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.