Toward the other side of the sea, that point on the horizon that so many Cubans dream of, several of the curious were gazing yesterday as they sat along Havana’s Malecón. Hours earlier word had begun to spread that the United States has authorized “certain specific licenses for passenger ferry service” to Cuba. The rumor was enough for many to play with the idea of how this country would change if it were connected by boat to the other shore. A thousand and one illusions have been unleashed in recent hours, although the four ferry companies authorized by the US Department of the Treasury have yet to receive approval from the Cuban authorities.
However, the symbolic effect of this relaxation reaches dimensions that transcend the political gesture. We live on an island and this has given the sea, for us, the character of an insurmountable frontier, a wall that isolates us from the world. When a Cuban prepares to visit another country, we rarely use the verb “to travel”, but rather appeal to a more dramatic word, salir: which means to “go out” or “get out” or even “break away”. To escape our insularity, to get to the other side, we have to saltar: “leap over”. A catamaran from Florida arriving along our coast every day would break – at least metaphorically – this geographic isolation used, for the last half century, for ideological purposes.
People in the street, however, are waiting for more than allegories. Now hopes focus on trips by Cuban-Americans becoming cheaper with the new maritime connection. Many dream that the holds of these boats can also bring the resources for private enterprise, agriculture and domestic life. “The pieces I’m lacking for my Russian-made Lada car,” Cheo, an engineer-turned-taxi driver, dreamed yesterday. His brother bought some Soviet car parts in Miami but he can’t send them because “they weigh too much and it’s too expensive by air.”
In the afternoon, two men were arguing in a crowded bus about whether the Cuban government would authorize a ferry landing in Havana. “Not even crazy people are going to allow that, boy,” shouted the older one, continuing his argument with, “Do you really think they’re going to let a boat with an American flag dock here?” The younger one, however, turned the conversation to his interests, “What we need them to do, in addition to a ferry line, is put in an Internet line.” And so he finished with an ironic laugh.
Cubans appear ready to make up for lost time. To fit into the world in every way possible. To convert the sea that for so long was a barrier into a path, a road, a connection.
Yoani Sánchez is a Cuban journalist and activist. She lives and publishes in Havana, but because of government restrictions on the media her blog cannot be viewed there. Read more by Yoani.