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Central America | Cuba

Havana / On the Cusp between Eras

sung patriotism & whispered criticism: torn in a changing nation

   Slow change is hard to pinpoint. It’s subtle. Transformation is a blurry wave, unlike the crisp ripple of a sudden revolutionary fist. Maybe it had been simmering for decades, but I guess ever since Castro handed over business to Castro in 2008, Cuba’s opening felt somewhat tangible. Rumor had it that the iconic, isolated island regime would loosen the policy grip on its people and that sooner or later there would be an old and a new Cuba, the before and after. Perhaps December 2014, the dawn of the Cuban thaw, marked the tipping point – the first act of the last wriggle, the stretching of a cocoon too tight, worn too long. Moving, shaking, no going back.

"Transformation is a blurry wave, unlike the crisp ripple of a sudden revolutionary fist."

So where was Cuba two months earlier, in October 2014, when I visited? On the cusp, I’d say, remarkably ambiguous and undecided. That Cuba was many things, and many of the things that Cuba was intersected in Havana’s streets and the veins of its inhabitants. Night and day, the island capital seemed both culture cocktail and cocktail culture, blending a delicious variety of tangy ingredients: songs soaked in local anecdotes, colorful dance dispelling drab despair, cars and architecture from another time and place, quintessential life lessons distilled from rum and rumor. The Cubans shared their drinks and tales generously. With their voices drenched in patriotism, they raved about life in the socialist reign under Castro, declaring the biggest Caribbean island loudly and proudly the most wonderful country in the world. It felt like they meant it. Then, hiding their words in an equally passionate whisper, they detailed the pitfalls of communism and the shortcomings of their government, lamenting their lives. And it felt like they meant it.

"The noble communist ideal seemed to delight the islanders’ hearts as much as its strict regalements tormented their souls, creating a collectively equivocal feeling."