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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 3: Shipboard in Matanzas

Breakfast this morning was accompanied by the disappointing news that the Cuban government seems to have changed plans on us rather precipitously so that, now, it seems that only the crew that sailed Amistad to Matanzas will be allowed to sail from Matanzas to Havana. I’m hoping that there might be another change in that decision and am lobbying as hard as I can for permission to sail instead of having to take the bus back to Havana. I’ve got my sailing gear and the résumé as past crew in my favor but, since I lack any formal accreditation as a mariner and wasn’t listed as part of the crew upon arrival, it may end up being the bus for me.

Since this morning’s bad news, however, things have been going well. Most of the VIPs (and I have ended up being classed as a VIP) have been off with some of the crew members, visiting a memorial to a failed slave uprising. As one of the only Spanish speakers – and a limited one at that – I’ve been with the ship, working with Carlos, the first mate, and Capt. Bill Pinkney (Amistad’s original captain) to lead groups from a couple local elementary schools, the University of Matanzas, and a dental school. We’re expecting a group of historians later today, which I expect will be a very interesting conversation as we share information back and forth.

Since arriving in Cuba, I’ve been surprised at the juxtaposition of the Cuban government’s position toward the United States and much of the rest of the international community, and the interest and even affection that the Cuban people seem to have for the United States. I’m looking forward to more interactions with regular Cubans and to learning more of the subtleties of the social and political situation here.

After a full day of giving tours of the vessel, we were al invited to the UNESCO Slave Route Museum, which is a fairly small affair, located in an old fortress which was, of course, built by slave labor during the Spanish colonial period. The museum, itself consists of two rooms, one of which contains a variety of artifacts: shackles, manacles and other ironwork that has survived over the years. The second room is dedicated to the Afro-Cuban Santería religion and to the various deities that are part of it. Santeria has its roots in the West African Yoruba culture and developed in Cuba because the Spanish slavery system tended to keep African tribal groups together, whereas the US system of slavery intentionally split up Africans from the same tribal and linguistic background. We were treated to a performance of Afro-Cuban music and dancing which was very impressive,

In addition to people affiliated with Amistad America, I’m also traveling with Katrina DeWolf Browne and James DeWolf Perry, who are descendants of James DeWolf, whose family transported more Africans to the new world than any other slave trader in the history of the United States. DeWolf traded via Havana, where he also established several plantations to produce sugarcane and tobacco to use in the slave trade, as well as being a place to “season” newly enslaved Africans and to keep them as a hedge against the rising falling prices on the slave markets. Katrina and James have made a film detailing their family’s history with the slave trade, Traces of the Trade, which they used as the basis for a panel discussion last night, which was quite interesting. We finished up the evening with another dinner like the one the night before and then came back to the hotel kind of early, since the schooner will be leaving Matanzas quite early tomorrow.

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