Monthly Archives: July 2011

Instructions for an Escape

Chapter 3: Dissident Muralist*

Photo: Danilo. País de Píxeles. “El Sexto”

The procedure was simple. Very simple. You looked for a piece of cardboard and painted it with a phrase against the Government. You hung it around your neck and went out into the street. Like in the reality shows where a naked man comes out into the light of day starkers, and his challenge is to reach a determined goal without law enforcement stopping him. Well, here you wouldn’t last two blocks with a sign around your neck.

You could also opt to choose a city wall and appear before it with a can of paint in hand, and decorate it with one of those phrases against Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, the Communist Party, the system, or something along those lines. You could be sure: in this way, before you’d finished the last word, you’d hear two or three dry brakes screeching, and then the cold metal of the handcuffs on your wrists.

Now, painting signs on walls you would run a risk: that your phrase would never be finished. As you wouldn’t know at what point in the expression you would be arrested, you’d hope that the police would be delayed a few moments (not likely) and then finish your work and the sign would have a reactionary sense. Otherwise, you might fail. Why? Because a sign that just said “Dow” is not classified as a subversive activity, but rather as disorderly contact: no one gave you permission to paint a wall. It has the same connotation as breaking a window or peeing in a public place. Just that. Perhaps if you had no prior criminal incidents, they would fine you, or, in the worst case, put you on house arrest. The Social Environment Department would send you a letter announcing to you, on their part, a further fine of one thousand pesos for your act: you had marred the adornment of the city. And then you’d be left with the ugliness of two fines to pay, and you wouldn’t be a prisoner. Much less have the category of a political prisoner, which was what you needed.

An example: Aristides Bazán. Professional historian. When he exhausted his legal tricks, always unsuccessful, to teach at other universities in the world, he understood something: they would never let him out for being good. The professor was a potential emigrant, and this could not be allowed. Then, he knew what he had to do.

He armed himself with a rectangular acrylic, six feet long by some ten wide. With a black marker he wrote on it a beautiful and vast idea of the immortal José Martí, Apostle of Independence and the first modernist of poetry. He had read the martyr in a letter to his close friend Fermín Valdés Domínguez, and since then had said surreptitiously repeated it to some of his students. He wrote exactly:

“The socialist idea has two dangers, like so many others: that of foreign, confused and incomplete interpretations, and that of the arrogance and hidden rage of the ambitious, who, in order to rise in the world, begin by feigning it, to have shoulders to climb on, frenetic defenders of the helpless…”

Aristides Bazán did not have the soul of a pilgrim to exhibit his reactionary sign in the street, nor a Mexican muralist to decorate public spaces, so he opted to hang this thought in the door of his house and to have his things ready.

He is still waiting, today, for his arrest. The laws of the country changed without his acquiring a passport as a prisoner of conscience. It’s true that in the short time he exhibited the banner on the facade of his house, three plainclothes officers and then three more in uniform, took notes, shot photos, and quietly discussed some things quietly. Apparently they took the evidence to their laboratories. But Professor Aristides never managed to be taken prisoner. After a long time, he confessed that perhaps he was not very clear in his positions. He should have chosen something more transparent. If you want to achieve something quickly, it should not be very difficult for the enemy.

But there’s more. Nor should it leave room for manipulation of information. A poster should have enough personality to deliver a single, unchanging idea. Otherwise, the enterprise could not be successful.

Another example: January 1, 2000 a drunk with a desire to try his fortune in other lands woke with desires for freedom. Without rinsing his mouth, belching alcohol, he appeared with a blue-green crayon in front of City Hall. There, he chose the wall of a House of Culture for his ideological brush. He wrote, with great double letters: Freedom. And sat down under to await the agents. The previous day he had advised a nephew who lived in the North: Get ready, soon we will be celebrating together. When he woke up, in a stinking cell at the Municipal Police Station, the damage was already repaired. A local artist had taken advantage of the space, instead of being allowed to repaint the facade of the House of Culture. In its place he had written: Freedom Was Born Without a Master, signed: Silvio Rodriguez, and a handful of white doves with Cuban flags in their beaks finished off the mural.

The poor fellow spent three months on a farm, and then was back on the street.

So, where were we. The concept of a sign. No one knows why, but one of the cardinal sins of the system has always been a sign on a wall. These rulers have felt a real weakness for them. From the time when they risked their lived to decorate a wall with red paint with the inscription: “Down with Machado.” It may seem exaggerated, but it’s the truth. There were those who threw firecrackers at the houses of the henchmen, those who went on strike…and those who wrote signs. I never have understood how it could bother me it a sign appeared somewhere with “Down with” my name. If they did it on my own facade I might cuss them out, but if it’s some other, I don’t care.

But here he was upset, and how. He would never escape. For serial killers and perpetrators of crimes against humanity, there was the possibility of evading the investigations. But for sign painters, not one. Those who did it with a true subversive vocation, were imprisoned. Those who did it to leave the country, the same. The method was infallible. The Human Rights organizations automatically inscribed your name among the prisoners of conscience.  It was a matter of surviving behind the bars. Once out, you presented yourself at some conflicting embassy as a persecuted politico, and then after a couple of months of confirmations, they awarded you a visa. Even your family was included in the pack.

The process gained many followers and became a business. Whoever had a white wall on his property could make some money. But they had to contract with a night watchman to watch the area at night, and a guard to do the same during the day. To write on the wall, you had to pay. Obviously, the more central it was, the more it cost. After collecting his pesos, the owner retired the watchdogs and set a specific time. After the police took the guy, the owner of the wall repainted it a perfect white. Erased it, like a blackboard. Waiting for the next cave artist.

Those who decided to hang their sign, just in case, also crossed the palm of the president of the block’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, to call the police and tell them who was the author of the work, and even a couple dominoes players, who acted as witnesses. They thanked him, too. Wished him luck on his future journey.

But there is not good that lasts a hundred years. At some point the breach was sealed. A coming together of Justice reform and the Penal Code, and the sign painters lost their bargain. Worse: they begin to take it into account in their judgments. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Henceforth, the courts sanctioned them with the most twisted and brilliant euphemisms (apart from the handy Disturbance of Public Order, they came up with Mistreatment of Social Property, Citizen Dangerousness, Civil Disobedience, and many more…), but the name “Political” was never used again.

At that time, we had just learned of another possibility about to be extinguished. You had to go, flashlight and map in hand, to the tunnels of the resistance. Too many of us were continuing behind the bars of smoke and water, and an excellent escape tunnel had to be dynamited.


* This text belongs to literary fiction, not journalism. It is part of a separate volume of stories (most of them far from any Cuban context) entitled The Renegade, although this is Chapter 3 of a kind of macro-story that links everything at the end. A book I have not finished (but almost), halfway between a novel and short stories.

July 27 2011


Your Nostalgia

You discover it by chance. Looking, without much encouragement, through some photos, let’s say: images of a past that you know will never return. (It is one of the hallmarks of the past: it never returns.) You look at the photos with pleasure, sometimes strangely, because in the past your hair was longer, or you had a mustache, or you weighed some thirty pounds less than you do today; you look at a piece of time frozen in the scene, innocent of the next turn of the page, of the next image that will appear before you, everything will change.

And suddenly you discover: the sting of nostalgia.

It’s not an aggressive impact. It almost never is. Nostalgia is a like a whisper, not a strident discomfort. It is activated in some unthinkable way: in the photos you were looking at familiar faces no longer living, places you will return to, pieces of your personal history, and all was well. But suddenly an object, laughter stopped in time, a pose in front of the camera, the dog you had at home, the color of some wall; suddenly a click triggered an unpredictable mechanism, and everything broke with the noise of a crack or a scar. So with nothing more. The affective memory, they say. Like madeleines for Proust’s character. Memories that are not remembered: that are felt. They do not pass through the brain, they pass, perhaps, through the heart.

Nostalgia has been a powerful ally of all tyrants of all times: the worst punishment, more ferocious even than death, has always been exile. When the satraps wanted to crush the souls of their enemies, they do not execute them: they exile them. They knew that in the distance a hangman called nostalgia would not rest: a kind of slow death, calmly, a death that kills unnoticed. The philosopher Attalus, Miguel de Unamuno, Felix Varela, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, José María Heredia, Demosthenes, Ciro Alegría, José Martí, they knew it well.

In his demonic mind, Stalin know that before mowing down Trotsky’s life he would increase the pain: expel him, to wander through the wide and foreign world, before putting an end to him. Nostalgia exploded in the pained heart of Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and made him a withdrawn Londoner he never recognized in the mirror.

Nostalgia is for many worse than death. The longing for yours and for what belongs to you, for that social and individual consciousness that shaped you as your years passed, that tacit and boiling pain is, for some, an impossible weight. It is not in vain that the death penalty exists in the state of law, but not in exile.

Would it be worth it to rebuild the past in the present you live, as an antidote to nostalgia? Let’s say: as everything is a question of money, let’s put money in this game of dreams. You win the lottery. Someone calls you on the phone, tells you that from now on you will have a 100 million dollars. And you apply it… let’s see… you set aside half to recreate your past. You cold not build the house where you were born with its odor and its dead neighbors, with its narrow streets and its dogs and noises; nor could you drag with you the environment of its history. But you could surround yourself with those you desire. In reality affective memory feels privileged for the living, for people, not for wood or concrete.

With your 50 million you can bring with you, to the new site-country-reality where you live, almost everything that really interests you: your family, the friends you most think of, the girlfriends you had, even with their new boyfriends if it pleases you. You can give them houses and food, close, very close to you. And then you discover that if the effort was to reconstruct your happiness, you’ve miserably wasted half your fortune. You discover that everything has changed, your friends aren’t the same, that the symbolism was left behind, that your life, your day-to-day, the routines you missed and that you now detest, existed while you existed in the past. And that time knows no mercy, and everything is buried in the dust forever.

No one knows, no one suspects it, but nostalgia obscures the years of our lives. You hide the present where you should be living among a tangle of memories and sadness. You convert yourself into a specter you never thought yourself to be. The specter that closes its eyes, reproduces your neighborhood, your children, your stinking streets, between dreaming and dozing, and stores memories, manages them, to live by and for them. And some will henceforth be specters without peace: dying destroyed by nostalgia, by longing, for parents they didn’t see die and could not bury, for the cruel destiny of beginning a new life at the midpoint of their existence.

I think of this on this day I turn 27. Not bad. I like my 27. I like the investment I’ve made with my 27. But I think of this today because my mother can’t give me a sublime kiss, and will spend a day in agony, tormented by my distance. I think of this because my friends, who think of me and owe me the iron love of someone who knew how to earn it, they will miss my sarcastic face before their effusive congratulations (I’m not too much of a cultivator of dates and traditions: for some my unpardonable defect). I think of this, above all, because I am not resigned to accepting in silence the shitty laughter of those who employ the nostalgia of Cubans as their most effective weapon, most coercive, most deceitful.

In that Universal History of Infamy, written by a semi-blind Argentine genius, must be included the testimony of ours, of mine. The testimony now mine. The sordid history of an entire people lacerated by the nostalgia of those who stayed and those who are gone, which is basically nostalgia for their own identity split in two. The story of how hundreds, thousands, millions of beings were condemned to eternal nostalgia in the name of a hellish ideology.

Your tragedy is worse than you imagine, though you turn your face and refuse to look at it. Though you submerge yourself in the morning paper, and in the recently cut grass, in your remade life. You do not miss anyone from your past. Your nostalgia is really a nostalgia for yourself, and against that, what can you do?

July 25 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


Pillar of Salt

True to my iconoclastic anti-traditionalist spirit, I deliberately ignored a date: the first year of this blog. It happened last Saturday. On July 9, 2010, I inaugurated this space with Prologue to The Little Brother, which was more an avalanche than a prologue: it was the first handful of snow I launched to roll, convinced that in its trajectory it would get fat, increase in volume and scope without my having to know limits or consequences.

I, the despair of my loved ones for my apathy before the formalities, with my disinterest in anything that smacks of tradition, of a date marker, could not even celebrate the first year of existence of The Little Brother. I don’t like to celebrate the past: it feels to me like the fate of those who turned their heads to see what happened with Sodom and Gomorrah behind them.

However, I also had a reason to look away when this July 9th recalled that a year ago I hung the first post: I never would have wanted this blog to be born.

This blog was not of spontaneity: it was born of necessity. This blog is not a hobby chosen by someone who doesn’t like philately or collecting old tickets. This blog was the desperate scream from someone whose throat would have exploded if he hadn’t found a safety valve. It was, yes, the catalyst for an intellectual adrenaline that would end up destabilizing me, affecting me, turn me against myself, if I didn’t find spaces to be.

And so I began to write The Little Brother. A name, I thought, for a page, as a concept, not to refer to me, but following the usage of any creation that took the unforeseen road: for dozens of people, known and unknown, work colleagues, distant friends, I lost my Ernesto Morales and was re-baptized as The Little Brother.

Perhaps what I remember most about those first day when I knew that I had just given birth to “something” on the Internet, was the riotous in which the effort grabbed me: freneticly, like a revelation that didn’t feel the keys under my fingers, and the need to publish something new every two days to try to overcome the boredom of twenty-five years, and too much accumulated frustration. To overcome, also, the impossibility of finding where to post my writings in a country that suddenly felt hostile to me.

When I lost my job for insubordination in the national press, I lost not only an empty livelihood of 12 dollars a month: I began to lose, also, the artistic-intellectual spectrum to which I belonged during my first 18 years of life.

Henceforth, to invite Ernesto Morales to readings of narrative, of timeless stories, of pure fiction: to invite an ousted apprentice writer and journalist who would read his texts in public — even though he hadn’t received some award! — became a dangerous undertaking for my friends of the guild, who had to fight like lions faithful to the friendship, to not expel me from their circles.

The ubiquitous State Security agents, diligent, never ceased to demand explanations, provoke analyses, every time my name appeared in some local gathering.

The extreme: “Godless Pilgrims,” my volume of stories that won a national context whose prize included the publication of the book, was suspiciously withdrawn from the publishing plan once my condition as a “disaffected” came to hand in another Scarlet Letter: I was leaving the country.

The rest, the other rest, the long time readers of this blog know: intimidation, blackmail, indecent proposals of my Visa in exchange for my silence, stunning photo-montages to create an image of me as a pimp and sexual corrupter.

After the exile, the horrendous exile that is always an exercise in humility: an exile that deflates you, that ignores your schooling and makes you start from zero. With a forces and hard humility.

And meanwhile, this blog. An article ever three, four, or six days. A return to the keyboard that is like a consecration of an inner freedom, untouchable:my posts here carry the sinful halo of irreverence, which admits no censors nor limits. The Little Brother losing followers, gaining others, holding onto a handful of faithful readers with their hopes of always finding something new, giving form to the almost two thousand daily hits on this blog.

The day I send everything flying, and dedicate myself solely to doing what I really want with my years: to live, and to write literature — a touch of journalism wouldn’t be bad, but just that a touch — this blog will be lying in wait for me and will continue to catch me. Even when I’m freed of my journalist’s skin, known to be temporary, and when my irremediable writer self finds the modern patron disposed to put his fortune into my career: “devote yourself solely to writing and don’t worry about a thing.” (Now, my sarcastic ingenuous smile.)

The day I send everything flying. I will not be able to do without this blog. I have the bizarre certainty that I am too much it, it is too much me. The Little Brother, like William Wilson in the story by Poe, has not only erased my name and supplanted my identity: I think it has, dangerously, been turned into my essence and life philosophy, altering everything around me.

In the end, I’m obliged, at this moment, to look back, to look at its first year of life, when I have always know I shouldn’t. It wouldn’t surprise me if right now I was turned into a statue of salt.

July 11 2011

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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


The Passion Kills Us

If the rumor about Cuban baseball is confirmed, I think the bad news for the national sport will exceed that having played a tournament in Rotterdam to forget, or that of having been deprived, for the umpteenth time in recent years, of an international title (this time, by Taipei of China).

The threatening rumor is another: Yoennis Cespedes, the greatest slugger in Cuban baseball today and without a doubt one of the shining talents of the island, could be out of it, and not in an official tournament.

The comment has been gaining strength while a not to clarify the lie or confirm its veracity has not appeared. The story, roughly speaking, there would be this: the burly player from Granma province, current owner of the record for home runs in the National Series (with 33), “disappeared” as of last Tuesday, when he should have gone to the capital to complete the preparation towards a trivial ALBA tournament.

An unfortunate incident had occurred a few days before, Cespedes hit a pedestrian while driving a touring car near the coastal town of Manzanillo. The pedestrian was killed in the accident. Yoennis was arrested by the authorities, and after being cleared of responsibility for the event (it is said that the pedestrian was all the fault), was immediately released.

A few days later, according to the rumor, he vanished from the face of the earth, along with his mother and another star player, although not one of the stature of Cespedes, Henry Urrutia from Las Tunas.

All the Cuban specialists, residents on the island, with whom I’ve communicated about it, agree on one thing: if in reality Yoennis Céspedes chose to illegally depart from Cuba in a way that has not been specified, the fatal accident was not the fundamental motive. At best, it would be a complement, not the essence.

How might I describe what would be the reason that another “out of this world” player abandoned his League, his country, in search of another destination, unknown to us but we can surmise. From a mixture of professional dissatisfaction (despite his status as supreme batter, he was not chosen to represent Cuba in the next tournament in Canada, and instead was relegated to an ALBA event that doesn’t even interest the convalescent Hugo Chavez), and personal dissatisfaction: his position as a world “sub-champion”, of an athlete competing and winning internationally, he manages — oh supreme reward! — to collect $100 a month, and receives an electric bicycle as a reward for his effort.

Seen through Cuban eyes: tremendous. Seen through non-Cuban eyes: ridiculous.

The truth is that behind the mysterious and suspicious history of Yoennis Céspedes, a peasant from Campechuela, who through the force of his hits and his overwhelming talent became known throughout the country and beyond, whether or not his escape is true*, whether he appears triumphant in the morning before the cameras of Cuba or Miami, lies a more comprehensive and robust fact of one more potential migrant: the quick galloping death of Cuban baseball as a reflection of a national death.

Cuban baseball is sick. And critically so.

It would be an agonizing enterprise to list the number of players who in the past, say, ten years have left the country in the most diverse ways. Some take the simple road: scuttling off from their delegations as they compete in a certain nation; others with more risky route, sailing the sea or crossing borders.

Gone are the days of the impact generated by Kendry Morales and Barbaro Canizares when they deprived the Industriales team of a first class player in the first case, and an important player in the second. These, in turn, had replaced the earthquake that originated earlier with the supersonic pitchers Jose Ariel Contreras and Duke Hernández, when they abandoned the National Series for the Major Leagues. The constant rocking, the endless saga that becomes dangerously large, includes names that echo to young fans, both in the cases of Maels Rodriguez and Yadel Marti, and one who with his fabulous touches of the bat was the best lead-off hitter the team has had Cuba in recent years: Leonys Martin from Villa Clara. The new history of absences, of sudden vaporizations that yesterday shook the national stadiums, and the suddenly signed millionaire contracts with MLB: like the impressive Alexei Ramirez.

Yes, Cuban baseball is sick unto death. The national apathy infected. Infected with the virus of despair, injustice, of the prohibitions, a system that is not satisfied to destroy buildings and cane fields; is not satisfied with depopulating the streets and populating the prisons; is not satisfied with engineers throwing peas into the traditional coffee; is not satisfied with destroying the economy and the family unit, is now stoning the national sport.

How? Maintaining its iron fist. Keeping archaic restrictions that are impossible to observe. Pretending to tie the freedom of athletes who know themselves used for the most revolting politics, tying their freedom with humiliating gifts such as an electric bicycle or a half-finished apartment.

And these young athletes have something, against the will of their jailers: a worldview. They have played in real stadiums. They have known real cities. They have talked with their colleagues of other nations, have known their real salaries, including of athletes of lesser stature.

And above all: have known, smelled, felt, what true freedom is. They have looked at the World Baseball Classic at the galactic Japanese playing their seasons in the U.S., but defending the uniform of Japan internationally. They have compared their situation as slaves, flagged with quasi-military orders, obedient to a miracle of longevity — the near cadaver — like the Gallego Fernández (president of the Cuban Olympic Committee), with the rest of the contestants who, no matter what the team in the Major Leagues sweat baseball talent, return to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela, to play for their countries in world events and to bring hope to their fans.

Would not those same players, those Cuban stars, dazzle in the leagues dazzle in the U.S. or Japan, and finance on the Island the construction of real stadiums, sponsor children’s teams? Of course. The stories of Bartolo Colon, Alex Rodriguez and Tino Martinez, are drops of water in a sea of similar practices.

To open the floodgates to recognize the free will of Cuban baseball players, would allow them to return to their homeland after competing in other leagues in the world, would it not avoid the inevitable and unidirectional exodus, and would it not again raise the level of Cuban baseball to the days when there was a real pride in their international supremacy? Who doubts.

A Cuban team today, with the pitching of Livan Hernandez Aroldis Chapman, where Leonys Martin, Kendry Morales and Alexei Ramirez returned to the fields, and where global experience merged with local training among all its members, would surely not the fools that define today’s “Cuba” in almost every tournament it attends.

Of course, recognizing the right to individual liberty and the inviolable belonging to a nation, is not something done by leaders who choose to own the souls of their subjects. When Fidel Castro and his followers found that an effective way to “prove” the superiority of the system in place in the island was by dint of hits and strikes, Cuban baseball players were hung with a golden shackle on their foot, almost more visible and heavier than that of the rest of their countrymen. Among baseball players and Cuban doctors there is a strange coincidence of tropical slavery.

So Cuba falls, Cuba lost, Cuba is wrong over and over in recent years. So Cuba not only loses tournaments, games, important or unimportant, with American university students: it now loses to Curacao, to Taipei, to geriatric squads from the Dominican Republic, and to any team from Korea and Japan that they face.

Is there reason to rejoice? For some, yes. The Baseball-Player-in-Chief no longer has bragging rights. For others, for me, no: I’m not a passionate follower of baseball, I know the suffering of my people who, at least during nine innings in a crumbling stadium in Bayamo and Pinar, feel something like happiness, and that with each loss, with each player that escapes and will never play again, it saddens them with the same intensity with which they assimilate the food shortages, water shortages, lack of love.

Is it bread and circuses for the hypnotized populace? Maybe. But anything that gives a glimmer of peace for Cubans is something that I defend with passion.

To clarify, the story of Yoennis Céspedes, with 33 home runs over his shoulder, is nothing more than another number, another point in sports history today. It will be the same whether his escape is confirmed, or if it’s nothing but a wretched rumor. Anyway, in my opinion, even if he stays on island his career could come to an end: with such a “suspicion of desertion” in tow, superior Cespedes would play in no international events as punishment for the crime he never committed, but might have.

With Tony Castro, (Fidel’s son), a sports doctor made the vice president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, by the grace of his name with pedigree, there will be no second chances for the unreliable Cespedes. Now that I think of it, one of the bizarre ironies of this tragedy to the rhythm of sweat and conga baseball, is that a doctor dressed in Adidas supervises the comatose gravity of our national passion.

Translator’s note: Since this blog post appeared several months ago, Cespedes did leave Cuba and, as of January 2012, has established residency in the Dominican Republic, making him eligible to play in the major leagues in the United States.

July 5 2011