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    The King, The President and The Dictator

    The King, The President and The Dictator

    14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the
    Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was
    prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never
    sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI visit
    may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of
    symbolism and protocol.

    The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the
    country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official
    visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be
    like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across
    the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a
    part of a rigid dynasty.

    The visitors will arrive in the middle of “the cooling off of the thaw”
    between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the
    diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted
    with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than
    two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it
    imagined to merge from its economic quagmire.

    US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba,
    discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans
    traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent
    tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet
    from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more
    discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.

    The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram
    accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the
    most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out
    of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in
    shorthand as “17-D,” has given way to boredom and apathy, because life
    is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly
    long move where almost nothing happens.

    Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but
    the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply
    of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought,
    scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or
    carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are
    not uncommon.

    Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their
    money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized
    and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the
    Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial
    projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime’s last pharaonic
    and useless project.

    But Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House hasn’t meant an iron fist
    against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US
    president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now
    seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the
    anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

    The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking
    advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for
    anything in return. Right now there hasn’t even been start on the
    drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was
    that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally
    decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince
    the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of
    openings?

    To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against
    opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled
    from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process
    in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in
    this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a
    spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of
    its disasters.

    Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in
    times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that
    plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last
    year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government
    applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off
    Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The
    convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without
    premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.

    These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but
    rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to
    understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just
    changes its skin.

    The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit
    of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals
    will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to
    avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter
    beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As
    was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to
    participate in an Ibero-American Summit.

    On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the
    streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors,
    emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting
    one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most
    residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the
    royal couple walked.

    Their successors, who will travel to the island “as soon as possible,”
    could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to
    shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American
    president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the
    gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a
    snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A
    defeat for the Revolution’s visual epic.

    Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official
    press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and
    negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the
    circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension
    that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the
    island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish
    citizens, also represented by that nation’s leader and who are, in the
    end, his most important interlocutors.

    Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be
    bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his
    convalescent retirement. The king declined his father’s participation in
    death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of
    the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that
    of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.

    However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment
    in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country
    very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a
    decadent regime.

    Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its
    king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of
    its dictator.

    Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish
    Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País.

    Source: The King, The President and The Dictator – Translating Cuba –
    translatingcuba.com/the-king-the-president-and-the-dictator/