Cuba's digital destination
by Victoria Alcalá
Many people might wonder why all the fuss by the arrival of the Adonia at Havana Harbor, on May 1, 2016. After all, the arrival of cruise ships is nothing new in the Cuban capital (in 2015 alone, European cruises brought approximately 20,000 passengers). But the answer is very simple: it is the first one to come from the United States after more than half a century. Word says that it will come on a biweekly basis and this seems to be yet another sign that the detente announced by President Obama is possible. This, of course, fed the usual curiosity of Habaneros.
Fathom, the newest brand of Carnival Corp, the world’s largest cruise ship operator, first had to overcome the hurdle of a Cuban rule prohibiting Cubans born on the Island to enter the country aboard American ships (as a precaution against terrorist actions, which at one time were very frequent). But as a sign that the “times they are a-changin” also on the insular side of the old conflict, the Cuban authorities repealed the provision and 18 passengers born on Cuban soil arrived in Havana aboard the Adonia, including Carnival legal advisor Arnie Pérez who was excited to set foot on his native soil, which he left when he was only nine months.
The enthusiastic passengers seemed to confirm the prediction that soon the United States will become the second largest source of visitors to Cuba after Canada. An unprecedented 200,000 US visitors came to Cuba in the first quarter of 2016 (2015 had been the best year with just over 500,000 visitors). And US laws still do not allow tourism as a reason for their citizens to travel to the neighboring island. If tourism were allowed, around three million visitors are estimated to arrive from the United States. If that would happen, they would have to bring tents because the current installed state and private hotel capacity is not enough. However, I do know that new hotels are being planned and built right now.
Meanwhile, the future avalanche of cruise ships would give back to Havana (one of its main destinations) its status as a seafaring city, which over the centuries conditioned its image, the character of its inhabitants and even its music. As Cuban anthropologist, ethnomusicologist and scholar of AfroCuban culture Don Fernando Ortiz (18811969) wrote in his essays, the claves, an inevitable instrument to make Son and Guaguancó, were made since early days with wood from the then famous Havana shipyards. And the parentage of the music genre known as filin includes 1940s and 50s jazz, which Cuban composers of the genre came to know thanks to African American sailors arriving in the Cuban capital’s harbor.
The 561 people on board the Adonia were welcomed with Cuba Libres, the famous lahabana. com cocktail made with white rum, coke and a few drops of lemon (ironically, the invention of the cocktail is attributed to members of the US army of occupation on the island, from 1898 to 1902), effusive handshakes, and female dancers in leotards bearing the Cuban flag and performing a “very typical” choreography to the rhythm of “very typical” music—the only thing missing in the caricature were American cars popularly known as almendrones. To me it all seemed like a scene from Luis García Berlanga’s famous movie Welcome, Mr. Marshall! This unforgettable film tells the story of a small Spanish town that hears of the visit of American diplomats and begins preparations to impress the American visitors in the hopes of benefitting under the Marshall Plan. See what I mean when I say the reception reminded me of the movie?
Luckily, just a few meters from the harbor, the real Cuba awaited them—with its poverty, but also with its dignified and carefree hospitality, its splendid culture, its unique religiosity, its beautiful heritage cities, its bustle, warmth and light.