Yoani Sánchez just told me: “There’s a performance, it’s going to be good and I’m going to participate, be there at the Wilfredo Lam Center at 8:00 tonight.”
I never could have imagined finding a podium and a microphone ready for everyone, for each one of us. The place was mobbed with people; to make it to the front row I had to squeeze through the crowd saying please, I want to reach the microphone. It all started with a woman who, with a white dove on her left shoulder, made faces without emitting a sound, while two kids, dressed in Ministry of the Interior uniforms, counted down to the end of her time, and threw her back again into the mute crowd.
Immediately after, Yoani came and she spoke of the blogosphere and of censorship, to total silence, and when she finished there was a lot of applause, people knew her and were happy. Then I ran up, I was very nervous; I hadn’t been in front of microphone or had an audience listening to me since I was 9 when, dressed as a Pioneer, I stormed a CDR meeting to read an incomprehensible statement. Over time, I developed a particular phobia about this device that only serves to mask the reality of my country.
I prepared a speech on the way that I read with a lump in my throat.
“One day may we all have all the minutes of the day to say anything we want in front of the microphone. And also, may those who have the opportunity today, take a minute, or even less, to speak the truth.”
I got down, though I could have said more, and then Reinaldo Escobar got up, he didn’t have time to finish before the “soldiers” called time and pushed him off the dais; we heard the last of his speech from the floor. The time stretched and no one else got up, people were frightened, an artist went and said:
“Me, what I have, is a lot of fear.”
I walked toward the podium again and added: “One day, freedom of speech in Cuba won’t be a performance.”
I remember other speeches:
Claudio Fuentes asked for a vote: then he spoke of the dictatorship and political prisoners and asked everyone to raise their hands if they agreed with changing things, and almost everyone raised their hands.
A Puerto Rican said that even though he lived in a colony, in his country there was freedom of expression and he asked that the microphone be left open for 24 hours.
An American man: “I don’t speak Spanish but: Long live change!”
With a black bag on his head Reinaldo Escobar came up a second time: “I think this should be banned.”
Hamlet Labastida, a plastic artist, called for democracy and that one of them would come up, at least one.
Ciro Díaz was going to sing “El Comandante” but the time had expired and it wasn’t the boys dressed like soldiers but a sullen soundman who walked up and shouted, “It’s over!” while giving orders to those behind him, “Disconnect now!”
A sizable audience kept shouting, “Ciro! Ciro! Ciro!” like it was a Porno Para Ricardo concert and they were asking for another song.
The Rapid Response Brigade was poor, only two people, and I supposed they felt strange, a clear minority and without the power on the platform, a completely new experience for them.
I’ve always liked to read and as a teenager I’d go to absurd extremes: reading in the shower, walking in the street, in the middle of a party or a march. I no longer take it so much to heart, but it’s still an enormous pleasure for me and my friends know I enjoy it and bring me books. The bad thing is that lately I get the best books in digital format and I’m afraid that when I finally decide to pay 5 CUCs to have my vision checked, without having to wait in line for four hours, they’re going to send me off to get glasses.
However, it’s worth the cost to my pupils, what’s on the street lately is the bomb!
From Dictatorship to Democracy, and The Relevance of Gandhi in the Modern World, both by Gene Sharp.
Russia: Something Less Than Democracy, Interview with Alexander Podrabinek.
Live Not By Lies, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Collapse of Communism, by Jakub Karpinski
The Law, the Opposition, Solidarity, by Marek Tarniewski [pen name for Jakub Karpinski]
The Purification Controversy, by Petruska Sustrová
Power Without Power, Václav Havel (from the book, Democratic Ideas: Guns of Liberty)
Democracy as a Universal Value, by Amartya Sen.
ABC of Democracy
The Path of Solidarity
I don’t think I can avoid it; this year can’t end without a pair of glasses if I’m going to avoid migraines.
I would much rather consider the events that took place than to just describe them and to talk a little about the reasons that brought us to the attempt. While at Claudia Cadelo’s house for more or less a week now, I find myself faced with her worry about the Antúnez situation. She was torn by a mix of contradictory assessments and battling clashing feelings.
She would comment to me about the points or statutes that this gentleman defends and demands of the Cuban government in a hunger strike he himself started a little over a month ago, according to what little information we had on the subject.
Claudia would tell me that the news about the dire state of his health was not moving anyone, or very few, and that, in addition, she considered it somewhat ghoulish that if anything happened to Porno Para Ricardo or to Yoani Sanchez, for example, then no doubt a big media fuss would ensue, but in the case of Antúnez, nothing of the kind was happening.
I remember that we reached an agreement of ideas in the things we talked about: the different people who hope for and attempt changes in Cuba, those who question the laws and measures of the fifty-year-old government, those who, on great many occasions, have been on the receiving end of every kind of repression, harassment and violation of their most basic civil rights. We don’t think alike in our analyses of methods and ways when facing the same situation of aberrant deficiencies in which the majority finds itself.
But along with the disagreements over chosen strategies, there exists a magnificent concurrent point: we all want the whole range of historically known freedoms, which I won’t talk about, and each day, not only outside Cuba, but from the very entrails of the sparsely bearded one there are more who confront them, out of personal courage, even, of course, at the risk of errors that will take place along the way.
Claudia would look at me and would repeat that no one was doing anything, that even she wasn’t doing anything. In a certain way, I was deep in a similar situation, so, in order to eliminate that strange feeling of absence, in which I knew very well that we were all part of this mass now called by Claudia, NO ONE, I blurted out pretending I didn’t mean it: why don’t we go there, straight to the source of the problem, along the way we can visit Placetas, soak it up first hand, we could talk to Antúnez, discuss our points of view, etc., we can interview him. I was remembering a fantastic article by Reinaldo Escobar tilted, if I remember correctly, “the problem, my problem,” that I read in his blog Desde Aquí. Claudia suddenly stopped hyperventilating, she became calm and, without blinking, she agreed.
Four days later Ciro Javier Díaz and this writer left for Placetas, having paid for the tickets with our own money and the taste of a break from our daily routines with the damn adventure. Barely 20 minutes after our arrival, at around 11 A.M. on Monday, March 23rd, 2009, a few meters from the supposed corner of Antúnez’s house, a patrol car met us with that certain usual violence in these cases, taking us to the police station for the usual interrogations. We were freed the next day, March 24th, when they put us in a car and took us to the Havana bus terminal without charges, accusations, or further explanations, returning our personal belongings: my cameras, bags, identification cards and even some CDs of Porno Para Ricardo and La Babosa Azul that Ciro was carrying to give to Antúnez as presents.
And now, comrades, for a climax, the list of violations that the repressors in this trivial and not-so-tragic-in-appearance case have committed in the exercise of their full-time routines:
1 – The inability to roam freely in any zone or region of the national and sovereign territory. It’s clear, then, that the nation is only enjoyed, embraced by its controllers, and our experience reaffirms the suspicions that citizens without government duties or related to it are confined to a ever increasingly precise and limited region.
2 – We were deprived of the right to make a phone call while detained. When we asked if this was possible, the official in charge inquired what was the objective of our request, if we intended to inform our family and friends about our situation. On hearing the logical and affirmative answer from our own throats, he started to laugh sarcastically and asked us how we came up with such an idea, that we’d be leaving soon… we left the next day. At least we did not have to pay for the return ticket; that turned out to be the responsibility of the Security of this Shameless State of Siege.
3 – They crushed the simple right and freedom to assemble with whomever we wish, the civil right to freely get information through whichever means we feel like, and the power to later disseminate our views about this, although this last one turns out to be more shocking, furious and difficult every time. The little Internet that we manage to scrounge will also serve to denounce them and to express ourselves.
4 – Hours after having had my cameras returned, I realized that they had erased the photos contained in one of them, the compact digital. The images in it could be easily seen on its screen and were personal images and memories that had nothing to do with what happened. I understand that this is the obligatory and violating modus operandi in these cases, which shows that they have a terrible fear of the investigations by common citizens, where it’s clear that it’s the controllers who have to hide their barbaric actions, and who fly into a rage behind the backing of an abusive authority at any attempt at real journalism.
Nevertheless, I want to make it clear to them that we didn’t expect any other action on their part, always with their ritual of abuse and manipulation. We understand that they do not have the option of other methods, always the same and dogmatic ones. I really understand and commiserate, with and without irony, that they should act from the same cage of conduct. It’s the only way they can maintain their ambitious and powerful predatory behavior, increasingly weaker and lacking in arguments, so I hope they will also forgive me if I subtly shit on their guts and toast to them, besides, my most sincere pity for contributing and carrying such a painful burden of evil.
PS – It’s already Thursday and it’s now that I’m finishing this writing, not only because of a slight, real and habitual laziness that generally accompanies my intellectual activities, but also because, on top of everything else, when I started these lines yesterday, Wednesday the 25th, I found out that Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo had a summons for 3 P.M. at the Lawton police station. Waiting outside were his girlfriend, and Claudia and Lia, so I decided to join the fat bastion. He came out at around eight P.M. in a state of an indescribable emotions, and together, all of us decided to continue the evening, analyzing this new instance of violation.
It may seem odd to you, but I continue to enjoy that strange living life to the fullest of everything that is happening, and I pride myself on having at my side people from whom I learn while enjoying them immensely from the silence that always remains with me while I laugh about some thing.
Text by Orlando: At soap opera time, so that no doubt remains about our mutual and mute aptitude for dialogue, just like I found out from a rumor that settled on and unsettled the Cuban literary camp. I will attend with black pieces, time constraints and with an amateur ELO to calculate the relative skill levels of the players.
The closing of the day
After 5 hours of a supposed “interview,” I would classify this interrogation as a convince-ogation: what was sought was to convince Orlando to sign an Official Warning (placed in spite of the refusal of the accused to sign it) for having published in Lunes de Postrevolución his columns relating to the Cuban flag.
I close this post and this sad day with a paragraph from Words to the Intellectuals, by Fidel Castro:
“Does this mean that we are going to tell the people here what they have to write? No. Let everyone write what he wants to, and if what he writes is no good, it doesn't matter. If what he paints is no good, it doesn't matter. We are not forbidding anyone to write on the subject that he prefers. On the contrary. And everyone should express himself in the manner which he believes proper, and express the idea that he wants to express. We shall always evaluate their creation through the prism of the revolutionary crystal. This also is a right, one of the Revolutionary Government, and one to be respected as much as the right of everyone to express what he wishes to express.”
Translation of the Summons:
By this notice is announced the official summons of citizen ORLANDO LUIS PARDO LAZO neighbor of FONTS #125 BETWEEN RAFAEL DE CARDENAS AND 11th STREET, LAWTON, 10TH OF OCTOBER, CITY OF HAVANA to present himself on MARCH 25, 2009 at 3:00 PM before the official MY. ARIEL GARCIA PEREZ, with the objective of BEING INTERVIEWED.
Place: STATION PNR, MUNCIPALITY DIEZ DE OCTUBRE Address: AGUILERA STREET, LAWTON, DIEZ DE OCTOBRE, CITY OF HAVANA Failure to attend this summons may be fined as provided in the established criminal code.
That was the lamentable question that State security put to Claudio and Ciro, who couldn’t put a foot on the block where Antúnez lives, the site of an absurd police operation. They didn’t understand very well that a musician and a photographer were worried about a striker (and a negro?). They were surprised by the cameras and asked them who they worked for. Claudio told them they were independent artists, that the interview would be posted in a blog… they didn’t know what a blog was, but now, today, they have an idea:
- It’s the possibility for individuals to freely publish all their ideas.
To put a photo in the sidebar for solidarity seemed to us a very small thing to do to support a person who hasn’t eaten for a month. Ciro Diaz and Claudio Fuentes took a bus at 6:00 this morning, having bought their tickets to Placetas in advance with no problem, to be able to personally express our solidarity with Antúnez.*
But it seems that once again we were wrong, it’s not that easy to go, knock on a door, and say:
- Compadre, we’ve come from Havana to let you know we’re with you.
At this time both are detained in a unit of Villa Clara, they were interviewed and I don’t know if they’ll be able to call me again. Claudio was the one I spoke with, a police officer told him to put down the phone and he repeated that he had to say something to his Mama about a pill. Under these conditions of communication: I don’t know where they are, or what’s happening, or when they will let them go.
But this is not new, we already know that they, the grey agents, are excessive.
It seems Ciro will have a saga once again… with photo-reportage and all.
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has been a blogger since 2008. He was born in Havana on December 10, 1971. He received his degree in Biochemistry in 1994 in Biology from the University of Havana, but left science little by little for literature, until the latter left no room for other specialties.
Among his awards are: Short Story Price from the magazines La Gaceta de Cuba in 2005, and Cauce in 2007. The New Pines Narrative Prize in 2000, for the book Collage Karaoke. The Luis Rogelios Nogueras Prize in 2000 for the book Empezar de Cero (Starting from Zero). The Calendario Prize in 2005 for the book Mi Nombre Es William Saroyan. The Photography Prize from the magazine Tablas in 2008.
Luis Orlando recently launched his book Boring Home, censored by the publisher Letras Cubanas. The book was launched in a freelance presentation during the Havana International Book Fair outside the site. During the entire week prior to the presentation, managed by Yoani Sánchez of the blog Generation Y, the author was the target of a strong police operation, and received physical threats by email and telephone. Despite this, the presentation of Boring Home was a complete success, attended by writers, photographers and bloggers of the country. 1 - When did you begin with your blogs and Pia McHabana and Lunes de la Post-Revolucion?
Pia McHabana (whoever he is) started a blog in August 2008, after one season was lost in the internet (and I think it was lost again.) In October 2008, I started to give continuity to my blog Lunes de Post-Revolución, where I published, more than posts, all my weekly columns: reviews, opinions, raves, interviews, slams, sick humor, man on the street reports on nothing, literary dreams and wet dreams wholesale. In this blog is my best work as an author. I would like to see it published in paper some day, but suspect it would be an intolerable book, un-instrumentalizable for the powers-that-be (intoolerable), another jagged little pill of Cubanesque writing dregs. A limited gesture in the so pacified Cuban camping culture. A gong of combat. A radical performance that in Cuba today constitutes editorial suicide: one of these illegible heresies that converts you into an ex-writer. 2 – Was it through these blogs that you started to be in the blogosphere, or had you published before in another digital space?
Before, I appeared sporadically in unrelated web sites, even in official journals such as Made in Cuba, such as Esquife, Alma Mater, El Caimán Barbudo and La Jiribilla. And also, of course, I got involved in alternative publishing projects like the independent magazines Cacharro(s), 33 y 1/3, the Desliz project, and my own e-zone that I wrote irregularly, The Revolution Evening Post (which I created with the Cuban writers Cuba Jorge Enrique Lage and Ahmel Péré Echevarría). In the blogs Fogonero Emergente and Penúltimos Días, among others, you can read a good part of my work as a columnist blogger. So, little by little, I’ve been developing readers and fans. In addition to the usual hateful comments attacking me personally, even from other sites like Kaos en la Red (whose Cuban section is known ungrammatically as Asko en la Red).
3 - You’ve received awards for each one of your books published in Cuba and even been a jury member for literary prizes. However, today with the freelance launch of Boring Home, you’ve received direct calls from State Security and anonymous threats by telephone and email. What do you think caused such a radical change in the official conduct with respect to yourself and your work? When did the anti-Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo digital campaign start?
Anonymous calls and messages are anonymous, so it’s not possible to charge anyone with this verbal prison violence: behind this mute mask lies precisely its quota of terror. The attacks began circulating as soon as the digital invitation for the launch of my book of stories Boring Home started circulating (the book was expelled, without even notifying me, by the State publisher Letras Cubanas which months ago had approved it and had already committed orally to publish it for the last Havana International Book Fair: the contract in Cuba comes afterward). Even earlier I heard rumors that high level functionaries read my blogger columns and they left a bad taste in their mouths (and they circulated them freely and even published them on other sites without permission). So they warned me in the Sicilian manner that I was crossing a line and there would be no going back. There was no attack that I responded to directly, because everything was meant to stigmatize me with those words that in Cuba are synonymous with outcast: dissident, mercenary, counterrevolutionary, agent, etc. (The whole voCUBAlary is so that no one will remember that I am and will continue to be a writer.) They wanted to put me up to my ass in the criminal political camp. Our cultural leaders are illiterate or read without humor: maybe between the resolutions and the checks they’ve lost their libido for academic freedom. Currently, so much discipline is saddening. The publishers shouldn’t punish their authors for their biographies (or they should recognize that their little political-moralistic schools are not publishing houses).
4 - Let's talk a little about Boring Home. Tell me the story of this book.
The book Boring Home is half a play on words where the stories matter less than the words. There are some that are relatively long and others that are just a page, but in all of them there emerges this pleasure in the taste of the words: the alliteration rather than the literary. The characters in my book, to make matters worse, are obsessed with the almost posthumous act of narration: how to compile the raw material of fiction, how to take it to the point where it provokes friction. Be it with the lyrics of a song, be it with the words of a headline, be it with the paranoid memories of a girl who runs away, be it with the pathological nostalgia for what’s gone without every leaving or what’s returned without ever having been, be it even with a rewrite of the chemical elements of the periodic table: my texts are an experiment and a inquiry about the limits of narrative in this or any context. Some of these stories were awarded prizes and published in magazines and anthologies inside and outside Cuba, from La Gaceta de Cuba to Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana. This ecumenicalism of mine, at the time, to not discriminate between publishers, was understood as my original provocation. The ban on Boring Home was never made official as I understand it, in consequence, like a provocation of Letras Cubanas against my author’s copyright: a form of negating me for my work as a blogger, an exemplary lesson for the restof my contemporaries of Generation Year Zero, even a way for the bad ones to suggest to me that I renounce in blog posts my delights-deliriums-delinquencies. But at this point in the hisotry of the fatherland, in-ev-i-ta-bly (as was repeated in the digital promotion before the launch) this bureaucratic smudge couldn’t be left without a public response. Ideally, it should be very clear that there are and will be letras cubanas—small L small C—outside and after Letras Cubanas. 5 – You succeeded in launching your book in the middle of a huge State security operation, writers came, photographers, and many people in spite of the intimidation. What do you think this might mean? Could it be considered a new horizon for the limits of censorship?
“The Last Supper of Censorship”: A good title I might soon steal from a post on your blog. Hopefully it means a gesture of head held high. A small first step for our writers on the barren lunar (and lunatic) landscape of Cuban editorial world in Cuba. And finally, a belligerent gesture of peace: we do not want to be self-censored, nor victims of any authority, but it exists and we have a right to reply, to respond under conditions that as creators will be more advantageous to us (and not necessarily through the established channels to raise an oedipal whine in the style of the XX century). We are other actors: ephemeral but effective. If the Culture Institution loses this opportunity for divergent dialog, so much the worse for it. They have to adapt to their administrative role, and not a leadership one. Or be left outside the living, mutant coordinates of Twenty-first Century Cuba that nobody dares to unveil. 6 – You also participate in Yoani Sanchez’s Blogger Journey, you have many blogs and are a part of Voces Cubanas. How does the presence of this small blogger community around you make you feel in these difficult days?
Supported. Even without necessarily understanding the full gravity of the situation, they showed solidarity, civil sympathy, and even a good sense of humor. I thank everyone. And especially Yoani Sánchez for accepting the risk of presenting my book, knowing that almost no other Cuban writer would be willing to do so. And to you, Claudia Cadelo, for opening a window for me to breathe in the middle of that stuffy atmosphere, and for this interview now. The bad readers said that they manipulated me to put on a show (even in the telephone threats they said that), but sowing this kind of filth, strictly between ourselves, is the oldest trick in the world (the hateful work of snakes). Also many wonderful Cuban readers and bloggers from the media world were at this small presentation outside La Cabaña: we didn’t even invade its walls, it was enough for us to leave symbolic graffiti next to the drawbridge of this Castle of the Kafka-baña.
7 - What do you think of the blogosphere alternative? How do you feel within that?
I feel on the margin, always on the margin. Inside and outside. Like a boxer who gives and takes, and doesn’t compromise himself too much with any boxing. I’m a perennial line of flight. I shift among Deluzean layers of an onion without a shell or a heart, so I happily earn a lucrative and playful rhizome: I write to lose face, digging my own cave of authorial resistance in the face of the zoocial consensus. I’m a surface that downplayed the despotism of the so-called essences as well as of all the sectarian isms. For the rest, I suppose that the whole blogosphere should be an alternative: the other would be salaried work (State trolls et al). I read very little on-line, but I download pages here and there that I consume later with surprise. I trust in the growing power of the call of the WWW and its respect for the citizen before the institutions and the masses. With luck, in many of these blogs the future already breathes.
I can’t, at times, shake the idea of being immobilized in the middle of time. A feeling similar to what I felt as a girl when my Papa played at burying me in the sand, I couldn’t stand it for more than a few seconds. The concept of absolute freedom is an illusion, but our ability to measure and to understand it is not an illusion; to understand that being buried in the sand unable to move is not the same as standing in front of the sea, looking at the far horizon, so distant that it almost makes no sense to call it a limit.
In my country, while the thoughts are nice and warm below the sand, one can feel safe not to be literally locked behind bars; but when we decide to put our ideas into an empty bottle and throw them into the sea, headed for the distant horizon, our body runs the risk of relinquishing, for an indefinite time, swimming along the shore.
Friends speak to me of changes, I get emails that say little, and a botero comments to me, stupidly optimistic, that they are fixing the streets (later, faced with my apathy and pessimism, he confessed to me that he was in the program for “political refugees” and, in passing, advised me for some strange reason that I should sign up too). I look all around me and I see an expectation that I not feel the slightest friction; the truth is I have no Faith, I don’t believe in these changes, I can’t help it.
More than 200 people are in prison for thinking differently, and have been for six years; the news is a vomit of lies; the newspaper Granma is a joke in bad taste; we still have the same problems, the same lack of freedom as always, with the same party, the same mass organizations, the same politics and ideology. I’m sorry but the truth is that I don’t see anything new with some ministers more and some less, and a younger brother up and an older brother down.
I would like to be able to say that the only one responsible for this situation is Fidel Castro, but I can’t. I remember when he gave up his power, in the interim before Raúl took charge, that Randy Alonso was always saying on The Round Table television show, “The Leadership of the Revolution” had ordered this, “The Leadership of the Revolution” had decided that, and I wondered, half jokingly half serious, under what new abstract concept were we being governed.
I don’t care whether the model is Chinese, Russian or Martian; at this point I can only think, and really hope, to be wrong, that until the whole “The Leadership of the Revolution” is no longer in power, nothing will change very much for those of us down here.
Photo: By E.M. (Wall of the secretariat of the Faculty of Architecture of the CUJAE* course 2007-2008)
I take my usual bus and run into a 16-year-old boy I know from the neighborhood who gives me his seat. He’s wearing the uniform of the technical school, I know he studies in the morning because we see each other sometimes on the P4 route, I imagine he’s going home. But no, he tells me he’s going to a new school: of mathematics. I ask him if it’s difficult (for me math has always been difficult) and he tells me, smiling, that he is the professor. He can tell by my face that I’m astonished, but how can I avoid an, “How can you be the professor?! …Um… is it that there aren’t any professors?" I don’t want to get heavy and start preaching about what I think of the students in the second year of technical school giving classes (I was one of them so I know perfectly well what a disaster it is). Furthermore, the poor kid isn’t the one at fault, I’m sure they sent for him and put him between a rock and a hard place: teach classes for a place in the university, the kind of blackmail typical within the Ministry of Education
I ask the age of the students, I imagine that he will be teaching in a high school or something like that. He laughs, seeming to think I’m an alien from another planet to ask such a question, he answers--as if I’m a child of the age when they always say “why”--with patience. “I’m giving classes to people my own age, in the afternoons.” This is where I completely lose it, “But kid, how can you give classes to people your own age if you’re taking the same classes yourself?!” He doesn’t lose his composure. Blessed adolescent who understands everything and knows nothing! He explains, (you can tell he likes me because otherwise he’d have gotten rid of me), “I take the mathematics class in the mornings, from the professor, and then in the afternoon I give the same lecture he gave me.”
The absurdity is beyond me, I say something along the lines of, “what should be happening,” or “poor students,” I don’t really remember because at the time I was trying to control myself. (In a difference of opinion with some intellectuals and official Cuban journalists, I don’t think the bus is a platform for free expression, unless they decide to hold the upcoming meetings of the Communist Party on the “Alamar-Calixto García” route.) But his answer puts an end to the conversation: "I’m not going to pick a fight, if they understand me better than the professor."
A small note on the photo: E.M., who was a professor at CUJAE* at the time, tells me that the “subject” was new, so the University of Havana sent a professor to teach it. After a while the G2 showed up at the faculty and took the teacher away in a patrol car: the professor had been having political problems and even had given some “subversive interviews.” The students confirmed that what went down in class was “coquito con mortadela” (in a short time and in spite of the material he taught he’d become very popular among the students). Though I don’t have his name or the dates, the story is stuck in my memory as a real-life tropical version of the professor in “Master and Margarita” and I regret not having enjoyed some of his classes.
Translator's notes: CUJAE = [Cuba] José Antonio Echeverría Superior Polytechnic Institute (Includes schools of architecture, and computer, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical and chemical engineering.)
Window sign: It says that there is a class on Fidel Castro's "Reflections" -- a regular column in the daily newspaper. It is a required class and there will be a final exam.
People from abroad are wondering how we Cubans see “the changes” that have been made by the government of Raúl Castro. I want to illustrate these changes with two random conversations, one that I had myself and the other which was transcribed for me so I could post it.
With regards to the hotels:
I was talking to a guy who works in a hotel for the Habaguanex company. He tells me things are very bad, it’s almost impossible to do anything illegal and as a consequence no one is making any money. He even told me about a foreigner who worked with the police to denounce those who were selling rum and tobacco inside the hotel (regardless of nationality and culture there are those who are born snitches).
But the best part was what he said about Cubans staying in the hotels; these are more or less his words:
“Look, girl, normally the hotel management doesn’t want Cubans, they have orders about this, so usually they’re told there’s no room and stuff. But nevertheless, if they do accept one, the front desk has to notify State Security that there’s a Cuban staying there. And if this person stays in a hotel three times in a year, then Security is going to call on him at home and interrogate him: where’d you get the money, why are you staying in hotels, and that stuff. Huge change, see?"
About the changes in government:
(Dialogue between a friend and her neighbor) My friend: Don’t you think it’s shameful that they dismiss a minister and a chancellor and don’t give even the slightest explanation of the reasons for dismissing them?
The neighbor: No. But you’re wrong, they do it for their own good, it’s to help them… if they gave the reasons they failed they’d have to put them in the slammer. For example, in the factory where I worked they caught me stealing, but my bosses threw me a line, they didn’t denounce me. They only punish you, and if it’s very serious they fire you.
Taken from the saga: The Ciro versus The State Security
It’s been sometime since I wrote because after 30 years of a bloody battle against G2 I’ve now dedicated myself to the peaceful struggle. Now I am only going to do pro-democracy civic projects and I’ll collect some signatures and some votes.
My first project is titled Project Summary and has only one premise (or whatever you’d like to call that thing). To continue, I state it:
Communism is a prick!!!
You may vote in the righthand column of the blog, “Yes” (if you agree) or “Don’t know” (if you haven’t lived under communism). In the viewer below you can see how the vote is going.
PS: We have implemented a plugin so that the "Don’t know" answers cannot exceed 137 votes. So if you see in the viewer that "Don’t know" has reached 137 don’t bother to choose it because your vote won’t be registered and so that you can see I'm good, I’m going to give 137 votes to “Don’t know” before starting the voting.
PPS: For technical reasons I haven't been able to fix the votes at 137, so the survey has turned out to be much more democratic than I wanted.
Photo: With the group Omni-Zona Franca before a poetry reading While we study the HTML code, learn to post, meet to share experiences, help each other with technology problems and share our space; they, with a strange way to be happy, insult everyone on the web, write texts full of lies, offend without showing their faces, and create chaos wherever they go.
While Yoani Sánchez puts up the new platform “Cuban Voices” (with the faith of the good and intelligent people who think their adversaries “are at the height of the conflict”), and offers an unblocked site free of censorship for all the alternative bloggers of the country; they dedicate themselves to hacking and undoing her work, without an ounce of shame, a kind of infantile temper tantrum like a spoiled child on the first day of school who doesn’t understand that studying is, simply, inevitable. When she goes up and down 14 flights of stairs every day to connect to the Internet, write articles, draft posts, organize cultural or blogger meetings; they make a living with their butts on the wall in front of her house, or following her all over Havana.
While the Cuban and international blogger community unites to organize a contest to motivate free blogging within the Island, bloggers and non-bloggers participate in alternative cultural activities, or we express our solidarity with those who have been censored, imprisoned or suffered any kind of repression; they get out the microphones, bug the telephones, harass people, persecute, intimidate, scream, threaten, insult and blackmail.
But best of all is while we have fun, they show they do not have the slightest sense of humor. While we get to know each other, broaden our voices, our horizons, and open our eyes, they close theirs and hate us. While we are free, they work in the prison. While Yoani wins multiple awards, is recognized throughout the world and makes her family proud; they continue to be grey, faceless agents, who will never be able to tell their children the true story of their lives.
*Quote from a song by Fito Paez: I like to be on the side of the road.
Painting: Carousel, by Guillermo Malberti, exhibited at the gallery at 23 & 12 last month.
I reach the stop, the P4 is on its worst schedule (that is, random), the line of people waiting is enormous and I see a full bus coming that’s letting out people on the corner so it will arrive at the stop less full. I don’t manage to climb on board. I wait another hour for the next one, but it’s so full that it bypasses the stop. I decide to take a taxi for 10 pesos, I’m pissed, but there’s no other choice. I walk one kilometer to the Playa depot so I can stand on the corner where they go by. Surprise: they are all parked with “situation” faces, a few women dressed in gray write on voucher books and some policemen observe the scene. There is an operation going on; there will be no fast way out of here today.
Patience, minutes go by, I wonder how long it will be until the end of the taxi drivers’ torment. A long while later one of them starts to leave and I see him walking towards the car, I discretely approach him and say: “23 and 12?” He answers me aloud “yes” and we go.
I ask him about the operation, and if it went well, and he tells me yes, no problems, but they have fined him. Paradox?
- Why did you get fined? - Because I have no license. - And how is it that you were able to take me just like that, with no problem, in their presence? - I paid them off. - Why don’t you have a license? - It’s only now that they started to issue them, but it takes time and I have been a taxi driver for many years now. Almost nobody here has a license, you slip them a buck and they leave you alone.
I’d been wrong, the operation was not to torment the taxi drivers, it was to officially extort the drivers, at the depot where it’s more convenient because they all have to go through there. The trip to Vedado was a lot of fun, we signaled each taxi we passed to let them know that there was an operation at the depot, some of them even yelled their opinions with respect to that and asked questions.
I suppose that most people who took taxis that day could not get to the depot, and I suppose that the cops and the women in gray made quite large sums of money.
One day, all those who have private businesses may be able to relate the macabre tales of blackmail and extortion to which they are subjected every day, and we can all know, with the exact amounts, the level of corruption that reigns in this bastion of socialism: the eating establishments that had to close because a guy arrived and took the documents without explanation; the cops, taking money from the owners; the ones in olive green uniforms sticking out their hands to get the monthly pay from the renters. But not only that: all the files that tell about the atrocities they have committed and that one day we will be able to read.
Although sometimes I remember the sad story about Milan Kundera and denunciation and lose a little Faith in the supposed moment of truth. How can we rely on those records that one day will be uncovered if they were written by the very people who today live by blackmail, lies and repression?
It’s been about three years since the wires in my building, constructed in the 1940s, said enough and walked out on us.* Bit by bit, in less than a month, our apartments lost power, we gradually slipped into darkness.
So the neighbors had three meetings a week to decide on a fast and effective solution, while those of us who were most desperate shared the cost of a private electrician who soon arrived and temporarily strung a cable for each of us from the box to the apartment. Tied to the pipes and among the pipelines, climbing over walls and hanging in the air, colored cables began to enter our doors and windows to rescue us from the gloom.
But suddenly the ground floor of the building shook with an explosion and the lights on the stairs and in the hallways also went out (I started welcoming my visitors with an ironic: “Welcome to Kosovo!”) Everyone was condemned to the clothesline current.
Four different political solutions were quickly suggested. Those retired from the Ministry of the Interior and the building’s fighters began a super-optimistic effort with the government: visits and letters to the ministers; those well-placed made their telephone calls; the CDR board contacted the micro-social; and we, the infidels, found a professional who, for 10 CUCs per apartment, would give us a new building in three days.
Months passed and no one could agree, even though our “clotheslines” were passing through the room of the director of the electric company, not even he came up with anything concrete. Those from MININT had Faith and took the position that everything would be resolved soon, as promised. Because there were apartments who in no way could pay 10 CUCs because they didn’t have it, our delegation undertook to pay, among ourselves, what they could not, but others demanded patience, they didn’t want to pay the 10 CUCs: to them it seemed an impudence and an abuse.
The electric company, micro-social, and housing all tossed the responsibility back and forth, kicking us around. Finally, the electric company gave an answer: their responsibility was the cables from the electric pole in the street to the electric box in the building; from the box out to us was beyond their jurisdiction. Our building was officially declared a no man’s zone.
As the boxes were old (the same age as the cables), the electric company did what belonged to it: came and changed them. The neighbors built a wall to take them off the stairs for safety. After 15 days we had all new boxes and all the lines were well oriented to each apartment. We continue to pay, of course, the same for electricity as before.
Some years have passed and several hurricanes, sometimes spreading panic, and many leave (as I do) when there are atmospheric events. Now no one remembers sending letters, calling their contacts, or convincing people to pay. We are accustomed to it, the danger has become ordinary and everyday reality: it has lost completely its semantic sense.
* "This great humanity has said: Enough! and has started to walk, and their march of giants will not be halted.” Ernesto Guevara
Yoani is having some problems with the portal Desde Cuba and because of this her blog can't be read. It seems the changes are taking a little longer then expected but we hope everything will be working again soon. In any case, she told me she would put a note in Voces Cubanas.
The Young Filmmakers Festival takes place once a year in Havana, specifically in the Riviera, Chaplin, and 23 and 12 cinemas, and in the Strawberry and Chocolate projection room. Unfortunately the series is small and there is little promotion; it sometimes seems that the films are shown for the young filmmakers and not for us, the public. The festival doesn’t reach the areas on the periphery of Havana and in the provinces it simply doesn't exist. Those of us who are fans know that many of the things that will be seen will never be shown in our theaters again, much less on television. Sure, there will be surprises, some directors are sought out by the public in the notice board: When are you going to show the latest short from Eduardo del Llano? (Brainstorm)
The sampling has let us know about the lives of the divers and hear their stories ("De buzos, leones y tanqueros," by Daniel Vera); has guided us to the “shanty towns” of migrants from the provinces and has thrown in our faces their poverty and despair (“Looking for Havana,” by Alina Rodríguez); has criticized the absurdities of much of the “ideological battles” and of the “programs of the revolution” (“Utopia” by Arturo Infante); we have listened to art critics, artists, writers, and experts speak freely about censorship and about the history of Cuba, what we don’t study in books or in school (“Zone of Silence” by Karel Ducasse); and it has given us, inserted into the programs, the songs of musicians who are censored in every other type of media (the documentary, “Everything was better in the past,” by Zoe Garcia, and the short, “The Desire,” by Alejandro Arango, also with the music of Ciro Díaz).
Finally, the sampling of young filmmakers each year offers us on the screen the reality we see daily but that we all know continues ‘officially’ to not exist. And it lets us dream, at the least if not of a different society, at least of a free society: it’s the only time of the year we immerse ourselves, no doubt, in documentaries and shorts that show the reality of the misery and social needs, that reflect, in a general way, all the things that worry us today: the future, change, society, poverty, censorship, individual freedoms and the perspectives of life.
February 28 in the Fresa y Chocolate [Strawberry and Chocolate] room they projected “Everything in the Past Was Better” by Zoe García, and “The Future is Now” by Sandra Ramos; two excellent, very young directors who, I, despite not having much knowledge of film, think have enriched the documentary story of Cuba with their projects. At the end of the showing there was a “discussion” where the filmmakers went to the front to answer questions from the public. There was also a moderator and a man who didn’t know exactly what he was doing there, but who called on the public by pointing to them and inviting them to speak (I should say that I didn’t have the luck to be called on, despite being among the few of us who raised our hands).
The moderator quickly announced that the discussion would last about 5 minutes: the managers of the night’s party, in the same Fresa y Chocolate room, couldn’t allow the discussion to be extended because people were waiting anxiously in the patio. He also noted that those of us who had enjoyed the “premiere” had no right to be at the party because it was by invitation only, and said in passing that we shouldn’t waste our time hiding in the bathroom because they would throw us out. The uncomfortable questions never came, and the answers were left hanging in the air. Even a boy wanted to know why they didn’t bring the festival to other parts of the country, and one of the moderators answered, “We showed it where we could.” Afterwards she talked for the remaining minutes (speaking about the excessive subjectivity of some images), which seemed to me an overly lengthy speech from the moderator.
Still, in spite of not having any real discussion, we connect a lot with the screen and we close the presentation with a phrase from her (the moderator): “We must continue pushing the wall.”
* "There was no discussion" is the name of Fidel Castro’s Reflection, published about his meeting with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner.
Clarification: Because of connection problems I can’t check to see if these documentaries and shorts are on the Internet and put links to them. If anyone knows of any links where those interested can see them, please share them in the comments. To see the official site, click here.
Instigate, liberate, designate, amalgamate, verbs in the notice. For those who believed, the long-awaited changes have already arrived.
Of the most renowned, tres tristes tigres,* and others replaced by the work and grace of God.
Few imagined it so. Or did they think that the changes would be those they wanted, asked for, suggested, from below?
And in any case, because there will be many comments (although, of course, no one up there cares about that), a final sentence, only for “ethics,” like a band-aid on the wound:
“The institutionality is one of the pillars of invulnerability of the Revolution in the political arena, for which we must work on its constant advancement. We must never believe that what we have done is perfect.”
It’s already been said: Nothing is eternal and Perfection doesn’t exist.
They limit themselves to this. Caballero, this also is Revolution, change, renovation, constant improvement. Weren’t we shouting for it? There we go, they give it to us, it’s already announced. And no one laughs, but nor do we cry for the boys, eh?
*Translator’s note: Tres Tristes Tigres [Three Sad Tigers], is a well-known novel by the Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante. Translator Suzanne Jill Levine, working in cooperation with Cabrera Infante, who also spoke English, preserved the alliteration in the book’s English title: Three Trapped Tigers.
I felt like Goldilocks today when, finally, the long announced, discussed and expected (even from abroad), potatoes arrived. I took my monthly prize in my hands (no need to bring a bag): Papa Potato, Mama Potato and Baby Potato, that’s my quota.
I feel profoundly fortunate not to have to depend on the kindness of the Revolution to feed myself; the consequences for my weight and health could be catastrophic.
Even so, we must be infinitely grateful, oh yes Sir, for these three potatoes that we do not deserve to be “given” by our socialist government. It’s the investment of the millennium, no? Three potatoes may well be worth the freedom of one human being, if sometimes it’s been worth less, who cares.
Three potatoes that we will eat, and with them we will also eat all of our civil rights.
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.