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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Clandestine in Miami, with 100 Cuban Sounds

Just a few hours ago, on Friday evening, the 30th, one of the most versatile of Cuban artists exhibited material in the United States that could make history. I am speaking of Edesio Alejandro, who although a musician of great importance, has also been known for a long time as a documentary film maker.

The present material is titled 100 Cuban Sounds, and according to critics and viewers, the return of his inquisitive eye to our rhythm marks a milestone of investigation and artistry.

The beauty, and the irony, is that it is Edesio, a rarity in Cuban culture, who has been carrying on his back this precious company so dear to our nation. He is the Cuban author with the greatest number of movie soundtracks in this country, which puts him, musically, in the same category as classics of our filmography such as Clandestinos, and the aching Suite Habana, both by Fernando Pérez.

Why? Well, because if any of Cuba’s Culture authorities in the ‘70s and ‘80s had been told that this youngster with the controversial image, who had to be very careful, would be one of the archaeologists of our musical identity, he’d probably have replied with a withering smirk.

I think of this, ironically, after rereading the report of a meeting that, fortunately, a journalist had with his some time ago. In my city of Bayamo, 496 years after its founding, Edesio revealed to me some of the keys of his professional history on the Island.

I reproduce a small fragment of this dialog, which I think quite compelling in two respects: First, to understand the origin of those 100 Cuban Sounds in the artistic perspective of this great man; and second, to “Hear his voice,”  whose risk-taking could be the path of an authentic artist in our Cuban of parameters:

- Edesio, you started out as a pure rocker. Then you started to make electronic music, but you had already begun composing, including concert music. Today you are entering the audiovisual world with great strength. Does it worry you that this variety could be interpreted as an artist that hasn’t really found his specific line of work?

- Well, look, no. Not in the least. I’m not worried because I think that the day I remain static is when I will have lost all the evolution that I have managed in my career. I think the evolution is something that is in constant searching, constant experimentation.

When I find a formula, I try to flee from it, as absurd as that might seem, because with this formula I would establish standards and rules which I will then repeat, and the day when I begin to repeat myself I will no longer feel I am creating.

My personality is that of a rather restless guy. In this I think I am a typical Cuban. I like to be constantly changing, and that’s the reason why my works are all so different.

- One of the standard references of electroacoustic music in Cuba is undoubtedly Edesio Alejandro. The majority of experts agree that you have an enormous talent for this type of work. But in the end you didn’t dedicate yourself to this, when it seemed it would be your path. To what do you attribute this?

- As it turned out, in the ‘80s, when I was working the most on this, I decided to participate in a contest that at that time was the most important in the world for electroacoustic music. It took place in Bourges, France. Let’s be clear, this was seen by many as madness.

And then I won First Prize with a work I did with Juan Piñera, a composer with whom I had worked on concert music. You can imagine, this was an incredible thing.

What did it mean for me? Reaching a ceiling, achieving a status that until this time no Cuban musician had achieved within this kind of artistic work, because it was the first time that a Cuban (before or after the Revolution) had won the First Prize in a global music contest.

Then came the disappointed. The prize was greeted with almost total silence in Cuba, its achievement, which was no small thing, was ignored by the media and by the cultural authorities, to the extreme that we were not allowed to go to France to receive the prize. Their excuse was that I was “one of those guys with long hair who walks around in a T-shirt trying to pass for a foreigner,” and that I was of “questionable political reliability.”

I don’t have to tell you… it was a tremendous frustration. Think about it: on the one hand being so young and having won a prize like this made me feel like I’d touched the sky, and on the other to have cold water poured on me, to begin to be marginalized in part because of it, and in Cuba, to be treated like shit.

I said then, “This isn’t for me.” I started to do many more things and I will continue to.

- Your 1987 work Violent, is considered the first Latin American rock opera. And yet it is a complete unknown in Cuba. Why is it that most of your work can be enjoyed only in very narrow circles when so many are interested in it?

– Look, they never wanted me to record in Cuba. This is a truth that I can say without further ado. Like so many other things, Violent ended up in the ether. The music needed to be recorded to be preserved, but on the contrary, it was vaporized. But the Cuban industry never wanted me to record.

For example, this same Violent you are asking me about premiered at the National Theater of Cuba; but at EGREM, which then was the only recording company in the country, I asked them again and again to record it but they weren’t interested.

What did I do then? I worked in radio, in music for TV, in film, I “stole” a few hours at the end of each movie or each serial to devote to something that particularly interested me. I say stole because that’s literally what I did; I used some of the production to record my songs, which, by the way, were very badly recorded because in four or five hours you can’t record three songs.

On several occasions I proposed to EGREM that they make records, and they always gave the answer: we’re not interested. All this is long ago.

Currently, it’s true that EGREM has made proposals to me several times, but now it’s me who doesn’t want to do it. Thank God I have other options with other labels, so fortunately not all of my music has suffered the same fate as that you asked me about.

 

The Book of Eli: Something More Than a Message Between The Lines

I don’t think it’s risky to say, if we confine ourselves to the most recent events, that the Catholic Church, the principle institution within the Christian doctrine, is now living through one of the greatest crises it has experienced since its beginnings. Above all, a crisis that goes beyond the skepticism of some of its followers to the heart of the institution. The worst of it is, clearly, a crisis of faith that could spread, dangerously, across the whole of Christianity.

Events have happened, one after another. Some, in the form of literary scandals such as occasioned by the publication of the DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown. Others, featuring well-known names in the Church: from a prominent priest in Miami Beach photographed with his lover, and who later changed his religious order, to the amnesic German priest who doubts that the Nazis really martyred millions of Jews in the extermination camps.

Later, the harsh debates about whether or not priests of the Protestant religions were admissible, and finally the real scandal. With an impact of significant proportions, it involves several priests in the corruption of minors, and even reaches to the Holy Father as supposedly covering up events of this nature.

With this as a backdrop, after seeing the highly publicized film, The Book of Eli, I find it hard to discard the idea that it comes to fulfill a goal far from artistic and aesthetic precepts, and that its premier in this is tightly linked to the era that Christianity is living through today.

It did no favors to Denzel Washington’s acting career to star in this Hughes Brothers production. And not because the film is like an ashamed ostrich sticking its head in the sand. After all, cinematically speaking, it has virtues that, without going to extremes, are still tangible: competent photography, and a dramatic thread that easily captures the viewer’s attention. However, for an actor of his proven stature, he seemed comfortable in a project that in my judgment was more like an inconsequential tract, and what’s worse, came off in the crudest imaginable way.

A quick summary of the plot: In a distant and imprecise future, the planet suffers a devastating war that does away with the greater part of our material heritage. In this context, a chosen one will lead a legendary trek to save from oblivion, and reprint for posterity, a book without which humanity cannot recover. Let us say the obvious: it’s the Holy Bible.

Fine. So what, in my view, are the most questionable elements, the most inadmissible from a rational point of view? The subliminal traps (at times they aren’t even subliminal but obvious) that the Book of Eli tends to provide in a movie, to those who aren’t thinking much beyond art or entertainment.

For example: Eli as played by Denzel Washington faces ten, fifteen, twenty armed enemies with guns, machetes and chainsaws. They don’t even touch him. The bullets, fired from five years by expert marksmen, whistle over his shoulders and disappear in the distance. At some point, if the viewer hasn’t figured it out, one of the characters takes the trouble to say: It’s because he’s protected in some way. It’s as if no one can touch him.

What is the source of the strength, the superiority, the supernatural condition of this man whom his enemies can’t bring down? The book that he carries in his bag. The book that he manages to memorize and that he can recite with visionary ease.

However, the sense of manipulation reaches its limit when, once in San Francisco where they survive a catastrophe, Eli and Solara, his female partner in the adventure, access the site from which humans seek to rebuild the lost world. What do they find there, rescued from destruction, as the only indispensable things required to rebuild the foundations of our species? Shakespeare and Mozart. The Encyclopedia Britannica, Wagner, and, after Eli’s feat, the Holy Bible.

That is, only the West. If in some waiting bunker there are samples from other cultures that currently populate the planet; if it had sheltered a copy of the Ramayana or the Buddhist sutras, a page from Confucius, or a fragment of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the scriptwriters of this movie did not think it important to point it out. Or, effectively, they don’t exist. They were extinguished in a war  in which evidently they did not emerge victorious, or it wasn’t possible (or necessary) to save them.

What the forewarned viewer has to wonder, inevitably, is: Why, in order to rebuild our plural, beautiful and vast realm, is one culture and one religion necessary, without taking into account any of the others that possess just as many faithful and representatives?

Damaging, very damaging this precept. I believe that no approach has been more harmful to humanity throughout its History than the imposition of one faith above all others, the alleged superiority of one religion, one culture, over all the rest.

Or who can reproach the Islamic fanatic who in the name of his beliefs assumes it is just to explode an airplane mid-flight, just because westerners are infidels and Allah demands that they pay for their blasphemy with their blood? How can one preach equality, respect for all beliefs, even if you don’t share them, if a kind of cultural and religious self-sufficiency leads us to express messages like those in The Book of Eli plants in its viewers’ minds?

Moreover, this film is also a disservice to the message of love, tolerance and nonviolence that Jesus immortalized through his disciples. I don’t believe that a true follower of biblical doctrines could commune with the idea of a chosen one to whom the holy voice dictates what to do, and who, on his way, destroys hands and throats with a knife of fear, and crushes with bloody fury every enemy on his path.

Come on, in once case we have Jesus energetically expelling the money lenders who profane the temple, and in the other a character who wreaks human carnage while marching for the salvation of one doctrine.

No, I cannot approve of a manipulative and disturbing film like The Book of Eli, pretending to spread a vital message. Nor do I believe that an honest Christian, who defends love as a practice essential to safeguarding the soul, and tolerance as the ticket to social equilibrium, could approve it either.

Behind the salvation of a book, the supposed reconstruction of our beloved planet, the Hughes Brothers propose with their film a view of exclusion, of irreverence for the Great Cultural Universe, as dangerous as the most fiery threat of a fanatic of the Holy Wars.

 

Laws in Lemon Juice

There are certain Cuban laws that, from the looks if it, have a quality as native as it is original. A peculiarity so ours, it even takes us back to the rebel periods, when it was necessary to send subversive messages in absolute confidentiality. It is all about the laws that seem to have been written with lemon juice: at first sight, they are impossible to read. Nobody can affirm they have ever been stated. Perhaps, because in order to do so, it is necessary to add some warmth.

With lemon juice was written the law that forces doctors, nurses, x-ray technicians, dentists, or lab workers, to stay in Cuba for five years after requesting permission to leave the country. That wide population sector associated with the Health Department knows the process very well: after requesting permission to leave, you must prepare a piece of wood, just like ship crews, to mark off one by one, the 1,825 days (some more, some less) that await you before their immigration process takes effect.

Who, as naïve or uninformed they may be, doesn’t know that today in Cuba, this is already a ritual practice, from which families are planned and couples’ ties are destroyed? However, has anybody ever seen the written law, the official ordinance that justifies it?

With lemon juice is written the law that prohibits all Cubans to contract for the same internet services available to foreigners residing in the island. The ordinance that justifies on rational grounds (or really, what are laws then?) why a foreigner that lives in my country can pay 80 convertible pesos for 60 hours of internet at their house, and a Cuban born here who has the same amount of money in their pocket can’t. Nobody has been able to verify this law and yet, has anybody doubted its power?

If the agent, official, or enthusiast knew anything about the power that stopped and questioned, right in the street, the authors of the documentary Que me pongan en la lista (Put me on the list), they may not have seen these deeds but they don’t doubt their existence. Although  the critics are notoriously scarce in our grocery stores, there will always be reservists to write these laws.

Because, yes: someone who, I repeat, seems to belong to a sector empowered to impose “order” and ask for identification, without even wearing a uniform, had done very well by the youngsters from the Instituto Superior de Arte who, camera in hand, went out to the streets of Havana asking what their fellow citizens thought about the function of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (Comites de Defensa de la Revolucion, CDR). The incident was reflected in the work Que me pongan en la lista (Put me on the list), a documentary that recently won prizes in various Cuban audiovisual contests. The energetic compañero forgot that just because the camera has been lowered from the shoulder, it hasn’t stopped recording.

At the moment of informing them, in all honesty, in a very threatening, unbalanced tone of voice, that they were not authorized to be asking those kinds of questions, one of the filmmakers had the initiative to investigate the law that prohibited them from doing it. The answer was without a doubt delicious for its denigration: “Don’t come to me talking about laws, don’t talk to me about laws because if you do we’ll end up on other matters…”

Yes, this one was knowledgeable. This one knew that a legal basis exists. But to be able to see it, warmth needed to be applied to it.

I think also written with lemon was the modern exile that is tactically practiced today in Cuba. The algorithm is somewhat like this: A professional leaves to go work outside of his country. In the bellicose vocabulary of my island, this is known as “serving on a mission.” They leave to work: as physiotherapists, surgeons, or English professors. There they meet the woman of their dreams, or the country that best satisfies their desires. There, they decide to drop the anchor. Alright: they’re automatically marked with the Scarlet Letter of “deserters” for whom the doors of the tropical castle are forever closed. An invisible law dictates it.

I speak almost by personal experience: someone very close to me lost her father last New Year’s Eve. She has lived in Jamaica for six years without being able to come back into Cuba. This time, not even the International Red Cross was able to assist her in attending her own father’s burial.

Too much darkness, too much invisibility. What I have mentioned are only a handful among the hundreds that today condition our reality. I want to believe that they are verifiable, well founded laws, but I find myself incapable of declaring faith in these matters: I need to see them. I need to prove they exist. I am not afraid to be labeled as ignorant just like the ones who kept quiet before the King’s nudity, without daring to tell Their Majesty that the tailor had fooled him: he was naked. No, I will bear that stigma if necessary.

It’s already time that they respect a little our right to be governed by the laws that we can look at, touch, and above all, confront. Let them use the lemon for that most Cuban dish, red bean soup (many homes in our country will appreciate that) and write our laws with ink made up of honesty.

 

Small Dreams

I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that the most persistent recount I have made at my age is of precisely those things I still have left to do.

A friend, psychologist by profession, attributes it to the obsessive features my personality brings but, I tend to disagree a little on the analytic categories so I blame it on the effect of a metaphor I was able to put together myself: At birth, someone (or something) hands us a bag which, in place of coins, carries a finite number of years and when these are over, so is our existence.  Before we are thrown into life, that someone or something tells us: “Invest them as best you can.  With this same body and this same name, you won’t have a second round.”

Well, there are times when you decide to make check marks next to the achieved.  In my case, the panic starts when, during a review, I can’t make check marks next to important points because they’re still pending.  Or even worse, because their time expired and it became impossible to make them happen.

Or is it that I’m still in time to spend some money on a Martian gun with red and blue lights and six different ways to shoot? Because, in my catalog of lost dreams, that’s when I should begin paying debts to myself.

There wasn’t a ritual of requests during which, when I was seven years old, I didn’t think about a toy gun just like the one my playmate kept as his most precious possession. It could be a ritual as simple as a shooting star that plowed across the sky, a detached eyelash, or a chicken bone in the shape of a “Y”.   That beauty, brought to my friend from the Democratic Republic of Germany by his father, forced me to desecrate the atheism of the home where I was born to implore the baby Jesus to remember my excellent grades and to pass by a certain store from the Socialist Germany. Maybe, when he finally decided to do it, the Wall had fallen and the country was a different one.   He never seemed to have made it to the store.

I also ask myself: does it still make sense, if my economy would ever allow me to (with time my dreams increased in monetary value), to manage to acquire a Nintendo in my Cuba of the XXI Century? I am not referring to one of those modern artifacts, very worthy of Ray Bradbury or George Lucas, the ones that vanish today’s kids from reality.  No.  I mean a cream-colored, rectangular Nintendo, with only one command and one cassette: Super Mario Bros.

Every day, I would go to the house of the only privileged kid in the neighborhood in the hopes that a sudden urge to go pee, or the obligation to have lunch would take the owner off the seat from a Nintendo that, when the Período Especial (Special Period) hit, became more than a game.  Not even the pater middle school professor, nor the mater sales clerk of the grocery store could compete with that Nintendo that became a savior, given to a kid by his Cuban-American uncle: at five pesos an hour, Super Mario fed a whole family for a long period of time.

I swear to my mother that thanks to a grapevine that shadowed the roof of my house, I was able to regularly substitute the lack of those five pesos, and manage for the first time, that mustachioed character, universal today, who jumped over turtles and rescued princesses.  The country was dying from hunger; my parents, like so many more, suffered the most ugly and insane misery but, at eleven naive years of age, happiness was contained in a Nintendo that, even with my insistent prayers, never reached my home.

If baby Jesus wasn’t able to satisfy some of my requests, he substituted values and in return he sent me adolescence.  Luckily, for an adolescent that distilled hormones, a fixed up basketball and any girl with accentuated hips who was willing to insinuate the art of making love, was enough.  And that, in my Cuba of the year 2000, was very easy to find. The provider even had a name.  His name was High School.

But since happiness is never whole, in high school, aside from bulky girls from Manzanillo, I met, up to this day, what has been my most persistent hobby, and with this one I renewed my dreams  with a chronic intensity.   It was called Literature.  Even though since childhood I had felt the love for books, my adolescence threw me head first into a literary passion which makes me wonder what has offered me more: vocabulary or unredeemed dreams.

Because when I remember that Julio Cortazar died without my having been able to meet him (he died just the year in which I was born), that is when I calm myself faced with the impossible.  But when I notice that the American Salinger and the Portuguese Saramago just stopped breathing; when I think about the irreparable mountain of books that in this, my fenced country, I don’t have access to; and when I realize that my paradigm writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, is already in his threatening seventy-fourth year of age without me even having one of his autographed books, the least I can do is become desperate and feel that many of the years carried in my bag are languishing without being able to invest them as I wish.

I must be honest: That I speak in abandonment about these things doesn’t mean it corresponds to what they really mean to me.  I think we never speak with a more inconsequential tone as we do about the things that really affect us.  For my part, I haven’t been able to give in to the idea of having so many broken dreams pending.  They weigh on my shoulders like souls without peace.  And more than anything: I haven’t resigned myself to the idea of thinking it impossible what, as for many in half of the globe, are routine or things extremely easy to reach.

In four days I will be turning twenty-six.  I still haven’t put a check mark next to small dreams like attending a Metallica concert, getting to know New York’s skyscrapers, crossing at least two (hopefully more than two) words with the Peruvian Vargas Llosa, or enjoying a soccer match with Leo Messi while eating popcorn at Camp Nou.  I still haven’t traveled the world, the sole necessity that has sparked in my mind thanks to my books.  Small, superficial dreams.  I, like troubadour Carlos Varela, know well that those are not big things.  But they are some of my dreams.  Those dreams that also help me live.

I want to promise the readers of this text that, when I am able to really be the master of my dreams some day, I will not hesitate to start paying off accounts to myself as I righteously pay for the things that (hard to admit) for twenty-six years my Caribbean island has kept me from reaching.  Maybe I will start by buying a Martian pistol with six different ways to shoot.  Even if its sole purpose is to make a son or a nephew laugh who, astonished will reply to my dare with his super polyphonic laser shotgun, or God know what else.

Translated by: Angelica Betancourt

 

The Novel of So Many Lives

He received me on Monday in a quiet apartment in Mantilla from where he has written almost all his work. On a polished table he put cold water and strong coffee for both of us. He lit a cigarette whose smoke, luckily, chose as its victim the bust of Cervantes resting on a nearby sideboard. And began to answer my questions.

Maybe, I would never have decided to interview Leonardo Padura had I not read La Novela de mi Vida (The Novel of my Life).  Up until that moment, the two pieces I already knew were enough to admire his clean prose and skillful police frameworks, but not much more.

So, I discovered this novel and found myself obligated to track down (just like investigator Mario Conde) where its author lived.  For a character like Salinger there are some writers who, after reading their work, you just wish you could call them.  Since I don’t have his telephone number, I decided to travel 498 miles from my native Bayamo to the Cuban capital, knock on his door and say: I need to interview you.

It so happens that The Novel of my Life should already be on the must-read list of every reader who thinks himself Cuban. Or one who lives or studies the historical truth inside this, our country, made up of water and sand. Because coming to find out the written novel of this immense and suffered man who was the poet Jose Maria Heredia is the best way to understand a country that, two centuries later, has not yet ceased to repeat similar tragedies in the lives of millions of other children.

With great precision, Leonardo Padura, a well experienced writer, wove two different stories that is one at the end. First: the one of the great poet of the Niagara, a man without real nationality that against all logic profoundly identified himself as Cuban (when he died, at 35 years of age, Jose Maria Heredia had lived in five different countries and only 6 of those years in Cuba), and he might have been the one to inaugurate the so-called Cuban tradition of suffering exile and dying defeated by nostalgia. Second: the one of a fictitious character known as Fernando Terry, who in the ’90’s returns from the exile (to visit for a few weeks) in search of a past from which he was never able to detach.

If you think the story of this contemporary Cuban — forced to migrate in the Mariel Boatlift due to the intolerance, the fear and the lies — as melancholic, you will be frightened by the first person tale that Heredia, revived by Padura, tells us about the time in his life when, mad by pain and frustration, as he himself called it, the novel of his life.

A life made up of love of poetry and the freedom of his oppressed country, of defense towards a Cubanness in the making that could not yet be defined, but it could be felt.  A life thrown to the fiercest of exiles by the despot who governed at the time: Miguel Tacón, the tyrant of the day, who just like so many of them, gave himself the right to decide who lived inside the island, who died, and who should leave it.  Cursed be the stubbornness of the dictators who manage their nations as if they were their own homes.

The same poet whose ode to Niagara today rests in a tombstone right in front of the waterfall, also inaugurated a habit that we have not been able to erase from this beautiful homeland in all these years: to suffer from the accusations and the betrayal of a false friend that would use the misfortunes of Heredia to climb towards success in a Cuba sick from corruption. The story takes his name: Domingo del Monte. But about this, we couldn’t care less.

The alarming thing to recognize is that, behind the ability of Leonardo Padura, the reader is warned of too much freshness, too much proximity to his own reality with this novel that, according to what the narrator tells us, is one of so many of our lives.

My interview lasted a little over an hour.  The agile, well-argued responses from this Havana native writer, filled up a text of many pages which I proudly plan to include in a book that I am just now concluding.

Today, two weeks past that encounter with Leonardo Padura, after looking around in disbelief and remembering the ordeal of the exiled Heredia, I have not yet figured out how to detach myself from the question that the The Novel of Many Lives left me with as a harsh gift: Could it be that our beautiful island will forever condemn its children to escape from her in search of protection and a piece of happiness?

Translated by: Angelica Betancourt

 

The Happiness of the Long Distance Runner

The calendar displays May 20, 2010. It’s half past ten in the morning. In my hometown of Bayamo it’s another hot muggy day that makes foreheads sweat and engenders moods very close to irritation. But that’s outside, in the unsheltered streets. In this office with its inlaid walls where I am now, an air conditioner set into the wall transforms the surrounding reality into something serene and peaceful.

In front of me an official waits, sitting behind his desk. Telephone in hand. Since my entry into the premises he has only interrupted his dialog to say to me, “Good morning Ernesto, take a seat,” as natural as if he had been expecting me to appear. A little later he finishes his conversation, and pressing two numbers with intentional precision, he asks after the presence of some of the institution’s employees. He asks them to come to the office immediately. No one tells me, but I guess: it is the Board members.

The official has a serene expression on his face, no sign of severity.  His name: Ernesto Douglas Bosch. His job: Director of Provincial Radio Bayamo Broadcasting, in the eastern province of Granma.

The seconds crawl by, we are alone in his office waiting for the others, the weight of silence forces him to speak.

“Let me tell you something,” he finally says, acknowledging my existence. “You have no idea of the esteem I have for you. First, for your talent, and second, for your attitude as an employee of this Broadcaster, since the time you started more than a year ago now. But there are things that are difficult for me to accept, that I have a hard time believing,” he says, and he leaves the sentence unfinished, as if it’s not worth the trouble to continue.

I listen to him, and although he doesn’t know it, I study the circumstances with an obsessive interest. I have the feeling (just in the last ten minutes since he warned me) that something definitive is going to happen in my life, and I get ready to capture the essence of whatever is said, whatever is breathed this morning.

My arrival at the institution where I have worked as a Cultural Journalist since I finished my university studies in 2008, was marked today by a coercive act I’d never before had occasion to experience.

The receptionist had been prepared; I’d barely stepped foot in the door when she informed me, with great seriousness: the Director was waiting for me in his office. I thanked her for the information. But as I could meet with the director after saying good morning to my colleagues, I chose to go first to my office, understanding in passing that this time it was about something serious. I smelled it in the curt gestures and distance of some of my colleagues, and seconds later, more explicitly, I knew it by the Safety and Security Officer, who was charged with personally taking me to the Board. So there would be no more detours along the way.

So now, when three employees from different areas came through the door almost in unison, and sat down next to me, I had no doubt that I was present at a scene (and in a starring role) for which, to be honest, I’d been prepared, though I hadn’t imagined it would come so soon.

The silence was absolute. Ernesto Douglas limited himself to reaching for a document that (only now did I notice) was conveniently located at his right hand, on the desk. He handed it to me saying,

“Read this.  When you’re done we’ll talk.”

My reading lasted much longer than the general patience desired. A comprehensive understanding of this Resolution 12 of 2010, plagued by wherefores, acronyms and legal references, and edited in parts to be nearly incomprehensible, was a real academic exercise.

The essence, however, of what I had in my hands admitted no doubt: By Resolution 12 of this year the Director of the Institution expelled me from the same. Permanently.

Was I taken by surprise? Again, no. My only surprise came from the haste with which this had occurred.  And, also, by the reason put forward for doing so.

Let’s see.

Behind this meeting (which although it pains me to do so, I can only classify with one term: repression), figure four names in particular. They are the base of the iceberg. The first three are proper names: Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The third is the name of an artistic group: Los Aldeanos (The Villagers).

Just recently I had published two articles on the internet that centered on these people. First, an article (Revolution in the Village) based on Mayckell Pedrero’s documentary about this rap duo, analyzing musical, social and ideological aspects of this controversial and talented group. Then, under the title, The Death That Never Should Have Been, I published an assessment of the tragedy of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a case increasingly hidden from the Cuban population. And finally, there was an extensive interview, A Limit to All The Hatred, with the blogger of Generation Y and her husband, also a journalist, Reinaldo Escobar.

Knowing the dismal situation of the media in my country, I didn’t have the naiveté to try to publish these articles in some official space, say a magazine, web, newspaper, or website on the national network. And knowing (also) the disregard for freedom of expression in my country, I did not suppose that, after exercising the right of my own voice to critically question the attitudes and decisions taken at the highest level, I would pass unscathed by any reprisals. Cause and effect.

But the reason Resolution 12 2010 cited as serious misconduct on my part appeared to be the fruit of a creative mind capable of emulating the best of George Orwell, and here my adaptation to the absurd, my resistance to astonishment, could only give way entirely.

What was I accused of? That, in my capacity as a journalist with a personal Internet account (only available at my workplace), I had disproportionately, in my navigation, accessed sites I did not have authorization to access, specifically those of a subversive and counterrevolutionary character attacking our country. Make no mistake: the miserable wretch who wrote this letter should sweat ice for not mentioning, expressly, the true cause of my expulsion. But not talking about this apparently was more difficult than it seemed, as the writer yielded to the impulse.  He said, “The publication of articles on the before mentioned sites is also verified.” Only that.

Let us, then, clarify the argument: I was not sanctioned for publishing. No way. Doing so would have confirmed certain accusations about the violation of individual rights, freedom of expression and other demons, that it was better not to awaken in these turbulent times. Then, on further analysis, all the masks fall away and institutional anger against a journalist who dared to be true to himself came bursting to the surface, but in the two pages of horrifying evidence, my articles figure only as an argument of fifth-rate importance and are only mentioned in passing.

So then, I was punished for reading.

For reading what other voices, both inside and outside my country, say about a hundred political, cultural and social aspect so connected to the journalism I practice, as to human reason. but in essence and without make-up, I was expelled for reading what I should not. For doing exactly what the overseers in the cane fields forbid the slaves to do, under threat of violent punishment. And also, what the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro once promulgated as a maxim of the process. “We do not tell the people to believe,” he said back then, “we tell them: read.”

Returning to the Board Room of Radio Bayamo Broadcasting, I finished my risky reading, and faced the same silence, the same dense atmosphere that doesn’t allow anyone present to say a word, or even feel comfortable.

I returned to the document to the Director, and with his, obeying his mental plan, he asked,

“Do you have anything to say?”

I didn’t know if my face betrayed my thoughts, but internally I had to smile. With perplexity.

Racing through my mind at the speed of light are the memories of so many expelled, so many censored in the most recent history of Cuba, which is not studied in any school on the Island. And not the memory of a Virgilio Piñera or a María Elena Cruz Varela in particular. I think of all the ones who say no, the unknowns who stories of abuse against their rights, or reprisals like this one, are never seen, never known.

“Of course I have something to say,” although really, I don’t want to. The size of the injustice, the arbitrariness, I’m at a loss for words.

But, finally, I speak. For the space of twenty minutes. I speak of violations, and of the amnesia my country seems to suffer from. Forgetting the results methods such as these have led to for decades, that we still haven’t come to terms with the shameful and seemingly immortal Five Grey Years, dedicating conferences to it or publishing volumes about it. I speak of my rights to information and free expression. I speak of the legal loopholes that, even without a lawyer, can be detected in a simple glance at this libelous accusation. I speak knowing that my restrained catharsis is nothing more than the right to kick the hangman. And when I finish, after a two second pause, my Director turns to the others present,

“Does anyone else want to say something?”

Heads shake, no. And to my surprise, with no more to-do, the meeting ends, though not without informing me that I have seven days under the law to submit a demand for my reinstatement.

His voice is toneless. His gestures are as indifferent as those he received me with while talking on the phone. And I think, the terrible thing is not that they are directors who give in to the temptation to use their powers in the most arbitrary and brutal way. The terrible thing is, I am sure that later today, Director Ernesto Douglas Bosch will sleep peacefully through the nights, with his wife and family relatively happy.

“You have nothing to say to me,” I ask him before getting up. “You have nothing to say after all the time I spent arguing against this punishment?”

His answer, rigid, now ruthless, comes without thinking,

“I have nothing to say. I heard you but everything that needs to be said is in that document you have in your hands. We’re done. Good day.”

At that very moment, in the second when I look into his passive eyes behind his magnifying glasses, I understand that during the entire meeting his ears remained closed to my voice. His ears, and everyone’s. No one listened to me in this spectral encounter.

Why? How evil of this Director made speaker, whose joviality at times borders on a lack of character and authority? No, I tell myself. The reason is something else. The true reason is that this man with his power to separate me from the entity he directs, is just following orders.

Explicit orders (“Take drastic measures in this case”) or implicit (“If I were you, I would handle this matter intelligently”). Or even worse, interior orders, incorporated into thought, that warns of the risks of not being assertive with a mistaken employee and in consequence being judged as an irresponsible and lazy worker. Orders of a thousand different kinds. But in the end, orders.

So even in this moment as I walk through the hallway to the exit, with the notable perception that those who look at me do with a, (yes, it’s so), humiliating pity, with eyes showing a solidarity that, if there were no danger, could sympathize with me; not even now, when I know that the link has been permanently cut, can I find any animosity against the one whose stroke of the pen it was.

Ernesto Douglas Bosch did not expel me, I think. Whether he recognizes it or not, his sad function is to be the puppet of other minds, minds that at any moment would hesitate to throw him into the fire, just as he did to me today. He is the executor of a firmly drawn direction, but at bottom, I will never know whether or not he agrees. Since none of the thousands of Cubans expelled from their jobs, removed, condemned to work in steel factories or cane fields, will ever know if the one who told him of his exile internally agreed with the measure, or if he had no choice but to carry it out for his own good.

It’s almost noon in Bayamo of my island Cuba. Under the same desert sun I once again wander the city where hundreds of years earlier a fervent and lacerated people sang the first verses of our national anthem. We, and them, we are no longer the same, I think, before losing myself in the busiest shopping street of the city.

And I think, also, that none of the people now passing me, nor those behind me, have been commenting on my case, nor could Director Ernesto Douglas Bosch back in his office with its inlaid walls, understand the state of mind with which I turn my steps toward personal and professional independence. This kind of inner harmony is similar to that of a long distance runner who, apart from the crowd (it doesn’t matter if he is ahead, behind or next to them) runs on air, without others understanding his lightness, and his smile of happiness.

 
 

A World Cup as an Antidote Against the Past

Morgan Freeman was at the finals.  Seated in the VIP section of Soccer City with his dark baseball cap and a nervous expression on his face.  Nervous in the angle the television offered us, of course.  Perhaps two seconds later he would’ve been euphorically screaming if he rooted for Spain or would have been another disappointed one if he rooted for Holland.

But the truth is, he was there.  Just as during this month of the World Cup, many passed through the fields of South Africa (citing only a few) musicians like Mick Jagger and Shakira, actors Leonardo Di Caprio and Charlize Theron (back to her native land); tennis player Rafael Nadal and top model Naomi Campbell; the prince and princess of Holland and the king and queen of Spain, ex-president Bill Clinton and a long et cetera of chief executives, artists and business men and women from all over the globe forced by soccer to take a few days vacation on the poorest of all continents.

However, few other figures, I think, represent the sweet and festive reality that it is to contemplate the magisterial Morgan Freeman enjoying the finals just like another one of the 90 thousand spectators who filled up the Soccer City of Johannesburg this past July 11.

Why? Well because fewer than twenty years ago, these fields would have been open to Mick Jagger or the beautiful Charlize Theron, but probably not for him.  Not for a “segregatable black” who, before 1994, had his own place on the beach, his own section of the sidewalk, but not a theater box seat inside a stadium for the white ruling class.

That is why I believe that two countries have just enrolled themselves in Modern History with this World Cup. One, the champion.  The other one, the host.  The rest is just color and enjoyment, anecdotes and effort.  But these two countries have just given the world a lesson so subtle yet so overwhelming: Blessed be prosperity, blessed be evolution with which over the years two nations with very deplorable pasts have experimented.

First, Spain. The same Spain where today’s heroes are not Generals nor advanced plenipotentiaries, who do not achieve their fame by scorching caciques in the bonfire but by playing with a foot ball and, who can doubt it, exposing a fellowship and beauty over the field like only the best Selection of the moment can. It is a remarkable irony that champions are crowned, for the first time in ninety years, right on a continent where centuries ago it drained its own life’s blood with its shipment of slaves to the new world to slake its thirst for metals and power.

Are we speaking about the same Spain? No, definitely not.  Not about the Spain of Torquemada and its infernal Inquisition.  Nor is it the one of General Francisco Franco, whose bones I dare say shudder with shame before the face of the country which during decades he tyrannized.

This is the democratic Spain that in only a few decades reached the dream of all countries gripped by dictatorships: overcoming not only its economic indigence, but also its spiritual.  Raising the collective spirit of the nation until it was more prosperous, more free, more hopeful for all its people. A country that only twenty years ago still exported Spaniards to all parts of the orb in search of peace and prosperity, and that today, must regulate immigration in order to preserve economic and social stability.

Is this motherland to Hispanics the Earthly Paradise? Of course not.  Is it free of unemployment, crisis, internal ethnic conflicts, or terrorist organizations and suicidal attempts? Nor that.  But not knowing the progress of this Spain that nowadays celebrates thanks to the most universal of all sports, comparing it with the one of only a handful of years ago, not only is it stubborn statistics but political blindness.

We still have South Africa.

If anybody, after knowing its designation as the site of the most watched sporting event of the planet (according to official figures, it has twice the television audience of the Olympics), grinned with disbelief and disapproval, I am sure they slyly hide it today.  I include myself.

After going through some cultural and economic powers like France, Korea-Japan, and Germany, landing the World Cup in a continent destroyed by illnesses, violence and severe poverty, I thought it, from FIFA’s part, a decision if not quite sensible,  doubtfully a romantic one.

Thankfully, I was wrong.  Because South Africa’s World Cup has not only been the most beautiful culturally speaking, overflowing in musical and dancing references, and where natives clearly reminded us that from these latitudes is where, we, human beings, took our first steps on the planet; not only has it been a World Cup of truce during the crisis and the political idleness of the moment, but South Africans organized a feast as (or more) showy and technological than those held before in the hands of stronger powers.

Again the word evolution: the million dollar soccer date has just concluded in the same country that in 1964 incarcerated Nelson Mandela on Robben Island for twenty-eight years.  In the same country where racist excess from Apartheid segregated 80 percent of the black population, and segregated a whole country in an international isolation whose economic consequences would lead the government to declare South Africa, in 1985, in state of emergency due to a loss of value of the Rand, the official currency.

The selection of this site over Morocco, the other great candidate to organize the event in the Black Continent, was deeply influenced by the favorable economic perspective that the nation has experienced in the last years, generating one of the highest standards of living on the continent, thanks, in part, to the return of the foreign investments which practically vanished during Apartheid due to international sanctions.

Another important factor (and vital to my judgment so I can comprehend the qualitative jump in South Africa in less than two decades of democracy), was the significant reduction in its crime statistics.

Yes, the same State where, in 1976, the police responded with bullets to the rocks of the students in the schools of Soweto, and massacred some 566 children in disturbances that shocked the International Community, today offered its millions of visitors more security that the majority of its companions on the continent.

I am sure: not because there was an exciting World Cup, the unjust differences between the lifestyles of wide sectors of the population will be gone from South Africa.  Not because David Villa or Diego Forlan have led  a tournament of dreams, the acts of violence that have marked a continent over and over again subjugating men and History, will disappear from Mandela’s country.

However, I don’t doubt that after the World Cup of the jumping Jabulani and the stentorian vuvuzelas, the leopard Zakumi, the visionary octopus Paul; the Cup that broke through superstition and (as an example) crowned for the first time a team that had reached the finals with one defeat among all seven games; after this experience of universal reach, I am sure that all of the African nation will look itself in the mirror of the present as the best antidote against a past that it should never look back to, ever.  I am also sure, that full of national joy in the Spanish Motherland, fewer murderers, fewer thieves, fewer suicides and fewer extortionists will show up on the streets in coming days to perform their fearful acts, and that Spaniards will all feel a pride that grows out of a football but, bleeding from civil wars and sunk in a Jurassic military dictatorship, they wouldn’t have been able to celebrate with all this pride in previous decades.  Even for as long as Andres Iniesta would have sent la Jo’bulani to the depth of the nets.

I believe that just for the speed with which these two countries distanced themselves from their pasts of intolerance and exclusion, it was all well worth it.

Of course, also because hundreds of blacks, and a “crack” from the world of acting like Morgan Freeman, experienced the finals in the Soccer City of Johannesburg with the sole concern of whether or not their team will take the gold Cup in their hands.

Translated by: Angelica Betancourt

 

Prologue to The Little Brother

Finally, yes, I yielded to necessity. I often wondered how long I could resist the stimulus, the temptation, and I delayed my response as if it had something to do with the uncomfortable or inevitable.

Because to admit the need for a blog, these days, is a bit like adopting the latest style, and I am ashamed to admit that over every trendy fashion hangs the suspicion of childishness. At times without discrimination. And so, as so often, I renege.

Eventually, circumstances overcame my stupidity, and I told myself: there are times when fashion saves and redeems us. We fill our lungs with oxygen when we feel overcome by routine, and find new paths, beautiful solutions.

Thus was born my abdication. And in consequence, thus arises The Little Brother. From the recognition that without our own voices, men strangle us in their thoughts. The cumulative thinking becomes a matter that needs expansion, otherwise it turns against itself, crashes against the cranial walls, and self-destructs.

To avoid this, we have our voice. Oral or written. Nut we need to use it. And if no one around you gives you a place to extend it, if all the parks and plazas are closed to you, if they prevent you from screaming or writing in a newspaper, something must be sought, no? The alternative word had become so essential that if we didn’t have it in our language, we would have to invent it.

So, I repeat, thus arises The Little Brother.

This blog is a view from below. A camera from underneath. But it is a view that doesn’t admit bandages nor tolerate disadvantages. Because even though Big Brother outweighs you, and even though he will put a lot of effort into stopping you (like the one who burned the scores of Johann Sebastian Bach, and didn’t let him play the harpsichord with freedom), the Little Brother has eyes to see.

And, fortunately, a clear voice, very sincere, that also knows how to speak.

 
 
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