Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, and Friday, Birthdays

It is no coincidence that January 28 Voces Cubanas celebrated its first year of life on the Internet, it’s an historic date and not just because of a group of indomitable bloggers – or cyberchancleteros (cybergossipers), one of my favorite words – have been set loose upon the web. I still remember when Yoani Sanchez, during the blogger journey meetings, talked to us about Voces Cubanas and the intention to create a plural portal where independent voices join the multifaceted Cuban society.

From a small flotilla of five blogs announced in 2009, today we are twenty-six, all linked to the portal. Since that first meeting of bloggers, which was of such interest to State Security, today in the “Generation Y House” there is an academy where a priest, a punk musician, a lawyer, a student, a renegade from the political police, an artisan and a professor discover that if they can harmoniously share the one hundred square foot space of the classroom, they might also be able to share the whole island of Cubans with all their contrasts.

The challenge has been great: teach blogging without the Internet, Twittering without a mobile phone, how to install plug-ins and administer an interface that supposedly exists only on-line, and it is supposedly because every Tuesday and Thursday we verify that nothing exists, save the human will.

Note: Today, Friday, January 29, is also the birthday of Claudio Fuentes Madan, who spent the morning in “conversation” – a new term that the DSE (Department of State Security) uses for their arrests and interrogations – with two officials from the Ministry of the Interior plus another who was “unidentified.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

La Aldea Concert at the Madriguera

The “revolutionary” artists first and the protestors last is how one could describe the Sunday concert at the La Madriguera.  But it was worth it to wait four hours to hear the last three:  El Clan, Silvito el Libre, and, finishing it off of course, Los Aldeanos.

Despite the technical glitches that plague underground concerts in Cuba, the suspicious failure of the microphone and the absurd images of the presentation—in this case while playing the theme of Aldo and the B, “Las Mikies,” a karate teacher giving lessons to a baby in the snow—to hear a little music with low level caesura was like spending a week in Varadero.

Sunday I had a disagreeable day, worried and alone… but it was worth it just to see the night come.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Same Techniques and the Same End

The abuses that absolute and omnipotent power have committed over the span of history repeat themselves, as if eternal return was not only a theory but a certainty in the world in which we live.   And so, often the histories and biographies of those who have wielded supreme power escape from the pages of the books and mingle with our own lives, bringing fear to the center of our existence.
The persecution of the boys who participated in the Walk for Nonviolence has been constant ever since the sixth of November.  Two days ago it peaked and some were kidnapped by State Security.  Kidnapped, because although the National Revolutionary Police accompanied the incognito comrades of the DSE, they had no Official Citation as required under the Penal Code.  So these boys, most of whom are under twenty, saw with their own eyes – in a rundown room at the police station on 21st and C – the scenes seen in documentaries about those who were once at the mercy of other political police: Chilean, Polish, Czech activists…
The most terrible thing of all is the exact repetition of the script, with a chilling crescendo of violence:
-- Convince you.
-- Buy you or get you to commit yourself.
-- Discredit your friends.
-- Make you feel you’re alone.
-- Take your things (cellphone, laptop, discs or flash memories) without any documents of confiscation.
-- Threaten your future, your family, and your physical safety.
They, State Security agents, have studied at a pitiful university: The Technical Institute of Coercion and Repression of the Citizenry.  We, the civilians, face them without the slightest ABCs in how to survive the tsunami of power.  However, we have the one thing that – in the end – will be the most powerful weapon: our conscience.  Something they have lost because they are graduates of the “Arbiter of Injustice,” the first thing you have to pass in the subject of “Amnesia of Civic Values.”
Fear is a double edged sword.  Today my friends have doubts and they don’t want me to write their names, although they might change their minds.  I think that trying to hide when those who are looking for you are the only ones who know where you are doesn’t make any sense.  The wheel of fate always turns and the repressed memory is not erased: tomorrow it will be the security agents who cannot avoid – like my friends – the publication of their names and faces.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Civic Illiteracy

"I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to express it."

I have waited almost a month to write this post, I’ve received passionate emails, insulted and insulting. I had a fairly heated debate with a great friend and writer and I have, finally, reached the same conclusion I came to when I first laid hands on the “Charter Condemning Recent Obstructions and Prohibitions of Social and Cultural Initiatives.

I try not to get stuck on the first idea that comes to mind, but the question tossed out by the friend who brought me this open letter is still unanswered: Who are the real counterrevolutionaries?  I don’t pretend to write directly about the contents of the letter, but rather I want to try to have an argument about the argument, to write about the disconcerting discussions held with those I consider my friends, and to clear my mind; writing has always grounded me. Because in the end, the road to change, to ending censorship, to freedom, is, as well defined by Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths.”  But first, I am bound to admit that I share, without any doubts, the opinions of Yoani Sanchez and Miriam Celaya and, though I do not subscribe to the Declaration of the Intellectuals, I accept much of what it says.

A plural country is not a civic plaza of general consensus, nor a parcel of paradise where contradictions have been relegated to those weak sinners of the earth.  To build the society we dream of, I think, the first thing is to put her feet firmly on the ground, and cleanse ourselves of the impurities that 50 years of monolithic discourse has left in our brains, and stop kicking everyone WHO DOESN’T AGREE WITH US.

Dissent is not a sin, criticism is constructive, to disagree is healthy, and to say so publicly, far from being sentimental patriotism, is a civic responsibility.  Some of the fears of “disunity” and “the lack of prudence” are evils borne with pain with the first meeting of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) which our parents attended.  Prudence is what day-by-day, lifts a Cuban from his bed and takes him, ration card in hand, to buy bread; prudence is the conceptual juggling acts that artists perform to slip into galleries and biennials; prudence is the cat-and-mouse game with the dictator; it’s the double standard, the opportunism and the careerism.  Disunity is what breathes between the people and the government.  The rest—criticism and opinion—is tolerance, civility and stimulation for a civil society, even one in its infancy.

Among the objections raised by Yoani and Miriam, the “fanatical” defenders of the letter, and I say fanatical with no intent to offend, believe that when one does not accept criticisms he joins the radical camp; they cite “the cultural character of the same.”  I start from the principle that everything is culture, man is a social and cultural being, and I base everything I say on this.  It is because of this that the letter—without contradicting what I just wrote—speaks of socialism, capitalism, social phenomena and even political-economic-social projects, as a “project that socializes—that is, shares—all its resources, where we all have equal access to exercise power.” (sic)

In my opinion, the collection of signatures is a coherent initiative because it tries to globalize all aspects that concern a country without taking “cultural” positions; and this despite the unpardonable omissions and the ambiguities one finds in it and that prevent me from adding my name to the signatories.

Below I list and comment—with my conscience completely at peace—the concepts about which I have the greatest doubts:
  • Real counterrevolution (who, when where?)
  • Official institutions (are there legal institutions in Cuba that are not official?)
  • Directed from above (from the PCC, the Central Committee, or lower?)
  • Too little space for socialist criticism (and non-socialist criticism, not addressed?)
  • Promote cultural dialog (to resolve social problems?)
  • Our project of social liberation (I have no idea what this is)
  • Irreversible emergence of new social facts, such as digital technologies or the impossibility of isolating our country (perhaps the syntax is deceptive, but what I understand is that—despite contrary efforts—the Internet has slipped into Cuba and with it the watchful eye of international public opinion.)
Much more coherent logical and productive to sign what is omitted or is doubtful, or not to sign but to remain silent for fear of the consequences on a supposed unity; that is—without rancor nor malice— to say what one thinks without evasion, be it of Raúl Castro, the Letter of the Intellectuals, or of the Vice Minister of Culture.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Ciro in Santiago

Text taken from the Saga: El Ciro versus State Security
Comic: Silvia C.

I arrived in Santiago de Cuba on a cold December morning ready to defeat a few officers from the Interior Ministry, but to my surprise there was no battalion waiting for me at the airport. I grabbed a taxi and went into town.

There were thousands of motorbikes, but not a single Suzuki. On the sidewalks, neon signs: Liberal Party, Social-Democratic Party of Cuba, Christian-Democratic Party, a poster reading Communist Alliance for Survival, and in Cespedes Park, Oswaldo Payá was giving a speech.

“What’s going on here? Where’s the G2?” I asked.

“They emigrated to Havana because they weren’t given any cars or motorbikes,” said a fat guy who ultimately turned out to be Expósito, the Cuban Communist Party Secretary in Santiago de Cuba.

“How many are left?”

“There are about fifteen, they’re holed up in their Versalles Fort, which is now called the Communist Alliance for Survival. They shoot at anyone who enters, including me, they threw me out, accused me of being a capitalist because I opened some stores that sell cheese and butter. But how was I to know that cheese and butter turn people into dissidents?” he said, breaking down in tears.

I activated my anti-projectile bubble and went along to the Versalles (home of the Communist Alliance for Survival). On entering the door I encountered volleys of ground fire and crossfire that bounced off the surface of the bubble. Finally, a colonel came out with a white flag.

“What do you want?! Get out of here, this is a military zone!”

“What are you saying? All I can see is that in the infantry zone you’ve built a homeless camp. Besides, there’s no electricity here.”

“Ah, that is the Dream Delivery Housing, a few guys who they evicted before have been thrown out of their houses,” said the colonel.

“Well fine…! And now how am I going to defeat you if you’ve already all been defeated? How are we going to revive this?”

“It can’t be revived,” interrupted the official, “there are no resources, the people of Havana took off with everything and they don’t send anything from there. Conclusion, nobody wants to work for State Security today.”

It’s true that the number of Security cars and motorcycles in Havana is seriously affecting the ozone layer.

“I’ve got an idea. What if you find another form of financing? Let’s see… hmmm… I don’t know… AH! I get it, the CIA! Yes, the CIA! Lagarde said they would finance anything and like you, in the end you’re all in the same profession, maybe they can pull some strings.”

The colonel hesitated for a minute, the weary look in his spy’s eyes was lost in the immensity and his open mouth gave a glimpse of his snitch’s tongue; then he rose and said,

“And could I have a Chinese Geely make car, one of those they give the officials in Havana?”

“Sure, boy, if China is the major trading partner of the Gringos.”

“Well fuck it then, we’ll ask for financing from the CIA!” shouted the colonel.

Perfect, now I could return to Havana and come back in a couple months to defeat them. With any luck, they’ll meet me at the airport with at least one small battalion. Before I left I added only,

“And perhaps they could reinstate Expósito, what do you think?”

The colonel was annoyed.

“No, it would be crazy to let him back in again. He was stealing the butter and cheese from the fort to sell it to the good people of Santiago.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Gunpowder!*

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I have read the article in Bad Handwriting about the control of explosive substances in Cuba, and have remembered an anecdote from my teenage years that connects with much of what Regina Coyula is talking about.

When I was 18 I often went to the home of a friend--now his house is in Spain--and I spent the afternoons with him and his mother. It was a small family but with sad memories, they lived in one half of the house but the other half, the ground floor, had been confiscated in the first years of the Triumph of the Revolution.

My friend had just finished his Military Service and the atmosphere was festive, despite his scrawny body, evidence of years of malnutrition, militarization, and preparation for The War of The Whole People. We decided that to erase a slice of all the bad memories of green** we would do a general cleaning and toss out everything that belonged to the armed forces. We put our backs to the work, and in a few hours, two bags of uniforms, jugs, boxes and even papers were in the trash can on the corner.

The same night, while we were eating, an official from the National Revolutionary Police knocked on the door. After asking for our identity cards he interrogated us about our activities, harassed us a bit and had a coffee, confessing the object of his imperial visit: in the bags we'd tossed out they had found some boxes of bullets. My friend had to explain in detail how, after his firearms training, these bullets hadn't worked because they were duds and he put them into his backpack, where he forgot all about them. His mother had to sign an absurd paper, the contents of which I'm incapable of remembering, a kind of commitment to the security of the fatherland.

Before the man finally said his last in the interview-interrogation, we couldn't contain our curiosity: How had he found a little box of bullets in a bag inside a disgusting trash can on an obscure corner in Havana and how, on top of that, had he known that this bag had been tossed out by us? The cop replied with pride, "We have contacts everywhere, it was brought to us by one of our divers, be careful what you toss."

*Phrase from the Cuban cartoon "Elpidio Valdés"

*Obligatory Military Service

Friday, January 15, 2010


Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

Carla has suffered from chronic depression since she was 22. I’ve been with her to see psychologists at support centers, to specialists at the Surgical Clinic and Calixto Garcia, spiritualism sessions, group therapy, alternative healing treatments and to Mazorra.

After Prozac, imipramine and trifluoperazine, the comprehensive indifference of the doctors and the shuttling around to the treatment centers, she was never diagnosed. Her faith in Cuban psychiatry ended with a visit to Mazorra. I went with her to be examined and—in going and coming home—she made the most important decision in her life: The treatment is over, the hospital is over, goodbye to the psychiatrists. She took her condition stoically and since then, when the crisis comes, she locks herself in her house to read like a madwoman and doesn’t miss a showing at the movies, and so overcomes her depression.

What we saw, I can’t deny it, left no room for half-measures. I remembered televised images of the hospital, with a group of high spirited old women wearing a lot of makeup—in a dream lobby filled with plants and chairs—reading novels or rehearsing a beautiful chorus. It was the only image I had of the famous hospital.

Just past the Admissions desk some twenty old people were cleaning the main path with straw brooms, wearing tattered clothes, their teeth black, turning over the weeds they’d swept up looking for cigarette ends. One berated me with a voice full of tears, asking me for one. When I gave it to him the other 19 rushed us. I left the box.

We went through almost the whole hospital until coming to a building where, we’d been told, the outlook was bleak. I couldn’t say who the crazy ones were, if it was those going in or those coming out, because to put a person with mental illness in a place as horrible as that is to condemn them to absolute alienation. I recognized some of the beggars who mill around on 23rd Street. It surprised me to see them in the same state of filth and half-nakedness; I had always thought that they had escaped the hospital and that when they were inside they were fed and clothed.

I waited for Carla for two hours sitting in the lobby of the pavilion, surrounded by the unbalanced, without having the least idea of what they suffered from, some seemed sad, others unhinged, and others moody. Some were bandaged, an old man sang horrendously; I thought back to the choirs on the newscast and felt like crying. The walls were black with soot, letting in almost no light, everything was bathed in shadows that highlighted the misery and filth. In a room next to me a nurse was talking with the family of one of the patients, the man wept disconsolately because he wanted to be let out—promising to behave and be good—the mother was begging that he stay in the hospital at least to the weekend and the nurse was saying something about the shortage of mattresses.

Returning home Carla and I said not one word, we were astounded. When I left her in her house she whispered: I’m never going back to the doctor, I’ll be the same anyway.

I would like to dedicate this post to the patients who died of hypothermia in the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, between the 9th and 12th of this month. Read the news here and here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Bread Corner

23rd and 12th is known for many things, including bread sold in pesos, CUCs, and on the ration book.  Saturday morning the Bread Odyssey unraveled;  the ration store didn’t have enough bread to satisfy the per person allotment, nothing was for sale in the “liberated” bakery where bread is sold in Cuban pesos, and the hard currency confectioners was empty, they didn’t even have candy.

The popular version: there is no flour; the official version: …?  The curious thing is that in the convertible peso stores the usual shortage of castile flour is no worse, at its “reasonable” price of 5 CUCs for 5kg (roughly 40¢ U.S. a pound).

Meanwhile, the temperature drops and the line grows, mixing with the line at the bus stop.  In parallel, in the convertible peso stores, the only place where you can buy the majority of the products in the basic market basket, the windows display their shelves empty of goods.

No one knows what is going on.  The newspaper keeps on talking about Chavez, Columbia and increasing domestic agricultural production, the TV illuminates super productive factories that exceed their annual plans, and the radio repeats, like a parrot, Fidel’s Reflections.  My neighbors in the bread line theorize about a new wave of need.

On the sidewalk in front I look at the long line of those who wait and am reminded that once, in a far off country, the grain of sand that was the last straw for a people and ended up dethroning a king was, precisely, the shortage of bread.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Where's my chicken?

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

He is 75 with a pension that exceeds his age by only 100 pesos.  He is not suffering from anything except poverty and hunger.  Three years ago he applied to have two pounds of milk included in his ration quota, along with a piece of chicken each month, as ordered by a supportive, and anonymous, doctor who agreed to classify him as a diabetic.  It was not enough to normalize the protein levels in his body but, for better or worse, he managed, miraculously, not to starve through various efforts: selling newspapers, running errands for a neighbor overwhelmed by her work and children, and selling his quota of cigarettes.

Like any other year, he expected in 2010 to renew his medical certificate.  Bad news awaited him, however, across the desk at Oficoda, the ration bureaucracy: to renew the entitlement certificate he would need to undergo a medical examination.  He was wary of this game, playing with his life, but did not let himself be overcome by the adversity of the new regulations and prepared as for an interview at an embassy or for a job.

Thanks to several home urine tests he was able to find out what his normal glucose levels were, some glasses of water with brown sugar helped him study the ideal pattern of those who has the right to eat chicken and have milk with breakfast.  Finally, some IV fluids purchased on the black market him reach the magic number: 12.5.

After two weeks of training he was ready.  He went with all his blood samples before the alarmed examination board who strongly advised him to heed his doctor's instructions, as his diabetes was dangerously out of control.  The last time I saw him he coming from the store he was smiling, with his shopping bag of powdered milk and a frozen chicken leg.

Translated by anonymous and trelex

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Omens

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

Since the beginning of the year the same conversation as emerged at different times and among dissimilar people: What does the fututo [conch] say about us? The question seems unanswerable, but in less than a week those who sneer at my misgivings have delivered into my hands some phrases copied from the unofficial Letter of the Year (this is going to get VERY UGLY, even though it seems that the horizon of horrendous has not been reached), from the astrological chart of Fidel Castro (it appears that this could be the year), the astrological chart of Raúl Castro (it appears he won’t survive his brother), the astrological chart of Hugo Chávez (it appears he won’t make it past December), and the astrological chart of Cuba (apparently with pathetic karma).

I try to put aside this obsessive scrutiny in the morning, and concentrate on the readers rather than the readings. I wonder why everyone—from different cultures, different beliefs and different sources of divination—is enthralled with the analysis of CHANGE NOW. Why these “times of instability” are interpreted as “disobedience in the earth” or “falling to pieces in the heavens”? Why is it that Saturn moving easily and without difficulty through the middle heavens can’t be anything but “the journey of no return”?

I have heard the same idiocy repeated by the most neophyte, the most atheistic, the most skeptical and even by the most Marxist. I can’t deny that trying to understand the stars sharpens my neurons and that to read what the voices from the other side say gives me the creeps. However, what makes me smile—and brings back my quiet rationality—is that so many visions about the same reality also express the desire, the faith, the hope in another Cuba not so far away, not so hard, not so sad.

Note: If any reader has the complete unofficial “Letter of the Year”, please send it to me at my email address. I have talked so much about it that I’m dying to read the whole thing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Study, study, study, and then what?

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

Her parents taught her to study, to read, to love knowledge. When she was little she took classes in many things: piano, art, English, swimming and gymnastics. She studied at the university, graduated and started the statutory two years of social service.  They were the two most irrational years of her life; she earned 148 pesos a month working 40 hours a week and with that salary barely managed to pay for the products in the ration book.

She finished the two years of paying for her career, hung her folder on the back of the door and refused to continue.  She took some training courses to pass the time, enrolled in another career by long distance learning.  Her father pressured her: it’s not good to get used to living without working.  Her mother convinced him: better to continue studying than sit around doing nothing.

But she didn’t understand why everyone insisted that she should be working, while no one seemed to worry about whether she would be paid.  Her parents were old and for some months their family abroad had not sent any money.  She knew the crisis was coming, but work or no work made no difference, she wasn’t a girl any more and she knew, with legal employment she would starve.

Before she knew it, she was thirty; the old folks were now older than old, and the roof peeling away from the house reminded her that nothing is eternal. Selling clothes from time to time, working as an illegal tourist guide in Old Havana, or housecleaning for a rental was the most she could aspire to.  The years passed and she became obsessed with her stagnating life.  She put her name on the list for all the U.S. visa lotteries, put an ad in High Five to meet a foreign husband, talked with all her friends about getting an invitation to go abroad… but nothing.

Forty found her sunk in depression, like Penelope giving up hope for a day that never came, an exit she couldn’t manage, a house never realized, a wage that never rose, a husband that didn’t stay, some kids she never had, and a life she never lived.

Translation team included: Mafernan

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Differences With The Same Tone

Photo edited: Leandro Fiales

My mailbox is filled with Christmas, with a strange Christmas of consolation or despair: theories about the “evil”—as I have ended up baptizing it—that afflicts us.  I have received messages from the total political-ideological spectrum; some justify themselves—writing me seems to be a major step in taking a position with respect to the national situation—and they send me weird messages for third parties who don’t have time, or who fear, to answer.

Luckily the crowd of anonymous dialoging strangers is not what inspires me, rather it is my friends: my friends and I—scattered, confused, confident, desolate, far away, frightened and alone—trying to save our ties, to find a point that would unite us in the consciousness that from so much wanting to be one has become none.

My friends ask me but I have no answer, they advise me but I don’t want to hear, I explain to them but they misinterpret, they love me but I cannot hug them.  We have been Generation Zero, the lost, the Y, the post-revolutions, we all have done nothing.

We should be the monolithic block that immortalizes a revolution made by mortals, however the density was so high that it ended up exploding into atoms over the whole planet: the Generation BIG BANG.  We dispersed in a projectile that wasn’t even ours: without Guilt, without Answers, without Faith, The Children of Fear and Distance.

My friends and I tried, GMail knows how much we tried, but we ended up diluted in the turn of the century and guilt… Christ, Fidel, Or the Year Zero?  We discoursed about conscience, the market, and geographic fatalism. Nobody knows but for us—children of disinformation—the world is theory and speculation, what is the antithesis when the thesis doesn’t exist?  My friends and I are the personal universe, the return to subjectivity, to introspection, to life experience as the height of knowledge  We understand each other by halves, tolerate each other with tenderness, and do not agree with each other because, deep down, we each speak from the laughable desperation of feeling ourselves to be the last Cuban.