Saturday, May 29, 2010

Without a Photo of R

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

This post does not contain an image of R because I didn’t have the heart to ask her to let me photograph the hole in her butt where she was stabbed. It was nearly two in the morning on Saturday and Ciro, a journalist and I were at Juan Juan’s house when the call came.

R was shouting at the other end of the phone, we could hear her sobs and the words “blood” and “they stabbed me,” she was just in the block of the “La Mariposa” store in Nuevo Vedado, at the corner of her own house. The men went to look for her in Juan Juan’s car. Minutes later there in front of me was a woman with her face covered in blog, her mouth swollen and a hole with a red ring around it in her pants, just where they give you a shot. They stole her cell phone, kicked her, and to finish off, “stick her! stick her more!” which, thank God, they didn’t do any more or she wouldn’t have come out of it alive. I helped her wash while she kept repeating, “They were boys, the age of my son”; she was shaking like a leaf.

“We have to go to the hospital because the wound is bad, later you can rest.”

At the Surgical Clinic the surgeon on duty, after we woke him up, asked, “What happened?”

“They assaulted her, they stabbed her,” I told him, and then the surrealism began for real:

He sat at a desk, took out a form and a pen, looked at R and without any transition between the hole in her butt and his routine for tonsillitis, began to fill out the form.

“Name? Surnames? Age? Municipality?”

While he tried to get his pen to write, I killed a cockroach ambling lazily across the table and skirting, without any difficulty, the form. When he finished his formalities he took a look – I thought he was never going to get around it – at the wound.

“Just a stitch and it’ll be fine.”

We left to get the stitch. The doctor looked at me as if I were completely off my rocker when I started to swat the flies out of the infirmary. He, who could share his desk and write with cockroaches, must of thought I was some kind of cleaning maniac. R laid down – I won’t give you the details of the stretcher – and the doctor prepared the thread to sew her up. A second before seeing the needle pierce the skin I asked, “Isn’t there any anesthetic?”

“It’s just two stitches, it’s not necessary.”
“Stitches hurt.”

Juan Juan, standing next to me, as white as milk and breaking out in a cold sweat broke in, “But they just finished kicking her. Isn’t there any anesthesia?”

Thank God they had some and they gave it to her, because the “two stitches” took fifteen minutes to put in and R wasn’t in any condition to bear any more pain. At some point it all finally got to be too much for me and I felt like vomiting: the flies, the blood, the heat. I went out to get some air.

“What liquid is this?” cried Juan Juan near the end when I was again pursuing catharsis with the flies, going after them with a fury.
“Iodine, the best disinfectant in the world,”
“Luckily I’m not allergic to it,” said R, giving me a smile, otherwise I’d have fainted.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Irrational State

Lately, I catch the wave of expectation: through the mediation of Cardinal Jaime Ortega we learned that Raul Castro would be willing to release some political prisoners of conscience -- the sickest, I dare imagine. This dialogue between the Catholic Church and the General is not by chance, but the consequence of the many moral crimes that have characterized the "young president," or as we might call him, “The Crown Prince.” 
Who remembers at this point the winds of political and economic changes that many saw in the new but almost octogenarian president? Far from the expected reforms he brought us a prisoner of conscience killed on a hunger strike, an intransigent Guillermo Fariñas who is firm in his ideals and ready to follow in the footsteps of Zapata Tamayo, a considerable increase in the abuses of the political police against the Ladies in White and, in consequence, the logical repudiation by international public opinion, which the official media insist on calling "the media campaign against Cuba." 
I have no expectations of good deeds from a state whose very existence demonstrates, still, the totalitarianism that sustains it. But though the mediation of the Church has not brought the fruits of freedom, I am happy that the representatives of the Catholic Faith in my country have taken a public stand against the abuses committed, with total impunity, by the Cuban State. 
Perhaps my approval of the dialog alone, without waiting for the results, is bit naive, given that the objective of these negotiations would be to find a middle ground that benefits both opponents (Raul Castro vs. Freedom), and evidently the free have not been invited to the talks. The Party Central Committee has kept the file “political coherence” under lock and key for a long time, I hope the Church remembers to carefully weigh this detail.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A People of Underage Children

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I look with distaste -- why deny it -- at the face of Ramiro Valdes on TV. This time it’s about the sermon to the workers in the construction sector. I barely take the trouble to listen any more, every time he speaks it’s to scold us, he and Machado Ventura have been transformed, you might say, into the nannies of the Cuban citizen: admonitions, punishments, threats.

It’s always the same old story: work harder, ask for less, don’t complain too much, show a fighting spirit, finish the work of the Revolution, don’t divert resources, don’t expect incentives, trust the leaders of the process, be faithful to the Party... It’s the authoritarian father lecture to his eternally underage children.

Doesn’t Ramiro wonder what the builders would eat if they didn’t “divert” some bricks to sell in the black market? The union leaders, it seems, turn a blind eye. Could it be that they too need a salary to survive? Why don’t they show a little courage and pass the baton to the “deadbeats” to tell their version of the workers’ paradise?

Instead of threatening to remove incentives and perks -- which only causes opportunism and double standards to flourish -- he should ask why the wages aren’t reason enough to work hard, to get better results, to increase production. Of course, he would do it the truth mattered to him, and if -- in addition -- he wasn’t confusing the National Union of Construction Workers with a nursery school.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

No Right To Show Her Face

It has become customary on our National Television News to see groups of people protesting in various parts of the world. It is ironic for us, Cubans, to see spontaneously mobilized sectors of a society on the news of the only information system we have a right to. It is both gratifying – we feel there are people out there who confront the powers-that-be with civil action; and saddening – we are suddenly made aware of our terrible loneliness, tiny beings compared to the omnipresent state.

The other day images flashed by of a protest by immigrants in the United States and some of the demonstrators were speaking to the cameras. One woman of about forty complained that she had spent several years in the country and was still undocumented, and if the immigration authorities found her she would be deported to her country. I looked at the television and thought, at times this island of mine grows in my mind and I forget what a small space we occupy in the world. How can a person say this in front of the camera? Now the agents will know her face and go looking for her wherever she hides!

I forgot that immigration officials, intelligence and counterintelligence, law, government, media and trade unions don’t all answer to the same entity, much less the same party, and that the political police – bless freedom – don’t exist. In my country, for example, the Cuban consulate has foot soldiers in Spain who send photos to the Cuban secret service and the Ministry of the Interior so they will know “who behaves well out there and who does not.” The guardians receive orders directly from State Security so that some “complicated” citizens cannot access public institutions, official journalists are fired from their jobs for publishing in sites critical of the official ideology, those who dare to report the news without asking permission can wake up one day sentenced to twenty years in prison, while political opponents bring the anger and reprisals of the whole Party Central Committee down on their heads.

I watch the illegals in the United States with their banners and defiant eyes and feel a twinge of envy, I know my neighbor would never dare to say in front of the lens what that woman just shouted to the whole world. My neighbor does not fear being deported, she has an identity card, a legal address and a face that, nevertheless, would show no disagreement under any circumstance.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Impunity of The Green

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

My friend was driving while I, at his side, enjoyed the rarity of traveling through Havana by car.  Dusk was falling and we crossed 41st and 42nd to catch 23rd Avenue in Vedado. Suddenly a Lada stopped pompously in the middle of 41st, blocking our way, and all those who were behind us.

I saw my friend’s hand impulsively reach for the horn while his eyes, following more rational orders, were focused on the license plate of the “Lord of the Street.” It only took a few seconds for his fingers to slip slowly, noiselessly, to his thighs.  I said sarcastically, “The impunity of the green.”

But he looked at me with eyes so full of sadness that it turned my sarcasm into a sadistic act. I felt badly.

In slow motion he moved the gear shift to reverse. With the “poof, poof, poof” of the exhaust pipe, we changed lanes very slowly, passing next to a soldier who didn’t even realize that there was a long line stuck behind him, as he chatted quietly.

I didn’t manage to see his face but his wristwatch lit up the whole street, just like Pedro Navaja's* tooth.

Disclaimer: The green license plates belong to the cars owned by the Ministry of Interior.

*Translator’s note: "Pedro Navala" is a Spanish version of the song “Mack the Knife”; “Peter Knife” has a gold tooth that shines brilliantly when he laughs.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pure Fun

Photo: Penúltimos Días

With a group of acquaintances we were talking about the repudiation rallies. We had everyone: radicals, moderates, and the “naïve”; I was, needless to say, in the first group. A girl was telling about how when she went to the marches she was sitting on the first grass she found like it was a picnic, and that she’d never shouted nor held up a slogan. Another related how his Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) said that on May Day they would march with their work colleagues, while the latter would say just the opposite. A boy told how he left his ex-girlfriend; she had called him to say she couldn’t see him that afternoon because she’d been called to go to a repudiation rally against the Ladies in White, which she couldn’t miss. They talked about it and the relationship ended before the phone call did. Another one, more subtle, an amateur creator of digital photo montages, showed his union “perfect” proof of his presence at the march.

At that moment one of those present confessed to having participated in a strange repudiation rally against the Czech embassy. She enumerated some of the slogans chanted, “Down with the lackeys” among others, and concluded, “If they only knew how little we care about the reasons for the rally; we’re there because we have no other choice and we amuse ourselves with the conga and the rhythm.” 

I almost fainted at such barbarity. How can a person be so oblivious? Is that how, now, a victim of the rally should see it? The person against whom they are screaming insults, obscenities, and in the best case, political slogans? Should they “imagine” that the screams are not what they seem, but simply a popular festival of students with grey matter floating in a vacuum?

Her comments stopped us in our tracks and for a few seconds everyone looked stunned, until someone managed to ask, “Who cares that you have fun at the expense of another’s shame?” But the girl didn’t understand. “I don’t know, do you think the people at the embassy were upset?”

We all find an excuse to leave. I didn’t say anything to her, perhaps she may start to analyze things the day her shout sticks in her throat at the moment she is screaming in my face.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Life With No Exit

Image: Guama

It has been nearly six years since I decided not to leave Cuba for good and it’s only today that I can calmly reflect on that moment. It was not a patriotic decision, nor a conformist nor a cowardly one, but rather completely irreverent. I still cannot find a single logical reason to justify the “I’m staying” that gives up the whole world. They say you can spend the rest of your life without weighing the consequences of your actions, but me, fortunately, I always knew: not leaving implies staying on the broken ship, drifting aimlessly, and assuming, also, that I will not be silent for a single moment while it sinks (I always was a bit of a rebel).

I threw the dice at my destiny and the random number that came up hasn’t haunted me: I have been happy. I abandoned my possible life “outside” – it’s an interesting syndrome we’ve been left with by geography and the revolution, “we are inside, the rest of the universe is outside” – and it didn’t leave me too many options: I could have spent the rest of my days climbing the ladder of opportunism or filling out useless papers in the Payroll Department at the Ministry of Education. I didn’t salute anything and ended up finding the recipe to survive the daily Armageddon without doing too much damage to my soul, and never thought any more about leaving.

But one day it wasn’t enough to keep my windows shut and barred, my almost perfect strategy for seeming invisible, my enormous pleasure in discovering that my neighbors didn’t know whether or not I and my world inside the walls existed: the intimate remained elusive, work poorly paid and, most of all, a bunch of sinister characters in my head wouldn’t stop saying that I was an inherent part of the ever-aging Revolution, heavy and omnipresent. I decided to open my blog because my bubble cracked, and still I didn’t analyze it too much.

Today I look at my refusal of permission to travel and it gives me peace: I was not hurt, not surprised. It is the long line that I have been drawing of my path, it’s the certainty that I wasn’t wrong, it’s the proof that the Cuban government has taken the trouble to give me so I will know, despite the Party and its State, the security forces and their impunity, that I have managed to live as a free woman.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Confessions Regarding a Utopian Journey

Wednesday May 5
I’ve spent recent days pulling together the papers to visit Germany, having been invited to participate in a meeting with bloggers from around the world. I wavered about whether or not to comment about it on my blog before finishing all the paperwork; my friends finally convinced me and today, after almost a month and a half, I am publishing this with the sensation of taking a cold shower on a blazing hot day.

To write about my time in the Ninth Circle (you readers on the other side can already imagine it) –  the prosaic, dark, dirty and absolutely indescribable Plaza Municipality Office of Immigration and Aliens – is a tremendous relief. Especially in this unpleasant place – whose name excludes my existence, because I am neither an alien nor have I the paperwork to emigrate – where on Tuesday I spent eight hours of my beautiful life being interrogated about my trip, my family, my husband, my studies and – even – how I connect to the Internet.

It could seem a slightly excessive number of hours, which is why I am going to tell you, in detail, the events from eight-thirty in the morning when my feet crossed the threshold of the deteriorated house on 17th between J and K, until four in the afternoon when I finally left with a migraine, a need to pee, eat, drink, sleep, along with sunstroke and a terrible desire to send it all to hell and sleep for a month.

Gentlemen, I swear to you that one day of asking for an exit permit is enough to kill any desire to travel anywhere.

I will tell you from the beginning: When the sun had not yet lit up the patio I arrived at the back door of Immigration; I had already passed, not without certain problems, the front door a few weeks earlier, the one where you “request” a passport… so “in request” we go. I presented my ID almost the last, because at that moment I knew that the line had started at the pre-crack-of-dawn hour of four in the morning. Luckily a wonderful surprise awaited me: an old friend just in front of me told me she was also “requesting,” so we kept each other company.

Before half past nine they already had all our papers: passport, ID card, letter of invitation and the bond – or I should say “BONÓN” (prepaid, with or without permission to leave and returned, in the case of a denial). As there are no signs, save one about A-H1N1 – oh, and a mural of the “Five Heroes” that would make Edvard Munch vomit – many of those who came lacked some paper, or didn’t know that after nine o’clock they didn’t take the cards, or they didn’t have the “BONÓN” (one unlucky person had the receipt but not the “BONÓN” itself, in some mysterious way the bank hadn’t given it to him). The most depressing were the elderly, with their canes in one hand and their papers in the other, confused, overwhelmed by the bureaucracy and the constant shuffling of people from one place to another.

At eleven in the morning I discovered that the bathroom was closed, “The toilet broke,” one those in a green uniform said. At noon the workers left for lunch until half past one, but one official kept working so I didn’t budge, having that fucking feeling that “they’re going to call me now and I won’t be here.” At two in the afternoon it was so sunny I had stop using the fan to fan myself so I could put it over my eyes. At two-thirty I nearly peed myself and left to find a bathroom. At three a diabetic lady next to me told me, “I can’t go without water.” At three-thirty the girl who had been there since four in the morning became hysterical and left, but fortunately returned a little later. It was almost four when they called me.

A very young soldier, with chain, a gold ring and earrings, and five-foot-long fake nails, met with me and asked me over and over about my studies, finally writing in my file, “ReSeeved classes to give classes.”  After that she obsessed about ‘Friendship on the Internet”:

“I have a lot of friends on the Internet.”
“How do you connect to the Internet?”
“Mostly in hotels.”
“What hotels?”
“Mostly the Cohíba and the Parque Central.”
“This information will be verified and if you are hiding anything your permission to travel will be denied.”

I smiled. How are they going to know if I connect in a hotel or if I have friends on the Internet? I have never been asked for my ID card to buy on-line time, and with regards to my private correspondence, unless they’ve hacked into my email I don’t see any other way to prove anything.

Then she inquired about my mother, my father, my husband and for a moment I suspect that my dogs Anastasia and Wicho would also star in her questions.

To conclude she pronounced:

“Come back within twenty days to see if you have been granted permission to travel.”
“Miss, in twenty days my visa will have already expired.”
“The information takes time to verify, wait here.”

She left and returned, “Come Friday to see if it’s done.”

As I left I saw the faces I had been watching sag more and more over the whole day, I wanted to say, “Goodbye and Good Luck” to each one, but I was a wreck. I didn’t look at the girl from four in the morning, I was ashamed that I had been called before her. Some drops of water suddenly started to fall, just a few but very fat.

My friend said, “What took you so long in there?”

“I don’t know, thanks for waiting, let’s go,” and I took her arm as we left, “without permission” to walk out in the drizzle.

Friday May 7
After an hour I knew I had to return the following Wednesday. Is it chance that it coincides with the day I should fly?

Wednesday May 12
At half past one I got to immigration, crowded with people as usual. About two they called me, the truth is that this time I can’t complain. However the voice that called me came from a distant door, not one nearby where I and all those waiting for our exit permits had previously given our ID cards.

There was some tension in the line on hearing the “Claudia Cadelo.”  As I had no idea where they were calling me from, I asked, “Where should I go?”

Someone told me, “Ask at that door, the one that corresponds.”

I opened it and a soldier barked at me:

“Why are you opening it without knocking?”
“But they called me.”
“Oh! Yours is on the other side.”

I walked over to the other side and a boy asked me,

“Are you the blogger?”
“Yes,” I answered with a smile and my nerves on edge, because the atmosphere was clearly “electric.”

They were already waiting for me at the door, after so many days of uneasiness and mistreatment the sudden friendliness was clearly “unusual.”

“Please, come this way. Could I close the grill after you? Thank you. You cannot travel at this time.”

I left and I could feel the support of all those waiting outside to be “summoned”; the boy who had asked me if I was the blogger said,

“I live in Spain and I follow your blog. Don’t let this get you down, don’t let them stop you.
“They won’t stop me, thanks.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Police Matters

There are few spaces in my city for public catharsis, moments that I enjoy to the fullest even though they are not numerous. It could be a bus stop, an interminable line for some absurd bureaucratic process, or simply a taxi for ten pesos.

The Old Havana-Vedado-Playa route is famous for the problems and delays on the buses – though clearly never as impressive as on the Vedado-Nuevo Vedado route where to catch “something” is agonizing – and because of this the availability of the private drivers goes a long way to relieving the inefficiency of public transport. With the brutal arrival of summer a few days ago, trying to get somewhere under the hot sun is irritating and the wait is unbearable. When you can’t take it any more and finally break down and decide to go the private route, it’s always more efficient.

The other day I was standing in the full sun on 23rd and decided to take a shared taxi, an almendrón. Inside it was full and the drops of sweat were running down everyone’s faces, but I felt the breeze of freedom from the moment I got in; the conversation was very animated and the topic: police abuses.

The driver told of the vicissitudes suffered by his wife during two hours in the cells at Zapata and C, having been “captured” by two uniformed cops while heading home with two quarts of yogurt, confiscated, and to make matters worse, held as a “black market merchandise” during her detention. A lady in the back seat detailed the inhumane conditions of her stay at the Zanja station, where she was taken for illegal possession of four bottles of bleach and two of hydrochloric acid. Another gentleman next to me complained that they had seized, in the Historic Center, his quota of toothpaste and cigarettes, which he unsuccessfully tried to sell.

For my part, I told them how once, while enjoying the sea with some friends in Guanabo, they stole all our belongings and we were left with just the bathing suits on our backs. We went to make a complaint at the station of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR), and as we didn’t have our identity cards we were detained until 10:00 at night.

I reached my destination quickly, the heat no longer bothered me so much and I delighted, at least for a few minutes, in the indescribable satisfaction you feel when you say what you think out loud.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Notice of the Municipal Prosecutor in Response to My Demand Regarding Cultural Apartheid During the Ninth Exhibition of Young Filmmakers


We hereby inform you that in relation to the claim made by you and received at our town hall last March 29, 2010, we take this opportunity to inform you that it has been decided by our our prosecutor to forward the same to the Provincial Prosecutor of the City of Havana, located on F Street at the corner of 25th, Plaza of the Revolution, who is competent to handle it and take the measures they deem appropriate.

Without other issue,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Studying Languages at Abraham Lincoln

Photo: Leandro Feal

Some years ago I studied French at Lincoln and had to pass an interview. I had been warned that the questions would be political and prepared my answers. I will not repeat the paragraph that I recited, I'll just say I passed without any problems.

Years pass and we forget these things, that story was buried deep in my brain until a few days ago when a friend called me and told me his own adventures in studying English.

It turns out that no one told him he would have an interview, much less about the political slant. So he sits down calmly with the professor who would test him.

“Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon. Can you tell me the names of the Five Heros?”
“Ummmmmm… it’s. I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

The interviewer frowned and looked down.

“Can you tell me the main points of the Battle of Ideas?”
“No, I don’t know.”
“What does the media war against Cuba consist of?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you mean.”

The professor glanced around, saw that the environment was “clean” and said:

“Son, is there anything political that you know?”
“Yes, but not what you are asking me about.”
“Look, you can’t enroll, go home, study hard, and come back.”

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Death That Never Should Have Been

Text: Ernesto Morales
Cuban journalist, living in Bayamo

The last images were fade-outs from a plane, a vision of an island parading along the Havana Malecon, and I noticed from that moment that my mood had changed drastically. The National Television News of Monday, March first, did it in one blow. Ten minutes before, I was living my own life and thinking of my own dead. But after seeing the helplessness in the eyes of Reina Luisa Tamayo, an elderly woman of dark skin and simple words, who from that second, I’m sure, still mourns for what a mother should never have to mourn – the death of her son – nothing could be the same as moments before.

If there is anything about the brazen hidden cameras to be grateful for – as they violated every ethical and moral precept, filming this woman during the medical consultation, showing her naïve hopes in those men in the white coats whom she asked to save her son – it is just this: it taught me to know her face.  To know her features to confirm what I already knew: this poor woman can not, could never, understand the death of her son Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the prisoner of conscience who, in my sad Cuba, stopped breathing last February 23, after 86 days on a hunger strike. At most, Reina Luisa knows the pain and now, probably the hate. But not much about the ideology or politics.

And she could not understand why the battered body of her son has to be covered with earth. Because not even I, not one civilized being, proud as we are of our species, can understand the death of a 42-year-old Cuban who died gasping, his body lacerated by the force of starvation, in order to claim with an epic bravery and, why not, somewhat orthodox, what from his simplicity he considered his inalienable rights. In short, what we would call a decent prison.

This death make us dizzy. It is disconcerting. This death that did not have to be hurts those of us who believe in the best of humanity, which is not about our ideological postures, but about our feelings.

And it leads me to question, inevitably, this Island that many inhabit with pride, others with sorrow, and others with the certainty that it all belongs to them. I think of civilized barbarity, and of how in the name of supposedly righteous causes, a Government can bring out the worst in those it governs: dehumanizing them.

Someone told me recently: we have a sick country. And I say: Yes, sick of apathy, of resentment, of degrading feelings. A country cannot be healthy where National Television shows on prime time news such ignominious material, and where after millions and millions of eyes see it, and millions of brains process it, it does not generate protests, nor even significant movements that question the event. That ask for real justifications for what is not said, for what it purposefully hidden.

I think: the author of such material, the journalist who lent her intellect to such infamy, lives in our country, certainly has a family, perhaps children. This journalist is miserably sick of lies.

Was it a repeated error, every time it was aired on several news programs, that its author was apparently not credited? Or did the same person decide, as a last minute precaution, to hide her identify behind an off-screen voice? Many identified her, assumed her well-known television presenter’s name, but she, suspiciously, preferred to hide it. I wonder how someone whose creed should be truth, someone whose watchword should be “objectivity,” can sleep at night after handling in this way a case that should provoke in all of us, at the very least, a wave of shame.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested during the infamous Black Spring. He did not figure among the commonly broadcast names of the 75 independent journalists imprisoned, because instead of a thinker, journalist or intellectual he worked as a humble bricklayer who engaged with frank radicalism in his labor of opposition, and who was sentenced initially for three years privation of liberty as a result of his public demonstrations against this wave of arrests in 2003.

Once behind bars, however, this sentence was increased to a staggering 25 years for disrespecting the authorities, terminology which in practice meant refusing to wear the inmate uniform and to be treated like a common prisoner. Since then, the former worker, born in Banes in the municipality of Holguín, figured as one of the recalcitrant "counterrevolutionaries," who refused to be treated as common criminal, and who maintained his intractable attitude to those who sought to bend him by force.

That was the genesis of the tragedy. Rather, its first act. The second and decisive act opened in December 2009, when Orlando Zapata formally declared a hunger strike.

What motivated this prisoner with his voluntary fast? The report on Cuban television said, coldly and contemptuously, that he wanted “a TV, a kitchen, and a telephone in his cell.” According to the words of his mother, what he fasted for was, “to have the same living conditions that Fidel Castro had when he was Fulgencio Batista’s political prisoner, The same living conditions of the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States.”

Perhaps Orland Zapata did not think that his resolution would send him headlong to death. But what I am sure of is that the authorities of Kilo 8 (the prison in Camagüey where he was being held) never imagined the stony determination of his position. Even as it cost him his life.

A story that does not explain causes cannot call itself journalism. The material exhibited on our television was dedicated to “dismantling” the argument that Zapata Tamayo was not seen by doctors when his condition required it. Nothing more. It was never explained to the millions of viewers how it was possible that the arrogance of a prison system would allow the progressive debilitation of a young man who was not asking for the impossible.

The question is not, “What did the Camagüey doctors do to try to restore life to a body desiccated by hunger?” We assume: a doctor who sits at the heart of the sacred should save lives, could not have done otherwise than to fight tooth and nail against a death that had already won every fight. The question is: “How is it possible that the doctors so unflinchingly ignored the claims of a prisoner whose crime was to think differently, so that from the moment he went into the hospital his deterioration made any attempt to save him futile?” Is it that Orlando Zapata Tamayo chose a slow and horrendous suicide? Is it that he didn’t love his life? Was it irresponsible, as they try to make us see on Cuban Television, that he didn’t measure the reach of his actions, that he did not feel the martyrdom of his hungry body?

I refuse to accept it. Orlando Zapata, a Cuban whom I never met, whose ideas, principles or human values I do not know, whose conduct I cannot even assess objectively due to the disinformation and manipulation to which the official press of my country condemns these issues, Orlando Zapata had the courage, which in “Cuban” translates as “he had the balls,” to live consistent with his ideas. He knew how to do what so many worn out slogans and so many phrases from the podium cannot encompass with their rhetoric: give his life for a cause.

The television report should be stored in our minds. When a person who knows how to build a better country remembers this, the example will teach us how far we can go. How far? Even to publicly showing the hidden camera films of this desperate woman, who was grateful for every word of encouragement that would give her back her faith in the life of her son, and whose words (or those they tried to make her words) would be aired without the least respect for her integrity, her rights, her pain. To present, one more time, private telephone conversations, taped in a zealous spying process too similar to the one the official Cuban press criticized George W. Bush for, with the difference that at least the intelligence service of the nefarious president hid those recordings. They did not air them on prime time television in the United States.

Can they stoop any lower? They can: behind the photo of Orlando Zapata shown on the screen, an image of an evil frown zealously chosen to present to the Cuban public, the author of the material contrasted it with one of those marches of the multitudes Cubans know so well. Those million Havanans who slithered along the Malecon, in the visual language of this report, strongly disputed Zapata Tamayo. They disputed him, according to the exact words of that ethereal voice-over, with fists high, in response to his blackmail and provocations.

Not a single opposing opinion. Not one argument to the contrary. Not one witness to the living conditions of this prisoner of conscience and what led to his fatal protest. That is, Orlando Zapata was not a “plant” who refused to accept the status of a common criminal and demanded his rights. No. Orlando Zapata was a victim of those who infected him with this idea of rebellion, of the degenerate counterrevolutionaries who pushed him to his death. It’s that simple.

For these captors of the truth, the principle of disagreement with their ideas is a concept so vague, so lacking, that only in this way can they understand that a 42-year-old Cuban would paralyze his stomach to claim the right to be treated with respect. Only in this way: like an irresponsible person. A naïve person exploited by the real enemy

Once again, as Eduardo Galeano would say: Cuba hurts.

We grieve for those who don’t accept that things like this are possible, that deaths like this happen, that suffering like this takes place under our noses. We grieve for those who believe that instead of burying people with different opinions, now is the time to disinter their ideas and build, with all of them, the clever and the crazy, the shrewd and the obvious, a more plural and tolerant nation.

And it should pain everyone who thinks of Marti, a prisoner at sixteen, a victim of abuse and cruelty, for being a political opponent. It should pain everyone who thinks of Mandela, imprisoned for 28 colossal years for opposing the ideas of an exclusionary system. Yes, for being an opponent. It should be felt in the flesh of every decent Cuban, because one more of us, one of those born under the same sun, who built houses with his hands, who suffered shortages and laughed out loud, who drank rum once in a while, perhaps, and who dreamed of a country other than that imposed on him, who died a death that never should have been.

If our flag wasn’t sold for hard currency in this tropical Cuba, and in consequence, if each one of us would raise it somewhere in our homes, raise it to half-staff (although this was not a leader nor a famous man) it would be a just way to maintain a dignified silence before the death of this unknown man. It would be a way to preserve our last wealth: human dignity.

And against that, no ill-fated reporting can do anything.

Note: I read this article for the first time along with the interview that Ernesto conducted with Yoani and Reinaldo. I had never met him but his texts make me feel like I’ve known him my whole life. Sign here for Freedom for the Political Prisoners of Conscience.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Last May Day at the Plaza...

Image: Garrincha

It was April 31, I was seventeen and was walking in celebration with a friend. She studied medicine and was obliged to go. She insisted I accompany her and I couldn’t resist: I gave in.

At about three o'clock in the morning we reached the point where we would meet up with the rest of her department. Unfortunately the Girón students – along with the unlucky Lenin students – belonged in what we jokingly called “the infantry battalions,” that is at the front of the march.

It was not yet dawn when we reached the Plaza and as it had been several years since I’d been to the marches I was behind the times. The first shock was a man in a red T-shirt who came out of nowhere and shouted at each student, “Put this on!” while handing over a red shirt identical to his.

I didn’t want to put it on and then the incredible happened: two strangers parted the Red Sea, picked me up by my shoulders, deposited me at the edge of the group and before finally letting me go declared, “If you don’t want to wear it you can’t be here.”

Feeling different among the sameness, colorless among the red, alone in the crowd, and young, I began to whimper.  Interestingly I wrote everything that happened on the 486 computer I had at the time; now I think that perhaps that could have been my first post...

The Return of the Egg

One of my first impressions from the change of “president” was the vanishing of the vendors – and their products – from around my house. Eggs, clothespins, brushes, mugs, cheese and yogurt all disappeared in this crazy war against the black market with which Raul Castro began his mandate.

Since then, buying something as simple as an egg has become agony, from mile-long lines to bringing them from some remote place in the city. The hawkers fled from my window and I resigned myself to doing without them.

Today at nine in the morning I thought I was dreaming, a woman’s voice was shouting, “Eggs! Eggs!”

I opened my eyes and realized that the sound was not coming from my subconscious. My reality reassembled itself as people once again take on the risk of selling things. I jumped up, shouting,

“I’m coming!”