Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Homage to Coco Fariñas

I met Boris by an odd coincidence. One day he came to my house to find some music and we ended up talking about literature. I discovered that we had a world in common: the desire to be free, to know the truth, to dream about another, less battered, Cuba.

He left me this text and I never knew where or how to publish it. “It’s old,” he told me it, “I wrote it when Fariñas ended his hunger strike, but still I want you to read it.”

Boris knows, as I do: Coco carries the history of Cuba on his shoulders. With his martyrdom he is writing the heroic deeds that we have not even been able to dream of.

I offer you this text now because although Guillermo Fariñas has been eating since July, his body still carries the pain of such a long strike. And because there are men and actions that last forever.

"The Responsibility of Guillermo Fariñas" by Boris González Arenas

Less than a week ago I had begun to write an article about Guillermo Fariñas. Just days before, on Saturday July 3, the Granma newspaper had published an interview with one of Guillermo’s intensive care team. At the end of it made it clear that he was already in serious condition and could die if things didn’t go well for him.

I was unwilling to let his death pass without something more.

Suddenly, yesterday, Friday, the Cuban government made a commitment that within less than four months they would free the rest of a group of Cubans who had been disgracefully arrested years ago and condemned to outrageous sentences. I learned from friends who had read the news that Guillermo Fariñas had abandoned his hunger strike.

My joy could not be greater. The political prisoners will be released and Guillermo Fariñas, who has won the admiration of all for his unswerving commitment, will live.

I envy the feeling a generation -- my children -- will have when they read about this episode where the tenacity of a handful of men and women overcame a huge repressive apparatus and the totalitarian arrogance of its beneficiaries.

No one can read about this episode without a minute's silence for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whose death we know about not because the Cuban state chose to communicate it, but by the universal indignation of the best of the citizens of the world. A man whose death we also found out about because of a cowardly article published in the official Cuban press, four days later, full of bombastic and disrespectful language that still has not been moderated, despite the fact that everyone is repelled by it.

Is the freedom of those condemned the long-awaited pivot point of the Castro regime, with its decades of failures? Now, in a fit of common sense, has it decided on a slow but irreversible process of change in our country?

I’m sure that’s not the case, that the Castro regime would rather see this nation burn than facilitate its revival from the death it has imposed on it. I want to be wrong, my mistake would be the good fortune of a country that has suffered enough.

Fariñas and Tamayo are symbols of the Cuban resistance and the determination of our country to achieve the social and political freedom that has been so elusive. Both have shattered the perverse policy of presenting the opposition as a handful of men paid by external enemies for chanting what the national and foreign intellectuals have failed to bring to light.

Because is he not tired of the things of life, but only of death, Fariñas is now one of the leaders of the Cuban opposition; his victory has become a foundation of the new Cuba, of a country perpetually under construction. Not of a tiny opposition that aspires to see the entire structure of the Cuban state blown up, and along with it thousands of compatriots in a fratricidal confrontation, but of an opposition of all Cubans who have suffered under decades of the Castro regime’s immobility and irresponsibly and who now demand the reconstruction of our state based on our own free will. Who demand the reconstruction of a Cuba of plural decision-making, one that will not be stopped, by fearful and cruel despots, from the greatness of the task that our citizens have never hesitated to undertake.

Not to build our country to surrender it to the enemies of humanity, whose presence in sovereign nations and whose arms impose an authority over the lives of children, men, women and the elderly. Although today the United States is governed by a progressive leadership no one should forget that in former times it led a genocide and nothing prevents a similar process from overshadowing its present work in a few years.

Guillermo Fariñas and Ciro in March 2010. Photo Claudio Fuentes Madan
Nor to build our country under the shadow of credits committed by the Latin American political class, inflamed traditionalists whose treacherous background we Cubans know all too well.

The inordinate challenges facing Cuban society are a consequence of the greatness of its mission, and the severity of obstacles presages a prodigious generation of men and women from the whole world coming to the only conceivable conclusion, a full realization of our humanity.

These are times when we must look at Cuba with new eyes, to feel the force of its breath and the strength of its people. The breath and strength of unsuspected resonances and vigorous inspiration. Guillermo Fariñas is the peak of its virtue and the awakening of its hope.

It is not a small thing that he has asked of his deteriorated body, but men and women like him, those who decide to pull the world toward the dawn, cannot falter when they see the first light.

Sunday July 11, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Photos of the Opening of "La Paja Recold" Gallery by Claudio Fuentes Madan

"Citas históricas" by Gorki Aguila
 The photos of Hebert Domínguez
 Above Ricardo Orta (from Porno para Ricardo), on the left Guillermo Portieles and on the right Claudio Fuentes Madan
 "Drunks" by Heriberto Manero and "Cop with walkie-talkie" by Guillermo Portieles
On the left los Graffiteros, above Arturo Cuenca and below Luis Trápaga
 Fernando Ruiz and me

Friday, October 22, 2010

Collective Exposition at Gorki Águila's House


Individual and collective pool service...
Come without masturbating and with underwear... washed

1- heriberto manero / drunks
2- guillermo portieles / cops with walkie-talkies
3- ricardo orta / uncorker
4- claudio fuentes / el yogultsaldo de soyaldo
satélites / untitled
5- luis trápaga / me, no…
6- incap-ass / say no to superstition
/ the skateboarder died, long live the skateboarder
7- arturo cuenca / we don’t know the title
8- noel morera / this model doesn’t even work in Cuba (Fidel)
/the zebra still sees the lion zebra stays / cuba bremen musicians
9- gorki aguila / historic dates
10-hebert domínguez / ciro I love you
/the photos you shot with the camera and the rest
11-papín / murals painter
12-fernando ruiz / slander column
/ mirror shell
13-rubén cruces / visualization no.23
14-claudia cadelo / my dolls - girlfriend
15-jorge luis marrero /
16-renay / drink only (reading only) y tnk / stencil intervention

Translator's Note: An announcement for a "studio warming" party to celebrate Gorki Aguila's new recording studio: La Paja Recold

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Moderating Comments

There’s nothing better than a new day to demonstrate that our decisions are not infallible.  I’ve been watching my own evolution with respect to the moderation of comments. First I swore I did not want to moderate them. Then that I would like to but I could not. And now, that I will, as I have found a way to do it through a friend.

I recently wrote that all I knew about my political leanings was that I was not a communist; thanks to the comments on Octavo Cerco I have discovered that I am not an anarchist. Little by little one comes to find oneself.

I have spent several days trying to flesh out the rules for the forum, and here they are.  Any suggestions, of course, are welcome.
  • Every commentator is responsible for his comments (even if he is a G2 agent and is following orders. Sadly, now with moderation, some will become “dispensable”).
  • Comments entirely in capital letters will be erased. In the language of cyberspace that means you are shouting and my blog is not a platform for virtual repudiation rallies.
  • Any offensive or insulting comments, or threats against other commentators, will be erased (exercising your right to privacy, do not publicly strip the skin off of others).
 Comments that incite violence will be erased (my resistance is peaceful, if you want to rise up in the Sierra Maestra open your own blog before you take off for Pico Turquino).
  • Comments that contain more than two links will be moderated to prevent spam.
  • Repetitive comments will be erased (it’s bad enough with Granma having to read the same thing over and over again).

  • Comments that usurp someone else’s identity will be erased (I do not care for aspiring secret agents).
  • Comments that do not use the Roman alphabet will be erased (even if I could translate them, it takes too long).
I think that’s it and I hope you can live with it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Fear of Being Wrong

Photo: Leandro Feal

It’s hard to have a conversation these days without landing on the topic of “The list of the 178,” that is the new list of the approved “self-employment occupations.” I personally would like a summary of the most popular occupations of the 16th century, but I know I’m one of the pessimists. Fine, my debate partners tell me that I am among the “pessimists” but to me I’m among the “obvious realists” because for how long are we going to “improve the system”? They say “socialism” but I refuse to call a government socialist that in less then two years plans to lay off a million workers, that has raised the retirement age, that has decreased the number of products euphemistically called “subsidized” and that hasn’t even remotely considered raising wages, not to mention the Sword of Damocles that the dual currency represents in our economy today. I am not going to talk about economic, social or political freedoms because, obviously, for those who consider the Cuban model a socialist model, these freedoms seem something like a capitalist class, or am I mistaken?

Thank god I have not become a “Taliban” -- which is what we call the extremists on both sides, especially those of the Cuban Communist Party, who are the most abundant in this geographic zone -- and I maintain excellent relations with some communists (they say they are communists, I’m not so sure). The fact is that one of my friends has a small private business: custom-made cakes. For several years now she has managed to survive, without luxuries or stealing, by selling little her guava and coconut cakes. With what she earns she has some extra money to give her children, to fix some of the silly problems with her house, and to eat. When she talks with me she is always on the defensive, so she’s never confessed to me that she buys most of her ingredients on the black market, despite my having seen with my own eyes her doing business with “the egg woman” and the “guy with the flour.” But anyway, citing “American Beauty,” the power of denial is great.

My friend feels guilty, knowing that her little endeavor is included in the occupations on the medieval list and doesn't want any part of illegality, at least not much of a part. When we talk she offers a historic phrase: if we all do our part, maybe this time we can move forward. I am not a cruel person so I hold my laughter. She omitted a detail, however, which her husband revealed to me: when he figured her monthly income after taking out a license, he got a round number: 2 CUC (~ $2.00 U.S.).

Note: Starting with this post I will start moderating comments, with the help of a friend. I am still preparing the rules for the forum so we can make Octavo Cerco an interesting place for discussion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Havana Underguater, interview with Erick J. Speck

When did you get the idea of imagining a world in which the Russians won the Cold War?

A long time ago I was thinking of a hypothetical society that would correspond with the aesthetics of Cyberpunk but that wouldn’t carry the almost Baroque burden of neon, Japanese corporations and yakusas. I wanted to do something different and at the same time something I identified with. And I thought, “If the Cyberpunk movement emerges as Utopia counter to capitalism, I, being Cuban, am forced to make a dystopia of socialism. Oh, and it can’t seem like 1984.” Then the idea occurred to me of a dystopic Soviet society, a “mega-Special-Period” and a Havana-Cyberpunk. Right now I can’t imagine a Havana with another kind of anti-Utopia within the sub-genre. Nor did I have a neon corporate Havana. Mine was one with a dozen plants and Russian trucks. I consider just writing about things that have a benchmark I can identify with. I can’t write about an alternative NY or Tokyo. I simply can’t.

I've heard that in your case, unlike what one might imagine, before the novel you weren’t particularly interested in Russian culture and the history of Communism. Tell me a little more about what you had with the story of the former Soviet Union, that now will be the three part Havana Underguater.

The truth is I was never interested in the Soviet aesthetic or the Russian language, beyond enjoying (in some cases developing) the animated Eastern European cartoons. When I designed the universe of Habana Underguater I was thinking specifically about a mega-Special-Period. The old science fiction phrase, “what would have happened if...”, if when we broke relations with the Russians instead of twelve plants there were eighty plants. If instead of the old Russian cars, the Ladas 2106s, we had Lada Blizzards V8, and a crisis like the one we lamentably call The Special Period. This is basically Underguater. I couldn’t write it without knowing, at least, phrases in Russian, the makes of cars and trucks, technical data about Soviet weaponry, or the list of the first secretaries of the Communist Party. I had to do my homework and study a society, one that I lived in during my childhood, from another point of view.

As during the missile crisis, Cuba is once again the center of the world: an island divided by the guerrillas and ideologies, talk to me about that scenario.

It is always tempting to conceive of a story or novel that begins and ends with Cuba, despite the fact that the name Cuba never appears in the novel. I conceived the scene as an island divided into three powerful city-states: Autonomous Santiago, Santa Clara and Autonomous Havana. Havana is the center of the first trilogy because it is a chaotic place that works like any Cyberpunk. Urban guerrillas like the guerrillas of Fanguito. Religious organizations that do not work as such, but rather as a kind of organized crime. A hitman named Acer and hackers who "ride" on the Orishas -- Santeria deities -- on the Global Web (who control the Soviet States of Space, of course); that is Havana Underguater. A scene where several social and political fears (either a kind of Marxist-Leninist globalization or a cyclone destroys Old Havana and floods part of Central Havana and Vedado) are recreated, but all this is a justification to have our own cyberpunk far from Los Angeles or Tokyo. A Cyberpunk or techno thriller that every Cuban anywhere in the world can genuinely enjoy.

How do you see the development of science fiction in Cuba?

Science fiction in Cuba has survived thanks to a specific editorial policy, a matter of state policy or a group of writers who simply want to make art (or money). Cuban science fiction has survived because of its readers. For a enormous share of the people who read it, from Isaac Asimov to Robert Heinlein, and who consume audiovisual from The War of the Galaxys to the Night Patrol, from Aladar Mézga to Akira. There is a public eager to read science fiction and that’s why science fiction writers have not disappeared despite the different editorial policies or any kind of government support. As for talk of a development, that seems too strong a word for our science fiction has sinned, mostly by always being a copy or an echo of science fiction from other countries. I think that very few Cuban authors (as in the case of Michael Collins in the 1960s and ‘70s) are worried about making their own science fiction without having to mimic the North American, European, Russian or Japanese aesthetic models. Science fiction, in my opinion, has merely survived rather than thrived. I have confidence in a development of science fiction, for me as if it starts tomorrow, but I do not think we are now able to speak of that.

Have you received feedback from readers? How have they embraced the novel?

Those who have read it have told me that they liked it. As an author I can not be more pleased.

Why not be published Havana Underguater in Cuba? How do you feel after being censored, did it affect you? Or is it simply one possibility?

In all honesty the only attempt I made to publish it was sending a collection of short stories to a contest. The result was in part as I expected along with comments about how unacceptable what a "bleak" future is for our country. It was a possibility from the beginning but still, it affected me. I see science fictions as art and not politics. I am not going to tell anyone what the future should be like, and Soviet science fiction is there (published in Spanish for those who want to read it) to show how to create a “hopeful and politically correct" future, recreated in very bad novels (which does not include the Strugaski nor Lem). Nevertheless two stories have been published, one as part of a collection and one in an anthology. Clearly, they are stories that do not speak of the pilgrims going to the Holy Sepulcher of the Guerrilla in Autonomous Santa Clara. Anyway, I'm still writing and I do not care what the publishers or the officials say. I concentrate on making science fiction.

You are beginning the third part. Can you give us a preview?

I just finished the second part, which is an old dream of mine, to do a long novel. It is titled The Russians Themselves and focuses more on a description of the Yoruba elements and the Artificial Intelligence Dissidents in cyberspace. In this novel I delve more deeply into the politics of the Soviet States of Space and the Guevarist Church in Santa Clara. I had fun writing it, people who read it have the last word. Now I'm writing the first drafts of a third (I still have not published the second but I keep writing). I can not give you any preview because the idea is still in my head ... and well, it is a chaos of loose ideas. I run the risk of telling you something completely different from what I will later write. And this is not fair.
You can buy the first book in Havana Underguater here

Friday, October 8, 2010


Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

One of the new self-employment "activities" approved by the Cuban government is the controversial "recyclers-sellers of raw materials." This toughest “private enterprise” encompasses Havana’s beggers who survive on collecting what the rest of the society throws out.

Several years ago Claudio Fuentes Madan was making a series of paintings using the city’s waste, which brought him into contact with many of these men and women who eat, literally, garbage. For the most part they are people without homes (and no possibility of acquiring one since buying and selling property is forbidden to Cubans). They spend the night in the most sinister places in the city (areas of destroyed hospitals, abandoned buildings declared uninhabitable because of the risk of collapse, parks far from the center, and that part of the urban landscape that is essentially shanty towns). They often live as “illegals,” under a Stalinist law that prevents anyone without a permanent address in Havana from staying in the city. To prevent disease, Claudio told me, they mix gasoline or kerosene into the water they use to bathe with, which they do at the home of an acquaintance, paying a modest rent in advance for the use of the sanitary services.

These are people who from now on will have to pay a percentage of their earnings to the Cuban state. It’s so sadistic it’s hard to imagine. You feel like covering your eyes with both hands like during the bloody scenes in terror movies. But this isn’t a movie, it’s what remains of the socialist economy.

One wonders why this business appears to be -- I can’t think of another adjective -- prosperous enough for the State to decide to relieve its beneficiaries of a portion of their earnings. It turns out that true civics, that legendary course that my parents studied in primary school and I did not, has lost its semantic meaning in Cuba. People do not feel responsible for recycling the trash: if the state needs raw materials, that’s its problem. That’s why the recycling centers -- the “offices for the recollection of raw materials” -- are ignored; only the dumpster divers bother to take there the plastics and cans that they find in the garbage cans.

The other day a friend collected all the bottles that had accumulated in his home over the years, and set out -- the paradigm of the New Man -- to take them to the closest center. On arriving he discovered he had to take all his “recyclable material” home again, because he didn’t bring them in a sack consistent with what they would accept. Late that same night he gave them to a girl with a cart collecting rubbish in the city. She had changed her work schedule from three in the afternoon to three in the morning.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I've been left a little traumatized after the celebrations of the CDR. Between the discussion on the bus, my neighbors’ Sunday volunteer work, and the reggaeton on the 28th until 1:00 in the morning; right now I feel a sense of "been there, done that... and never again would be too soon."

It turns out that Sunday was a “voluntary workday.” Obviously El Ciro and I weren’t aware of this, so when he went downstairs with the dogs and found an old man weeding the grass, with his last ounce of strength, he said, “Compadre, let me do it, I’m younger.” So as he cleared the block of every weed, “the guy with the list” approached and said, “Hey compadre, leave that, it’s already been checked off.” El Ciro looked up and discovered that in addition to having taken part in voluntary work, he was, in effect, the only one who had actually done any work. As for the others, it was grab a brick, move it from the right to the left, and then look at the guy with the list and say, “check me off.” I remembered the time the mutt broke the light on the stairs and El Ciro (one hundred percent private initiative) changed it without saying anything to anybody. A neighbor told me later that a meeting had been planned to define a repair strategy: “How much money to be collected from each apartment, who would collect it and who would spend it.” We had skipped all the steps.

For the party it was the same. In my building, by ten o’clock at night, the only person awake is me. My poor neighbors closed their eyes four hours later because they “had to celebrate” September 28th, the fiftieth anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).  After midnight I heard an innocent neighbor ask why they hadn’t had the party on Friday or Saturday. Poor thing, she doesn’t know that you dance on the scheduled day, you work on the scheduled day, you sleep on the scheduled day and you live according to the schedule.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Male

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I don’t consider myself a feminist because I try to avoid reactionary attitudes. That is to say, feminism in opposition to machismo seems too easy to me when in really my rights as a human being go far beyond my gender. Among some of my acquaintances, however, the issue is less complex: I am a feminist. We have a natural tendency to throw into the sack of the known anything that we do not understand, the extreme generalization of the exceptions that don’t fit the statistics.

In Cuba machismo works like racism, for the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party it simply “doesn’t exist.” In her book, The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir studied the points of convergence between the segregation suffered by black people and women; half a century later my country is living proof of her thesis. Among the “not racists” are those who assert that “not all blacks are the same” or this aberration, “this black man has a white soul.” Among the “no machismos” we find another version of the same phenomenon, “the woman is like us.” In other words, “men” are the species, and “we women” resemble them.

The other day I went to a party far from Central Havana and got lost on the way, one of the guests recognized me on the street and as he was in a taxi, he picked me up. When I got in he was in a lively conversation with the driver that I didn’t want to interrupt. The dialog went more or less like this:

“But man, I don’t let her go out alone. Why does she need to be running around out there by herself?”

“I agree.”

“Sometimes when I get home from work, I knock her around a little, just in case.” I suppose this comment was a joke, but I can’t prove it. And then he added, “Later she stands in front of the mirror and I tell her, ‘You see? I’m better looking than you.’”

It hit me like a brick, not only because of the bad taste of what appeared to be a joke, but for the fact that they both ignored my presence in the back of the car, big time. When we got to the house where the party was, the guy who had recognized me turned to me and asked, “Claudia, do you happen to have any money? You pay, I don’t have the exact change.”