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    Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama

    Three Months Later, The Residents Of Havana Still Remember Obama / Iván
    García

    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
    neighbor.

    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,
    smiling.

    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
    participants.

    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 –
    translatingcuba.com/three-months-later-the-residents-of-havana-still-remember-obama-ivn-garca/

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