Monday, August 30, 2010


Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

She grabbed the mission for several reasons: they would put 50 Cuban convertible pesos (cuc) in a bank in Cuba every month, she could acquire the home appliances that she’d needed her whole life, she could buy her children clothes, and what’s more, she could leave the damn polyclinic that was ruining her life.

She knew Venezuela was pretty violent and politically unstable, but the Cuban delegation would surely be well protected, supposedly they were a priority. They were located on the outskirts in a poor, high crime area. No one warned her that after she got there they would take her passport and she would be undocumented. She worked hard, discovered that most Venezuelans felt like Cubans: politics had split the society in two.

She suffered the hatred of a people who, like hers, had lost control of their future. She discovered that paranoia knows no borders and that fear also travels on airplanes. A colleague of hers was killed in a brawl between gangs in the neighborhood. She asked to return to Cuba, but the commitment was unbreakable -- like the Communist Party -- and being depressed is not consistent with solidarity among peoples.  She still can’t return and to console herself she gives herself therapy in front of the mirror every morning: 50 cuc, 50 cuc, 50 cuc.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Accident

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The other day I witnessed an accident in Luyanó. Orlando Luis and I tweeted what we could, and managed, poorly, to take some photos without some of those guys dressed in civilian clothes taking away our cameras. Traffic accidents happen all the time everywhere in the world and I wonder why the Cuban government blocks these incidents from press coverage. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing that State Security agents spend their time, in the middle of a catastrophe, chasing after little cameras and avoiding reporters.

Sometimes it seems that censorship and bureaucracy are living beings, with their own laws of survival, their need to perpetuate themselves and their life cycles. Does it put the State at risk to tell us how many were killed or injured on August 20, what caused the accident, and what happened to the driver?

It’s not even about a free press press or political freedom, or even the rights of citizens. It’s about this monster that in fifty years has grown to the point where it could swallow everything that happens in the nation. A monster that feeds on our knowledge, our intellect, our ability to understand history. A monster who swallows our sorrows and joys, our dreams and our lives.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Image: The Executioner, Luis Trápaga

Her mornings have been the same for years: buy the flour “on the left” from the State bakeries, get the eggs from sellers who carry them hidden in backpacks, haggle for the guayabas in the produce market to give it her business. With the ups and downs that depend on the degree of repression against the “illegals,” she managed to maintain a decent home selling sweets.

But things have gotten too complicated: Twice she had to hand some cakes through the patio window as fast as she could, for her neighbor to hide, when the inspectors came. Thank God that doesn’t happen often! When she can she puts some little candies into the cakes; her sister, who has a successful little dessert shop, sends them to her from Miami. She started in 2000, doing everything alone, but with the years she hired an assistant and now has a modest business that supplies tidbits to a good part of the neighborhood.

She tells me all of this with an infinite nostalgia, a healthy envy of her sister on the other side who has managed to “get ahead.” I ask her if she thinks Raul Castro will allow some economic opening, facilities for small businesses, licenses and the minimum breathing room to make life easier. She laughs, but her eyes look like she wants to cry. “I’m old, chica, it’s all the same to me, I got tired of waiting.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Unknown City

From so much looking out the same window, seeing the same street, talking with the same people and living in the same city, you end up thinking you know everything. If someone had told me I would not have believed it, now that I know it’s true I’m full of questions. The streets of Havana still hold many surprises for me, fortunately.

Lethal August. I arrive gasping at 23rd and 12th and find, scattered on the ground, various papers as in the photo: FREE IRAN. My God, what’s this? I grab one and look around, I would say I’m the least surprised of those around me. A guy who looks like State Security gets caught in the act of putting one in his pocket and makes a gesture of disgust with amazement. I don’t think he likes it. I couldn’t say if FREE IRAN falls within “Enemy Propaganda,” but apparently it’s not “Friend Propaganda.”

At 23rd and G there are more. Many more. Most have been trampled. Who could have thought up such a brilliant idea? I have no doubt that this is related to the fixed ideas that have gripped the hallucinatory mind of Fidel Castro. How would Compañero Fidel take it if if instead of the Third World War what came to pass was the end of the Iranian dictatorship?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Earning a Living

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

He arrived at G on Friday to join the crowd of other young people watching the wee hours of the night pass waiting for better times. For some inexplicable reason the police would only allow them “to be” on one of the two sidewalks of 23rd and having made an appointment earlier to meet a girl in the “prohibited zone,” decided to run the risk rather than lose his chance of the night.

The risk turned out to be higher than he’d calculated – naïve and crazy kid: an official welcomed him with a shove and asked for his ID card.  Not producing it fast enough, they handcuffed him and before he could ask why he was already in the back of the patrol car.

He was thrown in a dungeon at 21 C. He thought he had forgotten to let go of the wrists. However, a look around allowed to check two things:
- All the detainees were handcuffed.
- There were many detainees.

They threw him in a dungeaon at 21st and C. He thought they’d forgotton to free his wrists. But a look around informed him of two things:

-- All the detainees were handcuffed.
-- There were a lot of detainees.

As he wasn’t even twenty yet, he was terrified. He didn’t know anything about his rights nor was he going to risk the night by defending them. Then again there is always a third option.  He managed to whisper the magic words to an officer:

“Hey pal, I have fifty pesos. My mother is sick and I can’t get home too late.”

Half an hour later he was home. He summarized the story for me with a moral: “They made a lot of money Friday, we were a ton of people. Next time I’ll give them the money in the patrol car.”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Reina Luisa Tamayo and her daughter. Photo by: Claudio Fuentes Madan

There are things I've thrown in the trunk of the "incomprehensible." I would say I won, they defeated me, I couldn’t bear it, they beat me. I refuse to exhaust my brain one more instant in trying to find some logic, some, even minimal, sense. In the package – I confess that there are several, too many – is the return of Fidel Castro, the “measures” of Raul Castro, the signers of the open letters from UNEAC – the Cuban Artists and Writers Union – the special session of the National Assembly, the gossip with Elian Gonzalez, the mind of Randy Alonso, the dead of Mazorra, the permission to leave or travel permit, the ideological “utility” of the Roundtable, the ethics of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s doctor, the shame of those who today wear the olive-green uniform, or the morality of the Party militants. The list, I swear to you, could become extremely long.

There are, however, other kinds of rebel events that also fall into the sack, that I can’t understand either – including some I understand even less – but I can’t stop coming back to them over and over, analyzing them, dismembering them. They haunt me, they rob me of my sleep. I feel that they shouldn’t exist, or more to the point, that they CAN’T exist. My rationality tells me that they are impossible, my brain screams at me with desperation that people who are paid to beat a mother, to prevent her from visiting her son’s grave at the cemetery, or putting flowers on it to pay tribute to her dead son, these people can’t exist.

I fall back on science, I want to analyze it like a reality show: I want to know what each one of the repressors (actors and directors) of Reina Luisa Tamayo do when they get home. Put a pot of beans on the stove? Open the windows as night falls? Hug and kiss their children before bedtime? Sleep the sleep of the innocent or do nightmares haunt their dawns? Laugh out loud? Look in the mirror and see… what? Enjoy the rain? Chat with their neighbors? I can’t help it, my mind makes its calculations and finds them to be unreasonable: At best, they don’t breath oxygen, or perhaps they are not mammals, it declares. Then I protest: NO! I already told you, they are human, human like everyone else! But the other me, impartial, is unmoved: They must be another species, they must be another species.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Tunnel

From the Saga of El Ciro Versus State Security

Always working to safeguard freedom of expression and alternative art, I left on an operational mission to Jibacoa Beach, to protect the activity and to keep a tight rein on our rotten friends from the Ministry of the Interior, MINIT.

What a bunch of people, and how subversive, my God! I know the security guys are plotting something, but… where? I activated the GPS tracker to detect any agent that I’d previously marked with a harpoon. The scanner began to send me signals from underground. Well, well, what were they doing down there? Meanwhile, unpacking the one-person excavator* I started to investigate the depths.

Down, down, down… Got ‘em! A tunnel! They had dug a tunnel that seemed to be headed toward the main stage. Once again, I made myself transparent and advanced. As always, a light at the end and you can imagine my surprise when I found myself on top of a pile of boxes of dynamite to Fernando Rojas (vice minister of culture) and various high ranking officials from State Security promising an end to Cuban art. Once the concert started and it was packed they would light the fuse and make the artists disappear and, as collateral damage, all the public in attendance, subverted by others.

“How nice, eh?” I said as I materialized. Suddenly fear tightened their throats and tears flowed from the eyes of the officials, drawing forth the memory of so many lost battles and so many sorrows inflicted by me on their souls. But the vice-minister, who didn’t know me, was a real son of a bitch,

“Hey! You! Get out of here! This is a covert operation,” he dared to say to me.

“The rest of you take off please, I have a bone to pick with this comrade.”

The agents took off running.

The Festival was excellent. Escuadrón Patriota led off the fun, Los Aldeanos wore out the vocal chords of everyone chanting their songs in public, and it all seemed like a huge Protestant church in South Carolina, only multi-racial and preaching freedom. By the way, I don’t expect to see Fernando Rojas for many months; he has a lot of dynamite to eat and it’s not going to be easy.

Until the next adventure,

El Ciro

* One-person excavator: A device to dig and move underground. Developed by El Ciro in the eighties. Used in the North Korean film, The Pied Piper Against the Ninjas, in the scene on the beach.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mommy, what is "good"?

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

With a rope and a piece of wood, three children were preparing a torture trap for a lizard. One of them held onto the victim which, with eyes wide and body rigid, awaited his martyrdom without much hope of survival. At that moment I passed by and intervened, as is normal, in defense of the poor animal: I explained to them about caring for living beings and grabbed the creature in my hands. Fortunately for my good deed there was a tree suitable for its welfare and I let it go among the branches. Up to that point, everything was typical, children experiment with birds and small animals and adults try to inculcate a love of nature.

The unusual came minutes later when the mother of one of the kids knocked on my door to demand an explanation. I decided, then, to use the same arguments with the mother that I had with her son, and she seemed to understand me though she didn’t say a word, but grabbed her son by the hair and dragged him away. I felt a little guilty, not expecting such a punishment for a lizard, but to intervene again in the moral issues of this family would have been excessive.

The incident puzzled me, not because the boys were playing at martyrdom with a reptile, but because they were so unaware of how bad this was; judging it “right,” they went to their parents for support. When I was little the kids in my neighborhood surreptitiously killed sparrows, knowing that what they did was wrong. What has happened that, fifteen years later, the simple notion of good and evil has disappeared?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Day in Santa Clara

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

There is another Cuba glued to the asphalt, anonymous, dynamic, talkative and entrepreneurial. Three hours in a botero -- an informal private car for hire -- on the highway from Havana to Santa Clara can transmit more information than a whole year of watching the national news on TV: prices in the black market, the private opinions of former party members who turned in their cards, Cuban-American tourists sharing their anecdotes, and traveling vendors. I could stay on that other island which is hotter but more real, harder but more sincere than Cuban television.

Santa Clara, however, seems like a city under siege, not a city of carnivals. Like a diabolical colorless Christmas, in every door, wall and window there is the same sign with the same inscription: We are in 26. The city was drowning in a number, in the same number, to the ends of the province. One has the sensation of having arrived in a country of figures, the domain of “King 26.” With less sun and more air it could be the lead-in for a great horror film.

Coco would be an Alice in the country of the Red Queen, his door the only one free from the curse of two plus six, our conversation constantly interrupted because someone looks into the room to wish him good luck, health and all the best. Alicia, his mom, is desperate to stem the rush of solidarity that interrupts the rest and discipline her child should be subjected to. Fariñas, however, is an exceptional human being: his body is field of marks and scars, bruises and holes, his neck is marked by the blood clot, and his swollen feet retain too much fluid. He doesn’t walk but when he talks from his wheel chair it’s like he’s flying. I felt pain for this body, helpless to follow the steps of such a great soul.

Leaving his house is almost like leaving paradise, without any transition from hours of levitating on his words to then falling into a puddle of tar in the middle of the provincial bus station: A 15-inch TV on mute invariably presents a close-up of Raul Castro, signs and banners of the damned 26 stretching as far as the eye can see, (there comes a moment when everything becomes abstract and you forget that this number is a date, just a date), and a temperature impossible for human life that forces you to sit on the floor to be able to breathe. Four hours later we managed to catch a transport to Havana.