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Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

I’m Liking Havana less and less

June 22, 2016 |

Dmitri Prieto

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — The organization that controversially manages the nominations for the world’s “modern wonders” recently awarded Havana the title of “New Wonder City of the World.”

This Havana that I wanted for years to call my home, this Havana where I studied at its University and where I’ve already worked for a fair bit… this Havana that I like less and less every day.

As a teenager, as a young man, in the middle of the “Special Period” (economic crisis starting in the early 1990s), I used to wander down its streets and the streets used to talk to me. They spoke to me of days and nights long past, about hippy writers and rocker guitarrists, about the struggles of the working class and about student martyrs. About popular foods and dances, rumbas, religions, esotericism and sex.

That era has now ended, and that Havana has passed away, with no possible resurrection on the horizon. That wasn’t a Socialist Havana, in spite of Los Van Van – the longlasting mythomaniacs, larger than life. It was, quite simply, the city which, as poet Jesus Diaz wrote in “The Lost Words”, was once alive.

It was the same Havana that once welcomed the bearded ones, and then later hosted the disgusting and nasty liturgy of “actos de repudio” (repudiation rallies). The Havana that once had so many alternative projects, so many people who wanted and hoped for another Cuba – and so many people wishing to leave this Cuba, because the other one vanished like grains of sand between our fingertips.

The sand that then brought this mud. The time has come to pay for all the barbaric deeds that so much “well stocked idealism of that time” brought… and the price is still too high.

Reggaeton was conceived – on an open sex night – to the son “Sabado Corto”, Pablito Milanes’ hedonistic song from the ‘80s. And Silvio Rodriguez, honored with a Cuba Posible Award, taught this Havana how to break away from the impossible truth, amongst cries, amongst ideologies, revealing talent and establishing what would be this “new” trova forever.

No more trova. Fed up of upturned streets where every new construction project only leads to new potholes.

No more memories. People shout from balconies not with popular joy but out of desperation, and the flags they hang up are commercial slogans – it doesn’t matter where these flags come from, because fula (the dollar) doesn’t have a “race” nor does it imply any national identity.

I don’t have any more wishes to live here, the same wishes which gave my late parents so much grief. “Services” are offered to potential “customers” with aggressive shouts, bicitaxis pull along what remains of the city’s old streets’ warm charm, and the new generation takes over with their Reggaeton that the pitiful minister thought was a music genre. Our “cultural avant-garde”, our “intellectuals” were stupid enough to oversee that there was something to save, beyond the mummified relics of an ideology in power… although maybe they weren’t complete idiots, just run over doves…

The sad work of that Eusebio hellbent on rescuing the disaster, brings tears to my eyes when I watch the TV, imprisoned by the illness that afflicts his body, and imprisoned by the disease that eats away at all of Cuba. Eusebio Leal, the hero of so many restorations. A controversial man, questioned by many, by my family and even by myself. What an abyss lies today between his faith and the reality of his beloved city..

Today, Havana is silent. You wouldn’t be able to hear its voice anyway with so much reggaeton about. Its streets haven’t said anything to me since the darkest ages.

That’s irrelevant now anyway.

The old Cuba no longer exists.

It’s an ersatz, a pure imitation, a cheap ruin that was sold off one little piece at a time.

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  • luis segui

    Yes dont mention the cruel USA embargo. Great article
    . Not

    • Moses Patterson

      What does the embargo have to do with people who have socially devolved and shout from balconies or Eusebio Leal’s well-known problems with corruption?

  • Change and ‘old’ men complaining about it are the only real universal contants…

  • A common citizen

    This article is bad, is disgusting. It reflects not the feelings of many people but the frustration of one who have not been able to adapt him or herself to the current, situation.
    It is true that we as a society have many daily problems but it is the same for millions of people in the entire world.
    Stop trying to see only the luxury part of the developed countries, try to see also the vast majority of the people in these countries that have not a roof over their heads and not a dish in their tables if they have tables.
    Don´t think that if you finally reach Florida you will be a millionaire and will live in five stars Hotels.
    Put your feet on the ground, work hard in your homeland and try to be a grown person.

  • CErmle

    Havana is alive and well. You are not.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      I had previously thought that your contributions were the scribblings of a parrot intoxicated with illogical communist drivel. But to state that a contributor is not alive and not well, when all of us can read his writing is a demonstration of mental irrationality.
      You too are obviously alive, but with a somewhat sick mind.

  • Terrific article. I was fortunate enough to start visiting Cuba before the big changes. I remember walking the streets of Havana and other cities in Cuba and feeling both safe and welcome. I am now asked if I am not excited that it is so much easier to visit Cuba. The travel is really not much different than it used to be for me, and I have absolutely no desire to visit. I was last there in 2012. Obispo street was a pedestrian mall with shops full of all sorts of things made in China. I can find all that at the beach in South Carolina. Cuba has lost its heart and soul. Maybe it was America’s whore house once long ago, now it is America’s 5 & 10 cent store.

  • Gerard Matthews

    We sometimes long to travel back in time to relive what for us were better times, more romantic, and indeed to the individual they were better times, as we get older we sometimes tend to live{ at least in our minds} in the past. Some people do not like change, and let us be honest all change is not for the best!. We do not appreciate what we have until we lose it, appreciate what you have, when you have it. As we get older their is a danger that we can continually live or exist in a cultural time warp, please do not condemn older people who live in a type of time warp, try to understand them, they truly believe that times were better when they were younger, all things from the past were not all that bad! some building just like own minds start to show signs of wear and tear as they age, respect age because older people have seen and experienced so much more hardships and life than the younger generation, remember to respect and tolerate your elders, they are getting nearer the end of their race for life!

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      Thank you for your contribution Gerard, it reflects the reality of life and of aging very well.

  • jim

    One should see beyond their own despair. Change is afoot … like it or not!

  • QA

    Your perceptions of everything were very different as a teenager. There is one thing that you cannot stop; it is change. Even if the world were frozen in time your mind cannot be, and how you perceive and understand the world cannot remain as it was. So join the club and lament about how it used to be. You know, for most people the pain fades and the good is what we remember. Better learn to embrace change. It will always be with you.