Most bakeries in the humble neighborhood of La Timba could barely provide customers with baked goods this Monday. The security operation surrounding the Plaza of the Revolution for the US President’s visit to Havana prevented several workers in these state facilities from getting to the area during the morning. “With Obama, but without bread,” said an elderly woman who tried her luck at several places and went home with an empty bag.
Traffic was cut off on several major arteries and the Cuban capital on Monday was characterized by clusters of journalists everywhere. With each gathering, people speculated that soon the president’s car, known as The Beast, would come down their street. No one wants to miss the opportunity to get a picture on their mobile phone of the Obama family, which so far has generated very good feelings among Cubans.
“The eldest daughter is wearing sneakers,” marveled Yusimí, 36, who expected the dignitary’s family to be “more formal.” It has been a surprise and generated a lot of popular criticism that Raul Castro did not participate in the reception at the airport. People comment on the street that the US president held his own umbrella to protect himself from the rain, while Cuban officials relied on their sycophants to hold theirs.
The Cuban Art Factory in Vedado was surrounded by a hubbub this morning in advance of a visit by First Lady Michelle Obama. Word spread among the neighbors and in a few minutes the nearest streets were filled with onlookers. The presidential entourage set off spontaneous reactions of joy, despite the poor coverage on official TV of the American president’s visit.
“I had to come by way of Cerro Avenue because Boyeros Avenue is closed,” comments a man with a suitcase trying to get to the interprovincial Coubre Bus Station from Astro Station, a few yards from the Plaza of the Revolution. The collective taxis have also altered their routes to avoid the restricted areas.
“I had to go by interior streets, which are full of potholes because they didn’t fix them for the coming of Obama,” complains Rodney, driver of a deteriorated Cadillac that makes the trip between Fraternity Park and the Playa district. Several of his passengers in the car also criticized the closure of the shops and markets near places the occupant of the White House is expected to visit.
Residents of San Leopoldo, near San Rafael and Lealtad Streets, where Obama ate last night at the San Cristobal paladar (private restaurant), still couldn’t get over their astonishment. “He came here, to this neighborhood, which is not Miramar or Old Havana, said an astonished Xiomara, a flowerseller who heard the shouting last night and went out onto her balcony to find, “a ton of brand new cars.”
The menu the family asked for in the private restaurant is also the talk of the neighborhood. “A sirloin, m’ijo,” says the woman. “In this block there are children who have never eaten beef,” says Xiomara. The cup from which the president took a sip of Cuban coffee should “end up in a museum,” she says.
The choice of the restaurant, away from the most exclusive circuit, caused people to feel warmly for the president who so far has won the favor of ordinary people. However, his presence has paralyzed a city where it is already complicated to get around and buy food. “It’s making me crazy!” a woman shouted midday at the corner of Carlos III, after waiting more than an hour for a bus.