This morning, there was little talk of baseball in the sports corner of Havana’s Central Park. As usual, residents from the area and interested passers-by who either can’t help getting sucked into the passionate debates or simply stop to hear what others have to say were hanging out there. Yet, the habitual bets in favor of a specific team or the comments and critiques about a particular player were notably absent from the debates. Instead, the topic of the day was the normalizing of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.
On the breakfast table, in cafeterias, commercial kiosks, and perhaps even along every street of Cuba, that is the topic of conversation. Wherever three or four people come together it is inevitable for yesterday’s unexpected flow of information to permeate any exchange and for a meticulous scrutiny of official declarations to ensue. “ Bro, it’s just that it’s been more than fifty years without diplomatic relations!” noted a veteran of Central Park’s sports corner.
In this area, where the old and new parts of the city meet, there is significant movement. The most important bus lines and many collective taxi routes begin or end here. From the latter group, a driver confessed that “the news has been received with a lot of joy. I think people are happy in general.”
A young pedicab ( bicitaxi) driver whose base of operations is on the corner of Prado and Neptuno streets has a similar opinion. But, just like the driver of that 54’ Chevrolet who shared his impression, he prefers to neither give his name nor, and this much less so, allow us to take his picture.
Beyond the sensation that something significant has now begun to move forward in a country where stagnation is the norm, and the joy of receiving truly novel news, incredulity is the common denominator. On the corner of Neptuno street five people commented among themselves: “Nothing’s going to happen, at the end of the day we are the ones responsible for what we have.” The phrase revealed a widely shared perception that the difficulties of living in Cuba are not specifically due to the fractured relations with our powerful Northern Neighbor.
“Nothing’s going to happen, at the end of the day we are the ones responsible for what we have,” said a neighbor
Some, however, are not as categorical. A woman – also reluctant to share her name – sat on a bench at the park on San Rafael and Galeano streets and spoke a little more. She does not think the recent news is that important “I believe what I can see, and I still don’t see any results. People like to talk without knowing. The lifting of the blockade doesn’t depend on us,” she said, referencing the shape that future developments between the two countries might take. In Old Havana, a fruit seller starting his workday does not “even know what to make of the news”. “They still need to sit and have a real talk. God willing, they will reach an agreement”, he said.
Back in Havana’s Central Park, the tone of conversations had escalated by mid-morning and what was most abundant were taunting speculations. As rumors grew so did more daring comments. Between jokes and laughs, ideas like “democratic elections” surfaced, while some pointed to the country’s old Capitol building, the future home of the Cuban “parliament.”
There’s just one problem, an evident and uncomfortable digression that occurred when the improvised forum’s participants notice that I have just snapped some pictures of them. One of them, worried, approaches me and asks if I work as a journalist. My answer scares him away. It is clear therefore that, beyond the speeches and the treaties, fear is one of the many things that needs to change in Cuba. But as so many of our interviewees said between incredulity and speculation: “This is a start, it’s a start.”