Yesterday was Rafa’s 51st Birthday. We made a cake and the boys made him a very sweet card to be kept and treasured. Saskia still doesn’t really know what is going on but she loved the singing and the animals they put on the cake. I didn’t manage to get to the chocolate shop round the corner (which has old style posh chocs in nice little boxes), due to lots of extra curricula activities and meetings at the boys school. Neither could I buy Rafa some clothes as I usually do, but we all sang Happy Birthday in 3 languages (French a little bit rusty!) and learnt a new Cuban Birthday song. Lucky my husband is not a material man.
However, the other event of the day was a little trip to the United States Interest Section in Havana to welcome the new head of mission with a cultural cocktail. I did not think that this opportunity would arise so soon and I was looking forward to putting on a nice frock and getting involved. I really promised to be on my best behaviour ……… or at least I will try not to drop any clangers about Guatanamo and how it is not cool or true to call Cubans terrorists while the US is repeatedly breaking international law and, and, and ……… hmmm
Maybe I should start with a few facts!
The United States do not have diplomatic relations with Cuba. Therefore they do not have the right to have an embassy in Cuba. What can you expect when Cubans are officially on the US list of terrorists? So they have this strange thing called the Interest Section in Havana commonly known as USINT. It acts as a de facto embassy and a place to post provocative propaganda which the Cubans have always responded to with billboards and demonstrations. They have some weird cover agreement with the Swiss, I suppose because of their neutrality.
I first visited Cuba in June 2005 when Paulo was a baby and Nico was in my tummy still undetected! We were staying with friends very close to USINT and we were aware of all the propaganda coming out of the electronic billboard and the Cubans paper billboard counter attack. We arrived in Habana to find everyone in the streets as it was the anniversary of the hijacking of a plane of athletes by CIA backed terrorists. We learnt that the mother of the friend where we were staying was not in the house, she had been invited to the reception with Fidel as her husband was the pilot who was one of the many people killed by that shocking attack, a story for another day. And, when I get near a faster internet connection I will post my photos on a separate blog.
Guantanamo Bay is not accessible by land but only into its superb natural harbour and naval base can the US enter. Matters relating to Guantanamo are dealt with by the US Embassy in Jamaica just across the sea.
And then there is that old matter of the blockade ……. This was put in place in 1962 with the intention of isolating the country and fomenting regime change. Well that didn’t work did it??? Some people call it an embargo but it is a blockade as the US penalises other countries who are willing to work with Cuba. The blockade breaks with the basic human rights of 11 million Cuban people: the right to self determination. The blockade has cost the Cubans over $100 billion over the years. Not to mention the costs to broken families and health (50% of drugs companies are owned by the US and not allowed to enter Cuba). In the UN 185 countries condemn the blockade and 2 don’t …….. the US and Israel (funny that).
So with all this buzzing in my head off I went to meet the Americans wearing my best All Saints silk dress and no knickers! In fact no underwear whatsoever. I blame Rafa, it was his suggestion. So I was feeling a little irreverant without even having to open my mouth. I suppose I could have worn a T-shirt saying stop all blockades and close Guantanamo!
The new Head of Mission (Mission Impossible) in Habana looked pale and shiny and frightened but was pleasant enough. I managed to meet the British Ambassador who looks like Helen Mirren and seems fun (a Cuban assured me that she was the favourite diplomat in town). She invited us round to her beautiful old house in Vedado which I have heard is an historical gem. I met a famous artist who wants to show his work in the film school and a the heads of Reuters and AFP who were both fun and interesting. We also met Gloria who is head of the Public Relations department at the Office of Interest and was very positive about helping us with the Film School. We spoke about all the US individuals who have visited the school over the years including Lucas, Coppola, Redford and Spielberg.
The night finished early around 9.30, we were the only ones to dance but I discovered that I can’t dance in my new super comfy Fitflops bought on Northcote road during the London riots. They stick to the floor.
Next it is our turn to throw the party on Friday for Rafa’s Birthday and to say welcome to the new house, our house to all the friends who helped us move to Cuba. The house is now a family house with toys and books and shoes everywhere and no longer any protocol. Anyway I hope it will be the first of many parties we will have in our Havana house in front of the sea.