Strange July 4th in Cuba
Havana and Washington politicians don’t have much good to say about each other, but something strange occurs each July 4th when US Independence Day is celebrated twice in the Cuban capital, at two very different venues.
Personally, having lived outside of the US for many years, I hadn’t celebrated the date for a long time, until moving to Cuba, a country that ten consecutive US administrations have considered their enemy.
But since living on the island I have partaken in several July 4th commemorations put on by Cuban cultural institutions in Havana and last Friday was no exception. I go for the excellent music and appreciate the accenting of what I consider one of the United States’ greatest contributions to the world.
The National Concert Band, Vocal Luna and Entrevoces Choirs, soloists Maria Eugenia Barrios, Maylu Hernandez and Bismar Estupiñan, trumpeter Yasek Manzano and his group, and others performed for two hours without interruption.
This year’s tribute included classics including Moon River, Summertime, The Battle of Jericho, As Time Goes by, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Lush Life. There was also a potpourri of Cuban Music.
“We are here for the gala to pay tribute to the people of the United States on the date that the thirteen English colonies declared their independence in 1776,” said Jesus Gomez Cairo, of the Cuban Music Institute at Havana’s Amadeo Roldan Theater.
Gomez told the audience: “A select representation of distinguished Cuban artists will show their art tonight in expressions and songs that in one way or another reflect the historic and cultural ties between the US and Cuban people.”
“The intellectuals and artists of Cuba want to highlight the deep-rooted and very current ties between our cultures, where music has played an important role,” he added.
THE OTHER CELEBRATION
Another celebration also took place Friday sponsored by the US Interests Section (USIS) in Havana and held at the residence of Washington’s top diplomat in Cuba, Michael Parmly.
Parmly is on his way out, so the Independence Day gathering was also a sort of going away party for the diplomat. While it was thought the occasion might be used to provoke another incident of tension with Cuba, AFP reported that “the July 4th party went ahead without incident.”
Parmly’s image had been sharply tainted in late May when the Cuban government disclosed exhaustive documentation showing the US diplomat’s direct relationship in the financing of a group of internal “dissidents” on Washington’s payroll.
While few people here were surprised to learn that the USIS was a contact point for organizing anti-government activities, the direct, hands-on involvement of Parmly in the payments was scandalous for its clear violation of diplomatic privilege.
On July 2nd the Cuban Foreign Ministry issued a statement making it clear that a continuation of the “provocative actions organized and financed by the US Interests Section” in recent weeks is not going to be tolerated.
“The conveyance of direct instructions from USIS diplomatic personnel to paid agents to step up subversive actions on public streets or symbolic places,” can expect a firm reply, reads the statement from the Cuban government.
For now, July 4th has come and gone. Each year it is a reminder to me that, despite all the hostility shown by the US government towards Cuba and Cuba’s defensive position in an effort to survive, on a people-to-people and culture-to-culture level the animosity is just not there.