Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Words of Luis Alberto García

Click image to go to original blog post and listen to recording

Although I received an invitation by mail and by text messages from a number of friends to go to the National Plastic Arts Award Ceremony for the artist René Francisco, I didn’t go. Since that Pedro Luis Ferrer concert, where I discovered that I am banned from entering the National Museum of Fine Arts and other Cuban cultural institutions, I’ve been overtaken by a strange, “Because as long as that flag is flying, I vowed not to enter.*”

Now my relationship with my country’s art has become subtle and intimate: fragments of event reach me through cables and USB ports. It’s probably much more exciting to listen to Luis Alberto García in person, rather than alone in my house with headphones. But I’ve decided that until freedom of expression in Cuba is more than a performance, I won’t participate.

*Translator’s note: A line from a poem by Jose Marti, loosely translated to convey Claudia’s meaning.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

There Was a Concert

Ciro in his uniform as Lt. "Telaplico" with Hebert to the left, behind.

This weekend La Babosa Azul and Porno para Ricardo played a concert in the distant suburbs of Havana. The concert was outstanding, my legs hurt from dancing so much and I'm hoarse from singing "El Comandante."

I'm going to upload a video and then take a seasonal vacation.

Setting up the concert

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ethics Sleeping

Photo: Lia Villares
I am arguing with a friend about ethics and the intellectuals and he reproaches me, “If that’s what you think you should tell those people.”

And I respond: How am I going to tell someone so intelligent, so wise, something so obvious? Don’t you know? How am I going to say to a curator that I think he should suspend his show because the artists participating in it are being threatened by State Security? How am I going to advise a musician that I think it would be ethically correct to suspend his concert because there are people outside who can’t enter because the venue has been taken over by the political police? How am I going to suggest to a theoretician that I don’t think his conference should take place because some of those interested in the topic cannot be heard, as they are considered “counterrevolutionaries”? What right, indeed, do I have to say all these things when I’m usually among the threatened, those denied entry, and the counterrevolutionaries? I feel that my position, clearly anything but neutral, obliges me to keep some of my opinions to myself. But I know that were he in any other circumstance, he would surely think the same.

My friend tells me my answer is cowardly, and he’s probably right. I don’t like to tell people what I consider ethical, I know perfectly well that they agree with me on these issues and for reasons having nothing to do with ethics they take other positions.

I guess I’m turning into a radical. When I studied history in school they told me that was good. Will they be right?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I still remember how at the height of the Special Period my house was deteriorating before our eyes. The walls were peeling, the lights gradually burned out, the wood of the doors and windows buckled, and in general everything became impoverished too fast for my child’s mind to fathom. At times I wondered why the world was becoming so ugly with the passing of time, and it was not a subjective reflection. I never got an answer. That’s also when the messiness started. It seemed that things didn’t “go” anywhere: there were boxes, clothes, papers and junk everywhere. The worst of it was that the same thing was happening outside, as well.

My mother, for her part, never stopped trying to mark the space with what she called “change.” Once a month she would rearrange all the furniture in the house. The same easy chair with the rotted bagasse would be found at the entrance to the apartment in January, next to the telephone in February, between the living and dining rooms in March, and in April it would be on the balcony. The neighbors were moved by her perseverance and sometimes when they visited us they would exclaim, “But everything looks new! How do you manage it?” Now that the years have passed, that sentence sometimes makes me strangely sad: she, helpless before the collapse of the world represented by her home, moving things from one place to another, as if she could stop the inevitable impoverishment; and me, super happy at her side, proud to have a magician for a mother while the condescending neighbors patronized the illusion we threw over our growing poverty.

I was always grateful to her for having tried, without wavering for an instant, to light up my life in the midst of so many grievances: not having school shoes, not having winter coats, not having milk in the morning, and, finally, having absolutely nothing at all. If I were in her shoes for one day I hope I would have the aplomb to act toward myself and toward others exactly as she did. Even so, I can’t understand now, after so long and from my adult point of view, that we fed on an infinite placebo that never solved any of our problems and that, if I look at it from a larger context, is the same placebo that is consuming our nation; changing exactly that which doesn’t change anything.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Going Begging

Claudio Fuentes Madan
One full page in the newspaper Granma of December 9: a transcript of the speech of Bruno Rodriguez on climate change and, on the front page, Raul Castro with the president of South Africa and Machado Ventura in Pinar del Río. Obviously, not a single word on the eve of Human Rights Day.

A law student friend sent me this text message this morning: "I am on the steps with some students who are waiting for the Ladies in White. Do you know something? What can we do? The first lift a hand to them is going to feel my fist.” Too cynical, I would say, to choose law students from the University of Havana to participate in a repudiation rally on December 10. Are these the lawyers who are going to defend us tomorrow? Those who today spend the afternoon vilifying women whose families were and are imprisoned for crimes of opinion?

Cuba is a signatory to the the U.N. covenants on Human Rights. How far does the hypocrisy of the Cuban government go that not even today can they stop themselves from repressing those who think differently? Meanwhile, in Geneva, the foreign minister is performing semantic cartwheels to justify the totalitarian system he represents, and in the streets of Cuba the political police are demonstrating that our human rights -- with or without U.N. Covenants -- continue to go begging.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What Changes?

With great effort I’ve managed to read the eleven pages of “The Transformations Required in the Public Health System.” I have the impression that if we took out all the ideological apologies -- such as, “the direction of our glorious Party,” or this one, “the immense historic responsibility we have for the future of the fatherland” -- the text would only be three pages. Sadly, the ability to synthesize has never been a virtue of those who govern us.

To make matters worse, in the meat of it there’s not much there, other than a shifting and rearranging of equipment and personnel from here to there, the well-known and prioritized “internationalist” work, and a strange insinuation that there is a surplus of doctors -- I say it’s strange because it’s true but I didn’t expect them to say it. There is not a word that speaks specifically to a wage increase for workers in the Ministry of Health, much less any guarantees to citizens about the quality of the services. There is even a delirious expression (semantically and grammatically) about medical ethics: “The Medical Ethics Commission should not act as a court, but should think of itself as an ideological commission.” Can anyone imagine the practical significance of such a statement?

More of the same and yet they call it transformations. Sometimes I wonder if really -- even with the political will -- the government will manage to fix the debacle that has been steadily building in public health.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

From the denial of the denial to the denial of the obvious

I was lucky: I finished the ninth grade with one teacher for each subject. A few years later began the debacle of the “emerging teachers” -- who were not allowed to specialize. The same teacher would teach the arts and sciences to the whole high school. The old guard of teaching withdrew in fear (the devil knows more because he’s old than because he’s the devil) and most of the teachers changed the level of instruction, asked to move down, or retired from a long and always underpaid career.

Shutting off the voice of experience, the Ministry of Education gave free rein to its imagination of the absurd, and classes without specialization gave way to classes by television. To make matters worse, the salary and poor classroom conditions remained the same. We finished the academic era and entered the ideological era: more politics, less knowledge.

So things continued until the pitcher went to the well one too many times*. The emerging teachers quickly tired of a profession that was more work than earnings, and the government decided to punish them with seven long years of obligatory social service in the classroom. Negligence, corruption and mediocrity established themselves where, previously, wisdom and education had lived. Parents who had the economic wherewithal found private teachers, and the rest resigned themselves to changing their children’s school all the time.

Then it occurred to someone to try the strange idea of a “new” approach: specialized education. Now they’ve gone back to the days when the mathematics teacher only worried about numbers and not syntax or historic dates. Four or five schools in Havana are serving as guinea pigs for the “unprecedented experiment” and the parents -- among whom are several friends of mine -- move heaven and earth to ensure that their children are among those chosen to “test the new formula.”

* Popular saying: The pitcher that goes to the well too many times is sure to break.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Missteps of the Princess

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan, from the series "With ham, lettuce and peas"
This is not the first time I felt like telling Mariela Castro* that she should have remained silent. It’s a strange reaction in me, because normally I encourage others to express whatever they want to say. With her, however, it is hard for me, and there is something called decency which -- for those who, like her, are public and political figures -- is essential.

The first time was when she called Yoani Sanchez an “insignificant ‘cocky hen’.” That a politician would insult a journalist over an uncomfortable question is shameful enough, but that the heiress daughter should allow herself to call a Cuban citizen “insignificant” was, without a doubt, the height of cynicism on the part of our nomenklatura. However, it’s worth mentioning that the question posed by the author of Generation Y was not as uncomfortable as it could have been, and that Mariela’s overreaction is evidence of her allergy to freedom of the press. In my opinion, a truly difficult question would have been, for example, to ask why CENESEX (The National Center for Sex Education) doesn’t present the government with a claim on behalf of the homosexuals who suffered repression and abuse in the sixties, seventies and eighties, and who deserve compensation and an official apology. That question, I believe, would have given our princess a heart attack.

Now, CENESEX has this statement on its home page. It reminds me of a popular joke: The Special Period didn’t benefit me nor harm me, but quite the opposite. It turns out that Cuba has the exclusivity of being the only country in the Americas that “adds its vote to the group of countries that include homosexuality as a crime under the law, including the application of capital punishment for that reason, in five of them.” It’s worth mentioning that CENESEX is the only institution recognized by the government that supposedly represents the rights of homosexuals. What impudence, gentlemen, to read such a phrase on the page of the National Center for Sex Education,” and signed by its director!

*Translator’s note: Mariela Castro is the daughter of Raul, and director of CENESEX.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ministerial Scoliosis

If, instead of having a personal blog, I had decided to post fictional stories, my last visit to the Provincial Prosecutor would be one in which the protagonist ends up in the hospital, a victim of horrible back pains. The doctor would permanently prohibit her from stepping foot in any ministry ever again, because her backbone would break under the weight of the bureaucracy. The protagonist would argue her thousands of needs, but the doctor would be blunt: Not one ministry more, not even by phone may you lighten the load.

But I am not writing fiction, so I will relate -- omitting the cervical pain -- my latest adventures regarding my complaint about the apartheid during the "Ninth Exhibition of Young Filmmakers." I have not been to see any doctor to advise me to tell them all to go to hell, but rather the excellent lawyers of the Cuban Law Association who, on the contrary, encouraged and supported me in everything, so I will tell you here of some of my beautiful mornings at the Provincial Prosecutor at 25th and F in Vedado.

Under the law, the prosecutor has a period of sixty days to give me an answer, and this period having long expired, they are in breach of the law. My complaint is already eight months old, so when I arrived Friday morning with my attorney, Dr. Vallin, to ask for an explanation, a rush up the stairs to a receptionist whose face looked like she’d seen the devil, gave me to understand that my case was not even remotely nearing completion.
Logo of Cuban Law Association

However, I do have the honor of truth, and I recognize that appearing with Doctor Vallin before a law collective, a prosecutor, or in court, is the equivalent of walking through Hollywood holding hands with Brad Pitt. Given this, our country’s Minister of Justice has hired two lawyers to defend herself from mine.

So it was that an hour after we sat ourselves down to wait, the prosecutor who had issued this document under the stairs almost at the back -- I know it sounds complicated but human limits have not yet been defined -- and from the back also announced by telephone to someone, my paper in her hand, that this was certainly her signature but she had not the remotest memory of having signed it. She then said goodbye to the receptionist and left.

On her side, the poor receptionist -- in order not to have that hot potato in her hand, that is to say, me -- sent me to go inquire at the public waiting room. When she saw that Dr. Vallin rose with me, she sighed in resignation. She said -- in a nicer way -- that the prosecutor on the case was on vacation, that there was a new girl in the file room who had no idea where the documents were, and that probably those who had undertaken the act of repudiation in front of the Chaplin cinema were military; I’m not sure why she was telling me this last part. Given the irrefutable fact of the expired time, she asked for our patience and would we come back on Tuesday at 8:30 in the morning.

On Tuesday morning she acknowledged us right away, despite the fact that my case has not been answered the whole world is aware of it. This time the wait was about an hour and a half, more or less. When the secretary sent me to the first floor she said, literally,

“Go up alone.”

“I prefer to go with him.”

Everyone knows that without an attorney you won’t even make it to first base. In addition, given the choice of going up without Dr.Vallin, and not going up at all, I prefer the latter. There we were seen by another prosecutor: my prosecutor is still on vacation and, IF there is an answer in my case, the fact is they don’t know because she’s on vacation. Such is life, although the law is not very clear about it.

Before I leave, the secretary draws up a claim report. They called me on the phone to let me know what is happening with my case (the person who called today was not the person charged with my case) and a piece of paper extended the deadline to respond for sixty more days.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Journalism as a Living Faith: Telephone Interview with Pedro Argüelles Morán #liberanlosya

In 2003, 75 Cubans were arrested in four days. Their crime? Being pro-democracy political activists, fighters for human rights, or simply journalists independent of the hegemonic line of the only Cuban political party, the Communists. Pedro Argüelles Morán was one of them.

Seven years later -- in the same arbitrary way as the imprisonments -- we learned through a communication from the Cuban Catholic Church that the government had agreed to free them within -- an unfair paradox -- four months.

This November 7, the long period the Cuban government allowed itself to restore freedom to these innocents expired, and we are faced with a sad certainty: of the 75, the only ones who have been released are those who agreed to accept a painful condition: exile. Of those who dream of returning to their homes, only one is in his house. The eleven remaining in prison are witnesses to the dripping of a lie, the unfulfilled promise of a government that does not keep its word.

1 - Pedro, you are sixty-two years old, you have spent seven years in prison and been sentenced to twenty. The Cuban government agreed to release you but did not keep its word. You are recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and you are one of the independent journalists who wants to live in Cuba and you demand to leave your cell for your home. Tell me what you did in 2003 before being arrested.

I would like to correct an error: I have been a prisoner for seven years, eight months and two days. I practiced as a freelance journalist in the province of Ciego de Avila. We had a tiny new agency, “The Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative” (CAPI). And we were several brothers: Pablo Pacheco Ávila, my friend and companion; Oscar Ayala Muñoz, from Morón, a tremendous person, economist, professor of economics at the University of Ciego de Avila, and some other brothers.

We tried to write about reality, we denounced the Human Rights violations, and wrote about those issues the official press would not touch with a ten foot pole. In short, we did independent reporting.

2 - What were the publications?

We put packets of information on the Internet, particularly on Nueva Press Cubana and Radio Marti and other media, especially on-line. We had no particular purpose nor exclusivity in the news we issued: the information was open to all the media who wanted to use it.

3 - It seems essential to know the details of your arrest. When was it, what time, what happened? Were there irregularities?

I was kidnapped and help hostage by Castro’s Political Police on March 18, 2003. Days earlier I had half-locked myself in the house to read some books that had arrived (banned by the dictatorship, of course, and classified as “enemy propaganda”). They were the memoirs of Huber Matos, When the Night Comes; Narcotrafficking: Revolutionary Task, by Norberto Fuentes, and at the moment I was kidnapped I was reading, The Secret Wars of Fidel Castro, by Juan Francisco Benemeli. I had only read 80 or 90 pages when I was taken. That day my wife went to Havana to spend a few days with her son. About a quarter to four in the afternoon I was going downstairs -- I live on the third floor -- to go to the supermarket when an invasion of thirteen or fourteen agents from the Political Police were coming up. They intercepted me on the stairs, I didn’t make it to the second floor. I was told I could not go anywhere, I was under arrest, and they searched the house.

One officer had a video camera and another a still camera and they were taking photos the whole time.

The search began after four, because they put on this act of looking for two witnesses. Something that struck me was that none of my neighbors wanted to participate and they were slow to get started. Finally they found two people and when one of them showed his ID card to assent to the act, I could see that his address was in Havana, he wasn’t even from here in Ciego de Avila; the other one was from SEPSA -- Specialized Service for the Protection of Society Anonymous -- that is from an agency of the Ministry of the Interior that watches over the hard-currency stores and those things. He, of course, could not refuse and he did live in my building but on the other staircase.

I was very worried. They told me I was arrested and my wife had gone to the capital. I was alone in the apartment with my two dogs (two dachshunds) and I was worried about leaving them alone. I had to get someone to take care of them.
A little past five someone knocked on the door and when I opened it it was my wife. She explained that they came to look for her at the bus station and told her that her house was being searched.

Everything ended around eleven at night because they found my archive. Not that it was hidden, it was just in a room that I used as an office that didn’t have any light because the bulb was out. They found two or three bags filled with writings, denunciations, and the one in charge of the search said, “If we had to read them one by one we would be here until tomorrow, we will count them all.” There were about nine documents.

At that time they took me to the cells at State Security.

4 - Before concluding on the search.  Was the order signed by the relevant institutions? Did they meet the legal requirements for it to be valid?

They never showed me the search warrant. I asked, “Do you have a search warrant, an arrest warrant?” They said, “We have a search warrant,” and went into the house. They showed me neither the search warrant nor the arrest warrant.

There was a State Security official who supposedly made a record and wrote down what the others found. They found no bombs, nor revolvers, nor pistols, nor grenades, nothing. They found a typewriter, a video camera, pencils, pens, office supplies for carrying out independent journalism. In addition to books, magazines, literature, poetry. Nothing more. They presented this at my trial to say that I was a mercenary.

5 - Your family, how did they take the collapse of their lives?

Imagine it, my wife left for Havana and was intercepted: Your husband is arrested, they are searching your house. For many years I had been involved in pro-Human Rights activities and the independent journalism. Somehow I was used to it, I had already been in prison in ’95 and ’96. It wasn’t the first search nor the first arrest.

She knew there was a sword of Damocles hanging over  my head, possible imprisonment, but it always comes as a surprise. We did not know that they had started a crackdown that would last four days. For example, that same day, the 18th, Pablo came to the house in the middle of the search. A State Security agent told him, “Pablo Pacheco, get out of here, Argüelles is under arrest."

The following day, in the afternoon, I was in the cells, and I heard someone calling and calling me. It was Pablito, they had just arrested him and brought him to the cells. He knew, because he had talked to Raul Rivero, that the arrests were nationwide.

6 - Under what specific charges were you convicted and what was the procedure of the court? What evidence did they exhibit at the trial? Did your lawyer defend you?

When they were still in my house, I asked the captain, “Why are you arresting me?” And he told me, “For violation of Law 88.” The trial was on Friday, April 4, at the Court of Ciego de Avila Province.  It lasted from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon. There was a large police deployment, the car in which I was brought there was guarded by police patrols. They closed the streets around the court. An official from the prosecutor’s office asked us days earlier for a list of relatives who would attend the trial and if they weren’t relatives they could not attend.

When we arrived the room was full of people from the Communist Party, from the Army (FAR), the Interior Ministry (MININT), labor groups ... their people, pro-Castro. From my family only my wife and my sister attended, and from Pablo’s, his wife, his son, and I can’t remember if one brother came.

I did not have a lawyer and they assigned me one from the office. A girl who had just graduated, I was her first case. We only saw each other once before the trial, for half an hour, in the same room where State Security had interrogated me. Ultimately she, who was my defender, defended nothing because she couldn’t.

Pablito did appoint a lawyer. It was very amusing to me because when she referred to us she would say, “the counterrevolutionaries,” and I was thinking, “if this is our lawyer calling us counterrevolutionaries...” A curious detail: the same lawyer Pablo hired, a few years later she won the visa lottery and went with her husband to the United Stated. But my attorney played a much better role and never called me a counterrevolutionary. When I went to testify the president of the court torpedoed me, she wouldn’t let me say a single word and my lawyer even protested. During the lunch break she told me, “I’m going to keep on protesting. I’m going to complain because you have not been allowed to speak in your defense.”

The trial was completely rigged, they knew what was going to happen.  There were no witnesses on our behalf. The prosecutor brought people from Pablo’s CDR because in my block there weren’t any. At the request of my prosecutor -- that is, in the provisional findings of the prosecutor -- two prisoners from the Canaleta Provincial Prison here were supposed to testify at the trial, as a complaint, that I had talked to Radio Marti about their medical care. They weren’t there and then they presented a doctor from the Medical Services of the Ministry of the Interior, a dermatologist. She said that the consultation was Thursday or Friday at the prison and the medical care was very good.

The prosecutor asked for 26 years and they sentenced me to twenty years. The provincial court clerk gave me the sentence the morning after the trial.

7 - The Cuban jails are unpresentable. The rapporteur for torture and ill-treatment was unable to visit Cuba last year because the Cuban government would not allow it. Tell me about your life in prison, the journalist behind bars, how you managed to hold onto your morals and principles in such terrible conditions.

I always speak for myself and also my brothers, but in this case for myself: I am very convinced of what I'm doing and since I began this fight in 1992 I knew everything that I was exposing myself to. I knew the risks I would run and the sacrifices that I would have to make. They could expel me from my workplace. They would monitor me and I would be declared an official non-person for denouncing human rights violations. Because Cuba is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In here we live in appalling conditions, incredible overcrowding, poor nutrition and medical care. The snitching -- speaking in popular terms -- is enormous, the police informers are in the thousands. I am constantly observed, there are many eyes on me because every time there is a violation of human rights I investigate and denounce it, at the risk of what might happen.

To work and write in prison is not easy. Life here is hard: this is not a day care center or a school in the countryside, nor an urban school. It’s a prison with a series of psychedelic elements, psychiatric cases, mentally retarded, dangerous people who have murdered, raped, who have committed all sorts of crimes. People who will never leave prison. It’s a social dump and you’re forced to live with it. There are, of course, normal people, good people who never should have come to prison or who were punished excessively for some nonsense.

All the time the police tell you what to do, who you can talk to, who you can meet. But we have to carry on even though the environment is hostile.

The sanitary conditions are appalling. I am in a cubicle with room for two people and there are six people here, there are two triple bunks. The bathrooms are holes in the ground and we get water twice a day. The water isn’t drinkable and it’s for everything: drinking, bathing, cleaning.

Health care is terrible. For example, there is a boy here who from the tenth day had X-rays ordered and he still hasn’t had them: either there’s no guard to take him or there is a guard but the technician didn’t come. There are cases where the doctor will come and prescribe a medicine and then you’ll wait eight or ten days and the medicine doesn’t come. There’s nothing. Sometimes you make it to the infirmary and there’s not even any pain medication.

Generally, if you go to the infirmary it’s for your amusement -- they themselves say that -- because you see the doctor and he ignores you. There have been many deaths here in the prison for lack of medical attention. I’ve reported a few.

The prison staff always justifies the deaths in some way. In short, the system is one thing: everything belongs to the State and responds to the government. The doctors are young people who have just graduated and this is their first work experience as part of their social service obligation. Before they start work they meet with the director of the prison and he tells them the prisoners pretend to feel ill so they can go to the infirmary to traffic in drugs or to look at the nurses. Then the doctor sees you as a faker and treats you like one. On the other hand the doctors, the women, start to have sex with the prison director and then they feel protected no matter how bad their professional work is.

8 - Do you think you will finally be released? What is the first thing you will do when you are a free man again?

I would speak of my release, though I feel free even though I’m a prisoner. I think that yes, some time, some day of some month of some year, I will be released. The first thing would be to call my brother Guillermo El Coco Fariñas and tell him I’m at home with my wife. And my first outing would be to go to Santa Clara and give him a hug.

Then I will continue my struggle peacefully, civilly, for the respect for rights, freedom, and the dignity of the human person.

But even if I am not released, from here in the Canaleta prison, or from any other prison where they confine me, I will continue defending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Tragicomic Anecdote

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

Sometimes we say, "What happens to me does not happen to anyone else," without actually measuring the real possibilities of an extraordinary personal event being unique in the world. But when I heard the story that I now share with you I was, in fact, struck dumb. Not only by the strangeness of the situation, but because, once again, it made me feel like crying to see the state of alienation (using the language of Marxism) that a communist society can bring an individual to.

He was sitting at the stop waiting for the bus to Playa when an old woman begged him to accompany her to Calixto García Hospital.

“Son, please, I can’t walk and I have a doctor’s appointment.”

Going in the opposite direction for altruism is typical of noble souls, and he, well, he is one. Abandoning his own journey, he stopped a taxi on Linea Street and got in with the old woman, headed to 27th and G in the Vedado district.

Along the way she told him that she was alone in Cuba with no one to care for her, that social security had reduced the money allocated for her medications, that she was sick and as she got older she was sinking into a deep and devastating poverty. She had asked for a social worker to look after her, but it was a long process and nothing had yet come of it. He, silent, listened helplessly, feeling a heavy responsibility on his own shoulders.

They arrived at the clinic. Feeling so sorry for her deplorable state, they let her go to the front of the line. He stayed with her so that later he could take her home. As the minutes passed they began talking with the other sick people and to the complete stupefaction of the hero of this anecdote, the victim exclaimed:

“It’s true that we lack many things. But Fidel has never abandoned us!”

Her voice ragged and breaking, she devoted the last moment of the wait to praising this man, and when they finally called her they discovered her appointment wasn’t there and she would have to come back to see another doctor. He, still silent, walked her to another taxi and paid the driver to leave her at the door of her house. Before the car pulled away he told her,

“Madam, before we say goodbye I would like to let you know that I am a dissident.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Four Months #liberenlosYa (Free Them Now)

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The pessimists, among whom I include myself, assumed that on the closing date, and only then, the prisoners from the group of 75 who did not accept “the airplane or prison” would be released. However, any negativity is infinitesimal when it comes to the lies of the Cuban government; to become accustomed to being duped over and over again is not a simple thing. When I hear the voice of Arguelles on the phone it pulls at my heart. I wait impatiently for the call that doesn’t come: that he is calling me from his home. But every week I’m disappointed, impatient, sad, to know that he is speaking from Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila.

The falsehoods of Raul Castro, the Communist Party, and the entire governmental apparatus are our daily bread. So now all that’s left for me is to wait for a communication from the Catholic Church, no? After all, it was the Cardinal who said that the General said that in four months...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Distant Hill

My friend Evelyn is a happy woman. She has lived through a thousand hardships in her youth but now that she’s nearing forty she looks back and the balance is more than positive. For me, younger than she, she inspires my admiration: her daughter is lovely, she’s cruising right along in her career, and she lives according to her principles and ideas -- this latter something that is in danger of extinction. We met when I was seventeen and since then she has not voted nor participated in any of the scenes staged by the government, nor given in to fear or the double standards of the people.

Evelyn could not study at the university. When she was at the Lenin vocational school, her classmates rejected her for her politics. She went to the province and on appeal her class raised their hands a second time to mark her file for life. She was not an independent journalist, nor a member of any party, nor did she walk up and down the central hallway preaching the universal declaration of human rights. She was, simply, a teenager, half rocker, half folk-singer.

Years passed and of that group at the Lenin school almost none are left in Cuba. On Evelyn’s Facebook account she sometimes gets friend requests from those who once raised their hands to destroy her life. It seems they live in France, Canada, Spain or the United States and it’s like a big confession that washes away all their sins and gives them the right to demand unconditional forgiveness from their victims. But my friend doesn’t forget. She never seeks revenge, nor does she let the rancor fester. But, to the “Facebook friends,” and the little tea parties the group holds when they return to Cuba, they may get tired of inviting her: She will always say no.

Friday, November 5, 2010


We were waiting for a ride on 23rd when Ernesto Morales’ cell phone rang. It was Yoani Sánchez, worried about him because he could have taken AeroCaribbean Flight No. 883. We were stunned for a few seconds and then Ernesto told me:

“I was going to travel on that plane.”

I felt helpless to express the horror of a plummeting airplane, the safest transport there is, according to statistics. The safest and yet one of the most brutal when it  breaks the rule. With no survivors, the Havana-Santiago flight has left a trail of horror in the Cuban sky.

List of the dead taken from Diario de Cuba

Cuban passengers:
1- Guillermo Pinero Barros, Cuba
2- Guillermo López López, Cuba
3- Mercedes Cruz Pérez, Cuba
4- Humberto Rodríguez López, Cuba
5- Humberto Espinosa Texidor, Cuba
6- Damaris Ocaña Robert, Cuba
7- Yolennis Díaz Delgado, Cuba
8- René Espinosa Mora, Cuba
9- Frank Román Valido, Cuba
10- Gladis Soublet Bravo, Cuba
11- Juan Mazorra Soublet, Cuba
12- José Arseo Valdés, Cuba
13- Isora Silva Hierrezuelo, Cuba
14- Olga de la Cruz de la Llera, Cuba
15- Rosa Calcedo Reyes, Cuba
16- Jorge Carballo Abreu, Cuba
17- Juan Manuel Pérez Salgado, Cuba
18- Carlos Prado Perera, Cuba
19- Ángel Prado Perera, Cuba
20- Aurora Pons Porrata, Cuba
21- Lourdes Figueroa Sangrong, Cuba
22- Rosmery Ochoa Gordon, Cuba
23- Carmen Miranda Martínez, Cuba
24- Maritza Alfonso Duarte, Cuba
25- Ricardo Junero Rodríguez, Cuba
26- Daineris Venero Acosta, Cuba
27- Andrea Gordon Figueroa, Cuba
28- Orlando Beirut Rodríguez, Cuba
29- Osmar Moreno Pérez, Cuba
30- Deisy Clemente Consuegra, Cuba
31- Leonor Ruiz Méndez, Cuba
32- José Ruiz Fernández, Cuba
33- Odalys Portales Silva, Cuba

Flight crew:
34- Ángel Villa Martínez, Cuba
35- Luis Lima Rodríguez, Cuba
36- Raciel Echevarría Lescano, Cuba
37- Martha María Torres Figueroa, Cuba
38- Fara Guillén Brito, Cuba
39- Juan Carlos Banderas Ferrer, Cuba
40- Andy César Galano, Cuba

Passengers of other nationalities:
41- Renata Enockl, Germany
42- Harald Niekaper Lars, Germany
43- Maria Pastores, Argentina
44- Alberto Croce, Argentina
45- Stella Croce, Argentina
46- Carlos Sánchez Marcelo, Argentina
47- Miriam Galucci de Sánchez, Argentina
48- Aruro González, Argentina
49- Silvia Ferrari, Argentina
50- Norma Peláez, Argentina
51- Virginio Viarengo, Argentina
52- Jacqueline Cunningham, Austria
53- Barbara Crossin, Austria
54- Manuel González Asencio, Spain
55- William Mangae Kambi, France
56- Hans Vanschuppen, Netherlands
57- Dirk Vandam, Netherlands
58- Walter Vanderberg, Netherlands
59- Rafaelle Pugliese, Italy
60- Yoko Umehara, Japan
61- Lorenzo Mendoza Cervantes, México
62- Daniel González Esquivel, México
63- Luis Pérez, México
64- Jesús Rangel Medina, México
65- Cynthia Pérez García, México
66- Mario Pérez Rulgines, México
67- Claudia García Castillo, México
68- Cándida Elchaer, Venezuela

Monday, November 1, 2010


Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
He comes walking along the same sidewalk as me and can’t avoid greeting me. I understand. He’s weak because I was his fan. His ego is telling him, “That’s Claudia who really admired me and was always emailing me asking for my stories.” What he doesn’t know is that as a writer I admired his daring prose amid the meltdown, “after the socialist realism” had died. This guy who now says “Hi” with an ear-to-ear smile is a ghost who, in exchange for $100 dollars a month on his cell phone account, a new computer at home, a scooter, and a space that he will never be “laid off” from on Cubasí, writes nonsense about Yoani Sánchez and even dares to call her a terrorist.

I look at him stunned. I think if he had a shred of honor he wouldn’t say a single word to me. I laugh at myself. Honor?! What a great word for a Cuba so devastated! I want to tell him I’m very sorry about his death, about him selling his soul to the devil, that he shouldn’t acknowledge me, that he should ignore me the next time he sees me and that all he inspires in me is a deep and horrible contempt. But I feel sorry for him.

“I’ve read what you’re writing now about Yoani. Why do you let them use you like that? Why haven’t you written about me? Are you waiting for your orders?”
“It’s not like that.”

“Of course it’s like that. It’s a shame and an embarrassment. You know it yourself, you know it’s like that.”

We walk away from each other by backing up. He repeated, “It’s not like that,” as I mutely hurried away. I hope I never see him again.

When I got home I reread his first story that had so impressed me six years ago. I still liked it and  felt badly for this man who buried his pen in the putrid stomach of repression. I have no doubt: some souls die in life.

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.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Subtleties of the Jaw

 Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

The line for the bus at Coppelia is a special place, one of the corners so eloquent that if it disappeared one day Havana wouldn’t be the same. Yesterday at ten at night I was waiting for my P4 bus when a woman standing next to me with her daughter commented how “alive” the city was for the anniversary party for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). “Is that a joke, ma’am?” I asked, and she gave me a serial killer look.

The driver swore that not one more person could fit on the P4, so I got on through the back door. A drunk behind me was pushing to cut the line, but he was staggering around and trying to hold onto his bottle of alcohol at all costs and he lost his balance and fell. The driver started while the man was still trying to get on and he was almost killed in the attempt.

The woman of the “lively party,” at my side started screaming, and me, I answered, “He’s so plastered he won’t even make it to the corner!” She added, “He had to be black, all blacks are the same,” and started a lecture all about “those blacks” which if Martin Luther King had heard he would have died a second time. I looked around embarrassed. Everybody nearby was white. No one opened their mouths and I realized that they would all remain mute rather than defend the blacks. I got hysterical, I regretted it later, but at the time I wanted to strangle her, especially since her ranting was quietly being listened to by her young daughter, what a great example!

“Madam,” I said to her, “if I scream ‘Down with Fidel!’ you would be the first to jump on it. May I ask, then, why I have to put up with you talking like you’re the president of the Ku Klux Klan? And if I scream, ‘Down with Estaban Lazo!’ are you going to jump on that too or is it not the same?” The phrase came out rather awkwardly. She said nothing. People were staring at me and soon I felt like I’d stepped out of a tomb at the Colón cemetery, with worms crawling out of my half-gone skull.

I knew I couldn’t stop myself. That should not be the approach to dialog but sometimes dialog is simply beyond my capacity for tolerance. I got off at the stop at 23rd and A and walked the half mile home, talking to myself.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

El Dorado and the 21st Century Left

Photo: Leandro Feal, from the series "Trying to live with swing.”

My only certainty is that I am not a communist, the rest I’m not that sure about. I have trouble defining myself politically. It could be the result of having been born into a system different from the rest of the world -- outside its definitions of right and left -- into a system based on one man and above all, on his whims. I love listening to people when they explain their political positions to me (including the orthodox, of course), and it disappoints me not to be drawn to any. Beyond the rights and freedoms of man, there is no cause I feel committed to.

But one reads, is informed, and strives to understand the world, especially the ideologies that move it. Rather than get on a plane, the four hundred pages of a book -- nearly destroyed by its great many readers -- or a documentary on a flash memory, tell me the story of humanity beyond the sea. In general, I have decided to establish margins for a minimum comparison so as not to drive myself crazy. It is not very useful, from my point of view, to try to compare a democracy with a system of State capitalism, or a dictatorship with a developing country. I can compare the United States with Europe, Mexico with Argentina, Chile or Haiti; Cuba with the former countries of the Soviet Union, with Iran, with the Chile of Pinochet, the Spain of Franco, and even North Korea. Any other comparison, Cuba versus Uruguay for example, is tainted by a primary antagonism: Totalitarian Society versus the Rule of Law.

Thus, when a European unionist tries to convince me of “the achievements of the Cuban Revolution,” it makes me want to cry. First, because there are no unions in Cuba, at least not what would historically be known as a workers’ union, whose function is to enforce the rights of the worker versus the boss, the company or the State. It would be healthy to get to the root of the concept, to respect the meanings of nouns so as not to fall into ambiguity; as my friend Reinaldo Escobar says, “Bread means bread and dictatorship means dictatorship.”

On this point, the paths of the left, unfortunately, tend to greatly confuse me. So I find people who condemn all the dictatorships in the universe except for the one in my small country, and who are insulted when they hear Franco spoken of with respect, yet they venerate Fidel Castro. Others hate the western press for its sensationalism, but don’t criticize that a single party controls our newspapers.

There are those who are sure that the politics of the United States are interventionist and hegemonic, but they served as soldiers in Nicaragua, Angola and Ethiopia. There are even those who protest on the streets of New York against the war in Iraq with a three-by-three-foot poster of Ernesto Guevara. People, in short, who call the government of my country, “The Revolution.”