23 March 2016
President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba was pretty exciting. It felt like all this history opening up into the future.
Obama is the first sitting U.S. President to set foot in Cuba in 90 years.
Hopefully this trip is the beginning step toward improving the lives of so many people – everyday citizens stuck in an embargoed economy, jailed dissidents, families split part – and also the sea.
Image: Google Earth
In America’s national consciousness Cuba seems so physically far away, as if the island country is somewhere way out over the horizon in radical leftist Latin America rather than 90 miles from Florida. Shit I could ride my bike there in a day if it was land.
Well the radical leftist part is true. The dark side of that is both Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were responsible for a lot of death and suffering. American pop culture idolizes Guevara without thinking deeper. Che t-shirts?! I’ve seen them all across the U.S.
But then, before we get on our high horses, we should know that the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship of the 1950s (see below), which Castro and Guevara overthrew in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, imprisoned and tortured thousands, and killed up to 20,000 people.
Smh back in 2003 I didn’t even know the real definition – or connotations – of leftist. In a Dallas Morning News interview I was quoted describing myself as a “leftist”.
It just flew out my mouth and raised eyebrows on people and funders all the way to Minnesota.
My stupid azz thought it was the same thing as just a liberal or left-wing person.
I’m a progressive who cares a lot about people.
Violence surrounds me on many levels and freaks me out.
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It’s crazy how close our two countries, the United States and Cuba, have been. You know what I mean.
The breadth and scope of the slave trade in Cuba, and US involvement, both of which are little known, sucks your breath away. The Atlantic knew many boats.
In the 1898 Spanish-American War, the U.S. and Cuba became partners. As the war succeeded and Spain was expelled, the U.S. seized and kept Cuban land at Guantanamo Bay.
The U.S. supported the 1950’s Batista dictatorship, then turned on him and helped Castro’s burgeoning rebels with an arms embargo against Batista, then after Batista was overthrown, and a brief honeymoon with Fidel, Fidel railed against “Yankee imperialism”, the U.S. decided it hated Castro, enacted the trade embargo, and through the CIA invaded the Bay of Pigs then tried numerous times to assassinate him.
I often think about a last split second before impact in a car crash.
In that very last moment, all those bodies are still as alive and intact as they ever were, hearts pumping, veins flowing, all that.
Before the “October Crisis” of 1962, the human world had never come this close to annihilation.
But all people had to do was not push the buttons.
And we somehow didn’t.
Everywhere, people’s hearts and veins continued pumping, cities woke up, people went to work, birds (well the ones not hit by DDT) chirped, all that.
Now with global climate change we’ve already pushed a couple of the buttons. Hope we can stop the rest.
And pro-Castro Lee Harvey Oswald slaughtered President Kennedy on the streets of Dallas in November 1963.
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On a calm day last May, 8 black and brown Cubans washed ashore in a little handmade boat of tin and wood. They had two wooden oars and a rudder made from a wood stick inserted into a cutout sheet of steel.
© J. Manos
I don’t know why I’ve sat on these photos until now.
The bottom of the rowboat was coated in a muck of water and black oil or tar.
© J. Manos
Something had leaked. It had to be toxic as hell. Their feet and legs had been marinating in that.
The small crowd of tourists and sunbathers who gathered and stood there staring turned me off. This one crazy white lady kept trying to shove red Twizzler licorice sticks at their faces.
© J. Manos
Yet as I passed by I lingered too, though much farther back.
The police, fire rescue, border patrol, showed up. All that.
© J. Manos
After their time on the Atlantic, the men had arrived in America with nothing but the clothes they wore. None had shoes. One had only a shirt and underwear, no pants. Another had only pants and a baseball cap, no drawers.
I felt like such a privileged First World King in my Adidas and Under Armour gear.
I’m not wealthy and most of my money has gone to my non-profit, but I’m sure not one of these men could imagine spending $25 on one shirt, even if it is “athletic fit”. They’d be like wtf is “athletic fit” anyway.
You can trust and believe there isn’t a Sports Authority in Cuba!
The sea that day had that low quiet roll where it only throws a hard wave onto shore at the last moment.
© J. Manos
I wondered about the day they first rowed out to sea. Did they leave from a cove. You know the Atlantic north shores of these islands have rough waves!
You know that Guantanamo, 500 miles from Havana on the dry southeastern coast and the placid Caribbean Sea, is not just a federal prison for terrorists and terrorist suspects.
Guantanamo Bay is a seized section of Cuban land and water that the U.S. uses for a naval base.
The island can be very mixed and multi-hued, but there are black centers. The town of Guantanamo is one of them. Afro-Cuban.
Jorge and Felix are from there. They are the two sports massage therapists I go to for hard, deep tissue relief on my year-long chest and bicep tear and shoulder injury. Either one beats my body out of pain for a while. Their education and expertise ranks with doctors here.
In the U.S. they’re only allowed to practice massage therapy until they get new schooling.
Cuba’s level of education, especially in health care, is very advanced.
A lot of the cod that were first caught off the once massively abundant but now devastated banks of New England and Newfoundland became salt cod shipped to feed slaves. Planters didn’t want to use any land for growing provisions. And the fish was poor quality. So many people died of malnutrition or starvation. Make that money!
Cuba in all its contradictions.
Writing in the Dallas Morning News last August, President Obama said: “At the height of the Cold War, with Soviet warheads pointed at all of America’s major cities, President Kennedy rejected calls to hasten a confrontation many saw as inevitable. He argued instead that strong and principled American leadership was the surest path to a peace “based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions — on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements.”
Also last October, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, Cuba and the US agreed to a “sister sanctuary” relationship between Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Guanahacabibes National Park to help fish migrating from Cuba as well as coral reefs in both countries.
As for Guantanamo, a recent Op-Ed in the rarified magazine Science called for the United States to “close the military prison at U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay and repurpose the facilities into a state-of-the-art marine research institution and peace park, a conservation zone to help resolve conflicts between the two countries … while helping meet the challenges of climate change, mass extinction, and declining coral reefs.”
Sunday evening it was raining in Old Havana as the First Family walked through the cobblestone streets and colonial architecture.
The visit almost had a brief magical feeling. I couldn’t put my finger on it, even as I objectively questioned, like I do, whether I was being manipulated by media.
Naah. People may hate, but President Obama has been the most exciting, accomplished and thoughtful president in my lifetime.
All of Cuba tends to grittily grab at our senses, pull at our edges.
Its colors, roughness, beauty, violence tied with ours, textures, humanity… we’re struck.
Photographers, artists and writers have never been able to resist.
In Florida, I don’t know what ultimately became of the 8 Cuban refugees. They were taken away by police.
© J. Manos
A lifeguard threw their 2 oars and rudder in the trash.
© J. Manos