Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Long Vacations and My First Story

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I spent weeks debating with myself about taking a serious break from Octavo Cerco. I don’t want to be melodramatic but it is surprising how what began as an exercise in personal freedom has been transformed into a tremendous responsibility. I don’t like it to be so. Because I write because I because it keeps me grounded and not because a week has gone by since I posted.

I finished my personal debate, and have come to the basic conclusion that it’s time for a rest. Between the government, summer and the island I almost lost control last week. No way. I am going to sleep 12 hours a day, and try to stop smoking, take a break from the National News on TV and the newspaper Granma (these last two measures are an imperative for me), and I am going to finish my second story.

Meanwhile, I ask for the forgiveness and understanding of everyone (the trolls and other vermin on the network: don’t chew your fingers, it’s just a little break) and I leave you Pavimento, my first little story, published in Number 8 of Voices magazine, under the pseudonym of Dalila Douceca.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gimme Light

I’m so accustomed to the lack of information in our media that when I hear a story, not just of current national or international importance -- as one can’t ask for so much -- but of something as simple and useful as the repairs that occasion power outages, or about water shortages in certain areas of the city, I’m surprised. By the way, this kind of information -- highly advantageous for making life easier for citizens -- is only aired on the Havana channel. Sadly, I don’t get that channel at my house so I’m obliged to watch it when I’m visiting friends. 

A few weeks ago I heard on the news for the first time a detailed explanation of the water shortages we inhabitants of Havana are suffering, particularly in the central neighborhoods and of course in Vedado where I live. It even made me happy, because they’ve always treated us so badly that the mere fact of announcing a lack of drinkable water during certain hours is appreciated. In general, you wake up one day to no gas, or water, or electricity, and you don’t know why. With any luck, you discover the cause of the failure several hours later.

I prepared, obviously, for the following day and filled my reserves: buckets and plastic jars adorned my kitchen and my bath to weather, as best as possible, the absence of the vital liquid. But when the sun came up I was surprised to find water in the pipes, and by mid-morning -- don’t let anyone believe that in Cuba this comes as a surprise -- the lights went out and didn’t come back on until dawn of the following day. In the end, I don’t even regret not hearing any information about the shortages that affect us, I prefer the confusion of filling up buckets when I should be out buying candles.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What More Could One Ask For?

Images: Garrincha
By Boris Gonzales Arenas

Soon we'll have
according to our president
five-year terms
with an extension pending.

Raul said so after
meditating before the sewer
“there must be urgent changes
will two hundred years be enough?”

My uncle in Carlos III,
a descendent of slaves,
made a sure gesture,
that it itches and spreads. 

“It’s difficult to predict
when the bosses will get fed up
or when a sleeping people
will become enraged."
Watch, watch... see if you can guess where I have the change you want... Watch...

"They will add hovels
swarming the slums
and thousands of dissidents
judged as criminals"

"From the parading tanks
they will remove the treads
and put modern tires,
the war will be on the pavement.”

A group that philosophizes
doesn’t understand so much fallacy
thus it was named
it was called copropraxia.

While waiting
I drink my coffee
mixed with peas and beans
they will leave me without it

And at the end of all this
-- this poet asks --
through which sacred slot
do we shove them the ballot.

21 June 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Photo: Lía Villares
Everyone has their sillinesses, their addictions, their moments of relaxation. There are those who watch three soap operas simultaneously, others spend a great part of the day with their ears glued to the phone, and many--they tell me--would give an arm and a leg to be connected to the Internet twenty-four-seven; the latter suffer from an illness called “geographic misfortune.”  For my part, I don’t like soap operas, I have no time to talk on the phone, and of course, even if I wanted to, the Internet is a kind of platonic and impossible love I’ve longed for, for many years. I plan my Sundays punctiliously. As my mother says, “rain or shine” at half past nine in the evening I plop myself in front of the TV to watch the one series that interests me: CSI at the scene of the crime. It’s all the same to me if it’s in New York or Las Vegas, I’m an indisputable fan.

Last Sunday, five minutes late and remorseful for having missed the opening scene, I turned on the screen. I love it all: the music, the script, the characters and the technology they use. Can you imagine my face--it’s a shame I was alone--when instead of hearing the theme music by U2 that opens each episode, along with fast-paced editing, I find some sepia images and a Cuban cop, billy club and all, on the screen? At the same time, on the same channel, they decided to substitute for CSI a program called “In the footsteps,” a pathetic series produced by the Ministry of the Interior, all rights reserved and everything.

Beyond disappointing all the viewers--because the difference in quality between the two programs would be, lets say, the same as that between Playita 16, a rough little stretch of sand, rocks and concrete along the waterfront here in Havana, and the world-class beaches of the resorts of Varadero--they must be unaware of their own limitations.  Perhaps some standard-bearer could offer a phrase from Jose Marti: “Our wine is bitter but it’s our wine.” (I’d like to offer a joke, “Our wine is bitter, they must import it.”) But humility is also an exercise of intelligence and, obviously, is one of the virtues lacking at the Interior Ministry.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Floating in Nothingness

Yoani Sanchez
I have no desire to write. I scold myself. Since I learned that Coco Fariñas is on a hunger strike I have been floating above the city. I can’t even call him on the phone and only yesterday I managed to send him a message. I’m a coward. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel that at the Central Committee of the Communist Party they’re keeping a bottle of champagne, planning to pop the cork if he dies.

I spend my nights in front of the TV. I alternate between “The Halfway House” by Guillermo Rosales and the potato harvest. At times I have the impression that my life is one of the dreams of Rosales’ character William Figueras, where he was always Fidel Castro. I change the channel obsessively but always end up at the News or the Roundtable. Between Machado Ventura saying we need to end illegal housing in reserved zones (reserved for what? I wonder) and an ad about semi-mechanized agriculture (i.e. a peasant with a yoke of oxen) I can't contain my nausea.

I have a presentiment about the doctors’ statements--the cynicism and double standards of fear--false statements about the patient’s condition, the expense accounts of the intensive care wards, the lies about a criminal past, in short, a media lynching. I imagine us so small against the wall that sometimes I can’t breathe. Every day in the street someone says to me just a little bit longer and makes a joke, it’s the only thing that gives me the strength to go on.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Race

Photo: Leandro Feal
It happened in 1990 when he was seven. The world, although not perfect, was innocent and playful. His parents were doctors, working night and day and surviving badly during those hard years at the beginning of the Special Period. Many criticize only children and the personalities we develop as adults and he, in the end the only son, enjoyed all the love and mischief at home. In the mornings, Mom made breakfast and got him out of bed, Dad adjusted the seat of the Chinese model 28 bicycle and with the morning dew still on the grass, one left for the school and the other for the hospital.

At night the company alternated depending on the shifts: with Mom he read stories and with Dad he played on the floor. Sometimes in the middle of the night he would wake up at the sound of lock and see one of his parents arrive home in a white coat, bike in tow. Other times they pulled him out of bed at dawn to give him a goodnight kiss, having come home after three in the morning.

One night his father didn’t come home. It was nearly dawn when they received a call from the hospital: he was dead. It’s difficult to take in mortality at seven, but even worse to know the story of an absurd death. It turned out Dad was coming home on his bicycle on 26th, while some boys, untouched by the collapse of the Cuban economy, were racing their fathers’ Ladas along the Avenue. The cars racing full speed took the life of a man who had spent the night saving lives. The death was swift.

The culprits went to trial--oh yes!-- except for one small detail: they were acquitted of all charges, keeping their drivers’ licenses and everything. Perhaps they were not only children, but their parents had been given the task of spoiling them, and took pleasure in converting them into “The Sons,” the untouchables, those who can actually trumpet their races from one end of the island to the other and never pay for anything. People call them “Daddy’s children,” and compared to them, the myth of the only child is nothing.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Voces 8

28 May 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Havana - New York

"I'm a worm*. I'm popular." [*Fidel's term for Cubans who leave Cuba.]
I met her in 2004, we had a mutual acquaintance, a neighbor of mine. She spent her life in clubs and at concerts, always with boys who came to collect her in a car. I liked her, she was fun. In the afternoons when she woke up sometimes she’d come and have coffee at my house. With her parents abroad, she lived without working and even though she was sometimes short of money, her nights out weren’t affected because the men paid. 

Chance, that had one day put us in the same neighborhood, separated us. For years I didn’t hear from her and thought, as is common on this island, that she’d left the country. Recently we ran into each other and I discovered I was right, she lives in New York now and comes to Cuba on vacation. I don’t know what happened, Cubans find so many ways to run away from this land that I don’t even take the trouble to inquire, though the stories can be funny, but also very sad and sinister. Also, I’m a little sensitive on the topic of emigration, wondering who will be here beside me in ten years, when all my friends have left.

In the short time we shared, she told me that she worked a great deal over there, and that generally speaking, she’s considered a communist. “Communist?” I exclaimed, “You were a big fat worm. What happened to you?”

“The system in the United States,” she said, “is inhumane, here it’s better, more humane.”

I looked at her with my mouth hanging open. She doesn’t like the new country where she lives because she has to work; in Cuba she didn’t have to because she was a kept woman. How can you use politics to justify your own inability to be productive?

“I don’t agree with you,” I said, trying to contain the passion that comes over me when people come from a democracy and tell me fairy tales about the dictatorship. “Sure, a lot of people don’t work because the salary is ‘inhumane’ and no one is interested in breaking their back for nothing. But still it seems very good to me that you have to work to earn your own bread. It’s normal.”

“Cubans don’t like to work,” she replied, and then I knew that because she didn’t want to work she assumed everyone else didn’t want to either. What a capacity for generalization!

Before we parted she told me she was about to have an operation. I assumed it would be in Cuba, given what a humane government we have. You can’t even imagine my surprise when she exclaimed, “No! I’m having it over there!”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One More Number in the Statistics

Breakfast: 1 C. coffee with milk, 1 tsp sugar, 1 fruit, 1 bread, 1 tsp. butter or mayonnaise. Lunch: 3 large spoons rice; 1/2 C. vegetables; 1/2 C. squash, beets, or carrots; meat, chicken, fish, egg or liver; salad, eat freely; 4 tsps. jam. Dinner same as lunch. Snacks: 1 C milk or yogurt, 1 tsp sugar, fruit. 
E. is 38 and pregnant. She feels like one more number in the statistics. The other day she called me when she was leaving the polyclinic to say she was coming over. They couldn’t do any more. Half the tests couldn’t be done because they didn’t have the reagents, even though they sent the prescription paper back smeared with someone else’s blood. She’d been up since five in the morning and at ten still hadn’t had breakfast, and to top it off the doctor asked her, “Honey, why did you wait so long to give birth? Now I have to do an electrocardiogram.”

The first thing she said when she saw me was, “I thought the state of education was bad, but now that I’ve come up against the public health system...” E. is like me, very small, but much skinnier. Before her pregnancy she weighed 89 pounds and now, at two months, she weighs 113 and her hemoglobin count is 12.5. Still, the nutritionist thinks she is underweight and has recommended “moving into a maternal home.” She gave her a copy of a diet to follow to the letter. When she showed it to me I started to laugh, but to her there was nothing funny about it.

She has to get up at seven in the morning to have breakfast and this first meal of the day includes a tablespoon of mayonnaise, whose nutritive properties are unknown to me. Throughout the day she must must meet the standard of six large spoons of rice and two ladles of beans (half at lunch and half at dinner, every day until the baby comes). Meat is not defined by quantity and she must eat a half cup of guava jam every day.

I wonder if the diet is to nurture her or to fatten her up. Probably the doctor isn’t authorized to recommend eating certain products like meat or much fish, but at least they should have the decency not to put pregnant women on diets designed to fatten turkeys to make foie gras. In response to the psychologist’s long awaited, “How do you feel?” E. answered, “Fine, but I’d feel better if I didn’t have to come to this polyclinic any more.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Day Abroad

Photo: Leandro Feal
She arrived in Cuba at the end of the seventies in love with the Revolution. She married a general and settled in the island paradise to make her dreams come true. She always rubbed elbows with the higher-ups, the so-called Nomenklatura, and spent the last thirty years as if she were a princess. Perestroika, Glasnost, the fall of the Berlin Wall and later the collapse of the Socialist block came to her like echoes from distant Europe, which she had wisely left behind.  From her house in Siboney she heard the litany of the Special Period, but when she drove her Lada down Fifth Avenue things didn’t look so bad. Though the electricity often went out she bought a generator and, as always, her husband supplied the home bodega with imported products. The same as always.

She made some women friends, almost all from the Communist Party. But by the beginning of the new century few remained in Cuba and all had given up their political posts and the Party. Politics had never been a topic of interest among them, rather food, creams, the beach and the good life. Gradually the shortages invaded their conversations: Who cared about the blue sea and the white beaches of Varadero if there wasn’t even an egg to put on the table? This animal of discord, this political beast, wouldn’t leave her alone.

One day she decided to give her friends a special day: the beach, a restaurant, a hotel. They left early in the morning and returned late at night. When they got out of the car one of them said with satisfaction, “Thanks for this marvelous day abroad!” It was the last time they saw each other.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Student

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
How do I relate the horror? The last image I have of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia is of him at my side running around under the Santa Clara’s relentless sun. We tried to get permission from the Bishop so that Padre Dominico--who had come halfway around the world to get to Cuba--could go see Guillermo Fariñas in Intensive Care at the scheduled visiting hours. At the church they told us that State Security was in charge of giving out permissions, and at State Security they told us it was the Bishop.

Now I look at the photo in Penultimos Dias of the Student and I don’t recognize him. It must be that I refuse to accept that they beat him to death. It must be that I can’t admit that this time of horror has come to this Island. I must be that I don’t have the ability to look death--murder--in the face. And I ask myself--is it the obvious uncertainty of rationalism--how many Wilfredos have there already been and how many are still to come? While sitting in a park, an incomprehensible crime, the massive weight of half a century of police impunity falling on his body.

Anonymous faces in blue. For a long time people have feared them more than the thieves, scammers and criminals. “Call the police” has become the last card in the deck. Because justice does not come with them. Because they are not here to protect us, but to control us at any price. Because they are corrupt and they are unafraid to dirty their hands, which in any event are almost all already dirty.

What are we going to ask of the National Revolutionary Police now that we have seen them force into a patrol car of the “new” State power the former Minister of Health, “compañero” Balaguer with his line of twenty-six dead of starvation and cold at the psychiatric hospital; now that we have seen the government, on national TV, justify the death of a man on hunger strike? What can we ask of the police except that they not kill us?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


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

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

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

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

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Same Names

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Me? A Soldier?

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

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011


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

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

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

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Conclusions

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Problem is Cultural

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Meeting With Jimmy Carter

Source: Wikipedia

The first time I heard Jimmy Carter was in 2002. My memories are hazy but one moment sticks in my mind from his speech at the University of Havana’s Great Hall. It still makes me laugh to remember Hassan Perez -- who at the time hadn’t yet been ousted and was still heading up the Young Communist League -- launching a supposed question at the president, fired off in a machine gun staccato and lasting about three minutes. Carter gently asked him to repeat it, apologizing for not having understood. It was an historic day for Cubans, because in the full light of Cuban television we learned about the Varela Project and that Osvaldo Paya had collected eleven thousand signatures to change the Cuban Constitution. The Varela Project was ignored and vilified by the government, the Constitution was changed for the worse, and the Black Spring arrived. I was twenty.

Yesterday at the Hotel Santa Isabel I had the honor of meeting Jimmy Carter, to listen to him and for him to listen to me. And I also had the tremendous satisfaction of sharing the table with many of those who have for many years -- longer than myself -- pushed for things on this tired island to change. Men and women who have spent their whole lives gathering the grains of sand to save civil society, for the respect of civil rights, who have suffered imprisonment and sacrificed their personal dreams in pursuit of the dreams of an entire nation.

I know Jimmy Carter does not hold in his hands the solutions for all of Cuba. I know that despite all those who have left their souls by the side of the road for this land, we are still suspended in a strange half-century “Revolution.” But meetings like today’s remind me that no matter how much we lack, there is a light at the end of the road.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Legacy

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
Havana has been asleep since I was born. I like to stand at the end of Calle 12 and look at the line the sea draws in the distance. Almost all my friends live, or intend to live, on the other side of that line. Where my eyes cannot go.

I read “The Color of Summer” by Reinaldo Arenas and I feel myself stuck beyond the fiction. I’m happy, in a way, that Reinaldo has not seen his novel come true, with fifty-two years of Revolution. I am a kind of character after the Grand Carnival. We are all survivors of the pages he didn’t write, because for him fifty was a number too large, too round. We’ve already lost the idea of whole numbers, of all numbers.

I live the sensation of breathing a change, but I cannot know. It seems I’m at the end, but I open my eyes and in reality it’s no more than the beginning. Things end, people age, cities change, and ideologies die. But there are days when I wake up with the impression of having woken up the day before.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

TV Appearance

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Appearing on television is always an event in the life of an ordinary person. I thought I would be fearful, nervous, anxious. But when I saw my blog header and my photo on “Cuba’s Reasons” I was proud. I think there are many political texts in my blog Octavo Cerco which don’t hesitate to use words like totalitarianism, autocracy and impunity, and there are others where I don’t hesitate to mock Fidel Castro, Raul Castro or others I find disagreeable in the shameless Cuban government. But for some incomprehensible reason they twice showed the interview I did, about his novel Havana Underguater, with Erick J. Moto a Cuban science fiction writer who has repeatedly won national awards. Who can understand State Security?

In Yoani’s case, a detailed mention of each of her awards only served to demonstrate that she doesn’t need financing because her talent is internationally recognized by prestigious institutions. The sum of half a million at the end stunned me because, although I’m not good at arithmetic, it seemed they added a few extra zeros at the end. But if Yoani Sanchez becomes a millionaire with her prizes and continues to use her income to support the development of free access to information, breaking the state monopoly on it, and opening avenues for civil society in Cuba, then they can put three more zeros to the number shown on television.

On the other hand, State Security’s technique of putting attractive names on their blogs and sites so that search engines will find them, while very useful on the Internet, but on Cuban television seen by thousands of citizens have never entered the network of webpages -- and contrary to the words of Elaine Diaz, they need to and badly -- one wonders if “Changes in Cuba,” “The Unknown Island,” and “The Digital Debate are these not titles sufficiently controversial to be seen as counterrevolutionary.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Me and the Soap Opera

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan 
When a state decides to aim all its weapons at a citizen there is little he can do about it. Without access to the mass media, in a country with low Internet connectivity, with arbitrary laws against freedom of expression and with the impunity to defame, distort, lie and lay waste on national television to those who think differently, the possible victims’ options are limited.

On Monday it fell to Dagoberto Valdés, director of Coexistence magazine and also one of the brilliant minds of our battered civil society. Who’s next? No one knows.  Only when we see our faces discredited in trashy images on the program “Cuba’s Reasons,” will we learn whether or not we are actors in this drama.

I live on a confused island. There is nothing better than misinformation to sow confusion. So last week I was a bit upset: between the commentators on my blog who accuse me of being State Security, and State Security who accuses me of being a “rabid counterrevolutionary” -- the exact words said in an interrogation of a friend -- and the uncertainty of seeing myself on television, I was about to lose my cool. A luxury, of course, that I can’t afford because I have to take this, as the refrain says, “like a good sport.”

The era of the Serpas and Fontes is over for me. I don’t care who is and who isn’t State Security. I don’t care one whit what they put on TV. It makes no never mind to me if I’m sitting on the grass of G Street, or panic-stricken in a repudiation rally. I've hung up my gloves, I've said enough, this is as far as I go. I continue free in my blog, writing to be happy, to be grounded, and to dream of a new Cuba because, in any event, they’re already in retreat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nameless Animal

Photo: Leandro Feal
Last October 16 my blog turned three years old. As is normal for me, I forgot the anniversary -- I always forget important dates which has cost me dearly but that’s my head -- but I can’t stop feeling, every day, that Octavo Cerco is my luxury. The ineffable luxury of writing whatever occurs to me in Cuba, as Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo would say, post-everything. I reached the point of going out to buy a copy of Granma. This so-called newspaper that provokes spasms of disgust in my friends has become, for me, study material.

I have not lost my fear of State Security and from time to time I fall into states of paranoia, but I’m doing what I want. I watch the soap opera “Cuba’s Reasons” and relax: They reach levels of paranoia and fear unknown to me. I’ve lost the fear of the nameless political animal on this island. I speak of what I want when I want and I discovered, on the weekend, that this could be disturbing.

There are many cases of self-described “revolutionaries,” Communist Party members and even once zealous fighters who once told a free electron like me: “Be careful with your words, you’re putting your life and the lives of those you love at risk.” Who is really the “worm”: Me, who says what I think? Or those who believe in a system with the ability to “eliminate” people like me?

Although these are not the ones who leave me speechless, because there is a whole generation of terrorized communists without faith in yesterday, today and tomorrow. Rather than being brainwashed by a third party, they wash their own brains every morning before leaving the house and so they survive. What makes me gulp are those who “set everything aside,” those who swing their hips to the rhythm of national decadence and when they hear a political lyric they turn down the volume and shout: “Not for me! Politics is nothing to me!” But then they get up the next morning and curse, quietly, a new dawn of their bodies in Havana.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blue Sky

Photo: Leandro Feal
The blue sky is so intense it blinds me. It’s not hot. The sea below, and the line of the horizon perfectly straight. Today Havana is beautiful. This island doesn’t deserve this, I say out loud without realizing it. I smile and think I don’t deserve it either, nor the guy who crosses the sidewalk in front of me. No, he doesn’t deserve this either.

Power, the worst drug in the world. I imagine Raul Castro renouncing his positions at the Party Congress... dreams cost nothing. I walk through Lennon Park and a teenager tells a group of girls that she took part in the repudiation rally against the Ladies in White last Sunday, that she insulted them. I stop short. I’m wearing earphones to avoid hearing the stupidity of people like this, but it manages to get into my ears and drill into my brain.

I turn off the music, walk back and ask her, “Why did you scream at the Ladies In White?”

She’s afraid.

“I don’t know, everyone was screaming.”
“No, not everyone. I never screamed. Why did you scream?”
“I don’t know.”

She was ashamed. Her friends were perfectly silent.

“Next time think better of it,” I say and leave.

The sky was as blue as blue, and although I could no longer see the ocean I sensed it -- we islanders always sense it -- and it still wasn't hot. Paradise, I thought, paradise in hell. I look at the girls from afar. No, they don’t deserve it, not even they deserve it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Waiter

Art Work: Luis Trápaga
My friend came from Europe and we went out to eat together. While waiting for her husband we asked for a drink and after a while the waiter asked her:
- Is the drink good?

Though I, too, had finished my drink he wasn’t interested in my opinion. My friend was insulted. I laughed.

Her husband came and we ordered. Once more the waiter approached the table and asked her:
- Do you like the food?

I lost my composure. I started laughing out loud and the guy looked surprised. I remembered the joke about the man who goes to a psychiatrist and tells the doctor that people ignore him, the doctor looks at the door and shouts, “Next!”

We asked for the check and, for the third time, he returned to the theme:
- Did you like the place?

This time I answered:
- I liked everything except the fact that you only asked her.
- It’s because I don’t speak English. Could you ask her in English if she liked the food?
- I’m not talking about her, I’m saying you should have asked me too.
- It’s because I don’t speak English.

My friends ended up laughing too, the waiter was happy with his work and I discovered what it means to speak the same language and not understand. I left asking myself, with some uneasiness, what we Cubans have come to.

Friday, March 4, 2011

All the Guilt I Carry Today

Photo: Lia Villares

The guilt under the skin, in the air, in a look, in a walk. The guilt that bounces off the guilt of others. The guilt of no one of each one of everyone. His guilt, grandpa’s, the coma’s, the unnameable’s, the reflector’s, the beardedpapa's... his great guilt.

The guilt for the broken streets, the heat, the sea. The guilt for the nonsense and the olive-green. The guilt for staying, for leaving, for running, for fleeing, for dying. The guilt for the Malecón, the heat, the joy, the grief. The guilt for living, surviving, returning, starting, never ending.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

State Security's Soap Opera

Translation of Audio:
Voice of "Carlos": Claudia, it’s the independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira.  I’m here in Isla de Pinos where I was beaten and detained by the authorities.  Please, my cell phone number is 52914540.  Please, I tried contacting Yoani, I sent her a message.  Help me with this.  Take care, Serpa.
Voice of Claudia: Tell me, what do you think of that? Voice of Yoani: We should send him a message saying 'what a spy', 'what a low life'.

State Security has launched a soap opera entitled “Cuba’s Interests,” and it’s awful. Whoever wrote it -- oh my -- was included like an extra in the script. Above I’ve posted the message Carlos Serpa -- confessed agent -- left on my answering machine the day before Saturday night’s premier on Cubavision, which exasperated half of Havana which doesn’t want to hear even one more second of ideological propaganda on television.

I mean really, Villa Marista is in need of an image manager and also a speech therapist. Perhaps they are short on budget and human resources, but it’s important -- say I -- that people know how to talk, especially when they are giving speeches or launching themselves as tropical-James-Bond-style soap opera actors. Nothing is as depressing as the vulgarity, the lack of education, the trashy accents of the latest characters who have made their leaps to fame from the ranks of State Security. If these are the presentable ones, what do the ones we don’t see look like? The Ministry seems more and more like a zoo, the officials poor classless puppets that the system moves at will, like pawns. The last remaining pawns: The snitches.

Who is paid for being a snitch? That’s the harsh reality facing Power, because the human qualities of those who accept such work at this stage of the championship leave much to be desired: Twisted principles, lacking values, shameless, amoral, uneducated, vulgar and extremely mediocre and envious, two feelings that always seem to go hand-in-hand.

Friday, February 25, 2011


There are two Cubas, one in which nothing ever happens, and another in revolt, boiling over, which never stops sending me signals of change. My life moves from one to the other and I can never be sure which of the two is real. In any case, the dome over our heads is shaking. And to know it, you don’t need any proof other than the fear that permeates Cuban Television, the Nation Television News, the streets full of State Security agents, the strange blackout in the Chaplin movie theater -- site of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition -- on February 23, the first anniversary of the hunger strike death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the numerous arrests of short duration, the absolute paranoia of those trying to hang on to the ownership of the island where I was born.

They look with bewildered eyes on the Middle East, the teetering -- once again -- of the world’s dictators, and here the fright of those on high reaches even us. I watch the TV in horror as they don’t condemn the assassination of civilians, accuse the protesters of being “young people manipulated by the west,” justify the murders committed by the army, and end by supporting the world’s dictatorships in their killings to maintain control.

You don’t have to be overly suspicious to catch the rhythm of fear: they have called together young people from the Communist Youth League and read them the riot act, and at night the vans of State Security troll the streets of Vedado and ask to see the ID of every suspicious boy, which turns out to be every boy, because for the elderly who wield control in Cuba anyone under thirty is considered dangerous.

I always thought fear was our sword of Damocles and that the government looked upon us like trembling and defenseless lambs. I have discovered that the trembling of the shepherds is greater than that of the sheep. That in the Central Committee the paranoia and fear have become State policy. Although they try to appear comfortable in the chairs of totalitarianism, they know the wood is rotten and is going to disappear. The Dinosaurs are going to disappear.*

*Los Dinosaurios, by Charly García

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Bus Stop

Claudio Fuentes Madan
Normally, the #27 bus picks people up at 23rd and 12th, just outside a building where Cubans learned, one day, that the Revolution was nothing more and nothing less than communist. Sure, they called it “The Declaration of the Socialist Character of the Revolution,” but bearing in mind that behind every character was the Soviet Communist Party, everyone knew what was coming.

Fifty-plus years later the benches of the monument serve only to wait for the Old Havana-Cerro route and this with some uncertainty, because two balconies have already fallen off the building. A few weeks ago--perhaps fearing that some balcony might fall on the head of a passenger and create a cursed atmosphere around the proclamation--they started to repair it. The #27 bus now stops in a new place at 21st and 12th. As none of this is published anywhere, except for neighborhood residents and regular riders, everyone think the bus stops wherever. Lately there have been two lines, one that is visible from my window and the other in the midst of construction debris.

The driver complains that he has to stop and open the doors twice and yells at people, “The stop has changed! It’s at 21st and 12th now!” An offended woman responds, “Everything in this country changes and no one hears about it.”

The driver is surprised, “Did you change something lady? Because I think nothing here has changed at all.”

Right about then, I, who can't pass up the opportunity, put in my two cents and said, “Don't worry, change is just around the corner."

The woman looked at me, smiling, and the driver added, “From your lips to God's ears, Sweetie, from your lips to God's ears.”

Friday, February 18, 2011


Claudio Fuentes Madan
I feel sorry for people who come up to me to offer an opinion about my country after they’ve been here 72 hours. Especially when they sum up the reality in three sentences and a “harmonic” vision of the island, acquired after a national tour that includes, of course, Varadero, Trinidad and  Viñales. I count to three, then twenty, then fifty. I don’t know Trinidad, I detest Viñales -- especially because a mile from it there’s city without electricity and drinkable water -- and Varadero, obviously, is not Cuba.

What can one reply to an observation that it’s preferable to maintain the government as it is and not start a transition in the midst of a crisis in capitalism? How can you explain to a person that the Communist crisis never ends? How can you establish that if there’s one thing worse than a monopoly it’s a state monopoly? How can I summarize my 27 years on this island in a two-hour conversation? How can one talk about corruption if there’s no proof? How to recount the purge within the Communist Party since Raul Castro took power if we don’t know what’s happening other than that the heads are rolling? How do you explain to someone -- without offending them -- that after the Special Period, polyneuritis and vitamin A deficiency, the world’s global economic crisis seems like a first world joke?

I don’t know if it’s worth even trying. I wrack my brain and I’m always left with the feeling of not having done very well, of not having said everything I feel, of not being able to respond and feel good about myself later. I was puzzled by the question, “And you, what are you intending to do with your blog?” I don’t know what I intend. I don’t know where I’m headed. What are the concrete objectives of freedom save to be the master of one’s own destiny, free? Why is it so hard to imagine that a person decided, one day, to be free?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Disconcerting Television

Claudio Fuentes Madan
I'm sitting at the computer with the TV on in the background -- sometimes I’m a little masochistic -- and suddenly my attention is grabbed by a list: iPod, iPhone, DVD, cell phones and flash memories. The announcer explains that kids these days are experts at working these technological implements. I think about the kids in front of my house and can’t imagine them “controlling” an iPhone. I’m sure they’ve never seen one.

The program is Hurón Azul -- Blue Ferret -- and the subject is informal access to information, particularly audiovisuals. And what a title! In Cuba today information is divided between formal and informal.  When did the official media cease to exist? I didn’t know. The program consists of short interviews where specialists give their opinions. I’d be delighted to be able to say they talked about everything, but as far as opinions go, they said almost nothing. I admire my capacity to still be surprised by the level of censorship, zealotry, and muzzling on display on our formal (?!) National Television.

The announcer explained to us how the independent consumption of information is so widespread that people can’t “distinguish” among the different possibilities. A gentleman said that the public is used to seeing monstrous things. According to them the productions with the widest circulation don’t exhibit artistic or cultural qualities and the young people prefer--a capital sin--entertaining shows and soap operas. To qualify this reactionary point of view, someone intervened and said, “I have the freedom to watch what I want.” But as it might contribute to his self-improvement if he watches other things, the institution does have the responsibility to provide them.  The climax came when the gentleman protested that there are people who pass on information--unfortunately--without any control. According to him it should be against the law, there need to be controls on the circulation of alternative material.

I almost fell off my chair. Control over the flow of information in Cuba? My God! Indeed, we are in an information blackout, fifty years behind the times and without too many possibilities. The press, radio, television answer directly to the Communist Party Central Committee. There isn’t the slightest chance of there being any competition to the State’s mass media and they have the cynicism to want more control? The independent press is harassed by the government and the dream of access to any kind of public space is a chimera.

How could they control it any more? It’s ridiculous. In addition, it always seems to me a city-focused program, from a tiny Havana that encompasses Siboney to Vedado, excluding the miserable dying suburbs full of people who have never even seen a flash memory. How can they talk about audiovisuals and DVD equipment--one of those interviewed called it “the monstrous DVD” if he saw an iPad--when most of the countryside doesn’t even have telephone lines? Who would think that an institution is responsible for the soap operas and serials that I want to see? Or that there must be a policy of controlling the consumer even when they’re not watching television? What century is Cuban television living in?

That the new technologies have arrived, there is now no doubt, because they themselves say it’s so. But it’s thanks to the tenacity of the Cuban people in accessing everything the government has tried to steal from us. Though it’s still a newly hatched phenomenon on this island, I honestly don’t think they have the slightest chance of stopping it.

It’s hard to find two high points in the same show, but when the announcer concluded with the emphatic phrase, “Technology, the universal right of our time,” I fell off my chair for a second time.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Faith in Elsewhere

Foto: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I received a call from a friend who recently left Cuba. At one point in the conversation he said, “This isn’t another country, it’s another planet.” I hung up the phone and felt myself an alien on the earth. I looked out the window at the mess of wires hanging from the poles as if the hurricane had been yesterday. I went to 23rd and 12th and the traffic light was out. At 23rd and G there was electricity but the light was controlled by a policeman and the street was deserted: Raul Castro was going to pass by. I saw a photo of a building covered with glass--one of those modern constructions filled with light--someplace in the world and wondered when Havana is going to be reborn from its ruins. I sit in the park and enjoy the trees. There’s trash and filth everywhere, but I still love the air of my city. I wonder how long that pleasure will last.

I return home. I turn on the TV and it's the news. Fritz Suárez Silva is ranting about a statement by Osama bin Laden. I doubt my own senses. I don’t understand if he’s defending the terrorists or saying bad things about Obama. I fade and turn off the TV. I want to know what’s happening in Egypt but on Cuban television they manipulate everything. I look out the window again and remember the photos of the Green Revolution in Iran. I feel nostalgic. It’s ridiculous to feel nostalgia for something I didn’t even experience. I remember November sixth and everyone on the sidewalk at G and 27th staring, mouths agape, eyes stupid, as a group of men in plain clothes forced three young women into a car. I laugh. I can’t imagine the streets of Vedado flooded with young people demanding democracy.

I’m not going to get pessimistic: I always have the Web. When I connect to the Internet the bad taste in my mouth fades. There’s a sensation that the world is changing and I’m on another planet. Forget Raul Castro’s three black cars paralyzing even more, though it seems impossible, the time of my reality. I remembered that public spaces no longer need to be physical. Again I feel that it’s possible, that one day change will come, that the freedom of my life on the Web will one day be matched by my life on the street. It doesn’t matter how much we lack. I will know to hope.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Bad Guys

This is me!
Like kids when they see themselves on TV, I jumped for joy seeing my photo in the surrealistic PowerPoint in the video of the conference on “Enemy Campaigns and The Politics of Confrontation with Counterrevolutionary Groups.” I say like kids because it looks pretty bad that I have to point my finger to clarify “this is me.” Although my friends couldn’t recognize me in the blurred image and so didn’t share my joy, I feel like the star of the “media cyberwar” and that -- there’s no denying it -- is a lot of fun. We have seen the video like four times and each time it makes me laugh. The comrade speaker from State Security has revolutionized Cuban jokes in less than 72 hours; we must recognize merit.

I’ve tried, but failed, to address the topic in a serious way, although the professor of new technologies does make my skin crawl. I’ve heard comments of all sorts. One friend asked me, baffled, “But who’s the enemy? Facebook?”  Others asked me to summarize the story but I declare myself incapable of it: any description is infinitely inferior to the reality. I recalled, while watching the program, an article by Enrique Ubieta in la Calle del Medio that left me with the same impression. It was called “Be Stupid” and according to the author’s concept of blogger, there was nothing sexier. Strange that negative publicity raises the self-esteem of the victims!

However -- and I’m trying to make myself be serious in the midst of such a ridiculous situation -- I see that for him I am the enemy on the web, the soldier in a war that seems narrated by George Berkeley, and I wonder why he lies so blatantly to a group of soldiers. What surprises me isn’t that it’s about defaming the figure of Yoani Sanchez, nor considering the social network of the Lenin school counterrevolutionary, nor even the fascist expression “they are among our children,” just as Hitler once said of the Jews. What leaves me stunned and cynical is the shamelessness and lack of respect with which this man lies about the use of the internet and alternative forms of access. I don’t know where the satellite networks he mentions are, built from -- miracle of miracles! -- a video camera, five Blackberrys and a wi-fi device. I plan to take my laptop on a tour of my neighborhood, El Vedado, to see if I can find one... I could use it.

It takes a very high degree of immorality to take advantage of the ignorance of a group of people and to lie to them so brazenly. It even gives me grief for the public, you want to explain to these people that things aren’t remotely like that. And then I wonder, who is the real enemy of the cyber police? What is the hidden agenda behind all this deception? Why does State Security need to make the military believe that there is an alternative network of satellite internet access in Cuba?

The strategy of control this time, it seems to me, is not about the alternative blogosphere, nor about the kids who applied for scholarships to study in the United States, it’s not about the social networks of Facebook or Twitter, nor the cultural exchanges between Cubans and Cuban-Americans. The strategy of control -- incredible as it seems -- is for his own side: The Interior Ministry and the People’s Revolutionary Police. What danger do these ministries represent to State Security that it has prepared, for them, tele-classes full of lies?

Monday, February 7, 2011

José Martí, Los Aldeanos, and a Christmas Celebration

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
There are those who say that every effect has its cause and that there is no chaos in the universe. Each to his own philosophy. A friend -- half joking, half serious -- asked me is I could define the year when our reality became an absurdity. Something like the Big Bang of our island reality -- in an implosive sense, of course, a kind of anti-Big Bang. Jokingly I replied: After seeing some of Fidel Castro’s speeches in the archive, I’d say 1959. Later, when I was alone and thinking, the joke wasn’t such a  joke and the year perhaps not totally exact because I have no first-hand experience. I was born in 1983 and it was just a few weeks ago that I realized I haven’t lived in any other reality than that absurdity my friend was asking me about. Disheartening, no?

Turning to the effect, to the cause and the chaos, it would be illogical to draw a coherent line between the Christmas Eve party, the music of Los Aldeanos, and some of the thoughts of José Martí. However, two brothers from Holguin, Marcos and Antonio Lima Cruz, could attest otherwise, having been prisoners since December 25, 2010, charged with “public scandal” and “insulting national symbols.” This last paragraph from the Penal Code is only surpassed by the emblematic “Disrespect” -- mocking the figure of the Commander-in-Chief -- whose very existence as a criminal figure implies a hilarious joke, I would say.

In Holguin -- anywhere outside of Havana can be frightening territory for freedom-related activities  --  Marcos and Antonio decided to write some of Martí’s thoughts on the wall of their house. Phrases we never see written on the government’s banners though it’s worth pointing out that some of the latter are apocryphal and wrongly attributed to the “Apostle” -- as Martí is known to Cubans. Although the reasoning isn’t clear, if we follow the logic of the official propaganda, they supposedly admire Martí so much that they no longer remember what he wrote and what he didn’t, and after several repudiation rallies in front of the brothers’ house, Martí’s thoughts were erased in favor of Fidelist slogans.

Then came the night of the twenty-fourth -- young in Cuba, recovering traditions through the perseverance of a people who did not forget them despite certain ideologies -- an authorized party, a gathering of those in the area, music for the people. And the people’s music includes Los Aldeanos. So the Lima brothers listened to it while they celebrated Christmas. And because they were celebrating Christmas in Cuba, perhaps they came walking down the street -- the rappers in the background -- wrapped in a Cuban flag.

So the party was over. They are prisoners. And you, like me, might be asking yourself how listening to Los Aldeanos can become a public scandal, and in what way wrapping yourself in, dancing with, shaking, breaking or burning the country’s flag may offend a patriotic symbol. I didn’t know this outrage could be exercised against inanimate objects. There is no cause-effect relationship, it’s not logical, there isn’t least bit of sense in it, and yet, it exists. Wouldn’t this latter be the rejection of some Marxist principle I can’t remember right now?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fan of the Telenovela

Claudio Fuentes Madan

 I have a friend who will call her mother to record her telenovela -- the soap opera -- so she won’t miss it when she’s at a party. For my part, it was one of those I didn’t hear about, even when a new one started. So things stood, I being pretty radical in not letting myself get snagged by the mass media. That is until the other day when I saw a fragment of a new soap opera from Brazil.

It’s about a back-of-beyond country town in Brazil where two young men, a journalists and a publicist, arrive to start a newspaper. They report on a bartender, leader of the opposition in the place, who tries to criticize current policies and denounce the excesses of the administration in power. In addition, they want to promote some campaigns that could benefit the community, and so they invite all the dissidents to participate in the project.

Then I understood everything. Like when one is engaged in an abstract mathematical problem and suddenly a simple formula solves the whole numerical mess. A sort of mystical enlightenment. I understood in that instant why the better part of the population of my country obsessively watches soap operas. I felt like calling my friend and telling her I’d discovered the mystery behind the TV screen. She watches the shows perhaps because the women always find the love of their life -- my friend has a certain obsession with that topic -- my mother watches because the houses are always clean and bright, the mother-in-law of a friend because the Brazilian landscape is dazzling, and a neighbor because the bad guys never win.

I imagined myself disembarking, let’s say, in the newly created province of Mayabeque -- recently created from part of Havana province -- and opening a newspaper called, for example, “Havana Forever.” It could focus my attention, perhaps, on what a disaster it’s been for a whole community to have left the capital without even changing their place of residence. It would address the local news ignored by the official press, and of course could analyze the work of the cadres in the area in exposing corruption. It would also give a voice to the opposition politicians in the neighborhood. In short, after so much dreaming, since last week I, too, have been watching the telenovela: That magical world on the screen where you can go from town to town opening newspapers where they talk about politics and criticize the government.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I recently translated for my own use an interview the French newspaper Le Temps did with Michael Parmly. I was interested, most of all, in making available the opinion of the man who had signed almost all the cables sent from the United States Interest Section in Havana that have been leaked to Wikileaks. We are all running after those cables. Even the Roundtable TV show aired a documentary about Julian Assange and the “Wikileaks” phenomenon. The controversy is huge and I confess, to my regret, that my view on the subject is still percolating. Thus, I haven’t written about it, but seeing that time is passing and I’m not on the verge of offering a specific opinion, I will throw myself, as we say here, on the moving bus and write a post full of doubts -- and hopes as well, of course.

I understand well Michael Parmly’s apprehensions, the concerns of the former section head that his sources will be identified. I’m also quite anxious about it. When I read the cables on the internal dissidence and can identify, despite the X's, the names alluded to, I know that Cuban State Security also recognizes them. Unfortunately these are not the names of Cuban government officials, but of simple Cuban citizens who dare to challenge a system that accepts no criticism or opposition. Undoubtedly the cables where representatives of civil society can be recognized pose a threat to the freedom and work of these people. For my part, I refuse to classify this risk as “minor damage” as some friends call it. I think that Wikileaks has a duty to perfect its editing work to guarantee sources the protection they deserve.

However, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. When other friends tell me that Julian Assange and his team are not journalists, it demonstrates that the concept of “journalism” is becoming obsolete faced with new technologies. Wikileaks came to prove to us that the right to information is not merely Utopian, and undoubtedly establishes a basis both for diplomacy and for the traditional information media. It seems to me that it makes little sense to deny the reality: Wikileaks exists. We have to live with it and learn from it. It is, in fact, the citizen power I aspire to: I have the right to know what the politicians over my head are planning to do with my future.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


To catch the pulse of reality is hard, and to portray that rhythm in a short film of less than an hour is even more so. However, Eduardo del Llano not only does it, he makes you laugh over what you would normally mourn. I see his work and wonder how it is possible that I don’t laugh all day, surrounded as I am by characters like Nicanor and Rodriguez. That is, of course, one of the delightful charms of film.

In “Aché,” one of his latest productions, a couple debate the social advantage of having a Cuban flag hanging from the balcony. The film has everything, from a guy who claims to have learned to be a communist because Ernesto Guevara loaned him a tire wrench, to the mistress of a deputy minister who seems to have an infinite supply of Cuban flags purchased abroad. The story develops in the seventies and, except for the flag hanger, could be Havana in 2011. The whole plot is connected by the hilarious desire of the protagonist to get approval to go to France on a scholarship.

With excellent performances by Luis Alberto Garcia as the likable Nicanor, Néstor Jiménez as the rigid Rodríguez, and Laura de la Uz as the reading teacher who “is still there,” it returns to the task of these sagas which is to cheer us up a little in our existence in this country that, in the words of Rodríguez, is one for all: it’s yours and, according the Nicanor, “that” must be grasped in moderation.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Spaces Taken

Yesterday, while waiting outside the Supreme Court for the results of the hearing on the case of the Cuban Law Association versus the Minister of Justice, I reflected -- in the original sense of the word -- about my ups and downs since that distant August day when I was also waiting outside another court, that time for the results of Gorki Aguila’s trial.

I never would have imagined that a few months later my blog would appear, that I would speak freely into a microphone -- for less than a minute, but it’s the intention that matters -- that later I would have to defend my right to enter a movie theater, an exposition, a concert. I remember that dark afternoon of November 6 and the Tweet I sent, thanks to which State Security was robbed of its impunity as it kidnapped Yoani, Orlando and me. I think, again, about Reinaldo at 23rd and G, like in a Russian film where the hero sacrifices himself at the end, facing a primitive stomping horde. I saw the faces -- always the same ones -- of those who over these last three years have lent their hands to repression, their tongues to perjury, their souls to hatred, and I sensed their unease.

I am a pessimist. I refuse to think that things are going to change tomorrow so as not to be disappointed later, and I repeat, over and over, “Even if it lasts twenty more years, I will keep writing.” But suddenly I made out a long road of freedom traveled. Torturous it has been, to be sure, but not more so than the satisfaction of seeing the man who once dared to lead a repudiation rally condemned to sitting on a park bench talking like a robot on his cell phone, his hands that once served only to beat people useless, now, to this ogre faced with the power of words, the power of friendship and faith in a democratic Cuba. That repressor who once screamed in my face, “This street belongs to Fidel!” looked at me, at me and my friends, walking along Boyeros. He learned that the street no longer belongs to a delusional old man. Like it or not, it belongs to me, to him, to all Cubans, and we are obliged to share it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rebel Youth?

Image: El Guamá

Relatively recently, some workers from the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde -- Rebel Youth -- were interviewed on the national television news.  They shared their experiences with viewers and I was surprised to see that all of them were over fifty. I have nothing against gray-hair -- a symbol of wisdom and life experience -- but there seems to be an obvious contradiction between the age of the Rebel Youth journalists (at least the one who spoke on TV) and the name of the paper they work for. Perhaps it’s time to change its name -- Historic Generation, or Young at Heart -- to better reflect the workforce.

I’ve heard both the phrase “the new generations” and “we young people will continue on the path of the Revolution” so many times that sometimes I forget that those speaking are always mustachioed gentlemen over sixty. Even Fidel Castro has the audacity to speak for me, when we are separated by three generations! I want to see people in their twenties in public office on the small island where I was born. I am already approaching my thirties and I hope I won’t be gray-haired myself before I see the podiums full of young people.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wafers and Ice Cream

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
He’s 90. He climbed unsteadily onto the P4 bus, a cane in one hand and a nylon bag in the other. It was ten at night. He didn’t want to sit down because he was only going three stops and his voice sounded so sad it made me want to carry him. As we crossed 23rd he was telling me what every street and every house was like before 1959. Most of this information was inaudible but I was too embarrassed to admit it. At times it seemed like he was talking to himself and not to us.

We got off together, or to be exact, we got off at the same stop at 23rd and 10th and walked up to 12th. He lives on Marianao but always makes a stop at the bakery to buy bread. “I have an egg in the house and I don’t like it by itself, with bread it’s better.” He wanted to go to the “Ten Cent” store but it was closed.

“Granpa, what are you doing at Coppelia at ten at night?” I ventured to ask, though I imagined the answer. “I sell wafer cookies to eat with the ice cream. Today I have a lot left.”  And he showed me the little five-peso packets. “Now I have to wait for the 55 because the other buses leave me off too far away.”

I imagined his house with yellow walls, a beat-up roof, rickety doors and broken windows. I thought of his loneliness in front of the stove frying up an egg and warming the bread. I wondered if he might at least have a radio or television to entertain himself. I saw him getting up at six and filling his bag with wafers and leaving for the bus stop, getting off at one of the entrances to Coppelia and spending the whole day calling out in his dying voice, “Wafers, wafers.”

When we said goodbye he left me his sad certainty of final misery, of survival to end, of an abandoned death. “Take care in the cold,” I shouted, looking at the hole in the back of his vest. With tiny little steps he made his way and I wondered, once again, what will socialism be.

January 16, 2011