Cuba’s Art Factory aims for industrial-scale hipness

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La Fábrica de Arte Cubano
Arianna Diaz, 24, is kissed by her boyfriend, Chaian Gomez, 24, as they watch a concert by D’Corason at F.A.C., or La Fábrica de Arte Cubano, in Havana on Aug. 15

La Fabrica del Arte Cubano is the place foreign tourists go to see a younger, edgier, emerging Cuba. Or it’s the place teenagers who don’t have a lot of money can go dancing at 2 a.m. for a $2 cover charge. You can drink mojitos or Red Bull and see an avant-garde play by a Spanish theater troupe, or the work of an Israeli photographer, or “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

La Fabrica (Cuban Art Factory) can do all that because it is a huge place, with multiple gallery and performance spaces, all housed beneath the roof of a former cooking oil plant near the Almendares river in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

The idea is borrowed from Brooklyn and Berlin and everywhere else that old warehouse spaces are being repurposed as art galleries or performance venues. But the Factory is 100 percent criollo, all Cuban, in its ownership and operation but especially in the delicate cultural politics of facilitating artistic expression in a tightly controlled society.

The exterior of La Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
The exterior of La Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

The Factory is the creation of X Alfonso, a popular Cuban rocker and artist who manages to keep the place in operation without running afoul of Cuban authorities. It is neither a private business nor a state-run facility but classified as a “community project,” allowing it to occupy government property but operate with a relatively broad degree of independence.

People arrive at the Factory.
People arrive at the Factory.

Since opening last year, the Factory has come under criticism in state media for appearing too much like a thriving, capitalistic enterprise. Some of its art also pushes political boundaries — one fascinating recent exhibit displayed 1950s photographs of Cuban homes that were given away as a promotional stunt by Candado, a popular soap brand in the era before Fidel Castro’s revolution. The photographer went back and found the giveaway homes today, photographing them in various states of dilapidation.

This recent Trip Advisor reviewer called it “the hippest place I have ever been.” Few places in Cuba have been as successful at creating a space for high-end, high-minded art while also giving the city’s teens a fun place to hang out. On weekends after midnight, when the discoteca in the Factory’s basement really kicks off, crowds of well-dressed young people line up around the block, fiddling with smartphones that still don’t connect to the Internet.

Washington Post photographer Sarah Voisin gives us a look inside:

 

Ties to Cuba Enhance and Entangle Jorge Mas’s Marlins Bid

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In May 2008, Barack Obama spoke with Mas Santos in Miami

By JAMES WAGNER, The New York Times

Throughout his life, Jorge Mas Santos has had a passion for Cuba, family, business and sports.

Now, as one of the wealthiest people in Miami and a serious contender to buy the Miami Marlins, Mas may be able to combine his interests in a way that would have an impact on baseball and, perhaps, the larger world of politics.

In Mas — who inherited his family’s business from his father, Jorge Mas Canosa, who died in 1997 — baseball sees a deep-pocketed investor with strong local roots. As a Cuban-American, Mas, 54, would also give Major League Baseball its second owner of Latino background. (Arte Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels is Mexican-American.)

Operating in Miami, a city remade by Cuban exiles and other Latin American immigrants, Mas could make the Marlins the linchpin in baseball’s efforts to expand its Latino audience.

“Who better to own the Miami Marlins than someone born and raised in Miami, and with the pedigree of the Mas family?” said Raul Sanchez de Varona, who went to high school with Mas and is now a real estate developer in South Florida.

But if Mas does get the Marlins franchise, his family history could possibly affect baseball’s continuing efforts to create a working relationship with Cuba, one that would allow players from the island to join the major leagues in an orderly fashion instead of having to endure various dangers in order to defect.

It was Mas’s father, after all, who was regularly reviled by the Cuban media as the leader of “the counterrevolutionary Miami mafia” because of his longstanding efforts to cripple the government of Fidel Castro.

Those efforts began after the elder Mas fled Cuba in 1960, not long after Castro took power. Jorge Mas Canosa initially advocated armed struggle to overthrow Castro but later shifted to determined advocacy, founding the Cuban American National Foundation in 1981 and making it a powerful lobbying group against Castro in Washington.

But Mas’s attitude toward Cuba appears to have moved away from his father’s tough stance. Back in 1999, he did sound like his father when he spoke out strongly against the decision by the Baltimore Orioles to play two exhibition games against the Cuban national team, a move that was backed by the administration of President Bill Clinton.

In an opinion piece in The Washington Times, Mas argued that the baseball diplomacy being practiced by the Clinton administration was “ill-conceived and ill-timed” and shifted focus away from “human rights abuses under Fidel Castro’s ruthless dictatorship.”

But just two years later, several members of the foundation’s board quit, contending the group was, in fact, starting to soften its stance toward Cuba under Mas’s leadership. “Institutions evolve and strategies evolve,” Mas responded at the time.

And when President Barack Obama, in his second term, acted to re-establish diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, Mas advised him and expressed his support. He said last month in an interview with El País that he wanted to see Cuba enter a “modern era,” and that desire took precedence over continuing a “war against the Castros.”

What Cuba would think of all this if Mas does take over the Marlins remains to be seen. The country is now led by Raúl Castro, who succeeded Fidel, his ailing brother, in 2008. Fidel Castro died last year.

At the All-Star Game this month, which was played in Miami and which Mas attended, Commissioner Rob Manfred brushed aside a reporter’s question about the Mas family’s longstanding activism in connection with Cuba and instead focused on the strong links between the family and Miami.

“One of the things we always like to see in an ownership group is deep, deep roots in the community,” Manfred said. “I’m not concerned with anybody’s particular political beliefs.”

Mas himself has not publicly addressed his bid for the Marlins, and he did not respond to several requests for comment for this article. But those who know him describe him as a driven businessman and committed civic leader with, among other things, an abiding interest in sports.

“He loves his Miami and he loves his Cuban heritage,” said Arthur Laffer, the well-known economist from the Reagan administration and a longtime ally of the Mas family.

“Having an in-house owner makes a lot of difference,” Laffer added. “He’ll go to the games. He’ll rain pride on Miami.”

A new owner, especially a local one who understands the diverse cultural landscape of South Florida, could inject new energy into a franchise that has not reached the playoffs since winning the 2003 World Series. The team consistently ranks among the worst in attendance despite a $650 million retractable-dome stadium that debuted in 2012 and was paid for almost entirely by the city and county.

The team’s current owner, Jeffrey Loria, wants to sell the Marlins for an estimated $1.2 billion, nearly eight times what he paid for the club 15 years ago. He is an unpopular owner who has come under fire over the years for failing to invest enough to improve the on-field product.

He is now apparently choosing among three bidders. One group is led by Derek Jeter, the former Yankees great, who has a waterfront home in Tampa, Fla. Tagg Romney, son of Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential candidate, counts Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, in his group.

And then there is Mas, who through his personal fortune is believed to be putting more of his own money into the bidding than anyone else in the three groups. Mas sat with Loria during the All-Star Game.

A person with knowledge of the bidding competition said Mas extended an offer to Jeter last month to join forces, with the understanding that Jeter would run the Marlins’ baseball operations if Major League Baseball awarded Mas the franchise.

But the offer, that person said, was rejected by Jeter, who preferred to continue his own bid.

Mas has expressed interest in the Marlins before. In 1997, he considered investing in a group vying to buy the team from Wayne Huizenga, the owner then. Now, 20 years later, he is trying again.

Mas grew up around sports. He played basketball regularly with his father and brothers in the backyard of their home in Pinecrest, Fla., an affluent suburb in Miami-Dade County. The games were roughhouse affairs, said Joe Garcia, a family friend and former United States congressman.

“The father said, ‘Better to foul someone than let them take the shot,’” Garcia said. “It was very physical basketball.”

Mas was also a middle infielder on his high school baseball team. His head coach was Jim Hendry, who would later become general manager of the Chicago Cubs and now serves as a special assistant with the Yankees.

Mas’s wealth comes from MasTec, of which he is chairman, a company that made its name by digging trenches and laying telecommunications cables during South Florida’s boom. The company expanded nationally and became the first Latino-owned company to crack $1 billion in revenue in 1998. Last year it had revenue of $5.1 billion.

It is all a far cry from when Mas’s father arrived in the United States and began working as a milkman. From there he joined a telecommunications utility company, Iglesias y Torres, and ultimately became the owner, renaming it Church & Tower. As the business flourished and merged with a similar company, MasTec was formed.

At the same time, the senior Mas took on a highly visible role in urging a tough stance toward Fidel Castro.

“He was the George Washington of the free Cubans,” Laffer said.

There are reminders of the Mas family’s story all over Miami. A middle school in southwest Miami is named after Mas’s father, and the mascot is a paladin. A portion of Southwest 157th Avenue near the school was renamed Mas Canosa Paladin Avenue. The youth center in the city of Sweetwater, west of downtown Miami, is named after Mas’s father as well.

The family’s charitable foundation gives scholarships to students of Cuban descent. And Mas has served on the board at the business school of his alma mater, the University of Miami. He and his two brothers, all graduates of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, have all worked in the family business, and also fund a program for gifted students at the school.

At the time of his death, Mas’s father was one of the richest Latino businesspeople in the United States, with a net worth of $100 million. He groomed his eldest son to run the company so that he could spend as much time as possible on the Cuban American National Foundation.

“He inherited a great company from his father,” said Laffer, who has served on the boards of the foundation and MasTec. “There were some rough periods there as he transitioned. And then he kept it great, and made it even greater.”

When his father died of cancer at 58, Mas felt a responsibility to carry on the work at the foundation, although some friends advised against it.

“His father had taken on this mythical existence,” said Garcia, who at one point was executive director of the foundation. “I worried that it would be really hard on him. He did it because he was worried about the course of the institution his father had created.”

It had, Garcia said, skewed “too much to the right.”

“No one can be their father,” Garcia added. He said Mas had proved to be pragmatic in the way his attitudes toward Cuba had evolved in the years after his father’s death, and indeed those views are finding more and more welcome ears among Cuban-Americans.

The new wave of Cuban immigrants with family still on the island, or the younger generation of Cubans born in the United States, have been more willing to accept the thaw that was heightened by Obama’s actions. Even some older Cuban-Americans have agreed with the establishment of diplomatic relations and the easing of travel restrictions.

Sanchez de Varona, the South Florida developer, a second-generation Cuban-American, grew up hearing about the effects of the Communist regime in Cuba from his family. But he acknowledged that perspectives change. He, himself, ended up visiting Cuba last fall.

“I don’t know where George’s dad would have been with all of this,” Sanchez de Varona said, using Jorge Mas’s Anglicized nickname from high school. “But George’s dad was a very intelligent man. Maybe he would have realized it was time for a change.”

In March 2016, the Obama administration and Major League Baseball worked together to arrange a game in which the Tampa Bay Rays played the Cuban national team in Havana. Major League Baseball and Cuba discussed ways for Cuban players to sign with an American team without having to defect, often in harrowing circumstances.

President Trump has sought to roll back some of the changes that Obama instituted in connection with Cuba, and those efforts, too, could have an impact on baseball’s interest in reaching some sort of agreement with Cuba about its players.

Either way, Mas could soon find himself as one of baseball’s select group of 30 owners.

Or as Garcia put it: “I’m sure it’s not lost on Jorge or M.L.B. or the people of Cuba that this son of an immigrant is now in contention to buy the ball team.”

Rafael Lima, a professor at the University of Miami, pointed to the story of “a rags-to-riches family in which the kid, the heir of this empire, now can be the owner of this baseball team, which in Cuba is a huge symbol.”

“I’d even think that in Cuba, owning the Marlins is more of a symbol of success than MasTec, a construction company,” Lima said.

And then there was the viewpoint of Rafael Villa, a Marlins fan who lives in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami and was sitting outside Marlins Park during the All-Star Game.

Villa said that he fled Cuba 40 years ago but that Mas’s more moderate stance toward the island did not bother him. “Things have to change, my friend,” he said.

What really was important, Villa added, was an upgrade in the fortunes of the team.

“I’d love to see a new owner, someone who gets and keeps good players,” he said. “People come to see the stars. I want to come here and see my stars.”

 

Your Editor Encourages: Jorge Mas was my friend, though we differed on Cuba. His sons’ love for baseball is unifying.  

‘I’m a Terrible Cuban’ – One Editor’s Powerful Journey to His Past

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I’m a terrible Cuban. One of the worst. I spent 17 years without setting foot on the island where I was born, I avoid the unending debates about Cuba and I’m aware of what’s happening in that part of world only when New York newspapers or newscasts mention it, which is almost never. From the time I left in 1991, Cuba has been a terrible nightmare for me.

So, when Cevin Bryerman, vice president and editor of Publishers Weekly, told me last summer he was organizing a historic trip to Cuba – the first visit by editors and distributors of books and magazines from the U.S. – and that he wanted PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL to be the only Hispanic publication to be part of that group, I was somewhat skeptical. His idea was that Monique Manso, PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL’s publisher who was born in New Jersey to Cuban parents, and I prepare a presentation about the power of the U.S. Hispanic market and the strength of our publication in that marketplace.

First, we had to see if the Cuban government would agree to host a group that is involved with publications and magazines, one that stands for the free dissemination of information. Secondly, as a Cuban exile that is now a U.S. citizen, I needed a special permit to enter Cuba, which for the past 20 years has required people like me to get not only this permit but also a Cuban passport – a process that costs a small fortune.

As the trip’s date neared and we all started to receive flight confirmations, my heart began to race. Monique and I wondered whether we would be allowed to go. In our most recent PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL Festival, held in New York this past fall, we prominently featured Cuban and Cuban-American artists like Gloria and Emilio Estefan and Pitbull, whose music is banned on the island. And to top it off, we had also featured a panel with a vilified independent journalist, Yoani Sanchez, who is allowed to travel outside the island; Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who was detained for a few months there after trying to do a performance in Revolution Square during the Art Biennial in Havana; and political activist Rosa María Payá, the daughter of Oswaldo Payá who died in Cuba in a car accident that his family claims was no accident.

I’ve always told my three children – who in a way feel Cuban though they have no idea what their parents’ country is like – that we would visit Cuba when the U.S. Embassy in Havana was once again operational (this happened over a year ago), when my cell phone had reception there (it does now, thanks to Verizon), when we could use our credit cards there (still not the case) and I would not need a Cuban passport to return (still a long ways from happening).

So, feeling something between fear and paranoia – an emotion difficult to explain to someone who did not grow up in Cuba at a time when all phones conversations were monitored, when your neighbor reported you to the authorities if you stepped inside a church or if you accepted a call from a family member in Miami, which would brand you a CIA agent – I got on a plane to Cuba from Miami. There, I would meet part of the group that I would share this Havana odyssey with. The flight is only 40 minutes but the process of getting there can last an entire day.

I arrived at Miami International Airport at 9 a.m. but my flight didn’t leave until 7:30 p.m. The excitement felt by my seat mates – who were not part of the Publishers Weekly delegation – only diminished mine. Some were so-called “mules” who are paid to use their luggage allotments to take clothing, 65-inch screen television sets, huge speakers, whatever, to Havana from the U.S. Others had just recently left Cuba and were returning within two years to make sure they didn’t lose their status as Cuban residents. They were all excited to learn I was returning after 17 years; I kept telling them I had left Cuba in the 20th century and was now returning in the 21st. “Nothing has changed,” said the older woman sitting next to me.

In what felt like the blink of an eye, the captain announced we were making our descent into Havana and from my window I saw a darkened city.

When I stepped off the plane into the tarmac that led to the terminal at José Martí Airport, I was slapped with the smell of jet fuel that awoke many memories. I reached the window where an immigration official took my photo (the airport has gone digital) and he scanned his computer after going through my Cuban passport, page by page. I took a deep breath and thought: “They’re not sending me back this time.” I kept saying that again and again to myself. In 1995, when I was a reporter for El Nuevo Herald – the Spanish-language edition of The Miami Herald – the Cuban authorities granted me a special permit to see my father in Havana, but once I arrived, they turned me around and sent me back to Miami on the same plane I had just arrived in.

This time, I mentally repeated: “They’re not sending me back this time” so often that I almost blurted it out to the immigration official who now had my destiny in his hands. Those minutes with him were the longest in my life, until I heard the click that indicated he had stamped my passport so I could go through. “Welcome, Armando,” he said without looking at me. I immediately texted my family and friends, all of whom were expecting news of my trip.

Now I had to go through Customs. I saw that one female inspector didn’t take her eyes off of me and was walking towards me, somewhat bewildered. My legs began to shake; I clung to my carry-on and looked away until I felt someone touching my shoulder. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re the editor of PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL!” she said, giving me a hug. “Chico, why didn’t you vote for the Cuban girl?”

I had no clue what she was talking about, but I took a picture with her. She then explained that she saw me on Univision’s Nuestra Belleza Latina reality show, where a winner is chosen by popular vote every season. In Cuba, these television shows as well as movies from the U.S. are recorded and circulated through USBs, which are connected to computers or those 65-inch screens I had seen coming from Miami. Many times, those shows can be up to four years behind what we’re seeing in the U.S.

When this officer at the airport noticed I only had carry-on luggage, she took me to the exit. I was about to step outside when I heard my name called. “Now what?” I thought. The picture was blurry and the official wanted us to take a new one.

When I exited with the group in the bus that would take us to dinner in one of the most exclusive restaurants in the city that is under private ownership, I didn’t recognize the city. People in Havana really live in darkness.

The next day, I did my presentation at the International Book Fair in La Cabaña, a fort from the Spanish colonial era that was used as prison after Fidel Castro came to power. There, Ernesto “Che” Guevara personally oversaw the execution of hundreds of people who were against the new government. Photos of “Che” inside La Cabaña could be seen in different parts of the Fair.

The number of people who lined up to buy books amazed the group of editors and publishers that traveled to Cuba. A long line of young people filled the hallways of the old jail.

The final scene in my novel, The German Girl – which will be published by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster in November – takes place in the same place I was now in. I started to see the city how it was must have been seen by my characters: the 937 German passengers, most of them Jewish, who set sail with Cuban visas from Hamburg on May 13, 1939 on the Saint Louis trying to escape the Nazis only to be returned to Europe after arriving in the port of Havana but not allowed to disembark. Only 28 were able to stay in Havana, actually. Many who returned to Europe perished in Nazi concentration camps. I spent hours contemplating Havana as a distant and unreachable city, not unlike the characters in my novel.

I consumed the city with insatiable hunger. I discovered restored colonial ruins, cafes for tourists, revived imperial architecture. The winter breeze in the tropics, a forgiving sun and different accents from tourists from all over the world made it almost impossible to tell if I was in Havana or on a side street in Paris or Milan.

I retraced the steps of my characters, which really was an exercise in retracing the steps of my youth. I went to the Colón Cemetery, the University of Havana, the Beth Shalom’s Synagogue and I discreetly took a picture in front of my childhood home in the Vedado neighborhood. Just as I was doing this, someone came out of the house, smiling, and approached me. I explained who I was and she said she still remembered my family. I told her about my novel, that the main character in it had spent her last years in that house and she asked me inside. I went to my bedroom, my mother’s and grandmother’s rooms, the corner where my sister and I would play. That enormous house that once seemed like a palace to me was now small, yet perfectly preserved in time and for an instant I was even able to smell the lost scent of home.

I also went to Central Havana, crossing destroyed streets and crumbling buildings propped up by pieces of wood and metal, to surprise my father. I was able to hug him as if we had never stopped seeing each other.

After revisiting my past, I had to work. Monique had to present statistics about the U.S. Hispanic market, its buying power and our brand. We carefully showed our covers and not having seen the video beforehand, we showed a sizzle reel about the PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL Festival. For the first time, in an official government-controlled space, the images of Gloria and Emilio Estefan appeared. Pitbull also was there, repeating his chorus “Noa vamos pa’ Cuba” (“We’re going to Cuba”). No one applauded. The auditorium was filled with perplexed faces.

In the last days of our trip, Cevin and John Malinowski, president of Combined Book Exhibit, signed the first accord between the U.S. and Cuba that will allow the exchange of books, authors and publications in the future. It’s a first step and we’ll have to see how it goes. I told Cevin that I would have liked to see a panel with authors who still live on the island (the majority of them publish their books abroad) and one with authors who live outside of Cuba and whose books have to be smuggled into the country.

That same day we learned that the U.S. and Cuba had reached an agreement that will allow 100 daily commercial flights between the two countries. Currently, only chartered planes can make the trip.

When it was time to say goodbye and once again face the long process of Customs and Immigration at José Martí Airport, I wasn’t nervous. I figured that I could call on the help of that official who is a fan of PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL if there were any problems.

When they started going through my luggage, a woman dressed in military attire unwrapped several plaster religious figures I had bought at Our Lady of Regla Catholic Church as gifts. The woman, with a serious expression, warned me that they “served no purpose.” Alarmed, I was transported to 1980s Cuba, where believing in God could send you to jail. Surely, I was in front of an obstinate atheist. “They’re decorative items; I’m taking them as gifts,” I said. Taking my hand, she said: “Look, people place their faith on that piece of plaster and think that life will be better, but the only savior – I thought she would say Fidel Castro – is Jesus Christ. He is the savior; you should put your faith in him.” I almost laughed in her face. I had just realized that indeed, I had left Cuba in the 20th century and returned in the 21st.

Havana has definitely changed. It’s not more democratic, there are still no free elections, but you’re no longer jailed if you step inside a church, have a private bookstore or attend an embassy party where artists and intellectuals now find refuge. An actor told me that laws are still not applied or respected. “Anybody can come into your house, default on a contract and the police does nothing,” he said. “But if anyone on the street yells ‘Down with Fidel!’ they throw them in jail.”

Today’s Havana reminds me of 1960s Havana, the one immortalized by Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante. In that Havana, there were still vestiges of capitalism, the splendors of nightlife and cabarets, iconic restaurants. They still held embassy parties for intellectuals, who ended up being accused of being CIA agents because of their diplomatic ties. After that came the so-called Cultural Revolution. Private businesses were confiscated; massive jailing of artists and homosexuals gave way to a dark period of the Revolution.

In what feels to me like a return to the 60s, Havana is full of private restaurants, bars and bed and breakfasts that the government has no idea how to regulate beyond charging them astronomical taxes. Buses filled with tourists take them to exclusive restaurants, some of them managed by the children of Cuban generals (Starbien), daughters of ministers and widows of executed generals (Río Mar) and nightclubs where art, food and parties mix (Fábrica de Arte), artists who romance European millionaires. The state-run restaurants? Empty.

Today’s Havana has changed. I left a city at war, where in every corner they dug trenches that would protect us from imminent U.S. bombings, where billboards covered schools, buildings and walls with phrases like: “Death to imperialism!” “Down with capitalism,” “Motherland or Death: We Will Triumph.”

In Havana, there are no more political billboards, only painted remains of some which can still be seen in corroded walls and dilapidated homes. It felt like the country was preparing itself for the imminent first visit of a U.S. president in 82 years.

Different artists with whom I got together in a surreal party in Havana’s hipster restaurant, El Cocinero – at the foot of a great chimney in an old oil factory – told me the same thing: “There is no going back.” At the party, among writers who are censored in Cuba, the U.S. Cultural Attaché, the wife of the Cuban ambassador in Spain, actors and the new Cuban businessmen (both foreign or those who have come back from Miami), were unbeknownst to me, the daughter and granddaughter of Raúl Castro. “Can you imagine if they all leave?” asked Havana-based writer Wendy Guerra, paraphrasing the title of her first novel, which was published in various countries around the world except Cuba.

They all insisted I return. Some asked to come back the following weekend. “I opened up an art gallery in Old Havana,” said actor Jorge Perugorría, the main character in Fresa y Chocolate, the only movie from the island to be nominated for an Oscar.

Yes, I will return, but I find hard to accept that I have to do it as a tourist. I’ll return next year, if I’m invited again, with my colleagues. I will return if we can do a photo shoot there for PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL. I will return with my novel in hand to present it there. And yes, I will return with my three children some day. As a tourist? I don’t think so.

After another never-ending day at the airport in Havana – we had to wait six hours to board the plane – we arrived in Miami in a few minutes and I ran to catch my connection to New York. Arriving home in Manhattan, I heard my 10-year-old’s voice: “Daddy!” I had arrived home.

I went to bed but could not sleep and started to cry. A moment later, I felt utter joy. I was happy. I finally understood I wasn’t such a terrible Cuban. Cuba still hurts.

 

This article, written by PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL’s editor in chief, Armando Correa, originally appeared on PeopleenEspanol.com.
Your Editor Asks: What difference does it make, Mandy?  You go, you work, you enjoy, you cry. And you probably made a lot of people happy, I just wonder if anyone disagrees.

Top Cuba Diplomat Says : Obama Trip Positive, Created Momentum

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Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. division at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, speaks to reporters during a press conference after taking part in talks with the U.S. representatives in Havana last week..

Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba advanced the normalization of relations between the Cold War foes and created momentum for more action on agriculture, medicine and law enforcement, Cuba’s top diplomat on U.S. affairs said Monday.

Speaking after a meeting with U.S. officials in Havana, Director General of U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal said President Raul Castro had seen his meeting with Obama as producing “positive results.”

Her portrayal contrasted with more negative characterizations of the visit, including those of former President Fidel Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who described Obama’s trip as an “attack” on Cuba’s traditions and values.

Vidal said she and U.S. diplomats had agreed upon an agenda for Obama’s remaining months in office that would include visits by high-level U.S. agriculture, health and security officials.

She said Obama’s visit, which included a forum with private business owners and a speech calling on the Cuban people to look toward a better future, would help both sides accomplish that agenda.

“We believe the visit was an additional step forward in the process of moving toward an improvement in relations, and that it can serve to add momentum to advance in this process, which is in both nations’ interest,” she said. “That’s the opinion that President Raul Castro shared during his address to the press during Obama’s visit.”

Commenting on Monday’s meeting, The U.S. State Department said that “both governments recognized significant steps made toward greater cooperation in environmental protection, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, health, agriculture, educational and cultural exchanges.” It said the two sides also discussed future meetings on human rights and claims for compensation by American citizens and firms whose property was confiscated in Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

Vidal praised a series of agreements struck directly with the U.S. government on topics like environmental cooperation, direct postal service and commercial flights, but said the continuing U.S. trade embargo on Cuba had made progress on business ties more difficult.

Foreign investors agree the embargo is the main obstacle to doing business in Cuba. But they increasingly point to the communist government’s slow-moving bureaucracy and opaque decision-making as reasons investment on the island is lagging despite a huge surge of interest since the December2014 declaration of detente with the U.S.

The two countries appear to be moving toward greater cooperation on law enforcement in coming months. Cuban-born Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was meeting in Havana on Tuesday with his counterparts in Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior for talks on cooperation against drug trafficking, illegal migration and transnational crime.

This story first appeared in The Miami Herald

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