The music and culture of that Cuban city and its vast surrounding countryside has long been influenced by the rest of the Caribbean. Haiti, just 48 miles directly to the east, and Jamaica, 87 miles to the south, have led in this influence.
In fact, the city is still awash with Cubans sporting French and English last names like Jones and Betancourt. Take a look at the Tumba Francesa folkloric dancer in the photo to the left taken during that same 2003 trip to Santiago. Also check out the photos below of the group's unusual drums.
Once during an earlier visit to the city, I even met an elderly man in Tivoli who started reciting Marc Antony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen," from Shakespeare's Julius Cesar to me when he learned that he was in the presence of Un Yuma!
It turned out he had been born and raised in Jamaica where, because his mother was the maid at an elite British boarding school, he was able to attend classes for free - that is until his father moved the family to Cuba when he got a job there (in the 30s, 40, or 50s?) cutting sugar cane.
Small world indeed!
All these memories came rushing back to me this week with the truly apocalyptic news of the earthquake in Haiti. I also remembered an extraordinary book I read a few years ago, by Tracy Kidder called Mountains Beyond Mountains about the Haitian public health program Partners in Health / Zanmi Lasante and its pioneering medical anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer.
Their vision is stated succinctly, "Whatever it takes":
07:31 AM EDT Friday, January 15, 2010
Cuba opens airspace to U.S. evacuation flights from Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Efforts to rescue, feed and treat ten thousands of Haitians trapped or injured in a devastating earthquake continued Friday morning, and the U.S. government said it had received permission from Cuba to fly through restricted air space on medical evacuation flights.
01/14/10 - Washington Post - Haiti-US-Cuba cooperation
Washington Post letter to the editor.
The United States can be counted on to provide much of the medical assistance to Haiti, but reaching so many people in need will be difficult. To provide an even broader response, I suggest we cooperate with Cuba to provide medical personnel and supplies to Haiti. Cuba has a demonstrated ability to provide numerous doctors and nurses quickly, but it is chronically short on medicines.
Cooperation between unlikely actors is the norm after disasters, and in 1999, U.S. Army water teams and Cuban doctors worked together after Venezuela's devastating landslides. A simple agreement, however, would permit the transfer of supplies. Dialogue between our two nations usually focuses on intractable issues. A cooperative effort would allow for constructive dialogue. More important, it would save lives.
Gary H. Maybarduk, Reston
The writer headed the State Department working group for Haitian reconstruction after the U.S. intervention in 1994 and was counselor for political and economic affairs for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, from 1997 to 1999.
The Haitian Crisis and Possible Humanitarian Collaboration Between the United States and Cuba: Some Signs
Nelson P. Valdes
Yesterday morning the US State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet expressed that the United States government was willing to work with Cuba to address the needs of the Haitian people. [See below]. That night, Fidel Castro published a "reflection" dealing with Haiti. And Fidel Castro used almost the same formulation as the State Department spokesman. He said that Cuba was ready to "cooperate with any other State." Also yesterday, there were a number of initiatives from members of Congress and foreign policy
persons who were exploring with the Obama administration the possibility of both countries working together toward a common purpose - aiding Haiti's people.
Below you will find the pertinent information.
01/14/10 - Haiti Update/FPC Briefing
Charles Luoma-Overstreet, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Foreign Press Center, Washington, DC
Question: Thank you. My name is Luciano Clerico, Italian News Agency ANSA. In this issue, is it possible that the collaboration with some Cuban rescuers? I read today that from Cuba are sending a lot of people. So is it possible to imagine a common collaboration between U.S. American workers and the Cuban workers?
Mr. Luoma-Overstreet: Absolutely. This is an effort that, as I said before, goes beyond politics. We're interested in addressing the dire humanitarian needs on the spot right now. I can't speak to precisely the level of resources that the Cuban government is bringing into Haiti, but to the extent they are there, we are certainly going to talk and collaborate and work to see that people are helped there. I know the Cubans have given us specifically authorization already to be using Guantanamo as a staging point coming into Haiti. That's a sign of the close cooperation we're doing to put politics aside and address the
humanitarian needs here.
Fidel Castro on January 14, 2010 at 8:25pm on his reflection entitled "The Lesson of Haiti" wrote: "Up to one thousand doctors and health specialists are almost all there already and ready to cooperate with any other State that wishes to save Haitian lives and rehabilitate those hurt."