A day that will go down in history
by Victoria Alcalá
December 17, 2014 began like any other day—kids getting ready for school, adults heading to their jobs, moms making breakfast, elders going out to buy bread and the newspaper… Nothing indicated that the regular daily routine would be broken that day.
But around mid-morning, my neighbor started banging on my door and in a voice choked with emotion told me that Cuba was releasing Alan Gross and that the United States would do the same thing with Gerardo, Tony and Ramón, the three Cuban Five that still remained in US prisons. Aware that my placid neighbor does not drink alcoholic beverages so early in the morning, I asked him for the source of the news. “Telesur,” he said, and I diligently rushed and tuned in on that TV channel. There, Gross’s arrival in the US shared the screen with a speech by a Latin American president (I can’t remember which) at the Mercosur meeting, and a few minutes later, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was visibly moved, announced the release of the Cuban prisoners and that the governments of Cuba and the United States would normalize their diplomatic relations.
I have to admit that the first news did not allow me to assimilate the second one and I couldn’t contain the tears thinking the happiness that
mothers, wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends—from both sides of the Florida Straits—were experiencing at that moment. But the Argentinian President also disclosed that Raúl Castro and Barack Obama would be speaking at noon. It was 11 o’clock and that was the longest hour in my life.
At 12 sharp, Raúl, completely composed, without letting his feelings show, announced that the Cuban prisoners, for whom so many people had fought all over the world, had arrived on Cuban soil and that the governments of Cuba and the US would reestablish diplomatic relations. And then, I saw Obama on Telesur ratifying that his country was changing its relations with the Cuban people. And then I understood that what Cristina Fernández had said was not wishful thinking but a reality.
An explosion of adrenaline shook my home, my street, my neighborhood, my city, my country. Tears, laughter, cheers… The reflections of the middle-aged ran along the path of emotions: “Fidel should have been the one to break the news.” “I’m glad it was Raúl after all these hard years.” “It’s a good thing Fidel is alive to see this!” The young people, in tune with the times, ran to IM or chat with their friends scattered around the world. The more pragmatic began to imagine how the words of an inscrutable Castro and a smiling Obama would influence their existence, their decisions, their future.
That day, people stopped working at their offices, their factories. The optimistic envisaged that the end of the embargo was just around the corner ,while others, like me, thought that this was just the beginning of a long road although we can already see a light at the end. Some started to joke about California apples and wine for Christmas, or gave thanks to Saint Lazarus, whose feast day was being celebrated on that day, for his intercession. There were questions, too: How will life be without the embargo? Can we look to the future without fearing that a family member may need a certain drug and we cannot get hold of it because it’s made in the U.S.? Will I be able to send cigars to my uncle with their bands and labels and in their original boxes unafraid of its Cuban origin? Will we be ready to abandon the land-under-siege mentality? Will future U.S. governments coexist in a civilized manner with such a different neighbor?
The road is long, complex, risky… The questions are many and the possible answers, infinite. There are few guarantees and many uncertainties. But today, I only wish to enjoy this different day, a happy day for my people, for the families of the prisoners who were released; a complex day for the presidents of both countries. A day that will go down in history!