Monday, December 28, 2009

Hit song changes Cuban tune on migration

Hit song changes Cuban tune on migration
Published Date: December 28, 2009
By Vicente Poveda

A song, both humorous and poignant, about Cuban migrants has become one
of the most popular hits on the communist island, illustrating a change
in the attitude of locals towards those who decide to leave. The song
Gozando en La Habana, which can be translated as "enjoying myself in
Havana," by David Calzado and his Charanga Habanera is about a young
girl who goes off to Miami. But once there, she calls her boyfriend in
Cuba to talk about how much she misses her country. "She says she has
money, the car she
always dreamed of, but she cannot find in Miami what she left in
Havana," the song goes. The abandoned boyfriend then teases the girl:
"You're crying in Miami and I'm enjoying myself in Havana.

For months, Gozando en La Habana has been the most listened to and
danced to song in Cuba. Circulated widely on CDs, tapes and even pen
drives, it can be heard on Cuba's state radio and television even though
it touches on a thorny issue. It is rare to find a young person who
doesn't know all the words. "We have managed to create a phenomenon and
it is becoming an anthem of Cuban youth," Calzado told dpa. He said the
song became such a huge hit because many Cubans can identify with the story.

For Calzado, there are no political connotations. But he admits that the
song mentions Miami, rather than Paris or Madrid, because it is a
stronghold for Cuban exiles. In the 50-year history since the revolution
led by Fidel Castro in Cuba, tens of thousands of migrants have settled
in the US city after managing to leave the island for political or
economic reasons.

Until recently, Cuban authorities considered those exiles as the worst
criminals, enemies of the state and imperialists. "Gusanos", or worms,
was a common insult used to refer to them. But Havana's outlook on
migrants has changed. Legislation has become more flexible, and Cubans
who work abroad and send money to their families back home are now an
important economic factor for the island. Some studies consider those
remittances as Cuba's top source of foreign currency, even above
tourism. "Why do you cry,
if it is thanks to you that I was able to buy my computer," the boy in
the song tells his girlfriend in Spanish.

Still, Cuban legislation continues to discourage leaving. Even for short
trips, Cubans need an exit permit, including a letter of invitation from
their foreign host. The entire process costs more than $300, which is a
massive burden for Cubans who on average earn less than $20 a month. The
exit permit is usually granted if the time-consuming paperwork is
completed and the relevant fees are paid. Cuban authorities now allow
entire families to leave at one time, something they would reject in the

There has been a sea change in migration from Cuba. The country has come
a long way from past mass waves of emigrants - the last of them in Sept
1994. At that time, Cuba was facing extreme hardship, which included
protests against the government in the wake of the collapse of the
Soviet bloc that was Cuba's main trade partner.

Castro allowed those who were "most upset" to go, and for an entire
month the coast guard remained passive as 30,000 Cubans went out to sea
in makeshift vessels, in the hope of reaching Florida. It was the crisis
of the "balseros", those who went to sea in a "balsa" or raft.

The United States grants refugee status to any Cuban who arrives on its
territory, as long as they make it to shore. If the person is
intercepted by the US Coast Guard, he or she is sent back to Cuba, in
line with the so-called "wet foot, dry foot policy". The law was left
unchanged in the wake of the events of 1994, which claimed many lives.
But Washington agreed to grant up to 20,000 visas per year - compared to
5,000 per year until then - to Cubans, to promote more orderly
migration. Most of those visas
are given out in a lottery.

Nowadays, Cubans who leave the island in precarious boats are an
exception, although there are still some cases. Calzado insists that he
is not "a blind man who says everything is fine". But he claims that he
never thought of leaving - not even in 1997, when he got into trouble
with the authorities after his band flew over the audience in a
helicopter during a concert. "We were banned for six months, because
(the authorities) understood that was ostentation. Not even at that
time, when it looked like they
were going to ban the Charanga forever, did I think about leaving," he
says of his band.

Calzado notes that, in his travels, he has not found perfection in
advanced countries either. "In the most developed countries, where you
have one thing, you lack another. In the face of imperfections, I'd
rather stay in my home environment, where I feel that the atmosphere is
just what I need," he says. - dpa

Hit song changes Cuban tune on migration » Kuwait Times Website (28
December 2009)

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