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    Cuba, a Country Frozen in Time

    Cuba, a Country Frozen in Time

    Havana — Never had a country appeared as old as Cuba did when it started
    to upgrade itself. The mad rush to develop serves only to confirm our
    comical, almost antediluvian backwardness. The New7Wonders Foundation,
    an organization that aims to preserve monuments worldwide, has just
    chosen Havana as a “wonder city.” In a strict sense it is, although the
    local residents struggle to believe it.

    Hordes of inquisitive foreigners are eager to step back into historical
    eras that are mostly extinct in other parts of the world. There are now
    nonstop flights by six airlines based in the United States, and the
    number will only grow.

    The theme park that is Cuba is an insular museum, stuck between the Iron
    Curtain and the industrial capitalism of the 1950s. The symbols include
    the already insufferable classic Chevrolets, the Singer sewing machines,
    the General Motors refrigerators, the Lada and Moskvitch cars, the
    Aurika washing machines, the matryoshka dolls, the military and party
    propaganda. It’s likely that not many Cubans, promised a chance to move
    somewhere better off, would pass up a chance to leave Cuba as it is,
    untouched, frozen in time, covered in soot and light, varnished with
    that curious and appealing patina of an era in which surviving, however,
    is so terribly difficult.

    Those travelers who are booking tickets on state-approved nonstop
    flights to Cuba should be advised: “Fear not. Buy your tickets with all
    the calm and confidence in the world that nothing has changed.” The
    resources we Cubans have drawn upon to modernize ourselves, and all the
    good news that has transpired in the last few months since relations
    with the United States were renewed, have failed to alter the status
    quo. So there’s nothing to fear. Havana is not quite yet turning into Dubai.

    For Cubans, this results in the annoying experience of being viewed as
    something like an exotic species. The national mood seems to contain and
    define us, and keeps us on a short leash.

    Forget the misleading suggestions of progress: the gimmicky Chanel shows
    on Havana’s Paseo del Prado; the filming of the pyrotechnics for the
    film “Fast 8” on the city’s scorching streets (badly paved and
    practically unnavigable several days before); the Rolling Stones
    concert; or surprise visits by Usher, Katy Perry, Rihanna, the
    Kardashian clan. None of this is harmful in itself, but it is extremely
    uncomfortable when the political aristocracy’s flirting, if not
    downright prostitution, is set against the lack of civil liberties and
    the accelerated deterioration of public services.

    That the cultural ambassadors of pop, rock and fashion are visiting us
    is an unqualified signal of our continuing to be what we are, what we
    have almost eternally been, not of our being something else, new and
    different. The first day that not a single celebrity visits us after
    this period of euphoria will be the first day of our new lives.

    The only substantial flurry of activity in the country is in the parks
    and public areas where the government has created Wi-Fi hot spots so
    that ordinary Cubans, filled with wonder, can talk for the first time
    with loved ones abroad. In video chats, Cubans see the faces and
    recognize the features of a grandchild or sibling not seen for the
    longest time, before the image freezes up.

    I sit in a sidewalk doorway while I log on to a park’s Wi-Fi to send
    this article to my editor. That park is a shameless buzz of voices that
    know nothing of privacy, of others’ space, of reserve, of embarrassment.
    There’s almost a party going on, a tiny, fun revolution. Some shout. All
    expose their intimate problems to anyone willing to listen — their dirty
    laundry, their most trivial of yearnings. The medley of shameful
    intimacies that families keep to themselves is available for public

    On Sunday afternoons, the park again resembles — either because of the
    availability of Wi-Fi or in spite of it — a park at the turn of the 20th
    century, where townspeople would gather to talk, to court, to stretch
    their legs.

    Last month, in his opening speech at the summit meeting of the
    Association of Caribbean States, held in Havana, President Raúl Castro
    boasted of his excellent mental and physical state at 85. Then, to
    eliminate any doubt of his intentions, he said that regardless of how
    his health was, he would hand over power on Feb. 24, 1918. That was no
    gaffe, as twisted minds might think. Mr. Castro did nothing but cleverly
    suggest the course he is charting for our country. If the historical
    tide prevails, and Cuba continues moving inexorably toward its past,
    another century of autocratic rule awaits us.

    Carlos Manuel Álvarez is a Cuban journalist. This article was translated
    by Victoria Treviño from the Spanish.

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