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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

At Full Volume

The neighbor downstairs heard the salsa and the one upstairs the rock and roll. At any hour of the day you could walk past the building and hear the incredible fusion of Van Van and Metallica. They called it the “strength test” and it consisted of round after round of raising the volume. The first who gave in and didn’t gradually increase the decibels of the stereo, lost the fight. It didn’t occur to either that the neighbor on the third floor might prefer, for example, Mozart, or to listen to no music at all.

Neither the advice of the neighbors nor that of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) influenced those involved in this “internal” matter. Nor did any neighbor dare to knock on their doors and ask for a little audio clemency. Apparently no one was bothered by the scandalous noise.

One day the rivals signed, without even agreeing, the final truce. It did not consist of lowering the volume, but of listening simultaneously to Los Aldeanos. The neighbors, this time, welcomed the cease fire because everyone liked the rap group and was used to the absence of silence. However, a week later, a delegate from the CDR presented himself at both apartments and demanded an end to musical blast, because the noise was bothering the neighborhood. That same night, while playing dominoes at a little table in the street, the watchdog admitted that the problem wasn’t the racket, but the lyrics of Los Aldeanos.

Monday, January 10, 2011

These Peculiar Guidelines

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
At the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution they are talking about the guidelines for the next Communist Party Congress. Despite the fact that, according to the Official Gazette, some of the proposals in the guidelines have already been passed as laws and the parliament hasn’t had its chance to display its unanimous approval, here in the neighborhoods we’ve already begun to stage the play and recite the script. After a ten-year gap since the only legal party in my country met, it would seem that the communist ideology is the last imperative of the meeting. There’s even a joke going around saying they’re going to change the name of the party.
But people are tired. People stopped recognizing socialism, even in books, long ago, because the history of the Revolution seems too much like the history of a 19th century capitalist monopoly. In parliament no one has been classified as “unqualified” or “unreliable” (as they have been on the layoff lists), and not one delegate to the National Assembly has been laid off under the concept of inflated payrolls. It is in the neighborhoods where 500,000 CDR members are going to be left “unoccupied.” So the spirit of the meeting is tense; even the poster announcing it reminds us: “Attendance will be taken.”
My friends tell me (the meeting in my neighborhood hasn’t happened yet) that things got hot. One retiree said it was time to see young people leading the country, another said he was tired of discussing planning and reforms that never changed anything, a lady announced she is retiring because as long as they aren’t talking about raising wages they can’t count on her, and the Party member murmured, ending the meeting, which would be the last time the core would be called together. Raul Castro’s government has reached out to a people who are tired and skeptical, and bored with seeing the same movie over and over.
The blindness of power has no limits. The other day I heard that the son of a high-ranking military man (he doesn’t want me to say his name) complained that disposable diapers are expensive and hard to find. His father then asked him, “But son, aren’t they given out in the ration book?” 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Historical Absurdities

Foto: Claudio Fuentes Madan

How much do you make? That was the question a faceless journalist asked a man on the National Television News (the best science fiction saga on Cuban television, after, of course, the reading of Fidel’s Reflections). As he earned about three hundred pesos a month, she was wanted to know how much of that salary was spent on food for his family: Almost all -- then he hesitated -- All.

I looked at the screen with suspicion. What are they up to? Because obviously they are not going to raise the salaries, and even if they did it wouldn’t be enough to eat. Sometimes I wonder how the government can be so completely shameless with the salaries it pays. Suddenly the camera pans to show an organopónico, an urban garden site. I bust out laughing and my family looks at me strangely. What can I do? I justify myself. I could cry but I’ve seen the same movie too many times and have developed a certain cynicism. So instead of earning more money, what we have to do is plant a few furrows on the apartment balcony and grow some onions, right? My father used to grow herbs in the nineties until he realized he didn’t have any food to season.

I was sixteen when I first read, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera and I have never forgotten its analysis of the eternal recurrence of Nietzsche and human historicity. What happens to us when events are repeated over and over again? We could be more serious about overcoming them if they were unique and not the same ones, always repeated. Then when on TV some poor guy doesn’t earn enough money to feed himself and they show him  in front of a plot of dirt, instead of crying it makes me laugh, and he, instead of slapping his boss starts to garden, though he knows that his crop will never be enough. And if you live in Vedado and don’t have any dirt it doesn’t matter, the imperative is to eat, but the system is stuck in neutral and perpetuates itself.

I seem to have the syndrome of eternal return: nothing moves, nothing really changes. I would like to make a video in which I take each phrase said over the last fifty years that proves my theory, every “but now...” “perfecting...” “redevelopment...” “updating the model...” “correcting the mistakes...” Maybe on seeing it all together we would remember that there is another way to live, one in which we move forward over time, and not just go around in circles.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Searching the Air of Cuba

Text: Boris González Arenas

Photo: Leandro Feal

See, see how from the ground
rising magnificent in flight
searching the air of Cuba.
"One Palm" Luis R. Nogueras

We don’t play with freedom. We spend our whole lives thinking about the danger of losing it, that once it is lost it is impossible to rescue it. Many ideologies come to the aid of the censors. It’s so easy to cover up the crime with the feeling of necessity.

But freedom is like the palm and even tyrants suffocate without air.

My country is a topic of great interest. On one side, us, for whom the interest goes hand in hand with the urgency, and on the other, foreigners, who, for whatever reason, suffer with us.

The analysis of Cuba has sped up in recent years, since the Raul Castro’s leadership has made the central focus -- rhetorically -- what to do with strategies vital to Cubans: change.

Among recent analyses I came across recently was one written by Guillermo Almeyra. "Cuba: a dangerous and contradictory document" is the title and the document is the third part of a reflection on the "Draft Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy," recently circulated by the Cuban government without many knowing whether it informs or confuses. But this is already what Mr. Almeyra says when he describes it as contradictory.

With regards to the classification of “dangerous,” Mr. Almeyra devotes his article to describing it. Extremely critical and respectable, the article points out the incomprehensible finding that the structural changes of great importance are those by the State, at the margins of society and the Communist Party, delegating to those who should be the source of social analysis, the diminished role of receptors. The author uses Leninist theory to remind us that the State responds to the class interests of those who overflow the margins of the society it administers. The society administered should be provided, then, with effective mechanisms of control to dampen the enthusiasms which are the province of the State.

The author also points out the shameless attitude of distancing themselves from the social policies that tended to mitigate inequalities among citizens, as if these were errors from the past. An attitude that has contributed to deepening the despair and frustration.

Infamous military privileges, the vile excesses of bureaucrats, the power of a schizoid and good-natured Raul, none of this escapes, with equally harsh words, Almeyra’s critique.

Now, when a bunch of senile leaders must face the consequences of their self-extinction, is when they come forward with the essential strenuous measures for a starving citizenry, without acknowledging, without even a hint of severe criticism of themselves, those who have autocratically and cruelly led a suffering society.

Almeyra says this with the words and theoretical references required, and so earns my complete respect.

My disagreements with him are nothing major, but I want to record them.

In his text the writer ignores that no Communist Party congresses have been held for more than ten years in Cuba, and that in them unanimity is the rule and through them Fidel weaves the cover of many betrayals.

There is a certain attempt to find Cuban authoritarian procedures novel, or at least aggravated, says Almeyra in a circulated document that never mentions the word “worker.” I don’t think the average Cuban would be much affected by this omission, either because he has much more serious things to think about or, and I think this is the real reason, because the word “worker” ceased to have any significance, decades ago, for a citizen used to surviving at the margin on low-paying and discouraging jobs.

There are other points where I disagree with Almeyra, more at the margin of my convergence with this deep critique, which demonstrate that the ideological debate is not a confrontation of conceits. I refer, at the beginning of his article, to “the enemies of the revolutionary process,” an overly confrontational tone what seeks to keep alive the old antagonisms between revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries, in a country where the greatest urgency is life faced with the criminal  irresponsibility of the Castro regime. The alarming rates of population decline, the deterioration of civic dignity, the tendency to emigrate and the lack of commitment, will be the real legacy of Fidel Castro, the principle threat to a Cuban whose extinction is not merely a symbolic issue.

When he says, later, that the Mariel Boatlift was the end of the Cuban bourgeoisie... in reality, here I have no words. To call the tens of thousands of Cubans who left, desperate, in an excruciating and hungry decade (I can’t find many more words for the seventies in Cuba) -- accompanied by political activists who were invited to exchange exasperating prison cells for exile, common prisoners who received passes to take advantage of the situation and who were mixed in with psychiatrist patients, gays, and “alternative” Cuban men and women -- to call these people “the Cuban bourgeoisie” at a time when we now know that in this same era the elite of the Castro regime enjoyed an army of unsuspected privileges, is simply, in my opinion, irresponsible and unjustifiable.

Nonetheless, this effort by Almeyra is magnificent. With the entire left indisposed to intellectual production in a Cuba faced with the imminent advent of democracy, where the palms of liberty are already more than mere shoots, the ground could be left open to threats of future perversions.

Boris González Arenas
20 December 2010

Note: this article is the first of a three-part series in which Boris opines with regards to three publications that explore the Cuban issue, and the current state of politics on the island.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

In spite of signs like this:
The Theater Collective / Salutes the Anniversary of the Revolution / Happy New Year