World

Cuban cartoonist feels 'fire' of creativity during historic week

Ramses, a key Cuban editorial cartoonist, is finding no shortage of creative ways to portray the implications for Cuba and the United States as they embark on a new era of international relations.

Ramses communicates hopes, worries about Cuba's future with pen and pad

Ramses, editorial cartoonist in Havana, sees the potential for great things for Cuba but hopes certain values will be preserved as it moves forward with relations with the United States. (CBC)

In Cuba, he's known as Ramses. Just Ramses.

He's a key Cuban editorial cartoonist who right now cannot believe his good fortune to have pen and paper at the ready as the world around him shifts so profoundly.

And how's this for timing. On Dec. 17, 2014 he was at a small convention of political cartoonists here. He was waiting to be joined by Canadian cartoonist Wes Tyrell when the announcements from U.S. president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro filtered out.

Ramses said the neighbourhood erupted. And the excited cartoonists retreated to their sketchpads.

"It was amazing … Many people were rushing to the streets, shouting," he said. "I never saw such a thing. Immediately I started drawing."

His first drawing in that heady moment was of an iconic Cuban farmer; a character from the beginning of the Republic of Cuba shaking hands with Uncle Sam.

"I'll never forget that moment and I will never forget this moment. December 17th was the spark, but this is the fire."

As envisioned by Ramses, both sides will have to tread carefully in U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations. (CBC)

He kept drawing. He was drawing Tuesday when the U.S.-Cuba migration talks started.

We talked about this sitting on a marble curb in Havana's lush Parque Central. He gingerly pulled his latest treasure out of his notebook and smoothed it out.

Two flags, Cuban and American, with a tightrope strung between them. The wobbly figure on wire he said, represents the diplomat. The huge height of the wire explained by the great danger of a mistake in this moment he says.

"We must take care in these conversations … careful with the feelings of the other."

What he genuinely seems to worry about is that the essence of Cuba could be at risk if the embrace of the new is too tight.

Mixing old values with new

Talk of new and old in Havana reflexively makes the mind wander to the endlessly captivating old cars and the ornate but fragile structures of old Havana.

But, Ramses is thinking bigger.

His worry is about losing core values in Cuba: the free health care, free education, the "security in the streets" as he puts it.

"Many things we need to preserve. This is very important to us"

Two right arms, part of the same machine, but it remains to be seen if the machine will operate smoothly. (CBC)

There's another drawing emerging from the book. This one of a complex machine, with two arms shaking hands. One Cuba, One the U.S., of course. The two arms ultimately are part of the same machine.

"They are making an exercise of strength," he says. "It's a device that shows we are actually just one people."

Yet another emerges. This one, in pencil, is as unfinished as the negotiations which seem to be the smoke wafting from a cigar.

That cigar held with curiosity by an American hand. A Cuban lighting the flame.

Will it take? Will it be good? Will it burn out?

Ramses doesn't seem sure how the drawing will end. No one seems sure how this moment will end.

This is a man whose mind is abuzz. He's nervous, he's thrilled, he's worried.

In that sense he seems to be all Cubans, with just an extraordinary ability to get it all down on paper.

The CBC's Adrienne Arsenault is in Cuba this week, as historic normalization talks get underway between Havana and Washington.

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