Argelio Santiesteban

Argelio Santiesteban

Illustration: Claudia Margarita Guillén Miranda.

The american soldier who walked through Havana

It should not be forgotten that the capital of Cuba was always a crossroads. Can we forget that they called it the City of the Fleet, the Antemural de Indias, the Key to the New World, Margarita de los Mares? Everyone has passed through here. Did you tell me that Albert Einstein too? Well, he, who not only had a nose for relativity, but also for social injustice, toured Havana’s poor neighborhoods to later pass judgement: “Luxurious clubs next to atrocious poverty that affects mainly people of color.” But I say more: a certain British subject also walked through the same streets of Havana. He wore a Cuban guayabera shirt to avoid being recognized and gorged on mangoes. It was that angel, that superior being named Alexander Fleming, who gave penicillin to the human race, who was also enjoying his second honeymoon in Havana. Perhaps Pedro Vargas, “The Tenor of the Americas,” spent as much time on this island as in Mexico, his native land. Meanwhile, Puerto Rican Daniel Santos, “El Inquieto Anacobero,” lived in the vicinity of Havana’s Parque Maceo. And Nat King Cole would take a quick trip to the Cuban capital whenever he could. Sarah Vaughan, Bebo...

Township of San Juan de los Remedios, 19th century. Engraving by Federico Mialhe.

We were also record holders in terms of devils

I don’t know if it was because we were sensitive or because many of us who read The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty were sentimental, painfully tense. The same would be repeated with the homonymous film sequel, directed by William Friedkin. Speaking for the sake of speaking, the plot revolves around Regan, a 12-year-old girl who falls into a state of demonic possession, with which two long-suffering exorcists deal with, until reaching an end that could hardly be described as happy.  Well, now: the exorcist priests Karras and Merrin must only face a unique diabolical presence. It is Pazuzu, the wind demon who has taken the little girl’s body as a lair. And here comes the good stuff. It is well known that we Cubans don’t go around the bush with details, trifles or miseries, and we tend to exaggerate. So here, during the colonial days, in San Juan de los Remedios del Cayo it was not necessary to fight against a lonely and unhappy demon, but against...800,000 members of Lucifer’s hosts! before whom the prayers of Anima Sola, Just Judge, San Ciprián, The Seven African Powers and La Santa Camisa were ineffective. The facts Let the most relevant among...

Alberto Yarini’s grave in Colón Cemetery, Havana. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

When Yarini was killed

Beloved friends, today we begin these cordial encounters. Since nothing is impossible for the imagination, we will take a spectacular leap in time, to the Cuba of exactly a century and ten years ago. Let us thus set out on this journey of fantasy, to the year of our lord 1910. Then… everything happened. General José Miguel Gómez was governing—or rather misgoverning—, a character who, despite having a relevant Mambí career, left behind an unhappy memory during the exercise of the presidency. Many of the Cuban presidents were portrayed by a nickname. Thus, Estrada Palma was called “El Bobo de la Punta”; García Menocal, “El Mayoral de Chaparra”; to Grau San Martín, “El Divino Galimatías.” But it was Fulgencio Batista who broke the record in terms of nicknames: “Beno,” “El Indio,” “El Hombre,” “El Mulato Lindo de Banes”.... José Miguel Gómez, who was in office during that 1910 to which we have traveled, also had his nickname. For the blatant looting of the treasury they called him “Tiburón.” Yes, it was the liberal mayhem, personified in “La Chambelona.” By then, Halley’s Comet is going to soar through the skies and alarmist voices warn that its incendiary gases will scorch our...