Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Who Waits for the No. 27 Bus?

Photo: Lía Villares

They call is the “ghost bus,” but to go from 12th and 23rd to Nuevo Vedado there is no choice but to wait for it. I got to the crowded stop at six, as usual, and calmly sat down to wait for the miracle of seeing the bus appear.

Half an hour later it arrived late and packed with people. Despite the fact that a lot of people get off on this corner of Vedado, there wasn’t enough room for all of us waiting on the sidewalk to fit inside. A foreigner, two old men, and I watched the bus take off, with men hanging out the doors. It seemed the foreigner was interested in conversation, despite my earphones he sat down next to me and started to talk.

It turned out he was Brazilian and had been studying medicine for a year and half at Fajardo, even though his Spanish was very bad. Suddenly we were interrupted by a crash on 23rd, between a motorcycle and a Russian-made Lada. Amid the shouts and carrying on of the curious, he asked me, “In Cuba, these accidents are few, right?”

I didn’t understand his meaning very well, but in any case I said, “There are few cars so I suppose there are few accidents.”

After a short silence, he made another comment, “Cuba is an excellent country to live in.”


“It is very safe.”

I imagined many possible answers:

“How do you know that’s true if the press doesn’t report acts of violence, nor are there any official crime rates?”

“Security is a characteristic of militarized systems and total control over the civilian population.”

“It’s a shame that the sense of security is inversely proportional to that of freedom.”

But I said nothing. I was getting dark, I looked at the time, it was already eight. I was tired, I’d lost the entire afternoon trying to get across the city, and some Brazilian out of nowhere exasperated me with his Perfect Manual of Life in Cuba.

I didn’t want to explain anything, I’d have preferred to simply give him a kick in the pants. But since I am an educated person I confined myself to getting up and leaving; I would go visit my friend another day.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Walking the Tightrope Without Falling Into the Abyss

Getting right with both God and the Devil is very difficult, but not impossible. If anyone has any doubts they can ask the boys of Calle 13, they know the formula. So, for example, they invited Aldo from Los Aldeanos to play, but no one gave the rapper his musician’s pass, nor did they take him on the bus with the rest of the musicians, so when he arrived at the concert the security people would not let him pass. No one could say, however, that the reggaetoners had been complicit in censorship, nor even silent witnesses to it. Singing songs against the United States Interest Section in Havana and for the rights of everyone in Miami also works, although it is not very subtle. Finally, photos with the wives of the Ministry of the Interior’s five comrades imprisoned in the United States, and supporting the Ladies in White from Puerto Rico, lends it all a touch of cynicism that our superficiality can, in spite of everything, forgive.

Perhaps “Resident”* and “Visitor”* believed – a bit of ingenuity to succeed in the marketplace of “musical politics” – that the Five were political prisoners or prisoners of conscience, and then declared, from the other side of the pond, that they had met with the families of those imprisoned for their ideas here in Cuba. It must be very sad for a journalist, sentenced to twenty years in prison for what he has written, to hear such false confessions.

Of course all these reflections are not necessary to drive one’s hips when it’s time to dance reggaetón, which was the objective of the group on the Island, and one which they accomplished.

*Translator's note: The rappers go by the names: René Pérez "Residente" and Eduardo Cabra "Visitante"

Friday, March 26, 2010

When the Curtain Falls

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I find it hard, these days, to get back on track; I am unfocused and exhausted. I have the impression that things are moving too much and I almost can’t keep track. In the same way that people living centuries ago thought the earth was flat and static beneath their feet, today I ask myself of this immobility is not simply a fog and lack of information.

From every side come word of corruption, embezzlement, living the good life, and disputes over money among the top military leaders in the government. Meanwhile, down here, the only certainty is that every so often, from Mount Olympus, a head rolls.

I don’t like rummaging around for answers in a future where only one thing is certain: uncertainty. But to deny that the bricks are falling from the wall of power would be naïve. It will not be the first time in history that self-destruction is the destiny of the powerful.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This Street Belongs to the Ladies In White

It was the last day of the Blogger Academy, but the fifth day of the marches by the Ladies in White.  At the end of the class, Juan Juan Almeida, Laritza Diversent, Joysi Garcia, Silvio Benitez, Ciro Diaz and I decided to march with them.

We arrived at the church an hour ahead of time.  From the corner we could recognize the faces of those who have watched and attacked us; Yoani saw one of the women who hit her the day after Orlando Zapata Tamayo died.  Setting foot in the house of God was a relief, we know that the military has very few limits in this country, but one of them is the sacred soil of the church. 

Within, it was very peaceful, but from the street the noise of those born without pity slipped in, called through the unions at their jobs to "work" at repressing. The Ladies arrived preceded by the screams of "Viva Fidel!" and we grouped ourselves at the door, curious, reliable, faithful, journalists and supporters.

When they took their first steps inside with their gladioli, their injuries -- some with casts on their arms -- and their infinitive endurance, the people in the street faded away and all around me the people started to whisper, "Welcome to the house of God." I am not devout, but I swear that it was the first sacred moment of the evening, and it was not the last.

The faceless ones sneaked in, for them the murmurs of the spirit seem not to exist. In addition they show lack of discipline on the sides, even after the warning from the priest at the beginning of the mass.

To try to describe the following minutes is impossible for me; I finished drying my eyes while I embraced the women behind and in front of me, I kissed my friends at my side and I forget that within meters there was so much hatred waiting to attack the procession.

I do not know if it was the effect of having been in the church, or whether it was simply that the orders given were different, but the repudiation rally we expected did not compare to others I have lived through: tempered shouts, eyes glued to the ground, racists slogans that I could not believe could come from the throats of those who claim to represent the Communist Party... because if so then the Party is very -- extremely -- racist.

To walk the streets of Central Havana holding hands with the Ladies in White has been an indescribable honor. As we were dressed in various colors several times they tried to separate us from the group but the Ladies told each other: hold onto the the bloggers, we have to protect them.

Nobody let go of my hand, nobody dared to touch them, and the people, the real people from their balconies and the sidewalks looked with pride at those women who carry on their shoulders the moral conviction of all the Cubans.

Note: Today I went to the home of Laura Pollán to see them, they walked 11 kilometers on their sixth day of continuous protest.

Translated by: Hank and Mari Mesa Contreras

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Life in Cuba is Sacred?

These words of Arlín Rodríguez, from the TV talk show The Roundtable on March 17, thundered in my ears for half an hour. A few days ago I had access to three hundred photos of the autopsies of those who died at the psychiatric hospital in Havana and I cannot imagine how that phrase came out of the mouth of a journalist.

When I opened the little folder called “Mazorra” a series of monstrosities hit me in the face and I couldn’t stop looking at the cruel graphic testimony. A friend who is a doctor visited and while he analyzed images I didn’t have the courage to look at, expressions like, “Holy Virgin Mary, Blessed God, What in God’s name is this?” issued from his outraged throat, mixed with obscure pathologies and the names of diseases both treatable and curable.

Enormous livers, tubercular lungs, and wormy intestines are the proof, Señora Arlín, of the sacredness of life in Cuba. Meanwhile The Roundtable throws a fit because the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo has unmasked a crumbling public health system, and they try to cover up the disgrace of a seeing soldiers dragging and beating a group of women dressed in white with flowers in their hands. I ask myself, Gentlemen Journalists, when will they explain to Cubans the reasons why twenty-six mentally incapacitated people died in inhumane conditions during their confinement in Mazorra?

Note: I publish this photo with a completely clear conscience; if they were not shown there would be no proof of the suffering that these people were subjected to. If not for the hard photos that denounced the Nazi Holocaust, the genocide of Pol Pot or the tortures in the prisons of Abu Ghraib, they, too, would not have existed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Endless Wait

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I met him when I was eighteen: intelligent, tall, good looking, mulatto, bilingual and a liar. He said he was an Arab and that was a lie, he told me he had traveled and that was a lie, he told me he had a “yuma” girlfriend who was going to get him out of the country, and that too was a lie. But I liked him anyway, I like dreamers. We became friends.

Then life took us on two different paths: I got tired of waiting for a way to leave the country; while he chose the infinite wait. Once or twice a year we see each other, every time we are further apart: I deeply enmeshed in the thick of things, he waiting and waiting.

Now he’s nearing fifty: his height makes him seem gangly, his hair is graying, and speaking two languages is no longer a charm. He tells me he has a German girlfriend, and I imagine the day he will tell me he has the damned letter of invitation that for so many years he has longed for.

He is not alone, the “infinite waiting” has claimed almost all of my friends – the petition, visa, permit to leave, permit to live abroad, permit to travel or scholarship – everyone is waiting for that paper that will take them far away, very far from the land of No-Time. I myself spent many years waiting for my name to come up in the lottery, which it never did… although I know of friends who still send a vote of confidence by mail.

I have come to define it as a physical and spiritual state: you haven’t gone, but you are not here. I remember something similar I read in the The Dogs of Paradise, by Abel Pose where Admiral Christopher Columbus – ecstatic now in America – demanded of his subjects that they let their minds catch up with their bodies, that they live in the here and now, in the new world. It’s ironic, and sadly literary, that so many centuries later the men of the land he discovered – that land he described as the most beautiful human eyes had ever seen – have picked up his formula but in reverse: preferring to let their minds wander to places they’ve never seen, rather than live here, now, in the place where they have always been.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Burdens of the Cold War

After the Odyssey required to connect to the Internet, you have four or five proxies to avoid the censorship imposed by the government, having given up on Skype some months ago and navigating literally against the current (50kb a second maximum); then you find yourself looking at screens like that posted here which is quite disappointing.

That is why the lifting of some of the sanctions imposed on Cuba, Iran and Sudan to ease citizens’ access to the Web – as announced by the U.S. Department of State –  turns out to be, in my opinion, essential. The voice of the people, not that of governments, is struggling to open up the Web: the Internet is the place for those with scarce freedoms of expression or of the press.

There is also the issue of the justifications: in Cuban there is no Internet because of the blockade. Why give the State this alibi? I am convinced that every sanction imposed on Cuba is a weapon used to justify the lack of freedoms for the people. Access to information is a danger to the Cuban government; restricting it simplifies their work and lessens the small sources of freedom for the Cubans.
On this island there is no Internet because the government fears it, as proven by the multiple sites they block, the difficulties of access and the information police. Any gesture that helps to cover up this sad reality, I believe, makes no sense. In any event, time will tell if my skepticism is valid, as we will have the cable from Venezuela, in which I can’t help but find a certain mythological analogy to Ariadne’s thread, which saved her from the claws of the Minotaur.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Apartheid at the Young Filmmakers Exhibition (Documentary and Consultation)

Note: The documentary does not have good quality for reasons of connectivity, I promise an improved version as soon as possible.


"Right of Admission?
Wilfredo Vallín Almeida


La Vibora, Havana, March 9, 2010

They are a small group of young people.  They have bought tickets for the Chaplin cinema where the Ninth Exhibition of Young Filmmakers is playing. The dialogue that occurred at the entrance to this public place was, more or less, as briefly follows:

“You cannot enter.”

“Why. We have tickets.”

“Yes, but still you cannot enter.”

“By what right do you forbid us to enter?”

“The cinema reserves the right to refuse admission…”

There follows a verbal altercation which it is not necessary to reproduce here and where there is no lack of the usual insults directed at the young people – mercenaries, counterrevolutionaries, employees of the empire – and others of this kind.

This columnist is asked for clarification by those attacked with regards to what reason or authority does the management of this cinema have to behave in such a way. The answer of The Consultant is this:

There are institutions and places which, by their nature, are selective with regards to who has access to their facilities. For example, we know that Masonic lodges allow only their members and special guests to attend their work sessions.

On the other hand, there are places which cannot be accessed unless certain requirements are met. For example, to appear in court you must dress in a certain way: you cannot come dressed however you like. The same applies to a certain level of restaurants, or at a church.

The way in which you behave can also be a requirement: in a theater, concert or public performance where people are disorderly, they can be expelled from the place and even denied entrance if this phenomenon is repeated.

These examples have absolutely nothing to do with the administrators of these places believing that their administrative powers include the capacity to infringe on the rights granted by the Constitution of the Republic to citizens by the mere fact that they do not share the ideology of the current government.

To carry this to the extreme of not allowing access to public places to people who behave correctly, who do not disturb the prevailing order, who pay the price corresponding to the respective entrances, who do not bother anyone during the performance and who, at it conclusion, leave in an orderly, quiet and respectful manner, to deny them entry presents simultaneously the following illegalties on the the part of those who abrogate such a ludicrous “right”:

I. Violation of the Constitution of the Republic in its articles:
41) All citizens have equal rights ...
42) Discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religious belief or any other offense against human dignity, is prohibited and punishable by law.
43) The state consecrates the right achieved by the Revolution that all citizens without distinction of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or any other offense against human dignity:
- Enjoy the same resorts, beaches, parks, social centers and other centers of culture, sports, recreation and rest.

(Nowhere does the Constitution establish that people with a thought different from the official, will receive discriminatory treatment of any kind and, according to the doctrine, “Where the law does not distinguish, we must not distinguish.”)

II. Violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights endorsed by Cuba up to the present time, in its articles:

2.1) Every person has all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property birth or other status.

7) All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

They Swore an Oath

Photo: Lia Villares

After six years of study they received a title and swore an oath. An oath written centuries ago by Hippocrates, immortalizing ethics. They promised, and we trust our lives to them, our intimacy, our weaknesses and our illnesses: they, then, try to heal us.

When the laws of a country are not respected by its own government, the rights of citizens are crushed like flies by the power; lawlessness becomes a necessity to survive, dissent is a crime and freedom of speech is an offense; we must have the honor and courage to maintain our principles beyond the social debacle.

That a doctor would speak of the weakness or illness of a patient is an indecency, but to come to the point of discrediting a patient and lying about their condition is a crime. Anyone who calls themselves a doctor and who, in front of a camera, breaks the promise they once made, the universal commitment, part of medical history, which they once took upon themselves, this is a disgrace to their career and to themselves.

Their hands should tremble when they prepare a prescription for meprobamate, because they do not have the moral stature to practice such a laudable profession. They should have the guts to go home and take their title off the wall, because they are no longer entitled to heal us.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Solidarity With Coco

Hebert, Lía and I were the very image of helplessness. We had left Havana after midnight and made our wandering way, finally, to Santa Clara, searching for Ciro and Claudio, whereabouts unknown, who had been arrested in Placetas.

I had only seen him once in passing. I could not imagine that months later I would be on his doorstep, at four in the morning, ringing the bell with all my might. His mother opened: “Good morning, I’m Claudia, I’m looking for Fariñas. I’m from Havana and I think my husband is being detained in the Villa here.”

Coco came down, gave us coffee, lent me the phone, told us about his life, explained how to get to the police station and offered me complete hospitality. How I wish I had his greatness of soul to open the door to a stranger, with such good humor, in the early hours of the morning.

He convinced me to wait until dawn and when I was about to go, he said, “I don’t like the idea of your going to the station alone, let me get dressed.”

I discovered I was walking around town with a star: everyone greeted him, knew him, asked him about someone. From the time I entered his home I had the absolute certainty that with him, nothing bad would happen to me, and he never let me down.

Today we talked on the phone. Or rather he talked, because I could not stop crying while he told me that his eyes and his kidneys hurt, that he fell asleep all the time, and that the pressure was coming closer. I passed the phone to Ciro, ashamed that I wasn’t able to maintain a coherent dialog.

I don’t know what more to say… I don’t want him to die.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Apartheid at the Young Filmmakers Exhibition (video)

Note: Before the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo I had written this text about the talks on migration between Cuba and the United States. I had decided not to publish it because too many horrible things have happened. However, during the Young Filmmakers Exhibition – where several people were prevented from entering – one of those rallying (quite misinformed, of course) brought the subject to light, so I decided to bring out my text as well. I am also posting the video taken by someone, without my knowledge, when I was being refused entry to the Exhibition.

Silliness and Slobber

I find no better adjectives for the Foreign Ministry (MINREX) statements about the talks on immigration held between government officials of Havana and the United States. The note in the newspaper Granma, full of disinformation of course, says nothing about agreements made or not made. The words “civilized, spirit of cooperation and dialog” are repeated over and over. But sadly, I see not a single allusion to something concrete… How did you leave it gentlemen? You met, talked, made a tremendous spiritual connection, etc. etc., and then, what’s new? Did something happen, did you move some pawn? Sign some agreement? Apparently not.

Not to touch on a nerve, but the note makes an informative 360 degree turn and begins to talk about the meeting that, the following day, the members of the United States government held with some representatives from civil society and the Cuban opposition. Excuse me, Foreign Ministry, but what do I care about what the delegation did the day after the meetings? The news, frankly, seems more worthy of the magazine HOLA than a communication from MINREX.

If, in the first place, those dissidents who so offend the Cuban government had been invited to the meeting – sadly civil rights depend on issues of emigration – and if they had participated in the official talks, surely today the news would be more realistic and the agreements or disagreements would have first and last names.

The fact that the Cuban government is not capable of undertaking a coherent and mature dialog that endorses normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, does not then give it the right to be gossiping about and meddling in the lives of others to justify the unjustifiable: its ineffective management.