Witnessing the crisis of their neighbor and ally Venezuela, Cubans express their memories of the ‘’Special Period’’ (Período Especial) of the early 1990s, when Cuba lost Soviet Russian endorsement, as the USSR disbanded. Cuba then entered panic and financial crisis, hit by sudden scarcity: an abrupt situation, entirely the opposite of the sudden rush of freed capital and consumer-culture that characterized the liquid 1990s for many capitalist Latin American countries (they would only later experience such a crisis in 2001.) A time of plenty collapsed into a brutal struggle on all levels of Cuban society, having to evolve a new Spartan creativity after the loss of the Russian benefactor. (At least Moscow forgave Cuba’s Soviet era financial deficit—can we say the same of Puerto Rican debts owed to the mainland after the Caliban tempest?)
At the radio news of the death of Comandante (it feels like yesterday) an entourage of prosperous Miamians— Cuban exiles—made global hideous headlines by dancing in celebration. And last year, in 2017, the same macabre ensemble made news once more. Like a bad merengue orchestra, whose off-key sound and vain shriek rile the listener. They came and danced again, on live TV, this time in worship of the real-estate mogul turned primetime president Trump, lauded as their defender against tyranny.
A Cuba-Libre-lobby of vengeful entrepreneurs in Miami and other cultural metropolises like Orlando, Weston and Fort Lauderdale regularly use their own plenty, acquired by business, to celebrate the scarcity, brokenness, and state of struggle caused by a blockade-embargo against their own people across a sea-stretch.
The lobby is only one segment of Cuba’s diaspora. Yet that part of the exile population embodies the main pillar of support from the Floridian peninsula for an archaic blockade. When the leadership of the Miami Cuba lobby jeered celebrating Trump’s signing a pact to reinvigorate the Embargo, in what is marked on the calendar as Anno Libido Dominandi of 2017, they also made art-history: their dance recalled Francisco Goya’s Black paintings of hysterical and cruel witches partying in a consecration. (Spain was hysterical, when Goya went about documenting with aquatint what no narrative nonfiction journalist of century 21 would be able to capture.)
Resentment of their own island was not the sole motivation for hysterical embrace of Trump. Until Obama ended the ‘’wet foot, dry foot’’ policy granting automatic residency to Cuban immigrants in the United States, they had known a state of exception, for past decades having been mostly exempted from the brutal treatment afforded to most Latin American and Caribbean immigrants to the USA. Obama, who within his 8 years surpassed the deportation tolls of Clinton and Bush combined, had announced “With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws”. 
Deigning to strip Cuban immigrants from privileges that had distinguished them from the rest of the ‘’Latinos’’–the group most aggressively hounded by the immigration-police, and most cajoled against by hawks on both sides of the US bipartisan spectrum and especially by Trump and Ted Cruz—threatened many of the Cuban immigrant community in the US. Unlikely they will fare any better in the shadow of Jeff Sessions.
The Spanish-speaking audience of the gala event, the welcoming committee for the mogul who owns one Trump Hotel and a golf course on Puerto Rico, and who naturally hopes to open another in Havana in competition with military-owned hotels, saw no irony in their warm reception for the hoodlum winner of the 2016 US election. ’’Buenos días’’ they sung, and ‘’Viva’’, and played Celia for him. They shook maracas for him like scepters hailing the great stellar pimp from TV. Perhaps another Trump Hotel in Guantanamo is on the horizon…
From the Miami lobby’s Cubans, only veneration for Primetime TV’s primal screamer—the same one who roared calling all Mexicans, meaning all of those born to the South of the Tex-Mex border, gang rapists (or promiscuous and violated women—the stereotype of the Latina). They glorified the hoodlum; their dark lips sung his praises.
In the sand-bagged, dead deal, annulled by Trump on live TV to the Rolex-breaking applause of the Cuban Miami Lobby, Washington had promised to relax a long history of fiscal collective punishment towards Cuba in exchange for Raúl Castro’s promises to tolerate startups of private enterprise. The collective punishment of blockade was redirected to Cuba’s former ally, Venezuela: run of the mill Divide Et Impera. Today, Venezuela simmers under conditions that typified the ‘’Período Especial’’ crisis of 1990s Cuba. The EU and US tighten sanctions, collectively punishing a population, denying exports of medicine—thereby, creating refugees. Refugees denied asylum or entry the EU and USA. How farcical, the ‘’solidarity’’ with the opposition… When Venezuelans suffer sanctions that inevitably bring to mind the embargo on Cuba, when the PSUV attempts to shutter borders with neighbors, the present-day sanctions on Venezuela are arguably harsher than Kennedy’s measures against Cuba: for Venezuelans who leave, cannot expect residents rights or a ‘’wet foot, dry foot’’ immigration policy should they flee.
Brussels screams of ‘’Solidarity’’ while imposing sanctions barring refugees from coming to Europe. No ‘’wet foot, dry foot’’ this time. Only the solidarity for Syrians (bombs and stricter borders) outdoes the warmth of Western compassion for Venezuelans.
Cold symmetry perfects the face of a global deportation regime: like in Europe, where maritime police fence in the Syrian refugees on Mediterranean islands, similarly the Venezuelan refugees are currently arriving en masse upon shores of islands that function as European overseas territories, Caribbean former colonies like Aruba, Curaçao and British islands near Venezuela. There, the Venezuelans meet deportation by brutal island patriots. The island authorities, behind their masks of island nationalism continue enacting the guard-duties of colonial postilions.
Colonialism’s Game of Mirrors in the Caribbean Sea, between sister islands Puerto Rico against Cuba.
The Museum of the Revolution in Havana, with exhibits made opaque by the bodies of milling tourists, tells a story from not long after the Revolú, when Cuban athletes went to Puerto Rico to compete. Pro-Battista former landowners, exiles settled on Puerto Rico, picketed in the auditorium. With the resentment of sports hooliganism, the expropriated Cubans of leading business families stood up in the rows, forming the bully-pulpit they unrolled large banners saying in English they crowed ‘’Russians Go Home!”
Like mirrors flashing sunrays, the Cuban-Rican felon-banners attempted to defocus and throw off the spear-throwers and runners, to unnerve their morale. But the sunned island Russians, strangers to snow, won. Against banner and blockade and a million strange and funny games and the exploding cigar (torpedoed by the CIA into the bearded commander’s cedar box of Montecristo’s or Cohiba’s) Cuba endured.
‘’BACK TO MOSCOW! RUSSIANS GO HOME!” they chanted against the suspect island-Russians, who had never seen snow. Other Cubans called them out as impostors, counterfeit Cohibas who’d robbed them of their nests, exiling them to Boricua.
The black Russians, and the Havanan whites of melodious bones who’d never tread snow, heard ‘’go home to Moscow’’ accusation so psycho it must have been exhilarating as aguardiente(‘tooth of water’’ ‘’burning water’’) in an imaginary winter.
Where they Russians? (I would have loved to hear that accusation from dark lips on dance-floors—being the one unsmiling Russian child of the Caribbean—go home Russian thief! Stop stealing our jennies!)
They struggled and prolonged their own existence, balancing their doctors’ needles, their poetry books at prices affordable to the cleaner and waiter; their vinyl records lacerated by beach sand-grains and the voice of Silvio Rodriguez as he remained a socialist even after run-ins with persecutors from among the rigid Marxist bureaucracy. The achievements of the Cuban revolution are much more, infinitely more than a cheap Castro-Fidelity to awe the Western Leftists’ T-shirt and accessories’ sales departments.
They contained and upheld their project the way a fisherman pulls up the wooden contraption with a rolled rope net and keeps the catch. The fish-school treasure lasts a fortnight, given by the sea-goddess who goes by an Arawakan or an African or a European name. They resisted Orkan, whose name in every Western language is from the first inhabitants of the hurricane-torn islands. The priesthoods of the Caribbean and the area of today’s Bogota called a human sacrifice a Quihica: word that meant a door, portal to another world.
The embargo was put there to thwart, ever since JFK signed it: the island was not to be an example to the other coral reef republics, other rum-republics, who must never hope to have more industrial manufacture beyond rum and cigars.
Formerly the island colonial laboratory offered what Kissinger’s Realpolitik called ‘’The threat of a good example’’. In that model of propaganda, PR served to convince other islanders in the Caribbean that it might be more attractive to be a colony of the USA than to follow the revolutionary examples of Cuba or of the crushed Grenadian revolt. Surely convincing. On the Dutch colony island Aruba, many ascending Arubans flocked for years to Puerto Rico and Miami in the hope of escape, a dream of ditching the Dutch colonialism in exchange for becoming a US colony. Ah, to be an archipelago, selling souvenir handicraft pieces of American séance-Dream to tourists
The Jones Act compensated for American Business’ loss of the Cuban market: under it, Puerto Rico may only buy US imports, rebalancing loss from the export-ban on Cuba. (Even smaller islands like Aruba had resisted violently in the late 1970s when such monopolies, confining islanders to imports from only the market providing by a (former) colonial power, were imposed.)
For the US embargo’s designers, withdrawal of the blockade is meant to happen only when the last bastion of 20thcentury socialist experiment is withdrawn. While Obama promised to relax on Cuba—thus gaining the sympathy of that population as ‘’first US prez with a bit of swing in his step’’—he also imposed more punitive austerity on nearby sister-island Puerto Rico. The melodrama of post-Cold War that took place in Europe decades after the Berlin wall, had its late echo in the Caribbean. Obama sought to resolve these loose ends of the Cold War, using salesmanship and rhetoric about ‘’equality’’ to even out the map of Fukuyama’s much-mocked End of History. By undoing those last nodes of Cold War fault-lines, he brokered the expansion of American triumphalism to the last recesses of exception.
After the end of Cold War, Puerto Rico, like many other social experiments tolerated by the West, lost part of its function. Puerto Rico had been a competing experiment, a US colony serving as counter-example to the sister-island Cuba. PR and Cuba are mirror-islands with cultural semblances. But in the U.S. colony, islanders had a right to consume, and to acquire certain enviable aspects of a North American ‘’way of life’’, the spiritual identity of the United States spelled out in its iconic brands, countering the Cuban project which US imperial intellects and Cuban exiles regarded as a ‘’Russian’’ island, Soviet outpost. Boricuans and Cubans, two exceptional Latin American nations, were spared that pitiless, near-martial immigration policy, La Migra, the gringo’s baton reserved for all other Latin American immigrants heading North-bound.
Puerto Rico, or Boricua in the Tayno-language, was always known as that sister-island of Cuba, turned into the laboratory-colony of the USA and an island-pawn in the Cold War. (Case in point: to this day, Puerto Rico appears to be the one part of the Latin world where in conversation on sports the word ‘’soccer’’ will pop up interjecting itself in the Spanish, instead of ‘’futbol’’, so as to avoid the confusion between football and the space-gladiator game of the Superbowl, its rules incomprehensible, cold to the rest of us earthlings.)
Following the end of the Cold War, Puerto Ricans could no longer be afforded the same treatment as a valuable good example of American consumerism, of accessible San Juan shopping malls full of muzak and capsules of American dream for the colonized. Obama’s support for the regime of creditors on Puerto Rico emboldened the G.O.P’s popularity, while reinforcing a status of uselessness and obsoleteness for the island in the Post-Cold War imperial plans. This echoed how Columbus’ cartographers once named smaller Antilles ‘’Islas Inutiles’’ on 16thcentury maps.
Gravity vs. the Caiman
Cubans explain their island has the shape of a caiman, a cousin of the crocodile. Some live upon the head, other on its tail. But that shape could also be that of an anvil, these days without the hammer and sickle of a Russian benefactor.
The island in the shape of a caiman has held its breath for 40 years. When will the blockade fall? How could the West have spoken of the fall of iron curtains, and then kept this one iron curtain, the blockade, oxidizing and cutting the toes of the island people while sermonizing to their need for freedom? What is the revenue the bastards and patent office made on that Miamian concoction, the mixed drink ‘’Cuba Libre’’? And where’s the crystal river of agua ardiente (literally, ‘’burning water’’) liquor, promising forgetfulness and severance, adding melody to melancholy?
In Cuba, a heaviness reigns. Dancing to son-son and drinking the rón and aguardiente help little to undo it.
The gravity of Cuba presses more upon the shoulders and head-tops of its dwellers than the gravity of sub-sea-level Curaçao and Aruba—the latter, minor islands I know well, having been born and raised there; these share the culture of that Latin American part of the Caribbean, beginning at the Caribbean coasts of Venezuela and Colombia.
The Europeans came to put the burning tobacco of Holguin’s fields to their mouths. The first human inhabitants of some parts of the Americas had priests who favored the binding, in some places of not-so-far Mexico even trepanation of skulls, making a hole in the soft skull of a human child who would then continue to live and grow afterwards, like a circumcision of the cranium. The first tools found in Holguin, in Easternmost, mountainous Cuba, resemble earthenware daggers—multi-purpose knives and idols at once, with a built-in face of what could have been an anthropomorphic godhead.
Gravity is more intense on the major island of the Antilles. Perhaps owing to the island’s mountainous elevations. A pressure comes from the sky, enters the lungs, grinds against the old colonial and modernist architecture of Havana and sits also upon the daintily painted, well-kept pagodas of Vedado on the coastline along the Malecón.
Despite the lightness often attributed by outsiders to the Caribbean, those who do not know or see the Caribbean’s blatant melancholy, it becomes undeniable when scouting the cities and villages ranging from Santa Clara to Holguin. They were built, and rebuilt, upon the surface of an immense mythological anvil that stood on a rock above sea-crests navigated by Galileo fishermen who sail in small motorboats from Isla de la Juventud. Nickel factories with obsolete machinery belonging to another era achieve what Western bourgeois art galleries only pretend at. Pressure comes from outside, a punishment maybe, for not having participated in the brutal wheel of ‘’renovation’’, a renovation that capitalism tells us is Progress, when old products expire and must be replaced by new, alienated designs, like the Darwinian evolutionary mutations of insects.
True progress is not necessarily ‘’renovation’’: the latter often means the renovation of packaging, to sell the same products, the same practices, discarded values and ideas anew at a higher price. An intellectual from a different and faraway island, Sardinia, had written eerily ‘’When the old does not die and the new cannot emerge, then we are living in the time of monsters.’’ The new does not necessarily mean ‘’the latest’’, the recent, or the chorus of the young. An outsider to the Caribbean who wishes to criticize the Cuban system would claim the obsolete status to be unique; when, in fact, most Caribbean islands, one way or another, inhabit another era, though not necessarily that era of ideologies—the Caribbean lives in a state of ‘obsoletion,’ in many parallel baroques. Even on prosperous half-colonies like Aruba, or like the affluent parts of Puerto Rico during the 1990s, underneath the consumerism and its ornamentation, everything remains antique, still in the time as if bitten by the Stonefish or the Basilisk, a mythical creature that stuns. In that stunned state, I find beauty.
In the slowness and bureaucracy, in the Caribbean corruption where an agile tongue and social savvy gains favors and products yielded to the doorstep by the political party, I do not see an ideological failure or an exception: I see the typical politics and problems of Caribbean islands neighboring Cuba. European and American critics have always avoided looking at context, the immediate surroundings of the island, comparing Cuba to themselves, instead of to neighboring, unknown islands, enigmatic Antilles.
In Cuba, despite the many ‘’time machine’’ dream cars, old pre-revolutionary Fords bright as bright dreams, observed by the tourist as beautiful picturesque throwbacks, I see a dynamism that is absent in many other parts of the Caribbean. Polemical conversations and a battle of ideas, outside the parameters of the daily Granma newspaper, go unreported by the Western media. The Western media is not limited to large corporations: academics from the USA and Europe come to the island armed with either a naïve and deaf solidarity, or with progressive values masked as critique that carry the agenda of profiting from further colonization of the island and deconstruction of the inhabitants. The academic explorer from the politically correct university campus embarks to Cuba, the island of ‘’Old Left’’ narratives and values, armed with the scalpels and instruments of a new left that lost its core commitments, and instead seeks only evidence for the failure of the old grand narrative of the Left and of modernism. The aesthetic of farce and parody are only permitted aesthetic of subversion within Western mainstream societies where art, philosophy and literature are controlled by a unanimous academic discourse that accrues financial capital on private university campuses, occasionally dispatching missionaries to the third world. Such visitors, lacking all but the hard jungle hat, quickly find themselves overwhelmed by what they encounter: profanity and a local belief in ‘’the religion of art’’ more intimidating than the rites of Santería; by penniless audiences for classic music, by the absence of a dystopian caricature; by big butts of all known pigments and by politically incorrect speech, by creoles and a mixture that defies the suffocating compartmentalization of the first-world’s identity politics. The island has a stronger, caiman-toothed identity politics that lashes with its caiman tail against the towering hospice-for-the-young represented by North American corporate identity politics. The visiting academics struggle, reduced to thrashing asthmatics by the sudden withdrawal from the high-speed Internet they continuously must consume at home or on the road. Humbled by the high intellectual level of the people from a different upbringing and era, daunted, they scramble for a speedy exit. But they also flee that mysterious pressure from the sky, which a Christian fanatic fundamentalist might explain away as the anger of God at an atheistic island and its people who disbelieve the ‘’Gospel of Prosperity’’, who practice the African paganism of Yoruba as subversion, a fetishism further angering the monotheistic Christian God who hangs like a bell jar over his blessed flock elsewhere, on islands with names that start with St-
An explanation for the heaviness, other than God, is still possible. An at once inhuman and human cause: The blockade surpasses the merely financial and economic; transcends merely elemental realities of Import/Export. Blockade has altered the very physics of Cuba; penetrates the ether, the interactions, how weight and moist air distribute over cities and towns. Only the birds hover free and immune, as the avian is generally unaffected by customs or Import/Export machinations. But the frigate flocks mill more slowly over Cuba than they do over other islands of fewer manpowered mills.
Embargo is worn in the lungs and limbs, in bed, on the scarcer meals of tables. In sold-out theater shows in the Trianon and other Havana theaters, fairy-queens conjure laughs and solidarity as they moan in comedies about scarce resources assigned to them, such as meager chicken-leg but very rarely chicken-breast and never beef, their sense of suffocation and lack of a future perspective on the island.
Despite official atheism, Cuban law recognizes a Brahmanic notion of Karma to prevent famine: it is forbidden to slaughter cattle, because cows provide diary, feeding more people if kept alive mooing.
The blockade on the long face of the island Cuba weighs as a fact of geo-physics, and has contorted the Cuban state and the Cuban people into a condition of acrobatics. Cuban society is the society of acrobats: a feat in which anything that functions to any measure, including the prominent cultural life, the theater, which often also houses dissidence against the state, such as the always sold-out shows in the Trianon and other theaters of Vedado. Courting censors, the directors, actors and virile hermaphroditic extras tickle the information-ministers in their noses armed with special receptors until retaliation. Educational and medical programs all hover, in a suspension resembling the muscular miracles of Soviet gymnasts. The blockade is an immense anvil suspended above the island, softening the fall of the sunrays until they are pliant and unable to diminish the strange pallor of many Cubans. The gravity of the blockade makes the full moon into a constant crescent upon the anvil-horn, like woman on a Tropicana stage playing with a feathered fan and with her big bottom for the entertainment of night-tourists and gangsters of old pre-revolution Havana (an old Havana which, according to official accounts is abolished, prehistoric, and yet always to some extent returning through the many cracks in the system, like lunar tidal trickery.)
Cubans go to bed surprising early, even after drinking an evening cup of their famous coffees. It is the heaviness of Embargo.
Like the asthma that Vaclav Havel ranted on about, Embargo sits in the lungs.
Like sex-tourism, Embargo rides up the asses of people.
Despite all the disgrace, the poverty and mediocrity of the lies, there is still what the first inhabitants of the region called‘’Quihica’’, in Arawak language it means a door out of the weighed-down world, into another world more like one envisioned by the revolution’s original Dreamers