HAVANA, Cuba. – Militarized and somber, the city of Havana, whose name officially is Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana, turns 502 today, November 16, 2021. Amidst the political tensions the country is facing, the festivities that are usually celebrated on the eve of every anniversary and had been announced for this year by official media, were gloom, unlike previous years: very few people out on the street and around the foundational sites of the nation best describes the day.
“A wide number of cultural, recreation and sports activities” were expected to celebrate the 502 Anniversary of the founding of Havana. The day was marked by militarized streets, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, acts of repudiation and surveillance operatives in light of the expected Civic March for Change slated for this day.
Centric and usually-crowded streets and places, like Obispo Street and Central Park, respectively, were desolate on November 15th.
For example, on Italia Avenue (aka Galiano), the scant presence of pedestrians was visible, in spite of the announcement on the official Granma about the lighting of ornamental lights at 9 pm, event which did not happen at the time scheduled.
The lighting of 16 constellations from the Italian city of Turin was held prior to the traditional commemoration at midnight at the foundational site where the Templete is located in the middle of the Plaza de Armas. This year’s celebration was attended by very few people.
To celebrate each anniversary of Havana’s founding there is a traditional midnight ceremony on November 15th, on the eve of the anniversary, where residents of Havana and visitors go around the ceiba tree in a counterclockwise direction, they touch the sacred tree, some even throw coins around the roots and make wishes.
According to residents of Havana, after circling the ceiba tree, the old ritual is completed by going up to the Cathedral building and knocking three times on its doors. On this November 15th, the tradition could not be completed because the gates in front of the building were locked, thus preventing access to the Cathedral’s doors.
Everyone who went out on the evening of November 15th to await another anniversary of Havana, found desolate, somber and militarized streets instead. The festive spirit that would have celebrated Havana’s 502nd birthday, so widely promoted by the regime’s media, simply did not happen.
Due to the fear that the government has been instilling on the people for such a long time now, Cubans protested in silence. Havana made it clear it was in no mood for parties.
Read in spanish here.
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