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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Dissecting a Modus Operandi

I want to start, this time, making a critical clarification: what I intend to address in this post will be an exception in the blog. The purpose of this blog is to inspire thinking, offer journalistic texts (and on occasion literary ones), where analysis and critical thinking predominate, in a manner of speaking. Whether I achieve it or not depends on many factors, but certainly that is my purpose.

This time, however, I want to make a stop along the way, and to formulate a sui generis denunciation. I want to give you, the readers, a concrete opportunity to see how far the repressive-slanderous apparatus is willing to go, in its efforts to shut down the discordant voices and sing along with the official choir.

In the post, “With a Homeland, But Without a Master,” I stated briefly that certain actions were directed against me by the keepers of the absolute truth, once I decided to act and write like a free young person.

Then, in “The Untouchables,” I analyzed the methods and practices used by State Security to restrict our personal freedoms, violate all our constitutional rights, and punish the non-conformists with methods that have no limits.

Today I want to bring my foundations down to earth, shedding light on of the most incredible strategies with which this the apparatchik has tried to counter my blog, and annul my standing as an intellectual.

I hope that all of those who are suspicious of our complaints, who put question marks over our stories, and who defend the legitimacy of this system, will take the time to read this extensive material which I want to present in detail.

Big Brother is watching your email

As I said in the previous post, to have a Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account on the island is a sovereign privilege. In many institutions where there is internet access, it is a violation of the rules.

Why? It is an open secret: because State Security has not managed to “filter” the communications on these servers; ergo they force Cubans to use e-mail providers that they can effectively hack.

I, without internet access, for a long time used a national mail account with which I communicated for personal and professional reasons. Almost three months ago, the officials assigned to subvert this blog, showed me how absurd the monitoring, reading and storing the digital correspondence of Cubans can be. And how unscrupulous are the “strategies” of those so-called patriots and defenders of the truth.

Step one: “Mambi Stinger” in Crearblog

A “reader” appeared in The Little Brother, signing himself “Pepe,” later transformed into “Poseidon,” “Alex Rodriguez,” and other aliases. If you would like to check his existence, you can trace the posts of the past two months, where you will find a couple of virulent comments under his signature.

He appeared to be the manager of a smear campaign against me. Shortly after that, this busy surfer inaugurated a blog entitled Aguijón Mambí, with the following address which no longer exists: http://www.aguijonmambi.crearblog.com

This first “Stinger Mambi” remained on the network for a week. Then the administrators of the Crearblog platform closed the site for violating their policy against offering offensive or pornographic content.

What did they post on this blog? A text that I regret not having preserved to be able to expose it today. But, in essence, it “denounced” Ernesto Morales Licea, as a gusano, a worm, and apprentice mercenary in the service of the Empire, for making a living trading on the images of several women, and in particular those of his fiancée who lives in the United States. In addition, he said that in Cuba this constituted the crime of pimping, and that this miserable person should be punished for it.

The official “proof” offered to certify my role as a sex merchant, was the following photo, in which I have blocked out the private areas out of elementary respect for this blog.

The photo is, incredible but true, a digital montage. Nothing more, nothing less. The face corresponds to the person they claim it to be. But the body is not hers. It is the image of a naive girl who posed in front of a camera, and whose body parts served this time to “discredit” an inconvenient blogger.

Where did the comrades of State Security get the face that they used in this assembled montage? From this photo which I had sent some time ago from that national email account.

A brief overview will allow the reader to see that her face, in both images, is exactly the same, although in the supposedly nude photo her face is tilted a couple of degrees to match the “chosen” body.

The Hunters Hunted

The IP addresses of three computers used to carry out this espionage and defamation are listed below (for readers unfamiliar with these terms, the IP address identifies each computer on the internet):

200.0.24.66
190.6.74.115
200.55.152.130

It is very likely that soon they will appear, right here, the institutions or private addresses belonging to these numbers: and will be seen to be from the political apparatus from which my country has implemented this dirty and depressing game.

Step 2: Mambí Stinger on WordPress

After the failure of their venture on Crearblog, removed by the network administrators who then blocked their IP address, the employees of State Security chose a second option: to work through another platform. This time, WordPress. They created http://www.aguijonmambi.wordpress.com where they announced that for every blog closed on the Internet they would open ten more.

It took WordPress less than a week to also take down their poor blog.

What did they publish there? Along with the same text as the previous try (these ideological soldiers are not very creative), they published the “nude” photo of my fiancée, and added another with the very nice title: “Ernesto, a cool dude.”

The photo was this one:

I have to confess, this picture made me roar with laughter.  Every time I look at it, it amuses me more. But I think that here the brave comrades started to falter in their attempt to discredit me: The original photo had appeared in this blog just days earlier, in the post, “With a Homeland, But Without a Master,” and this time all the readers of The Little Brother could confirm the clumsy montage for themselves:

Step # 3: Another E-mail Skirmish

This pitiful creativity, however, really knows no bounds. Once they realized that these posts would host nothing but cobwebs, the intelligence comrades chose a more surprising method: they sent an email with the images, and another message, to ALL the electronic addresses to whom I had ever sent, and from whom I had ever received, an email.

In other words: their filtering of my email had provided them with hundreds of addresses of my correspondents. Valuable information for their purposes.

Among the address were those of my mother, my brother, colleagues from half the world, colleagues of my fiancée, people who had contacted me for professional reasons and hundreds more.

I ask readers who received this email, with the subject line “My Truth,” to confirm what I am saying in the comments at the end of this post, to prove that I am not lying when I say this.

What did they send this time? The same photos as previously, but with a slight addition. A third image, curiously selected:

Apparently it was not an interest of this institution to declare the supposed homosexual practices of my partner. But once again, the diligent defamers came up short on ingenuity: this image corresponds to a group of photos immensely popular in Cuba, to which I referred (but of course did not publish) in the post, “Sex, Truths and Video Cameras.”

The person with white skin now being passed off as my fiancée, was simply this:

In this new attempt they took the trouble to “write” a text for the occasion. A text that would “destroy” me to all my friends, acquaintances or colleagues whose email addresses had been trapped in their web.

I reproduce here some excerpts of this text. If I don’t produce it in its entirety it if because of its great length, and to protect my readers from the poor quality of the writing. The message was titled, no more and no less than, “Ernestico the Holy One.”

“By the heat of your anger and from the moisture in your eyes, I can see that my sting has hurt you.” But I am sorry to tell you, Ernestico, that the foregoing is nothing; approaching some of your male and female friends and colleagues they have thanked me for showing your true colors and have alerted me to some other small things where I continue to see the contradictions in what you write and what you do.

“I remind you that from when we studied at Silbeto, you started with many friends and finished with few. In Santiago, to the extent that we knew you, we realized you were not a part of our group — you were truly superior, the best, even better than our old profs — this self-sufficiency in everything you said and in how little, as always, you did.

“I remember that you always looked as us from the highest step and we, for you, were nothing more than just group comrades. Who were your ‘real friends,’ those who like me didn’t have name brand shoes, good jeans, a nice shirt? Your real friends were those you got some benefit from, a big slice.

“Because of this I doubt your sincerity, I doubt what happened to you in RB, that it was like you described it. I’m sure it was calculated, well thought out, to find a pretext (as always happens with you), a story that you have been weaving little by little until you converted yourself into a true dissident, one of the good ones, one of those who are expected by our ‘dear neighbors,’ who are waiting for you with open arms. (Welcome my hero.)

and umbilical, you like things ‘good inside and out,’ at times I envy you, in truth, there are few people who have this showcase of values.

“You taught me that one can’t be squeamish with someone who plays with shit, there go some more of my snapshots. Ah, more, more, more, more and moooooooooooore.”

The Momentary End of History

I have not the slightest doubt in this second the diligent boys from intelligence are squeezing their acid neurons in search of a new plan. A new trick that in time will make itself known on this blog, and that has started, of course, with a sui generis reader whose name recently appeared here. His name is Guaitabó Cubano, and his IP address is 200.55.152.132.

Why bring these schemes to light, a blog that was not conceived as a forum for denunciations, but as a space for ideas and thoughts? For a very important reason: it is time that we prove that it’s not infantile whines, or unfounded allegations, that sustain what so many of us non-conformists on this side of the ocean confirm: in Cuba today, the exercise of freedom, the right to disagree, remains an official risk that not everyone is willing to face.

These are the consequences: defamation, manipulation, the attempt to socially ostracize everyone who refuses to remain silent before what they don’t agree with, or who simply exercise their individuality.

My decision to choose journalism itself, consistent, questionable but sincere, could be analyzed at a professional level, or even an ethical one. You could debate the partiality or impartiality of my texts, their objectivity or subjectivity. But woe to those unhappy robots who assume, in an unlucky second, that such burlesque campaigns are going to tie my hands.

Cervantes said it much better than I can through his immortal Quixote: “They are barking, Sancho. It is a sign that we are riding.” Compared to the personal satisfaction of knowing oneself useful for some, and hated by others, no phony trick has any effect.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

The Untouchables

As always, a macabre joke summarizes a Cuban reality with unsurpassed accuracy:

Three guests of different nationalities celebrate the courage of certain practices that take place in their countries.

The Dutchman says:

“Brave men that we are, we went in a group to find prostitutes, knowing that among them, it is almost certain that one has AIDS. And the one who sleeps with that one… well, you know.”

The Russian says:

“Brave men that we are, we are the ones who invented the game of Russian roulette. We gather to drink vodka and put one bullet in the revolver. Everyone has to put it to his head and pull the trigger, and the one who gets the bullet… well, you know.”

The Cuban, amused, dismisses them all with:

“Brave men that we are,” he says, “we meet on any street corner to speak ill of the government, knowing that at least one person in the group is State Security. And whoever’s turn it is to get fucked that day… well, you know.”

Neither art nor television have escaped the pervasiveness of this institution in Cuba; and it’s the same for fictionalized series that have been the work of heroic infiltrators; they have managed to produce clandestine films like the short Monte Rouge, directed by Eduardo del Llano (a truly national “underground hit”), where, as the height of cynicism, two security officials knock on the door of the citizen known as Nicanor and smilingly inform him that they have come to install the two microphones allocated to his home.

The truth is that few factors have done as much to shape interpersonal relationships in Cuba as this organization, whose ultimate purpose and essence is, in many case, betrayed by its own members.

That is, the term “State Security” should imply, in any society in the world, an element of tranquility, a civil guard, and a collective justice. The intelligence services are, by definition, indispensable for national protection against aggression or criminal activities of different kinds.

In Cuba, it is an undeniable fact: unlike the rest of the institutions that incompetence has gnawed to the bone, State Security works flawlessly. All you have to do is look around you to see it demonstrated.

They do exemplary work in detecting outbreaks of drug sales, prostitution or child molestation, reprehensible crimes in any modern society. In the recent painful events of the overdose of a child victim in Bayamo, this agency played a vital role in the investigation and clearing up of this monstrous case.

Nor can one deny the merit of having avoided many possible deaths from attacks that presumed “anti-Castro fighters” (a subject on which I will write soon) have launched against the Cuban people: explosions in hotels, nightclubs and public facilities, introductions of pests and diseases that are unacceptable from any perspective or ideology.

So, speaking of State Security on the island is neither idle nor vain, and an honest person should recognize that their work — admirable, heroic, protective of civilians — is worthy of laurels.

But, if everything ended there, this article would not exist: for unpalatable and unipolar themes we Cubans already have the newspaper Granma.

Because what is lamentable and needs to be decried to the four winds is that this institution, so useful in other places, has long since become a ghost of national security, a shadow of subtle repression that corrodes and conditions the reality in which we live.

When in Cuba one thinks of State Security, one immediately and inextricably associates it with the persecution of political dissent, its first and most important function.

No other mechanism has generated more “anthropological damage” in post-revolutionary Cuba, than this organ which at times has become a paradox in itself: nothing has been more of a threat to the personal safety of Cubans, than this.

Why? Well, because popular knowledge of its practices, its undetected and unpunished methods, its unlimited reach, have generated a pathological fear in us, leading to the development of a defense mechanism as effective as it is lamentable, hypocrisy.

Cubans never dare to act out, publicly, their true thoughts on a political issue, when they dissent or have views contrary to the official ones. These topics are talked about in whispers in the privacy of one’s home or among one’s closest circle.

But even then, we are always suspicious, glancing from side to side, muttering under our breath. The joke with which I began this post is not hyperbole: we all know that among us, the informant is never missing.

The ubiquity of this body is frankly beyond paranoia. It is immeasurable. If one day we Cubans have access — as happened with the archives of the Stasi after the fall of the Berlin Wall — to the documents that reveal the number of agents, officers, infiltrators, and dedicated or casual informants, I think the figure should be forgotten in the interest of salvaging our national pride.

There is no school, bakery, philatelic association, farmers market or baseball team that does not have, among its membership, someone belonging to this “glorious” institution. At times, who they are is even more or less public knowledge. For example, every public institution has a comrade from Security who pays attention to you and that comrade is at times well known.

We Cubans have learned to live with an intelligence apparatus, oiled to the point of maniacal precision, which maintains its operations in the shadows as it sees fit, and that also, when it sees fit, makes use of any arguments provided by its informants to dismiss thousands of employees, imprison opponents or, even more common, to discredit the morals of non-conformist citizens.

The worst side of this reality is that we have no way to defend ourselves against this action. That is, all citizens know that their phones can be tapped, their homes may be searched, that their electronic communications are reviewed and stored, that their lives are examined with a magnifying glass, but there is not a single legal way to fight this. State Security in Cuba has an Olympic impunity: its members are our Untouchables.

So it’s no wonder that the advice most often repeated to those who express more or less publicly their disagreement with Cuban politics is: “Don’t talk so much, you don’t know who is listening.” A phrase so reviled, but one which captures a vital reality: the same person who is listening to you, or provoking supposed disagreements, the same person who accompanies you every day, who works by your side, who shares drinks and music with you, the same person you confide in with a blind passion, could quite naturally be the informant who has stayed by your side to know, in his game of chess, when the time comes to checkmate you.

Many times I’ve been personally entertained by the black humor of general mistrust: friends who insinuate to me, or express openly, their fear that it could be me, the loudmouth irredentist, the new pearl of local intelligence. In fact, I smile, but with the false amusement of the clown in Beneditti’s story.

For those of us who do not resign ourselves to living surrounded by fear and tropical James Bonds, I believe that a concrete desire, right now, would be if the nationwide mass layoff of workers would also knock at the door of State Security. But to be optimistic in this regard would be angelically naive.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Corruption Made in Cuba

The news, in keeping with tradition, was common knowledge long before the establishment gave the order to publish it. On November 6, when it was already an open secret, the Gramna province newspaper La Demajagua published an “Official Note” that seemed like it didn’t want to be read, hidden away as it was on a page otherwise devoted to praising the production of rice, and honoring state agencies.

What did this handicapped little note say, with nothing to call attention to it on the second page of the paper? Merely something as inconsequential as that the governor of Granma province, President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, had been “liberated from his duties for grave errors in the performance of his duties and in his personal life.” His name: Jesús Infante López, logically super-well-known in these precincts for having held the post for a considerable number of years.

As the note more than said by remaining silent, the vox populi again did the work for which the journalists are paid, filtering out the half-truths, truths sprinkled with fictions, and confirmed facts according to the upper echelons.

 

Jesús Infante, ex-governor of Granma province

Apparently the mayor of my city had earmarked some money to build vacation homes in the Cuban capital, and in his personal life a son linked to the consumption (or perhaps trafficking in, it’s not clear) of drugs in Havana clouded his judgment.

I cannot confirm the accuracy or completeness of this information: when the secrecy of power relegates the citizens to a plane of almost complete disinformation, and where there is no transparency in the relationships between the directors and the directed, the exercise of journalism is converted, at times, into mere speculation.

What is known is that no official media has denied this popular version, and we all know what silence implies.

I do not think, however, that what just happened with Jesús Infante in Granma comes as any surprise to anyone at this point. On second thought, I wouldn’t have given it more than a half-hidden corner in the daily La Demajagua either.

Because while the demotion (a more correct term, legally speaking, than the ridiculous “liberated”) of political and government officials is not something all that usual in this country, common knowledge of administrative abuses, and the galloping corruption within the circles of power, strengthens our collective consciousness every day, so this was no cause for surprise.

And if the public demotion of high officials has not been a frequent event — although this has changed drastically in recent times — this is due to a power structure where the citizens have no access to those who act in their names, and where neither the press nor independent organizations can assess what these politicians do when they step away from their pose of revolutionary honesty and enter the privacy of their own homes.

 

Rogelio Acevedo, former head of Civil Aeronautics in Cuba

This recent local case swells the list of the previously unmasked corrupt, whose excesses were never made clear to the people: the head of Civil Aeronautics, Rogelio Acevedo, sponsor of commercial flights that filled his pockets with hard currency; Carlitos Valenciaga, ex-patron of a female harem located at the former Lourdes base, where, among porn videos and revolutionary campaigns, computer science was also studied; and a long list of cases usually swept under the rug, which includes a large number of small-time Party leaders and provincial authorities.

 

Without going too far, in the city where I live we were recently taken by surprise by the proliferation of brand new cement and glass, when the senior military leaders decided to construct their modest dwellings in privileged areas.

Without mincing any words: they are true mansions, masked with external austerity and possessing, inside, the human and the divine, lacking not even solar panels for hot water, garden areas and spacious garages. Understand: this is the life style of those who demand frugality and sacrifice from their poorly-fed workers, in a country where before we talk about hot water we need to understand that, for many, running water is a luxury.

All these cases, from those sparking the most media interest like that of “Lage-Perez Roque,” to the most timid, like that of my neighbor Infante, confirm an absolute truth: the corruption that exists in the leadership of this country is of incalculable proportions. This time the adjective “incalculable” is not just a figure of speech: it is accurate. The guarantees to access the accounts of financial dealings of those who govern us are invalid, impossible, Utopian, and only occur when another, more powerful, higher level becomes annoyed by the bonanza of a subaltern and decides to put an end to his golden ride.

Against this background, my question is not who will be the next to be cast into the furnace, but rather: how many of the ones who demand dignity and cleanliness as a standard of this process, who punish and demand strict compliance, how many of the leaders we see launching tirades against the private businessman or the neighborhood thief who lives off ill-gotten gains, how many of them will take their secrets of embezzlement and waste to the grave?

How many of those whom we now see on banners, and whose words are quotes on billboards to illuminate us with their privileged lights, will be laughing at us from the next world for having been able to live at our expense without our ever making them pay for it?

My concern arises from a simple analysis, very simple: casting a glance at the ages of those thrown in the fire we can see for ourselves that it never approaches the gray hairs and the ancestral medals. In every case, it’s the new pines (more or less new) in the art of making Revolution. The historic generation, the true owners of this beautiful land, have never been touched even with the petal of a flower.

The main problem continues to be the sickly meekness that paralyzes the veins of today’s Cubans. I think a single visit to the homes of the leaders in this town would be enough, a single tap on the door of those austere ones who harangue us, for the whole make-believe house to come crashing down.

But are the Cuban politicians the only ones who steal? Who fill their coffers at the expense of the people they fleece? Of course not. Are the Cuban officials the only ones who play favorites, steal, and divert resources that in theory belong to the masses they govern? No again. It is enough to look at the news that a truly free press, and consequently half the world, publishes on their covers.

What is unique to the Cuban class, the native, is on the one hand the hard-nose discourse of a socialist paradise full of selfless leaders, of brave countrymen, and on the other hand the impossibility of the ordinary citizen being able to broker his own slice of the economic pie.

I, who came of age watching the Foreign Minister Robertico Robaina tying himself in knots to confirm that he wasn’t a Yankee; who was taught that as a student I should revere my Minister of Education Luis Ignacio Gomez despite his Hitler mustache that always left a bad taste; I, who one day heard Carlos Lage’s express order prohibiting my countrymen from accessing Yahoo or Hotmail, and who, in my brief passage through institutional journalism was in a couple of meetings with the recently purged Jesús Infante, listening to him talk about revolutionary strength and commitment, I think that with my few years I can dare to say, like the poet León Felipe: I don’t know many things, it’s true, I just say what I have seen. But I have slept with all the stories. And I already know all the stories.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Nationalizing the Stockholm Syndrome

It is not black humor this time: the Cuban Workers Union (CTC), after finishing a wide-reaching session this November 1, signed — unconditionally — their marriage with the government, just before the imminent dismissal of half a million “unsuitable” workers by this coming April.

And as expected, they didn’t even blush.

Salvador Valdes Mesa, general secretary of the country’s only trade union, asserted that the workers will support these labor reorganization measures, and that they will be consistent and massive. Half the world is incredulous, permanently distrustful: it may seem surreal to them, but it is reported in our paper and digital press. They can rush to read it.

Translating the facts, we could say that an organization — the very essence and definition of which is the uncompromising defense of the rights of the workers — has raised its right hand, put the other hand on the Bible, and sworn loyalty to the body that lays off workers, as opposed to those laid-off.

Is there any other country where such absurdities could so quickly come to pass?

But we aren’t surprised. The same Cuban Workers Union, in a communication reproduced in our media, was the official spokesperson for the dismissals which, under the euphemism “qualification process” have already started across the country.

Indeed, the current chessboard has given us another contribution to the revolutionary jargon: it so happens that in Cuba, from now on, there will be no “laid off” or “unemployed” workers. There will be “unsuitable” and “available” workers. So it was decided by our enlightened leadership, so it appears in our obedient press.

The most interesting thing happening lately in Cuban workplaces, however, is worthy of comic theater; that is the meetings being held by the local unions with their own members, ordinary working people.

These are preparatory meetings, in effect to lobby for what is coming, and to explain in the most dramatic way possible the comatose state of the economy. (Read: the comatose state into which the economy has been led by none other than the government itself.) The second step is to convince the potential unemployed of the need for them to leave the game. And, accordingly, they are asked not just to accept the reality, but to approve and support it.

Here we see a useful reference: the most famous novel in all of literature about totalitarianism. Does anyone remember how George Orwell’s 1984 ends? With the vaporization of freethinking Winston Smith by the representatives of power.

But before they dismantle him as a social, individual and biological being, the repressors take on a special task: to convince him of his error, to show him the fallacy of his dispute with Big Brother, and to make sure he ends up loving the leader. After the purification of his soul, he is disappeared.

I think there is no more exact metaphor for what is happening today in our country than this fictionalized invention: the government has decided to throw 500,000 Cubans into the street, in a way that those Cubans themselves support the resolution that converts them into“availables.”

The main obstacle to these meetings between the union and the workers, however, is a timely issue: how to convince the future“disassociated” that they will really be able to earn a living from one of the new occupations established by the State.

You do not need an exceptional brain to understand that almost none of the 178 economic activities recently legalized would allow a fairly decent living, let alone prosperity and quality of life.

The reason is a basic one: there is no way to survive giving dogs haircuts, or caring for parks and public toilets, in a country where you pay a 240% tax on staples, and where every day the real value of the currency depreciates against the price of electricity, public transport, and food. (On October 29 the Electric Company announced a further increase in its already high rate for those using more than 300 kWh per month.)

Even worse, and what few seem to have noticed, is that the new opportunities supposedly offered by the State, are, in reality, new ways to empty the already bare pockets of our fellow countrymen.

For example: Until now the unhappy topper-of-palms, or the math tutor, could work without having to account to anyone. Now, they will not only earn the same pittance as before, but will be forced to take out a license and pay fixed taxes on their little enterprises. The picture, even if they don’t yet understand it, is bleak.

So, faced with a process where the workers have been nothing more than the victims of the inefficiency of the system being imposed upon them, where they have fallen into the web of unproductivity inherent in centralized economies, and where no one but the ruling class is to blame for this situation, what does the only body that could supposedly help the unemployed do? What does the union that takes a portion of your salary as a tribute every month do? Not just abandon you to your fate. Worse, it sweetly takes you by the hand and walks you towards the precipice.

I think a few examples could be more effective in showing the visceral damage caused to institutions and organizations by totalitarian regimes. What the Cuban government has put into practice discredits still more, and perverts still more, and dilutes still more, the essence of an organization that in other parts of the world constitutes the principal headache for companies and politicians, by closing ranks with the victims against the victimizers.

Could there have been — even within the same system! — another more decent role for the Cuban Workers Union? For me, yes. It might, at the very least, have been a public negotiator for the conditions of those laid off, it could have reduced the number of positions to be eliminated, or it could have pressured the leaders to offer the future unemployed real options to earn a living in private businesses, something more than enterprises such as “covering buttons” or “creating a dance partner” a la “Benny Moré.”

But the role reserved for this organization, which it has accepted without question, is the most embarrassing possible: “You take this dagger and plunge it in your chest and smile please.”

Stockholm Syndrome, one of the unique diseases among human mental disorders, describes the behavior of a hostage who ends up in solidarity with his kidnapper, and comes to collaborate in his own captivity.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently awarded a shirt — the guayabera — the title of “official diplomatic clothing.” Let no one be surprised if, before too long, the Cuban Psychiatric Society (at the request of the Cuban Workers Union, of course), proclaims the Stockholm Syndrome to be the “National Pathology.”

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Operation Blogger: Algorithm for a Disaster

The audience maintains a restless silence: it’s after six in the evening, night will fall in a few minutes. They’ve been waiting since five o’clock, waiting for the meeting’s hosts with discipline.

The audience is hungry, they have headaches, they have family worries they can’t get out of their minds, even though the place is air-conditioned — as is proper for those of their rank with the State — and the spacious lounge evokes comfort and relaxation.

When the door opens and the delegation makes its grand entrance, everyone stands up, as is proper before uniformed military. Also proper, is the fact that the highest political authorities in the province have come to speak to them.

When the door opens and the delegation made its grand entrance, all stand, as it should be against uniformed military. As should be, too, face the highest political authorities in the province.

Their hosts are smiling, coming in. Taking their time. The one assigned to show the PowerPoint takes some CDs from his bag and some documents to distribute. The audience — journalists from every media of the press and every generation — don’t dare to show their impatience, so they pretend to be interested.

This time, the meeting at the Provincial Party headquarters has a unique goal. It is not the usual screening of sterile programs, nor information about campaigns about to start. The only agenda item is called “Operation Cyber-Mambi*,” and its focus is notably innovative: How to become a blogger. An institutional blogger.

One of the participants would tell me later:

“You should have seen their faces, Ernesto. You could have filmed it like a circus. They summon us after work, and we were all desperate for the little computer class to end so we could get out of there.”

The meeting was scheduled with military precision: “Operation Cyber-Mambí” should begin simultaneously in selected provinces nationwide.

What did this Operation consist of?

“It’s a strategy designed by the Central Committee to combat the blogs of the counterrevolutionaries who are being paid by the enemy to destroy the foundation of our process,” as the Major charged with tactical planning answered the first person who asked him what it was all about.

Read: With this grandiloquent and kitsch definition the Cuban government has opened its desperate struggle against the Alternative Platform blogs. With an elaborate program implemented with military precision — is there any other way? — the establishment of the Island begins its farcical crawl to attack the phenomenon that, without a doubt, was driving them crazy.

The training officials started by asking if everyone knew what a blog was. Heads nodded, quickly. Then, the officials asked, does everyone know what a counterrevolutionary blog is. And now we have the first obstacle in the program: to convince the audience that they can, and what’s more must, be honest and admit they’ve read one. “This would facilitate this work,” they say. But no one seems to want to sacrifice themselves.

Disgusted, the official proceeds to provide the definition from his manual: a whole lot of hot air delivered in well-known slang that culminates with an example that could have saved him the trouble: “Generation Y is a counterrevolutionary blog. Another one is Octavo Cerco. To cite only two.” He asked them to remember those titles, which he would return to later.

“Starting from scratch, he explained everything explainable,” my confidential journalist friend who was there told me. “They brought multimedia and slides of recognized blogs. They distributed documents with a kind of revolutionary blogger ABCs, all printed in color. But the faces were the same. Which no one seemed to care about.”

The Interior Ministry officials, the officials from the Central Committee, the smiling party leaders, all visibly struggled to inject the germ of the electronic battle… not realizing that their army had no blood in its veins. Without seeing the anxious looks (“who’s going to pick my daughter up from school?”… “how long will it take to get home”… “where am I going to get the money to pay off my debt?”), without suspecting, perhaps, the illusionist spectacle dragging at that ideological meeting.

Everyone summoned had received the information unofficially days earlier, but now they were hearing it from the horse’s mouth:

“Every journalist should create a blog. Starting now, keeping up your blog will be a part of your job.”

Now, no one so much as murmurs, but before, when the news leaked out among the offices and laboratories, reaching the ears of the journalists in their institutions, an expression of annoyance was the whole answer.

Because that was the general sense of it: annoyance and a secret discontent before this new “task” which implied more hours of writing with no benefits in return. No benefits of any kind: no more pay, much less any spiritual benefits.

What should they post on these personal websites? The same fluff as the rest of what they produced: panegyrics to the Revolution, furious demands to free the Cuban Five, occasional tear-jerkers about the benefits of free Health and Education. Back to real life, once a text was published, they would return to the same disgust, the same despair, suffered by every other Cuban, not employed in the media.

“One of the central objectives of “Operation Mambi” is to counteract the impact on cyberspace of some of the blogs written within and outside the island,” my friend told me after the training session.

He said the Central Committee official showed three slides with figures referring to three specific blogs: two inside Cuba and one outside.

The nationals had already been referred to earlier.

“Generation Y, written by the reactionary Yoani Sanchez,” said the official, “and Octavo Cerco, the blog of another young woman in Havana named Claudia Cadelo, the star of what we have come to call ‘cybergossip.’ In the off-shore environment we have Penultimos Dias, a site administered by a shady character known as Ernesto Hernandez Busto.”

They discussed those blogs in great detail, they talked about working with social media and the possibilities of countering the enemy propaganda websites at the international level with “true information.”

The meeting lasted some three hours. The audience, about to collapse from starvation, watched the “data show” as if staring undisturbed into the infinite.

So when, finally, the person assigned to lead “Operation Cyber-Mambi” in this provincial collective said the glorious words, “Does anyone have any questions?”, blood started to once again circulate through veins. Some fifty professionals from the official press had just returned to life after three hours of cruel lethargy.

The truth can be summed up very simply:

Nobody cares about this project. Everyone will comply with the same bovine will with which they write fantasy headlines and sugar-coat the Cuban reality they themselves suffer. And, in passing, with this markedly apathetic attitude, they will doom to failure a dirty-tricks operation assigned the glorious name of “mambi,” a hollow, neglected word.

Why doomed to fail? Well, because once again the all-thinking government, the architects of our ideological frontiers, have forgotten what is required for any successful experiment. The complicated thing is that reality must provide the proof.

They have tried, this time, to set into motion an ideological struggle on the internet, ignorant of what have been the basics pillars of the unquestionable success of the alternative Cuban blogs: spontaneity, the heartrending need to express oneself, a labor that does not need superior orders or supervisors to be set in motion.

No one guides or directs the alternative bloggers. Because however much the enemies of individual freedom protest, they know full well that no one is financing these writers on the web, no one is imposing targets nor conducting periodic assessments.

No one dictates, save the conscience of each blogger: the unstoppable flow of free thought, oxygenated, with no plazas, no parks, expanding across the virtual terrain chosen because there, throats have not atrophied from so much silence.

This arose Cuban Voices. Thus was born — timidly, crawling at first, stumbling later — a platform that I am sure future analysts will put in its proper place when speaking of democratization and the national will to change.

Cuban bloggers, like the great percentage of traditional independent journalists, have been for the most part empiricists of the written word. Some bring training in economics, law, agriculture, or no any professional training at all. But the common factor that describes and defines them is discontent. They are dissatisfied with reality, and they have failed to remain silent before the lies and deception.

So then, how worthy and honorable can a movement be that is born — in keeping with the national traditions of the last half century — from imposition and compulsion? How necessary can it be for the readers of half the world to look at websites that lack all feeling, websites which, like digital zombies, wander around cyberspace without personalities, with no word from the author?

I have already visited them, in my escapades as a fugitive surfer of the prohibited web, and I felt a mixture of amusement and sadness. Amusing because they are mostly caricatures of blogs, with the same triumphalist packaging we find in the paper-based news media or hear on the radio, and that no one, save a few messianic leaders, cares about; sad because they show the extent to which journalists in my country, Cubans like me and like everyone, are still enslaved writers with no opportunities for honesty or truth.

Despite all that, I can’t but feel a satisfaction bordering on vanity when I think of this official attempt to “counteract” the blogger impulse. And I can’t help but feel, also, pride in the name of everyone who ever put a finger on a key with the suicidal intention of showing the truth.

“Operation Cyber-Mambi,” the opening of official blogs, the vigilance of our leaders over cyberspace, confirms in the most undeniable way the triumph of the few — but every day more — Cubans who have chosen the Internet as a means of personal expression.

As an epilogue to this Wonderland reality, and as evidence of the permanent sarcasm towards which a society lacking freedom of expression gravitates, I will return to the unusual request of that friend, another journalist, who from time to time must update a blog about which he feels nothing:

“Throw me a rope, Ernesto, and give me some ideas for what I can write about in my blog. And maybe you can review some of the articles I’m going to publish. Although of course implicit in them will be an attack on your blog… but you can’t refuse me, brother, I have to do it for work.”

And of course, seduced by the charm of the absurd, in solidarity with his fears, I will never say no.

Translator’s note: Mambi is a term used to refer to the soldiers who fought on the side of Cuba in 1895-1898 War of Independence against Spain.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Under the Skin of a Real Nicanor


I do not think there is a single Cuban who has not seen his face at some point, on the big screen or small, or in a theater. He is one of the most recognizable actors on the national scene.

No doubt this is influenced by the not inconsiderable number of his films: 80 works, including feature and short films, foreign films and Cuban-foreign co-productions. An astronomical figure for an artist of this always limited island.

From movies such as Clandestine, or Lovely Lies; through Guantanamera directed by the most brilliant Cuban filmmaker in history, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea; and ending recently with The Skinny Prize by Juan Carlos Cremata, Luis Alberto Garcia is key to an effort to assess the cultural output of the Cuban nation.

Among other reasons, because he is an actor with a strong intellectual stature — shared by few — who has earned the respect of the public and his colleagues, and because he has involved himself in projects which, for another person, would be an unthinkable recklessness.

Nicanor O’Donnell’s character in the series of short films directed by Eduardo del Llano, has affected Cuban society enormously, as an avidly-consumed underground product. The shorts, despite their illegal circulation, have had repercussions in all areas, including of course the Internet.

Thus, for the inveterate eavesdropper that I am, a contact with “the true Nicanor,” a funny man who plays the character, was almost mandatory.

Below is a brief excerpt of the dialogue we had in his apartment in Havana, just four days ago, while Luis Alberto fed, tried to put to sleep, and washed, his little baby of two months old (who is named, by the way, Vida (Life).

The need to be a most loving father did not stop him from giving me a great interview, full of ironies, smart thinking and a lot of honesty, which I assume will be a special text in my journalist’s book.

Luis Alberto, in an interview with Edmundo Garcia for Night Moves, you said you would not be recognized in the Cuban series, nor on national television. Who wouldn’t recognize you in the country where you live. And what do you think you of this fact?

Look, the error has always been in the philosophy of a kind of “besieged fortress” that they have wanted to instill in us over the 50 years they’ve been in charge.

There is very strong thinking, extended in all areas, that says that airing the dirty laundry, and hanging it out in the sun, undermines the process. They’ve always seen it this way. From his “Words to the Intellectuals,” Fidel’s discourse hangs on this question.

Starting in 1961 when Fidel said “Inside the Revolution everything, against the Revolution, nothing,” it has sparked thousands of questions: Who decides what art work is against the Revolution or which is in support of it? Who decides which product is beneficial to a social process, and which is not?

It has always seemed a little absurd to me, then life showed how damaging this thinking has been. It’s all very well to say it in a speech, it’s even a great phrase, if you will, but to put it into practice is a problem, because then, when a boy in Ciego de Avila writes a play, should we take it to Fidel and say, “Comandante, read this work so that you can decide if it is within or outside the Revolution”? That is nonsense.

And as this is impossible, it then creates another major problem: after Fidel’s words, come the “interpretations of the words of Fidel,” and each person who has occupied a key position in the culture of this country, has thought differently in that respect, depending on their prejudices and cultural level.

So then, what is easiest? Instead of dealing with it work by work, author by author, they said, “We’re not going to put any of the defects of the country, or the mistakes of the Revolution, or the problems of our society, in any work of art, because that is giving weapons our enemies. And since we are a blockaded country, giving weapons to our enemies means that a work that shows the bad, the ugly, in this country, is a book that automatically sides with the enemy.”

That is complete rubbish, to ask the art that not reflect its surroundings. The artist has no choice but to talk about what he sees around him, of how bad or how good is their reality. Do not ask the impossible.

So then, I said to Edmund, what happens to me as an actor is that the reflection of the reality I live is so far from what I see in the series or on TV programs that I don’t recognize myself, I find nothing in common with myself.

What is the sense, then, that every day in this country they tell us, when we’re children, that we shouldn’t lie, we have to tell the truth, and then when we become adults they say to us, “Yes, the truth but not the whole truth.” Or that terrible phrase, “Not all truths are for all ears.”

It is a culture of obscurantism, of having to hide the ball from people, which is intolerable.

I, for one, am still wondering what happened those who died at the “Mazorra” Psychiatric Hospital last year. The newspaper in my country said it would open an investigation to determine the causes and punish the guilty… where is that investigation?

I’m still wondering what happened to the police who beat the Industriales team in the Sancti Spiritus stadium, which was recorded by several cell phones and traveled across all the computers in this country.

Someone told me the other day: “They were prosecuted.” Fine, but I have every right in the world, as a citizen of this country, to be told that they were sanctioned, and how, so that will not happen again.

Because the images of that beating in the Sancti Spiritus stadium are not different in any way from those I saw when I was making Clandestine: Batista’s police clubbing the boys of the “26th of July Movement” in the Cerro stadium. There were the same billy clubs, the same slaps in the face, dragging people along the ground. And I need, or better yet as a citizen I demand, that someone give me an explanation.

Another, more all-encompassing example: the decision to show the video that proved the alleged errors of this country’s high officials, Felipe Pérez Roque and Carlos Lage, was made in high places, I guess. But that decision was to show the video only to Communist Party members.

My question is very simple, were they really traitors, or were they traitors only to the members of the Party? Or was it to a whole people who trusted in their efforts to improve the lives of ordinary people?

So, is it that not all truths are for all ears, and that not all the realities can be shown in this country? That’s a terrible thing. It’s like living in a house where you’ve been taught to think with your own head, but when you grow up you discover that there are rooms in this house you aren’t allowed to enter, that they’re shut, lock stock and barrel. Inevitably, if you’re an intelligent person, and if you really thirst for knowledge, sooner or later you’re going to open those doors. With or without permission.

What is needed is the political will and honesty to change our ills, to address them without hypocrisy. It requires political will to say, “Gentlemen, hiding this shit has nothing to do with us. You have to throw the shit against the fan. The dirty laundry needs to be washed, and put out in the sun. Because you decide to hide it in this basket today, and in another one tomorrow, but the clock is ticking and one day we’re going to be overwhelmed with the baskets of dirty clothes.

This is very much related, Luis Alberto, with the answer you gave another journalist in Gibara, when he asked you to summarize in one sentence what you mean in the short film Brainstorm. You told him, “Cubans deserve a better press.”

Of course.

And what that means is simply: I don’t want to learn from foreign stations, from foreign news agencies, from a television program in another country, about what happens where I live. Because even though we Cubans don’t have internet or cable television, these materials always come to us, and we learn days later about things that went on around us.

I don’t want the news media of this country to keep publishing things six days after they happen, because whatever it is has become a big deal internationally so then they have to explain to people somehow what happened.

I want the press to tell me about the country where I live. To keep me informed. But not to hide mistakes from me, nor give me adulterated figures.

Look mister, if Zapata was on a hunger strike and died, it’s not pleasant to have to break the news to people. Certainly not. Life is full of disagreeable things. But people here, inside, have the right to know what happened, and no one should steal that right from them.

Many time, for example, we see on the news, “A response to something a woman blogger said on some site,” and you go out in the street and a lot of times people don’t know who this person is. Then they don’t understand the official response, nor can they measure or evaluate for themselves what the blogger said.

And it’s sad that Yoani Sanchez is known by the entire world, and someone who lives across the street from here doesn’t know who she is. It’s humiliating for Cubans, nothing more nothing less.

Please… We have to take the bull by the horns. This will oxygenate the lungs of this society. This transparency, this truth, will be vital to start building a better country.

For me, at least, I need transparency and truth. And when I feel like they are hiding the ball from me, it irritates me and then I go looking for the truth the press of my country doesn’t want to offer me.

I’m sure that this happens to everyone who flatly refuses to behave like sheep. No offense to anyone.

 
 

Who Said All Is Lost?

One

Anyone seeing all six-feet-eight of him go by, looking like a basketball forward, would never guess his true profession and what he cares about. Unless he puts on, obviously, the huge white coat he wears which marks him as a saver of lives.

His name: Fernando Mederos. For a long time he’s been the top hematologist in my city, devoting his life to treating children with blood cancer. A doctor with a radio-announcer’s voice, careful manners, and a positive energy that gives him a shocking sense of clarity.

In spite of all that, Mederos’ reputation has a sensational and more painful edge to it: he is the longest-living HIV-infected Cuban on the Island who is surviving without medical treatment. He became infected in 1978 in Guinea Bissau while on an internationalist mission.

To summarize his life in a few paragraphs is beyond my abilities. However, to say that this man was among the first diagnosed in Cuba, and that he suffered discrimination from ignorance, was held in HIV wards where, according to his own words, people were brought more to die than to be healed; to say that he was unable to practice the profession for which he had studied, and which he loves madly, for a very long time, perhaps sheds light on his background and history.

No one who passes through the narrow streets of my city imagines the enormity of the affronts, the infinite sadness, that this admirable man has suffered. Much less, those who depend on him for the life of their child, or who experience the sweetness he imparts every day while robbing death of another victim.

Two.

Among the tear-filled and desperate stories experienced when Hurricane Dennis hit my area, I heard one directly that I keep in my cache of reasons for, like Marti, having faith in the betterment of mankind and the uses of virtue.

The only brick house in a very poor neighborhood known as Revacadero, in the town of Media Luna, was home to five families who, in a single night, lost their roof and all their belongings.

One family, however, after the tremendous winds had died down, stood in the open without daring to approach a neighbor’s house which was serving as a temporary refuge. The reasons were religion and social distance.

The helpless family was made up of five Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had never made friends with the owners of the privileged house, who were devoted Catholics. I learned later that the antagonism between them had been passed down through generations with a hateful stubbornness.

But no natural phenomenon destroys the humanity and feeling of good men.

The pater familias of the Catholics, a carpenter with the thunderous name Ormán Villalón, refused to be separated from the five Protestants and their wreck of a house until he had convinced them, by sheer force of a will stronger than theirs, that he had blankets for them in his home. I remember the wariness in the eyes of those who entered, for the first time, what until then had been the inner sanctum of their enemies.

Just recently I heard from these two families whose gods have faced off in other times: for the last five years they have been like brothers. Living together in the same tiny town, divided by faith, but with a mutual thankfulness that their wounds have been forever healed.

Three.

He passed with unusual speed, from social hero to villain. As things happen in the land of fanatics.

He went from being the most admired and honored teacher at the primary school in my town, with a unique curriculum and the vocation of an evangelical, to being the incarnation of evil to the alleged defenders of truth.

His name: Enrique Martínez Fajardo, a 33 degree Mason, a man idolized by endless generations of Bayamo’s citizens educated under his aegis, who have never understood how “Mr. Martínez” could have been vaporized with such bitterness.

What was his sin? According to the anonymous accusation, a group disaffected with the system met in his lodge and disagreed with national policy. He was accused of founding ghost political parties, and instructing local dissidents. Even today, when he tells of it, Martínez Fajardo displays a bittersweet smile.

The most notorious acts of repudiation in this city were directed against him. The most massive, the most fierce. The end of the paroxysm was huge: leading the mob were his former students, children of eleven, who did not understand why, but they knew they now had to shout at and offend their beloved Mr. Martinez.

I remember this very well. Although by divine fortune I was not among those chosen for those terrible events, when I was still tiny I studied in the same school. The school, incidentally, that changed its anthem because the former one, which had always been sung with pride, had been written by Mr. Martinez.

Now he cannot go anywhere unnoticed. With his decades behind him, he stops at every corner to talk with a friend, a friend of his friends: Martínez Fajardo was the master of an entire city, and not even stigma nor acts of repudiation can erase that fact.

Nor has he abandoned the amusing laugh with which he tells his stories to the children, nor the wonderful smile that mocks the slander of which he was a victim. I, who never let him pass by me without stopping, have failed to notice any speck of hatred among his battered memories.

Final

Alejo Carpentier wrote the most memorable paragraph in a Cuban novel. One paragraph that I have never read without feeling a shudder deep in my skin:

“And understand, now, that man never knows who will suffer and wait. Suffer and wait and work for people he will never know, and who in turn will suffer and wait and work for others who still will not be happy, because a man always craves happiness beyond the portion he has been granted. But the greatness of man is precisely his desire to improve. To impose on himself labor. In the kingdom of heaven there is no greatness to conquer, because there everything is an established hierarchy, with an unknown clarity, there is no end, no need to sacrifice, only rest and delight. Therefore, overwhelmed with grief and labor, beautiful within his misery, able to love in the midst of the plagues, man can only find his greatness, his maximum reach in the Kingdom of this World. “

Carpentier was devastating.

The more I think, and the more I remember these worthy stories, the testimonies men close to me have presented to me in these days without faith, the more I wonder, with Fito, who said that all is lost while so many are willing to offer their hearts?

 
 
 
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