Tuesday, April 26, 2011


If you don't eat all the potatoes I'll take you to the Internet. Image: Lázaro Saavedra

Since that time on one of the campuses of the University of Havana when I raised my hand to express a doubt about the Marxist categories of necessity versus chance, the concept surrounds me. I have come to the conclusion that human needs are complex enough that the specialists must abrogate the right to “suppress” some of them in our lives.

We have Elaine, Cuban blogger, who assumes her grandfather doesn’t need the Internet. Sadly, she’s not alone. The other day someone assured me that for a Cuban farmer the Internet is not a priority. What is the priority? Undoubtedly in the Middle Ages electricity was not one, and for Cro-Magnon man what we now call “staple products” were in short supply. Why do we insist on establishing boundaries to human welfare? I wonder why it’s a problem to assume access to the Internet as a 21st Century human right. Whether the farmer is connected so he can study the market for new fertilizers for the earth, or so he can chat on a boy-meets-girl site is immaterial; what matters is his right to access the World Wide Web and what it represents for his personal life. Any “supposition” about what a farmer should do on Google, or in the furrow, is called control over the free actions of another, personal choice and individual freedom.

Of course reducing world poverty is an imperative, but I honestly don’t see the connection between that and the right of Cubans to have private accounts for Internet access. Social inequality in the world does not justify Raul Castro getting to decide that I can’t open my Facebook whenever I want. Isn’t it obvious? Or am I going crazy?

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Same Names

"This last Congress has been historic!" "Why...? Is it really the last?" Image: Garrincha

When I look at the images of the Sixth Congress the irrationality startles me. When I hear the list of delegates, the members of the Politburo and the Central Committee, I feel physically sick: Machada Ventura, Balaguer, Cintas Frias and an elderly etc., prevent me from continuing to listen objectively. To top it off, Raul Castro decides to tell a story about family machismo which seemingly belongs in a Mexican soap opera: he cuts Machado Ventura off after some brief gossipy chatter. Certainly this scene would have been more appropriate in front of the kitchen stove than at the long-awaited Communist Party Congress.

The worst -- or best, depending on your interpretation -- is that we have to wait until January 28, 2012 to implement the changes. It was assumed that the super-change would be now, but they give us a tiny-change and once again postpone the big-change. Raul Castro laments the archaic dogma, promises (another) rectification, predicts a future of younger leaders and assures us that, slowly, socialism and the revolution will be saved. The General knows, he has to know, that his promises will be fulfilled only when he is no longer on the Central Committee, when he is no longer First Secretary of any party, when a truly new wave of public officials assume power. And it is precisely this that is the imperative of the powerful elderly: minimize change and play a politics of drop-by-drop, to put off as long as possible the inevitable change, the end of the Party’s omnipresence.

But even I, the Queen of Incredulity, feel a certain optimism. The economic freedoms that the Cuban government is now forced to concede at the risk of “collapse” will be the foundation of social and political freedoms that we will snatch from them tomorrow. Because then, too, they will be compelled to concede, otherwise they will perish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Me? A Soldier?

Let the enemies of the people tremble where every woman is a soldier for the Fatherland. FMC = Cuban Women's Federation
Every time I pass by 21st and Paseo it turns my stomach. A cross the street and I can’t help but read the enormous sign that illustrates this post. Signed by the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC), it gives the idea that I all the women of the island are some kind of army ready to fire on the enemy. I’m not even a soldier of my own causes, how could I be one for the causes of the FMC?

It bothers me greatly that the multiple mass organizations which supposedly represent groups of Cubans feel like they have the right to speak for everyone, robbing individuals of their voices to make them into the single voice of the apparatus of control. Why are we urged to a militancy that we don’t need? Who said I’m not a die-hard civilian? Since when did we Cuban women form a battalion for the defense of the fatherland?

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Since Friday, April 8, the heavens have announced to us the march is coming. Under beautiful blue the war planes rehearse, it’s not clear what or why, and down here on the ground we cover our ears against the roar. My dogs are losing sleep, the male barking desperately at the ceiling and the female cowering under the sofa. I wish I could explain to them that it is nothing more than a deployment of military vanity in a country tired of repeating to the world that it condemns war. I go out into the street and am surprised to see some tanks file past right before my eyes.  I cross 26th Avenue and breathe deeply, it’s a fact: this island is governed by madmen. Traffic is diverted and the cars lost in the alleyways are a mess. I spend fifteen minutes trying to cross Paseo.

For ten days I’m living in a countdown: minus seven, minus five, today, finally, minus two. Never have I been so desperate for the coming of a Sunday. From Friday, everything will be paralyzed, schools, businesses, the city. With so much need and such a crisis I wonder how many zeros there are on the price of the mega-march for the fiftieth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs.

We Cubans say we are paranoid, and honestly, if we weren’t we’d be really sick, because there is nothing more chilling than to stand on the balcony and see a squad of soldiers screaming obscenities and stomping the ground, nor more theatrical than an army mobilized in times of peace, nor more irrational than taking men from their jobs to mobilize the reserves several times a year. Nothing as sad as this week, reminding us, mercilessly, that it is not the war of a whole people, but the war against a whole people.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Conclusions

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
It’s been almost a month since they brought us their soap opera and except for one chapter -- the one about the cyberwar -- in all the rest they exposed a covert agent. I couldn’t finish watching Monday’s, it was too much. Infinitely boring. Even so, it’s worth analyzing this State Security media crusade against civil society. I confess that the motives for these actions by the Cuban secret bodies are mostly incomprehensible to me, and it won’t be the first time I’ve been left speechless by the objectives and, most of all, by the benefits the government expects from its soap opera.

First, I find it surprising that they have decided to lump together so many players: opponents, human rights activists, and bloggers, with writers, painters, and sellers of satellite antennas and illegal Internet accounts. Before the first telenovela the main actors were dissidents, but after the fourth saga it’s no longer so clear. By mixing us all up under a single idea -- the counterrevolution -- State Security has exploded the number of protesters. Unfortunately they never nailed down the meaning of the term. I imagine a satellite dish decoder sitting in front of his TV, his mouth hanging open, as he learns that he is “officially” a dissident.

I can’t understand the benefits of airing “Cuba’s Reasons.” Perhaps defamation as a weapon to discredit the most well-known figures within civil society; or perhaps the need to create a climate of opinion -- or rather paranoia -- with respect to the abilities of the “secret agents” to insert themselves into our lives. But I continue to think that both arguments fade into insignificance if we compare them to the disadvantages: the recognition that what they call “counterrevolution” goes far beyond ideology and has become a reality in daily Cuban life. If having the Internet or watching Miami television is just as risky as belonging to an opposition party, we citizens aren’t left with too many options.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Problem is Cultural

Photo: Leandro Feal
I get up in the morning and get my bath of unreality watching the morning news on TV. In Morning Journal, the first news of the day, they never lose the thread of surrealism. We are treated to a reading of Fidel Castro’s latest “Reflection” titled, “The Shoes That Pinch Me” -- I’m quite intrigued, by the way, with how fixated Fidel is on Obama, having for months now dedicated all his “Reflections” to him -- where he offers a review of an art contest titled, “Little Friends of the People’s Revolutionary Army.” It’s impossible to describe the feelings one experiences on watching Cuban television at half past seven in the morning.

The other day they aired a short report about the standardization of products for sale in Cuban pesos. A voice-over showed businesses and tried to convince us that the country has been making efforts to improve the quality of products, and that this could be seen in much of what’s for sale in the markets. It lasted a few minutes, serving as an introduction to an interview with a specialist on the subject. The goal of the program was to show the tremendous quality of our own products, which also suffer from the pressure of international standards imposed by the West (sic), and as it ended the specialist said: “In Cuba the standard isn’t met, the problem is cultural.”

I paced back and forth, coffee cup in hand, and couldn’t help spilling a bit on the floor. I’m in the habit of talking back to the TV, a practice I developed as a teenager. I suppose that was how I managed to externalize my dissatisfaction with official establishment journalism: by carrying on my own debate with everything appearing on the screen.

“What do you mean, culture?!” I cried.

It is not the government policy of economic statism, nor our shattered economy, nor the dual currency, that are responsible for the questionable quality of bread and soap, according to this specialist in economics, it is Cuban culture that is responsible for this evil.