What People in Cuba Ought to Know about Miami (Part 1)
HAVANA TIMES — In a popular Cuban joke, one fellow says: “Havana, a city of two million people.” The phrase is left hanging in the air, in anticipation of the reply. The reply finally comes: “Yeah, two million: one million citizens, one million cops!”
According to statistics, there are some 5 million people living in Miami’s metropolitan area. In this post, I will tell you about the number of police officers I ran into in the downtown area.
Jorge Alejandro Soca, a reader (and commentator) of Havana Times, went to pick me up at the hotel, rescuing me from a veritable luxury prison, to take me to the park in front of the bay area, one of the city’s busiest spots. The first challenge was finding a parking spot. We finally found one (for the price of a good meal in my country of origin). Soca paid for the parking spot as though it were a matter of routine, pointing towards the sea.
I know it is not in good taste to speak of what one ate, but I cannot avoid mentioning that we consumed the red meat that is forbidden in Cuba. Later, we conversed on a balcony, a stone’s throw from the thousands of many-sized recreational vessels that pierced the quiet of night or stirred up whirls of foam as they advanced across the water with passengers on board.
From there, I saw a boulevard that was more than two kilometers long, where there is hardly any space between the numerous cafeterias, bars, kiosks, discos and other establishments capable of offering services to the tens of thousands of people who gather there on the much-awaited US weekend, the reward for the five previous (and commonly arduous) work days.
Miami, the world’s cruise ship capital, capital of the so-called Sunny State, welcomes daily several times the number of tourists one can find in Havana at any given moment. The local population, however, far exceeds these tourists in numbers at all public establishments, commonly full of drinkers, families who drive around with their babies on board and other customers one is likely to run into during Florida’s warm, tropical summer nights.
My friend offered me the opportunity of toasting with the world-renowned Guinness beer, a highly stimulating beverage that opened my eyes and allowed me to see beyond the shocking first impressions that so much consumption makes on a Cuban, particularly one who has never been in the most advanced First World country before.
As is my habit in Havana at night, where I sometimes act as a tour guide, I looked for the police officers one commonly finds at every street corner in my city, casting suspicious glances on all Cubans who walk next to tourists, but did not find a single uniformed officer among the thousands of people in the area where we walked for several hours.
I didn’t see one person complaining about anything or any form of aggression, let alone anyone trying to get ahead of someone else at any establishment. There was an abundance of courtesy: the European tourists walked around without anyone bothering them, conversing happily with anyone they pleased, even though they stuck out like sore thumbs (for Miami is populated mainly by Latin Americans).
It seems people don’t need to be looked out for so much here, or perhaps people don’t particularly want to be “protected” by the authorities so much.
The days passed. I visited a school and several supermarkets (immense in comparison to the largest in my country). I went back to the downtown area, where the branches of the world’s largest banks are located, including the now renowned Paribas, recently fined millions of dollars for carrying out transactions with Cuba.
I frequently asked for directions, for I would lose myself in the streets, similar in their shop windows, in a city full of skyscrapers, all alike in their architectural conception. I’m talking now about the old town, the equivalent of Old Havana, Centrohabana and Vedado. There is also a residential Miami that is entirely different.
To this day, I continue to ask myself: where were all the cops?