Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Rebellion of the Righteous

He’s brought Raul Castro an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the possible honesty of his words. In the handful of years during which he’s been the regent of this feudal family that is the whole Island, the younger of the Castros has never stopped repeating a maxim in his sharp voice and as if it were revolutionary: “Let everyone say what he thinks, let everyone criticize with sincerity, and their disagreements will be heard.”

Now that Eliécer Ávila, a young man of 25 from the countryside, without international awards to worry him nor family abroad to mitigate his unemployment, has returned to the news, Raul Castro, were he interested, could give proof as an example of his attention, showing that when he speaks, he means it.

How? An infinite number of possibilities come to mind: a five-minute phone call ordering a certain pockmarked vassal: “The next guest on the Roundtable TV show will be the young man Eliécer Ávila. The program will be the same length as his interview on Estado de SATS, two hours, so you will have equal time to analyze the critiques of a young revolutionary.”

I recognize, with an insolent itch, that my imagination can be unfortunately fertile. Because not even Raul Castro is interested in demonstrating some truth, nor does he have to in a country that only obeys, never demands: nor are the claims of its weary citizens of interest to him, much less those of a boy from Puerto Padre, a village almost adjacent to his native Birán, which he wouldn’t know how to find on a map of his country.

After listening to the two hours of dialogue where the now unemployed computer engineer and ex ice cream vendor, giving vent to his catharsis of nonconformity and undisguised rage, I thought again of the same thing that happened three years ago when Eliécer Ávila became an underground celebrity: the most beautifully sad thing being that he doesn’t speak for himself alone. In the throat of Eliécer Ávila are the voices of millions of the enslaved, whom biology hasn’t given the balls to make them worthy of licking his boots.

As during that questioning of Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, Eliécer has exploited again, without even knowing it, a factor which determines the impact of his words: he is an exponent of the rebellion of the most humble, the lowly, those just now coming to life (he’s 25) who refuse to accept the destiny of their parents, of their grandparents; this destiny in which they grew up, came to awareness, and which they are no longer afraid to begin to face: the tragedy of living in a country without dreams or aspirations.

Leaving aside the obvious historic references in which he rests his ideals, ignoring the reading and study that this computer scientist with a humanistic vocation displays in spades, the best of all is that the discourse of Eliécer Ávila is not a political discourse. This, I believe, is the heart of his enormous reach.

Even to those in politics in its pure state it seems to us a lamentable but essential matter, without which a social entity is incomplete, the tone in which some of the discordant voices on the Island confront the establishment weighs on us at times. It sounds to me like hollow discourse, shouting, an archetypal method with its valid reasons but not defensible ones.

The beauty of Eliécer’s exposition, which provokes this turning of heads, nodding while listening to his complaints, his sentences, his questions, is that he is not someone who portrays the disillusionment; he is someone who incarnates the disillusionment.

Disillusionment with a failed promise of happiness, a failed promise of equality and progress. Disillusionment with an electoral system that rather than serves to choose, serves to perpetuate the inept and tyrannical. Disillusionment with a timid press that he doesn’t categorize as good or bad, simply as nonexistent. Disillusionment with the neglect of his leaders, with the chaos that is his country, with its poverty, its hunger. Disillusionment with the mountain of feces that the Revolutionary Project turns out to be that he, as I two years earlier, was taught in high school history class was perfect.

And the great thing in the personal history of this computer engineer, is that the disillusionment didn’t come at birth. It came from his own learning.

Eliécer Ávila was president of the Federación de Estudiantes de la Enseñanza Media (FEEM), Federation of High School Students, during his pre-university years. Those of us not that removed from the Cuban school year can attest to the atrocious indoctrination, the machinery of manipulation that young “cadres” are exposed to convert them into what the Argentine Guevara promulgated: the basic clay of the Revolution.

After those three years of high school, Eliécer Ávila led an Information Security project at the University of Information Sciences (UCI) where he studied. Needless to say that in the school pampered by el Comandante, the school that is the apple of his eyes, the doses of ideological injections are doubled.

So then what happened to this young man, shaped like all of our generation in the iron-scheme, among the bars of Marxist-Leninism that island philosophy that is the most idolatrous cult of the Castro regime? What happened to this young man they educated to extract from him a docile Paul, that he became an ungovernable Saul? What happens to all the honest, the free-thinkers, the uncastrated is what happened to him: All the lies were too big, they could not fit in his brain anymore.

Because of this he had to challenge with his native words and his (our) eastern accent the member of the Island Olympiad whose title is President of the Parliament and who is only worried about the fates of the five members of Cuba’s Wasp Network, imprisoned in the U.S. Because of this Eliécer Ávila couldn’t escape this opportunity of the gods, the ultimate circumstance; that moment in which he held in his nervous hands a notebook with precise points, and freed a part, barely a portion of the questions that millions of Cubans have choked one without ever finding the courage to express them.

And also because of this, facing the questions of the moderator Antonia Rodiles at Estado de SATS, three years after having come to the attention of the country and the world, Eliécer Ávila returned to the headlines: it is not usual for a Cuban “in Cuba,” and even more a Cuban not linked to any formal opposition group, to express with such naturalness (and so much oratory talent) his distance from the official doctrine under which he was raised biologically and cerebrally.

Cubans now replay this interview in their homes. They comment on this talk show with relief, they quote it, talk about it. They heard him say that he feels cheated by a system that allowed him to study information science but then left him hopelessly unemployed. In Puerto Padre, Eliécer Ávila receives the social payment for daring so much: a lemon vendor doesn’t charge him (he tells us from his Twitter account), a woman takes off her sunglasses to confirm that it is him, and gives him a wink of complicity and admiration.

Today, relying on the telephone as the only solution, I spoke for some minutes with this guajiro from Puerto Padre to whom, as I said myself three years ago in another text, every worthy Cuban owes a handshake.

Precisely in the name of those, those who admire and celebrate the rebellion of the righteous; those who yearn for a country of hope and promise, where their children don’t need to flee like ruffians in search of fortune and freedom; in the name even of the readers of this writing; of those who died waiting for sovereign voices like Eliécer’s to sing out of tune with the official choir; and those millions of his compatriots who find in his courage the only reason not to lose faith, from afar I offer him gratitude impossible to quantify, and a subtle warning: your country will not forget you.

(Published originally in Martí Noticias)

November 30 2011

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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


My Article about Eliecer Avila… Three Years Later

On November 6, 2008, published my first digital article on the site Kaosenlared (Chaos on the Web). Three months earlier I had graduated in journalist at the University of the Oriente, did not have this blog, and was about to begin working at the radio station where I would be located during my Social Service. It wouldn’t be too long before Kaosenlared would censor the articles I submitted to their “Area of Free Publication,” and that I would be fired from Radio Bayamo… among other reasons, for articles like this one.

That first text on the web was titled, “We Too, Cubans Under 35,” (a title that today — it makes me smile to say so — I wouldn’t use even under torture). Its content, however, is still pleasing to me. And its fundamental protagonist, my compatriot Eliécer, still awakens the same admiration in me as when I sent these words into cyberspace.

Very soon I will write about the fabulous interview Eliécer Ávila gave to Estado de SATS. Today I want to introduce the theme with this extensive article (perhaps longer than it should have been: it was a cry of relief) which, at a distance of three years, I still subscribe to from beginning to end.


We Too, Cubans Under 35…

(6 November 2008)

It has been some time since I read a text titled “We Too, Cubans Over 35” published on the site, Kaosenlared.

I venture to re-contextualize its title every time someone writes, opines, and debates the events surrounding the young Eliécer Avila, a 5th year student at the University of Informatics Sciences (UCI), who has become a kind of daily sport for those who follow the Cuban reality, whether from within or from outside the country, whether they are a militant within the Cuban Revolution or against it, and know a lot or nothing about what it means to live today, in 2008, on this Island.

For my part, I would I would like to start laying some foundation on which I base my opinions.

Eliécer Avila and I have a lot in common. I would dare to assert that without knowing each other in the flesh, it wouldn’t take five minutes of dialog for each of us to recognize the other as someone close, a brotherhood as if we’d been friends since childhood. The reasons I can explain are more or less as follows:

We are both from what is euphemistically known in the Cuban capital as “the interior,” and hence known in traditional and at times burlesque slang as the guajiros of this country — the peasants. For more details, we live in provinces located in the eastern part of the country: he in Puerto Padre, a town in Las Tunas, and I in Baymao, the capital of Granma province. The distance between our towns is about a three-hour journey.

Within a few months, Eliécer will probably graduate as an Information Engineer, while I, also in a few months, will get my degree in Journalism from the University of the Oriente, Santiago de Cuba.

But more important still, we both form a part of the same generation: he is 22, I am 24. Despite what he seems now, Eliécer has grown up literally in the countryside, developing a good physique and ideas pragmatic enough for the hard work of agriculture, and I have grown up in the semi-urban life of a provincial capital, involved more with artistic-intellectual tasks, but I can affirm that we are both products of the exact same educational system, the same social canons, and above all: we have both grown up under the influence of everything that has happened on this Island for the last 25 years.

Which means: we have suffered, while still children, the horrible economic crisis that came upon us in the early years of the ’90s, and although we weren’t as acutely aware of it, because of our young age, we knew that it wasn’t “good” that we didn’t have milk for breakfast, or toys, that we bathed without soap, and brushed our teeth without toothpaste. We knew that the bad moods, the irritability, that our parents exhibited most of the time wasn’t normal; we knew we had to sit at the table every night, eating what little had been cooked, under the light of candles because electricity was an unimaginable luxury.

Eliécer and I “came of age” as teenagers, students, at the time of the Battle of Ideas in this country, with the complex political process unleashed by the case of Elian Gonzalez. I can’t speak for Eliécer, but I venture to say that it is quite probable that he, as in my case, studying in the 10th grade in my High School of Exact Sciences, had to sit for hours on the floor of the hallways, along with 700 of my classmates, barely able to hear the speeches and interventions aired by Cuban televisions during the Open Forums. I repeat: not seeing it, barely able to hear it. We were so many for one television that to distinguish anything on the tiny screen was virtually impossible.

Worse still: when we ourselves had to form part of the public at these Forums we were taken from our schools to the town in question a day ahead of time. They took us there, at times, in falling-apart and poorly lit trains which, if they didn’t exude melancholy and sadness, it was only because they were transporting a mass of teenagers overflowing in adrenaline.

Once we arrived, we were “housed,” also on the floor, of schools, or institutions without rooms or bedrooms, huddled against each other, most of the time without water but with a symbolic snack in the morning, facing the endless speech of some fresh and well-fed leaders who harangued us about effort and dedication.

If, from our posts, we couldn’t smell the fresh lavender above, if we couldn’t take in the aroma of those who had recently bathed and lived with air conditioning, it was because we were so far from them in our plaza, there where the sun made our eyes water and exhaustion filled our vistas with images of grey.

And we grew up in these school with horrible food, horrible living conditions (mattresses, showers, bathrooms), destitute, studying difficult materials on empty stomachs with the tropical heat soaking our uniform shirts, worn and translucent from years of continued wearing.

I have heard Eliécer Avila, speaking boldly, referring to himself as “we who have studied, we who did everything right,” and I have felt the same sadness, the same excitement that he probably felt at the time. Why? Precisely for that reason: because we are “those who did everything right.”

We are the ones who endured the difficult conditions of the Cuban educational system, the standard of living of our population and, in consequence, the hardships of our parents barely able to support us in our education which is free only in theory; we are the ones who have chosen to be useful to society (he as an engineer, I as a journalist), instead of the so-called easy money, easy and sometimes dirty.

But then we come upon a paradox that is an open secret in Cuba: very little, if anything, helps us to be professionals. It’s useless, as in the case of Eliécer, a country boy who comes to a brand new school like UCI — The University of Information Sciences. If he wants to go to the university, prepare himself academically, have an objective for some possibility of bettering his quality of life in the near future, if he wants to prosper not just as a person but economically, and be useful to his society and be able to support himself and his family, then the best thing he can do in Cuba is to forget those studies and dedicate himself to thinking about how to subsist working for himself, which, by the way, faces him with another dilemma: how to gain an honest living, how to live comfortably without violating any law in this Socialist Country, is a utopia of the highest nature.

In the case of Eliécer, I think about the raising of animals that he insinuated in some comment. He knows, we all know well: the irony of our situation is that he can study, the doors of that and any Cuban university are open to him and to everyone who wants to hang a title on their wall, but his income would be notoriously greater selling pork at the local market, than serving his country as a licensed engineer.

Here, then, we see those who “have not done everything right.” And we see ourselves, young people like Eliecer, like me; those who populate the universities of this country. We see our “misguided friends” who choose to abandon their studies and dedicate themselves to the day-to-day, living from some shameful business or simply wearing a white apron and selling fritters from some corner of our town.

What is painful is that those friends greet us with respect, with admiration for our intelligence and intellectual level, and those friends are the same ones who pay for us to go to some nightclub, who give gifts to our family, who enjoy the many beauties of a country that we barely know.

We are the rising generation in this country, and it turns out that we are full of doubts. Of dissatisfaction. We are full of questions that no one takes the trouble to answer, and we know the reason is obvious, because they don’t have answers to them.

We are a generation that grew up just as our parents began to stop believing in words like Conscience and Selflessness because, in the 30 years under these slogans, they achieved little or nothing for themselves or their families

Needless to say, then, for us that fervor that flooded the plazas in the 1970s awakens only an anecdotal and distant interest. Young people like Eliecer and like me, and like so many thousands of Cubans — because we are “those who do things well” — have respected those who have faith in good intentions, but not because we are captive to the same effervescent rhetoric that filled our parents, and for which they broke their backs (or, as Eliecer says, “lost their teeth”) in voluntary work which, they thought, would create for us, their children, a more comfortable country.

That has been the development of our consciousness. So we have been shaped by this socialist Cuba. Thus, we have matured as thinking beings, who are offered all the possibilities in the world to excel, to develop our intellect, but who are then required not to use that intelligence to question the course our country has taken.

So, I was one of the countless who was surprised by the footage of what happened in that meeting at UCI. And to clarify: I am talking about the entire footage, which contained the intervention of Eliécer along with various others of his classmates, and the full answers of the President of the National Assembly of Cuba, Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada.

I must confess something: my feeling after seeing the intervention of this guajiro, of this neighbor of my territory, was basically envy. Although during his discourse I experienced various sensations (I laughed out loud several times, for sure), what I was left with at the end was a healthy envy, my only thought being to write an email to the student himself, saying what I had felt, as a Cuban like him, as a young man like him, and thanking him on behalf of those of us not in that room for what, in “good Cuban,” is called having the balls to be worthy of the ideals of Marti, to say what he really thought. That email was never answered. Today, after learning of the days of stress and analysis to which he was subjected, I understand that his silence was the result of strict orders.

But I speak of envy for one simple reason: Eliécer had the opportunity that thousands of us, thousands of young Cubans, have long desired, and what’s more, he took maximum advantage of it. He had the perfect opportunity not only to put on the record the many dissatisfactions we’ve held within, the many things we think are wrong with the society we live in and that we want to improve, but also to say it to Ricardo Alarcón, one of the respected figures in Cuban politics.

Apart from the countless interpretations and pros and cons that this event has given rise to, I dare to say something: “participatory socialist democracy” cannot be working very well in a country where there is such an uproar because some young person questions its leaders, and their decisions.

A people’s civil rights can’t be working very well if they are suddenly shaken from all sides, just because one voice suddenly arises in a meeting and “dares” to say “I don’t understand this, nor this, and I would like you, as president of the National Assembly of my country, to explain it to me.” We can be unsatisfied with the answers from Alarcón, but although significant they don’t seem to me to be the core of this issue: the reaction to this event that comes, not from “the enemy” this time, but from the Cuban people themselves, is the principal denunciation that something is not going well here.

Let’s say we put on the Internet a video of a French person questioning the government of Sarkozy; let’s say we publish material referring to the words of an Argentinian, or a Chilean, disagreeing with what happens in their nation. I would like to know how many inhabitants of those countries would go from house to house copying this material on the sly, reproducing it in their homes behind closed doors, and debating it in their family circles as the most important news of the day.

I don’t pretend to analyze in detail the responses that Ricardo Alarcón offered to that expectant student body. Everyone saw them, everyone heard them. They are, I believe, part of History. If I had to choose a fragment of his discourse as “the icing on the cake,” as an elixir of the unusual, I would pick the moment in which he argued that if the six billion inhabitants of the earth all decided to travel, “the aerial traffic jam would be enormous…” Let me quote a recurring phrase of Holden Caulfield, the character from Salinger’s novel “The Catcher in the Rye“: “That killed me.”

So it’s not about the nonconformist Eliécer. It’s not about creating a leader, nor manipulating his words to take greater advantage of them. The even more important fact is that at least one of the millions of Cubans who ever attended a meeting with a senior leader decided to express, at the most unexpected moment, all of what many of us just like him think, but that no one ever deigned to listen to.

We, Cubans under 25 who believe in the love of our country, who give thanks (as Rafael Sanzio did for having been born in the same century as Michelangelo) for having been born in the land of Martí, Céspedes, Agramonte, but also of Felix Varela, Capablanca, Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera, we owe a hand to this son of peasants and to the peasant that he is himself, to this well-built guy with rough manners and the jocular ways of a native Cuban, for having fired the discordant starting pistol of those of us who do not think everything is fine, at a time and place where they only expected to hear the uniform music of the usual concert.

November 29 2011

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Guilty of Singing El Chupi Chupi

"We are so worried about the vulgarity of Cuban music"*

I’m curious to know the great influences of the reggaetoner Osmani Garcia, “The Voice” at the top of the Cuban charts. Good friends should be there. Not every reggaetoner achieved the status of censored celebrity displayed today by Chupi Chupi, turned into an ugly duckling of the radio stations, but a white swan of popular festivals, MP3 players, taxis, city buses and DVDs in national circulation.

The business is booming: Osmani Garcia must show some outrage at the avalanche of criticism officials have directed to his reggaeton, but only a little; his pocket knows he’s not suffering too much. If before the Scarlet Letter destined for it, his Chupi Chupi was the essential hit to shake one’s hips to on the Island, I wonder how much it would cost now to go to a Havana club to see “The Voice” together with the “dream team” that gave birth to seven-and-a-half minute song, a real record for the genre.

We know the premise: Cuba needs reasons to never bury the hatchet of war. My country is an eternal theater of war, where a child, Elian, was once missing, five or four-and-a-half heroes are prisoners of the empire, there is a cyber war or an embargo, they would have to invent something. The show must go on.

And when all is calm, you have to launch an attack, let’s say, against a domestic enemy. The State Council rolls the dice, Abel Prieto appears in the combination, and is told, “The flag is yours.” Thus begins the new Crusade against a film, a novel or a soap opera, a card game for children, or Chupi Chupi. It doesn’t matter.

Nice and paradoxical: the very people whom they distract in their scarcities under the Roman principle of “To the common people, bread and circuses, and if there is no bread, more circuses,” they now say that the circus should be sane. That the lions should not rip off more than one gladiator’s arm each time.

Above the musical aesthetic stance, one wonders if indeed Chupi Chupi which the Cuban press today accuses of being a musical aberration, differs in any way from the hundreds of thousands of similar songs which, give or take a few words, contain the same ingredients, and have never provoked a comment by the Minister of Culture on the Roundtable News program… (Cuba and its fertile mania for euphemisms: “news”).

Cabrera Infante titled a volume of short stories “Guilty of Dancing the Cha Cha Cha.” Now they would have it be a crime to sing Chupi Chupi, and the two charges are formulated basically as follows:

Charge No. 1Chupi Chupi is an ode to fellatio, a monument to oral sex (I say: without which all intercourse would be a boring caricature of itself).

Okay, so what? So was that “Suck Lollipop” from the SBS trio that exploded in the ’90s in every Cuban nightclub, without trumpets of “to the slaughter” or blushing professors.

Other pre-reggaeton Cuban pearls of Cuban that passed from oral preambles and focused on intercourse pure and simple, although protected: “Use a Condom” from Charanga Habanera was a nineties anthem, on the radio, displayed in public, sung on television , but apparently the Puritan censors at the Ministry of Culture were called to attention for a new circus number.

Charge No. 2Chupi Chupi is a hateful sexist reference, where lyrics, music and video relegate women to the status of an instrument of pleasure.

Confirmed. Are they going to ban then, under official decree, every reggaeton piece flowing through the Island, whether of domestic or foreign manufacture?

Because it’s a hard business to find a single album of the genre, just one, where the sublimation of a macho culture is not the primary seasoning, and where the optical reference to women is not the same as used by brown Santiaguans during a conga in the Guillermón Moncada massacre.

The arguments of the newspaper Granma make one burst out laughing, as they explain why the Luciferian Chupi Chupi deserves to be expelled from the media Olympus: sexist, vulgar, oversexed, devoid of ethical and moral values? I wonder where the tropical monks were, the protectors of Cuban morality, when “Classic Eminence” monopolized radio and television frequencies in the country with a delicate chorus that said,  “Mami pitcheeea/ Que tu papi la batea/ Pitcheeea/ Cántame el strike donde sea.”

What is there to envy in the crude bite of Chupi Chupi versus the chorus of another omnipresent hit in its time in Cuba, in the mouth of Insurgent and Baby Lords (yes, the same guy who tattooed his commander – Fidel – on his shoulder) shouting: “I take my bat to the pitcher’s wife / I like the meat of the butcher’s wife / The woman in cop car asked for my gun / And the fire firefighter’s wife is setting me on fire.”

But above all: Are the rulers of my country going to be eternal discoverers of warm waters. Will they always “discover” too late that the drugs are swarming in, that prostitution doesn’t only happen on the Malecon, that the marabu weed is the new national symbol rather than the Royal Palm, and that the vulgarization of the whole society involves more serious issues than Chupi Chupi which is just the last guest to arrive?

Have the sociologists and doctors who publish in Granma looked at what five-year-old girls in Cuba are wearing, with lycra and shorts and their butts hanging out? Have they listened to the aspirations of quinceañeras whose dreams of prosperity involve finding the best foreigner to pay for them and take them to live a dream of wealth and unhappiness abroad?

Are they aware of what is to pay with genital suction, or an equine wiggle of the hips in the bathroom, according to the “amusing” anecdote told in Amsterdam by the eldest daughter of the president himself? Have they taken the time to explore the causes and consequences of girls who, in exchange for ten dollars, star in dizzying lesbian pictures, where they are photographed, filmed, humiliated, drugged, and if something goes wrong with the affair, they die?

Probably not. Cuba and its press are specialists in the branches, never in the roots.

It’s simple, it’s good to see, to demonize a song today as an exemplary warning against a more filthy, more degrading and real evil: the vulgarization of Cuban society which does not happen because young people like reggaeton, or because a Videoclip Festival nominates Chupi Chupi (for its undoubted merit as an audiovisual production). That is just the tip of the iceberg sustained on another basis: the huge loss of values of this society, an evil that always goes hand in hand with poverty.

It’s not me who said it. Ryszard Kapuscinski said it before: “Never has full honor and dignity existed in a people with misery. When there is misery, man corrodes, self-destructs, loses his love and solidarity. Whoever doubts it, toss a crust of bread to a hungry crowd, and see what happens.”

No, I would not want my future children dancing to Chupi Chupi at their children’s parties. I do not want sexual messages to be the order of the day in their children’s ears. But beyond that, I would not want any Cuban child to grow up affected by the shortages, losing her sisters in the arms of a chubby Italian, learning that by robbery, fraud and pimping one can live better than by studying for a university degree .

All Cuban parents, I am sure, all parents and teachers of this society adrift, know how to deal in their teaching ephemeral with products as ephemeral as Chupi Chupi. They know how to counteract any unhealthy effect that songs like this inject in minds in training (for those already formed, let no one come to us to say that the message of reggaetón is bad. Are we?).

But do the parents know, do Cuban teachers know, how to deal with the social degradation that awaits the young once they finish their moral lessons and emerge into the real Cuba?

*Translator’s note: The cartoon shows a lone Lady in White being threatened by an unruly mob, indistinguishable from the sort the regime calls together for its “repudiation rallies.” Are they harassing this flower-carrying so-called “enemy mercenary in the pay of the empire”? Or are they simply singing Chupi Chupi… a song the regime is also attacking through the media.

November 28 2011

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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


“My Characters Could Form a Collage of Disillusionment“

Leonardo Padura just won the “Roger Caillois” Prize. We universal lovers of literature received the news with a mixture of satisfaction (almost personal) and unjustified astonishment: for a long time Leonardo Padura has exceeded the boundaries of what some call Cuban literature, and has become an indispensable narrator of today’s literary landscape.

If prizes demonstrate their rigor through the names of those who earn them, the “Roger Caillois Prize” is more than just another trophy in display cases: writers like Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Jose Donoso and Adolfo Bioy Casares have set the bar high, not just for Leonardo Padura, the first Cuban to receive it, but for any other dreamer of fiction.

Shortly before I left Cuba, Padura received me in his airy house in Mantilla, where harmony between plants and mascots (Padura, like Ramon Mercader in his novel, also loves dogs) is almost material, nearly palpable, and he dedicated some two hours of the interview responding to the reader-journalist curiosity of one who has never stopped seeing him as a rara avis of the Cuban intelligentsia: a force in the circles of publishing and power, a truly independent writer in a country where independence is a dirty word.

I think about Leonardo Padura at this point, with his increased popularity, and the luck of having committed intellectuals, above all, to the cause of his creative honesty. I can’t stop evoking some fragments of that jealously-recorded conversation where, in addition to his fiction, a central theme was the reality that drives it.

— You have always given me the impression that Leonardo Padura lives in a kind of inner diaspora in his own country. In what some call the “insile.” I’ve never see you on the jury of a national contest, never seen you as a special guest at Cuban book fairs, or giving lectures or even on national media. To what do we owe this?

Look, I have tried to establish a perimeter of privacy and space for my work. But I’ve also been especially selective with the literary Cuban life because, first, the way it has developed doesn’t appeal to me in many ways, and especially because I don’t think participating in it offers me anything as a writer. Though that may sound too harsh.

I am receptive to invitations from libraries, for example, because I respect the work of these people and the need readers have to approach a particular author.

But as to the book fairs, both in Cuba and abroad, they seem to me like commercial spectacles, including politicians, so I’m not interested in participating.

In fact, if I frequently grant interviews it is because I don’t like to say no to reporters. I’ve also been a reporter and I’ve fucked over a lot of people interviewing them so I refuse to grant them now…

— An excellent point I’m about to touch on. Leonardo Padura, before devoting himself entirely to literature, was a journalist. I seems doubly seductive to me to ask him his opinion about the press we’ve had for decades in Cuba.

Look, I graduated in Philology in 1980, as a specialist in Latin American literature. That same year I started work at “The Bearded Caiman.” From then until now, I’ve worked for the newspaper “Rebel Youth,” for the chief editor of the “Gazette of Cuba,” and since 1995 I’ve done freelance journalism because without working for one in particular I’ve had many ties to different international media.

That is, I’ve never stopped doing journalism in these 30 years. So I have a good perspective on the craft.

And I’ve always thought that this country has good journalists but is far from having good journalism. There are a very good professionals in Cuba, but there is no platform where they can fully develop their work, so this doesn’t get translated into talented journalism.

Journalism in Cuba has the serious problem of there being only one orientation. There is only one political vision, one ideology, one owner of the media, who believes there is only one information policy. So Cuban journalism responds more to campaigns dictated from the ownership of the press media than to the interests of groups and sectors, including the individuals who do journalism.

This is the case not only in Cuba, but in the Cuban case it is exacerbated because this one-sidedness is more evident.

The journalism in this country should have a greater sense of inquiry into the problems of the Cuban reality. Suddenly work coming from this position appears, with this objective, but it’s an isolated case rather than one consistent with the common position.

But in general I do believe that Cuban journalism needs to be much more participative in reevaluating of the national context as it is happening today, from which, unfortunately, the press continues to be quite distant.

— Let’s talk about censorship and politics in Cuban literature, Padura. From your experience as a writer with broad links to foreign publishers, who even now doesn’t have a problem with Cuban censorship, how do you assess the current criteria for publication in the country?

The first problem in publishing books in Cuba, the essential problem, is that there is no book market.

The market has been demonized in this country, with and without reason. From political interests and from intellectual interests.  Because we often speak of the book market at the international level, say the United States or Europe, not only from the political side but also from an intellectual posture of people who have had no access to this market, and who have a very distorted image of it.

As Cuba has no book market, as books here are published only with one cultural and political viewpoint, this evaluation of which books to publish is very immediate, very much one of convenience, and this is serious as cultural politics.

For example: for some ten or twelve years it seemed that only author in Cuba was Enrique Nunez Rodriguez. This excessive importance given to the figure of Nunez Rodriguez is, I think, one of the examples of how one can manipulate a promotion and a publication from certain political interests.

I think this has greatly affected Cuban literature. It has affected the point of access of Cuban writers to the international market, making it very complicated, because there is no internal market to establish value, which would allow international editors to orient themselves in this landscape.

— After reading several of your novels, making a kind of accounting, I find that the majority of your characters are frustrated, lacking in positive energy, many of them disabled. And they are described as markedly Cuban. Is there an intentionally pessimistic vision of Cuban society in your work?

These characters are a reflection of circumstances, of ways of thinking. They are the result of an evolution of Cuban social life in the last 50 years.

Many of these characters that you’re talking about form a part of our context, which we have all lived. They are an expression of what has been called the “narrative of disenchantment,” and it has a lot to do with the disenchantment that my generation suffered especially in the 1990s and that we carry with us still today, this feeling of failure, loss, frustration.

The fact that I have had the good fortune to achieve professional fulfillment through literature is something singular, almost unique, in the context of a generation that basically has dispersed.

There are resentments that have been created over the years precisely because of the geographical, political, ideological and social distances, and there are, especially among those who have been left here, a feeling that their time has passed without their ever having the opportunity to take advantage of it as they would have wanted.

Perhaps without my meaning to, many of my characters could form a kind of collage of disenchantment that has beaten down my generation.

(Published originally in Martí Noticias)

November 24 2011

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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


"Vinci": Leonardo and Mick Jagger Against Intellectual Guajirismo

When I read the latest episode of Eduardo del Llano, with his movie “Vinci” not being admitted into the upcoming International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, I can’t escape the memory of a charming passage in my short history as a television writer.

It occurred to us, the producers of a television program devoted to the cinema in my eastern city, to develop a hideous scaremongering project like that “300” based on the comic by Frank Miller. The idea was to break it down into an introduction with historical analysis that the film didn’t even come close to achieving.

Never, despite the television film questioners in the national totalitarian basement, were we censored. Later we understood: our proposals were too elevated for the coefficient of our censors.

However, just on the Sunday night that “300” was to show on television in Bayamo, Cuba, the TV station phone received the order from the Provincial Party: we could not put that movie on the air.

The reason? A cultural censor diligently read a review in the newspaper Granma that night, which accused “300” of being a manipulation of Hollywood against the Persians, great-great-grandparents of the current subjects of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. No, definitely not: forbidden to play the Imperialists’ game against our Iranian brothers.

I think of that, inevitably, after reading the argument under which “Vinci”, the prime cinematographic work of the ingenious Eduardo del Llano, was rejected by the “Selection Committee” (cacophony please) of the New Latin American Film Festival of Havana.

We can summarize the little letter in a sentence: the film was not accepted because it did not address a Latin American theme.

Yes, Edward is as Latin America as the warm Havana walls he lives between, his film is as Latin American as any production of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), but his work — horrors! — dared to look at universality from an imaginary passage in the life of Leonardo da Vinci’s genius, and the “Selection Committee,” world map in hand, knows that “that is not in Latin America.”

Ah … what a delicious passage. What a play of ironies: the director of the series of shorts featuring Nicanor O’Donnell (Luis Alberto Garcia), suddenly discovers he is starring in one of the amazing absurdities that fill his shorts.

Because the thread that ties the censorship of that gimmicky and mediocre movie we wanted to show and dissect for the public of my city, and this censorship with kid gloves that is now applied to Del Llano with his filmstrip, we could define it using a most delicious Creoleism: intellectual guajirismo.

It has political overtones in some cases, nationalist undertones in others, but has the same plinth at the level of the brain: guajirismo of the intellect.

Guajirismo is not a human condition or an accident of geography. It is primarily a projection of thought. Although the term is derived from the word “peasant” as applied to Cuban farmers, and by extension to any Cuban who is not born in Havana, I think the definition of peasants portrays the sort of intellectual closed-mindedness, ridiculous chauvinism, that certain intellectual circles in Latin America and in Cuba – where else? – are suffering from and where they reach their sovereign consummation.

It’s about a mental deformation so rotten with patriot-ismos, provincial-ismos, of values in the name of some supreme commander who doesn’t know what “must be defended,” which can be nothing less than to be abhorred by those who have true art.

In 2008, a Peruvian whose shadow is worth more than all the intellectual guajiro, Francisco Lombardi (responsible for some of the most memorable American films of recent years), was the President of the Jury of the same festival in Havana. I will never forget the bitter words in an interview with which he defined, for me, much of the film production that was done in the region, “An art that looks at its navel, an art for four brainy supposedly applauding spectators at a provincial hall.”

Unfortunately for Eduardo del Llano, his “Vinci” did not want to recreate the drama of a mining family in Bolivia, nor of the massacres of drug traffickers in Mexico, nor the Central American migration, nor was it a patriotic denunciation of the British presence in the Falklands.

The director wanted to recreate a piece of the Renaissance which enriched the genius born in Vinci, seasoning his story with some Rolling Stones musical culture (to conform with the mannerisms of the bisexual Leonardo), and that, of course, is not part of the ode to the cinematographic guajirismo that clearly sets the tone at the festival in Havana.

I can’t stop thinking about what would have been the fate of Luis Buñuel trying to cast his surrealist pieces in the competitive Latin American cinema in Cuba; I can’t stop thinking about the anonymity that Borges would have suffered were he from Havana, for not addressing “the Latin American reality” in his stories; he would never have been promoted at the International Book Fair of Havana.

And I can’t stop thinking, even in the endless production of officials, censors, enlightened bureaucrats, selection committees, sponsors of intellectual guajirismo in the entrenched national culture, which exhibits an Island where Severo Sarduy is less known than Miguel Barnet, Tomás Sánchez less than Kcho, and where political and thematic meters are still used to define what belongs to the art of Latin America and what does not.

I hope that this rare Cuban audiovisual bird that is Eduardo del Llano has learned his lesson: meanwhile an intellectual peasant hold the reins of the cultural politics of his country, which is consistent with the exuberant underground spread his work has had inside and outside the Island, which does not try to “thin” the atmosphere of the folkloric Festival.

(Published originally in Spanish in Marti Noticias)

November 16 2011

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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


On the Steps of Nila: Bayley, Cortes and Mega TV

It all started with a phone call. “Did you see the Jaime Bayly program?” a familiar voice kept asking. “I never watch the Jaime Bayly program,” I answered. The voice on the phone shot back, confident, “Then find the interview he just did with Tony Cortez. I need you to see that and give me your opinion.”

The tone was dry. He was upset. My friend did see the Peruvian Bayly often, I think he admired him. I thought, “What has Tony Cortez done.” Twenty minutes later, overwhelmed by the interview I had just seen on the Internet, I chose not to call back. I wanted to avoid having to give an opinion yet.

For about fifteen minutes Jaime Bayly mercilessly thrashed Tony Cortes who arrived on set as host of “On My Steps: Special Edition”, and who had obviously been caught by surprise by the onslaught. He tried to stay calm, to not lose his television mile, while his interviewer was piling on, one by one, words like “communist,” “Castro’s manipulative agent.” He barely allowed him to defend himself.

What was Jaime Bayly’s main accusation? That the films made by Tony Cortés in Cuba for the series “On my steps” would have been possible only with the consent of the State Security. And in this case, the actor and TV presenter would be little more than a transmitter of the Cuban government interests.

For fifteen minutes a gasping Tony Cortes tried to defend himself from the stigma. He failed. Even literally kneeling in front of his interviewer.

That night was August 17, 2011. Less than two months later, on October 12, Leonila (Nila) Hernandez, wife of Tony Cortez and mother of his two children, was locked in a dungeon of Villa Marista, State Security’s prison in Cuba. She had traveled to the island, states the actor, for purely family reasons and a few hours after stepping on Cuban soil the political police confined her to a dungeon.

The repulsive sensation I felt at seeing the interview of Jaime Bayly that night, had its explanation after the fact: I understood the day I learned of the arrest of Nila Hernandez, now case 53 of 2011, on charges of “illicit economic activity” and “dissemination of false news that threatens international peace.”

Following the steps of this family tragedy in reverse led me, inevitably, to a television channel, a night interview, and two journalists, Jaime Bayly and Tony Cortez, who that night played out a scene that is sad to remember.

– Tony, was this the first time you’d been invited to the Jaime Bayly program? Whose idea was this interview?

Mr. Bayly and his team had made couple of previous proposals for me to be the guest of the program at ten at night. We discussed the invitation several times with the team of my program, whether or not it was a good idea, mostly because of the workload I had at that time.

Finally I spoke with the management of Mega TV, and they believed it would be a good idea for me to be interviewed by Bayly, in part because of the considerable attention focused on my series “On my Steps,” which had just been nominated for an Emmy.

I remember the executive producer of my program did not agree that I should grant him that interview to Jaime Bayly, however I saw nothing wrong with that: we were part of a team, the same television, our programs were separated by just an hour, well …

There is even a memo from the SBS corporation that says explicitly that the hosts of both radio and television could not attack each other, on the assumption that we are all part of a working family.

As you can understand, nothing could have made me think of what happened that night.

– Was there some pattern, did they give you a topic with respect to where the interview with Jaime Bayly would be going?

No, not at all. I didn’t even know beforehand that it would be a controversial interview, which would have repercussions, because of the nature of the interviewer, of whom I was always a confessed admirer and whose work I respected very much.

I was thinking about an interview that also had some controversy might be nice, even arriving with a golf club to reinforce that idea. And my surprise was great when the interviewer turned the attack against me, against my work, a direct accusation with something as sensitive as it is to be called a Communist and spy for the Cuban government.

Jaime Bayly not only lacked basic ethics with such accusations, completely unfounded in reality which he is completely unaware of, but apparently did not need my arguments: he would not let me speak. It was the interview where the interviewer does not want to hear the interviewee.

– What happened after you left the program that night? What was your position, that of your interviewer, and the managers of the channel?

Look, at that very moment my wife was with me and she said to Jaime Bayly, “You shouldn’t make a judgment if you haven’t seen the whole series. We can send it to you.” He responded that he would watch it with pleasure. And just then he turned to other people, right in front of us, and said, “Others who stopped being my friends…” Nila turned to him and said, “And others whom we have stopped admiring.”

“That’s your choice,” was the last answer of Jaime Bayly.

We of course were left with a very bad taste from that interview. However, it would be much worse after that day, because with the approval of MegaTV management, Jaime Bayly unleashed a constant, daily campaign, of libel, personal attacks, ridicule against me.

I say with the approval of the management because on several occasions I met with executives Miguel Ferro and Alexis Ardines, I told them they should stop that, that these were no longer jokes but serious accusations, and the only response I got from them was, “First, make a plan to respond with what Bayly did not see your series. And second, you should also begin to attack him.”

I remember them telling me, for example, ideas for these attacks: “If you record in Peru, interview people who will talk about the position of Jaime Bayly relative to Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala. Let’s put out there what people in your country think about it, and it would be good to put it on at eight in the evening.”

And you know what? While I was in Lima recording “The Forgotten of Peru,” I asked some questions, I recorded a few people who had nothing good to say about Jaime Bayly … But at some point I stopped myself. I found it very counterproductive, I thought that was not me, I’m not attacking anyone. In fact there are some e-mails between management and myself with regards to that, where I refused to spend my program on this kind of war with Jaime Bayly.

From there my relationship with Mega TV began to seriously deteriorate. Not only because they did nothing about my complaints about the interview, but because they gave the green light to the rest of allusions about me personally in Jaime Bayly’s program, where I was accused (and even today he continues to accuse me) of being a spy and a Communist.

Even I complained because I felt that was exacerbating the agents of hatred against me, it was inciting any crazy to initiate an attack against me under this principle that I worked for the Cuban regime.

MegaTV allowed this to grow. That joke was growing. And I am convinced that both the interview by Jaime Bayly, such as the absurdities about the alleged “agent Tony Cortez” who could go in and out of Cuba freely, influence the Cuban regime to make a decision to take on my family.

– But the question is valid, Tony. How can you come and go so freely, you can film, and you did that three times under the noses of Cuban security? How do you explain your “luck”?

I do not call it luck, I just think that I was protected by God, for what I believe…

– So you were an elect of God? A superior body allowed you to do in Cuba what is not permitted to the rest, to enter and shoot freely?

No, not so, I’ll tell you something: my first series was not antagonistic. It was just a reunion with a Cuban with his Island. Like so many people have gone and have recorded their return to the beach, their parents, their neighborhood. That was my first series.

And if the State Security followed me, they noticed these were conversations with people in the neighborhood, with my family, dialogues between Cubans living a very complex reality.

The second series I think took the regime by surprise. The cameraman entered in one part of Cuba, and I in another. And this is good to clarify because some are speculating about it too: in “On My Steps” there no was a super-production or anything like that, we were just a cameraman and me.

By this second trip I did have a more extensive review in my luggage. I did carry the camera or the cassettes. They didn’t find anything on my so I had no problems leaving.

In the third and last trip I was able to record very little, I knew they were watching me too much, and the pictures I took I still kept back, they have not been disclosed. It is a series on the hospitals in Cuba. I was detained for 6 hours at the airport when entering and on leaving two hours. Then they cancelled my passport. Endpoint.

So what I want you to understand is that they let me in because it was an opening move, apparently more freedoms, and perhaps they thought I was harmless. When they realized that my films went beyond what suited them, they shut the doors.

– At what point and why were you dismissed by MegaTV?

The cancellation of my program at eight in the evening was disconcerting, and I don’t want to ignore that. For me it’s an antecedent to consider.

MegaTV ended my contract as a host of the show, “On my Steps. Special Edition” after we expanded the series to film in Ecuador, showing how Cubans were living there. This was quite popular among the public.

The exclusive interviews that Sara Marta Fonseca granted me also came out, interviews no other television station had, as did my exclusive interview with Ignacio Estrada and Wendy Iriepa.

I had heard that it was precisely my insistence on the Cuban issue that began to generate a certain heat with the management of the channel, which for some reason it seemed didn’t think this was important.

The last Monday of my program was the opponent Sara Marta Fonseca was released, we did a special program that had excellent ratings. I even have an e-mail congratulation on the part of the same management. And the very next day, the show’s producer told me that on Wednesday they would have a meeting with me.

At that meeting, Mr. José Pérez gave me the letter canceling my contract. Without any arguments.

So you can see to what extent there was an inexplicable urgency, ugly, that I leave MegaTV, the program that I recorded that Wednesday was repeated on Thursday and Friday. I was not allowed even a live farewell, as they did for example with Maria Elvira Salazar.

– Finally: after the imprisonment of your wife on October 12, have you had any contact with the same MegaTV managers, with  Jaime Bayly? Have you heard what they have to say about what is happening with your wife?

No, no direct contact. MegaTV in a very suspicious and hasty way published a statement signed by Manuel Ferro, whose purpose was twofold: first to question the veracity of the arrest of my wife, and secondly to say their hands were clean, to claim that this broadcaster had nothing to do with this, since at the time of the arrest I was not part of the channel. For me this is nothing more than a servile and cowardly act.

And Jaime Bayly, always under the leadership of MegaTV, of Albert Rodriguez, Jose Perez, Alexis Ardines and Michael Ferro, he has not only not stopped the attacks and ridicule that is not only a provocation for me, but he strikes at the sensitivity of some children who are suffering the imprisonment of their mother in Cuba.

With the confirmation that Nila was incommunicado in Villa Marista, living God knows what torments, Jaime Bayly said in a program that my wife was vacationing in a very dark place in Havana. Almost daily he used my name to call me a double agent, according to him a spy for both Cuba and the United States.

I can never prove the responsibility of the broadcaster for what is now happening to my family. But I will always argue that the constant incitement by a well-known host, the challenge to state security, public questions about why they didn’t put me in jail, why they let me circumvent Cuban intelligence, all that is very very closely tied to this tragedy that my family lives today and that, fortunately for them, Jaime Bayly nor any of the directors of Mega TV are suffering.

Translator’s note: A couple of weeks after this post was posted, Tony Cortes’s wife Nila was released from prison in Cuba and returned to the United States, after being held in Cuba for approximately 6 weeks.

November 7 2011


Mariela and the Red Light District: Bad Girl’s Romance

I wonder if Cuban television will air at least a small morsel of the delicious interview Mariela Castro Espin offered to the cameras of Radio Netherlands Worldwide during her recent visit to the Red Light District in Amsterdam.

The material is priceless.  It’s a real gem, a supreme example of the cynicism that this lady, guarantor of certain sexualities in her country, is capable of.

Mariela visited the famous Red Light District of the Dutch capital, surely the most well known area of sexual tolerance in the world, where buying a marijuana joint is as legal as paying one of the desirable girls who prostitute themselves from tinted glass windows. Her face, during the report that showed her looking at those erotic windows, was a love poem: Mariela had been smitten by the feeling of the Red Light District.

According to the report, Raul Castro’s daughter attended an international conference in the country of extreme freedoms and was “gaining experiences” in the subject that she works in, as president of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). As she has demonstrated on more than a few occasions: it is the only topic in her country that she cares about.

I, like Mariela, respect and admire (the two terms she used during the interview) the way in which the Netherlands administers the exercise of the world’s oldest profession, offering solutions instead of connections, and allowing that prostitution that is exercised without legal guarantees, hygiene or social respect, is undertaken with the most natural transparency and State protection. Especially because in Holland not only prostitutes, marijuana lovers or homosexuals have their rights engraved in stone.

Others may not like it: but I, a firm defender of individual decisions, am not bothered if someone who wants to earn money with their body — if and only if it is a decision made by an adult — can do so legally.

Where the statements of the Dauphine Castro Espin leave me stunned, is when she extrapolates the subject of prostitution to our tropical Island, the same land that taught me — like millions of other Cubans — that one of the terrible republican evils that the Savior-Revolution eradicated in 1959 was commerce in the flesh.

Mariela not only affirmed that it is exercised on the iconic Havana Malecon, but now and again she talks with the surrounding police, giving them to understand that they should be more understanding, that it is not bad to go hand-in-hand with the highest bidder — foreign nationals as a general rule — and that they should only take measures against those men and women who, according to her exact words, exercise prostitution in a “bothersome” way.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask one of the thousands of Cuban “jineteras” who have spent years in prison for selling their bodies in exchange for food, clothes or a European passport, if they ever had a notion about how to do it without seeming “bothersome,” and in consequence receiving the public or covert protection of the head of CENESEX.

But the icing on the cake appears this time as well. In a dialog with a, perhaps, Dutch prostitute, Mariela laughs, showing off her carefully tended teeth, looks at the camera wearing her chic beret, and comments with the gesture of a mischievous child: “In Cuba I have known people who say ‘I need to repair the bathroom and I don’t have any money,’ and then they give the bricklayer sexual services to finish the bathroom.” At the end of the anecdote, the Dutch host, the interpreter, and the fairy godmother of transsexualism and modern Cuban genitals, are roaring with laughter.

Yes, it is definitely a gem worth keeping. Few materials will serve as well as this in the future to exemplify the unscrupulous levels of those who carried certain trappings of power, who not only enjoyed privileges forbidden to ordinary Cubans — travel halfway around the world, free interviews with foreign media, first-world lifestyles — but who had the strange faculty of taking tragic, grotesque, morbid events, like a woman who pays for the services of a plumber with her sexual services because of the precariousness of the economy, and making a nice joke about them and having a good laugh in the far off Netherlands.

I want to think that Cuban women, at least those living on the Island, will not find out what another woman like themselves says behind their backs, but with the safe-conduct of two semi-divine last names from the island’s Mt. Olympus.

I believe that those who, effectively, not only have entertained an unknown bricklayer in their bed, but a baker, repairer of fans, or a prehistoric old Spaniard with a predilection for native girls, will not feel the double humiliations of having their cases taken into Mariela Castro Espin’s aristocratic mouth in order to amuse Dutch prostitutes. Let’s be clear: Dutch prostitutes whose earnings are identical to those of an upper middle class worker, who possess freedoms and constitutional guarantees, who are not extorted either by pimps or by Revolutionary police, and who never sell their attributes in exchange for fixing a leak in the sink.

Worst of all is that maybe I’m wrong: there could be an upcoming episode of the Roundtable TV show where the Princess Castro reveals her experiences in Amsterdam, and where, perhaps, she may repeat point by point the statement she offered to Radio Netherlands Worldwide. In Cuba there are stomachs for everything.

It’s worth remembering that years before Mariela’s romance with the Red Light District, her uncle openly admitted that yes, Cuba effectively has prostitutes, but that they were, undoubtedly, the most educated prostitutes in the world.*

(Originally published in Martí Noticias)

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro is claimed to have said that Cuba has “the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world.” Whether he actually did say it is a matter of debate.

2 November 2011