The May Parrot / Juan Juan Almeida

On April 28 the newspaper Granma published the plan for ensuring transportation to the International Workers’ Day parade in order to facilitate Cubans from various municipalities getting to the Plaza of the Revolution. All very spontaneous.

“A colorful parade, flavored with socialism, in which, formed into blocks, more than a million people participated, comprising everyone from Havanans to Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of workers, employees, and students paraded with the colors of the Cuban flag, shouting slogans supporting the revolution, socialism, and the leadership of Fidel and Raul Castro.” OK, I’m not really a prophet, but those are the words, more or less, that are published every May 1st. A bunch of crap.

Translated by Tomás A.

29 April 2014

Reporters Without Borders 100 Information Heroes: Angel and Yoani

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 2.46.47 PMANGEL SANTIESTEBAN-PRATS
Cuba / The Americas
His blog is called “Los hijos que nadie quiso” (The children no one wanted). The writer and netizen Ángel Santiesteban-Prats has been held for more than a year for openly criticizing the “dictator” Raúl Castro, as he calls him. Convicted on trumped-up charges of “home violation” and “injuries” in a summary trial on 8 December 2012, he was sentenced to five years in prison. In April 2013, he was transferred to a prison in the Havana suburb of San Miguel del Padrón where he has been subjected to mistreatment and acts of torture. His novel “El verano en que Dios dormía” (The summer God slept) received the 2013 Franz Kafka Drawer Novel* Prize, awarded in Prague to unpublished Cuban novels.

Cuba / The Americas
A philologist by training, Yoani Sánchez is a celebrity in her own country and internationally. Time Magazine ranked her as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2008. Her Generación Y blog, launched in 2007 with the aim of “helping to build a plural Cuba,” covers the economic and social problems that ordinary Cubans constantly face. Like other bloggers, she has been subjected to varied insults (such as “contemptible parasites”), intermittent blocking and judicial harassment. In early 2014, she announced her intention to create an independent collective media platform in Cuba. “The worst could happen on the first day, but perhaps we will sow the first seeds of a free press in Cuba,” she said.

Download the entire list here.

*Translator’s note: Many have asked about the meaning of “Drawer Novel”; it refers to novels sitting in a drawer because censorship prevents their being published.

29 April 2014

It’s “Free” . . . But Healthcare Costs Us / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“Your health service is free… but it costs”

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

You’ve been able to see them for almost two years in every health care unit of the Cuban Public Health System, from any primary care office or clinic, passing through each second level hospital, even in tertiary care centers in each Institute.  They welcome us from the door of the consultation room or from the trade union wall and assure us that our omnipotent government has always been zealous to guarantee absolutely fee medical care for our people.

Seen that way, without more, it would seem a simple matter.  In this world, where to the shame of the species, dozens of thousands of children still die of curable illnesses because they do not have access to a few tablets and a measly intravenous infusion, it would be the most natural thing for Cubans to prostrate ourselves in gratitude before such an excess of philanthropy.  But if there is one thing we learned long ago it is that here, when you look into the background of the matter, we have all been charged.

It is true that the hospital does not charge us directly at the hospital or at our children’s school, but without doubt the cash register at the “hard currency collection store” (TRD*) charges us, and in a currency arbitrarily overvalued 25 times in relation to the other currency in which we are paid an unreal salary of little use to us.

These words are not trying to be an inquisitorial onslaught against the health care system to which I belong, whose essential function is impeded by limitations that no sector in Cuba can escape.

Any gratuitous attack would leave on this page the odor of the knife in the back, an aroma that this Cuban detests, but 40 years of hammering did not end up convincing me that guaranteeing a right, or trying to, grants in any way authority to my government to deprive us of other rights as essential as that.

And it is here — more than at the door of the TRD and the hotels, or in the immoral taxes of the General Customs Office, or in the extortionate cost of each consular administration abroad, among other hundreds of shameful examples — where we millions of Cubans have been charged the true currency exchange: it has been through the humiliation of the famous diplo-tiendas*, or in the door of the prohibited hotels, or through the despotism of the migratory authorities or the mistreatment by any other kind of official or through the systematic deprivation of our civil and political rights.

And invariably in the background posters like the one illustrating this post justifying as life-saving the entitlements that crush us at every step.

On the other hand these public governance schemes are not unique to Cuba nor to socialism, as has historically been insinuated to us.  There are dozens of examples of countries — and not necessarily from the first world — that sustain health and education systems as public and free as ours, and all without demanding in exchange such high doses of individual freedom.

Very true it is that sustaining the presumed public health costs each state on a world level very dearly, and Cuba was not exactly going to be the exception, but also I remember here that each Cuban worker has about 30% deducted from his monthly salary precisely to cover these public expenses.

I also remember that when our state undertakes to guarantee public health and education services — the two prime examples — it does not fulfill only a duty but its more conspicuous obligation, perhaps its only authentic obligation.

In particular, I ask myself by what magic method the Cuban government invested $4386.00 pesos in me alone, for the approximately 120 consultations that I did in my last 24-hour medical shift, in which I used only — if we except the $24 pesos that they paid me for night hours — my stethoscope, my blood pressure monitor, and some disposable depressors.

But as I am not an economist, I better leave the accounts to others and dedicate myself, as a good cobbler, to my shoes.  After all, it is true that it costs us . . . and quite expensively, for sure.

*Translator’s note: The government itself named the stores that sell only in hard currency, “Hard Currency Collection Stores”–TRD is the Spanish acronym–making explicit that their major purpose is to capture for the government coffers (through extreme overpricing) a major share of the remittances Cubans receive from their families abroad. Many items are often, or only, available in these stores (or in the black market).  An early incarnation of these stores were known as “diplotiendas,” that is “diplomat stores” catering to foreigners residing in Cuba.

See:  It costs.  By Regina Coyula.

Translated by mlk.
28 April 2014


The Inverse Logic of Investments in Cuba / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Interior of Cuban ration store, a hallmark of the Revolution that will soon open its doors to foreign investment, while excluding Cubans. Photo: Glass&Tubes via Flickr.
Interior of Cuban ration store, a hallmark of the Revolution that will soon open its doors to foreign investment, while excluding Cubans. Photo: Glass&Tubes via Flickr.

Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, breaking its usual habit of holding only two meetings each year, met in March 2014 to unanimously approve—as, suspiciously, has been the case for all the laws that have been voted on by the Assembly for decades—a new investment law.

Is it worth-while to focus on the last images and letters coming from the inside of the last living utopia on Earth? Is Cuba by now a contemporary country or just another old-fashioned delusion in the middle of Nowhere-America? A Cold-War Northtalgia maybe? Can we expect a young within that Ancien Régime still known as The Revolution? I would like to provoke more questions than answers.

Commentators will now discuss the legal intricacies and social transformations that this law will bring for the Cuban people and the diaspora.

But for us Cubans on the island or in exile—or rather, us Cubans on the island and in exile, since the difference between the two is less noticeable every day, especially among the younger generations—only two aspects of this parliamentary gem of so-called “twenty-first-century socialism” matter:

1) It is established that Cubans living abroad cannot invest in the national economy that they have left behind.
2) It is established that Cubans living in Cuba cannot invest in the national economy that has left them behind.

For the business people of the rest of the world, the democratic tycoons looking to invest in totalitarianism, only these two aspects should matter, and make a difference:

1) It is established that Cubans living abroad cannot invest in the national economy that they have left behind.
2) It is established that Cubans living in Cuba cannot invest in the national economy that has left them behind.

But there are things that never become true even when repeated a thousand times. And it’s very likely that investors would turn a deaf ear to both points.

Nonetheless, please at least allow me the desperate privilege of anti-journalistically having a third attempt:

1) It is established that Cubans living abroad cannot invest in the national economy that they have left behind.
2) It is established that Cubans living in Cuba cannot invest in the national economy that has left them behind.

Investors of the world unite!

From Sampsonia Way Magazine

14 April 2014

The Invisible Posters / Reinaldo Escobar

1398697393_plaza-de-la-revolucion-primero-de-mayo-cuba-580x326I haven’t heard that in the last half century someone has managed to bring posters with “politically incorrect” messages to the May Day parade. I don’t doubt it’s been tried; I even believe that with a good dose of ingenuity some brave soul raised a banner with second or third readings. But for this celebration, which has the declared intention of being the largest in the world, I would like to raise (or see) a board where one could read messages like these:

“Raul: the earth isn’t trembling, but we are.

(Appropriate to all employment sectors)

“Millionaires the world over, invest your money in Cuba. We promise not to strike or demand wages.”

(Workers from the Mariel Special Development Zone)

“Doctors had the patience to wait for better wages, we do too.”

(Workers in Education)

“We don’t need independent unions to support the Revolution.”

(Self-employed Cubans)

“No change in the currency will change our attitude to work.”

(Foodworkers Union)

“We don’t need alternative sources of information. What the newspaper Granma tells us is more than enough.”

(Union of Cuban Journalists)

And so on as long as the fantasy lasts us. It wouldn’t be luck, but that texts of this nature would manage to leap the barrier of “Revolutionary vigilance.”

I also doubt–forgive me brave souls–that the necessary dose of courage could be assembled, even to dare subtleties like these.

However, these play-on-words would be harmless jokes, if on the platform they had the gift of reading what is in the minds of those who march (not to mention what those who didn’t attend were thinking). If the invisible posters (by some miracle) soon materialize, then there would be others who would begin to tremble.

28 April 2014

More About Baseball / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

The 53rd National Series of Baseball has concluded and, once again, demonstrated the nuisance of having 16 teams participate, and the impossibility of outfitting them with enough top-quality players.

After the first forty-five games, eight teams remained. Although they were reinforced with players from the other eight that did not qualify for the second round, problems remained in defense, offense, and pitching, where the performance of many of the starters and relievers left much to be desired. In fact, only six of these teams were competitive, but their indiscipline persisted, often turning stadiums into boxing rings.

With the arrival of the playoffs, first with four teams and then with the two finalists, the situation did not improve substantially: poor defense continued with multiple errors, hitting was off, and the pitching performance was disastrous, as demonstrated by the fact that in the final game one of the teams ended up using twelve pitchers, breaking the record for pitchers used in a single game by both teams.

It’s no secret that Cuban baseball has been going badly for some time, and that profound measures are urgently needed to bring it out of its prolonged lethargy, which will not be easily or quickly achieved.

They range from the base, where the true mass character is formed, with good coaches and trainers that develop the talents, to revamping the current structure for reaching the National Series. They should also include the participation of our players who make up part of foreign teams.

Today the best baseball is played in the leagues of other countries and in the big leagues of the United States. We should learn from them and put an end to the absurd lie that we are the best and we know everything.

21 April 2014

Adios Gabriel, Adios Fidel / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

GARCIA-MARQUEZ-FIDEL-11-e1398443527269With the passing of Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014), another death was also announced to the world, the death of a friend whose biography García Márquez had always wanted to write: Fidel Castro, the man who needs no introduction, the man who attempted the record of one hundred years of socialism in Cuba but fell short, barely managing to get past the halfway point.

Earlier this month Fidel’s brother Raúl sent his condolences to García Márquez’s widow, Mercedes,:

Dear Mercedes,
The world, and especially the peoples of our continent, Latin America, have felt the physical loss of a distinguished thinker and writer. Cubans have lost a great, beloved friend who showed us solidarity. The work of men like him is immortal. We send to you and your family our heartfelt condolences and a sincere expression of our affection.
With love, Raúl Castro Ruz

Look! Not a single mention of Fidel—his brother and Cuba’s Maximum Leader for decades. President Raúl Castro Ruz talks about his own family and affords himself the luxury (or the nerve) of leaving out Fidel! He talks as though Fidel were but a distant relative, or as though Fidel had played a very minor part in Cuba’s storyline, just like that member of the Buendía family in One Hundred Years of Solitude that nobody remembers or that everybody gets confused with another Buendía as soon as they put the book down.

If that weren’t enough, up until now there hasn’t been a single comment (not even a fake one) from Fidel in the Cuban press.

Dear Mercedes, dear world: The message is clear. Alongside the loss of the great Colombian novelist, we also have to start getting used to the silent absence of Fidel, who never even got the biography that would have transformed him into an immortal character.

More so than Literature, it’s really the Revolution that’s now suffering a physical loss.

Raúl Castro’s “with love” is by no means really intended for García Márquez’s widow, in whom Cuba never really placed too much confidence. Raúl’s “with love” is, in fact, for Fidel’s soon-to-be widow.

P.S. A few days later, following an outbreak of rumors on social networks about Fidel Castro having died for the nth time, a wreath of white and yellow roses was sent on behalf of the former Commander to García Márquez’s funeral in Mexico, according to Cuba’s state press agency, Prensa Latina. On the silk ribbon was written: “For a beloved friend.”

From Sampsonia Way Magazine

28 April 2014

Just Another Miscalculation / Miriam Celaya

1398445396_etecsaAccording to a recent official statement by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA) [Cuban Telephone Company], the technical difficulties in messaging service and other cell phone problems are due to errors in miscalculating demand.

It is the system’s universal principle to come up with an inverse explanation to every difficulty, which could be interpreted as follows: it is not really the inability of the only telephone company in Cuba, but that there are too many users. That is, we are more addicted to communication than officials imagined.

Since this past March 3rd, when the new cell phone e-mail access system ( went into effect, considerable delays were experienced in SMS access, as well as additional service outages. Now the Central Director of Mobile Services, Hilda María Arias, stated that for over a year they carried out research and completed investment processes required for this service, however, they “did not calculate the fast pace for its demand in this short period of time”, and, due to transmitting of data, “more network resources are being used”, which has slowed e-mail, SMS reception, and cell phone service

Of course, while this official explains that steps are being taken to counteract the difficulties, the solution must come from an increase in forecast investments.

ETECSA, as we know, is the name of the communications monopoly in Cuba, controlled by military business leaders, who have now committed to expand services through new base stations that expand possibilities for Internet access, transfer the balance between cell phones and extend the expiration date of cellular lines.

Indeed, if this promise is fulfilled, this would be good news for those of us who are addicted to information and communication. In any case, to justify the current service difficulties after one year of researching the project, and knowing the huge demand for cellular service among Cubans, despite its high cost, seems more than mere miscalculation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 April 2014

Drought or irresponsibility? / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

For several days now the national TV has been reporting on the effects of the drought in the eastern provinces, noting the deaths of thousands of cattle and the weakening of many thousands more. In the municipality of Calixto García in Holguín Province alone, over three thousand cattle have already died and thousands of others, according to the images shown, were only skin and bones, due to their emaciated condition, harbinger of the worst.

The drought is every year, from November to April. Maybe in the last years, due to climate change, it has worsened. The farmer always used forecasts to avoid or mitigate its effects.

Fifty years ago our ranchers also faced it and, given that they were cattle owners, they took every possible measure to ensure they were fed, with the silage in the silos saved from tender green grass cut in the spring, to which they added molasses and water, or with other methods to resolve the water problem, such as windmills used to extract ground water.

For them it was an economic and human problem, affecting both their pocketbooks and prestige. As owners of their herds, they were primarily responsible for them and felt and acted accordingly.

Today, the small livestock owners avoid killing their cattle despite the drought. The problem with the cattle is that, in one way or another, they belong to the State. As here ownership is generic and irresponsibility is diluted between the manager, the Party organizations and the Young Communist League (UJC), the union and so on up the ladder, the Delegate of Agriculture and the whole administrative and political structure that follows, the ones who pay for the inefficiency are the poor cattle and the citizens who, for years, see no beef in their diet. In a country where sacrificing a cow, even one you yourself own, is considered a crime if it is not approved by the authorities, how can we understand these mass deaths.

Is it so difficult to create reserves of food and drinking water for when the drought comes? Why, if it is a regular annual phenomenon, which complicates the last months of the dry season, aren’t the cattle in danger moved to unaffected territories?

It seems that fifty-six (56) years of tripping over the same stone have been for nothing. And then, thundering, they would have us believe that socialism can be prosperous and sustainable.

25 April 2014


Silvia and State Security

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

They arrested her twice, both times violently. All for walking at my side in the streets of a Havana almost at the point of the Cadaver-in-Chief of Fidel Castro. She’s called Silvia. My Silvia.

They threw her out of her first job as a dentist, in the captive consultation of a cigar factory, where the workers can’t even lift their necks from the odious sheets they have to roll for miserly wages. By the way, she was expelled by a State Security agent who today serves–or fakes serving–as a dissident lawyer, in an independent legal association (the director of the association warned us, but we were like to paranoiacs, Silvia and I).

They forced her to undress in the Regla Police Station, during the vile visit of the former Pope Benedict XVI, who swept aside Cuban civil society and kissed the right hand of the Maximum Excommunicated, while silently agreeing to the attack on Oswaldo Payá, where the Cardinal of a thousand and one sins flush with the pubis under his cassock barely joined in one more mea culpa (afterward Jaime Ortega y Alamino himself would wash his hands of the stoning of Payá in the burning chapel, as if God himself had called him to His side and he wasn’t dispatched by State Security).

They infiltrated her family. They terrorized her mother, Silvia Corbelle Batista’s mamá. They made her believe she was being paid by the CIA. Later they led her to understand that I was also working for them. That I was unfaithful (I was). They said I was a faggot (it could be so: what’s more, I am) and that I have AIDS (it cold be so, but it’s not true right now, according to the serology).

The Castro regime only knows how to use reality and language as a source of stigmatization, as a phobia not of the other but of itself.

They coerced mamá Lourdes and forced her to steal documents from her own daughter, and also to reveal her movements to State Security agents. She was already a bit of one, living in Cuba, but they made the mother of my ex-girlfriend a human wreck. She, who prided herself on being anti-Castro in private, ended up as a de facto Fidelista.

They drove her father crazy, Silvia Corbelle Batista’s papá. They humiliated him before his own daughter. They forced him to threaten me with death (it’s a crime, but I would never denounce anyone within Cuba) in order to take from me not only my love, but love.

He was already a bit of one, living in Cuba, but the poor human wreck of papá Ramón then hired the services of a Babalao to do “injury” to me. And later sent an illiterate criminal to warn me, in the name of his scabious spirits, that I must leave Silvia’s side or an “evil” would befall me that would put me in my grave within a week.

I have to say how I answered him. It pissed me off, like so many shot without trials in Cuba, who died screaming Long Live Jesus Christ with whatever strength they had left after their blood had been drained* from them as a trophy of war. I told the witch doctor from G-2 (State Security)–like the majority who practice this “religion”–”Asshole, tell Fidel to come and tell me himself.”

They infiltrated her colleagues at the Dentistry Faculty. They filmed her in her relationships during and after me. The coerced our close friends to spy on us. Some agree, others fled without confessing their fear to us. They killed two cats in the cruelest manner, at the two critical moments of our lives, as an almost Sicilian message of falling heads very close to our bedroom.

The pressured the person who lent us a room to stay away from Cuba (the person resisted, then they used a Housing Institute trap to take their land). Even when they operated on me (for free) for nearsightedness, an official appeared in the  room at the Ramón Pando Ferrer Hospital, making the doctor’s laser scalpel tremble.

But Silvia wasn’t alone. Silvia told me, “They do it so you’ll shit from fear Landy, because they know you are good and want to live. Don’t give them the satisfaction.”

But I always did give it to them, I always felt my guts wrench. I’m no better than the Cuban Cardinal, the complicity of this constitutional cowardice is our intimate communion. But my pure hatred saved me; while love has ruined Jaime Ortego y Alamino.

And it’s this same contempt for the tyrants of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, it is that crazy diamond that always shines in the watery eyes of a little free person named Silvia. The same one who last night called me on the phone to help her cry. Just that. I’ll be fine. Help me cry.

The two times I was imprisoned, in that terrible 2012, I remember Siliva screaming and insulting the police and the agents. Making it obvious how ignorant they are. How shameless and libidinous (the Castro regime, like Castro himself, is a phenomenon more prudish than patriotic: evil fidelity substituting for good fornication; verbal incontinence is a sign of premature ejaculation: the more power it imposes in you, the less the junk of the unpunished ​despot gets hard, the less tiny olive green vagina gets lubricated; the uniform as the smudge of the body itself).

Today the game is over and the truth emerges.

The photographer and blogger Silvia Corbelle Batista has been summoned by the sterile extremists of Cuban State Security, at two in the totalitarian Cuban afternoon. They can take her prisoner without trial, like the Lady in White Sonia Garro, who has spent more than two years illegally imprisoned.

They can lay charges. Or lay them on her parents, to psychologically upset the equation. They can threaten her with being raped tonight (as Agent Ariel did to me at the Aquilera Police Station in Lawton, at the end of March 2009: he said to me, “You’re going to jail until the Investigator comes, did you bring condoms?”).

They can impose the Official Warning Act, as they do to thousands and thousands. They can tell her that it was a mistake and to come back another day (the horror is that, not knowing).

They can do whatever best pleases them. Silvia is wise. Silvia knows who they are and what they have done to the memory not only of our love, but of love. The rest doesn’t matter. Let it go now in the death throes of this heartless scenario called Cuba. They are just the symptoms of what we Cubans will do to Cubans a minute after the singing of the national anthem at the imminent funeral of Fidel.

Silvia, you’ll be fine. But don’t stop crying. Hardly anyone in Cuba remembers how to.

*Translator’s note: Literally. It’s been reported that the regime takes large blood bank “donations” from those about to be executed.

25 April 2014

The Accused in the Dock / Fernando Damaso

Listening to the discussions in the Culture and Media Commission of the recently ended 8th Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) Congress, I was struck by the criticisms of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRTV) for their programming–which according to some delegates demonstrate Yankeephilia–and their few national offerings.

I imagine that if it weren’t for programs pirated from the United States and other countries offered on Cuban TV, we’d be left with one channel, so I don’t understand the nationalist uproar. First, we should be clear that the quality of the majority of national programs is quite low, from the unbearable news, through the so-called comedians, dramas and adventures, through the children’s programs of participation and musicals. If there is anything saving it, it’s sports, and that by its own powers.

One can argue that there is a lack of artistic talent in radio and television, such that it’s given over to mediocrity, which continues to be true, but the question is: “Why is there a lack of talent? The answer isn’t hard: because talent is not paid what it should be for writing, acting, directing or producing in radio and television.

The medium lacks attractive economics, something that it had before its expropriation by the State, when those who worked in it enjoyed high salaries, which allowed them to focus completely on artistic creation, without having to think about how to resolve day-to-day living.

There is a historical example of the RHC Cadena Azul radio station owned by Amado Trinidad: when he decided to make his station first among listeners, he paid high salaries to get the top talent of the time, and achieved his objectives. Starting with him, the formula became widespread and was applied until the media passed from private hands to the State.

Congress after congress they sing the same tune, and don’t take the economic measures needed to resolve these problems, so their lament is silly. The calls to participate for the love of art, with the creation of committees for quality, control and censorship, established for hundreds of foreign and national programs broadcast, and a whole other series of bureaucratic measures will resolve nothing.

Talent is not accepted as a method of payment in the stores in exchange for products nor to pay for services received. Money is essential. The problem, therefore, is one of economic stimulus in a society every day more metallic, regardless of slogans and speeches.

What is the Mariel Special Development Zone, the Foreign Investment Law, the Tax Regime, the high prices for articles of every type and the cost of services? If we are going to give money its place, as we are doing, we have to do it in everything: the charging and paying.

18 April 2014

The Fake UNEAC Congress / Angel Santiesteban

(Image taken from the Internet)

Once again, the official intellectuals are summoned to “participate” in another Congress of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), to be used as political reaffirmation for the Regime, since they won’t do anything else, the same as on previous occasions.

Some will bleed for their suffering, the officials will pretend to listen, and it will even appear that something will be done in this regard, when the reality is that they will forget the problems, and they will remain only in the memory of those who are present.

The dictatorship, as it always does, will allow the media to publish or televise some sentimental intervention, to make us believe that it has been a space for free debate, and thus hide the hand of censorship that they constantly apply to us.

Those elected know that they would never be able to say what they hide, their true thinking with respect to the dictatorship, and as in a double game, they will also pretend that the first task is to save the culture, when in practice they only save their lifetime stay in power.

Those intellectuals — the majority — entered into the process when they were very young; today they are a litter of oldsters brought to heel who ooze from the wounds made by Fidel Castro and who have overcome profound humiliations: they carried out cynical condemnations and then couldn’t appear physically in society.

I remember when in the “war of the emails” — as a result of some negative characters returning to public view, repressors in the cultural sector in the ’70s — the majority of intellectuals attacked that possibility, and when the government understood that the protest was growing, they ordered the ringmaster, Abel Prieto, to block the bulls, and that they be the ones who watch the affair.

There were hundreds of letters, first nationally and then from every corner of the planet where there was a Cuban who had been harmed by those people. No one ever said that the guiltiest of all was Fidel Castro. They only permitted themselves to judge the people, pure fallen trees that already weren’t of interest to the State, like the comandante Papito Serguera and Luis Pavón, among others.

I dared to say, in my only email that I dedicated to the matter, that we do nothing by condemning the officials who were removed suddenly, when the intellectual author, Fidel Castro, was still in power, that those who they attacked now were no more than repressors, executioners who executed under the orders of the Castro brothers.

Now they had to endure the pretense that they, omnipotent leaders, didn’t know about the purges in the cultural sector, the persecution of homosexuals or artists who shaped some critical revelations in their work. The intellectuals – even in their letters – were not capable of questioning the centers of Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP).

They played their false roles of bulls seated on the steps while they watched the master of the toreros in the ring and the firefighter in the cultural sector, Abel Prieto, manipulate the affair behind closed doors with some conferences, to drain once and for all the spiteful feelings provoked by the constant reactions.

It will be another congress without solid contributions to the cultural process that strengthens the cultural sector.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement. April 2014.

Please follow the link and sign the petition so that Amnesty International declare the dissident Cuban Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy
14 April 2014

The Solitude of the Barracks Multiplies My Strengths / Angel Santiesteban

When the 20 convicts who accompany me go out on pass for family reunions, I send them off with the joy that spreads to me from their happy faces. They are barely gone when I plunge myself into literature. Nothing will hurt my exorbitant creation, not even the knowledge that they will deny me the passes I should get according to the Penal Code. They return to violating my rights, now as a prisoner serving a wrongful conviction.

How could I be bored with the quantity of work that awaits me? I remember that night of November 8, 2012, when we were arrested and taken away by the Santiago de Vegas police, after being beaten in front of the police station of Acosta, where we were demonstrating our disagreement with the unjust detention of Antonio Rodiles.

Sharing a cell with the dissident Eugenio Leal, they released me at midnight, but scarcely had I advanced 100 meters when in the darkness of that road–and like a childish game–some seven guards who were waiting for me surged from behind the bushes to announce that I had to return to the cell. I did it happily, since my brothers in struggle remained there, and I felt humiliated at having been the only one to be set free.

Now neither do they notice in me any anxiety, except that which provokes me to want freedom for the prisoners of conscience that today they keep in different prisons throughout the island, the dream of democracy with the disappearance of the totalitarian regime, and free literary creation. Outside of that, nothing drives away my peace.

I am happy in this life because I have learned that I want to struggle even with my fingernails; it’s the way to grapple with the need to comply with our conscience, feelings, family education and patriotic readings.

All that impels me to leave the path of masks with which an artist can live in a dictatorship. I simply ripped up the immorality with which you survive in the Regime, and I decided to renounce everything I had obtained. I presumed a pure honest talent.

Beginning then, of course, I received the answer that totalitarian regimes have for these cases: first the threats, later the direct rebuff, beatings, fractures, censorship, the diabolic mechanism of the “injustice” of the organs of State Security, hidden behind courts that answer to their designs, and, finally, prison.

All that has only served more to multiply all my strengths, hopes, dreams, and my creativity. Now I am more conscious of the need for my country to attain the rights proclaimed by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose Pacts the Regime still hasn’t ratified in spite of having obtained a seat on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

The solitude of the barracks is a great stimulus for dedicating myself to writing, and the constant vigilance of the uniforms around me adds to my verve. I know they are beaten because they search for a way to get rid of my power without receiving punishment for their offenses.

Angel Santiesteban-Prats

Lawton Prison Settlement. April 2014.

Have Amnesty International declare the dissident Cuban Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.  To sign the petition, follow the link.

Translated by Regina Anavy

6 April 2014

Silvia Corbelle Bastista / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

I don’t call Silvia Silvia, rather Salvi.

She taught me the secrets of the solar system, which is not made up of planets, of course, but of imaginary trees. Trees and cadavers, catreevers.

She loaned me a camera for years. I never returned it to her. Or I returned it destroyed. Better that way. Salvi didn’t need a camera. Which is precisely why she is the photographer and not me. Because she invented a way of looking, which in one case is a way of moving, which in her case is a way not to die. A small miracle. Meow.

Salvi taught me there were cats and that they were the only truly human species in the universe. Or divine, whether or not one believes in the Absolute Meow of the Cativerse.

We were both children of Gia, which is Earth and Love, and she came to us in an odd-numbered year, with her Gothic lips and her fine lady mustaches, and already with her three sad kittens in her virgin womb, which is now buried under the earth in a yard in Lawton, in a little wooden box that I will never see again, because I no longer want to see anything of Cuba, because I no longer want to see anyone or anything that still uninhabits Cuba.

That exasperating disease

It was Salvi who struck me or perhaps reminded me of that exasperating disease: not believing in the materiality of Castro’s Cuba (only the spirit is material, only the pixels are solid). Salvi taught me that Castroism wasn’t true, because Castroism was us. Such that the only solution would be avoid ourselves. Don’t try to understand me. I’m not trying to explain.

Salvi is still 19, as in November 2003 when I met her under the dim light of G Street: a girl on edge because she no longer wanted to get older. And she continued on edge. And she continued without aging. Like one of Martí´s evil characters, probably taken from The Age of Horror.

Putting a camera between herself and Cuba is her way of traveling, of not being over there. Cuba is so ugly. Cubans are so sad. If the camera were a machine gun, we wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to shoot and shoot. Salvi and I are two serial assassins and this benevolent hatred was what united us. The horror. The futility of virtue.

Salvi’s photos are alephs. They never stop looking. Labyrinths that make you dizzy. Turning on you. How she manages to capture all this imaginary life in a country as unimaginable as Cuba is a mystery unknown to me, and not knowing fascinates me. I suspect Salvi is an extreme exile, unlike me; I’ve had to come from my United States of Havana to be able to find myself at peace with Cuba from Alaska, or Miami (that other terminal Alaska).

Actually I don’t call Salvi Salvi, but Salvatati.

As she has been banished since childhood from the Arboreal Solar System, so have I been banished from her photos until Gia calls my soul to her side. Since a thousand and one photos I am banished from her photography and I am not thinking of returning to immerse myself in that mute liquid of light.

It’s your turn now, to love her cameraless glance.

16“There isn’t anything that especially interests me in photography. Nor anything that doesn’t interest me. The reason I take the photos is the potential each image has not to resemble the reality from which it originates and its character of not being essential. Each photo could never have been. And this makes it unique. And beautiful. And true.”

15“I started to become interested in photography in 2004, thanks to a friend who took one of those hundreds of courses in photographic composition for participants who, in reality, are already professionals without a profession. At that time I thought photos were taken alone, every time I put a roll in the camera. The digital era for me in Cuba still belonged to the future.”

5“My ‘anonymous’ friend had a Zenit camera and he already knew what all its buttons were used for, and he used two or three variables which he called ‘shutter speed,’ ‘F-stop,’ and ‘exposure sensitivity,’ among other more or less erotic terms.” e4dn“I didn’t understand much, but the possibility of mixing the things of reality seemed wonderful to me. It was if I said to myself, ‘What you see before your eyes is this, but you can also see it in infinite ways.’ Leaking light.”

13“My friend still ignores that this discovery was responsible for my starting to compulsively take photos a few months later. This, and the magnanimity of the Cuban Revolution, which in 1988 had forced my grandfather to move to Miami, only so that in 2005 he could give me my first digital camera. A 4 megapixel Samsung or something like that. A box of wonders.”

14“Inevitably, in that same year, 2005, I started a photography course which, fortunately, I didn’t finish, with a professor named Orlando, an omen of the 5 years I would later spend at the side of another Orlando (OLPL), which in seven days transformed all my photography anxiety into the pleasure of pressing the shutter.”

20 April 2014

One Night: A Critical View of Cuban Social Reality / Dimas Castellano

Una Noche
(One Night) is the film which best reflects why it is that young people leave Cuba. That’s how a female friend of mine, who is a lover of the seventh art, laconically replied to my question, after visiting the film exhibition in the 34th Festival of New Latin-American Cinema, which took place in Havana from 4th to 14th December 2012.

Because of the social theme it deals with, because of the magnificent photography of Trevor Forrest and Shlimo Godder, Roland Vajs’ and Alla Zaleski’s sound quality, and also director Lucy Mulloy’s script, the British-Cuban-North American co-production Una Noche constitutes an important cinematographic work, which, with its truthful narrative, gets close to documentary cinema; and, due to the authenticity of the people and social events it focuses on, it gets close to naturalism. Shot in Havana, with local actors, dealing with a national theme, the film can be considered to be part of the filmography of the island.

una-nocheShot between the years 2007 and 2011, the 89 minute film received international resonance with the news that the three principal protagonists, Javier Núñez, Anailín de la Rúa and Daniel Arrechada, deserted the artistic delegation going to the XI Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in the month of April 2012.

The first two did it as soon as they touched down on North American soil in Miami, the third, after receiving the prize in Tribeca. The event, something quite ordinary for Cubans, attracted international attention to the film and served to confirm the film’s story.

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Una Noche gained three of the prizes awarded in the Tribeca Film Festival. Javier Núñez Florián, jointly with Dariel Arrechada–neither with acting experience before Lucy Mulloy selected them in a casting session–were awarded the category of Best Actor; it also obtained the Best Direction and Best Photography awards, which made it the most recommended film in the New York festival.

Then, in the 43rd Film Festival of India, Mulloy’s debut film received the jury’s special prize, the Silver Peacock, worth $27,500. In the first Brasilia International Film Festival it picked up Best Script. It next entries–in the Deauville Film Festival, in France; in the Vancouver International Film Festival in Canada; in the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival; and in the Rio Festival–are likely to attract further awards.

In Cuba, the film opened in the month of September in a sexual health fair, organised by the National Centre of Sex Education, in the cinema La Rampa, and more recently in the 34rd International Festival of New Latin American Cine in Havana, included in the “Made in Cuba” section, in which were included audiovisual productions made in the island without the right to compete for the Coral awards.

On each of these occasions it was shown just once, and because of that only a few Cubans have had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the multiprize-winning film which deals with a very significant aspect of their lives.

The feature film focuses on the social phenomenon of illegal emigration, especially concerning young people going to the United States, which constitutes one of the worst tragedies in Cuba because of the large number of people who have died in the process, because of the split families, and because of the brain drain of Cuban professionals (a theme I will return to later).

The principal cause of the Cuban migration phenomenon lies in the absence of civil rights such as being able to freely enter and leave the country, which has developed into a flight to realise human aspirations, which, although they are basic ones, are impossible to satisfy within our frontiers.

We are talking about a general permanent flow which Una Noche presents on a personal level in terms of the story of three young people who escape in a fragile craft, made of car tyres.

In spite of the fact that the director spent several years in Havana, gathering information for the feature, it remains suprising that, without being Cuban, she manages to get so deeply inside the behaviour of a part of the society and show in sound and vision the conduct of a section of present-day Cuba, its shortages and frustrations.

Lila, one of the film’s protagonists, tells how people leave Cuba via different routes, but she never imagined that Elio, her twin brother, could abandon her. The story begins when Elio starts to work in the kitchen of the Hotel Nacional, and there makes the acquaintance of Raúl.

From that moment on, Lila’s worry that her brother might leave her begins to give her horrible nightmares which prevent her sleeping. Right away the film starts to look into the social settings and digs about for the possible reasons for flight.

In another scene Lila comments that in Havana you can get what you want. The shops are empty, but if you know the right person, everything is for sale; a statement about the reality of daily life in the capital, which is demonstrated by way of Raúl and Elio’s vicissitudes as they seek the things they need to cross the dangerous Straits of Florida: tyres, compass, wood, a motor, food and glucose.

In each process we see highlighted the mistreatment by state organisations, the environment and language of the slums, the under-the-counter business, the loveless sexual relations, the domestic violence, the moral deterioration in the bosom of the family, the destruction and lack of hygiene in Havana, the robberies, and police repression and abuse. An asphyxiating climate which is illustrated and accentuated by rap and reggaeton music.

In the same way, the camera, which can penetrate further than the human eye,  and the microphone, which can register sounds undetectable by the human ear, make incursions into the homes of the protagonists.

In the twins’ house, the macho attitudes, the disagreements between the parents and the material misery they live in; in Raúl’s apartment, the dirt, the physical and moral destruction, where his mother, who is getting on in years, and is suffering from AIDS, has to work as a prostitute, and the absence of a father, who left Cuba and does not keep in contact with them.

Along with the above, mixed in are scenes of groups of young people and adolescents behaving irresponsibly, bathing in the contaminated waters of the Havana Malecon, or risking their lives cycling about in the middle of the traffic; the old man singing dementedly in the street, whose daughter married an Italian and never came back to see him; the woman selling religious artifacts who completes the picture with false predictions in return for money.

The climax, which concludes and summarises what has happened in the events narrated, expresses the key to the story. In the boat, the dramatic conflicts, the superficiality, and the lack of foresight, show themselves.

Elio loves Raúl and Raúl loves his sister; discussions about prostitution and Elio’s and Raúl’s superficial approach to their future in Miami; Lila’s fall into the water; the shark attack, and the sinking of their boat which leads to Elio’s death, while the shipwrecked Lila and Raúl desperately cling on to a piece of polystyrene, until they are rescued by a sea scooter on a Florida beach. The film ends with Raúl’s detention in Havana, where we see dream and reality mixed up and confused.

The treatment of social phenomenon on the screen is nothing new. Information about the discovery of one of the pioneers of the seventh art, French theatre director and actor, producer of Viaje a la Luna (Journey to the Moon), George Méliès (1861-1938), shows us cinema as a way of interpreting and forming reality; and the North American film director David Wark Griffith (1875- 1948) director of Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, this last considered to be the artistic culmination of the silent screen, who looked at history as a source of cinematographic experiences.

In that sense, Una Noche, with its penetrating analysis of Cuban immigration, may be said to occupy a place in the history of social criticism in our country centred on that way of observing social reality at the margin of official apologetics.

That current, which was present in Cuba since the silent film era, started to show itself after the Revolution with the documentary PM–a short film about the ways in which a group of people in Havana had fun, which was produced in 1961 by Orlando Jiménez Leal and Sabá Cabrera Infante–which showed us a modern look at the Revolutionary reality, and became, because of that, the most problematic film in Cuba’s audiovisual history, at a time when the priority for the Cuban Institute of Cinema Arts and Industry was propaganda about class struggle and the fight against the threats of imperialism.

PM was censored and it was forbidden to show it, which produced controversy among the artists and intellectuals which led to the discourse of the Leader of the Revolution on 30 June 1961, known as Palabras a los intelectuales  (Words to the intellectuals), in which he introduced the restrictive idea: Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing. From that moment on, culture, which precedes and transcends politics, became a prisoner of the Revolution right up to today.

In 1971, in the fictional feature film Una pelea cubana contra los demonios (A Cuban struggle against demons), its director, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, proposed: in any time or place it is unrealistic to develop human existence in any authentic manner, if you impose limits on the process, if you define limits of acceptability of group social behaviour, if, with the starting point of a moral interpretation of society (whether it’s called bourgeois or socialist, religion or liberal) you prevent people freely discussing their own visions of the world …

The intellectual, he said, is the specialist who is most able to express clearly the semantic incoherences which have arisen within the Revolution. In the ’90’s of the last century, among the 60 cinematic works of fiction produced, there emerged important works of social criticism.

In the 21st century, among the many film directors who have made incursions into social phenomena, I would like to focus on the prize-winning creator Fernando Pérez, who has clearly shown the potential of cinematographic criticism for encouraging reflection among Cubans.

In La Vida es Silbar (Life is to Whistle) (1998), Fernando dealt with the search for happiness by way of inner liberation, the truth and social communication, and in Suite Habana (Havana Suite) (2003), he decided to convert our contradictory reality–as seen in Una Noche–into an inexhaustible source of inspiration for love and inner liberty: love of a neighbour and of a city, which, in spite of its neglected and destroyed condition, he shows us to be beautiful and full of possibilities.

In that respect, Una Noche and Suite Habana are radically different. The first one concentrates on showing the harshness of the physical and moral destruction, the second turns away from that destruction in order to show the hidden beauty and the possibilities of getting beyond it. Between the two of them they offer a comprehensive close-up on the general reality of Havana and Cuba.

On the same lines, the film producer Alfredo Guevara, President of the New Latin American Cine Festival, in its 33rd event in 2011, said, “The Cuban Revolution, which, in 1959 could …” This Revolution now requires the privatisation of Cuban Society, freed from the state bureaucracy, which corrupts everything.

The 2011 festival showed us a group of films whose common theme was social criticism: Casa Vieja de Lester Hamlet (Lester Hamlet’s Old House), a film which talks about who we are and how to understand Cubans’ lives from the standpoint of emotional commitment. Esteban Insausti’s Larga Distancia (Long Distance), in which he shows the frustrations caused by emigration in our society.

Boleto al paraíso (Ticket to Paradise) by Eduardo Chijona, inspired by real events, deals with the degradation of youth, going as far as deliberately catching the AIDS virus in order to be able to have a better life in a sanatorium. Afinidades (Relationships) by Jorge Perugorría and Vladimir Cruz, in which corruption leads to emptiness, taking refuge in your instincts, using sex as a way of discharging electricity, manipulating people near to you as a means to reaffirming your damaged personality. Martí el ojo del canario, (Martí , the eye of the canary), by Fernando Pérez, a masterwork of cinema as historical investigation.

Just as Lucy Malloy outlines some of the causes of emigration, her film offers the opportunity to show, as a kind of accompaniment, some thoughts about the migration problem in Cuba, which could be useful for those people who, having seen the film, feel inclined to get to understand a bit more about contemporary Cuba.

The economic inefficiency, the loss of civil and political rights, the inadequacy of salaries in relation to the cost of living, among other things, have had very negative effects: corruption, a phenomenon which was present in the political administrative sphere in the republic before the revolution, spread into all levels of society; while immigration, which had characterised the country since earliest times, changed after 1959 into a diaspora, that’s to say, with people moving out all over the world, as shown in the statistical data.

On 9 January 1959, the government enacted Law No.2, to restrict the right of freedom to leave the country on the part of those who wanted to go. This provision was amended by Law No. 18, which stipulated that any Cuban in possession of a valid passport issued by the Ministry of State, who wanted to travel to another country, had to obtain an “authorisation to that effect , which would be provided by the Chief of National Police”.

In 1961, the Ministry of the Interior instituted the notorious “exit permit” and laid down the length of time Cubans could remain abroad. In 1976, Law No. 1312 was enacted, by way of which permission to leave was confirmed.

In spite of these measures, the number of Cubans in the United States, who, in 1959, amounted to some 124,000, increased substantially after that date. Firstly by way of people linked to the overthrown regime or who lost their property, along with the thousands of children who left by way of Operation Peter Pan (1960-62), and then the first massive outflow via the port of Camarioca and the air bridge from Varadero, with 260,000 Cubans leaving between 1965 and 1973.

In April 1980, after a bus violently crashed through the fence of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, and its passengers requested refuge, thousands of Cubans invaded the embassy with the same intention. The result was another 125,000 Cubans left the island.

Between May and August 1994, groups of Cubans invaded the Belgian and German embassies and also the Chilean consulate, at the same time as various boats were seized.

On August 5th of the same year, Fidel Castro accused the United States of encouraging illegal immigration, and said: either they should take measures or we will not prevent people who want to go and seek their family members.

As a result, during the summer of 1994 approximately 33,000 Cubans escaped from the island, of whom about 31,000 were provisionally detained at the Guantánamo Naval Base.

During those three huge wave–Camarioca, Mariel and Guantánamo–there also occurred innumerable tragedies. Cautious estimates suggest that at least 25% of the boat people didn’t survive their journey in their variety of very different floating objects.

Nevertheless, as the main cause of the emigration was the economic deterioration and the absence of liberty, none of these laws was able to hold up these individual departures, in groups or en masse.

The Cuban diaspora constitutes a continuing process over a period of time by all the different ways of which Cuban imagination and desperation could conceive, which is reflected in the 2010 United States Census, which showed a total of 1,800,000 Cubans, which, added in to all the others who spread out all over the world, takes us past 2 million; that’s to say, that 18% of all Cubans are abroad.

Family members separated for years, or all their lives; married couples who have grown old with the pain of not being able to return to their children; kids grown up in other countries who will never more be able to see their parents. Suffering which has caused anthropological damage in many Cuban homes, where the family ceases to be the school of love, education and security and becomes instead a place for ideological disagreements, grudges and mental upsets, exactly what Lucy Mulloy was stressing in Una Noche.

The diaspora, resulting from the absence of liberties and economic inefficiency, has had, in turn, other negative effects. The rate of demographic increase was altered during the years 2001-2010 by a negative migration balance of 342,199 people, to a rate of on average 34,000 per year; a process which is converting Cuba into the only country in America with a declining population.

In the same way, it has led to a brain drain of professionals, as Cuba, which had managed to achieve a very high proportion of higher education graduates, has changed into one of the countries which is losing its professionals and technicians due to emigration.

In the last 30 years tens of thousands of doctors, engineers, qualified in various specialties such as mid-range technical people, and skilled workers, have emigrated, which amounts to a present day and potential future threat to the country.

The fact is that the illegal departures before and after the Ley de Ajuste (U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act), and before and after the migration accords which have been agreed, clearly shows it is directly related to the Cuban internal crisis.

The production of Una Noche, a film which shows the role of cinema in the way we see, interpret, and form reality; comes at exactly the moment when the Cuban government decided to modify the current migration legislation, although the change does not give Cubans back all the rights which were violated by the legislation described.

The need to obtain permission to leave the country disappears, but certain categories of Cubans, either because of the positions of responsibility they occupy, or because of studies undertaken, continue to be subject to the same limitations as previously, which will be the cause of further young people abandoning their studies and fleeing in order not to be caught by the new law.

In this sense, Una Noche is the precursor to new migratory changes up to the point where Cubans will recover the right and freedom to leave their country just like any other citizens in the world.


Published in German in edition 60 of TRIGON magazine, entitled “Fliegen oder bleiben?; hintergründe zum film Una noche. (To fly or to stay? background to the film One Night)

Translated by GH

25 February 2014