Teatro de La Habana. And they are sure that after
March 20, 2016, Cuba will not be the same.
Martí Noticias, June 20, 2016.
Source: Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama
/ Iván García – Translating Cuba –