Original Names

Our authorities have the absurd habit of changing the names of streets, parks, shops, businesses and even some public places, according to their short-term political interests. Thus, Presidents Avenue, El Vedado, built during the Republic and along which appear monuments, statues or busts of various Cuban presidents, degenerated into a the so-called Avenue of the Latin American Presidents (not of all of them, just the “friendly” ones). Previously, the site dedicated to the American Presidents (taking the Americas as a whole), was the beautiful Fraternity Park, next to the Capitol building. In its conversion to Estrada Palma (the first President) all that is left on the marble base is a pair of shoes, near the Hotel Presidente, an outstanding display of cultural vandalism, and Jose Miguel Gomez was saved at the junction with Calle 29, as his monument was so huge. The spaces provided for the others have been occupied by statues or busts (some quite poorly executed artistically) of Bolivar, Alfaro, Torrijos, Allende, etc., in a strange hodgepodge of history.

The Avenida de Carlos III, has long has imposed on it the name of Salvador Allende, but only a tiny minority of people call it this. The same thing happened to Reina (renamed Simon Bolivar), Galiano (Father Varela), Monte (Maximo Gomez) and others, all of which ordinary people still call by their original names. This extends to sports venues, where most of the ballparks have names that have nothing to do with their sport, whether it be swimming pools, facilities for basketball, volleyball and others where elementary logic suggests they should be named for the respective leading figures in that sport.

Recently a rally held at the Acapulco Park in Nuevo Vedado got my attention; in one of its corners they have erected an unimaginative and completely oblivious to the design of the park monument dedicated to Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. It turns out that they have renamed it Ho Chi Minh Park (when they dedicated the monument, it called Liberty Park). At the ceremony, which they repeat every time some important Vietnamese visits, the only ones participating were the students from a nearby high school, in full uniform, Vietnamese students studying in Cuba and a few selected officials. A political assembly that passersby observe from afar, since it has nothing to do with them or with the neighborhood. I don’t know if the Vietnamese have noticed.

Undoubtedly, the authorities of the city and country have the right to name avenues, streets, parks, etc., but please, build them first rather than rededicate existing ones; it would be much easier and less expensive than changing existing, and therefore historical, ones. For me and the neighbors who live in Nuevo Vedado, Acapulco Park was, is and always will be the Acapulco Park. I think, the same thing happens with the neighbors of other places.

These names are also part of the much touted national identity. They constitute the heritage of neighborhoods, areas and cities. Changing them for short-term political expediency shows disrespect for the citizens (who are not consulted) to whom they really belong, because they live in the area around them, and also shows a lack of culture and civility. The defense of national identity is demonstrated by deeds and not speeches. Hopefully this nefarious practice, which has failed wherever there have been efforts to impost it (St. Petersburg will always be St. Petersburg), will cease once and for all, not further complicating the lives of future historians with so many name changes, which almost everyone ignores.

July 7 2011

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