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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Me, the Terrorist

Suddenly I saw myself as the murderer before a possible victim: doubting, considering the possibility, weighing pros and cons. Like an inexperienced criminal warning of his intention to commit the crime, but not quite daring. Perhaps the only thing different in my case was the body of the crime.

I had no intentions of taking the life of anyone, or stealing their money and clothes. I only had a book in my hands, a crisp and provocative book whose price I simply couldn’t afford.

To put it in perspective for the readers: I was sitting on the second floor of a bookstore whose name, out of basic common sense, I prefer to hide. (I wouldn’t like, that in the future, this story would give me the title of a suspect in a place which I want to become my second home).

From my place at the mahogany table, one arm leaning on the railing, I had the privilege of seeing the fascinating panorama of buyers, students with homework half done, soft colors of countless books. I was watching the beautiful painting on the well-lit ceiling with some of the most famous faces in the world of literature: Fitzgerald, Rimbaud, Wilde.

I had arrived a little before two in the afternoon. I’d ordered a cappuccino, set up my laptop — a loan from a kind and adorable soul — on an empty table, and searched the shelves for books in Spanish until I ended up at my seat with six books whose prices, for now, were prohibitive for me. Ten minutes after ten that night, I was still there.

Among hundreds of volumes that in Cuba would have been Utopia, and the free wireless surfing offered every day in that place, the hours flew by, and suddenly I found myself fascinated with one book in particular, a survivor I couldn’t resign myself to returning to its shelf, as I had done with the rest.

“Terrorist” it said on the cover. The author: John Updike. One of the masters of American narrative. Twenty-eight dollars to take it with me. A swallow of gringo coffee, to ease the sadness.

And suddenly with butterflies in my stomach, the subversive thought: “After eight hours here, who watches that I don’t pack it up with the laptop, that I don’t smuggle it out of this bookstore.” Libro — book — and libre — free — in my language they look the same. They should be synonyms. And in my hand, Updike’s novel, unresisting, no complaints.

To put it in perspective for my readers a second time: It’s common practice in the country I come from. It’s a way of life. Steal to survive. Steal to eat, clothe yourself, put shoes on your feet. Steal to brush your teeth, get a ride somewhere. Steal to read, also, and to dream just a little of freedom.

In Cuba, according to the humorous works of Osvaldo Doimeadiós, everyone steals. And without the least guilt, which is really cruel. I’m pointing out the truth: Not from one another, everyone steals from the State, the owner of the newspapers, the grocery stores, the parks and their sparrows. And the bookstores. Everyone steals from this omnipresent owner if the occasion presents itself. And then they have the amazing cheek to boast about it. In Cuba, to ransack the State is a social practice too widespread for something called civic conscience to stop one’s hand.

Why? Why don’t Cubans respect the norms of coexistence, why has helping oneself to the State coffers become a custom as common as salsa dancing and playing baseball? Elemental: When no one can live honestly with what they earn for a month’s work; and when the cause of this situation — the State — is very easy to identify because they own and control everything, to take the hard way what is impossible to achieve in a good way, is an ugly but necessary method of survival.

Immediate consequences: To steal from Big Brother is now an uncensured practice. Uncensured socially, that is. But not legally.

There is a second reason: When citizens don’t feel gratitude for what surrounds them, the result is disrespect. When a Cuban has to spend days in a bus terminal, waiting for some vehicle of mercy to travel to his province, it’s very hard not to destroy the benches, to steal the soap — if there is any — in the bathrooms, to perceive this institution as anything but hostile, an enemy, to feel no gratitude for anything, and to inflict whatever damage is possible on everything within reach.

This explains the ruinous state of so many public institutions, urban transport, filthy hospitals, or movie theaters in my country: The employees steal and loot and destroy, the customers steal and loot and destroy. This also explains the poor misguided people who come to the United States ready to do the same to Uncle Sam, and end up behind bars, suffering terribly, until the documentary filmmaker Estela Bravo rescues them with her compassionate productions.

And this explains, ultimately, that those in Cuban know that man doesn’t live by bread and remittances alone, but needs books like vital oxygen, and doesn’t hesitate to steal them when a distracted librarian or a rude seller leaves the slightest margin to do so.

The assorted local libraries in my country, are children of a permanent state of theft. And believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Let whomever is free of this sin, among Cuban booklovers, cast the first stone.

But what did I do now? Why not just do what instinct told me to do and not leave John Updike’s “Terrorist” on its crowded shelf? The same thing that made me return the novel proudly to where it belonged. The same thing that prevented me from bringing harmful practices to the new society that just admitted me. Read it well: It’s called gratitude.

Gratitude to whom? To a bookstore where I sat for eight hours without anyone asking for my identification, questioning my ideology, or inquiring about what I had come to do. A bookstore where the person who serves me coffee smiles at me, where they hold the door open for me to pass through. Gratitude to this gorgeous place, well lit, where no one questions my sitting in one place, spending barely three dollars, while they offer me free Internet — Good God! Free Internet for a blogger recently arrived from the Island! — without asking me what I am using it for.

And perhaps more fundamentally: Gratitude for a society, that imperfect and deserving of censure it is in other things, allows places like this, private businesses like this, to proliferate for the benefit of their owners and of all citizens.

Three days ago I returned “Terrorist” to the place from which it is sold. It’s not the best novel I will read, I believe, and soon, very soon, I will be able to pay a friendly employee the twenty-eight dollar price of the latest work of this universal master.

Then I found out — sweating bullets — a revealing fact: All the books that aren’t paid for, on passing through the door, activate a security mechanism that floods the room with noise. I don’t remember if after finding out I looked toward heaven, and again showed gratitude. I should have.

But in that second, while returning the novel to its place on the shelf, no one would have understood my secret happiness. No one other than me would have understood the importance of an act like that, where a young man educated in social disrespect just savored the taste of the word civility. The word honesty, in its institutional home.

And don’t doubt it: he knows it very well.

Translated by:Daniel Gonzalez

January 25 2011

 

Cuba Still Hurts

Just less than eight years ago, in April of 2003, one of the most notable intellectuals of the Latin American left, Eduardo Galeano, published what he called, “Cuba Hurts,” about the wave of repression unleashed against dissidents, and in particular about the execution of three young men desperate to escape their own country.

It is impossible to synthesize in one short sentence such a symbolic and emotional charge.

To say that Cuba hurts, is to summarize in just two words a whole set of generally imprecise, ethereal sensations experienced by everyone who sees the reality of this narrow country not as something distant, like a Jurassic phenomenon that floats in the middle of the Caribbean, but rather as something very close to them. Or as themselves.

And today I have dusted off Galeano’s grim phrase because Cuba, again and again, hurts us. This journalist who until very recently lived there. And the news that comes to me from there sometimes arouses anger and sometimes laughter; at times it’s hilarious, or outrageous. But almost always, invariably, with maniacal precision, it ends in pain.

This time it comes in the form of an Official Declaration, and has the signature of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They chose not to cross their arms and their hold their tongues, but came out shields in hand to defend the principles and precepts of the glorious Party, the ecumenical Revolution.

What is it now, the wrong they will right, the mess they will clean up? What is it this time, my friends? Well, very simple: It’s the pronouncement of Cuban diplomacy, with respect to the new measures just taken by the American government with regards to the Island.

Let’s see: 1. Authorize Americans to travel to Cuba for academic, cultural and religious purposes. 2. Allow American citizens to send remittances to Cubans in limited amounts. 3. Authorize international airports in the U.S. to request permission to operate direct charter flights to Cuba.

Has anyone noticed the most-repeated term in these three new measures? Authorize, Allow. The three offer new opportunities in different aspects; the three lift restrictions and prohibitions; the three are undeniably positive, although yes, it’s true, they are insufficient — seen through certain lenses — but they are undeniably larger and more satisfactory than all the measures taken by the government of the Island in its relations with the United States.

Ah, but no: Do not, ever, give an inch. This is not about recognizing positive things that come from Washington. Why? Can someone help me out here? Because it would disassemble the pyramid of lies on which the national and international policy of my country is built.

To say to Cubans, without snickering, that Americans only lifted the harmful barriers for people in the arts and sciences — thinking Americans — to visit their colleagues on the Island, was to move to the ideological ground of those who are indoctrinated to think of the gringos as the cause of every kind of tension in our land. Ergo, you would have to add the ominous tagline:

[The implementation of these new measures] “is an expression of the acknowledgment of the failure of U.S. policies against Cuba and a search for new paths to manage their historic objectives of dominating our people.”

And also:

“Though the measures are positive, they are far from satisfying the just demands, have a very limited reach and fail to modify anti-Cuba policies.”

To those who don’t understand why the triumph of Barack Obama lifted the veil of so many of the Castro-supporting politicians of my Island, to those who still refuse to lift a fossilized and ineffective embargo, there you have it: Barely a handful of timid, nearly-insignificant measures have put Cuban diplomacy on the defensive, stewing in its own sauce, while Uncle Sam gives no signals of goodwill.

When this happens, when the Unites States boasts of easing relations, they have to worry. And fight. They must be twitching, getting hives. No matter what it is: “If they ease travel restrictions for Americans we’ll scream about the blockade; if they lift the blockade we’ll scream about freedom for the Five Heroes; if they return the Five we’ll demand the return of Guantanamo Base; if they give us back the base… we’ll think of something.”

But there is one aspect these diligent strategists don’t take into account: our intelligence. The common sense of Cubans, on and off the Island — and it’s clear we haven’t been lobotomized — tells us, “Fine, it’s abundantly clear who wants to ease frictions and who wants to sustain them, no?”

Still, I have to admit, it’s not enough to coldly digest this Official Statement with ordinary patience. I declare myself incapable of it. I try to think in the spirit of Tibetans, who don’t read the newspaper Granma, and wonder if they have better methods of self-control. And I end up envying them.

But Cuba doesn’t only hurt, it also is humiliated. And it should be humiliating to every thinking, fair, honest human being who reads sentences like these from my belligerent country:

“The measures only benefit certain categories of Americans and do not restore the right to travel to Cuba to all American citizens, who continue to be the only people in the world who cannot visit our country freely.”

Tell me who doesn’t notice, please. Tell me who doesn’t feel embarrassed, who doesn’t feel the small sting of shame at the capacity for hypocrisy and political opportunism that the spokespeople for the government of this country appear to have.

It requires an inordinate impudence to defend the right of Americans, of all Americans, to travel freely to the Island, while saying nothing about the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who, thanks to the owners of our land, cannot return to Cuba.

There they are, those who have never blown up an airplane, or even introduced a flue virus. There they are, those who have never lifted a finger to assassinate, to threaten lives, who have never put their dirty money in Swiss bank accounts. And they cannot return to their homeland, because the same government that throws out tearful words in support of the poor, burdened Americans who would do anything in their power to visit Cuba if they weren’t prevented by the Evil Empire, this same government will not let its own people return.

Scattered to the ends of the earth, Cubans walk like zombies, numbed by nostalgia. They die, like Cabrera Infante and Jesús Díaz, tormented by a melancholy they can never conquer. They live, accommodating themselves to exile that some didn’t even choose, like the novelist Amir Valle, who they sent off to Berlin, raising the drawbridge behind him so he could never again enter the castle.

The same drawbridge that was lifted, also, behind the salsa bandleader Manolín, behind the TV personality Carlos Otero, after countless names, public and unknown, and that — hopefully I am wrong — they may also have lifted behind me.

And now, Cuba supports the legitimate right for Americans to step foot on the Island. There are moments when words fail me. And the impotence I feel on my lips is worse than the arsenic of Madame Bovary.

So every day I am less tolerant of the “friends of Cuba,” the dear foreigners with pink cheeks, to whom, months ago, I dedicated the post, The True Home of All. Those who spend their magical vacations on the sunny streets of Havana and never tire of saying, to Cubans, that we live in the best country in the world.

And so every day I can justify less those who, from a presumed intellectual fairness, approve with their speeches, or their silences, what happened today on a small island owned by a few, so few. This is not the time to shut up, dear intellectuals, dear think tanks of the middle world:

“There are times, in life, in which those who are silent become guilty, and to speak out is an obligation. A civil duty, a moral challenge, an unmistakable imperative from which one may not excuse himself.”

So said an Italian whose name, so sublime, so worthy, I intend to give to the daughter I want to have in the future. So said Oriana Fallaci when, after September 11, she could no longer sustain her silence.

And if, after eight years since the talented — and yet inconsistent — Eduardo Galeano wrote his cathartic text, Cuba still hurts; it’s because it excludes and censors, because it represses and silences. If Cuba still hurts because it violates the rights of us, its children, and yet defends the rights of foreigners to stand on our blessed soil, then may the docile be shamed alongside the guilty, the silent next to those responsible, and remember that History — contrary to what many think — rarely absolves anyone*.

Translator’s note: “History… rarely absolves anyone” is a reference to Fidel Castro’s famous closing statement at his trial for the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks, “History will absolve me.”

January 18 2011

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Pirates of the Caribbean

Having just got his hands on the hard disk in its protective case, he mentally reviews his fixed clients whom he will have to alert. It’s a kind of reflex conditioned by the rush to make money. But all that later. Now, the first thing is to pay the bus driver who carried this portable hard drive from Havana to the other end of the country, with a treasure consisting of many gigabytes of information.

Three convertible pesos to the driver (75 Cuban pesos), as thanks for his reliability. On the other end of the Island, from the west, his business partner brings the device to the bus station every week and there he contacts the driver whose turn it will be the transport the goods this time. He gives him the contact details of who will collect the package, and as a precaution notes the license plate of the bus and the driver’s name. The same procedure is followed at the other end to send it back to the capital.

Now he slips the device into his backpack, and rides his bike through the deserted streets of the city.

What’s he looking for? Perhaps a secure telephone from where he can alert his customers, “The package arrived, will you take it now?” But before starting the transaction he has to be sure the merchandise is of perfect quality and complete. He pedals home, connects the hard disk, and verifies, yes, the 110 gigabytes are there, in a file with the date of the last week.

Then he does a superficial check — he doesn’t have time to watch everything — to make sure the quality of the video is good, or acceptable. No one wants to pay if they can’t see it well.

Finally, the contacts. He goes from house to house, connecting the hard disc, copying the designated folder, and pasting it in the space the client assigns for it. Never less than 100 gigabytes, never more than 120. That’s the average.

What is contained in that device, which occupies so much digital space and that is so tremendously in demand by society? Information of various kinds. One of the most acute scarcities for Cubans anchored on their floating Island of Silence.

The same news from America TV and Mega with TV shows in high demand among the Hispanic community in the United States. From football games broadcast live by ESPN, to the chapters of specialty Mexican soap operas on Univision. New films, documentaries from the Discovery Channel, musical concerts of some star — especially anything Latino — appearing on glamorous world stages.

In total, 110 gigabytes can capture a week of cable television, and for 4 convertible pesos it’s downloaded to the personal computer of a Cuban who otherwise would never have access to this multimedia diversity.

In some of the more affluent cities in Cuba, these weekly packets cost 10 convertible pesos. In others, especially in the east where less money flows, they vary between 4 and 6. It depends on the place and the provider.

How do the local distributors get this mass of information and entertainment into specific hands? Through semi-suicidal risks, primarily in the capital, where they install a satellite dish on their roof and make offerings to the Orishas that none of the neighbors will decide to inform the police about this serious violation of law.

The antennas, like artifacts of war, are hidden with every kind of trick: a leafy grape-vine, a cement overhang, sometimes painting it so it blends in with a background of the same color. Ingenuity is never lacking in Cubans in their eternal effort to survive.

These parabolic kamikazes expose themselves to exorbitant fines and much more serious penalties (they can lose their homes or even end up in prison if they are repeat offenders). They record all the programs of popular interest on their computers. And sell the packages to street distributors throughout the country.

Thanks to such methods they can read the independent blogs in Cuba, the incendiary texts that appear on the web, daily publications like the Nuevo Herald or the BBC. A person privileged to have Internet access — legally through their work, or illegally installed in their house through the black market — downloads the articles and distributes them to his acquaintances free through the miracle of flash memory. Sometimes they charge for it. Otherwise they do it out of basic solidarity.

But one thing I am sure of: I do not believe these renovated pirates of the Caribbean, Creole pirates who make a living smuggling gigabytes and copyrights, are aware of how much their commercial efforts form a part of a Cuban democratization that must begin with one basic element, access to information.

Behind its censurable illegality — looking at if from the viewpoint of international standards of respect for intellectual property — lies a blunt reality that is not too hard to elucidate: there is no worse enemy to the Cuban regime in its more than half a century of existence than technology. There has been no enemy more mortal, subversive and uncontrollable than the Internet.

This is an army — of flash memories, of computers armed with bits and pieces, of DVD players which until very recently were also illegal — that has destroyed a deep isolation suffered by a country disconnected from the planet. And it is a proven fact that against this army the totalitarian regimes of today do not know how to, and cannot, fight.

Thanks to piracy, Cubans today know that beyond the water that encircles them lies another distinct world the TV informs them of. Thanks to contraband music, newly-released movies, audiovisuals with other ways of looking at reality, they have discovered, bit by bit, timidly, the real reasons why they are not allowed to travel.

It would not surprise me if — like the Beatles were banned from the national scene in the past — today the Spanish series Travelers’ Streets, with its globe-trotting journalists and a fanatic clandestine audience in my country, would be declared material non grata by any establishment in Revolutionary lands.

To my friends, the pirates of my Island country, let me say that unfortunately I am not yet an author of any work whose rights are worthy of being violated. But I aspire to be one. If, sometime, a single word of mine, the smallest bit that comes from my keyboard, is worthy of being downloaded from the Internet, plundered by publishers or legal commitments, or in some way is distributed by the brothers of my muted land, don’t ask my public approval, because I would not be able to give it.

But cynically I say to you: Know that internally I support you, with the same conviction and vehemence with which I turned over, in the past, four convertible pesos for a small breath of freedom. Because the real crime is not piracy. The real crime is disinformation.

January 15 2011

 
 

America and the Traitors

The likely, though unconfirmed, flight to the U.S. of the former president of Alimport, the national company that monopolized imports on the Island, is the new owner of a big label that comes to us these days from the largest of the Antilles. And even without absolute certain verification, the fact has occupied the front pages of major newspapers and has been reviewed by bloggers, journalists and fans of that inexhaustibly rich subject: Cuba.

And no wonder. Mr. Pedro Alvarez Borrego long presided over the Chamber of Commerce, for twenty years he held the thorny title of vice minister, in short: it is a story about the highest ranking official who’s hotfooted it out of the country since 2002, when Alcidiades Hidalgo, the deputy foreign minister, looked for protection in the arms of — until then — his worst enemy.

But if it weren’t for the prominence of this character, and for the journalistic hay that could be made if he were eventually to be found on U.S. soil, the case wouldn’t merit more than a few lines in the local press. Why? Because to talk about officials, public people, athletes, and good Cuban party members crossing the Straits of Florida, has gone from being surprising news to a contemporary tradition.

It’s enough to do the numerical recount which I, short on time, beg off doing this time.

Especially, because in my opinion the most interesting thing to turn the spotlight on — in this escape worthy of a nighttime thriller, disguised as a woman, they say, how embarrassing to State Security — is the ethical dilemma this Cuban immigrant poses to the United States. How laudable is it to shelter and protect, in a true democracy, someone who up until the previous day showed himself to be your sworn enemy, supporter of an antagonistic system?

A lovely and perhaps apocryphal anecdote in the History of Cuba refers to the event when the Indian, Hatuey, was tied to the stake and he asked the priest, who offered him holy communion so that he could go to heaven, if the Spaniards would be going to the same place. After hearing a reply in the affirmative, the aboriginal rebel answered, “Then I do not want to go to heaven.”

One might ask, then, of those who suffered most among the suffering, of Cubans lacerated by intolerance, of those who had to mourn relatives imprisoned or buried, how it has been for them, all these years, to know that many of those who yesterday supported the Cuban system, who perfected the pillars of the anti-democratic government, now roam safely in the same city that gave them the shelter they needed.

It is truly complex: under the same roof, on this side, so many oppressed and so many oppressors coexist, that only in a system of strict laws, only in a society of plural thinking like this, could a climate of general peace be maintained.

Because while we can find on the streets of Miami simple former leaders of the Communist Youth Union — I met one of those myself last Saturday, who identified himself, even though I didn’t ask, offering no justification for his former life — poor peons in the Cuban game, we also stumble upon the fat cats of the true repression, with essential names without which, I am sure, the darkest face of the government of my country would not have been so dark.

So, one more time: What justice is there in offering absolute protection to the same people who moments before you were fighting against, when they decide, from opportunism or necessity, to pass over to the side of the enemy?

And here’s another essence of the conflict, the dirtier and more degrading background: rarely do these characters cross the geographical and ideological line unless circumstances force them to. They rarely behave as civic leaders, as Democrats who flee a country where they tried to transform reality, and failed. It doesn’t happen.

In the vast majority of cases it is the comfortable guardians of the throne who only move when the Island’s powers-that-be withdraw their flattery. When they lose their privileges, their furnished mansions, their vacations in Cancun and Varadero, and when they are returned to ordinary lives, now with the suffocating scarcities of the average Cuban.

Another share of them, smaller but if anything more reprehensible, are those who — like our old importer Pedro Álvarez — vanish in Cuba and show up in the “establishment” only when a monumental scandal is about to blow up on them.

Here it’s not even about the newly pursued through political transmutation; it’s not about the names that until yesterday wanted to donate their blood to transfuse the Revolution, and then, when the Revolution sent them the bill they wanted to drain its blood with their eye teeth. None of that. They are, simply, those who steal, lie, falsify from their lofty positions while ordering the people to sacrifice, to be frugal, and when they are discovered
they put on wigs and look for shelter in other countries of the globe.

Me, I don’t know too much about the former president of Alimport, I didn’t hear his voice or know of his maneuvers to negotiate with the United States during his commercial exercise, but I do know one thing: no one in Cuba scales the heights to such positions — ministers, presidents — without having proved themselves, with a steely unconditionality, to be absolutely submissive to the precepts of the Communist Party and its rulers. And that is not achieved with a low-profile militancy.

But, one fine day they jump over to Florida and the ocean in between washes away all their records. Bad, very bad that. And the TV programs, the well-known faces of the Miami media treat them with the respect codified in the journalism handbook, forgetting that the journalism handbook also speaks of ethics as an indispensable principle.

But as the ratings soar astronomically, as they have high levels of information, obtained by their chameleon-like attitude, not only do they get shelter and emotional stability, they get a lot of hard cash. Very hard.

Is there a dignified, an admirable face in this perspective swamp? Yes: even in this city, in this Miami of light and Latinos, swarming freely with well-known names from the pro-communist militancy, pro- Fidel. Public figures with radio programs, cultural magazines, think tanks and political platforms defending the Cuban Revolution and its ideological precepts. And none of them are imprisoned, expelled, or left without work. The Tyronians coexist with the Trojans, Persians with Spartans, in a society that could use some perfecting, but one vastly superior to that from which so many left.

Then, after these admissions they grit their teeth in disgust. Behind the appearances on camera like poor officials following orders, never dictating them, lies a pluralistic and tolerant teaching that, as long as it does not involve crimes against humanity — which also exist, a controversial issue — is honorable and worthy of preservation.

But to the next ones thrown out of office who will be coming, and those who have already arrived; to the next phonies who screamed “Socialism or Death” in Cuba and today can’t live without McDonald’s; to those who change their jerseys to play at wiping the mind clear and posing as victims when in reality they were hard-core victimizers, a clarification in the name of so many honest and consistent people who seek exile as oxygen to survive, and not as a shield against their excesses: Never forget that, like Rome, America pays the traitors, but despises them.

January 10 2011

 
 

Heredia Project: Choices as a Good Omen

I would dare to suggest that few initiatives in the history of the Cuban opposition have been as inspiring, thoughtful, and complicated for the government of the Island to avoid, as the new project that takes the name of Heredia; an area of civil society has been set in motion.

The Heredia Project — named as a way to honor our great and tortured poet José María Heredia, one of the most famous exiles in national history — arises again with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas at its head, exploding for the second time, after the beautiful but failed Varela Project, on the most complex and fruitful terrain for peaceful struggle: The law.

Payá Sardiñas — an opponent who with his austerity as proof against blackmail has never been deposed as they would desire — has become a learned scholar of the Constitution of the Republic, and as we say in “good Cuban”: He has chosen to “stew it in his salsa.” And he has done it well.

This time, his Titanic enterprise takes the name “Heredia Project: Law of National Reunification,” and in essence is focused on promulgating a law that guarantees rights recognized in our Constitution, but violated with impunity in practice by those who rule over us. Above all, one in particular: The sacred right of Cubans to enter and leave their country, with complete freedom.

The seven points set out at the beginning of the proposal, and that serve to justify it, are in many ways irrefutable. Among these, I’ll take two: 1. The clear prohibition in Article 42 of the Constitution of the Republic on discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religious belief or any other offense against human dignity, and 2. The resolution proposed by Cuba in 1998, sponsored and signed at the United Nations under the title “Respect for the right of universal freedom to travel and the importance of family reunification.

Henceforth, this legislative initiative fully develops its ideas, which can be summarized in a superficial way in four key areas, a portion of the many articles and paragraphs present:

1. Citizenship: All Cubans, wherever they live, and their natural children, should have the right to choose their citizenship and to enjoy the rights implied by it, without being denied because of the political interests of the country’s government.

Fundamental question: Unlike the rest of the world’s citizens who emigrate to another country, we Cubans are the only ones who suffer the total loss of our property and rights when we decide to reside elsewhere in the world. We are the only ones who must go through the humiliating process of giving the State an accounting of all our possessions, and in most cases, losing them all after choosing the category of “Final Exit,” a term that the Heredia Project specifically classifies as exclusive and ominous.

2. Equality: All Cubans, living in Cuba or abroad, enjoy all the rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution, so the practices of discriminating based on their condition as political dissidents or emigrants will cease.

Within these discriminatory practices, legislative initiatives have not forgotten the fundamental issue of equality of Cubans and foreigners in terms of Internet access, cable television and similar amenities.

3. Mobility: All Cubans can move freely within their country and have the right to travel abroad. End the requirement to submit a Letter of Invitation to visit another country, require only submission of an updated passport. In addition, eliminate the Exit Permit, and the Letter of Release required by immigration authorities from one’s workplace, and end the requirement for Cubans living abroad to present a visa to enter their own country.

This being the essential chapter of the Act, it is not surprising that it covers a remarkably rich range of violations and practices that Cubans suffer today under the theme of emigration and international visitors, from the need to be able to pay for the cumbersome procedures in Cuban pesos, the currency in which wages are paid on the island, to the habit of punishing certain professionals who apply to leave the country (mostly doctors), by sending them to work in the most complex and difficult locations in the country.

4. Property: All Cubans have a legitimate right to continue to live in their homes without anyone depriving them of their property.

And here the “National Reunification Law” plays one of its most serious cards, astute and, in my estimation, the boldest of the whole proposal: If it were to be approved, Cubans living outside the country would have no right to reclaim their properties that were expropriated before the law went into effect.

Why is this section fundamental, even vital, to achieve mass support in Cuba? Very simple: Because the first thing that would make Cubans on the Island oppose a deal would be allowing the exiles to return to their land, which would mean that displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who today live in homes formerly belonging to other owners.

And not just homes: The Law of National Reconciliation understands the impossibility of returning to those previous owners properties that are today, in Cuba, schools, daycare centers, hospitals, and an endless list of other uses.

The importance of this aspect is absolutely fundamental: One of the fears that the government of the Island has intentionally spread among nationals, regarding the possible return of the exiles, is that they would lose their homes: “If those who left return, the first thing they will do is take your house where you have lived for 30 years, because in the 1960s it was their property.” A brilliant manipulation to short-circuit the momentum of popular justice.

Thus, Project Heredia begins the year going from door to door, circulating from hand to hand, quietly and fearfully, in the hopes of another 10 thousand signatures to enable them to present it to the National Assembly as a popular initiative, which they would then be obligated to pay attention to.

Without any kind of ingenuousness: Whether this bovine Parliament, unanimous to the point of absurdity, will reject the project with the same shameful attitude with which they dismissed the earlier Varela Project, time will tell. In fact, this same Law of National Reconciliation was presented to the National Assembly in 2007 by two citizens, and they are still waiting for a response from the members of parliament.

But I think the context in which this initiative arises, the spread of technology in Cuban society, and the growing popular discontent that will undoubtedly begin to develop as half a million people lose their jobs, will, this time, be the principal partners of a project in which, I confess, I have limited faith, but faith nonetheless.

According to the wise words of a lawyer and friend — who, precisely because he is a friend, I protect with anonymity — “This Law project is impeccably constructed, and begins to resolve one of the outstanding issues of the Cuban legal system: Implementing a Citizenship Law that up until now does not exist.”

One can only endure, and sharpen the perception: The Heredia Project, with tens of thousands of signatures one can almost guarantee they will obtain, will be the perfect gauge to test how much truth and how much magician’s illusion are contained in the official words, when they speak today of redirecting the destiny of a nation.

January 6 2011

 
 

The Words of a Newcomer

In this moment as I write, sleeping very close to me is my niece Elizabeth. I must be aware of her angelic dream: she is only nine days old. The magical aura of helplessness surrounding her cradle, her woman-in-miniature expression, inspires a protective tenderness that is, I believe, universal.

But I can’t stop thinking of something, in this moment while I type the first of my blog posts from the United States: my niece and I are nothing short of colleagues in this business of the newly born. A sensation strange but true, with my twenty-six years I am very little different from a baby of nine days. We both have little idea of how to face the world from this point forward.

To say my arrival in Miami was risky is true but inexact. Let’s say rather atypical, convoluted. I, confronting the regime of my country, and lover of limited experiences, wish I could relate the Hollywoodesque story of how I managed to escape at night, on a raft, with coyotes guiding me to the border. But luckily I cannot.

I arrived in this country on December 28 aboard an American Airlines plane, with only the shock of the tense months of my recent life. That is: months in which I was misdiagnosed with cancer; months of a burlesque campaign to present me as a sex merchant; the constant danger I faced for refusing to renounce my individual liberties; stories that will keep for the future, when I need to tell my niece — and my own children — how life was lived in that country, with so much hatred and evil embedded under the skin of a nation.

However, truth be told, my departure from Cuba, for legal reasons, and detached from any political situation, did not suffer from a single monkey wrench from the Government of the Island, as it would have been both possible and thinkable in terms of previous experiences. Rather, the opposite: the Exit Permit — which came within a record time of 11 days — is difficult to write about without hanging a much deserved adjective in front of it: aberrant.  I suspect that my native country’s establishment did not want me very much.

Thus, just one day before my visa would irrevocably expire, I stepped on American soil with the only certainty being that from now on nothing would ever be the same. My fellow passengers, two Cuban-Americans who had just visited the island after decades of absence, gave me my first ten dollars as a sign of good hope, nor could they resist the temptation to take a picture of my face during landing: they were present at the opening of my story as a new exile.

Have I had time to think and analyze, to draw sharp conclusions or form categorical judgments? Definitely not. I, an avid sniffer and listener, who always wants to understand and question, have spent too much time training my perception to the new environment and fighting a phlegmatic headache that always threatens to arrive but fails. In short: Only five days after moving out of the country, and almost off the planet, I now dedicate myself to train my brain for what will continue to be my intellectual work.

But I have my suspicions. Many suspicions. And the first one is this: within a very short time I will begin to tolerate even less what is happening in my country. What I have left behind. Very soon, once the initial shock wears off, I will feel even more resentment against those who have deprived my friends, my family, and all humble Cubans of a universe of possibilities like those I am just getting to know.

It is not about shiny material things, which inevitably also arise; it is, rather, about the indescribable pain experienced on seeing proof of everything that millions of Cubans have been denied. It is the feeling of guilt that sticks in your throat when, suddenly, you find yourself enraged in the aisles of the supermarket, as happened to me two nights ago in “Publix” where there is scarcely a basic need that cannot be satisfied. Meanwhile, that memory of yours, doing the best you can year after year to put a lousy plate of food on the table, it hits you without mercy.

I suspect, also, that each day I spend in a place where respect for differences of opinion is the law, I will be further inoculated against intolerance and exclusion; a place where, as happened to me two nights ago at “Casa Cañí” restaurant, I can openly debate politics with no one around me having to whisper lest the machinery of repression — tape recorders, informers — be launched against them.

And at the same time, I suspect that soon I will also come to know the stains present on this new reality: not even in a respectable democracy have we Cubans left off stigmatizing those who think differently from us, and displaying some features we carry as contraband under our skin: verbal aggression, lying as a method of destruction.

Among other reasons, because too many repented and converted, too many victimizers now pass as victims, milling about in this dazzling city that has honorably sheltered the honest and persecuted. And from the wise words of a reader who is now a friend, “Crossing the Straits of Florida does not purify.”

So for all these reasons I will continue this blog. To fairly and objectively dissect this reality that is as Cuban as the Havana Malecón and unmet dreams. Above all, because unlike the environment in which The Little Brother arose, the one from which I am writing today celebrates differences and disagreements as the engine of evolution. A handful of intolerant orthodox can do very little, when “democracy” is perhaps the most used word among those who inhabit this great country.

One of the questions I have had to hear most frequently from the moment I decided to change the context and leave for the United States, is: “What will happen to your blog, now that you won’t be living on the island itself?” My answer is two-fold.

First: The commitment to a personal truth that is restricted only to a particular framework has no validity. I think that while I feel myself part of that blessed Island as did the Apostle, Celia Cruz, the Communist Party militants; while I do not renounce my honorable state as a Cuban who loves his land, and precisely because it is condemned to unhappiness, there is no justification to abandon this intimate project that has already contributed so much to my personal and professional growth.

And second: To those who fear that my distance from the Cuban reality will affect the objectivity of my texts, I would suggest they comb through the sharpest and most worthy books, articles and essays published over the last several years on the subject of my country. Save minor exceptions, they all belong to authors who have not lived in Cuba for some time. If not, ask Eliseo Alberto, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Manuel Díaz Martínez, Raúl Rivero, Jesús Díaz, Amir Valle, among a long list of others.

It is not the absolute proximity to social phenomena which guarantees a work of real value, but perseverance, analytical study, and continuous improvement. As in all fields of human existence.

My commitment to the word is even stronger than to the democratization of the Island: to write, I believe, is the only thing I can never stop doing. Whether from a humble provincial town, with the aroma of coffee and a haggard sun, or from a cosmopolitan city an hour away by plane, it’s the same: I am determined never to shut my mouth.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 
 
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