Amalia is standing in front of a TV camera, in the background there is the National Capitol Building in Havana. There are crowds of people around, mainly excited young people with banners and mobile phones in their hands. “With the affirmative vote of 85% of the deputies and the support of President-elect and 7 of the 9 parties in the Parliament, Cuban government has abolished mandatory military service in peacetime,” says the smiling brown-haired journalist. She’s speaking to a microphone with the letters HC, which is the name of a private TV channel that has started broadcasting this year. The transmission ends with loud cries of the young people and switches to the studio, where a presenter comments on the news.
Hundreds of miles away, a Skoda 2020 pulls out into a quality asphalt road in the hilly area of Mayari Arriba in the province of Santiago de Cuba, which is now followed by many farmers driving their new cars and trucks. The four boys travelling in the Skoda hug and rejoice: on their way to school they have been following the parliamentary vote on the internet from Antonio’s mobile phone. Thanks to the new law, they have been exempt from the obligation to spend the following year in an absurd military camp. They are in the last year at high school. “Hurry up, the class of civics starts in 40 minutes,” says Antonio to Jose, the driver. “We are almost there, calm down,“ and the car disappears in the direction of the Capdevila Center, one of the six private colleges in Santiago de Cuba. At that very moment, Mr. Cespedes, civics teacher, is entering the college.
“Good morning,“ Cespedes greets the guard at the door and other teachers he meets. He is a black man with white hair and a lofty look, whom all return the greeting and look up to him with such respect as if they looked to the altar. 30 years ago, Cespedes wanted to establish an independent institute of education, for which he was punished with 12 years in prison. This fact along with the serenity with which he survived all this have turned him into the most important figure of the Capdevila Center.
“How’s your mum?,” Cespedes asks Carmen, a girl reading a book on a bench in the garden by the gate of the school building. The short girl with spectacles and black, curly hair, hasn’t noticed that the teacher was so close, she has been so immersed in her reading, the fourth edition of “Before Night Falls” by Reinaldo Arenas (the previous editions were sold out within a couple of months). Books help Carmen forget the evenings that she spends at the provincial hospital, where her mother is recovering from a surgery. Thankfully, she no longer faces dangers that were common in the past, such as contracting an infection or being treated by inexperienced or indolent physicians.
“She’s better. Garcia says that if she continues this way, she will be released from the hospital in a week.“ „That’s good news, Carmen. Dr. Garcia is excellent. Everybody speaks highly of his work both in his private clinic and in the hospital. Continue with your reading, we’ll see each other in half an hour in the classroom.” “Yes, Mr. Cespedes. Thank you, I’ll be there.” Cespedes enters the school building.
Carmen resumes her reading. She has a very busy day and she doesn’t want to waste a second of it. She has classes until noon, then she has lunch in the school canteen and after that she has a lesson of French until 3 in the afternoon. Santiago is visited by many tourists from Europe and Quebec and Carmen spends weekends working as a city guide. After school she goes to the hospital to visit her mother and stays there until the end of the visiting hours. From there she goes to her new apartment in the humble neighbourhood of Chicharrones, which has been built up with modern, comfortable, earthquake-resistant buildings. There are no longer problems with water supply and when she goes out at night, she doesn’t have to be afraid of being assaulted.
Carmen has a boyfriend, who works in Guantanamo, so she sees him only at weekend. She spends the rest of the week studying. Next year she would like to win scholarship to the Varela University, where she wants to study telecommunications.
The Varela University is located in Santa Clara and it’s one of the new non-State universities in Cuba. Although it charges tuition, it offers a system of discounts based on academic results. Moreover, the tuition is paid in instalments that are due after students finish their studies and start working. There’s a huge graffiti on the main wall of the university, which says: “The university is for everyone.”
Carmen’s boyfriend, Calixto, works as a translator in the Guantanamo Naval Base. There’s no longer a prison in Guantanamo, nor it is a territory of the United States. Cuba rents the area to the U.S. as part of a contract that will expire in a few years. Calixto was a member of the Cuban Armed Forces, which used to be a really large organization in the past, but has been gradually slimmed down. As part of the process of relocation of its members, Calixto learned foreign languages. Other of his ex-colleagues started to work for the Coast Guard, which has been reinforced to protect the island from trafficking in drugs and arms, commodities that are under strict control and limits in Cuba. In addition, the Armed Forces have recently become involved in projects carried out by various international organizations, such as the UN peacekeepers.
Such negotiations are conducted by Enrique, who works in foreign service sector. For six months he has not been able to visit his grandparents, who live in Santo Tomas, a village of coal merchants, fishermen and tour guides in the province of Cienaga de Zapata. Yet, they have been in frequent contact on the Internet, which is now accessible even in the most remote places, similarly as mobile phones, electricity and asphalt.
From what they learn from the media, Enrique’s grandparents understand that their grandson is very busy. The diplomacy, businessmen as well as the Cuban unions are all working hard to sign half a dozen free trade agreements, in particular with countries of the Caribbean, with Latin American and Far East democracies, with the United States and with EU member states. Cuba demands that each country with which it strengthens its economic ties treat its citizens as human beings, both from the economic and political point of view. It’s because the new Cuban government knows well what it feels like when people are not treated this way.
Also, Enrique sees to it that employee rights and environmental protection are always safeguarded in all negotiations. Many people keep an eye on him, including Camilla.
Camila is a trade unionist and an environmentalist. She works in oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico and coordinates a network of partners whose aim is to prevent the multitude of foreign companies from abroad amd in the island from destroying the environment. It’s a difficult task, which has nevertheless been made easier by the ubiquitous presence of social networking, the sharply critical media, and the judicial system, which has been strengthened thanks to the fact that citizens have become acquainted with the laws and with their rights.
In her oil exploration job, Camila sometimes finds time to watch the sea, which is now less cruel than a decade ago – it no longer offers a pitiful sight of drifting rafts. The U.S. embargo and the Cuban Adjustment Act do not exist any more – there’s no need. Many boats can now be seen in the Florida Strait; however, they usually travel in the opposite direction than before, i.e., from the north to the south. Dozens of boats arrive from the U.S. to Cuban ports every week to replenish their supplies, do trade or for tourism. There are no rafts. There are no photos of the dead who drowned themselves when trying to flee Cuba – these can be found only in the Museum of Exile in Mariel, which has become one of the three major ports of the Antilles.
Mariel is also the port where Frank arrives. He left Cuba as a child – he was so young at that time that he has almost completely forgotten to speak Spanish. He is old now and his parents, who managed to escape from the island in a boat at the end of the 1960s, no longer live. They rest in peace on the American soil. As all those descendants of Cuban parents or grandparents, Frank could restore his Cuban citizenship. He is one of those who navigate across the Florida Strait in the opposite direction. His pleasure boat lands in Mariel and Frank then sets out to Havana, where he walks the streets where his parents had business facilities before 1959. He comes to a dilapidated mansion, which they left there. Frank kindly greets the family that lives there – they look at him in awe. Finally, he proposes that they set up a nursing home for elderly people with all amenities. He doesn’t argue about the property – under the law, the house is theirs. He just offers them an employment with an excellent salary. If they save, they will soon be able to set up their own business. Such proposals are made in Cuba every day. Wealthy emigrants have gradually started to to invest in the long-missed land, which is now recovering from underdevelopment at a vertiginous speed.
Thousands of tourists, more than half of them Cuban, arrive in Cuba every week. They come from North America, Europe, Mexico, South America and also from various places in the island such as Havana, Las Villas and Camaguey. Many of them want to do business in Cuba. This process is under way in almost all villages on the island, especially in tourist areas.
Juan Gualberto and Lydia, who now live in the house where Frank ‘s parents used to live, accept his offer. Until recently they were leading members of the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) in their neighbourhood, but since the Committee has been dissolved, they can breathe freely again, relieved of the unpleasant task of monitoring their neighbours. Their son, Jose Antonio, was also a member of the Communist Party and after its dissolution he has become a member of another socialist political party. Apart from the organizations that have been mentioned, other bodies have been dissolved, such as Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC), Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), student organizations such as Federation of Students of Secondary Schools (FEEM), University Students Federation (FEU) and Young Communist League (UJC), as well as cultural and journalist associations such as National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), Association of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) and Hermanos Saiz Cultural Association (AHS). Another body that no longer exists is Jose Marti Pioneer Association (OPJM), an involuntary organization for children. Promotion of political officials who are still alive has been forbidden at schools for minors. Also, bodies called State Security and the Ministry of Interior have been abolished thanks to a law enforced by the deputy and sociologist Mariana. Under the new law, these detestable institutions have stopped all their former activities, whose purpose was to force Cuban citizens into submission, and have been transformed into bodies that focus on the fight against foreign organized crime groups and problems related to the transition of the country.
Mariana, a woman of mixed race, is the vice president-elect of the Cuban Republic. Right now she’s giving a speech on TV, ensuring the viewers that “the depressing human statistics have been on the decrease: there have been fewer suicides, fewer abortions and more births. New laws have been adopted to limit abortions and young couples are now more likely to find housing and employment. Also, less young people emigrate these days, there are less divorces, less violence against women and homosexuals; depopulation of the country has diminished and the population explosion in the capital of Havana has slowed down…”
While watching Mariana’s speech on TV in his office in the cemetery, Serafin is interrupted by someone with Spanish accent: “Could you tell me where I can find the tomb of the Castro brothers, please?” Serafin looks at the sun-tanned face of Pedro, a tourist wearing shorts and flip flops. “It’s the one behind that wall over there,” he answers, reluctantly.
Pedro is making a tour of the island, re-discovering it. He is the son of Cuban exiles living in Spain. He is 38 years old and along with other 26 natural and legal persons he has recently bought shares in Manati, an old sugar mill in ruins, which they want to rebuild. The new company has brought machinery to recover hundreds of acres of the marabou weed and replant the land with sugar cane. It has recruited the employees who used to work there and dozens of other people who still remember how to successfully run a sugar factory. They are paid in U.S. dollars, in compliance with the provisions of the law passed earlier this year after a national strike of the three strongest unions in the country and upon a recommendation of an expert committee in charge of managing the large number of loans granted to Cuba.
Pedro is in love with Rosa, a peasant who studied veterinary medicine and has managed to turn the agricultural cooperative where her relatives have been uselessly working all their lives, in a green meadow with abundant cattle. Thanks to the production of the cooperative, prices of beef meat in the region have been substantially reduced. After adoption of new farming laws, the State ceased to be the large, unproductive owner of all land. Instead, thousands of peasants have acquired land and Cuba has regained the leading position in the world production of sugar, coffee, tobacco and beef.
A question has been circulating on Twitter: What living #incuba should be like? The question has been read by Amalia, the journalist, by Cespedes, the teacher, and his students Carmen, Antonio and Jose, as well as by Calixto, Serafin and Camila in their different jobs, by the newcomers Pedro and Frank, by the married couple of Juan Gualberto and Lydia, by Mariana in the government as well as by Rosa in the country. All of them have read it and all of them have answered it because they have grown accustomed to express their opinion. Not afraid to attach their names anymore, they say exactly what they think. There has been a million of different postings with the hashtag #incuba – a million of different answers and all of them are heard, as it should be.
Ignacio woke up. “Oh, I’ve been dreaming again. Dreaming about this island of ours that won’t fix by itself.” He got up, walked to the window, looked out at the sea, pondering. “Maybe it won’t make it by itself. But I’m sure we can do it, we can.”