by Andrew Watson

Viewing across the Havana Bay the oil refinery chugs out Venezuelan gasoline and the Casablanca Ferry is gliding to to Old Havana. As your eyes follow the ferry, the Terminal San Francisco has a solitary significant guest moored. Topped with an American flag and a Cuban Flag is a modest sized schooner, Amistad is her name.

Several years ago there was an incident involving several men liberating the ferry for an escape. After a couple swift days in court the men were executed. The ironic contrast of the ferry and Amistad, the most symbolic slave ship popularized by the Stephen Spielberg movie can’t be ignored. The slaves were liberated, eventually allowed to return to Africa. The Cubans were liberated from this world.

A symbolic gesture by both counties is the ship actually being in a Cuban port with the crew ashore paying a tribute to the end of the slave trade. Both countries still suffer in the human rights and racism departments so neither has the right to criticize the other. Yet one country has its first black president and the other suffers from extreme racial profiling throughout its police force and society.

On the shoreline road known as the Malecon, the traffic is steady and the odd couple is strolling along on the sidewalk. The state run newspapers and television stations have carried information regarding the ship being in the city’s port. The night before, Cuban television played Amistad the movie. On the surface this is a brave act of co-operation by Raul Castro, the successor to his brother Fidel.

One would think that a country of educated citizens would be eager to see a significant part of history and a sort of history in the making. Along the malecon there is the occasional tourist taking a quick photo. Cubans themselves completely absent with the exception of a lonely security officer sitting on the concrete knee wall and the more than likely secret police hidden away in the adjacent buildings. Beside Terminal San Francisco a couple of regular policemen and a motorcycle cop are having a jovial conversation, more than likely about the Havana Industriales baseball team.

I reveal to my wife that I couldn’t resist a conversation with the secret police agent to get a sense of what was going on. He is surprised with the absolute lack of interest by the Cuban people considering the importance of the event. We both agree that this is a significant effort taken by the crew of Amistad and the two governments. 

Within my heart I was hoping to see some of the dissidents and the Ladies in White show up for the Amistad, linking their cause for liberty with the symbolic ship. This was not to be, I am sure that the tactics of the Cuban government of isolating the Ladies in White was successful. Yes this was the potential watershed event for change in Cuba, an event that will have to happen another day.

The brave ladies dressed in white have been peacefully protesting for six years now slowly making some attitude change in Cuba. Their goal to free their husbands and sons, jailed for conveying calls of reforms and freedoms. The need for dissidents undertaking actions for change will continue until there is a moment similar to the Berlin wall falling. One day the need for hunger strikes will stop.

It is the complex layers of Cuban society, the ramifications that a citizenry pays from a system of government using censorship and information manipulation that causes an undeniable malaise. This malaise will be a big hurdle to jump and usually not included in conversations about the impending change in Cuba. One of Cuba’s truest barometers of impending change is the arts community and its longstanding use of double meanings. Watching Cuban art evolve to more direct meanings is significant, running parallel to the impending change to its society. 

I gave several of my artist friends blank stretched canvases about the size of a letter page. The only parameter I gave them was the subject, Libertad (Liberty), a topic that can be interpreted differently depending on one’s point of view. Days later emerged several images from the group, one of which is symbolic and haunting, overshadowing the other paintings. It takes your breath away with its simplicity and iconic imagery.

This painting features a red dawn in the background with the ghostly white silhouettes of the Ladies in White marching forth for change. The ladies have halos, an angelic aura, above it all and beyond reproach. It is truly representative of the artist’s hope for change and the bravery it takes to make change. An image more symbolic than support marches in Miami or Los Angeles, far more important than words from Andy Garcia or Gloria Estefan.

For the safety of this significant Cuban artist his name will be held in secret until safer times arrive on the island.

Please use (Royalty Free), the image as a symbol for change in Cuba, on websites, television presentations and print media. Credit Libertad Studio, 2010

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