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Category Archives: Translator: Angelica Morales

Achtung, Baby: A Whisper of Liberty in 360°

I wanted to not write about Bono, but I couldn’t. I wanted, for example, to write about something more global: music, my untameable ally, my refuge during times without peace. And to do so, let’s say, through U2, through the brutal concert U2 gifted me with.

But I knew I would betray myself: I don’t chose the topics, the topics – like Cortázar’s stories – choose me, and there is nothing left to do.

Because just when I start thinking about how to start typing, and I need to return to the images, tap the affective memory, right that second I hear Bono flooding the stadium with his mythological voice, rattling in seventy-five thousand ears with a noble whisper: to tell all Cubans that a beautiful man, a good doctor like Oscar Elías Biscet, was important for U2.  To tell Cubans that they were aware of Cuba’s situation, that someday freedom will come, and that U2 was watching.  They were watching all Cubans.

So then I have no choice but to abdicate and write about four Irish men who for one night, for two and a half hours, made me the happiest poor devil on the planet.  To write about the rock band that made the 14-year-old Ernesto lose his sleep the first time he heard a hypnotic song like One, without knowing that 12 years later those musicians would sing for him.

Is there any bad news behind those fascinating words pronounced by Bono during the ecstasy of his art? Is there something to mourn about, after seeing him — listening to him — knowing he said that just like many others, he also desired to see a free Cuba someday? Yes, at least for me: my friends in Cuba will not be able to hear them anymore on the radio stations.  My mother, a Bono fan — thanks to her son — will not be able to watch their version of the Ave María sung along with the great Pavarotti, favorite clip of “De La Gran Escena“, a night-time television show of my country.

I don’t doubt in the very least that since last night, U2 thickens the list of prohibited musicians by the owners of thoughts, of sexual and musical preferences of Cubans.  A small anecdote: twenty-four hours after the anti-Chavez declarations by Alejandro Sanz in 2003, while releasing his album “No es lo Mismo”/”It’s not the Same”, all his music disappeared from the national radio stations.  Till this day. And the words of this Spaniard are suckling babies next to our Irish’s.

A futuristic stage at the Sun Life Stadium, four hours before the concert.

The real impact of that statement from U2, the wish of freedom for the Island and the tribute to a Cuban whose emotional stability and many years of his life were snatched away, doesn’t surprise me that it came from a rock star whose media influences can be compared to Elvis’s or John Lennon’s decades before.  It is not a lie, even, that the fascination U2 generates with its 190 million sold discs, and its 22 Grammy Awards; or that this same Bono is the only person nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Grammys.

The point is this: the clamor of liberty came out of a humanist admired by both Tyrians and Trojans, a man with a splendid reputation, whom millions of people, instead of isolating him from the planet, took him, for example, to launch a campaign and fight like a tiger in order to liberate the Third World from its external debt, and who has used his name to work for causes unanimously acclaimed, call it Greenpeace, Amnesty International, or Feed the World.

How to ignore, then, his voice? How to counter with “revolutionary propaganda”, by repeating Cuba’s national anthem “Cuba, socialist paradise”, the cry of liberty uttered from the stage by someone who goes for good over evil, who earned immortality a long time ago with his art?

I venture off to look for an “official explanation”: Bono was ingratiating himself with the ultra-rightists of Miami. That’s it.

What is hard to understand is the reason why one of the richest and venerated musicians on the planet would want to be in good standing with politicians who would like to have at least one-third of his universal influence.  When a person makes 195 million dollars in 2010 alone, together with his band, he can afford to not even be in good standing with God. (Even though you thank him before bedtime.)

I am sure that for the rest of the non-Cubans who attended, U2’s concert in Miami had another connotation.  It was the mega-show of splendor, at times overwhelming, with a science fiction stage in 360 degrees, a screen which served to show us the beautiful face of the Burmese activist Aun San Suu Kyi after being freed, as it served to show us Mark Nelly, the husband of Senator Gaby Giffords who was shot, speaking to the Miami audience from the International Space Station.

For the Ecuadorians who shared hugs and tears with me, who came from their country just to watch the mystical U2, the concert was the excess that you hope to find in the band that has reached the impossible: to be liked equally by the pure bred rockers and the non-rockers of this world.

For me, who in my youth of discoveries dreamt with delirium to hear them sing albums like “Achtung Baby” and “All that you can’t leave behind”; for me, who understands music as that essence and compliment without which I wouldn’t know how to breathe comfortably, the two and a half hours in front of U2 had a meaning incomparably superior.

The tears they ripped out of me, expressions of mixed feelings halfway between pain and discomfort, between melancholy and impotence; my tears between not being resigned to the country that gave me life, and not being resigned that  my friends of a thousand battles could not enjoy this sublime music with me; and without doubt, tears of happiness hilarious disobeyed my restraint reminding me that I’m alive, they were my most basic gratitude, most primary humanity, before four men whose songs will still be heard by my children, and the children of my children. Just as another writer said about the Beatles.

Translated by: Angelica Morales

July 1 2011

 

Ticket to (Another) Paradise

The landing gear descended and, as vertiginous as it is, rushed his body into the daylight.  Hanging upside down, cut by irons and cables, semi naked, the torso of a Cuban greeted Barajas’ airport with his halo of death and desperation. That torso was only 23 years old.

Nobody likes the word: desperation is an alarmist term. But let’s see, how many world citizens, honestly, how many unhappy and disappointed, would be willing to emulate Cubans in the methods employed to escape their earthly paradise?

Not many.  Not to be absolute.  The East Germans who offer their bodies to the barbed wires, landmines, and the aim of snipers don’t exist today. Desperate fugitives who flee in the middle of snow storms, who die frozen among the snow, escaping comrade Stalin’s paradise don’t exist today.

What exists are Cubans, yes.  A new race of fugitives that are setting records in the ancient art of evasion.

Some say: Central Americans also emigrate.  True.  They jump on frenetic trains, they tie themselves to its roof tops, at the mercy of wild gangs and bandit cops, at the mercy of bad weather and losing their legs under the wheels of the iron.

Yes, they emigrate from El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, to the United States.  To the country that — whether liberal friends around the world like it or not — is still the oasis of opportunities that offers a blanket to the lawn mowing emigrant, just as to the parents of Facebook’s inventor.

Some say: Haitians also emigrate.  And they also do so in flimsy rafts, food for sharks.  Where do they emigrate to? To the same place as Central Americans.  To the most vilified and envied country of the world.

But neither Mexicans, nor Salvadorans, nor Guatemalans, nor Haitians, emigrate to anywhere.  We, the homus andantis from Fidel’s paradise, the children of the new Motherland, demand much less: barely a different country than the one where we had to live. The demand is just another country of the orb. Only that.  It doesn’t matter if it is Finland, Ukraine, or South Africa.  What matters is that it is not ours.

For that, Cubans put their brains in gear.  The build floating monsters, amphibian Chevrolets, they put together tires and planks, they hang anti-shark diesel in the corners, and head out to sea.

They take over a Peruvian embassy by force, inside its walls ten thousand sweaty, thirsty, malnourished, hopeless souls seclude themselves.  Waiting for a ticket to freedom.

White flesh and black flesh meet, proud mulata nationals with Italians with bad breath, adolescents of recently developed breasts with Spaniards who take Viagra; they swallow up their modesty and nausea, and they marry in the Island with a metallic love.

They serve as archivists: they dig, dig, dig, they ask, they photocopy, they print, they solicit Spanish citizenship and bless the grandfather who had the wit to be born in the Motherland a century and a half ago.

They populate half the world, a Cuban today, ten tomorrow, they flood Ecuador with their cracked dreams, and although pursued illegals, they prefer a very poor nation like that at meridian zero, before their big tropical island.

Today, one appears in the news: I will jump into the void from my window if you try to deport me to Cuba. Another one appears tomorrow: frozen, shredded, his bones cracked by the undercarriage of an airplane that doesn’t care about misfortunes nor the anxiety of freedom.

How horrible, how disheartening, what a bitter paradise have they built on the Island that watched our births. God.  When our country’s History gets written some day, the History behind this story of tyrants and victims, of deserters who die horrendous deaths; that day we will lack many siblings: drowned, crushed, shot by Mexican coyotes, chewed up by sharks’ jaws, beaten up in Panamanian jails, killed by the cold weather or by hunger halfway along their journey.

Those, I would like to think, are resting somewhere else: in the Paradise reserved for the victims of our insular paradise.

Translated by: Angelica Morales

July 18 2011

 

CNN’s Havana

When the documentary was close to its end, I discovered an unbelievable sensation deep inside of me: the “destination” Claudia Palacios was proposing was absolutely unknown to me and made me feel the urge to visit it.  CNN, through one of its reporters of spectacular beauty and proven professionalism, had just managed to make a Cuban who has only been out of his country for 6 months, hardly recognize Havana, and see himself tangled in a unrepresentative trap and the superficiality of the ample report to the point where he could accept the reality its author was proposing: yes, Havana is a place of enchantment in a paradise which had to be visited.

So different was the city that the ineffable journalist presented to me some days earlier, on the segment “Destinations CNN,” with a Havana I had visited dozens of times throughout my life, as a Cuban, and whose intricacies I knew like the palm of my hand.

The gray antecedent of this unfortunate material came from a Spanish television show.  It was called “Spanish in the World”, and also filmed a sweetened, graceful, smiling Havana, which no doubt exists, but as an epidermal make-up which those inside know is empty and incomplete.

But the miscalculations of Claudia Palacios, the incisive interviewer of public figures, the journalist who knows her profession well enough to be able to assume that “speaking without knowing” is understandable in tourists interested in vacationing, not in communication professionals, seemed mildly scandalous to me.

Let’s say: to present Havana as a festive, tropical city, a city of clandestine cigars and people who serve you, is not exact.  To only present Havana as a city of never-ending festivities, of happy and dancing Cubans, of mojitos and rental cars, without later delving into the refinements, inside the veins under the social skin, is a journalistic misfortune.  And by this, I know I am not saying anything new to the talented reporter, which makes it worse.

Was it necessary or essential to present the most cruel Havana of all, of nocturnal thugs, the galloping corruption or the semi-juvenile prostitution? I wasn’t even asking for that, as a spectator of a coverage that evidently didn’t try for depth or questioning.  I know the profiles and perspectives in which  journalists sometimes focus our work.

But to affirm that behind the plans of “economic reactivation” undertaken by Raul Castro’s government, Havana had bloomed in a spectacular way, seems to me to be a conscious falsification of the truth, and that, in all its essence, is a crime of “lese journalism.”

Didn’t the smooth Claudia Palacios visit the barracks where hundreds of Habaneros or Orientales stack themselves, people who come from any part of Cuba or those born in the capital, without potable water, between cracked walls and grime stamped on the ceilings? Why was the reporter content with following the tour of La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) offered to her by a designated guide from Havana Tour, and not stepping out of the script of that tropical Virgil, not going down the pestilential streets that haven’t been repaired by the Historian’s Office, which are very close to those places she filmed? Perhaps the informed journalist is unaware of the usage of nations like Cuba, where those guides are faithful people chosen by and for the State Security, people who know precisely what they can and cannot show?

Perhaps Claudia Palacios didn’t see the private businesses with repeated products, fried flour patties, breads filled with spreads made from indecipherable ingredients, because of the lack of viable source materials that would allow them to grow as true business men?  In that city she described as a Paradise made up of sea water and smiling people, didn’t she see the sweat running down the skin, the anguish of hunger, the buses crowded with irritable people, didn’t she see uncertainty, a little bit of indifference and a lot of hopelessness?  Perhaps the beautiful Palacios doesn’t know that in that city whose growth in  tourism she praised no end, attributing it among other reasons to the festive nature of Cubans, that a cohort of adolescents sell their bodies to repugnant tourists for barely a decent dinner or a letter of invitation to another country?

I find it impossible to grant credibility to the reporter of a leading world news chain, who doesn’t know that an immense percentage of Habaneros cannot visit those luxurious restaurants she showed in her documentary, and that for Habaneros and Cubans in general the fascinating Valle de Viñales remains  of those places like Varadero, Cayo Coco, and the Hemingway Marina, that have been prohibited to Cubans due to the economic inaccessibility.

Evidently the objective of “Destinations: Havana” was simply marketing.  It was to sell a destination, and nothing more.  But I ask myself how far can journalistic ethics and decency permit, how far is it lawful to accept a manipulation of realities, showing only half the face of a city so complex as is Havana only because your work load is this and not that.

I ask myself: if all of a sudden the series “Destinations” thought it necessary to recommend Teheran, would Claudia Palacios step on Iranian soil concentrating only on showing the Tomb of Cyrus, the friezes of Persepolis Palace, or address with silk gloves the obedience of its feminine population, without delving into the whys, without diving under the surface, as her journalistic responsibility requires?

I think that aside from pink-skinned Europeans with desires to spend their savings well (I will always remember the words of an Italian in his sixties who said, in front of me, while he caressed the rear of a very young mulata accompanying him:”What would we be without Cuba!”). Aside from the brainless tourists from half the world, and aside from the representatives-implementers of a system like the one my native country suffers from today, nobody else could have enjoyed the “Destinations” filmed by Claudia Palacios.

Not even the people of the city where she took her images. Unfortunately those cannot give their opinion, because they live in one of the few countries where watching CNN is prohibited outside of some hotels, where cable TV doesn’t exist in each home, and so they will not be able to watch the fair mantle of the surreal circus attraction with which the journalist has shown them to the world.

Right this second I still ask myself if I ever truly got to know my Havana.  I think that along with that Havana told by Dulce Maria Loynaz in her memoirs, along with the delinquent Havana of Pedro Juan Gutierrez, or the eternal nocturnal and sinful Havana of Cabrera Infante, we can now start to include the Havana of the beautiful Claudia Palacios.  I wouldn’t know how to distinguish which of these belongs more to fiction.

Translated by: Angelica Morales

June 23 2011

 

In a Coach, Down a Dark Alley

His face is a catalog of discouragement. Sitting with his elbows on his knees, his horse’s reins in his hands, he  seems to me like a pillar of salt from another time. With several days growth of beard, and a yellowish coat he must have exhumed from a closet in these days of winter.

“Would you give me a second, please? I’m a journalist and would like to ask you a few questions.”

From his seat, over my head, he looks at me with discouragement. He doesn’t agree, nor refuse. He’s just there.

“I would like to ask you about the strike you people held a week ago,” I said, with fear that once again I would receive the same evasive answers as on my previous two attempts: a tattooed young man told me, next to his horse, “No brother, I wasn’t here that day”, and drifted away in a hurry; and a chunky old man, wearing a palm frond hat, answered in a more sincere way, “Look, I don’t want to get into more trouble, go ask someone else”.

A little over a week earlier the coachmen from my traditional Bayamo had undertaken an unthinkable action: two days of absolute strike.  A strike in a country without strikes, a country with the only constitution in the planet that does not recognize such a right for its laborers.

The unusual news spread across the whole island: the news exclusive had made it all the way to my hospital bed in Havana through a young nurse who took it with natural cheerfulness, “Bayamian, the coachmen of your town are on strike. Let’s see if you people light the city on fire again.”

“I would like to know the causes of this strike, in essence, what were you demanding?” I asked him, vaguely hopeful before his silence, a silence that, at least, didn’t push me away from there as his coworkers had done, their voices paralyzed by fear; I could have been a State Security agent, an informant, a plainclothes cop.

He takes his time, chews his cigar and speaks without looking at me, as if something in the distance really caught his attention.

“Man, the only thing we were asking for was for them to leave us barely enough money to  eat. That’s all. For them not to abuse us anymore.”

His words, said in the same peevish tone, thrill me. I wasn’t expecting this access to the truth.

“Why the abuse, what has changed?” I ask.

“The amount of money we have to pay the State now, in order for them to let us work. The taxes and payments due to thousands of different made up things they have recently imposed on us, just because.”

What is officially handled with the carefully chosen terms such as “Tax Adjustment,” is summed up for this man and for millions of other Cubans, as something very simple: the rates imposed by the Ministry of Prices and Finance for the practice of self-employment, in the majority of the cases, are simply exorbitant. It’s unsustainable.

Long before this forty-eight hour strike coming from a very humble sector, I had received news about the tax outrage. I heard testimonies from a neighborhood barber who, after twenty-six years of practice, was being forced to give up his work permit because the two-hundred pesos that the State fixed as his monthly share had become astronomical.  In the last month, he had had to sell  a couple of his possessions in order to make up the sum.

“How much were you paying before, and how much are you paying now? ” I proceed with my interview, afraid that the six people who would fill up his carriage would appear and my brief investigation would be cut short.

“Before, the monthly permit fee was 130 pesos. Now, they brought it up to 150 pesos, plus 87.50 pesos for Social Security, plus 10 percent of our daily earnings, for using this place to park our carriages.”

I tried to rapidly calculate the figure we were talking about, and asked him for daily numbers; quickly adding  it up, we agreed on an approximate total for his monthly taxes: around 500 pesos.

The carriages in Bayamo have, for some time, left off being traditional museum and classic colony pieces, to become a solution to the severe urban transportation problems.

Every morning, a legion of workers paid 1 Cuban peso and traveled on them to hospitals, schools, grocery stores.  Waiting for the city buses had become, for many, an unbearable chimera, alleviated only by these mobile artifacts, an unequivocal symbol of the villa founded in 1513 by the vicious Spaniard Diego Velazquez.

And all of a sudden, on an ordinary morning, the daily peso for the carrier doubled and in some cases, it tripled; the coachmen had just raised the prices of their fares, and the laborers’ salaries remained the same: 300 pesos, average, a month.  The math was stressful for those who had to travel on them daily.

“The thing started from problems with the people, look,” he tells me, and now, for the first time I think he’s engaging in our conversation.  “We had more discussions than trips.  Many didn’t want to pay us, they would call us thieves.  And the only thing we could say was, ‘Go complain to the authorities!  We don’t want to raise prices, but they’re forcing us to!’ We were like that for almost a month.  Until we had to get together and present the problems.  And a moment came where we couldn’t take it anymore, young man, and we had to stop.”

His words spill out as he vents. They carry the suppressed anger, vibrant, of someone who can’t resign himself to it all.

The day they reported they wouldn’t work anymore, the State forced private trucks and buses, with other routes, to cover their trips. Not one person from the union was able to intervene, not a voice from those other transportation modes was allowed to protest: the master spoke, you could only obey.

On the second day, they gathered them at the headquarters of the provincial Government, bearing a peculiar and fragmented manual of intelligence.  Never all together. They relied on the ancient maxim, “Divide and conquer.”

They pressured them in small groups. Under the guise of more clearly explaining the mechanisms they removed the seeds of disagreement with sophisticated threats: if they persisted on keeping their reactionary position they would forever lose their license.s They would no longer be able to work with their animals, which by the way, had cost them several thousands.

“Imagine for yourself if the people had not been intimidated,” he makes a gesture of annoyance, drowsing in his seat again at the level of my forehead. “We all have children here, families. We all have to kill the hunger, and this is the about the only thing we know. There are many who can’t even recover their initial investment, you understand? Who would continue after that?”

I could imagine the rest of the story, though the man didn’t tell me. I assumed from the fear, the hesitant speech, the refusals I’d received previously: it was the panic of being branded counterrevolutionaries. The investigations by the intelligence services, the interrogations to determine the leaders of the discontent; they were, in those days, taking over the area with their inexhaustible presence, the repressors with kid gloves from State Security. In Cuba they cannot allow the sowing of public unrest.

This is, in effect, the chronicle of an announced conflict: the grandiose plan to revive the Cuban economy not only contemplates the layoffs of hundreds of thousands; not only does it contemplate permits to exercise ridiculous professions — button-coverer, scissors grinder — to make a personal livelihood; but it includes, in addition, a Cyclopean increase in taxes for all private businesses, although the fundamental ingredient, money, continues to be absent from the family horizon.

The immediate consequence? Thousands of self-employed workers thinking, with anger and helplessness, about giving up the work that in the last years had allowed them to feed themselves, badly. Offering a license placed at an impossible height. Infinite shame should be the only name of this congress.

“Thanks very much for your time,” I say, by way of goodbye, when I see that our fleeting interview is ending. “And have a good day.”

I turned and before taking off I heard his voice again, and I paused for another second, looking again at his face without dreams or hopes.

“Don’t mention my name in what you write, boy,” he says, and I can barely suppress my pain, furious frustration, at hearing this plea from an adult man, independent, whom the system has completely neutralized with fear. “The only thing they haven’t done to me is seize the coach for saying things I shouldn’t.”

I make a gesture with my hand: don’t worry about it, it won’t be me who will threaten his poor living for his family.

I return to my personal bubble, suffering in silence for a hostile reality, that every day is more incompatible with the happiness of Cubans; a reality that from my earliest awareness has only threatened to worsen, bringing worse news, worse years, more acute shortages. Returning to my laboratory of ideas I can’t stop thinking about a phrase of the poet Lezama Lima who asked, with biting bitterness, how can we find out way out of this dark alley.

 

With a Homeland, but Without a Master

On the morning of Wednesday, July 7th of this year 2010, I received a peculiar visitor in my house: actually, I received him on the porch.  I invited him to sit down, next to me, on the small bench that delimits my home’s garden.  The living room in the house, the interior of my living space, is only destined for friends or people I don’t know but whose presence I have solicited.

Since this visitor didn’t meet either of those two conditions, he was kindly received on the porch.

His name is not important right now.  Only, that it was the official from the State Security whose visit I earned on “my own merits” since my first texts appeared on the web (at that time this blog was not thinking about being created).  No rebel, no one who stands up, no honest man, no inquirer stays in my Cuba of today without his own respective official.  It is a right we all have.

Well, my Security official’s visit had a concrete purpose that morning:

-          I’ve come to negotiate with you – he said, with sarcasm.

I want to make something clear: unlike the bird-brains they have assigned to counteract this blog, poor devils with no brain nor meritorious reasoning, the official who “attended” to me was the most decorous they could have assigned me.  Someone with good manners, knowledgeable about his occupation, cordial when the time demanded and energetic when my words offended his institution. He was not stupid, a good debater.  Someone who, if we took  away his occupation of persecutor of political miscreants, and overcame that innate arrogance of those who take advantage of the impunity that the authority grants them, would be one of the people whom I would receive in the living room of my home.  He could have been my friend.

So, we moved on to what he was coming to negotiate.

-          What advantage do I get from your business offer? I asked, in a funny way.

-          A Visa to the United States – he said, proud of his judgment.

I smiled, once again.  It was ten in the morning, and the dark circles under my eyes certified the 500 miles from Havana to Bayamo that I had traveled the night before.  I was coming from my interview at the United States’ Interest Section in Cuba.  They had just granted me, good until this coming December, a Visa in order to be able to reunite with my family members in Miami.  A Visa which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with my political posture, something that my official admitted as if known by all: I would leave Cuba just like another member of a family to reunite.  Just that.

The juicy “business” they proposed was elemental:

-          Behave — he said fluidly – and we won’t put any barriers towards your leaving the country.

You should understand: behave meant, in a more direct language: stop writing.

I can’t hide how enjoyable, grotesquely, that proposition was to me.  Benevolence in exchange for my silence.  The approval of the owners of this beautiful island, in exchange for my “good behavior”.

I don’t remember my exact answer. I think I faked that I would evaluate his proposal, very interesting and beneficial, really.

I had already evaluated it, actually.  Two days later, on July 9th, I posted the “Prologue to the Little Brother”.  I had just founded this space that counts today, after three and a half months, 31 published articles.

Looking back on what my life has been in the past three months, I must admit that it has had more charm and sleepless nights, more stress and delight, than ever before in my 26 years.  And above all, truth be told: more danger than I ever thought possible, like an entirely free man, in this country which I love from one end to the other.

I have experienced the brilliant pleasure of sitting down to write, each day, with the enviable sensation that everything I say is my deepest truth.  A truth crowded with subjectivities, points to analyze, polemic and personal opinions.  But in the end, a truth that, as I said in that Prologue, does not admit blindfolds nor does it tolerate disadvantages.

I have discovered, thanks to my decision to be a journalist as independent from the official press as from the sensational opponents, the real meaning of freedom of speech.  What I have published on this blog has only been approved by my conscience, my aesthetic standards and my ethical perceptions.  I have not asked anyone for accountability, I have not asked anyone for acceptance.

I have learned to value, and to respect, the fear of those who stay quiet out of necessity, from feeling defeated before the immensity of the retaliations: “I have a family, Ernesto; I have a son who I need to support.  I feel an immense envy for what you are doing, I would love to be able to do it also, but if they fire me from work like they did, how would I feed my family?”  I nod, and I give them a hug, even though I can’t defeat my depression all day, and I thank them for sneaking in, in the refuge of their homes, a memory stick that will go from one hand to another, copying and reproducing the texts that I publish here every three days.

And I have also learned, how couldn’t I, the size of hate and of repression in almost all its forms.  And I underline “almost”, because except physical violence and the gray bars of prison, I have already experienced on my own flesh, in my individual essence, the high price implied by being consistent with the Marti perception which prays: “Liberty is the right that each man has to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy” in my totalitarian Cuba.

Many friends have been warned, they have been terrified on account of me: “If you mix with a social scourge like him, you will be treated as such.”  Of course: many have abdicated my friendship.  They have put our links on standby until these times of bad smell and pests pass, even though it is likely that by that time, their friendship will be hollow, unnecessary.

My telephone, tapped with aberrant notoriety, has only remained in the address books of a few suicidal friends.  A virtuous painter, a Buddhist engineer, an Argentinean soccer fan on his wheel chair, and another handful of Bayameses (people from Bayamo) who might even fear for their own existence, but are more fearful of surviving without the irreducible friendship that we have known how to nourish for so many years.

Too many slanders have been raised against me.  Dirty, vile hits, for which I was always ready, but even then they don’t stop surprising me, and lead me to question myself about the limits of human degradation.

The founders of so much barbarity and so much social exclusion should have to answer to their children, to their grandchildren, all their questions.

That is why I, who maintain my friends on the verge of collapse, who have had to make my family lose their sleep, who have gained the disapproval of many for putting my stability, my personal security at risk, I ask them for forgiveness for my acts, but with humbleness I confess: I would not change a single second of these last three months of my life, for all the peace and all the protection of the planet.

I also confess, for whoever takes me as their enemy – they are not my enemies: I don’t have, inside of me, space for enemies; nor would I make any deals with them, nor with them would I ever conduct any business that included a single one of my articles,  one of my words.  I don’t gamble with my truth.  I am neither a blackmailed brain nor pen.

The longing to reunite with my family again, who now live in real freedom, is immense, and for that I have been willing to do almost anything.  Except biting my lips.  If the final punishment for being consistent with myself is imprisonment inside this green Island, I will accept it with the dignity of someone who still has much to do, much to write, much to live in this country that made me, with pride, a Cuban.  I will accept staying on this side of the ocean, with a homeland, but without a master.

Someone who is sheltered by books, by music, by scriptures and the unconditional love of his partner; someone who saves in his chest of relics the friendship of the incorruptible, the sincere; someone to whom God gifted with an immense spirituality to feed him during  harsh times, during sufferings, during the death of loved ones and the betrayal of friends for silver coins; to conclude, someone who deep inside has the antidote against all hate; someone like this cannot be repressed nor frightened.

Liberty is a spiritual state said Mahatma Gandhi, and I do not have words to thank him for the favor of giving me that maxim as a life premise.

At three and some months from writing this kamikaze blog, in which each time I offer the best and worst of me, I do not stutter in thanking all who dedicate 5 minutes of their time on reading it, and whose good energies inevitably come to me; nor do I stutter when thanking myself for taking this, the most assertive and committed decision of my young years of existence.

 

 

 

20 Reasons to Doubt


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Orphaned From Journalism (Part 1)


Just recently I discovered with regret that I had only one task pending in my passage through the institution of Cuban journalism. A yearning that had been building since my feverish college days maybe five or six years ago.

That is, to attend as a delegate a National Congress of the Union of Cuban Journalists. A difficult undertaking for someone who was not linked to this organization of the Cuban press, and who was not a member of the Union of Young Communists.

It so happens that these congresses stir in me an irrepressible curiosity which, clearly, I can no longer satisfy first hand. Like secret organizations, like the rituals of mystical sects, this meeting where specialists would gather to discuss or analyze a profession that does not exist in their country, seems to me an exotic thing worthy of having lived through and immortalizing in marble.

It would be the same to me if Cuba decided to hold a National Symposium on Eskimo Culture.

To speak without shame about journalism, in a country that has killed its essence, can only be understood as a cruel irony. In any case, it has not lost its attraction for me, nosy person that I am.

I think had I been able to get myself a seat I would have played an amusing game of suppositions. The game would have been this: guess, behind the poses of the meeting, which of these royal colleagues were the ones who thought of themselves as the paladins of information in Cuba, the ones who slept soundly thinking themselves the defenders of the public truth; and which only played the role to survive, knowing in their heart of hearts that real journalism was much more than obeying directives without any opportunity to ask questions.

Because yes, contextualizing a phrase by Pedro Luis Ferrer, there is a question I haven’t stopped asking myself from the moment I became a communications professional in Cuba: are many of the journalists of this country aware of the past that awaits them?

Are they aware of what it will mean, in the future of conciliation that I want to imagine without bitterness or violence, to read what they wrote, full of lies or hiding the truth, repeating the slogans of the tabloids; hearing themselves on the radio energetically supporting decisions which, in the privacy of their own homes, they criticized just as much as everyone else? Seeing themselves applauding in front of the television cameras while listening to speeches they didn’t even want to attend?

I’m speaking not from the point of view or distance of someone who has long since lost contact with our reality. I speak with the knowledge of someone who knew the circumstances, who until just a few months ago talked ad nauseum with my journalist colleagues, believing in our bonds of friendship and listening to revealing testimonies about the blatant and cruel hypocrisy that surrounds journalism in my country.

Any time you evaluate a phenomenon as complex and diverse as communication, in a country of exceptional conditions, multiple possibilities always present themselves, inviting us to dissect the various parts of Cuban journalism. Looking inside one of the leading causes — I say this without hesitation — of the strictures of thought that the society in which I live suffers today.

Just a starting point

I don’t have to make any special effort to remember the initial event that made me question, honestly, the world I was about to join. It happened in an editing booth at the local television station in my province. The year was 2004. I had just turned twenty.

A well-known colleague was editing some material about the single comparison most recreated and manipulated in our national history: Cuba, gray and weighed down, before 1959, vs. Cuba resplendent after 1959. The voice over emotionally narrated the transition, from darkness to light.

But an unforeseen delay threatened the program: the presumably ancient images of the impoverished nation were nowhere to be found. They had looked through all the files, in vain. The documentary had to air the following day.

That journalist’s solution is something I will never forget. She probably will.

She extracted a cassette from among her things. She mounted it and told the editor to capture what came next. Before us was a succession of images of malnourished children with distended bellies, ruined houses threatening to collapse on the camera itself, mud and misery, hunger in hundreds of faces, people in rags, skeletal dogs eaten by scabies.

I was struck dumb. Not by the gruesome impression of the scenes before me, but by my sense of what the journalist was about to do.

The images had been taken (I believe for internal consumption within certain political circles) a week ago in a rural village called Rio Cauto in the province of Granma. The color of the DVC Pro camera they had been taken with revealed their currency. This was no problem, however, for the cubicle with the latest editing software.

Removing the color was the work of seconds. The editor said nothing. Soon the same hungry faces emerged, the same third world landscape, but now in the black and white of a distant past, to which, according to the material, we should never return.

The voice overs of that journalist, now an icon in the local press, spoke of the misery of living on the island before 1959, while images taken just a few miles from home the week before, flashed on the screen. Minutes later, the montage displayed the rebirth of the country in colorful scenes of smiling healthy children and the openings of new buildings.

I didn’t have the courage to watch the film, the following day, when it aired in primetime.

Translated by Angelica Betancourt

 

Tropical Cancer

From the moment you push the door open, you notice something is not right. By now you should be feeling a change in the atmosphere, the change of temperature to give your skin, so mistreated by the sun, a breather. You should feel the air conditioner running at a place where you pay with the coin of higher value in your country.

Nevertheless, inside awaits a heat as intense as the one outside. Maybe hotter.

The salesclerk, a skinny mulatto, is wearing his button-down shirt as required by the rules. At his armpits, the blue color from the shirt gets darker: the sweat runs all the way down his ribs, it forces him to pull the shirt away from his body over and over again during his shift.

You ask him for a soda, and you lay the convertible peso that equals two days of work on the counter. You know you can’t allow yourself to spend that type of money frequently, but the climate is maddening and at moments you feel forced.

When you reach for the can, you think there has been a mistake:

- It’s not cold, my friend, can you change it for me?

His answer, a little indifferent, is the answer of someone who has had to repeat it on countless occasions:

- They’re all like that. The rules about saving force us to set the fridge at the highest temperature, that is why they can’t get as cold as they should.

You’re still holding the can in your hand. You know that it is not what your lips are waiting for to mitigate your thirst. You know you’ll regret having spent two days worth of your salary for a drink you won’t enjoy. But you sense the same thing will happen in every store you go to. Read the rest of this entry »

 

My Friend The Enemy

A suspicious incident has provided me with writing material this time.  As a sample of a rare will for controversy and democratic confrontation, the site Kaos en la Red, which promotes itself as the champion of intellectual reflection, has just censured a post originally published on this blog, which some reader decided to post on that portal.

The text My Own Vindication of Cuba appeared on that site under the free publication section and soon after went to the main pages of the section named Cuba.  After reaching a considerable amount of readings, and after being commented on by many readers, it disappeared without leaving a trace.

The interesting thing is that, according to some comments I had access to via e-mail, a few feverish readers uttered howls of indignation before such opprobrium towards the progressive Kaos en la Red.  The opprobrium was the appearance of my text there, not its later censorship, even requested by many of them.

How is it possible – they asked themselves – that our site, the trench of the united leftists allows the enemy to infiltrate in such way? How is it possible that we offer tribune here to an author (me) who admits on his Facebook page that he reads with dedication Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Alberto Montaner?

Soon after, Kaos en la Red retired my inglorious article.

I must confess: I have enjoyed the anecdote.  At some point they announced to Sigmund Freud that the Nazis burned his books.  The response of the wise psychoanalyst was a sarcasm without equal: “Humanity has progressed so much!” he said, “in the Middle Ages they would’ve burnt me.”

In no way does my ego want to think itself dangerous to the orthodox leftists, just as it seemed the work of Freud was to the retrograde fascists. But this thought seduces me: it had to have something, right? Otherwise my simple article would still be there.

Neither do I think I can discover any truth by affirming that Kaos en la Red represents a faction increasingly impoverished and discredited precisely for their lack of plurality, for the panic that divergent voices inspire in them; I wouldn’t expect anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

 

All The Lights Are Red


One.

They knocked on the door twice before identifying themselves.  When they said “It’s the Police,” he already knew it couldn’t be anybody else.  No one else would’ve knocked with such rudeness.

His face pale from nerves, he let them enter, knowing there was no going back.  After searching the house all over, they decided to open a washing machine placed (strategically) behind the bathroom door.

They looked at each other with a satisfied expression: they had found the merchandise.  The thief was lost.  Soon after, in a drawer in the bedroom they would also find some money that, although it wasn’t much, it was proof of illegal commerce; therefore, it would also be seized.

They took him out in handcuffs, in the middle of the day. They put him inside a police car.  One of them stayed at his house, interrogating his wife who was barely able to stammer with her throat tight from fear and astonishment.

The operation had concluded with great success on a busy city street, and the curious, the neighbors, and the occasional lingerers stepped away so as not to be taken as sympathizers of the disgraced.

Two.

I would’ve wished all this to be only my imagination, my literary voice, but it’s not.  What I just described took place in Bayamo only three days ago.  The detained man was a personal friend of mine.  I have to confess I haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep since this past Thursday.

This delinquent is not really a delinquent.  The merchandise is neither marijuana nor laundered money.  It was simply pants.  Just that.  A load of twenty jeans bought at a good price in the country’s capital, and brought (along with many sleepless nights, shock and hardship) to this eastern city.

Let me clarify the “good price”: fifteen convertible pesos.  They were bought at a store in Havana that had lowered their price for having small manufacturing defects.

They could be sold for twenty convertible pesos, or with luck for twenty-two, in this part of the country.  Small profit for this smart merchant, big profit for the buyer who wouldn’t have had access to them any other way.

Nevertheless, the eyes trained in the art of informing don’t rest.  Some diligent “collaborator” reported the crime, and the forces of order showed up. What crime? Well… something that in this, my island of euphemisms has been named, “hoarding.”  That’s how it’s defined, and that’s how it is punished.

What does this idea of hoarding consists of?  Possessing a large enough quantity of something to make it worth trading in it.  It doesn’t matter if it is soda crackers, fan blades, or in this case, jeans with small manufacturing defects. The number they consider as too high has not yet been stipulated.  That is left to the police officer’s interpretation. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 
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