Monthly Archives: August 2011

Letter from Pablo Milanés to Edmundo García

For the first time in this blog I am publishing something that I did not write. It is my duty to do so. Pablo Milanés’ response to the article published by Edmundo García is so rich, so evolved, so brutally honest, that it forces even me to face up to my own visions of what Pablo was. And because I’m a human being who is not afraid to say,”I was wrong,” I am posting some historic words in my blog…and I am also being careful to use that qualifier. Bravo, Pablo. BRAVO!



For years you have attempted to interview me, without success, to the point of becoming so intolerably insistent and, the last straw, attaching your interviews, those interviews that I had no other choice but to label as “spam” to finally be free of them.

On the first occasion when we met, you were in bad company and I couldn’t but think to myself, “Birds of a feather…”

However, I will explain why I had never done an interview with you: I saw you with my natural intuition for these things, the nine signs of bastard, which are, if you don’t already know, classifications developed by Don Camilo José Cela, in his novel “Mazurka for the two dead” and he has become, in history, famous for his extraordinary vision of what an execrable being is at first sight. I will show you these new signs, which are:

1. Thinning hair

2. Short and sickly stature

3. Pale face

4. Scraggly beard

5. Soft, wet and cold hands

6. Shifty look

7. High-pitched voice

8. Flaccid dick

9. Avarice

With this as a starting point I will tell you why I never trusted you.

Edmundo, you have a way of doing journalism that is not journalism: you take your victims (your interviewees), and you don’t inquire of them, question them, you destroy them with an authority that I don’t know what powerful person granted you and you end up triumphant before a person appalled by the terror of your words which recall an old authoritarian style, ridiculous and obsolete. That, in my view, is the essence of your program.

When I read your pamphlet my first reaction was like seeing a girl at puberty, stunned and flushed at her first menstruation, fearful of committing a sin against a natural manifestation of her unknown organism. That was the first impression, but the second was more solemn and dangerous: I realized that not only were you everything I had thought, but even more, you are among that select group of ultraright Miamians who do not admit of reconciliations, critics whose only Neolithic gesture is to crush CDs with bulldozers. You, like them, do not want love, you love to hate, you, like them, do not want reconciliation, you want resentment and disunity, in short, you do not love the Cuban people, neither there nor here. Edmund, you do not love anyone and I would not have have been surprised to see you in that “huge” crowd shouting “Down, Down,” which undoubtedly would have been well received.

You have insinuated that the press in Miami and Spain is taking advantage of and using my words instead of my benefiting from this space to attack imperialism. Edmundo, this is wrong, I am the one who is using these newspapers to disseminate the interviews that they deny me in Cuba and that I dream will appear in the newspaper Granma and be read by everyone, and that one journalist, one among the many thousands on the island, will have what it takes to make known what I have been expressing for so many years; what’s more, as a starting point I suggest that your pamphlet and this letter be published in Granma and that people read them, know how to discern for themselves, once and for all, what the truth is, and that we take the path of individual freedoms that we must recover and that you, with your attitude, are denying.

On my return to Havana, and consistent with the above paragraph, I will, in this way, tell Cuban intelliectuals, artists, musicians, those in senior government positions, don’t whisper in my ear any more, don’t say, “I agree with you but… well you know!” I am not repentant of incinerating myself only in my attitude, but it’s sad and shameful that there is a complicit silence as terrible as your demonstration, Edmundo. These two behaviors, one in Miami and the other in Havana, in the end, incredibly, converge in their own contradiction.

With regards to the Miami intelligentsia whose comments have supported me in their articles, I will say that I have absolutely no fear nor prejudice on receiving a friendly and receptive word. I am not your traveling companion, but, Edmundo, I want to add that you, you enjoy dividing because you live for this, this is why you are in this city.

Also you have dared to say that I have been a bad influence on talented and prestigious artists such as Serrat, Sabina, Victor Manuel and Ana Belén. There is no doubt that here too you are ignorant, you should know that Juan Manuel Serrat is one of the men most admired for his courage, chivalry and fairness his whole life, and his position vis-a-vis Franco, risking his career and his life, was the height of dignity. Joaquin Sabina, who was exiled to England at 23, with his opposition to Franco and to his own father, is one of the most sincere and honest artists I know (Fidel is well aware of this), independent of his talent. Victor Manuel and Ana, before you were born, and walking those uncertain paths, as everyone knows, to become the extremist you are today, belonged to the Communist Party of Spain during the time of Franco, and this, Edmundo, could have cost them their lives. These people whom you don’t respect have their own talent, their own opinions and do not let themselves be influenced by anyone, and their principles have influenced half the world.

Edmund, my 53 years of revolutionary militancy give me the right, that very few exercise in Cuba, to declare myself with the freedom that my principles require and this freedom implies that I have no commitment to the death with the Cuban leaders, whom I have admired and respected, but they are not Gods, nor am I a fanatic, and when I feel I have to express a reproach, I say it, without fear or reservations. When I see some women dressed in white protesting in the street and being mistreated by men and women, I cannot but be ashamed and indignant and, in some way, although I am not in complete agreement with them, I support them in their pain; because the most vile and cowardly are the horde of supposed revolutionaries who viciously attack these ladies.

There is no code in the world to defend it, what’s more, ordinary violence falls short on seeing these savage demonstrations. I have expressed these two concepts to you, but you don’t understand — there is no doubt that you are in your era of revolutionary infancy — implying neither a disagreement with Fidel nor an agreement with the Ladies in White. But you see things in black and white (more black than white) and there are no shades of gray and the years are going to make you understand what a real revolutionary is or, inexorably, you are going to join that world in which we see so many people like yourself, wandering, lost in nothingness.

Edmundo, yesterday I believe you suffered a setback, not precisely because of me but because of the several thousand people who attended a concert, expensive for their pocketbooks in crisis, demonstrating that love is possible, that if the day before yesterday they said “No” and yesterday they said “Maybe,” today they said “Yes,” a resounding yes, stronger than your filthy and offensive words.

Edmundo, I invite you to pack your bags and return to your country and there to have the courage to denounce everything bad that you see, because, Edmundo, I warn you, this life is hard, don’t keep your mouth shut like those thousands of journalists there, sadly complicit in the silence.

On many occasions I have said that I will sit in the doorway of my house to watch the “cadavers” of my enemies pass by, I will wait for you there.

I only demand one thing from you: permanently remove my name from your disrespectful and lying mouth, I have earned too much credit from the people for a soulless person like you to sully it with your filthy words.

Pablo Milanés
Miami, 29 August 2011
(Text taken from Café Fuerte on the web)
August 29 2011


Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Brain Adjustment Act

And for this election I have some ideas here that…

Who could have told the patriarch Fidel Castro that in the autumn of his years he would find an ally to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act, and not among his starched-brain little spokespeople in the leftist corners of the world, but among Miami’s ranks of the ultra-right-wing itself? If he had the strength for it, the commander would be jumping up and down.

As always, for the old fox of Caribbean politics, everything goes well: after he’d spent years railing against a law that favored those fleeing the socialist paradise, an unlikely helper was born; when his mouth had already gone bone dry denouncing the benefits and freedoms for those who — whether from political persecution or empty stomachs — fled to the northern neighbor; just then, along comes a reinforcement, camouflaged in the skin of the enemy.

Of course: when someone beats on their children at home, the least he wants is to find help in the house next door.

It’s idle to wonder if the Republican David Rivera thought of this when drawing up his proposal to restrict the movement of thousands of emigrants to America. First, judging by the unfortunate wording of the document, the Cuban-American congressman didn’t devote too many neurons to it. Second,  this is clear because if he did think, he’d have said to himself, “What matters is not to propose something serious and valid to my knife-between-the-teeth voters, better to satisfy them with a recalcitrant amendment, and let the elections come.”

Sad but true: even though every day the landscape of the exile changes, as it loses the heat of blind fanaticism — justified or not, but, in the end, fanaticism; despite that the massive demonstrations that gave off a primordial hatred have been restricted to six poor devils who entertain the local community; and despite the fact that more and more young Cubans are tired of playing the game of estrangement that comes to both the satraps of the island and sledgehammer-carriers in Miami: despite all this the times are yet to come when political restraint governs the destiny of South Florida.

Legislators such as David Rivera still represent the Cuban exile, something not overly promising.

Why? Because the clear intention to fan the flames of separatism, the effort to please a section of Miami that long ago lost all contact with the Island, and no longer has a mother to visit, a son to incite; the cunning arguments used by Republicans legislators like him and Mario Diaz-Balart to prevent Cubans from deciding how often they visit their country and how to help it, borders on the grotesque. And, at least for me, Democrat by thought and conviction, it makes me not a little ashamed.

First, no one would have the naiveté to assume that Rivera doesn’t know the Adjustment Act. That’s the ABCs. Rivera, then, is well aware that this law in reality did not come about to protect political refugees, though according to him it did. It was created simply to adjust the immigration status of the 258,317 Cubans living in the United States in 1965, who could not return to their country and, ergo, had to be legalized.

From this it follows that to lead the discussion on the law from the premise of, “I gave you this in exchange for that, and if you don’t comply with that I’ll take back what I gave you,” is another way of saying, “I legally adjusted your condition in the United States, provided you do not return to your country; if you do return to your country before I deign to let you, I will withdraw the adjustment.” This can only be understood as a clever manipulation, the thinking of a lender — a usurer — which is so far from the sense of a nation founded on respect for the individual.

Secondly: Let’s examine some televised statements by the representative Rivera. They will serve to exemplify in the future what we would define as cynicism, pure and harsh. Asked what he thought of the hundreds of thousands of exiles whom this would affect with regards to visiting a sick relative, to whom it is difficult to give two weeks of relief from the nostalgia, the congressman said, more or less: “My commitment is to the 11 million Cubans who are suffering in the island. “

Background. David Rivera was born in New York, he has never stepped foot in Cuba, and he says to the hundreds of thousands of us who have our loved ones there, that he cares about them more than we ourselves do.

But the worst part of this legislative legerdemain, the most unfortunate of the escalations that Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio began earlier this year and that Mario Diaz-Balart continued, is that incarnated now with redoubled energy by David Rivera, with regard to limiting in one way or another what Cubans decide to do with their money and their vacations; this is what provokes the emigrants themselves: a catastrophic division, an eternal spiral of attacks, slurs, verbal assaults, which have nothing to do with the exercise of democracy, and a lot to do with the totalitarian tactics they say they are fighting against.

Every day I doubt less that this thinking has any interest in evolving. He likes himself. He stares at his navel and says “Never forget,” feeling he has exhales a maxim to be carved in stone.

This, fortunately, is a retrograde faction that every day is more alone. Let’s see:

1. This is not a current that is in tune with Cuban dissidents in their vast majority. With very rare exceptions, the bulk of the opposition within the island approves of the emigrants traveling when they want, and helping their family however they want. If you think otherwise, seek out the statements of Dagoberto Valdes, Yoani Sanchez, Laura Pollan, Oswaldo Paya, the brave priest Jose Conrado, and almost everyone who has something to say.

2. This is not in tune with the released dissidents now living in Spain or the United States. I have talked in one way or another with most of them: all arch their eyebrows when they see that on this side there are some who try to emulate the Cuban establishment in terms of restrictions on freedom.

3. This is not in tune with the most brilliant and respected artists and intellectuals of the exile itself: neither Willy Chirino, nor Carlos Alberto Montaner, nor Donato Poveda, nor Enrique Patterson, nor Amaury Gutierrez nor Emilio Ichikawa, nor a long list of men of thought and notable works, to defend the distance from the Cubans “over there,” as elementary logic of those who advocate the end of a history full of distances, and above all: for the defense of freedom in its most fundamental form.

4. And finally, even worse: it is deeply divorced from the generation of Cubans — among whom I include myself — who, whether they like it or not, whether they can choke it down or not, by the laws of biology, will be responsible for the future of Cuba. It is as divorced from the young Cubans who live in Miami today, as it is those who inhabit the Island. Also in this, the right-wing extremism in exile shakes hands with Cuba’s totalitarian extremism: it does not respect those who will outlive them.

So every day I distrust more, not only the morality and purity of intent of these alleged libertarians, but their analytical skills. Their intellectual acuity.

You cannot rate very highly the analytical skills of “analysts” who say, for example: “No money for Cuban families: it is money that ends up in the hands of the regime,” and then fiercely support economic aid to the opponents on the Island. The question for those hundred million dollars: in what stores do the opponents on the island buy their food, their meat, their clothes? At Macy’s, Publix, Wal Mart? Or in the same stores my family shops in, i.e.: the stores of the regime?

It is worth thinking urgently about a law that would adjust certain brains.

I believe that at least the 324,000 Cubans living in the United States who traveled to the island in 2010, will be thinking about this very basic Republican idea when it comes time to cast their votes for Congress. In my elementary logic, with respect to my own interests, it seems to me a terrible deal.

August 22 2011


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


Memory Among the Rubble

“Twenty dollars, Sir,” he answered me, in fractured English. A diaphanous but nervous smile softened his facial features. More than black his skin was almost purple, and he was of an indeterminate age: he could have been fifty, or all of a hundred.

I accepted his price, got in with him, and asked him to lower the windows. My incipient cold preferred the night air to the artificial. Not to mention that the night in Miami, starting from South Beach, hasn’t ceased to fascinate me with its feeling halfway between the cosmopolitan and nature.

He solicitously pleased his client, and again asked in his rustic English, “Is this OK, Sir?”

“Yes,” I answered, “What isn’t right is that you keep calling me ‘Sir’.”

It didn’t sit right with me that a friendly taxi driver, who could be my grandfather, addressed me as if I were a “Sir” and he my possible servant.

He smiled again, and I would understand, in the fifteen minutes and travel and conversation, that it would be impossible for him to comply with my request. He could take me to the ends of the earth if I asked him to, he could lower all four windows of his car, but he could not stop calling me “Sir,” in the humblest of tones. A painfully obsequious tone.

“Where are you from?” In a multicultural city like Miami the possible answers were infinite.
“From Haiti, Sir,” he told me, without neglecting his driving.

“I am Cuban,” I said.

I thought to tell him, purely in the spirit of conversation, which is given very little time in this country. I thought to tell him, perhaps, that this was my first “Yellow Cab,” and that this view of skyscrapers and the seat that I was looking at in this second, never failed to dazzle me. I thought to tell him so many things that I didn’t say, because then he looked at me for some seconds, irresponsibly abandoning the road, and said in a Spanish worse than his English,

“I like Cubans very much. Cubans saved a part of my family. Saved whom they could.”

And nothing was the same. Fleeting, intrepid, the images of death and horror appeared; I remembered Haiti crushed by natural fury, lacerated, eaten away under the rubble, infected with cholera: a pestilential and putrid Haiti. The hell where thousands of men, the poorest on the planet, had ended up crushed, or had died of dysentery, and where a small army of Cuban doctors had come on their protective mission.

In Miami there are too many Cubans, but the driver wasn’t referring to them. So, spurred on by this revelation, I asked another question,

“What did the Cubans do for your family?”

“They sewed up the head of my daughter,” he responded now with breathtaking speed; I had just touched a very sensitive nerve. “She lost an eye, and the blow kept her from speaking, but she would have bled to death if they hadn’t sewed her up, Sir. The wall of the school fell on her. The Cuban doctors also amputated my mother’s leg. She had the open wound for three days that, they  told me later,” and he crossed himself while saying it, “began in the thigh and reached almost to the hip, and she had maggots, Sir, she had maggots. The Cuban doctors tried to save her, they cut off the leg. But my mother was half rotten, they told me.”

At this point I think my pulse stopped, I don’t remember if I wanted the miles to fly by, to get home, to protect me from that story; or if I deduced that in his convoluted language this Creole was sharing with me one of the most shocking confessions of my existence, and, therefore, I wanted time to freeze.

“Apart from your mother, did someone else die?” The words came out of me timidly now, came like a frightened apology.

“Except for my brother who works in Santo Domingo, and my daughter, my whole family died, Sir, what bad luck,” and here I looked at him and I understood, the smile on his face is a part of his profession, I understood that if he could maintain it while telling me that, it was part of his habitual spirit of servitude. Just that.

“But I like Cubans very much,” he repeated. “Friends told me that the Cuban doctors weren’t disgusted, and they bathed those sick with cholera, and put cloths on them to relieve the fever. And sometimes they shared the water given to them with the same patients.

The few lights I’d learned to recognize in the city alerted me: we were getting close to my destination. I thought of so much to tell him. I thought to tell him: behind these doctors, there are also terrible stories, my friend. Don’t think it’s so simple, so idyllic. Behind these doctors there is pain, discontent. These doctors also left their families in Cuban, and don’t think that all of them did it with pleasure. I thought to tell him: If you know that many of these doctors landed on your destroyed land by force, under threats, because if they did not go to Haiti they could not, then, travel on the “missions” that would bring them some pesos to give better food to their children. I thought to tell him: You don’t know that these doctors are not free. They are medical soldiers, members of an army of white coats, who are treated as deserters when they want to make their own lives, heal the sick wherever they choose. I thought to tell him: If you knew what dirty politics they play with these fine physicians.

But I knew I had to keep quiet. Why? Because my taxi driver wouldn’t understand a single word of it. And I know that I, in his place, would not understand either. Nor would it matter to me.  I my conscience the idea of a handful of Cubans who saved my daughter would remain fixed. Period. And I was silent because deep down, underneath my consciousness, was the strongest remnant of all: for one second, for the split second in which I saw the limitless gratitude of that black and suffering taxi driver, I felt proud.

A battered pride, unhappy, torn between the good works and the crude manipulation. A sui generis pride, opposed to the idea that the doctors in my country are used like political chess pieces. But in essence, it was a pride that could not, did not want to, hide the reality: If dozens of Cubans born in the same land as I helped to save precious lives, whether from dirty politics or from a real vocation, whatever the motive might be, this man telling me now that we have arrived at my destination should feel wonderfully indebted to them, and I must thank them in silence, as well.

After getting out of the “Yellow Cab” I put my hand back pocket and pulled out my wallet. The driver, still with his smile — that in this second seemed different to me, seemed honest — said to me,

“Have a good evening, Sir.”

And stepped lightly on the throttle before I could extend the twenty dollars he had earned for his service.

August 15 2011


Raul’s Hieroglyphics

I waited a few days for the media excitement to die down and the headlines to fade over the statements by the General President about immigration policy. I preferred to sniff out the reactions, read between the lines, question, wonder, before developing an article worthy of such a sensitive and core issue. Cuban immigration policy is not just one more issue. It is, in my opinion, one of the cornerstones of the indefensible, a caveman-worthy backwardness that the Island has suffered over the last half century. For those who sidestep the issue and for those who confront it, it becomes a matter of the greatest interest to Cubans on whatever shore.

So, to know that Raul Castro is immersed in reviews about how Cubans enter and leave their country; to hear it affirmed that certain practices that have unnecessarily endured over tie will be modified; and to suspect they are preparing the ground for the return of “other” exiles, seemed to me — and now, at a distance of some days, still seems to me — some of the most important news that has come out of Cuba in a long time. And I’m not one for handing out swift hurrahs.

Why does this announcement seem important to me? First, because I can’t imagine that another update  could inject itself into Cuban immigration policy to make it more viable, more likely, that they wouldn’t eliminate the Jurassic “white card” (exit permit) that has cost Cuba politically so much over the decades.

And second, because every time I now hear “simple economic migrants” could return to Cuba any time they wanted, the affirmation of the General President that almost all preserve their love for their family and for their country, it only leads me to one conclusion: to eliminate the prohibition that weighs over hundreds of thousands of exiles, because they escaped on a raft, or because they don’t sympathize politically with the regime, they have been deprived of the right to visit their family.

And if this finally happens, if agonizing and trembling, they eliminate much of these unjustifiable barriers to entry and exit, I think the government of the Island would pose a new scenario worthy of attention, at least on the part of honest critics. I discount in advance those on both sides who fatten their pockets on the conflict; those who make political hay from the alienation; and those whose brains boil with hatred that prevents them from looking at events through the right lens.

Even if at a glacial pace, has there been movement in the country in the last five years or not, the five years of the younger brother’s mandate? I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s three times that of what the firstborn allowed.

For me, to vaporize prohibitions that never should have existed, such as those concerning cell phones, DVDs, Cubans being able to enter hotels; to begin to decentralize the economy (with more setbacks than successes, with more stumbles than firm steps, but at least with a philosophy that embraces anti-statism); to accept publicly and clearly that the number one enemy of the country is not “the Empire that blockades us,” but corruption, inefficiency, and the illegalities entrenched in society;and above all: to empty the prisons of the considerable number of political prisoners who, after we checked, were not really exiles (those who demanded to remain in their country); are, for me, reasonable evidence that Cuba is moving. That the floor is shifting, becoming more nuanced, giving birth to a perspective that didn’t exist until recently, and that, whether we like it or not, accept the obvious or not, is the pragmatic younger brother reaching out a hand.

If, then, a new horizon appears, I think the table is set to ask ourselves: Is Raul Castro placing his bets on this side of the network? Are we looking at a picture that is usable, necessary, useful, or should we ignore it because we are done with deceptive illusions?

Personally, I don’t think there is an overly altruistic will behind these reforms. A country bled by hunger, by the restrictions, by tax practices, by stifling bureaucracy, is not the work of chance or of the embargo: it is the result of mismanagement that has lasted for over five decades. And Raul knows it. And he also knows, that if in some way he tries to contain, delay or prevent the thunderous collapse of a model introduced with blood and fire, it’s necessary to grease the wheels. To “de-ideologize” the workings of a country where even the orgasms have socialist spasms.

Far from the idyllic epics of Fidel Castro; possessor of a well-known pragmatism, and perhaps more given to the efficiency than the caudillo who, instead of dedicating his hours to thinking about how to make the country more habitable, employed them in Guinness Book of Records speeches, Raul Castro has started to drop the dead weight.

And because of this, following the same logic, it seems to me that the disappearance of the cynical and sinister Exit Permit, together with the possibility of return for many who until now could not do so, are more than reasonable: they are imminent measures.

Will the ailing Cuban economy miss the 150 CUC cost of each “white card,” as the exit permit is known? Earlier we formulated another question: Why are Cubans “left” in other countries? Simple: Because of the complexity of traveling to Cuba is such that you never know if you can do it again. With every Cuban who works a few months in the Netherlands, Chile or Ecuador, and does not return to the Island, the national economy loses important influxes of foreign capital. But I am sure that a huge percentage of those permanent emigrants will return to their country, if they could travel when and as often as they liked. The economic input that would be received by this concept, would pulverize the loss of the 150 convertible pesos for the white card.

No, this is not the traditional discourse. Hand in hand with the pressing needs, spurred by the subsistence of the model, by too many distant causes of the breath of real democracy, but the truth is that Raul Castro is speaking a language that, if we strip it of its poor diction and its military tones, pushes us directly to a reasoning: it is the time for the fusion of ideas, not of negligence. It is the time of St.Thomas, not of Aristotle or Saint Augustine. It is the time of Jose Marti, not of Mario Diaz-Balart.

So I think it’s worth it to take a good look, shake out the cobwebs, if we really want to push the wall, to hasten the end of a story that has cost too many tears, too much blood, too much resentment, if we look closely it could be about to sink.

It is not the first time I sense, following Raul’s reforms, a relatively certain interest in returning to the country fragments of a hidden freedom, both in its economy and its idiosyncrasy. But it is the first time I suspect that through the hieroglyphics with which Raul has written his story in such a hurry, we can decipher better omens for a future without too much of the tendencies of the present.

August 8 2011


Pablo (not so) Loved in Miami

On August 27th, Pablo Milanes will sing in Miami.  According to the billboard ads, it will be a historic concert.  Of course it will: for his followers as well as for the Vigilia Mambisa.  Some will lose their voices for singing along to his songs; others, outside American Airlines Arena, will lose theirs screaming out  “communist” at him.

Without a doubt: a historic concert.

No wonder.  Pablo is not just another Cuban troubadour.  Pablo has been unhappily confused with Paulo FG (some protests that can already be seen in Miami exhibit banners that say: “Out Paulito Milanes”), but unlike the salsa singer, Pablo is unique, and is the other component of the most representative binomial of Cuban music during the post-revolutionary era.  Silvio and Pablo: the sharp duet.

If I am tied to Silvio Rodriguez by the admiration for the sublime poetry of some of his best songs, and the absolute rejection he inspires me as a man of ideas, and further more, as a human being, with Pablito I invert those factors a bit: I fancy him more honest and worthy than the singer of the Unicorn, but his music is not as appealing to my ears.  I respect it, but I don’t love it.

When I speak about inverting the factors just a bit, I am exact: Pablito Milanés, born in the same city as I, erected lately as a media critic of the Cuban Revolution, doesn’t offer me any confidence or attention as a committed artist.  What’s more: I fancy him lightly opportunistic.

(One point to be clear about: to evaluate him politically is fair because he doesn’t skimp in talking about politics. José Ángel Buesa was asked in Santo Domingo about the nascent Cuban Revolution, after he traveled outside of Cuba in 1959, and he answered: “Did you ask Fulgensio Batista about poetry when he passed by here a week ago? Don’t ask me about politics.”  One cannot evaluate José Ángel Buesa with a political standard.  Pablo Milanés sometimes talks about his music with the foreign press.)

Why an opportunist, Dear Pablo? Simple: because screaming when they stomp on our toes is very easy.  To scream without the stomp, is very different.  And I don’t think I am revealing a secret when I say that the divorce between the great troubadour and Cuban officialdom has a date and almost a time: at exactly the instant when his plans for the Pablo Milanés Foundation were thwarted.

Since then, put a camera in front of him, he’ll say his thing.  With success great or small, but he’ll say it.  It is possible that all of a sudden he’ll throw out ideas like the Revolution will continue after the death of Fidel and Raul Castro, something he thinks is great; it is possible for him to affirm that Raul and Fidel truly want to repair the country they have mistreated; but he’ll also criticize the gerontocracy that governs the destinies of the country, he’ll support harsh declarations from Yoani Sanchez, and defend the talent and pose of the censured rappers, Los Aldeanos.  Good for Pablo.

However, it is still a suspicious and questionable attitude for an artist to pose as politically committed to the democratization of the island, just so long as he is outside it.

Has somebody heard Pablo Milanés in Cuba confronting the regime in Cuba loud and clear, saying uncompromisingly that which he declares to the Spanish or South American media? Where was the Pablo who repeatedly gives controversial interviews in foreign countries, when 75 people were imprisoned for writing against what they saw all around them, or when three Cubans died before a firing squad for wanting to escape the country? Could it be that then he wasn’t outside Cuba and therefore, the lock on his throat did not disappear?

I adored the Pablo who invited Los Aldeanos to sing at the Havana Protestrodome itself, sticking out his tongue to the censorship that falls over this rap duo. But it seems too little to admire him like others.

So then Pablo comes to sing in Miami: I’m so glad that’s the way it is.  I applaud the happiness of those who will enjoy him this coming August 27th.  However, what is he doing, what has he done, and what will our Dear Pablo do to unlock a cultural exchange which he now favors, but which is a one-way exchange?

I am not talking about words in front of the amateur camera of a young filmmaker who interviews him in Havana. No.  I am talking about real efforts.  I am talking about demanding and fighting for the rights that his compatriots in exile possess, his co-artists, of singing in the country that watched their birth and of which they have been stripped by the grace of an exclusionary ideology.  I am talking about declaring himself inside, of utilizing his concerts, of demanding in writing before all the Ministries, with a signature that it is not from just any other Cuban: it is the signature of Pablo Milanés.

Did Pablo ever defend the right of Celia Cruz to sing her songs at a plaza in Havana just as he is coming to do at the Miami Arena?  Would he publicly invite Willy Chirino to collaborate with him on the Island, knowing that Willy would give a piece of his life to be able to sing in his homeland?  Again and again: No.

That is why I, who defend tooth and nail the right to freedom, and therefore the right of an artist to show his work at any stage on the planet, I don’t promulgate but I do understand the claims of those who, from this side of the ocean, feel incited and indignant by the presence of Pablo Milanés, and even more: by the presence of the avalanche of Cuban artists who step on American soil today. (Of course: to then say, as does a certain character whose name I’ve always tried to forget, that Pablito is not a musician but an agent sent by Castro, goes a long way toward separating the wise from the intellectual orphans.)

Miami, let’s stop the false statements, is not just any city. Miami has been, for half a century , the oasis of victims, of the pursued, the imprisoned, the exiled from Cuba, and that cannot be disregarded when it comes time to put the circumstances in perspective.  A portrait of Josef Mengele is not the same on a New York corner as it is in Jerusalem.

Personally, I will not carry any signs nor will I raise a hand to condemn the presence of my fellow countryman in this symbolic city, but the reasoning of those who will, does not seem illogical to me.

The subject is one of a tremendous moral-ethical complexity.

If it was only Pablo, the excessive emotion would all blow over a day or two after the 27th.  But the reality is much more serious: turning on the TV in Miami, switching to on any Hispanic channel, has made me ask myself where I am: do I, or do I not live in Cuba?

If Ulises Toirac works at MegaTV before returning in a few months to the ICRT; if Nelson Gudín appears at the same time on the show in America Tevé before returning to Cuban Television; if Osdalgia closes, repeatedly, with her music on Alexis Valdés’ show, and Gente de Zona announces their concerts at The Place and in Las Vegas; if Alain Daniel — and this is the last straw! never before seen! — admits that this time he hasn’t come to offer any concerts, he is just going to spend a week in Miami recording and mastering his new CD; if such a notorious apologist for Fidel Castro as Cándido Fabré splutters with his phantasmagorical voice that he feels happy to be in this city; if all singers, humorists, painters or journalists who I saw in Cuba 7 months ago are the same people I see before the cameras of this country, it becomes difficult for me to situate myself in time and space.

But most of all, I find it hard to swallow that this reality is just and acceptable. I find it hard to applaud the dual speech of musicians such as La Charanga Habanera, when they sing inside of Cuba “You’re crying in Miami, and I’m partying in Havana”, and as soon as they step foot at Miami International Airport they despicably vary the chorus to please who will fill their pockets: “You party in Miami, and I party in Havana”.  I find it hard to accept that those same salseros (salsa singers) and regueatoneros (reggeaton singers) who today do extremely well for themselves thanks to Miami and its audience, thanks to capitalism, to the market economy, to the country of bars and stars, are the ones who, when they return to the Island, sing at celebrations for the 26th of July and celebrate anniversaries of the same Revolution that denies the entry to so many residents of Miami.  And let no one come to me with stories: my memory is only 27 years long, with 7 months of exile.

So then, what is the benefit to the exiled community from this euphemistic cultural exchange?  None at all. How what does it benefit it economically? As little as possible.  The beneficiaries, the only ones who profit out of the bridge that Manolín asked for in his song that in some ways now exist, are those same artists who play a dual role, an embarrassing role as cultural political supporters of the Cuban establishment, while they go to the abode of the enemy to fill their coffers.

It is not the same thing to have Frank Delgado in Miami, as Cándido Fabré.  It is not the same to have Los Aldeanos, as Gente de Zona.  It is not the same to have Pedro Luis Ferrer, as Pablo Milanés.  The outcast among the unjust is not the same as the accomplice and the ones that were integrated into the unjust.

Morality must be very fucked up in a country that screams out slogans to the enemy, and later looks for, in silence, the enemy’s gold.  My best wish for the great Pablito, the icon of the Nueva Trova, an illustrious Bayamés (someone born in Bayamo), is that he enjoy his stay in Miami, and hopefully the whispers of pain and nostalgia from the million and a half emigrants that wander about on this land, won’t overshadow his magnificent voice during his concert.

Translated by: Angelica Morales

August 1 2011