Lately I’ve talked with some journalists who tell me that people are talking about a new Special Period*. Fortunately it doesn’t get to me to hear those frightening comments, but I do remember some details of what was for me, in my mind as a child of six, the apocalypse.
The first time I heard these two words was in elementary school while waiting for the cookies and soft drink during recess when a friend announced with desperation that, “We will never have snack again.” With tragic face—I was a little fatty at that time and the news hit me as fatal—I shot back, “Why?” typical for my age. And the answer, also typical, didn’t tell me very much, “We are in the Special Period.”
For some months “Special Period” was, for me, the fast between breakfast and lunch. With time, I broadened the concept a little: not having shoes, not having enough to eat, seeing my house self-destruct and my mother and father desperate, this last was the strangest of all. In those years both were military and I never heard them make reactionary comments. They stoically endured and the only thing they didn’t manage to hide from me was the talk of “Option Zero.”
Time passed and 1994 arrived, even more confusing. The common explanation for seeing ten rafts pass by my house every day was typical: some counterrevolutionaries. The video of the disturbances on the Malecon which I saw when I was 11 at my aunt and uncle’s house, while everyone gave their opinions—everyone was in the Party—told me something happened in those streets that no one was talking about. I don’t know why they let me see it, I suppose they didn’t imagine I would be able to read between the lines.
At that time the dollar was legalized but it was two years before I would see one come into my home. In elementary school I was relegated to a new class but for me there was no end to the “Special Period.” The children bought ice cream in a foreign currency store next to the school and some parents sold candy in the entryway. One day I went home and told my mother:
- Mommy, give me money to buy an ice cream at recess. - I don’t have money. - Don’t be a liar, you work from eight in the morning to seven at night. You do too have money, that you don’t want to give me.
My mother didn’t say anything in response at the time, although later she prepared a little speech in which she explained the idea of “a salary in national money”; at that time the dollar was at 120. Some days later she told me I said:
- Mommy, I know what you have to do to make money: you have to sell candy at the entrance to the school.
When people ask me if I have want to have children, it is this type of mother-child dialog that comes to mind and that, without a doubt, I want to avoid.
Note: Aldo, of the Aldeanos, has been released. They threatened him but in the end returned his computer and let him go without charges.
Some black tears under his eyes and a T-shirt, also black, with two slogans printed on it: On the front, “There is no peace without freedom,” and on the back, “Blockaded inside – Blockaded outside. Until when?”
He came alone to the Plaza on Sunday and for seconds was one more. “I went to see my concert,” he told me a little embarrassed when I asked him why he hadn’t called me. As performance has formed a part of his daily life for more than ten years now, he again decided to wear his art.
They bundled him into a patrol car, with the inevitable neck injury due to their brutality. Several police stations, always through the back door – the one for those who haven’t committed an crimes but go in all the same. Several interrogation sessions with absurd questions that know nothing of moderate positions: the National Revolutionary Police is at the heart of the battle, on RED alert against the invisible enemy which is potentially every citizen who inhabits this island.
Luis Eligio had the courage to reach the Plaza wih the sign we all carry inside imprinted on his clothes. He had the courage to accept his decision, freely made based only on his own conscience. And in addition he had the immense power to see himself as a unique and independent citizen, responsible for his ideas and his work. However, he also had the great good fortune to not feel the brute force of the repressive bodies unleashing all their fury on his skin, and that is something that certainly I also want to avoid. Please Eligio, the next time call us, at the least because we believe that if there are more of us we can protect you.
It looks like this year Porno Para Ricardo has broken its record of concerts given, that happens when the authorities assume you do not exist publically: suddenly you are not or, and it’s the same thing, you’re free. And so Porno Para Ricardo came to a place outside Havana.
When they finished playing the two bands told the organizors: Now we would like Havana for just one day, to have a public and a space like you have. Of course it’s an oasis in the middle of the inferno, you put one foot outside the site and the police come.
Here are the photos and a video of the concert. Hopefully I can post them all, I’ve put in a lot of work on the selection.
The sky clouded over about 4 in the afternoon, it was the only thing lacking for me to feel perfect. I think that Jaunes gave his concert for peace and for freedom, at least all of us who were there by our own will felt so (I know there were those who worked that afternoon from sun up to sun down and they didn’t feel free).
I liked hearing, in the Plaza, words like “change”, “the future is yours, you young people”, “Free Cuba”, “Exile”, “the united Cuban family.” Like those below, up there on the podium some were more free than others. Because freedom at times is a personal choice, some up there let it pass.
After the concert a friend told me that in any case many couldn’t take part: some were pressured, others censured, others couldn’t enter Cuba and too many suffered in prison. It’s true, but it’s also true that one swallow does not make the spring, and we couldn’t ask Juanes for the miracle of the loaves and fishes; he accomplished enough, for a few hours dying “The Eye of Sauron” white.
*Congress for Freedom of Culture Manifest, Berlin, 1950. Taken from “Anatomy of a Myth and other Essays” by Arthur Koestler.
1. We hold as self-evident that intellectual freedom is one of man’s inalienable rights.
2. Such freedom is defined, above all, by man’s right to hold and express his own opinions, and, in particular, opinions that differ from those of his government. Deprived of the right to say “NO”, man becomes a slave.
3. Freedom and peace are inseparable. In any country, under any regime, the immense majority of common people fear war and are opposed to it. The danger of war becomes acute when, on suppressing democratic representative institutions, government denies the majority the right to impose its peace objective.
Peace can only be maintained if every government is subjected to the control and inspection of its acts on behalf of the people it governs, and when it agrees to submit all matters involving immediate danger of war to an international representative authority, whose decision it will respect.
4. We maintain that the main reason for the current global insecurity is the policy of governments that, while speaking in favor of peace, refuse to accept this dual control. Historic experience proves that it is possible to prepare and wage war under any slogan, even that of peace. Campaigns for peace not supported by acts that guarantee its maintenance are like counterfeit money placed in circulation with dishonest intentions. Intellectual sanity and physical safety can return to the world only if those practices are abandoned.
5. Freedom is based on the tolerance of divergent opinions. The principle of tolerance does not logically allow the practice of intolerance.
6. No political philosophy nor economic theory can claim an exclusive right to represent freedom in the abstract. We hold that we must judge the value of such theories by concrete measures of freedom agreeing in practice with the individual.
We hold also that no race, nation, class or religion can claim exclusive right to represent the idea of freedom, or the right to deny freedom to other groups or faiths on behalf of any fundamental ideal or any lofty goal. We hold that we must judge the historical contribution of each society by the extent and quality of freedom that their members effectively enjoy.
7. In times of emergency, restrictions on freedom of the individual are imposed on behalf of the real or perceived interest of the community. We hold that it is essential that these restrictions be reduced to a minimum of clearly specified actions, that they be considered as temporary and limited recourses, as sacrifices, and that measures restricting freedom be subject to wide critic and democratic control. Only thus will we be reasonably assured that the emergency measures that restrict individual freedom will not degenerate into a permanent tyranny.
8. In totalitarian states, restrictions on freedom are not intended, nor are they publicly considered as sacrifices imposed on the people, but, on the contrary, they are represented as triumphs of progress and accomplishments of a superior civilization. We hold that both, theory and practice of these regimes hinder the basic rights of individuals and fundamental aspirations of humanity as a whole.
9. We hold that the danger of such regimes is much greater since their means for imposing themselves far outweigh those of all previous tyrannies known in the history of mankind. The citizen of the totalitarian state is expected -and is obligated- not only to refrain from offending, but to conform all his thoughts and actions to a previously indicated mold. People are persecuted and condemned on the basis of accusations so little specified and generic as "enemies of the people" and “elements socially unworthy of trust"
10. We hold that there cannot be a stable world as long as humanity remains divided with respect to freedom, to "the haves" and "the have nots". The defense of the existing freedoms, the re-conquest of lost liberties (and the creation of new freedoms) are part of the same struggle.
11. We hold that the theory and practice of the totalitarian state are the greatest threat mankind has faced in the course of civilized history.
12. We hold that indifference or neutrality to such a threat is tantamount to treason to humanity and the abdication of the free mind. Our response to that threat can decide the fate of mankind for generations.
13. (The defense of intellectual freedom imposes a positive obligation today: to offer our constructive responses to the problems of our time).
14. We address this Manifesto to all men who are determined to regain the freedoms they have lost, and to maintain (and extend) those they enjoy.
Image: Hamlet Lavastida, exhibition gallery in August 2009 in private.
At six they started calling the waiting list. Speaking in favor of the Santa Clara terminal I have to say that it has electric light. The one in Havana, however, in the two days I passed through it (going and coming back), was suffering a widespread blackout which, for example, kept me from being able to see the toilet bowl in the bathroom, which was in the basement.
At six-thirty the bus pulled out, my seat unfortunately had a broken lever and I couldn’t recline, and even though there were other vacant seats, the driver wouldn’t let me change. In a minute I fell asleep.
In my dream I started feeling a stranger sniffing my feet and hands, accompanied by an unbearable heat. I opened my eyes to see that it was day, the bus was stopped in the sun, everything was closed, and a police dog looking for drugs was sticking his head everywhere. It took me two minutes to realize it wasn’t a nightmare.
A snitch had called the Columbus police station, in Matanzas, to warn than on our wretched bus some unlucky person had had the terrible idea to move beef. We couldn’t get off, but I didn't understand why we couldn’t breathe either. I don’t know anything about cars, but it seems to me a little strange that because a vehicle is stationary the air conditioning goes off; though neither would I want to feel obliged to assume such a high dose of sadism on the part of the driver and the police.
They pulled the luggage out of the baggage compartment so the animal could stick his snout in without obstacles. It seemed like we were in a Mexican movie and they were going to find 100 pounds of pure heroin in the glove compartment. Suddenly the dog reacted, having found what seemed to be the object his search: MEAT. A boy in a white cap was temporarily determined to be the prime suspect (he was the owner of the suitcase), they got off the bus and the dog gave it an intense once-over, sniffing it.
Bad luck for the police, oxygen for us and frustration for the hound: the discovered meat turned out to be pork. Ciro inevitably whistled for all the travelers, “Who was the snitch… eh?”, the boy laughed nervously, the people were looking with big eyes and drops of sweat on their foreheads, I was going back to sleep while thinking that between my real life and my dreams, the absurd is not so out of sync.
Image: Hamlet Lavastida, exhibition of August 2009 in a private gallery.
Yesterday I came from Santa Clara in a new Chinese Yutong bus with air conditioning. The wait and the trip could have been perfect, but sadly the institutions, companies and services in this country, even though they invest thousand and thousands of dollars, can’t avoid shocking you in their tortured state agony.
At one in the morning I arrived at Santa Clara station, and as I had no return ticket (it is impossible to buy one in Havana), I put my name on the waiting list for the first bus, at six. The waiting list means that when the bus comes, they call those with no tickets in the order of arrival, and they fill the available seats.
The waiting room was almost empty, some children slept on their mothers’ laps and others bobbed their heads in extremely uncomfortable plastic seats; you have to wonder if the designer felt a dark and twisted hatred for humanity. I was surprised that you could smoke, and even sleep on the floor, but as there were children I smoked outside and I didn't settle myself on the floor as it seemed inhumane. I put my purse in the chair beside me and lay down, it wasn’t a bed but after an hour in a terminal support for your head is like entering paradise. Unfortunately the earthly paradise is only for the privileged, the agent came into the room and woke me up:
- You can’t rest on the chair next to you. - Why? - It’s the rule, if the inspector comes he’ll scold me. - This law is a bit fascist, madam. Did you know that one of the tortures the STASI used was to not let the prisoners sleep? And you can sleep on the floor. This doesn't bother the inspector? - Also you can’t put your purse on the chair next to you, you are occupying a space that is for people. - If someone comes I’ll move it, but it’s vacant, I don’t think it will happen. - You have to vacate it, it’s Mistreating Social Property. - Excuse me but you must understand that this is not Mistreating Social Property, that’s absurd. I’m sorry, I’m not moving it.
I was biting my tongue to keep from laughing what with the Mistreatment of Social Property. I knew it was going to cost me dear to argue with a state bureaucrat. With these people things can get very serious, they earn a pittance for a salary but have absolute power over five square meters and they apply it with the same irreverence, force and abuse of power that they have seen those with “Absolute Highest Power” apply to them, a kind of revenge I suppose.
She got hysterical and started to shout, telling me that I could not do what I wanted, that the director could not stand that kind of attitude, that who did I think I was and that for my crime they weren’t going to dock her pay because she’d kill me first.
- Excuse me? If I leave my purse here they’ll dock your pay? The minute they start that I’ll move it. - Nobody is going to take my money. You remove that purse because it is Mistreatment of Social Property or else I’m going to kick you out of here!
Still trying not to laugh, I began to feel a little sorry for this woman who now doesn’t even care about the purse, only about launching her firepower at me. I looked around and saw that people were beginning to smile. Nor can I deny that the slap of an agent in her diarrhea-brown uniform in a bus station at three in the morning is the saddest thing in the world. I tried to calm her down:
- Look, I’ve moved my bag, you can relax. - Listen you, if I see you mistreating social property or sleeping I’m going to call the police and I myself will drag you by the hair to the patrol car. - Look, you already woke me up and clearly I’m not going back to sleep, the bag has been removed because I don’t want you to lose your pay, but on the other hand don’t threaten me, I’m not afraid of you or the police. And, when you call the station let me know, I want to hear you say that you need a cop car at three in the morning for a girl who put her purse on the chair next to her, it’s a crime without parallel in human history, I’d be delighted to hear the response you get from the officer on duty.
She left but she was beside herself, still yelling a while around the place, at one point she neared the window and scolded me:
- What happened is that I want you to travel, that’s why I let you be.
I had to work hard to control myself and not tell her, “I too moved the purse to help you, we’re even,” but I was afraid she’d have a stroke that very instant. The rest of the morning she spent keeping any eye on me, waking up a few more who were sleeping on their chairs and managed that, by 5:30, half people in the station were rolling around on the floor disdainfully while the more scrupulous smoked quietly in their seats.
On Thursday a man from the gas company knocked on my door and told me that he was going to change the meter and that I had to give him my last payment receipt. After an hour of turning the house upside down I had to give up: I’ve lost it. I go down and tell him:
- Look, I’m sorry, I don’t have the receipt. - Then I can’t change the meter. - No problem, don’t change it. - I have to change it. - ?...!
The sad thing is he decided to change it and while he was trying to do that he ended up breaking my deteriorating pipe. He didn’t take the trouble to climb the stairs and tell me because his team is not the “repairers” only the “changers” nor did he try to clean up the mess. He cut off my service, reported my rupture to the company, who later reported it to the office of I don’t know what, who then sent a “repairer” team… in less than 24 hours (this last is the science fiction part).
Friday afternoon, after 24 hours of doing without fire, and everyone knows what that has represented in the long life of homo sapiens, and terrorized by the terrible coming of the weekend, I went out to “resolve” the problem with a private contractor. What happened was the nice gentleman from the company had not broken just any pipe: 4 meters and 20 cm of a ¾ inch galvanized zinc pipe that’s not found “even in the spiritual centers.”
One of my most supportive and good neighbors, so good that he still believes in the Perfected Social Enterprise, spent the day giving me reports about the gas company, whom he called for two consecutive days. I suppose that at some point he told the laconic receptionist, politely, to go to hell, she invariably answered: That is already taken care of, for more information call XXX (where no one ever answered).
On Saturday afternoon we took the project in hand. We reconstructed the pipe with one we found on the roof, connected what was left of my pipe directly to the street and, after tremendous anguish, I made coffee. I’m still waiting for them to connect the meter.
Until now I’d completely ignored the issue, but the pitcher can only go to the well so many times before it breaks: mine was just broken by Juan Formell.
Beyond the dissertations about the different reasons—pressures, threats or compromises—that have brought Carlos Varela, Amaury Pérez and Juan Formell to speak badly of Porno para Ricardo in public, for me what counts is the consequence: the flip-flopping, the double standard and the sheer nerve. I remember once some years ago I had a depressing enough discussion with an friend who assured me that Silvio Rodriguez probably was elected to the National Assembly because they had threatened to kill his family.
At that time I was insulted, but today it makes me laugh to see the point to which we—the admiring and following public—are capable of justifying the shameless attitude of some of our artists and intellectuals. I suppose they are the same justifications they make it so that today Pablo Milanés is remembered for his declarations in Spain and not for his declarations on the National Television News after his concert in the Protestodrome: The concert that turned me into a revolutionary (or something of that kind)), while Gorki finished his third day in prison and Ciro was interrogated by State Security.
As the joke goes around here: with a ten minute role in the movie Brainstorm, Alberto Pujol overcame months of having been El Tabo*. With a five minute interview, Formall, Varela, Silvio and Pablo managed it so that I, while I continue to admire their work as artists, got tired of listening to them (I never did like Amaury so I don’t include him in the list).
This first Cuban blog contest has been avant-garde in many things, but one of the simplest and yet the most exciting, is that it is the first time that a blogger laureate within the island can participate in the awards ceremony (without having to ask permission to leave). I refer of course to Yoani Sanchez, who has been denied the right to get on a plane five times in only two years.
Her prize for Best Blog in Spanish in the Bitácoras contest, a laptop, was the prize I received yesterday for Best Blog. Luckily Orlando Luis spoke first at the end of the ceremony and my impulse to cry passed. When I came to say a few words which I don’t remember at all, at least I didn’t pout even though later that told me I was “as red as a beet.”
A Virtual Island has been made possible thanks to the perseverance of the organizers and the solidarity that exists within the Cuban blogosphere, to all these people my thanks and admiration.
At some point I stopped looking at the on line voting in the A Virtual Island blog contest because it was making me nervous My winning the popularity prize [from readers’ votes] of the first blog contest held within the island is the king of thing that I plan, without a doubt, to tell my grandchildren.
I am very happy and thank all the readers who voted for Octavo Cerco. If we could turn back the hand of time and I was 8 years old and in the fifth grade, there would be no possible way to convince my classmates that one day I would win something related to popularity; if I had told myself that two years ago, even less.
Soon we will have the jury results, on 09.09.09, from this small space of Internet in an island without Internet: Good luck to all the contestants, congratulations to all the organizers (especially to Yoani Sánchez) and a thousand thanks to the readers, without whom none of this would make sense.
When I reached the Church could not film because the only think I saw all around me were backs. I ventured to raise my arm as high as I could to film blindly, then I felt a hand grab my wrist and an unknown voice said to my neck:
- I will hold you up so you can film her when she leaves.
I could not even see the face of the girl who helped me, there were thousands of people and even though the traffic hadn’t been diverted for the procession, the cautious drivers made a line in Reina Street, waiting for those walking and cheering for the Virgin to finish their march.
I heard, “Viva the Virgin of all Cubans,” and “Freedom.” I didn’t see them but people said the Women in White were a few feet from us… there were so many people I couldn’t tell what was ten feet in front of me. When I walked behind the Virgin I was thinking of all those who for years dreamed of walking with her but were prohibited from doing so, and all those who could not do it today because they aren’t free to think differently.
People who read blogs from Cuba generally do it on vocescubanas. It easier because all the bloggers are together on one platform and you don’t have to spend a lot of time opening multiple pages at the same time. Time on-line in Cuba is gold, either because it’s very expensive, because you are navigating as a “guest” thanks to a member, or because you’re at work and you take advantage of the few minutes when you know the one looking over your shoulder is absent.
A new independent platform gave many bloggers the opportunity to manage their sites (Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar and Miriam Celaya). For me, specifically, it was the challenge of administering my blog in WordPress and the possibility of being read thanks to free software from inside my country. For other bloggers like Pablo Pacheco, it meant the certainty that his posts would be published and read from Havana.
However, for some days we haven’t been able to enter Voces from Cuba, this blockade does not change our conditions much: administering a blog is a luxury and almost all bloggers have found a friend who helps from somewhere in the world where the government doesn’t worry about its citizens navigating freely on the Internet. Whether from Havana or from the North Pole our texts will continue to be published despite government paranoia.
For readers on the island: for each paid censor on the Internet there exists in the world a volunteer hacker. Voces Cubanas opens by proxy, I have confirmed that these work in Cuba as of now:
For several days Octavo Cerco has not been right. While I don’t have the slightest idea of what’s happening, meanwhile I try to fix it without having too much on-line time for obvious reasons.
Maybe it’s coincidence that September has started with turmoil: thanks to you I have won the popularity prize in the Virtual Island contest, it’s been a week since Voces Cubanas has been blocked from inside Cuba and now this… it must be coincidence, or maybe astrology.
Translator's note For several days the Spanish (original) Octavo Cerco site has not been working; it shows only the most recent entry and the sidebar is gone. Dear readers... we are working on it!
I walk down the street and the only thing I hear is the issue of “the stores”, it seems that the technique is infallible. I’ve seen some documentaries about civil actions to pressure the government and in various countries they’ve used an economic boycott to bring about political change (South Africa, Chile).
What’s happening gives me the impression that in Cuba there is another dynamic; the economic boycott is used by the government to put pressure on us. It was about a month ago that some of the convertible money stores (the only ones where you can get the basic market basket of goods) have closed and those that are still open are emptying out bit by bit. The other day I was desperately looking for any kind of detergent, and I went into a store where the only thing they had were shelves and shelves of glass cleaner (something like ten different brands). Who buys glass cleaner in Cuba?
Best of all are the conclusions of the victims; one hears, as always, several versions: 1 – All the stores are going to close little by little to become part of the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces). 2 – What’s happening is there are no longer foreign investors located in Cuba selling their products because they can’t get their money out of the banks in Cuba and they can’t make transactions in their own countries. 3 – The problem is that Cuba doesn’t have any money now to buy products, and what’s in the stores are the products that were already there and that no one ever bought.
I like conclusion number three because it’s related to the glass cleaner, and I wonder who would think of buying such clean glass in a country where almost all the windows are made of wood. On the other hand it seems that the foreigners aren’t the only ones who can’t get their money out of the banks; a friend told me that in order to collect the 5,000 pesos his father left him as an inheritance he has to do so much paperwork he no longer knows if he’ll ever get his hands on the money.
As none of this is discussed in the newspaper Granma, I don’t know which version is true, or semi-true, or completely false. Now I have to walk six hours to be able to wash the dishes at night. As I go and walk through the streets I wonder, what good does it to do for the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and Raúl Castro to have the economy of the country in this state? Crisis number what are we entering now? Why is there toilet paper in only one store in all of Havana? Are these economic balancing acts caused by the crisis, or is it what is commonly called the internal blockade?
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.