“Imagine, OF all the people”? Fidel Castro’s, and the “real story”, behind John Lennon park

Beatlemania having swept over the world in the sixties is far from an over exaggeration, as we all know. But to find out that in 1964 Fidel Castro declared a nationwide ban of the Beatles’ music really puts into perspective the influence and reach music can have.

Castro saw the”fab four” as a symbol of the “vulgar consumerism” he resented and thought of the British band as “a tool of capitalist America”. Regardless of the ban, their music still made its way to Cuba’s youth underground, and two years late in 1966, the ban was lifted, although it still took some time for Cuba to allow all its people to embrace the rock and roll craze. In 1971 the Beatles show was aired for the first time over Cuban airwaves, but tension still remained towards the new culture of the 60s and 70s.

However, on December 8th of 2000, the 20 year anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination, a statue was unveiled on a park bench at 17th and 6th street in Havana park, also known as “John Lennon Park”. Somewhere in those 30+ years, John Lennon grew on even communist rebel Fidel Castro. Whether this actually stands as symbol of musical freedom in the new era of the Fidel rule is still up to debate among Cuban musicians, for Havana park didn’t get its British nickname along with the unveiling of the statue. This story actually begins months prior with a group of Cuban musicians.

john lennon park

Jorge Dalton recalls his participation in the original tribute to the icon in an article of the Havana Times. A group of Cuban musicians and other artists had the idea to pay tribute to the band and “right the injustice that the banning of the Liverpool Four in Cuba during the 60s and 70s had meant”. With the support of the National Committee of the Young Communists League, Cuban Radio and Television Institute, and various other members of the community, the group of artists planned to pay tribute on the roof top of the  Habana Libre Hotel at the same time as a film festival as an ode to the Beatles rooftop concert in England in 1969.

Everything was planned out and seemed to have the green light, until the actual day came. The National Committee of the Young Communists League withdrew their support and deemed the concert “inappropriate” and the Communist Party Leadership, relayed through the National Committee of the Young Communists League, said the concert was not to be authorized.

Although the group of artists attempting the concert greatly dwindled in size and lost the support of the  Cuban Radio and Television Institute, who were going to supply broadcast and audio equipment, the few remaining musicians persevered and decided to try Havana Park next.

News spread about the reattempt at the concert and the park was packed with people before they even started setting up. Rushed, unrehearsed, and improvised, the band began the tribute. Jorge recalls “pulling electricity  directly from streetlamps and people’s houses”, and even nearby police couldn’t help but join in, “The park was also surrounded by a long cordon of police officers, who ended up singing Yesterday, A Hard Day’s Night, Come Together and Let It Be along with us”. The tribute ended with Hey Jude after one musician, Carlos Varela, “took the microphone and proposed baptizing the park with the name of John Lennon”.

When Fidel presented the statue of Lennon at the park only months later, party leaders and members of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute who had tried to stop the concert prior were even present at the unveiling.

cuba concert

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The “tangled ball of yarn” and where we may bat it to next

U.S.-Cuba relations. What they’ve been in the past and a glimpse of where they could be heading.

U.S.-Cuba relations is no new topic, and one of the many questions being raised right now is just what the Trump administration may do in regards to Cuba during his presidency. Fidel Castro’s analogy of the U.S.-Cuba embargo being a “tangled ball of yarn” is an all too perfect one for relations in general. The history between these two countries is a lengthy and complex one, so here is a general outlook on what may come, with focus solely on a few basic questions and information, and how they parallel with the secretary of states recent Q&A answers that have been really stirring up this topic of discussion.

Does the U.S. government have the right to prohibit American tourists from traveling to Cuba?

The answer to this question can initially lay in the statement, “freedom of movement is a Democratic ideal”. However, both the U.S. and Cuba have been accused of violating this ideal. The difference is, Cuba is not a Democracy, so there for this is not an ideal they have, or really should even be expected to have or abide by. The Cuban government is a communist political party, constitutionally defined as a “Marxist-Leninist”; a socialist state  guided by the principles and political ideas of Jose Marti, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. However, there is a crime described in the Penal Code called Salida illegal del Pais meaning illegal exit from country. This stating also that there was/is a way to legally gain permission to leave the country. Emphasis on “legally gaining permission”. So while so far it may seem like the U.S. is in the wrong and Cuba is simply following the laws in place, whether they’re just or not, this argument can be take even deeper. Through the United Nations, there is the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right  to leave any country including his own. So yes, both countries are violating human rights, whether or not they are violating the rights laid out by their government. Which puts the U.S. even further into the wrong for not only violating one of our own Democratic ideals , but a human right as laid out by the United Nations, in an attempt to maintain pressure on the Cuban Government.

Is it okay for the U.S. government to continue to try to strangle the Cuban economy and cause an upraise to bring Democracy if it hasn’t worked for over half a century and has caused suffering to the Cuban people?

This is yet another question with a seemingly obvious answer, but since the beginning of the embargo that has been the main blow to the Cuban economy, many different factors and incidents have made this much more than a no brainier and worth the debate. El bloqueu, as the Cuban people refer to the embargo, is actually considered one of the oldest and most comprehensive against any country. Having started in the Eisenhower presidency the embargo lasted through nine presidents until 2014 when Obama announced his plans to normalize relations with Cuba and end the embargo.This embargo put restrictions on numerous necessary goods over the years, such as medicine, sugar, grain, petroleum, and various other environmental dimensions. It had intense effects on Cuba’s capital stock in U.S. manufacturing in the 1960’s, left Cuba highly vulnerable during the depression of 1990’s and caused trade to fall drastically with Cuba and increase drastically with the Soviet Union; from 68% in 1956 to 0% in 1962 with the U.S. and from less than 1% in 1958 to 49% in 1962 with the Soviet Union. Cuba estimates that the cumulative  cost  of the embargo was $116.8 billion in 2014. Obama had it right when he said, “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, its time to try something new”.

Rex Tillerson’s Latin America policy Q&A

The secretary of state was eventually plainly asked, “Do you stand by PEOTUS Trump’s commitment to reverse the Obama Administration’s Cuba regulation until freedoms are restored to the island”?  Tillerman answered, “Yes. There will be a comprehensive review of current policies and executive orders regarding Cuba to determine how best to pressure Cuba to respect human rights and promote democratic changes“.  Seems like its going to be 54 years of something that doesn’t work .

How I’d like to see the administration proceed with relations with Cuba

I believe its pretty clear that I agree with giving up on the relations and embargo’s of the past. Cuba needs help economically and with human rights, but harshly projecting your form of government onto another that has rejected it for so long will do no good. How we choose to help the people of Cuba needs to be handled much more meticulously if we plan to make any progress with them or provide any real help to the people. Its as if America still views Cuba as simply another port for sugar trade for them to try and “free” from the Spanish as they did during the “American Imperialism age”.

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