I just called a friend and was shocked to find out that he had slept at the police station. My friend is a painter, 24-years-old, and is universally recognized as “the best there is.” As I know it’s difficult to get involved in problems I dismiss the most common possibilities (those almost all of us under thirty have lived through and we aren’t that good): forgetting your identity card, getting into a fight with someone, shouting Down With…Communism, Fidel, Raúl, State Security…in a dark street, or walking around in a shirt with a “troubling” slogan on it.
Discarding the most common, I’m left with the more complex ones. These rarely end up at the station, unless the officer on duty is in a VERY bad mood (sadly the police suffer from chronic bad humor): urinating in a public place, sitting on the grass in a park or on a wall, talking on the corner with a group of friends, or not wearing a shirt.
What happened was: my friend’s friend wasn’t wearing a shirt and the police office was in a VERY bad mood. There were at a bus stop and from the bus the officer shouted at him to get dressed, which he did without saying a thing. The bad thing is that for that type it wasn’t enough and the officer got off the bus to ask him for his identity card. Not only did he not have his card but, like a good citizen and a gentleman, he was carrying his girlfriend’s and as evil fate would have it he made a mistake and gave the officer a card “with the name of a woman.”
To be an officer of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) implies in many cases that you believe yourself master of destiny, i.e. you live with the conviction that everything arbitrary that happens is related to you or your job or, another way to say the same thing: you have a complex. And the officer understood that it didn’t just happen, but that the friend of my friend had given him the wrong card to make fun of him, a woman’s card for the height of impudence and irrefutable proof of “disrespect for authority” (the incomprehensible twists of police machismo).
By then a patrol that was passing through the zone had reached the “scene of the crime” and the officer was beside himself shouting, “You’re disrespecting me!” and he slapped the one with the girlfriend. The group at the stop didn’t wait but jumped to the defense of the slapped one, without thinking of course that the patrol would jump in at full speed with more officers in a VERY bad mood, with nightsticks in hand and without having passed the course titled do-not-use-your-nightsticks-to-hit-defenseless-citizens.
The chaotic rest of the story is more or less similar to all the others where the protagonists are young men of 25 and police officers who lack registered addresses for housing in Havana. In a moment the first were kicked into the notorious “car cage” and from there taken to the station, where chapter two began: the reconstruction of the facts.
But power is power and in the declaration which my friends refused to sign the charges were: resisting arrest and contempt for authority. Mysteriously there was no mention of the slap, and much less of the effeminate card that gave free rein to the imaginative sense of causality of the officer.
I read recently in Cubaencuentro about a call for "secret agents.” It may be an example of what happens when everyone is corrupt: there are staff shortages. Being a secret agent is not necessarily synonymous with working for the secret police, I don’t believe that the secret services are so bad as to put out mass calls.
What it’s about, as people say, is again more of the same: who sells chickens, eggs, meat; who has a particularly prosperous business; who rents movies; who gets money from abroad. In the end this sad note is more than a desperate cry of the government which seems to have fewer squealers than we can imagine.
So I wonder what happens with the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), with the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), with the mass organizations that are structured at all levels of society and that are supposed to report all these things. “The direction of the Revolution” has spent years tolerating that people live with illegality, no one has intended to solve the problem of wages and in they slyly overlook corruption. At this point it would be too complicated to have informants, the illusion would be to find informants who aren’t tainted by the black market.
August is an especially hard month, along with all the little things you have to deal with the whole year—the national news on TV, finding toilet paper, underwear, a strip of metrobamate, the daily dose of multivitamins, etc.—you have to endure 36 degree heat while having a cold.
But at times, in those moments of crushing tedium something lights up the television screen. I’m sitting at the computer and suddenly recognize the well-known delirious voice that I almost never have the pleasure of hearing. Despite being super edited I can feel that the one who makes me split my sides laughing could not have been done away with: the incoherence.
In three minutes el Comandante speaks of global warming, then he mentions a submarine and for some strange mental connection resumes his last reflection: “The Empire and the robots,” (a tribute to Isaac Asimov), and afterwards concludes that the Marti-inspired Bolivarian republic has always been under oppression, and that this can be demonstrated mathematically (at this point Ciro exclaimed, “WHAT did he say?!”).
According to the presenter of this short excerpt, Fidel Castro spoke for three hours before a small audience of students. The only thing I can’t understand is how no one started laughing out loud at some point; perhaps it was because at this stage the audience is quite small, lest anyone lack the patience for it and start nodding off and, embarrassed, has to stumble out (if he gives them a chance).
For me, the truth is I would love to go to a six-hour concert with a heap of musicians in this country where boredom and apathy are our daily bread. But I can’t deny that I feel a certain aversion to going to the Eye of Sauron, and it’s not only the Eye, but also what’s around it: The Communist Party Central Committee (behind), the Headquarters of the Interior Ministry (in front) and the Headquarters of the Armed Forces Ministry (on one side). I’m sure that the majority of people there don’t know that this is the setting of what once used to be the Civic Plaza.
I was talking with a friend the other day about the Juanes concert, and he told me that the place actually existed before the Revolution and that therefore it wasn’t necessary to take it so literally with regards to the concert. Even though I agreed that it’s not necessary to take it so literally, to deny that for fifty years the Plaza has had another owner is disingenuous.
I think it would have been healthier if the concert had been in Mordor, where many musicians have come to play before (Manu Chao, Audio Slave, Café Tacuba, Rick Wakeman, Air Supply) and maybe through the power of music a little of the political curse that gave rise to it has been lost (despite the horrible signs of Viva la Revolucion they put all over the podium and which I hope Juanes can get rid of). It could be my paranoia, but I suspect that that no one told the singer that foreign and national musicians who can play in Cuba usually hold their concerts there.
With respect to Porno Para Ricardo playing in the Plaza, I am sincerely in absolute disagreement: first because they are not able to play “El Comandante,” and second because it seems to me very risky for any member of the band to put one foot on such a site.
The only thing I can assure you is that if there is a concert on September 20th and if they let me come to the Plaza I will post my amateur report with photos on this blog.
* The Eye of Sauron: Nickname given to the Plaza of the Revolution, I believe the origin is the radio antenna illuminated with a red light on the tip of the tower. Mordor: Nickname of the Anti-Imperialist Grandstand, also known as the “Protestodrome”.
When I hear an analysis that seeks to build bridges between the artist, his work and officialdom, recurring phrases like, “they misinterpreted me,” “they could not understand my message,” “I never wanted to give a political opinion,” are among those that turn my stomach, especially if they assume I should raise my hand and ask a question, give an opinion. The other day I went into a debate depressed: no real question, no real answer. At that moment someone said, “Imagine, they think I’m a worm,” and I said to myself, from this moment if I raise my hand and start to ask questions, for reasons inherent in my personality I will be forced to start saying, “ As a worm I would love to know if…’ But deep down I felt bad and wasn’t in the mood for jokes. I repented from the moment I discovered I wouldn’t raise my hand, I swear it wasn’t cowardice, it was disappointment.
With the passing of time the phrases change and adjust to a new way of understanding the world. When they are intransigent and exclusionary concepts but have not ceased to be valid, sometimes they soften the construction without losing the essence. For some days I’ve been turning over in my mind this incoherence: “Within the revolution everything, outside the revolution nothing”; from my perspective I feel a change which I might try to materialize in this way: “Inside art everything, outside art nothing.”
Perhaps a new government strategy has drawn a clear red line between us: Criticism from within Art (valid), criticism from outside Art (counterrevolutionary). I wouldn’t like this post to give offense to anyone, it’s only the opinion of one who criticizes from outside Art and without any intention to “make culture.”
The Cuban government has always utilized techniques gleaned from censorship, recently I saw the documentaries of Nicolás Guillén Landrián and thought they it would be too difficult for a foreigner to understand why they were censored in the sixties. Without denying its value and above all with total humility before “the criticism from within Art,” with this post I would just like to record that the red line was not put there by us but by them; sometimes, over the years, these details are forgotten.
The first time I went to Rotilla I was 15, there were 50 of us and the conditions were very bad. I never went back until this Saturday and I’ve come home with one certainty: it was worth it. When the bus got to Jibacoa beach I felt I’d made the trip on an airplane, that is that I’d landed in another country.
There were more than 5000 people housed in the place and and for hours it didn’t stop raining but no one cared. The organizers had put up four stages: video, techno music, rock-rap and fusion (I went back and forth between the last two). The people with their tents danced, swam in the sea, saying, finally, that Rotilla had “tremendous voltage.” However, among the young were some men in checked shirts* who didn’t seem to fit in with the event… I wondered what they would do in the area besides be bored.
The bad thing is I feel incapable of writing a realistic chronical of my last 24 hours on the beach, it was all sensory overload: freedom and joy would be the best summary of what I lived at this festival. Here are some photos and a little video of the concert of La Babosa Azul.
Translator’s note Men in checked shirts = The poorly “disguised” security services.
Among those every day who are taken in for dangerousness in Cuba, today it has fallen on Pánfilo. He will be behind bars for two years for having yelled that he was hungry in front of a camera, because this is what the government considers dangerous. I remember very well the words of Gorki’s lawyer on the day before the trial in July of last year: to convict you they don’t need proof, a declaration from the police is enough, no one escapes. In passing he told us that the charges that really suit the repressive machinery just fine is that now they don’t even have to abide by the legislative paperwork to imprison someone.
The trial made me want to cry, I saw the head of the sector and one of his subordinates lie. The tongue of state security was putting words in the mouths of the two police officers whose hands trembled as they made their declarations. Then Heidi came, the zone president of the CDR for Playa and an art history professor at the Instituto Superior de Artes. With her there was no mistaking it: not one word she said was true, the worst is that she liked out of conviction and that is, without any doubt, the saddest thing you can see from the public bench.
It’s repulsive to imagine what to level of arbitrariness this government can reach through its channels to crush the people and strip them of everything, even their own ideas. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I might never have understood it.
Picture: Sculpture at the entrance of the Chaplin Cinema, between 23rd and 10th, Vedado.
When I was 14 I was studying in the 9th grade and the only thing I was sure of was that I didn’t want to go to a boarding school. Which is why I didn’t take the entrance exams for the Lenin school. I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted at San Alejandro school: in those days they reserved only some seven places for the City of Havana and, as all the students at the Elementary in Plastic Arts knew, five of those places already had names and surnames on them. Being a teenager, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life and I heard some rumors that choosing to do the three year pre-university schooling at a non-boarding school would mean a lot of dollars that my family didn’t have, or living in extreme poverty.
I graduated from high school without taking any admittance exams and without my certificate for the pre-university in a non-boarding school. I opted to go to the “Heroes of Chapultepec” school, a boarding school for training teachers, with the hope that the three years would go by fast and that after that I would go to the University of Havana to study biology.
After just three weeks at Chapultepec, in the city of Güira de Melen, I had lost 15 pounds. They would give my a bronchial spray, Salbutamol, twice a day, and had me on intravenous Aminophylline, a bronchial dilator drug. At school, the doctor was the only one who notice, beside me, that I wasn’t adapting well.
My mother went to all the ministries with the documents from the doctor at the boarding school saying I should be transferred to a non-boarding school. Three weeks later I was out of the school with a certificate, and I stayed home waiting for an answer from the Ministry of Education about what they were going to do with me.
A month later they had refused my transfer to a non-boarding pre-university school, saying that my illness had developed after I was in the boarding school and you could only go to a non-boarding school if you already had the illness.
Finally I went to study Accounting and Finance, starting at the end of October. I still remember the first day when I was sitting in class, I had no idea what being an “accounter” meant.
W is 16 and is always on G Street. I like talking to him because he floods me with a feeling of CHANGE that I don’t find in any other place in this territory. He doesn't make me remember when I was 16 like him, nor does he seem like any of my friends from that time, in him there is something we didn’t have: conscience.
I know the word sounds a little “Che-like,” but there isn’t another to define a boy so young who is already thinking about what he wants to do with his life, and fighting to achieve it. He doesn’t want to leave the country, and he fearlessly plays the songs of Los Aldeanos, Porno Para Ricardo and La Babosa Azul in little groups in the park. He has very interesting political ideas and says things that make me delirious when I think that I’m almost twice his age. W has come to three conclusions:
- He doesn’t want to leave the country: “Let them go, some old men,” he says not knowing that a few decades before almost the same words were said in an interview by Dulce María Loynaz: “Let them go, those who came later.” - He reads everything they give you on G, pamphlets, discs, books. He says that that to be able to know what exists in the power you have to read everything. The other day he scolded me because I said I wouldn’t read Fidel’s “History will absolve me,” even if you paid me. - He’s convinced, along with all of his friends, that this doesn’t have even one breath left, and that you “can push the wall.”
Text of "diploma": On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Directorate General of Counterintelligence and in recognition of the personal activities and results in completing the tasks of State Security.
Taken from the Saga: The Ciro versus State Security
Now there can be no doubt… we have always been deceived… Tell me if this document, extracted from the ultra secret archives of the G2, isn’t verification. In the same folder we found this photo and to top it all off we have his confession.
The fake Ciro Javier Díaz Penedo worked as an undercover agent since 1978, the year he was born. He was assigned to spy on himself and inform about his own activities so that his superiors could indicate what actions he needed to take against himself. Thus he informed State Security about his own concerts and other counterrevolutionary plans.
Claudia Cadelo and Van Van don’t exist, they are the same person: The Ciro. Take a good look at the size of the posts of this Claudia person and then look at VanVan’s, they’re the same length. And absurdly (don’t forget that little word) antagonistic, never agreeing on anything.
So this is how this charlatan tries to deceive us but he won’t manage it because I am here. Me, The Ciro, who has searched out all this evidence to expose myself publicly. And I want you to know that I’m not going to stop until I kill him, even if it kills me.
I wasn’t alive yet, but they tell me that in the ‘70s getting into the Young Communist Union (UJC) was an achievement. You had to demonstrate an untainted revolutionary integrity, having participated in all the political or combative activity wafting about and having complied conscientiously with whatever task of the moment the commander dictated.
But the years passed and that organization that was first about being a good student and revolutionary, getting a good job, a good reference, lost the most important thing that gave meaning to its existence: ideology. As a comparison, we might say it is like the serious diagnosis a technician makes of a computer with a broken processor: it lost its heart.
And without its heart the UJC came to the nineties, years in which I’d supposedly be called on to inject my young blood into its already blocked veins. But in my day things were very different: without combativeness, without ever having participated in anything, including not completing various tasks, the call came to me when I was thirteen. I accepted and began a process that, fortunately, my mother decided to suspend as soon as she learned of it, because she believed that before the age of 18 one has neither the conscience nor the need to belong to a political organization. I will always be grateful to her, even though the proselytizing team of the UJC ignores those arguments, apparently they returned all my paperwork and I arrived at my technical high school thinking myself free, how naive!
They never called me to a meeting, never gave me anything to do, I apparently was not a member of the UJC. My four years of high school passed without anyone telling me that in my school records, stuck there on the last page, a handwritten sheet said that I was not only a member of the Young Communists Union, but that I had completed all the tasks assigned to me.
When I was walking on 23rd yesterday someone gave me this bulletin.
I’m not going to transcribe the whole thing, just the part I liked best. It’s name is: The Other R Movement.
Light up your house as a way of saying something is wrong. Have you ever wondered what would happen if for just five minutes we turned on all the lights and electrical equipment in our houses at the same time. And if all of us did this at the same time? Perhaps we could say in a simple way: Something is wrong, something has to change. Express yourself by lighting up your house, your neighborhood, on August 5 from 8:00 pm to 8:05 pm. Every day until they take us into account.
Playing with the dinosaurs by Lazaro Lopez McBean: Jurassic
When he deserted, the dinosaur was still there.
How to get to work on time by NA Tamayo
Most likely you are among the many who live in Central Havana and work in Playa, or vice versa. If this is the case (and you have the same kind of problem I have) these solutions were made for you:
1- When you get to the stop don’t ask any more who is last in line (you’ve probably already realized that nobody does that). This is a waste of energy and you’re going to need energy when the bus comes.
2- If you’re waiting for the P4 and someone asks if you’re waiting for the P4, tell them your bus is another one. So when the first P4 stops you will not have anyone behind you. Because what you are going to do is sneak in any door no matter what, preferably the doors at the back.
3- If you manage to climb in by the back doors you’ve done something very good, because then you save about 20 pesos a month. Getting on the bus by the front door only has the advantage that the bus driver may give you a chance to get off the bus at another stop different from where the bus stops regularly, that is if instead of throwing the money in the farebox you give it to him. But be careful with this money, you can be seen by another Cuban and…. you know.
4 – Make yourself comfortable in a place where no one can bother you, hit you or rob you. Then forget that you’re in the street, in the bus and there are a lot of people. Meanwhile the less you help people get on and find a place, the more time the bus loses in the first stops, and so the driver will always be worried and start to pass up the following stops, which will make the trip very fast.
Note: If you are a man never sit down, the seats are for women and for men who forgot their manners.
5- When it’s time to get off, always say the magic words but also push.
Handing out discs on G street is now part of my summer nights. I’m a little shy so I barely speak and deliver the disc in silence and try not to interrupt the conversations. I’m not the only one handing out things: people come from the churches, techno party promoters, Rock fanzine creators and young pollsters (it seems to me we form a good slightly monolithic fauna together).
My disc is called Voces Cubanas and almost everyone thinks it’s music. But last night a frikie thought it was a disc of religious songs, he destroyed it with his hands and stomped on it several times with his boots, slivers of plastic flying everywhere. It seemed awful to my friends but to me, first it made me laugh to see someone act like that with information media, I imagine that the security people have the same impulse with the all flash memories, memory cards, external hard drives and the CDs. One of them soon returned to find out what it was that was broken, we answered, “Don’t worry, God loves you.”
They remained a little ways off and we laughed our heads off, they never understand anything. Such an attitude toward people who believe in God is shameful and a typical of the politics of concrete. However, I’d love to know if this man has such an aggressive attitude when his CDR president knocks on the door to demand he pay the annual dues for that organization, if when he was a student he refused with the same intensity to cut his hair, if he ever stood up to an abuse of power by the police, if he breaks all the banners along all of G street telling him to stop “lazing around” and “get to work”, if he has ever been able to record his dissatisfaction with the system.
Imagen: Pueblo Viejo, de la serie Carteles y vallas UMAP, Hamlet Labastida
A professor at the University of Havana told me he’d seen members of the Education Ministry and Party officials meeting together. It seems that the “combative” attitude of the students leaves much to be desired.
The only concrete example is the scholarships offered by the United States Interest Section to study in the U.S.: “To aspire to the scholarship indicates, at least, an unacceptable and inadmissible ideology, even more serious in the case of students selected for the United States Interest Section which makes its decision after conducting a political discussion with them.”
The phrase takes me to a classroom in Colina without air conditioning, at 1:00 in the afternoon: some 60-year-old “combatants” are trying to convince some 23-year-old boys that they can’t go to Washington D.C. to study history for a month because it’s “bad.” The sad thing is that, after not being able to convince them, Daddy State denied the white cards needed to travel. However, this is not the only concrete reason that the Party includes this phrase in its report: “We need to shake up the system of higher education, persuade and convince its officials, professors, students and workers of the risk to the Revolution” (…); it’s still remembered here in Havana that the Young Communist Union was not able to make its members shout obscenities a the Women in White on the staircase during their march, that in Santiago de Cuba the university had to close for three days for a student movement self-titled, “Join and you won’t stand out,” and that Eliéser Avila* of the University of Information Sciences managed to get Alarcón* broadcast on the “Discovery Channel” talking about the contamination of the skies.
The working paper is titled, “REORDERING OF THE POLITICAL-IDEOLOGICAL WORK OF THE UNIVERSITIES,” and included within its dense six pages is a small list: Key ideas for educational and political ideology work. I thought to write a post about some of the topics of the document, but it’s too long with too few specifics (typical of PCC pamphlets), so I decided to upload it for those interested and you can read it here.
Translator’s Note At a closed door meeting between Ricardo Alarcón, President of the People’s Assembly, and the students of University of Information Sciences, a student representative, Eliéser Avila, posed a number of questions which were caught on unofficial video and subsequently broadcast around the world. In addition to questions about lack of access to the Internet for Cubans and why a toothbrush costs 2-3 day’s wages, Alarcón was asked about restrictions on travel. He replied that if everyone in Cuba decided to travel there would be too many planes in the sky and they would hit each other and crash.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.