First, there was an accomplice rain that intensified as the presidential plane taxied down the runway after landing at the airport. The initial image that Cubans had of the president of the most powerful country on Earth turned out to be a gentle and solicitous father, holding an umbrella to protect his wife and daughters from the cloudburst as they descended the plane’s steps together, while offering his hand in greeting and a wide, warm smile to the welcoming group.
Shortly thereafter, around six in the afternoon, during his televised visit to the Cathedral in the historic center of Old Havana, the first cheers were heard from the humble people in the surrounding neighborhoods, expressing their admiration and affection towards the visitor. The links of militants of the single party and other faithful of the Cuban regime were not adequate to avoid real contact between Obama and the people: this charismatic leader seems to exert such a natural power of seduction over the crowds that it causes them to upend the blockade of the official control.
The scene was repeated when Obama went to the Ceiba tree at the Templete, one of the symbols of the capital’s traditions, and later, when he unexpectedly dined at Restaurante San Cristóbal, an eatery located in the popular district of San Leopoldo, in the heart of Centro Habana. Soon, word that he was in the area spread, and immediately, a crowd spontaneously swarmed around, just to see and greet the American president. “Obama, Obama, Obama!” chanted a crowd of all ages, while the presidential car and his accompanying entourage retreated to the Malecón, and a smiling and happy Obama waved through the window.
It is clear that the 48 hours that Barack Obama will be among us are going to be more loaded with adrenaline than the Cuban authorities had anticipated. Now it seems obvious that, while high-level visitors, popes, presidents and others, have always complacently adhered to the script prepared by the choreographers at the Palace of the Revolution, the man in the White House has his own agenda, which he’s determined to carry out. It is clear that, though Obama will condescendingly participate in the official part of the altarpiece he’s required to perform, he is determined to feel his way around the Cuban people’s beat for himself. No one should be surprised if at some point he suddenly appears in the central courtyard of some dilapidated rooming complex in Havana.
In fact, the talk in Havana is Barack Obama’s daring appearance in the comedy show with the greatest TV audience in the country, Deja que Yo te Cuente, with Epifanio Pánfilo as its main popular character, played by comedian Luis Silva. No doubt it is the most original way he has conceived to reach every household in Cuba, and Cubans are fascinated with that perspective. The natural and easy way Obama has chosen to mingle with Cubans contrasts stridently with the distant and hardbound historical leaders and their claque. It is known that autocrats not only remain isolated in a world that is unattainable for the ordinary Cuban, but that they also don’t know how to smile.
By now, Obama’s detractors here and yonder must be tasting their own bile. It turns out that the US President’s visit to Cuba is not really “legitimizing the dictatorship,” but those who some in the media have taken to calling “ordinary Cubans.” One can also imagine the bitterness and the powerlessness of the gerontocracy, that arrogant “historic generation,” witnessing Cuban’s sincere show of affection and admiration for the highest representative of what was, until barely fifteen months ago, the enemy Empire that hated us and was trying to smother us.
Two full days remain to see how many and how unforeseeable are the cards our visitor has up his sleeve, but one may ask if we should expect other surprises. Without a doubt, today’s emotions let us expect that, this US presidential visit to Havana leaves no room for doubt, even if only to show the world how much Cubans approve of the newest White House policies towards Cuba. It constitutes a resounding success for Obama.
Translated by Norma Whiting