Friday, February 25, 2011


There are two Cubas, one in which nothing ever happens, and another in revolt, boiling over, which never stops sending me signals of change. My life moves from one to the other and I can never be sure which of the two is real. In any case, the dome over our heads is shaking. And to know it, you don’t need any proof other than the fear that permeates Cuban Television, the Nation Television News, the streets full of State Security agents, the strange blackout in the Chaplin movie theater -- site of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition -- on February 23, the first anniversary of the hunger strike death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the numerous arrests of short duration, the absolute paranoia of those trying to hang on to the ownership of the island where I was born.

They look with bewildered eyes on the Middle East, the teetering -- once again -- of the world’s dictators, and here the fright of those on high reaches even us. I watch the TV in horror as they don’t condemn the assassination of civilians, accuse the protesters of being “young people manipulated by the west,” justify the murders committed by the army, and end by supporting the world’s dictatorships in their killings to maintain control.

You don’t have to be overly suspicious to catch the rhythm of fear: they have called together young people from the Communist Youth League and read them the riot act, and at night the vans of State Security troll the streets of Vedado and ask to see the ID of every suspicious boy, which turns out to be every boy, because for the elderly who wield control in Cuba anyone under thirty is considered dangerous.

I always thought fear was our sword of Damocles and that the government looked upon us like trembling and defenseless lambs. I have discovered that the trembling of the shepherds is greater than that of the sheep. That in the Central Committee the paranoia and fear have become State policy. Although they try to appear comfortable in the chairs of totalitarianism, they know the wood is rotten and is going to disappear. The Dinosaurs are going to disappear.*

*Los Dinosaurios, by Charly García

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Bus Stop

Claudio Fuentes Madan
Normally, the #27 bus picks people up at 23rd and 12th, just outside a building where Cubans learned, one day, that the Revolution was nothing more and nothing less than communist. Sure, they called it “The Declaration of the Socialist Character of the Revolution,” but bearing in mind that behind every character was the Soviet Communist Party, everyone knew what was coming.

Fifty-plus years later the benches of the monument serve only to wait for the Old Havana-Cerro route and this with some uncertainty, because two balconies have already fallen off the building. A few weeks ago--perhaps fearing that some balcony might fall on the head of a passenger and create a cursed atmosphere around the proclamation--they started to repair it. The #27 bus now stops in a new place at 21st and 12th. As none of this is published anywhere, except for neighborhood residents and regular riders, everyone think the bus stops wherever. Lately there have been two lines, one that is visible from my window and the other in the midst of construction debris.

The driver complains that he has to stop and open the doors twice and yells at people, “The stop has changed! It’s at 21st and 12th now!” An offended woman responds, “Everything in this country changes and no one hears about it.”

The driver is surprised, “Did you change something lady? Because I think nothing here has changed at all.”

Right about then, I, who can't pass up the opportunity, put in my two cents and said, “Don't worry, change is just around the corner."

The woman looked at me, smiling, and the driver added, “From your lips to God's ears, Sweetie, from your lips to God's ears.”

Friday, February 18, 2011


Claudio Fuentes Madan
I feel sorry for people who come up to me to offer an opinion about my country after they’ve been here 72 hours. Especially when they sum up the reality in three sentences and a “harmonic” vision of the island, acquired after a national tour that includes, of course, Varadero, Trinidad and  Viñales. I count to three, then twenty, then fifty. I don’t know Trinidad, I detest Viñales -- especially because a mile from it there’s city without electricity and drinkable water -- and Varadero, obviously, is not Cuba.

What can one reply to an observation that it’s preferable to maintain the government as it is and not start a transition in the midst of a crisis in capitalism? How can you explain to a person that the Communist crisis never ends? How can you establish that if there’s one thing worse than a monopoly it’s a state monopoly? How can I summarize my 27 years on this island in a two-hour conversation? How can one talk about corruption if there’s no proof? How to recount the purge within the Communist Party since Raul Castro took power if we don’t know what’s happening other than that the heads are rolling? How do you explain to someone -- without offending them -- that after the Special Period, polyneuritis and vitamin A deficiency, the world’s global economic crisis seems like a first world joke?

I don’t know if it’s worth even trying. I wrack my brain and I’m always left with the feeling of not having done very well, of not having said everything I feel, of not being able to respond and feel good about myself later. I was puzzled by the question, “And you, what are you intending to do with your blog?” I don’t know what I intend. I don’t know where I’m headed. What are the concrete objectives of freedom save to be the master of one’s own destiny, free? Why is it so hard to imagine that a person decided, one day, to be free?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Disconcerting Television

Claudio Fuentes Madan
I'm sitting at the computer with the TV on in the background -- sometimes I’m a little masochistic -- and suddenly my attention is grabbed by a list: iPod, iPhone, DVD, cell phones and flash memories. The announcer explains that kids these days are experts at working these technological implements. I think about the kids in front of my house and can’t imagine them “controlling” an iPhone. I’m sure they’ve never seen one.

The program is Hurón Azul -- Blue Ferret -- and the subject is informal access to information, particularly audiovisuals. And what a title! In Cuba today information is divided between formal and informal.  When did the official media cease to exist? I didn’t know. The program consists of short interviews where specialists give their opinions. I’d be delighted to be able to say they talked about everything, but as far as opinions go, they said almost nothing. I admire my capacity to still be surprised by the level of censorship, zealotry, and muzzling on display on our formal (?!) National Television.

The announcer explained to us how the independent consumption of information is so widespread that people can’t “distinguish” among the different possibilities. A gentleman said that the public is used to seeing monstrous things. According to them the productions with the widest circulation don’t exhibit artistic or cultural qualities and the young people prefer--a capital sin--entertaining shows and soap operas. To qualify this reactionary point of view, someone intervened and said, “I have the freedom to watch what I want.” But as it might contribute to his self-improvement if he watches other things, the institution does have the responsibility to provide them.  The climax came when the gentleman protested that there are people who pass on information--unfortunately--without any control. According to him it should be against the law, there need to be controls on the circulation of alternative material.

I almost fell off my chair. Control over the flow of information in Cuba? My God! Indeed, we are in an information blackout, fifty years behind the times and without too many possibilities. The press, radio, television answer directly to the Communist Party Central Committee. There isn’t the slightest chance of there being any competition to the State’s mass media and they have the cynicism to want more control? The independent press is harassed by the government and the dream of access to any kind of public space is a chimera.

How could they control it any more? It’s ridiculous. In addition, it always seems to me a city-focused program, from a tiny Havana that encompasses Siboney to Vedado, excluding the miserable dying suburbs full of people who have never even seen a flash memory. How can they talk about audiovisuals and DVD equipment--one of those interviewed called it “the monstrous DVD” if he saw an iPad--when most of the countryside doesn’t even have telephone lines? Who would think that an institution is responsible for the soap operas and serials that I want to see? Or that there must be a policy of controlling the consumer even when they’re not watching television? What century is Cuban television living in?

That the new technologies have arrived, there is now no doubt, because they themselves say it’s so. But it’s thanks to the tenacity of the Cuban people in accessing everything the government has tried to steal from us. Though it’s still a newly hatched phenomenon on this island, I honestly don’t think they have the slightest chance of stopping it.

It’s hard to find two high points in the same show, but when the announcer concluded with the emphatic phrase, “Technology, the universal right of our time,” I fell off my chair for a second time.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Faith in Elsewhere

Foto: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I received a call from a friend who recently left Cuba. At one point in the conversation he said, “This isn’t another country, it’s another planet.” I hung up the phone and felt myself an alien on the earth. I looked out the window at the mess of wires hanging from the poles as if the hurricane had been yesterday. I went to 23rd and 12th and the traffic light was out. At 23rd and G there was electricity but the light was controlled by a policeman and the street was deserted: Raul Castro was going to pass by. I saw a photo of a building covered with glass--one of those modern constructions filled with light--someplace in the world and wondered when Havana is going to be reborn from its ruins. I sit in the park and enjoy the trees. There’s trash and filth everywhere, but I still love the air of my city. I wonder how long that pleasure will last.

I return home. I turn on the TV and it's the news. Fritz Suárez Silva is ranting about a statement by Osama bin Laden. I doubt my own senses. I don’t understand if he’s defending the terrorists or saying bad things about Obama. I fade and turn off the TV. I want to know what’s happening in Egypt but on Cuban television they manipulate everything. I look out the window again and remember the photos of the Green Revolution in Iran. I feel nostalgic. It’s ridiculous to feel nostalgia for something I didn’t even experience. I remember November sixth and everyone on the sidewalk at G and 27th staring, mouths agape, eyes stupid, as a group of men in plain clothes forced three young women into a car. I laugh. I can’t imagine the streets of Vedado flooded with young people demanding democracy.

I’m not going to get pessimistic: I always have the Web. When I connect to the Internet the bad taste in my mouth fades. There’s a sensation that the world is changing and I’m on another planet. Forget Raul Castro’s three black cars paralyzing even more, though it seems impossible, the time of my reality. I remembered that public spaces no longer need to be physical. Again I feel that it’s possible, that one day change will come, that the freedom of my life on the Web will one day be matched by my life on the street. It doesn’t matter how much we lack. I will know to hope.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Bad Guys

This is me!
Like kids when they see themselves on TV, I jumped for joy seeing my photo in the surrealistic PowerPoint in the video of the conference on “Enemy Campaigns and The Politics of Confrontation with Counterrevolutionary Groups.” I say like kids because it looks pretty bad that I have to point my finger to clarify “this is me.” Although my friends couldn’t recognize me in the blurred image and so didn’t share my joy, I feel like the star of the “media cyberwar” and that -- there’s no denying it -- is a lot of fun. We have seen the video like four times and each time it makes me laugh. The comrade speaker from State Security has revolutionized Cuban jokes in less than 72 hours; we must recognize merit.

I’ve tried, but failed, to address the topic in a serious way, although the professor of new technologies does make my skin crawl. I’ve heard comments of all sorts. One friend asked me, baffled, “But who’s the enemy? Facebook?”  Others asked me to summarize the story but I declare myself incapable of it: any description is infinitely inferior to the reality. I recalled, while watching the program, an article by Enrique Ubieta in la Calle del Medio that left me with the same impression. It was called “Be Stupid” and according to the author’s concept of blogger, there was nothing sexier. Strange that negative publicity raises the self-esteem of the victims!

However -- and I’m trying to make myself be serious in the midst of such a ridiculous situation -- I see that for him I am the enemy on the web, the soldier in a war that seems narrated by George Berkeley, and I wonder why he lies so blatantly to a group of soldiers. What surprises me isn’t that it’s about defaming the figure of Yoani Sanchez, nor considering the social network of the Lenin school counterrevolutionary, nor even the fascist expression “they are among our children,” just as Hitler once said of the Jews. What leaves me stunned and cynical is the shamelessness and lack of respect with which this man lies about the use of the internet and alternative forms of access. I don’t know where the satellite networks he mentions are, built from -- miracle of miracles! -- a video camera, five Blackberrys and a wi-fi device. I plan to take my laptop on a tour of my neighborhood, El Vedado, to see if I can find one... I could use it.

It takes a very high degree of immorality to take advantage of the ignorance of a group of people and to lie to them so brazenly. It even gives me grief for the public, you want to explain to these people that things aren’t remotely like that. And then I wonder, who is the real enemy of the cyber police? What is the hidden agenda behind all this deception? Why does State Security need to make the military believe that there is an alternative network of satellite internet access in Cuba?

The strategy of control this time, it seems to me, is not about the alternative blogosphere, nor about the kids who applied for scholarships to study in the United States, it’s not about the social networks of Facebook or Twitter, nor the cultural exchanges between Cubans and Cuban-Americans. The strategy of control -- incredible as it seems -- is for his own side: The Interior Ministry and the People’s Revolutionary Police. What danger do these ministries represent to State Security that it has prepared, for them, tele-classes full of lies?

Monday, February 7, 2011

José Martí, Los Aldeanos, and a Christmas Celebration

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
There are those who say that every effect has its cause and that there is no chaos in the universe. Each to his own philosophy. A friend -- half joking, half serious -- asked me is I could define the year when our reality became an absurdity. Something like the Big Bang of our island reality -- in an implosive sense, of course, a kind of anti-Big Bang. Jokingly I replied: After seeing some of Fidel Castro’s speeches in the archive, I’d say 1959. Later, when I was alone and thinking, the joke wasn’t such a  joke and the year perhaps not totally exact because I have no first-hand experience. I was born in 1983 and it was just a few weeks ago that I realized I haven’t lived in any other reality than that absurdity my friend was asking me about. Disheartening, no?

Turning to the effect, to the cause and the chaos, it would be illogical to draw a coherent line between the Christmas Eve party, the music of Los Aldeanos, and some of the thoughts of José Martí. However, two brothers from Holguin, Marcos and Antonio Lima Cruz, could attest otherwise, having been prisoners since December 25, 2010, charged with “public scandal” and “insulting national symbols.” This last paragraph from the Penal Code is only surpassed by the emblematic “Disrespect” -- mocking the figure of the Commander-in-Chief -- whose very existence as a criminal figure implies a hilarious joke, I would say.

In Holguin -- anywhere outside of Havana can be frightening territory for freedom-related activities  --  Marcos and Antonio decided to write some of Martí’s thoughts on the wall of their house. Phrases we never see written on the government’s banners though it’s worth pointing out that some of the latter are apocryphal and wrongly attributed to the “Apostle” -- as Martí is known to Cubans. Although the reasoning isn’t clear, if we follow the logic of the official propaganda, they supposedly admire Martí so much that they no longer remember what he wrote and what he didn’t, and after several repudiation rallies in front of the brothers’ house, Martí’s thoughts were erased in favor of Fidelist slogans.

Then came the night of the twenty-fourth -- young in Cuba, recovering traditions through the perseverance of a people who did not forget them despite certain ideologies -- an authorized party, a gathering of those in the area, music for the people. And the people’s music includes Los Aldeanos. So the Lima brothers listened to it while they celebrated Christmas. And because they were celebrating Christmas in Cuba, perhaps they came walking down the street -- the rappers in the background -- wrapped in a Cuban flag.

So the party was over. They are prisoners. And you, like me, might be asking yourself how listening to Los Aldeanos can become a public scandal, and in what way wrapping yourself in, dancing with, shaking, breaking or burning the country’s flag may offend a patriotic symbol. I didn’t know this outrage could be exercised against inanimate objects. There is no cause-effect relationship, it’s not logical, there isn’t least bit of sense in it, and yet, it exists. Wouldn’t this latter be the rejection of some Marxist principle I can’t remember right now?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fan of the Telenovela

Claudio Fuentes Madan

 I have a friend who will call her mother to record her telenovela -- the soap opera -- so she won’t miss it when she’s at a party. For my part, it was one of those I didn’t hear about, even when a new one started. So things stood, I being pretty radical in not letting myself get snagged by the mass media. That is until the other day when I saw a fragment of a new soap opera from Brazil.

It’s about a back-of-beyond country town in Brazil where two young men, a journalists and a publicist, arrive to start a newspaper. They report on a bartender, leader of the opposition in the place, who tries to criticize current policies and denounce the excesses of the administration in power. In addition, they want to promote some campaigns that could benefit the community, and so they invite all the dissidents to participate in the project.

Then I understood everything. Like when one is engaged in an abstract mathematical problem and suddenly a simple formula solves the whole numerical mess. A sort of mystical enlightenment. I understood in that instant why the better part of the population of my country obsessively watches soap operas. I felt like calling my friend and telling her I’d discovered the mystery behind the TV screen. She watches the shows perhaps because the women always find the love of their life -- my friend has a certain obsession with that topic -- my mother watches because the houses are always clean and bright, the mother-in-law of a friend because the Brazilian landscape is dazzling, and a neighbor because the bad guys never win.

I imagined myself disembarking, let’s say, in the newly created province of Mayabeque -- recently created from part of Havana province -- and opening a newspaper called, for example, “Havana Forever.” It could focus my attention, perhaps, on what a disaster it’s been for a whole community to have left the capital without even changing their place of residence. It would address the local news ignored by the official press, and of course could analyze the work of the cadres in the area in exposing corruption. It would also give a voice to the opposition politicians in the neighborhood. In short, after so much dreaming, since last week I, too, have been watching the telenovela: That magical world on the screen where you can go from town to town opening newspapers where they talk about politics and criticize the government.