Machado, through his alter ego Federico, draws a parallel between himself and that other famous little “lost boy” (Peter Pan’s friends in Never-Never-Land were called The Lost Boys), Elián González, who gave rise to a custody dispute between Cuba and the United States in December of 1999. Elián was a six-year-old Cuban boy whose mother took him from Cuba without the consent of his father and grandparents, but she and nine others died when their boat sank. Elián survived by floating on an inner tube for several hours in international waters until he was rescued off the coast of Florida. In Miami, Elián’s relatives held onto the boy, refusing to return the child to his Cuban family (he finally went home in June, 2000). Mass protest demonstrations were held in Cuba—Federico and Fred witness one of these during their visit—and because Machado does not overemphasize the similarities between himself and Elián, the parallel is artistic and moving.
Contemporary critical reaction to Havana Is Waiting was mixed. Cubans and other exiles felt it to be a beautiful, passionate play, while others often found it self-absorbed and self-indulgent. Reviewers never missed the point, however. Many were impressed by the way that Machado articulated the difficult relationship between Cuba and the United States through the humanity of the three characters. Ernesto demonstrates how the Cubans can be proud, patriotic, and yearning, while his American guests are arrogant, expressive, and generous. Machado successfully shows the griefs and losses caused by the U.S. embargo against Cuba that began in 1961, after the 1959 revolution that installed Castro in power. His play argues that it is time for the two countries to reconcile and to discover what they have to offer each other.