Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Meeting With Jimmy Carter

Source: Wikipedia

The first time I heard Jimmy Carter was in 2002. My memories are hazy but one moment sticks in my mind from his speech at the University of Havana’s Great Hall. It still makes me laugh to remember Hassan Perez -- who at the time hadn’t yet been ousted and was still heading up the Young Communist League -- launching a supposed question at the president, fired off in a machine gun staccato and lasting about three minutes. Carter gently asked him to repeat it, apologizing for not having understood. It was an historic day for Cubans, because in the full light of Cuban television we learned about the Varela Project and that Osvaldo Paya had collected eleven thousand signatures to change the Cuban Constitution. The Varela Project was ignored and vilified by the government, the Constitution was changed for the worse, and the Black Spring arrived. I was twenty.

Yesterday at the Hotel Santa Isabel I had the honor of meeting Jimmy Carter, to listen to him and for him to listen to me. And I also had the tremendous satisfaction of sharing the table with many of those who have for many years -- longer than myself -- pushed for things on this tired island to change. Men and women who have spent their whole lives gathering the grains of sand to save civil society, for the respect of civil rights, who have suffered imprisonment and sacrificed their personal dreams in pursuit of the dreams of an entire nation.

I know Jimmy Carter does not hold in his hands the solutions for all of Cuba. I know that despite all those who have left their souls by the side of the road for this land, we are still suspended in a strange half-century “Revolution.” But meetings like today’s remind me that no matter how much we lack, there is a light at the end of the road.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Legacy

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
Havana has been asleep since I was born. I like to stand at the end of Calle 12 and look at the line the sea draws in the distance. Almost all my friends live, or intend to live, on the other side of that line. Where my eyes cannot go.

I read “The Color of Summer” by Reinaldo Arenas and I feel myself stuck beyond the fiction. I’m happy, in a way, that Reinaldo has not seen his novel come true, with fifty-two years of Revolution. I am a kind of character after the Grand Carnival. We are all survivors of the pages he didn’t write, because for him fifty was a number too large, too round. We’ve already lost the idea of whole numbers, of all numbers.

I live the sensation of breathing a change, but I cannot know. It seems I’m at the end, but I open my eyes and in reality it’s no more than the beginning. Things end, people age, cities change, and ideologies die. But there are days when I wake up with the impression of having woken up the day before.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

TV Appearance

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Appearing on television is always an event in the life of an ordinary person. I thought I would be fearful, nervous, anxious. But when I saw my blog header and my photo on “Cuba’s Reasons” I was proud. I think there are many political texts in my blog Octavo Cerco which don’t hesitate to use words like totalitarianism, autocracy and impunity, and there are others where I don’t hesitate to mock Fidel Castro, Raul Castro or others I find disagreeable in the shameless Cuban government. But for some incomprehensible reason they twice showed the interview I did, about his novel Havana Underguater, with Erick J. Moto a Cuban science fiction writer who has repeatedly won national awards. Who can understand State Security?

In Yoani’s case, a detailed mention of each of her awards only served to demonstrate that she doesn’t need financing because her talent is internationally recognized by prestigious institutions. The sum of half a million at the end stunned me because, although I’m not good at arithmetic, it seemed they added a few extra zeros at the end. But if Yoani Sanchez becomes a millionaire with her prizes and continues to use her income to support the development of free access to information, breaking the state monopoly on it, and opening avenues for civil society in Cuba, then they can put three more zeros to the number shown on television.

On the other hand, State Security’s technique of putting attractive names on their blogs and sites so that search engines will find them, while very useful on the Internet, but on Cuban television seen by thousands of citizens have never entered the network of webpages -- and contrary to the words of Elaine Diaz, they need to and badly -- one wonders if “Changes in Cuba,” “The Unknown Island,” and “The Digital Debate are these not titles sufficiently controversial to be seen as counterrevolutionary.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Me and the Soap Opera

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan 
When a state decides to aim all its weapons at a citizen there is little he can do about it. Without access to the mass media, in a country with low Internet connectivity, with arbitrary laws against freedom of expression and with the impunity to defame, distort, lie and lay waste on national television to those who think differently, the possible victims’ options are limited.

On Monday it fell to Dagoberto Valdés, director of Coexistence magazine and also one of the brilliant minds of our battered civil society. Who’s next? No one knows.  Only when we see our faces discredited in trashy images on the program “Cuba’s Reasons,” will we learn whether or not we are actors in this drama.

I live on a confused island. There is nothing better than misinformation to sow confusion. So last week I was a bit upset: between the commentators on my blog who accuse me of being State Security, and State Security who accuses me of being a “rabid counterrevolutionary” -- the exact words said in an interrogation of a friend -- and the uncertainty of seeing myself on television, I was about to lose my cool. A luxury, of course, that I can’t afford because I have to take this, as the refrain says, “like a good sport.”

The era of the Serpas and Fontes is over for me. I don’t care who is and who isn’t State Security. I don’t care one whit what they put on TV. It makes no never mind to me if I’m sitting on the grass of G Street, or panic-stricken in a repudiation rally. I've hung up my gloves, I've said enough, this is as far as I go. I continue free in my blog, writing to be happy, to be grounded, and to dream of a new Cuba because, in any event, they’re already in retreat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nameless Animal

Photo: Leandro Feal
Last October 16 my blog turned three years old. As is normal for me, I forgot the anniversary -- I always forget important dates which has cost me dearly but that’s my head -- but I can’t stop feeling, every day, that Octavo Cerco is my luxury. The ineffable luxury of writing whatever occurs to me in Cuba, as Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo would say, post-everything. I reached the point of going out to buy a copy of Granma. This so-called newspaper that provokes spasms of disgust in my friends has become, for me, study material.

I have not lost my fear of State Security and from time to time I fall into states of paranoia, but I’m doing what I want. I watch the soap opera “Cuba’s Reasons” and relax: They reach levels of paranoia and fear unknown to me. I’ve lost the fear of the nameless political animal on this island. I speak of what I want when I want and I discovered, on the weekend, that this could be disturbing.

There are many cases of self-described “revolutionaries,” Communist Party members and even once zealous fighters who once told a free electron like me: “Be careful with your words, you’re putting your life and the lives of those you love at risk.” Who is really the “worm”: Me, who says what I think? Or those who believe in a system with the ability to “eliminate” people like me?

Although these are not the ones who leave me speechless, because there is a whole generation of terrorized communists without faith in yesterday, today and tomorrow. Rather than being brainwashed by a third party, they wash their own brains every morning before leaving the house and so they survive. What makes me gulp are those who “set everything aside,” those who swing their hips to the rhythm of national decadence and when they hear a political lyric they turn down the volume and shout: “Not for me! Politics is nothing to me!” But then they get up the next morning and curse, quietly, a new dawn of their bodies in Havana.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blue Sky

Photo: Leandro Feal
The blue sky is so intense it blinds me. It’s not hot. The sea below, and the line of the horizon perfectly straight. Today Havana is beautiful. This island doesn’t deserve this, I say out loud without realizing it. I smile and think I don’t deserve it either, nor the guy who crosses the sidewalk in front of me. No, he doesn’t deserve this either.

Power, the worst drug in the world. I imagine Raul Castro renouncing his positions at the Party Congress... dreams cost nothing. I walk through Lennon Park and a teenager tells a group of girls that she took part in the repudiation rally against the Ladies in White last Sunday, that she insulted them. I stop short. I’m wearing earphones to avoid hearing the stupidity of people like this, but it manages to get into my ears and drill into my brain.

I turn off the music, walk back and ask her, “Why did you scream at the Ladies In White?”

She’s afraid.

“I don’t know, everyone was screaming.”
“No, not everyone. I never screamed. Why did you scream?”
“I don’t know.”

She was ashamed. Her friends were perfectly silent.

“Next time think better of it,” I say and leave.

The sky was as blue as blue, and although I could no longer see the ocean I sensed it -- we islanders always sense it -- and it still wasn't hot. Paradise, I thought, paradise in hell. I look at the girls from afar. No, they don’t deserve it, not even they deserve it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Waiter

Art Work: Luis Trápaga
My friend came from Europe and we went out to eat together. While waiting for her husband we asked for a drink and after a while the waiter asked her:
- Is the drink good?

Though I, too, had finished my drink he wasn’t interested in my opinion. My friend was insulted. I laughed.

Her husband came and we ordered. Once more the waiter approached the table and asked her:
- Do you like the food?

I lost my composure. I started laughing out loud and the guy looked surprised. I remembered the joke about the man who goes to a psychiatrist and tells the doctor that people ignore him, the doctor looks at the door and shouts, “Next!”

We asked for the check and, for the third time, he returned to the theme:
- Did you like the place?

This time I answered:
- I liked everything except the fact that you only asked her.
- It’s because I don’t speak English. Could you ask her in English if she liked the food?
- I’m not talking about her, I’m saying you should have asked me too.
- It’s because I don’t speak English.

My friends ended up laughing too, the waiter was happy with his work and I discovered what it means to speak the same language and not understand. I left asking myself, with some uneasiness, what we Cubans have come to.

Friday, March 4, 2011

All the Guilt I Carry Today

Photo: Lia Villares

The guilt under the skin, in the air, in a look, in a walk. The guilt that bounces off the guilt of others. The guilt of no one of each one of everyone. His guilt, grandpa’s, the coma’s, the unnameable’s, the reflector’s, the beardedpapa's... his great guilt.

The guilt for the broken streets, the heat, the sea. The guilt for the nonsense and the olive-green. The guilt for staying, for leaving, for running, for fleeing, for dying. The guilt for the Malecón, the heat, the joy, the grief. The guilt for living, surviving, returning, starting, never ending.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

State Security's Soap Opera

Translation of Audio:
Voice of "Carlos": Claudia, it’s the independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira.  I’m here in Isla de Pinos where I was beaten and detained by the authorities.  Please, my cell phone number is 52914540.  Please, I tried contacting Yoani, I sent her a message.  Help me with this.  Take care, Serpa.
Voice of Claudia: Tell me, what do you think of that? Voice of Yoani: We should send him a message saying 'what a spy', 'what a low life'.

State Security has launched a soap opera entitled “Cuba’s Interests,” and it’s awful. Whoever wrote it -- oh my -- was included like an extra in the script. Above I’ve posted the message Carlos Serpa -- confessed agent -- left on my answering machine the day before Saturday night’s premier on Cubavision, which exasperated half of Havana which doesn’t want to hear even one more second of ideological propaganda on television.

I mean really, Villa Marista is in need of an image manager and also a speech therapist. Perhaps they are short on budget and human resources, but it’s important -- say I -- that people know how to talk, especially when they are giving speeches or launching themselves as tropical-James-Bond-style soap opera actors. Nothing is as depressing as the vulgarity, the lack of education, the trashy accents of the latest characters who have made their leaps to fame from the ranks of State Security. If these are the presentable ones, what do the ones we don’t see look like? The Ministry seems more and more like a zoo, the officials poor classless puppets that the system moves at will, like pawns. The last remaining pawns: The snitches.

Who is paid for being a snitch? That’s the harsh reality facing Power, because the human qualities of those who accept such work at this stage of the championship leave much to be desired: Twisted principles, lacking values, shameless, amoral, uneducated, vulgar and extremely mediocre and envious, two feelings that always seem to go hand-in-hand.