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Monthly Archives: September 2010

The New National Joke

Big guy 1: I was a shoemaker and the Revolution made me an engineer.
Same guy 2: Now I’m a shoemaker again.
1st little guy: The retraining model is working!
2nd little guy: Long Live the Re-Use-Olution

For the forward-looking among us, who lost their jobs before the Government announced its layoffs, the social chess game on this Island of the Absurd has a different connotation. Recent events don’t surprise us too much.

I, who was a pioneer in this expendability, will one day claim my diploma and prize.

So I opened the double pages of the newspaper Granma last Friday with a different mood from most people; less biased, perhaps. More “light.” When you’re already unemployed, little that is printed in the official newspaper frightens you.

Howling with laughter cleared my head. Getting to start the morning roaring gave me another lens through which to write the truth.

I’ve gone over and over the list of 178 new occupations that my Government benefactor has created for the support of its citizens, and every time the scene repeats itself: I start with a suppressed smile, and end up laughing my head off.

Someone told me not long ago: “This is a crazy country.” That is, it is not a country of crazy people, but a nation that has lost its sanity. This time even our leaders have contributed to the joke

I look at the list, ordered alphabetically, and I ask myself if any of these great careers would be suited to my talents as an idled scribe. After discarding “Tutor,” thinking myself lacking in pedagogic talent, I start to sort through them.

As a teenager I never got the chance, during my stay at high school, to climb a coconut palm and tear off its fruit. And not because it might have cost my life; my hunger was so fierce I would have climbed Everest. OK, maybe not this one.

I cross off “Palm Tree Harvester.” I imagine the fortune within my reach, but reason helps me to see my way to refusing it. If starving to death and adolescent hunger weren’t enough to get me to the top of a coconut palm…

2. In my house there’s a talking parrot and a dwarf turtle which, although nearly 20 years old, fits in the palm of a hand. With the profession of “renter of animals” now approved, I searched my brain trying to figure out how I could exploit the pets in my home, and in this way reactivate my non-existent economy.

The parrot is such an egomaniac that 99 percent of its entire repertoire starts with it mumbling its own name. It is also surly and phlegmatic, and I’m sure that the instant someone rents her from me to amuse their family, she will shut her beak entirely until the day of her return.

The turtle has the most boring existence any animal could experience. Except for filling the house with luck with its mystical ways, I see no other utility to it through which I might be able to raise some capital.

3. As the list is explicit, although I was trained in the art of weaving I could not exercise the profession. I would not be safe from doubts and malicious eyes. To acquire a license for an activity that says, with no margin for doubt, “Embroiderer-Weaver,” does not make me feel comfortable.

4. One of the options, which they’ve even marked with asterisks, is “Collector-Payer.” I like the idea of responding, when someone asks me my profession, “Well, I work at collecting and paying.” I could pass for an investor or a businessman, even if my pockets haven’t heard about it. Either way, a certain social recognition would attach to me.

5. Quite the opposite of those who announce their official status as, “Hairdresser for domestic animals.” True, it is an honorable profession where it is practiced, frequently in developed nations. But I automatically distrust the home environment of a girl I just met, for example, who confessed to me that her father earned a living cutting the bangs of poodles in his city.

6. There are some professions recently recognized that need a little public clarification in order to address popular misconceptions. Item number 156 says, “Dandy,” and no one has any idea what could be going on in the minds of our leaders. That said, some of my best friends have started to shave their chests, hone their muscles, and even buy themselves hats and canes. Who knows.

7. On the other hand, the newspaper Granma should have provided some kind of key to go with this compilation of legendary trades of the most mysterious and indecipherable; they need an explanation. I have to confess I couldn’t sleep thinking of the devils who devote themselves to the position of “Button coverer,” or “Book possessor.”* I think my optimism will be confirmed if I find that I am able to support my current and future family through the latter line of work. If they are going to pay me for having books… Hallelujah!

8. Not even the astral world has been passed over by our Government in its effort to provide every Cuban with a living and personal well-being. Now the “Fortuneteller” can read in peace, (license in hand), the future of her client in a deck of cards. Even guessing the fate of the inspectors who ask to see the license for their illuminating work.

Also the “Tropical fruit peeler,” could remove the skins of bananas and mangoes without worrying about being caught out; for a small tax the State will authorize him to devote himself to this juicy business.

The only thing not clear to me is when our sardonic newspaper will publish the tag-line that clarifies everything. The text that finishes off this incredibly original joke with which the highest echelons of power wanted to favor us. For a Creole joke it’s not bad, but we have all laughed heartily already, let them start taking us seriously… Deal?

*Translator’s note: The idea of “Book possessor” is funny in two languages/cultures: English/Spanish; Capitalist/Communist. The term is actually the equivalent to the English “bookkeeper”… But what Cuban keeps books? In the socialist paradise where the State owns all…

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Blockade vs. Embargo: Reason Hijacked


In my judgment, few issues of the Cuban reality are more complex to objectively analyze than the controversial economic, financial and trade blockade-embargo which, since 1962, the United States has maintained against the Island’s government.

While there are topics that we can dissect almost surgically, separating their components with pinpoint precision, on this topic there will never be a last word; there will always be one more argument up someone’s sleeve that merits further discussion.

The conflict is born from the etymology itself: whether someone calls it a blockade or an embargo implies, per se, taking sides. The same thing happens with the name of our former leader: it is enough to call him Fidel or to call him Castro, for an interlocutor to divine the political affiliations of the speaker.

I will take a stab at the definitions: it is not an embargo in the strict sense, nor is it a blockade. A simple embargo, speaking literally, would not include pressure on third countries to prevent trade with Cuba: it would apply exclusively to the transactions with the United States, and it is an open secret that this isn’t the case.

On the other hand, the term “blockade” that the Cuban government uses to define these sanctions, is even less relevant. A true blockade implies military maneuvers so that nothing, by land, sea or air, would be allowed into Cuba from other countries. It might be worth asking the inhabitants of Gaza if they know what a true blockade is.

Despite this double inaccuracy, I see the “embargo” as closer to the truth, although the other term is much preferred by the official sensationalists of my country.

It’s clear: this is not the fundamental issue of a subject that has generated heated debates, by both detractors and defenders of the Cuban Revolution, and even among ourselves those of us who reject the totalitarianism of the system that governs us have not been able to reach a consensus.

Why? Well because to evaluate a measure like this, in my opinion, three fundamental questions would have to be defined, each of which is more complex and subjective than the last. The first: whether its origin, its initial application, was justified or not. The second: its objectives today. The third: the results achieved.

Approaching an analysis with these three premises helps to satisfy a criteria based on a method that separates the issues, which, luckily for us, Aristotle inaugurated many centuries ago.

Genesis

No one doubts the true origin of this severe measure: the outrageous expropriations by the Revolutionary Government after their triumph in 1959.

Hundreds of American citizens and companies were dispossessed, in a flash, of their investments and properties with this Revolution that wanted to change even the water table of the Island. Capital invested according to the laws in force up to that moment was vaporized by the new leaders.

Small national proprietors suffered the same fate: anyone who owned a pharmacy, a barbershop, a candy store, lost his personal achievement at the hands of a collectivist dream that was, also, barbaric and thoughtless.

For these Cubans, however, there was no option but to adapt to the new rules of the game. They could leave the country, live cursing the bearded ones, grow old filled with an understandable hatred, or get aboard the triumphant train, with faith in the promised future. I prefer not to speak about other cases I know of: those who could not bear their helplessness in the face of such arbitrariness, and who took their own lives.

But the U.S. citizens and investors had a government response that sought to impose pressure in return for justice. The embargo was born. The date of its full implementation takes us to February 1962.

At this point, I can’t but admit the validity of a coercive measure that tried — today we know unsuccessfully — to reverse these angry and capricious interventions, disinterring the hatchet of war from the very beginning of the process. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Practical Instructions for Creating an Enemy

At age nine, a fall from a considerable height would give a resounding twist to his life. It would prevent him from ever walking again. He had to endure endless surgeries, which turned his adolescence into a cruel and painful time.

Despite all this, perhaps the God whom he invokes so frequently rewarded him with a spirituality strong enough to prevent his misfortune from ruining his smile. With barely any effort, now forty, he carries an undeniable distinction: enjoying, in his city, a much greater popularity than someone far from power or glory could be expected to achieve.
His name: Carlos Jesús Reyna. His house, located on one of the busiest arterials of eastern Bayamo, is a required meeting place for the most diverse and colorful characters of this city. His circle of friends and acquaintances range from respected doctors and lawyers, to criminals famous for their chronic misdeeds.
He knows that, after many vicissitudes, to be able to count on his legion of friends is an outright defeat for the system he suffered.

Because this man from Bayamos whose image could not pass unnoticed among the loftiest multitudes, with his long hair and his clothes which loudly declare him a fan of Argentine football, has, for almost two decades, suffered the effects of a political marginalization he never deserved.

BACKGROUND

- What was the origin of your political confrontation in this city?

Look, there’s a history to the fact that marked a before and after in that regard. It was a complaint that I made in 1993 against four police officers for abuse of authority.

Until then, I never had problems with any official body.

However, the nightlife I always had with several friends — we stayed until after midnight in some parks — attracted the arbitrariness of the police who, without any reasons or legal basis, expelled us from public places, supposedly because we were potential criminals.

Why? Because they said that someone who works can’t stay out late in the street. If we were out later than they thought we should be, we were antisocials. All of us were studying or working, but that wasn’t good enough for them. They came to arrest us and other times they fined us.

I denounced this situation, and two of the four that I accused were punished by military tribunals. However, as you will understand, with that I earned myself the eternal hatred of the police of this city. It was really a preamble to what would come some months later.

- The accusation of the crime of “enemy propaganda” …

Exactly. They hung me on the cross of being an antisocial who painted subversive anti-government posters. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

In Dante’s Ninth Circle


One of the merits which I believe can be attributed to the government of Raul Castro, since he took office on the island in 2008, is his obvious concern for the national economic condition.

Being conservative, I believe that in just two years the Army General has publicly shown far more interest and willingness to change the economic sector, than Fidel did in the entire last decade of his official mandate.

Timid, inadequate, naive measures? Perhaps. But the truth is that anything is preferable to state control.

This presidential concern could be motivated by two specific reasons:

1. The country facing Raúl bears no resemblance to that hotbed of exuberance and revolutionary fervor, to the society bursting with faith ,that his brother presided over for several decades.

The Army General has found a nation with obvious signs of distress, very high rates of illegality, battered productivity, and above all, he has found a nation with a dangerous discontent that can be seen in virtually all areas.

The endless exodus of athletes, doctors, artists; the degrading the cunning tricks by which Cubans are claiming Spanish nationality and a chance to leave the county; along with crime under the guise of common practices, are indisputable signs of this.

2. On the other hand, according to certain secret voices, the General has a pragmatic temperament, alienated from idyllic epics and social fantasies, which has led him try to first stop the unstoppable downfall of the national economy.

Of course, to speak of merit in this sense is too extreme. Or is it perhaps a case deserving of applause that a child respects his mother, or cares for her health. Can we speak of merit in citizen behavior that rejects theft or pedophilia? Are not these essential duties? I think that it is what is required of everyone, and does not merit recognition.

Similarly, I believe that Raúl’s effort to revive the Cuban economy is meritorious, but it is also true that this is a primary function, basic to any ruler. It is his obligation. Especially if we take as a starting point that any form of government in contemporary society should not have functions other than to ensure the proper performance of social processes, and to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizens.

This is not just me speaking. In the eighteenth century Jean Jacques Rousseau said it in a philosophical monument called The Social Contract (it shares with Das Kapital by Karl Marx, the status of the most famous and influential book of political philosophy ever written).

Another element to take into account in fairly assessing the current government’s will to transform the economy, is the responsibility that belongs to the Cuban State in this regard. In my view, it is no different from a surgeon who, after making a mistake in a particular patient’s surgery, decides to take a special interest in that patient’s progress and future treatment.

According to the wise words of a church authority I recently spoke with, “The greater share of power the ruler of a country accumulates, and the less opportunity ordinary citizens are given to decide their own destiny, the more responsibility, in the eyes of society and of history, is laid on he who holds the power.”

Under a system like Cuba’s, where about 95 percent of the jobs are working for the State, where the scope for managing personal finances is exactly zero, who can be held responsible for the chaotic situation presented by the national economy?

However, the main problem, which in my opinion can be seen behind this effort to inject vitality into a quadriplegic economy, is the lack of a clear perspective on the sense of where these measures are going to lead.

In economics there are no miracles. Nothing happens for no reason. All possible progress in a sector is the consequence of the implementation of sound policies in the medium or long-term, policies which translate into development.

In 1923, as a result of hyperinflation, the German mark was valued at 4.2 billion for every dollar. Though we Cubans understand what it means to change 25 Cuban pesos for one Cuban convertible peso (CUC), it is almost impossible to imagine what that 4.2 billion figure represented. Quoting the words of an eminent economist, “The German mark was worthless.”

The rapid revitalization of the country, what some then were calling the “German miracle,” was no miracle at all. It was the result of sound economic policies that led that ruined nation — which still had to go through another World War — to what it is today: an undeniable power.

In our continent, the case of two countries in particular, Brazil and Chile, confirm this principle. It was not divine benevolence, nor work at gunpoint, nor happy accident, which has brought these two nations on a poor continent to excel with their high standards of living.

It was, again, solid decisions in the field of economics, which have propelled Chile to become the only Latin American nation that can be considered to have joined the First World.

Why bring this up? Because at times it is clear that in Cuba the effort is not matched by clarity, and we know that the way to Hell is also paved with good intentions.

First, as a plan to revive productivity, they increased the retirement age by five years for workers across the country. Those who were almost ready to retire had to add years to their working lives. Workers, for the most part, unmotivated and discontented by the impossibility of prospering economically after 25 years of sacrifices.

But the new law was passed. We all knew that the public consultation was another game of democracy, with the same enthusiasm and seriousness of children playing house.

And while we’re talking about laws, we could also mention the “Pre-Criminal Dangerousness Index,” where they levy sanctions — including prison terms — to those who have no verifiable employment.

That is to say: they apply a penalty to people before they have committed a crime; in this case the pre-criminal behavior is not working and, therefore, having the propensity to commit a crime. (I’ve always thought that the plot of the movie Minority Report, by Steven Spielberg, where the Pre-crime Police stopped and arrested people before the crime happened, occurred to the brilliant director after his visit to Havana.)

It so happens that now — according to official reports of the event — President Raul Castro himself admitted, during his closing speech at the Ninth Congress of the Union of Communist Youth, that more than one million workers need to be laid off to increase productivity.

Stated clearly and without qualifications: one million people who do not produce will be put out on the street (in other times we would have said “in the cane fields”). The Cuban Workers Union has announced the cut of half a million jobs before April next year.

Against this background, it is impossible not to think: First, those who don’t work are fined or imprisoned; then those who have accumulated the most working years see the retirement age extended; and now, they throw a half million workers into the street in just a few months! But who is making these decisions for our country?

This revision of strategies is not about the will to change, about what can save us from the ruin we have been immersed in for so long. But it is a good first step. But no more than that. The drug addict who wants to ensure his future detoxification must first acknowledge and accept his addiction. But simply accepting it does not make him a “self-critical” individual. He must make good decisions to free himself from drugs.

I think there has never been a time like now, when the Cuban government has a real chance to change direction, to kick-start the transformation of our economy, to give Cubans the transfusion that is needed. But it would have to be done with real commitment and total precision.

It is worth remembering, as a subtle warning, that the worst place in Hell, the ninth circle, was reserved by Dante Alighieri in his “Divine Comedy” for traitors to the homeland in times of crisis, those who closed their mouths or crossed their arms.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Sex, Truths, and Video Cameras

Nobody knows her name or the sound of her voice. Except for her family or close friends, her individuality doesn’t matter.

And yet she is a kind of atypical national celebrity. Her image has traveled the island from one end to the other, smuggled, multiplied by infinity in hundreds, thousands of personal computers and storage devices.

Currently she’s not a student: she was expelled from school where she intended to graduate in Computer Science a few years ago. Her body shows the perfection of youth in just over thirty digital photos available to any Cuban who owns a computer.

“I didn’t do it for money,” she explains. The occasion just presented itself, and I thought it was fun.  The person who took them was my boyfriend at the moment. There was no money in it.”

“And what did he tell you he was going to do with the photos?” I ask.

“Nothing. We were playing around and he took the camera out and I started to pose.  But it wasn’t something we planned or prepared, it’s something you can notice in the photos, it was just spur of the moment. When we finished having sex we looked at them and he told me he was going to save them on the computer. Then he gave me a copy of all of them. But he made the copies on a computer at school and that’s where they spread from.

She doesn’t doubt my knowledge of these images. She knows that I, just like a thousand other people – mostly men — have seen them on a personal computer, some have been stored with zeal and have been a secret inspiration for desperate single men.

This girl from Camagüey is twenty-three years old. Her beauty is impressive for a young girl from a working class family, without extremes of skin care or silicon devices. She asks me, though her body is better known than that of the Giraldilla, not to mention her name. I nod. It’s the only privacy she has left.

In 2005 she was another one of those purged from the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) in Havana.

After an explosion of digital pornography spread out from the center to the rest of Cuba, the managers had to invest more time in meetings and disciplinary measures than in teaching classes.

The scandal had gotten out of hand like never before in Cuban society.  Dozens of young men and women from every state of the country had been photographed and filmed in erotic poses, semi-naked, completely naked, or during full sexual acts with endless imagination.

The existence of a national or foreign market for this type of merchandise was proven in some cases.  In others, it was only about pure enjoyment of new ways of sexuality, which extended throughout the population by the negligence of whoever saved the material; simply out of desire.

“When we had taken about twenty photos was when he went and looked for the other girl,” she tells me.

Because in fact, the peculiarity of her images is the bisexual practice displayed.  While in the initial pictures it was only about her in diverse positions, including oral sex with her boyfriend (who never appears), later she surrenders to carnal pleasures with another young girl, a roommate, according to what she tells me.

“Are you resentful?” I ask.

“Listen, I think that the only thing that honestly hurt me was getting expelled from school – she says. “I patched it up fast with my parents, they know that I’m young, but that I am also an adult, and I make my own decisions.”

“Tell me something, how have you been able to handle the publicity that those intimate pictures have attracted?”

Her answer, in this case, seemed to me so sincere it scared me:

“Look, that doesn’t worry me one bit. And you know why? , because what I did on there, and what everyone sees, is what the majority of people, especially young people, are doing when they are intimate. Or what many haven’t done but would love to do. I don’t have to be ashamed for something that doesn’t harm anybody. If I had killed someone, if I had stolen, that would be something else.  But for having sexual relations with a man and a woman before a digital camera, not at all.”

I am from the same generation as she is, and despite it all, I cannot get over being surprised by her shameless declaration. The phenomenon seems a bit striking to me. I think about the sexuality I began to discover during adolescence, and I’m aware of the notable differences that exist with today’s practices.

Not only because ten years ago I had never seen a digital camera, not even up close.  But also because not too long ago, the behavior of the most sexually active people still had an intimacy, hidden from the public, like something sacred and inviolable.

FROM ALFRED KINSEY TO TODAY

His name represented a watershed for the understanding of the human sexual behavior, early 20th Century.  Alfred Kinsey, a North American biologist and sexologist, was one of the precursors of the so-called Sexual Revolution that came a bit later.

Nobody, before him had spoken with such freedom and naturalness about the phenomena which were perceived by the public as pathological deprivations, or human psyche deviations.  Let’s say masturbation, (feminine especially, a subject which has not yet overcome its taboo) let’s say homosexuals and bisexuals.

“Kinsey’s Scale,” one of his most fundamental contributions, understands all the steps that, according to the scientist, explain human interests in the sexual area, with its nuances and variations.

In his books “Male’s Sexual Behavior” (1948) and “Female’s Sexual Behavior” (1953), affirmations like the following could be read: “Nothing that takes place between two adults, during their intimacy, and with the consent of both parties, can be considered sick or unacceptable. The supposed immorality is another social farce.

Also, provocations as such: “If all human beings would come together at a stadium, for example, and each one confessed aloud their sexual fantasies, they would all discover that what they assumed to be individual barbarities, in reality area the thought of by almost everyone.”

I think about this, now that the sexual map of my country seems to have changed colors. It is notoriously changing. To see it, it is enough to sharpen the senses. It is enough to put together evidence, declarations. To study with a magnifier the reality that surrounds us, to discover that, to the surprise of many, while in the sociopolitical plan the Island is still the same as a few years ago, Cuban sexuality has experienced an evident transformation, especially in its younger population.  Mrs. Karelia Cobas Ordaz, Master in Sexology and author of a soon-to-be published book about new challenges towards sexual education in adolescents, also recognizes the same thing:

“Despite it not being a private phenomenon in Cuba at all,” she tells me, “this type of freedom is very interesting in our country because of the fact that in other aspects, Cuban society has barely changed. For example: In a country as sexual as this one, places to go on a date for occasional relationships are almost nonexistent, nor does pornography sell as a legal product. So it seems very unexpected that, under these conditions, the sexual practices in the young community have experienced such a notable change.”

She also affirms something very important: according to the data included in her Master’s thesis, the occasional lesbian relationships of young girls between the 18 and 27 years of age, in Cuba, surpasses by a few percentages the data retrieved in studies about sexuality in countries like Chile, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

According to Cobas Ordaz this doesn’t reveal an increase in the young lesbian population, but an openness to practices, especially feminine, where curiosity about of new ways of pleasure, lead to its acting out, for example, sexual threesomes where relations between women are frequent.

About the subject of “advertising” sexual intimacy, the specialist affirms:

“It’s a subject that Sexology in Cuba has pending in a special way.  Is evident that modesty, the fear of exhibiting one’s own body in a public way, has yielded the field to other types of behavior.  It’s true: many young people photograph themselves nowadays without worrying about the spread of those pictures. In many cases, they spread them deliberately.”

For these types of behaviors, which teeter towards the edge of very dangerous terms like pornography or prostitution, the Cuban Penal Code does not recognize sanctions.  According to what Alejandro Mojena Ramirez, a Law School Graduate explains, in this type of material, whether it is pictures or videos, there is no felony as long as the people involved are over age, and no monetary profit is gained by the ones who are involved in such acts.

The truth is that the number of young people, mostly females, whose bodies can be appreciated today in the digital Cuban universe, is not only very large but is also growing.  For some it is about a way of earning easy money.  For others, it’s a way to access new experiences.

While from the beginning connotation of a national scandal that surrounded the case of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) student was extended to the new “models” who appeared everywhere; there is no doubt this vision has started to change.  It no longer sparks extreme surprise.  All that is left is the inevitable disease and the lewdness that attaches to each new girl whose nakedness becomes common property.

How much do the positive and negative of these tendencies weigh on social patterns?  It is something that sociologists and specialists will have to determine. Or how helpful are the practices that don’t allow us to assume that sex is an act only of two, and bring it back to previous centuries, when the term orgy was patented almost exclusively for sexuality?

Meanwhile, I hold in my mind the last words from that exotic girl from Camaguey, whose flesh and attitude are a sample of this new era of Cuban sexuality.  Before saying my goodbyes from that unusual interview, she asks:

“It seems to me that at least in the subject of sex Cubans have stopped being obedient to the norms and have started to do what they really want. I think young people are very free in the sexual field.  Don’t you think that’s a good thing?”

And I, with an amused smirk on my face, say, “Yes.”

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

20 Reasons to Doubt


My generation grew up listening to the litany.  It wasn’t the only one.  It was barely a new one.  But I can attest to that: along with a motto I never understood “Pioneers for Communism, we shall be like Ché!”, my legs and my conscious grew up hearing that the country my grandparents had, without a Revolution, was far worse.

The country from the past they assembled in my childish brain never had color.  Or better yet, it did: the color of blood.  It was a barbarian country, with murderers as rulers and children bruised by pain.

It also had a lot of gray. The images from the past are always gray.  Especially, if they were previously passed by an editing cubicle.

On the Island prior to 1959 Cubans did not know happiness.  They did not heal illnesses; they did not know orgasms, or sunsets, or chocolate ice cream.  They never danced deliriously, nor did they raise world trophies or academic titles.

If Cuban culture is a heritage of the revolution; if sports were never a people’s right; if doctors didn’t heal; if nightlife was nothing but crimes and punishments; if the only Cuban History that exists is the one that tells its wars and its hardships, my country owes its essence and reason for being to a process initiated on January, 1959.

That’s how I was taught. I, the diligent pioneer of Communism aspiring to be like Ché, learned it that way.

But somehow I also learned, by intuition or negligence, to suspect that imperfect past.  A handful of books started to do its subversive work inside of me.  The flyby information I retained as an antidote against a history that, just like the old saying goes, seemed very badly told.

Just like that, by chance or by destiny, I discovered that the past of my Island had a lot of blood and corruption.  But it also had an undeniable splendor. Read the rest of this entry »

 

The Mea Culpa of the Powerful

What normally happens when a common citizen is at fault for an act of social significance? He is made to pay for his mistake, and in many ways, with a wide range of penalties; depending on the magnitude of his act, it can range from a simple reproach, to deprivation of liberty.

But in certain countries and under certain systems, the events taken as the “errors” or “mistakes” of one individual have a much broader range than under those of others.

In the Kampuchea of Pol Pot, to be an intellectual was an “error” punishable by death, or at least by agricultural work. In Nazi Germany, having too large a nose was an error paid for by having one’s bones made into buttons.

In Cuba, until very recently, to be a homosexual was an unacceptable error that was expiated by expulsion from your job, work as a prisoner in the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) camps, or being held in a cold nocturnal jail cell under the pretext of vulgar or outrageous practices.

But under these semi-divine systems, with justice at all cost and any cost, who punishes the error of the infallible ones when they miraculously recant? Who makes them answer, ever, for their human mistakes?

Homophobia Revisited

A few days ago, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, gave an interesting interview to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. Faced with the journalist’s questions about Cuban practices with respect to homosexuals and the discrimination they suffered, particularly starting in 1965, el Comandante admitted:

“Yes, there were times of great injustice, whomever might have done it. If we did it, we, we… I am trying to outline my responsibility in all this because, after all, personally, I don’t have these kind of prejudices. If someone is responsible, it is me. It’s true that at that time I wasn’t involved in this… I found myself immersed, principally in the October Crisis, in the war, in political questions… We didn’t know its value. But in the end, someone has to take responsibility, it is mine. I am not going to put the blame on others.”

The topic is too difficult to summarize in a few comforting phrases. There is too much evidence to doubt this recognition of guilt (for example, The October Crisis dates to 1962, when the harshest period of the anti-gay repression had not yet begun).

Among other things, Fidel seems to admit only that he didn’t act against homophobia which arose spontaneously in the society, not that this homophobia was encouraged and guided by all the leaders of the Revolution, including himself. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Orphaned From Journalism (Part 3, Final)

I do not think there is better way to weigh the worth or the worthlessness of the media in a country, than to carefully analyze what they themselves do.

Like few other jobs in the world, journalism has a peculiarity which at times is its own worst enemy: its raison d’etre is public consumption. No other profession is as visible, as this mass communication, where millions of brains interpret and evaluate the product you have offered for their consideration.

In the case of the Cuban press, the manipulation of information, concealment of events of interest to society, and the total absence of critical views or in-depth analysis of the political and social framework that governs the destiny of the island, represent some of the characteristics that could be seen as increasingly visible endemic ills.

For each of these points, the same newspapers we read every day, the same National Television, offer endless arguments that at times, rise to the level of attacks on the intelligence of the media consumer.

Let’s look at a few examples.

A CERVANTES PRIZE FOR A SAD TIGER

On April 27, 2009, the Holguin newspaper posted an article signed by Petra Silva Cruz, entitled The Two Cuban Cervantes Prizes.

In this article, the author briefly reviews the life and work of two immortals of Cuban literature: Alejo Carpentier and Dulce Maria Loynaz. Both were awarded the highest recognition of Hispanic literature, the Cervantes Prize.

After perusing it, the reader is left stupefied by a brief — brief but of staggering proportions — omission, a paradox worthy of comic theater. It so happens that the Cervantes Prize has been won by not only two, but three Cubans. Three. And the third is a child of the same province as this newspaper, Holguin.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante was born in 1929 in the Holguin village of Gibara, which is also famous for supposedly being the first place that Christopher Columbus set foot in his discovery of the island

Cabrera Infante was awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1997, and his novel Tres tristes tigres (“Three Sad Tigers,” but renamed in translation: Three Trapped Tigers) is generally considered a masterpiece.

So why has this man, considered a master of contemporary Latin American narrative, been so blatantly robbed of his Cervantes Prize, and that by a newspaper which — carrying the absurdity a step further — represents the region of his birth?

It’s very simple. Because to be Cuban, according to the official press, is to support the system and the government. Both have the uncanny ability to strip the citizenship of those who are disaffected, successfully re-baptizing these people as “stateless” and “traitors” for their choice to disagree with the official party line.

As a consequence, therefore, there is no media outlet in this country where one can mention the name Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

But as it would be too much to ask the triumphalist propaganda not to refer to the two Cervantes winner who remained in the Island, the awarded tigers are reduced to two with no concern for the veracity of the information, an insult to journalistic decency.

A BASEBALL GAME THAT NEVER ENDS

Baseball World Cup in Havana, 2003. Fighting it out for a place in the semi-final were two opponents who played with real passion: Cuba and Brazil.

The course of the game was worthy of a Hollywood script, with spectacular plays, last-minute photogenic fly balls, and nerves stretched to the point of delirium.

Now Cuba has the opportunity to leave Brazil on the field: it is the 9th inning and the stellar Yulieski Gourriel reaches third on a triple setting off a euphoria from one end of the Island to the other.

But the game is not yet won.

Next up is another prodigious player. His name: Kendry Morales. (Currently he is the star first baseman of the Anaheim Angels in the American major leagues.)

His phenomenal home run stops physical time for Cuba’s fans. The film of his figure rounding the four bases is repeated ad nauseam on national television.

But something unexpected was about to happen: Shortly thereafter, Kendry Morales left the country en route to his dreams of playing in the American majors. His departure from the island took place just before the National TV sports journalist, Julia Osendi, was to present a flowery piece about current events in “revolutionary baseball” on the TV show The Roundtable.

I am sure it could not have been easy for her. She had to talk about the 2003 Baseball World Cup, and its most electrifying game: the one decided by Kendry with his spectacular home run. But in her report, she only mentioned the triple by Gourriel. The home run hit by the former player from Cuba’s Industriales team never happened.

To be allowed to present her work, Osendi had to vaporize the same athlete whom the entire country had loved with a passion, on behalf of a political precept that considered him a deserter and an enemy, and therefore someone who could not be mentioned in the media.

Judging by this story, once Kendry is erased from history, Yulieski Gourriel is still standing at third base, waiting for a cleanup hitter to drive him home. The game is not yet over.

IDENTITY THEFT

I am sure that future researchers seeking to conduct a sociological assessment of this Caribbean island, through the newspapers preserved in libraries, television news reels recorded on old tapes or digital copies, will be faced with a dilemma: Accept as valid the historiographical material, adulterated, incomplete, and warped to accommodate the political interests of the national press in these times; or resort to the true chronicler of our recent history: Art.

In the History of Cuba that I want to read some day, it will be awarded to art, to the artists of this country, to provide the reference points and social analysis that by definition should have belonged to journalism.

Why? Because it is only through a handful of films and documentaries, reckless songs (which would cause their singers to be banned), irreverent novels (whose authors would be officially banned), that a Cuban can find a representation — good and bad — that he can identify with.

Only through plays which would be quickly be censored, through art exhibitions closed down, has an entire country managed to express itself in a more or less public way without the support of a responsible and incisive press.

What has brought this about? A substitution of identities, where, even though it is art that has been tainted at times with too much social criticism, Cubans have found voices that finally say what the media has been shamefully silent about.

Cubans have had to flock to theaters to hear the incendiary words of a homosexual discriminated against, expelled from his country, for daring to prefer strawberry ice cream over chocolate. They must read the novels of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, the stories of Ángel Santiesteban, the testimonies of Amir Valle, to find a reflection of reality flooded with beggars, prostitutes and rafters, because from national television’s viewpoint there are only permanent headlines of exemplary workers and production plans far exceeded.

The conclusion in this respect was given to me by the singer-songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer in an interview that I conducted just two years ago. To my question about why one finds more information about his rift with the Cuban government than about his musical career, the artist replied:

“I accept it as an inevitable phenomenon: in places where the press doesn’t play its role, and doesn’t say the things that have to be said about politics or the economy, people substitute values, and they approach art to find the news they cannot find in journalism. Consensus sites are created in art, while they should have been created in other areas.

“To change that would require politicians to do what they have to do. And journalists and economists do what they have to do. And then it would not be necessary for Pedro Luis Ferrer to say in his concerts and interviews what, by definition, should have been theirs to say.”

FINAL BALANCE OF THE ORPHAN

A people orphaned from journalism can not be healthy enough to build a just society. A society which is, as Jose Marti, the Master, said, “With All and For the Good of All.”

A public orphaned from public debate, creates a place where the alternative media (blogs, underground musicians, underground television serials) have gone on to become essential for the information-hungry city, which has no real tools to generate plurality of thought. Much less democracy.

The dull and obedient journalists in Cuba carry on their shoulders the responsibility for what we now, regretfully, see: a society incapable of civilized debate. Those journalists must take the blame for the mental deformation that has made Cubans a people without the will to value even our most elemental human rights.

I believe that within a people so orphaned from journalism, the voices from alternative platforms, with huge dangers and threats, with good decisions and regrettable deviations, have carried the weight of national and international information, and one day could be accepted as the bright spot in the darkness, the Yang within so much Yin.

I refuse to be pessimistic, but around me, for now, I can not see any other examples of real journalism, free and consistent with the social reality.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 
 
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