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Who would have thought it? Obama is finally coming! As elegant and inscrutable as always, Josefina Vidal, General Director for the United States at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, announced the news a few days ago, giving rise to a barrage of viewpoints. There are those who have taken their stars-and-stripes banners out of mothballs fervently hoping that the day after the visit on March 21st prices will drop at the market and there will be three times the number of buses on the streets. And there are others who look upon it as a betrayal of their principles and so many years of resistance, completely forgetting that Obama isn’t going to land in a gunboat like Calvin Coolidge did in 1928. But in my opinion, I think that most Cubans see it in a positive light without harboring too many expectations regarding their ofttimes very complicated daily lives.
I have to admit that when I saw Ms Vidal giving us the news, a phrase came to mind that was uttered by Laocoön in Virgil’s Aeneid. My beloved Latin teacher, Calixta Peraza, loved to repeat it whenever we would bring her some presents on Teachers’ Day: Timeō Danaõs et dõna ferentõs” (I fear the Danaans, even when bearing gifts), which has been paraphrased in English as the proverb “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” Anyone reviewing the bleak history of US relations with Cuba over the course of three centuries and remembering Laocoön’s words of warning about the Trojan horse when he saw it will understand my suspicion.
Nevertheless, I prefer to drift towards optimism and I’d rather like to imagine that President Obama ,who was born in Hawaii and lived for years in Indonesia, would be able to feel some sense of identification with Third World island nations, such as Cuba, and that being an African-American, he would have an inclination to sympathize with peoples that are “different.” In other words, I like to think he would remember his compatriot Brigadier General of the Liberation Army Henry Reeve, falling in combat within the ranks of Cubans fighting for liberation from Spanish colonialism in the nineteenth century. Or that he would remember Ernest Hemingway who loved Cuba tremendously, even though, I suspect, he didn’t understand it so well. Or that he would at least honor his much-debated Nobel Peace Prize and lay the foundations for civilized coexistence between the richest country in the world and the small rebellious island neighbor which paradoxically has never been anti-US.
With so many illustrious visitors lately, from Katy Perry to President François Hollande, from Mick Jagger to Princess Caroline of Monaco, from Paris Hilton to Pope Francis, from ZZ Top to Patriarch Cyril, we Cubans are getting used to the glamour and to the adjective “historical” with which the press tends to describe every visit. Hopefully, the US President, who is so concerned about our well-being, will go on to dismantle the blockade—or embargo as they like to call it—at least to the extent of his prerogative along with its intricate maze of prohibitions, and that during his visit here he will be able to have genuine contact with Cubans “on the street.” Hopefully, those will be the voices he will listen to the most. To tell the truth, personally I prefer to think about the announced but not-yet-confirmed Rolling Stones performance. I have already taken my long flowery Indian skirt out of mothballs in anticipation of that event…