Cuban hunk, mobiles and cries of freedom in the San Lázaro sanctuary | More was lost in Havana | America


The phone rings and on the other side I feel Lazaro’s aguardent voice: “Did you see?” he’s going to get out ”).

Lázaro comments on the latest news this week. Two men drowned while trying to leave the country in a speedboat that came to pick them up from the United States. According to official information, the boat was overloaded and the sea was rough, and when they called for help it was too late. Two children were rescued alive, seven women and 12 men, and the Government immediately accused the United States of being responsible for the misfortune of having the Consulate closed and not giving visas to legally emigrate to Cubans, as established by the migration agreements signed between both countries, which in his opinion “stimulates” this type of human trafficking operations.

“But the hell, and don’t you wonder why people want to risk their lives,” he says.

Immediately afterwards, he repeats what he has said many times, that he is neither a communist, nor a fidelista, nor anything like it, but that he does not support the double standards of the United States. “Their mouths are full of freedom for the Cuban people, but then they use us as balls of ping pong”.

Remember the story of a mutual friend, the playwright Abraham Rodríguez, who died in 2005, who was his ambia and consort of the neighborhood. Abraham wrote Andoba, anthological work of the Cuban theater that tells the life of a habanero thug with an easy knife who returns to the lot where he grew up after a long time in jail. Andoba, a manual on the psychology of marginality and neighborhood guapería, was an absolute success. Abraham later wrote numerous scripts for television and cinema, and back in the 1990s, at the height of fame, he was invited to travel to the United States.

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At that time the American Consulate did work, but the queues were tremendous. They were held in the open air on an esplanade near the diplomatic legation that was in a hollow. Everyone called that place “the hole.” There, in the hole, you had to queue under the sun, papers in hand, and wait for the officials to come out of the building and call you by name. “Poor Abraham spent hours there without a tree to take refuge in, waiting to be summoned. When he finally entered, the vice consul told him after asking him several questions: ‘And you, who are a prepared man, why don’t you stay and live in the United States, where you would have a better future’ ”. While doing the story, he laughs. “Abraham, who was from a mother, got the water and the guapería: ‘Well, look, I’m not leaving because I don’t feel like it: I’ll go and turn.” And they did not give him a visa.

Abraham related that in the hole there were many guajiros who came from the interior with the arranged appointment but, since they had no place to stay, they went into the neighboring Rivero funeral home to spend the night pretending that they were watching a dead person. “That was crazy, every day there were dozens of people and the funeral home employees finally noticed the involvement and took a drastic countermeasure: they put an official at the door preventing the passage of anyone who did not know the name of the deceased and the room where they were going to watch him ”. But that did not help, explains Lázaro: “someone immediately looked for the return and began to sell the names of the dead in the park opposite for five pesos”.

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Today, December 17, the day of Saint Lazarus, my friend wants to talk. So he asks me to pick him up and let’s go to the sanctuary. Lázaro is from Cayo Hueso, Centro Habana, a brave neighborhood, of rumberos, ‘bisnes’ and people of character, the same one where Abraham grew up and develops Andoba. Here almost everyone plays bolita, a clandestine hundred-number lottery introduced by the Chinese in the 19th century in which you bet on what you have dreamed, seen or lived, and also on cabal. Each number has a correspondence. Number 1 is a horse, 5 is a nun, 37 is a black chicken or witchcraft, 66 is divorce, 50 is a police officer, and 83 is tragedy. If you go down the street and step on a dog shit or a pigeon shits you, anyone in Key West will bet on 7, excrement. And if you have dreamed that you are at a party where there is plenty of drink and a fight breaks out, 49, drunk, or 67, stab, they are not bad options.

Two pilgrims prostrate themselves before the image of Saint Lazarus this Friday, December 17, 2021 in Havana, Cuba.
Two pilgrims prostrate themselves before the image of Saint Lazarus this Friday, December 17, 2021 in Havana, Cuba.Yander zamora

I pick you up at Parque Trillo, in front of the Palacio de la Rumba, which used to be the Strand cinema. And from there we go to the house of a prompter so that Lázaro “pulls some numbers”. Although gambling in Cuba is illegal, the ball is tolerated and derision to the impudence. For each peso that you put on a fixed number, the prize is 70 pesos, and if you bet on a combination of two (a parlé) and you hit it, you can win 800. Lázaro touches his chin, and puts five pesos on the 8, dead, and another five to 23, steamer (or ship), “because of the news of the speedboat.”

We take Rancho Boyeros avenue towards Santiago de las Vegas, and from there we immediately reach the small town of Rincón, where there is the sanctuary and a leper colony that continues to function and is cared for by the Sisters of Charity of San Vicente de Paul. From where we must leave the car, we have to walk several kilometers on foot: thousands of people go there on pilgrimage, many barefoot, others advancing on their knees, others crawling, and most are wearing a purple garment (the color of St. Lazarus). Some parents with a small child dressed in jute pants say that they come to pay a promise because the child was about to die and was saved.

“Most of those who ask for miracles do it for their health, but there is everything,” says Lázaro, who interrogates a tattooed young man with a neck covered in beaded necklaces: he explains that he brings an offering for Babalú (San Lázaro, in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria) because his brother went by raft for the Yuma (United States) and arrived without problems.

It is extremely hot, and another December 17, but 1994, comes to Lazaro’s memory. raft crisis, and at midnight a crowd in the church began to shout: freedom, freedom. It sounded very loud, it was thunderous, and the truth was I was scared. I asked the priest, who was a friend of mine, if we were not going to all end up in prison there. That priest looked at me with indulgence: ‘No man, no, the police have already passed by and told us that as long as they shouted freedom and not’ down who do you know ‘, I would not worry ”.

Lazarus becomes esoteric. Another December 17, but 2014, the US and Cuba decided to reestablish diplomatic relations and start the thaw path. “That was a miracle. Obama was the guy. It seemed that it was going pa’lante and that today we were going to be better. But nothing, then everything got screwed up ”.

Near the temple, in the middle of the street, a priest gives the blessing to whoever requires it, be it Catholic or santero, and the queue is considerable. You can no longer enter the church due to the pandemic and they have taken the image of the saint at the doors of the sanctuary. There people leave their offerings. They are mountains of purple flowers, votive offerings, crutches, cigars, lighted candles on the ground, everything one can imagine. A seminarian attends the parishioners. Lázaro approaches him and tells him the anecdote of 1994, and the young man tells him that this year nothing at all, that everything has been very quiet: “Only last night there was an incident when a gang of young people began to steal mobile phones and a molotera was formed. Imagine, with the economic situation so dramatic that there is and on the eve of the end of the year, some take advantage ”.

The sun does not give chance and we go tumbling. Crowds continue to arrive down the street with their anguish and bare feet, some carrying stones to pay their promises. On a propaganda billboard you can see the images of Fidel, Raúl Castro and the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, and the slogan “we are continuity”. There are many timbirichis in which soft drinks, bread with suckling pig, cigars, flowers, images of saints are sold, and from a stall, a vendor winks at Lázaro, and delivers the following proclamation: “Purple polyfoam candle / pa you go pal Yuma ”. Lázaro smiles at him and, very much in line, tells him: “Horrors will be seen.” Going out with him on the street is always a feast and an adventure.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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