Friday, February 26, 2010

Apartheid at the Young Filmmakers Exhibition

Here is a recording I made this afternoon at the Young Filmmakers Exhibiiton. Ciro Javier Díaz Penedo, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and I tried to enter to see the short films of Lía Villares which, in the end, she couldn't see either.

I am not writing much, I leave you the witness of my voice at the door of the Chaplin Cinema. Ciro was given a thirty peso fine for "creating a public scene."


Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Tears We Don’t Cry

Photo: Leandro Feal

The power to decide about another, about the life of another, about the possessions of another, about the rights of another: that is the sickness of my government. To hope to leave the country, to say what we think, to earn a decent wage, to live without fear: that is the sickness of my people.

I am not a nationalist, I don’t consider myself a patriot or anything like that, but I love my land and I love Havana in the gray and yellow days. I like Cubans who, without even knowing you, call you “my love.” I love hearing the conversations of the people in the street and knowing that if I wanted to I could comment, put in my two cents worth, offer my opinion. I am fascinated by certain places in my city and watching people my age live different lives, unique lives, lives on the edge.

But there are other days when I feel very ashamed of the land of my birth. Times when I look at the faceless people and everyone is the same, everyone is afraid. Days in which I know that no one will be saved, no one will scream, no one will offer a hand and no one will say “my love” because the terror is so great. Days of indolence, shame and impotence, for them and for myself. Days when the waiting seems very long. Days when it seems absolutely critical that a sea of tears must run down 12th Street to the Malecon because our dry eyes no longer lead anywhere.

Since the death of Tamayo, every day is like this.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Testimony in Laura Pollán's House

Video: El Ciro Diaz

Orlando Zapata Tamayo's Death

Video: Yoani Sánchez

This morning I called Berta, Antúnez’s sister, and she related to me the chilling conversation Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s mother, Reina, had with an official from State Security.

“Reina, I have good news and bad news.  The good: your son has been taken to a hospital.  The bad: he is very serious.”

It is cruel, vile and despicable to say that to a mother. They must be ruthless, lazy and stupid to let a human being die of hunger.  And they must be very, extremely, diabolical to take the life of a man for his principles.

In his death is all the shame of these fifty-one years the paranoid, silenced, terrorized, lost, drowned and frozen to death.  It is the howl of three generations, who were lost and who forgot about the marvelous word that contains so much: freedom.  It is the legacy of this absurdly long Cuban revolution: our principles killed, or kill he who fights for them.

Today is a day of mourning. My one desire is that tomorrow, when February 23 comes around each year in the calendar, the entire country honors it as a day of national mourning.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Eduardo del Llano Group

The exhibit of young filmmakers, the Hip Hop concerts in Madriguera, or the Poetry Festival Without End, are like a needle – impossible to find for some – in the middle of the overflowing and censored haystack that has become Cuban culture. So yesterday I arrived at the Eduardo del Llano group at the “Fresa y Chocolate” center, to see clips of Deep Purple, laugh myself silly at the stories, and listen to the songwriters, among whom, incredibly, was El Ciro.

I first met Edward through his book, The Ten Apostates, which I loved, paid for, and of course lost. Later I saw the film Brainstorm and, after an exhaustive search on the computers of all my friends, I managed to find the rest of the sagas of Nicanor*. In his group he had managed to bring together the small Nicanors who survive in Havana, the new men who are so new they are lost in time and in the unreality of a country where novelty is an attack and art an ideological deviation. The only country in the world where revolutions last half a century, which is good to demonstrate the relativity of time, but very bad for those of us trapped in it.

Coincidentally I learned, also yesterday, that a Matanzas poet translated the verses of Vysostki into Spanish; surely the Minister of Culture kept the information to himself, which is quite inconsistent with his function. The translated verses are about the songs he wrote with another songwriter in Havana. One more proof that Nicanor will always be alone, and that he is the new man, or his paradox, the abandoned man.

Here is one of my favorites from the short film InterMezzo:

Translator’s note:
Eduardo del Llano is a Cuban filmmaker. He has made a series of films featuring the character Nicanor O’Donnell, a Cuban “everyman,” his name notwithstanding.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Service of Cubacel

On Saturday morning I get a text message from a girlfriend, “Claudia, I’ve refilled your phone.” The way the service operates, I should expect another text message from the Cuban company. It finally arrived at 9 AM Monday, and said the following:

“From RECARGA1: Call (7) 204 31 45 between 8 AM and 5 PM from a land line to confirm data regarding a refill received through the Internet. If there are problems with the payment, the service will be canceled.”

Can someone please explain the second sentence to me?

After nearly an hour calling without being put through to the telephone indicated on my cell, a girl answers at the other end of the line, sounding as far away as if she had said, “Hello,” from China. She asks me my number, asks who paid the money, and I tell her the name of my girlfriend. She says it had been a man, and I can’t collect until I have the details of the person who made the transfer.

I complain, on the web page where the service is promoted it doesn’t indicate this fundamental detail. With the apathy characteristic of a Cuban receptionist, she says, “Your suggestion has been noted.” And in passing, she asks for my identity card number.

It turns out I’ve received two refills on my cell phone: the first, that of my girlfriend, they never warned me about; on the second – surely some reader supporting this blog – I can’t collect a single centavo. And so it goes in technological Cuba…

Note: When later I logged onto the Internet I could not enter the site to refill cell phones, with the strange justification: Forbidden. You do not have permission to access this server. But because I am stubborn, I went in through a proxy to verify that nowhere is it stated that the user must inform the Cuban that a refill has been made to their phone.

The most secure way to refill cell phones is TuRecarga.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Faith

"Eternal Young Rebels": At 23rd and Paseo in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana

Before, I found myself pessimistic, talking with people and feeling a mixture of disappointment and sadness, as if in the words of my interlocutors there was a light I couldn't see.  In time, I discovered a relationships between age and the degree of disappointment with those with whom I interacted, with greater age came less faith in the future.

Our parents' generation -- to my understanding -- is at the height of skepticism.  So the majority -- thank God not everyone -- live with disappointment regarding the current Cuban reality, which they share with a chilling degree of distrust in what has almost become a taboo: the future.

The discourse of the self-nominated Historical Leadership of the Revolution has been primarily responsible for the distrust toward the young.  I would seem that since 1959 generations have been born with a genetic defect: the inability to build their own future, their own lives.  Sadly, it is difficult to escape the repetitive official propaganda, which rises at times to truly surreal moments, like the photograph in this post.

It is depressing to discover that a whole segment of society has stopped believing in what they started, that they see no other road for Cuba except chaos and misery, that they don't believe in the future of their children within the borders of this Island, that they don't believe in anything, not even the innocence of the youngest.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Naked Before Power

Punto y Coma hosted an event in Two Gardenias when I was 18, I went to see them every week with a friend who lived in Playa.  By that time a huge operation -- popularly known as "The Scourge" -- picked up any women just for being on the street, under the alleged suspicion of prostitution.

My friend and I were standing on the terrible Fifth Avenue, we knew that was the the center of operations, and we started to hav a drink.  The first car that stopped, while and clearly occupied by Cubans, asked us innocently, "Is everything alright?"
To my absolute amazement, a guy jumped out of the car and stuck his DTI Police ID in my face, while with his other hand he grabbed me by the back of the neck so that I couldn't breathe, and threw me in the back of the car.  Five seconds later my friend fell on top of me.  Inside I learned that I was hustling and was detained for engaging in illegal prostitution.  Our explanations were useless, they took us straight to the notorious station of the National Revolutionary Police known as "The Fifth."

There were about forty women there, many of the crying, and the majority were no older than 16.  According to what one told me, those who were from Havana would go to jail, while the others would be sent back to their respective provinces... all would be prosecuted. The prosecutor interrogated me, disagreeably and to the point of exhaustion, threatened me, and told me that I had no proof I was not a prostitute, to which I responded that he had no proof to the contrary... I called him names and he called me worse.

At about four o'clock in the morning I'd had something like seven attacks of hysterics because they wouldn't let me phone my mother or my boyfriend, I'd smoked against the rules, and had tried various times to reach the public telephone.  I suppose the cops were sick of me, my friend asked me quietly to calm down but I couldn't... at that time I still believed in the power of the existing legislation and believed I had the right to call my mother.

They let us go at five, but I refused to leave, demanding to be taken home in a patrol car -- it was late and I was scared to go alone.  The prosecutor replied, "You already have a warning card for being a 'ho, you don't want to leave with another."

The following morning my mother and I went to the Ministry of the Interior, facing the Plaza of the Revolution.  She was certain that if we complained everything would work out: they would withdraw my warning card and even punish the prosecutor... My poor mother! Even she believed this then.

I will not detail the extreme hypocrisy with which those at MINIT revered and entertained us, including a paper that said my card had been revoked and the prosecutor had received a month's sanction.  I was a little skeptical, after fifteen days of paperwork it seemed that something wasn't clear: why hadn't we been visited personally by the prosecutor and the police who detained me.  Why were all the declarations blank?  My mother calmed me down and in the end I forgot the incident.

Two years later the sector chief of my block visited us.  It turned out that after two years of verification they had finally come to the conclusion that I wasn't a hooker, and they canceled the damn warning card, which had been there all the time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The University of Havana and Me

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan, taken during the Rotilla Festival of Electronic Music

I have never lost the desire to study, I have a certain illusion that studying will keep me young; clearly my body does not support my theory, but we manage.  When I started this blog in 2008 I was taking a course in Social-Cultural Studies at the University of Havana, having decided to start over with the materials, assignments, and exams, a year earlier.

I liked studying at a distance, doing my homework alone at home even though the program was archaic; the Philosophy and Society course was really Marxism, the psychology ignored by Freud, and on the exams there were questions about the Battle of Ideas and the Five Heroes – in prison in the United States for spying – which were not of course included in the program. I managed to study jumping over obstacles, zigzagging, and being the queen of ambiguity in my answers.

But after a year I was tired, I lost interest: it wasn’t fun any more to hear the Philosophy professor say in the lectures that Marxism entered into a crisis because of “some tactical errors by Stalin,” nor to hear the Psychology professor using examples taken from Brazilian soap operas.  I left, or one might say, as my mother did: I gave up.

I knew I would miss school, but I am optimistic.  There is more time in life and I still dream of graduating in Philosophy from the University of Havana… when it recovers its autonomy.  Meanwhile, at the home of Yoani Sanchez, Professor Vallin and Dagoberto Valdes offered a lecture that one never heard in the mediocre University Venue; maybe one day higher learning will regain its intellectual status.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Subtleties of the Legislation

Billboard: Like at the Bay of Pigs, Defending Socialism

He rented his house without a license and no hope of getting one; the government had not granted any for nearly ten years.  The area where he lived – near 23rd and L streets – was perfect for renting; very central with a lot of tourists.  Those in the neighborhood with foresight made up their minds in time and were able to legalize their businesses, those with doubts were left with the illusion of living within the law and eating at the same time.  The Cuban government drew the line one more time: those left out were left out and must live however they can, not one rental more.

With a house with three and a half bedrooms he decided to play his luck, almost everyone on the block was doing the same.  Those who had managed to get the permit paid the tax; those without, hoped one day to pay it.  In five years things improved so much more for him than in the thirty years he had worked for the State.

Those with the license, completed the paperwork: they wrote down the name and identity card of every Cuban whose feet crossed the threshold to visit a renter, and later forwarded it to the immigration service; you could rent to prostitutes as long as you wrote everything down in the book.  Those without a license, didn’t write down anything, and chewed their fingernails hoping that none of the renters would get into trouble in Havana.

One day the police came to the home of my friend: in a raid on “jineteras” one of the prostitute interrogated had let fall his name and address.  He began the legal process, they advised him to confess that he was renting illegally, assuring him that cooperating would make things go easier.  He told them everything: he didn’t remember the girl, saying that at times the foreigners brought girls in and he allowed it.  He said he wasn’t allowed to rent because for ten years they hadn’t granted any licenses.

He was not prosecuted for having an illegal rental business, nor even for enriching himself illegally.  He was tried for pimping and sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


When I was a kid the store at 23rd and 10th no longer called itself the “Ten Cent,” but I can’t tell you what its name was because everyone continued, as they do to this day, calling it that.  Meanwhile, while I was growing up the Ten Cent changed its name several times and was also remodeled.

I remember, now, a story of Virgilio Piñera’s where he talked about the breakfasts; that was the era when there was a red bar on the left side of this enormous place, and you could have lunch at little tables, like in a restaurant.  I can still recall how sad my mother was when they demolished it.

It’s natural for places to modernize, update their style and revitalize their sales, but what happened to the Ten Cent – lately named Varieties – has been the exact opposite.  It seemed to enjoy a small boom at the end of the nineties, when the government decided to issue some licenses for private sellers, and 23rd and 10th was full of craftsmen and furniture sellers.  This was short-lived, however, as the private initiative seemed to generate too much happiness in a people supposedly inspired by the tropical version of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

When the world moved on to the 21st century, this establishment moved back in time, though the constant remodels and changes in the sales departments were useless and the shelves were increasingly empty.  The store that had offered, in national pesos, most staple products wasn’t even a distant memory, so much so that the reputation of "bare shelves" stuck more than all the other nicknames from before.

On Monday, January 25 – after another renovation – the store reopened.  With a new presence and a greater variety of products, the line to get in was enormous.  One detail has been kept, everything is sold in national currency… although the prices have changed.  A jar of mango marmalade, for example, costs 200 Cuban pesos, or 10 CUCs more or less.  What kind of salary allows for these luxuries?  The majority of professionals know that marmalade is not for us.

I am posting here a video of Ciro who has made a few homemade jams since he saw the big can on the shelves.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Excuse me, Sir, may I post that you were arrested?

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

The title seems absurd, but I assure you with all my heart that is what many expect of me. I started this blog to write what I wanted, to relate the things that were happening around me, to share a space in cyberspace and to feel free, even if just within a text of five hundred words.  I don’t know why, at times, it feels that with the passage of time my reasons seem to be forgotten, however for me – the one who writes this – they remain the same.

As everything is so strained in this place where it was my destiny to be born, I am not – I repeat it like a parrot, lest anyone think I believe myself to be or claim degrees that I do not have – either a journalist or a writer.  I am a blogger, and it is not my fault that in my blog the real Cuba is more real than in the newspaper Granma International.  There are those who graduated in journalism, or those who are journalists – which is not the same thing – and who tear the pebbles from the wall of State censorship, certainly it is not my case.

To give a little coherence to this declaration of Octavo Cerco principles that I am making I will illustrate it with a small story – it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not because it is not news, it’s an example: imagine that you have a blog in which you write about the world around you, and one day a reader knocks on the door and says, “I came to tell you that perhaps today State Security will arrest me, but please, don’t publish it.”

Why? To see if I don’t have to have great self-control not to go crazy in this psychiatric Havana?  If you are not an inmate, or given the case but you don’t want it known, if you are not doing anything “confrontational” and are considered to be “integrated”… why did you come knocking at my door?  This is a small example, but I can assure you that I have more colorful ones.

So, I have decided to dot the i’s:

- I write this blog alone, I alone am responsible for it, which makes sense.

- It is a personal and subjective vision of the way I see and live in my country.

- The acts of injustice, the abuse of power and the restrictions on individual freedoms, I feel a duty – to myself – to publish and comment on them through my lens.

- There is no external reason that can make me hesitate to give an opinion, to criticize what I consider wrong, or to praise what I like.

- I owe nothing to anyone and the censorship against which I struggle every day is self-censorship (which is very dangerous).

- Information belongs to no one, everyone has a right to it and that is what and why I advocate.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Details of the Official Semantics

My best therapy for starting the day in a good mood -- I tend to black, so this should not be taken as advice -- is to turn on the TV at 7:30 in the morning and watch half an hour of University for All.  My preferred course, I don't know what it's actually called, is about politics and international events.

Last week the topic was hot: the Middle East.  I suppose the poor professors have prepared for hours for the class, considering the semantic games and syntactic juggling that comes out of the speakers of my TV.  They started with with Iraq, where they also had counterrevolutionary resistance, so I can't manage to remember who's who and when.  But the best and most confused part of the class was when they arrived in Afghanistan.

- The Afghan counterrevolution is supported -- of course, who could doubt it -- by the CIA, who refused to allow the triumph of the socialist revolution that the Soviet Union kindly wanted to import.

- Later, these counterrevolutionaries, known also as the Taliban, took control of the country and created their own government.

- However, despite being Taliban and counterrevolutionaries, they managed to stablize and pacify the country (and this is where it really becomes incoherent, the best part):- In some unknown way the counterrevolution mutated into the armed civil resistance during the American imperialist intervention, which destroyed the peace and plunged the people into misery.

Beyond the complex and extremely sad situation of the Afghan people, the manipulation of the terminology -- American imperialist intervention vs. socialist revolution and counterrevolution vs. resistance -- is clear evidence of the quality of the television classes, the blatant manuevers of disinformation "disguised as culture" that the Cuban government pumps out through the media 24 hours a day.

Luckily I'm vaccinated, for which I give thanks.  The only question that such an ambiguous lecture aroused in me was:  What reason is there for the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), after so many years, to throw in the towel with the Russians?