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?