It’s pouring rain in Old Havana. There’s no chasing the ghost of Hemingway today. We stand upon broken cobblestones in Calle Obispo, behind a crowd pouring from the doors of El Floridita, a crumbling colonial façade that looks as bombed out as all the others. Ramón scans the tourists holding cameras to snap photos of the bronze, sauced Ernie leaning on the bar and turns to me.
“You really want to go in there?” he asks.
“No. Let’s get a drink somewhere else.”
We duck down a side street and into an open-air bar with a canvas roof. Rain drips from from the soaked awning onto our shoulders, into my mojito, melts in languid drops from a fuchsia bloom clinging to a trellis framing the street, a vine I want to call clematis, but isn’t.
* * *
Background for Ending the Curse
I visited Cuba in January 2016. I posted some pretty pictures on social media. My article about Cuba runs in The Flyfish Journal, Issue #7.4.
I had a lot to consider when composing this piece. I fished in the Jardines de la Reina, a place as spectacular, wild and worthy of holy pilgrimage as Yellowstone’s backcountry. But, beyond a fishing tale set in pristine marine wilderness, what else might travelers consider about Cuba?
We’ve collectively ignored or forgotten about this island for decades with small impressions here and there of what it might be. And now . . . Cuba’s a novelty, a time warp of token objects--vintage cars, cigars, rum, beautiful women, and the Buena Vista Social Club, a secret that the rest of the world and select Americans enjoyed while the rest of us missed out.
Beyond unshakeable clichés, Cuba features spectacular marine resources, such as the remote islands of the Jardines de la Reina, which represent what much of the Caribbean looked like 60 years ago. The Cuban government had the foresight to designate more than 100 marine parks throughout the country, with tight caps on tourism, commercial fishing and other activities. But they’re just at the beginning of understanding the most intact marine ecosystems in the Caribbean. And they need the resources to effectively study them.
The Americans who forged our long-standing policy in Cuba are either in the ground or in nursing homes, and those who might most powerfully reverse President Obama’s people-to-people program have been knocked out of the presidential race. We—meaning the United States—love to drive foreign policy with some moral imperative. We love to attempt to shape and mold others overseas into what we perceive ourselves to be. With the easements on the original embargo, what is our moral compass in Cuba today? To hurry up and see it “before it changes,” as many lament? To stop mega-resorts and Carnival Cruise ships from plowing into port (It’s too late for that.)? To further adapt our own policy in hopes that they might shift theirs?
In this piece, I wasn’t aiming to preach paternalism or an obligation to “fix” anything (I’m not sure we’re qualified to fix anything beyond U.S. borders at this point in time.). And if there is a high and mighty moral obligation here, it’s perhaps this: to consider beyond the charm of vintage Pontiacs, how this place came to be where it is today through internal and external forces and how through this strange transition we can thoughtfully support its people and fisheries, which are inextricably and undeniably tied to our very own.
Copies of The Flyfish Journal may be located online or in local bookstores, magazine stands, and fly shops: http://www.theflyfishjournal.com/