Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez
Translator's note: This post is a longer version, written for the
Huffington Post, of the post that appeared in Yoani's blog today.
The Paseo del Prado displays its beautiful lion sculptures, cast from
the ammunition and weapons from our war of independence. When it opened
with its broad marble benches and bordering shade trees, it quickly
became a place for meetings and recreation. Part of its wide structure
was built exactly where the Wall of Havana once stood, dividing the
citadel within the walls from the city that grew up around it.
Today, this avenue runs between the historic town full of tourists and
the other part of the capital, a place of broken streets crowded with
people. The bronze felines, however, retain their nobility, the old
dream of grandeur that caressed the nation at the beginning of the
The Prado, our Prado, also lived through times of outright neglect for
having been conceived and built during the Republic. When history was
re-written and the victors tinted the past in sepia not even the manes
and teeth of these statues were safe from the diatribe. Something so
central was forgotten, not by those walking by, who continued to visit
them, but from the official discourse. The wide roadway with its central
park was virtually never mentioned on any television program, nor were
recreational or political activities convened under the shade of its trees.
But lucky vendors, children living nearby, lovebirds looking for a dark
place for caresses, took advantage of the lack of institutional interest
and made the Prado their own. On one of its most central corners a "swap
site" sprang up, a kind of alternative market to trade houses in a
country where their buying and selling was still prohibited.
Then, much later, the City Historian noticed the long-ignored esplanade.
He undertook a brief restoration process, improving the tree cover and
restoring some lampposts. But the Paseo del Prado remained in the hands
of passersby and kids because, even today, every inch of it is evidence
of a magnificent past that upsets the powers-that-be. The Plaza of the
Revolution in contrast, with its mass gatherings and lengthy speeches,
has never been able to function as a place of spontaneous congregation.
It is the great difference between a place where people choose to be, to
play with their children, to rest for a few minutes before continuing on
their way, or to watch the sun set, and that other site where they are
taken as a mass, like a platoon.
It seems that with their defiant fangs, the lion sculptures make a
mockery of the decades-long institutional abandonment. Despite a desire
to downplay its importance, the Paseo del Prado remains the preferred
site of those who come from the provinces and want to bring back a photo
of their stay in Havana.
Perhaps it is precisely this history of splendor and neglect that has
made the Paseo del Prado the chosen site to celebrate Gay Pride Day in
Cuba. A community degraded, for decades trapped between a machismo
culture and the repressive politics of the State, wants to take to the
streets on June 28. The call has been launched by an alternative group
that protects the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
people. The pressures of the political police on the main organizers
have been felt from the moment of the announcement, but so far the idea
Meanwhile, Mariela Castro, daughter of the current president,
continues–from her Center for the Study of Sexuality (CENESEX)–to deny
the need for this type of public demonstration. Instead, the well-known
psychologist led events on May 17, a day to celebrate the World Health
Organization's ceasing to regard homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder.
But from there to permitting the Cuban LGBT community to spontaneously
join together and take to the streets to celebrate its diversity is a
long stretch. Until now, the campaign to accept plurality in love has
been kept within the hands of official institutions, without letting
those whose interests are represented represent themselves. This, of
course, characterizes the inability of free association suffered by
Cuban society at all levels.
The choice of the Paseo del Prado as a site for the event, however,
benefits and protects those who manage to reach it. The tourists with
their restless cameras, curious children frolicking on all sides, the
unsuspecting lovebirds embracing on the benches, will act as a
protective shield without their knowing it.
And the lions, ah, the lions! They will have their moment of glory once
more, among brightly colored costumes, flags, streamers and songs, and
the handshakes of diversity. Today, claws and manes cast in the bronze
of a past war will seem less aggressive, with lower doses of
testosterone, and with a bit more of the sparkle of life.
28 June 2011"