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DATELINE: CUBA : THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, THEN AND NOW

Havana, 1962:

Cuba reached an agreement with the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles along the island’s coast, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis. With the world on the brink of war, the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for the United States’ withdrawal of missiles in Turkey.

Havana, 1991:

In the days before the Pan American Games, fascinated Cubans would gather at the corner of 23rd and M streets and watch the production trucks with New York license plates arrive at the ABC and TNT television networks’ compound.

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“Yuma, Yuma,” the Cubans would say, pointing at the trucks.

Before long, it became apparent to Americans who are here for the Games that Cubans refer to everything that is from the United States as “Yuma.” That includes old Plymouths, Buicks and Chevrolets that were in Cuba before the 1959 revolution, plus clothing, jewelry and toys that have slipped through the U.S. economic blockade and even Americans themselves.

It would be logical to guess that “Yuma” derived from the words “U.S. Made” or “Made in the U.S.” that are sometimes found on items manufactured in the United States. But that would be wrong.

As explained by a Cuban Foreign Ministry official, the government has become more liberal culturally in recent years, allowing theaters to show Hollywood movies. Playing now in Havana are “El Vengador” (Commando) and “Viejo Gringo” (Old Gringo). But for the first 15 years after the revolution, he said, the only U.S. movie that was allowed was a 1950s western starring Glenn Ford. Its title is “3:10 to Yuma.”

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Therefore, Cubans began to associate anything American with Yuma. Whenever a person is leaving for the United States, it is said that he or she is “going to Yuma.”


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