8 December 2013
I arrive at the little house in Queens after a week in Alaska. Six intercontinental planes. Minus twenty degrees Celsius and the noonday sun peeking over the horizon. I was so free and so happy. I am going to love there, under the Fairbanks Aurora Borealis. My son will be born there. And he will be as Cuban as you. Or more so. Because he will have no memory of horror.
I arrive at the little house in Queens and fall down dead on the couch. I don’t even unpack. I’m dying of hunger. I have almost no voice. If I get sick in the United States I will have to heal myself alone. To go back to Cuba would be suicide. There the doctors from State Security would wait for me to fulfill their mission.
I go out and get some Colombian roast beef with rice and red beans. They put a slice of avocado on it. Nothing tastes like anything, but in the United States that’s how it is. The smell revolts me. I stay hungry.
Actually, I don’t like buying from the Latinos in the neighborhood. They have a mortuary look that even post-Castro Cubans don’t have. You go into the restaurant and they look at you like iguanas, with toothpicks between their teeth and the ugliest clothes in the world, exceeded only by the schmaltzy music playing.
I bought it anyway. Chewed a bit. Then, I toss the whole mess into the trash. Or not. I go to toss it, but I can’t reach the can in the kitchen. Because at that instant there’s a little mouse in the middle.
It’s gray. It’s starving. It’s clear that it spent a week without me, locked out of the little house in Queens without a thing to nibble. It must be very young. Now it’s almost begging me with its eyes, like a spontaneous pet. it would be so easy to smash it with a shovel. That’s what we’d do on the little island.
But I put the leftovers in a plastic bag. I almost put it in his mouth. And the mouse started to eat the rest of my food in the little house in Queens. Every now and then he looks at me. I look at him. We look at each other. We’re both fucked up. Alone. Helpless. Nobody would remember us if we didn’t help each other.
I kick back on the couch. This is exile. Substitute for what in Cuba would have been a bloody death a hint of mutual pity and solidarity.
29 November 2013
“Would you like to live in Alaska?”,
my father used to say.
“If you never go to Alaska, son,
death will surprise you incomplete”.
pronounced in the late 70´s of an island
under the shrieking socialist sun of
Words not in English
nor in Spanish, of course,
but in a Cuban jargon with no references:
a dead tongue that in my childhood
as a curse.
I was 9 or 10
or maybe no age at all
and I looked as frightened as today.
But I had my father
which was also my grandpa
although he talked of death
He was 52
when I was born
in the early 70´s of an island
under the socialist sunny shrieks of
Besides the transparency
of his Sicilian eyes,
I inherited two private homelands
two labyrinths hard to distinguish
in the magic of his bookshelf.
We lived in Lawton
a delicate neighborhood
in the outskirts of La
now turned into a suburban wasteland
in the outskirts of La
My father so humble
so tamed under the spell
of the official speech,
swallowing permitted pills
to overcome his nightmares of
My father so much my
He retired when I was still a kid.
Here and there he insisted
with his northern case
(technically, an escape)
calling me sometimes
He hated life under Fidel
but this was something nobody around him
My father so shrewd.
He thought he would survive the
Commander in Chief.
But August is the cruelest month.
And on the 74th birthday of the
my father was generous enough
as to pass away
thus losing forever his bet
with his former Jesuit classmate:
It was a sudden Sunday and grandpa
had just turned 81.
An amateur autopsy
told us later he had cancer,
a merciful metastasis
that put him to sleep with no nightmares
Never been to a doctor.
Never suspected a thing.
Just a couple of coffee-like throw-ups
and the transparency of his Sicilian eyes
became so opaque.
Maybe he did win his bet
with the decaying corpse of
“Forget about life in Alaska, son”,
were almost his last words:
“there´s not such a place on Earth”.
His name was Dionisio Manuel Pardo Fernández
(almost a 19th century name).
I has taken me 13 years to understand
I wouldn´t need to pronounce more
his long and musical name.
No need to take him out of his sacred chamber
where decades and decades of American magazines
were frozen after the splendor of the 50´s
in his bookself.
His reading resistance resembled
the dearest delusions of a Don Quixote in La Habana of
I´m sorry, grandpa.
A deal is a deal, dad.
Not only there was indeed such a place on Earth called
but I am here now
to challenge you to display
over those archaic English dictionaries
bought in the 80´s for a couple of Cuban pesos in
1. Pawn King-Four.
I know how you will defend.
Once Sicilian, always Sicilian.
The terminal transparency of your eyes
makes obvious that black square
now emptied for the ages.
1. (…) Pawn Queen-Bishop-Four.
Note: Original poem is in English
30 November 2013
Having spent eight months traveling in the US, I’m starting to make Cuban State Security nervous, just as I’m making the island’s dissidents nervous, since the two entities are sometimes so similar that you can barely tell them apart.
Several state police agents went to intimidate my neighbors on the corner of Fonts and Beales in Havana’s Lawton neighborhood, and threatened the friend who took me to José Martí International Airport on March 5. They accused him of illegally loaning me his vehicle, which is untrue. They spread the rumor that I had applied for political asylum in the US and was conspiring against the Cuban government as part of an organization, which is also untrue. They made sure that my 78-year-old mother was shaken up when she realized what was going on, although they didn’t interrogate her this time.
They have also pressured friends of mine on the island who are not linked to pro-democratic social activism, getting them to communicate with me by email and “extract” information on my activities in the US. They forced one of my friends to visit my mother and place a hidden microphone in my house, even though I wasn’t there at the time. They interrogated another friend about my sexual orientation, and practically forced him to testify that I was having clandestine homosexual relationships (under Castroism homophobia is criminal).
I have also received messages from supposed activist colleagues in Cuba, urging me to come back immediately. Apparently there’s no one on the island who can take over my work. One of them even called me from Havana, despite the fact that I’ve never given my cell number to anyone in Cuba. To top it all off, the independent journalist Julio Aleaga went so far as to spread lies about me on a Cuban protest site, suggesting that I was an “economic migrant”: A term with which the Castroist government makes a mockery of the always political nature of Cuban exile.
If my foreign residence permit is valid for two years, why is there such anxiety over my presence here from everyone in Cuba? Forget about OLPL for a little while, I beg you. Then—and only then—will I give you a surprise that the people will never forget. Thank you.
From Sampsonia Way
26 November 2013
Like every self-respecting homeland, ours is a cruel cemetery. One by one we go diminishing the men and women who marked history, those who really shone in Cuba’s history with an intensely personal light, a history of the heart that hurts and hardly forgets: the intimate history of the soul of what a nation has lived, a whispering and secret dream. Not that other shouted demagogue, half combative and half mini-populist, that’s even accented with “Revolution” for a mafia-like elite, an amazing alloy of barbaric foundational peasants and last-minute upstart bourgeoisists.
Like every self-respecting totalitarianism, we had strict schedules, which would still be retained throughout the country if not for the fact that socialism had the late decency to kill itself, never to sprout again. At least not in Cuba. And one of those schedules involved the dawns of the saddest Sundays in the world, Sundays lost forever on an Island that now only exists in our imagination which fades them out one at a time. You know, I’m talking about the Silent Comedy, by Armando Calderón.
Never said better, because the Silent Comedy didn’t even remotely match the longevity of Charlot of the 1910s with the First National, the Keystone Comedy Film or the Mutual Film Corporation. Nor the classics of Buster Keaton, nor much less El Gordo y el Flaco, among other silent geniuses still anonymous in my infantile ignorance which never grew up. The Silent Comedy we attended, marveling, in that disappeared Cuba, on our soviet TVs with horrendous quality, was a work and a grace of its unique author, a man in suit and tie named Armando Calderón, sometimes with a primitive digital watch puncturing his side.
The “man of 1000 voices” really had many more than a thousand. His vocal range, of a scarce phonic shade, was incredibly endless. With his unique bipolar register of damsel in distress or a freed thug, this old man never narrated with the same voice twice in one episode, which he edited almost randomly, manipulating the tapes that were rotting in the archives of a system that had the money to make a soldier babble in heaven, but not to take care of the treasure that is universal patrimony.
To top talent when compared to today, where no Cuban speaker is able to speak a phrase without reading it in an overacting way (the worst example of which would be the simian Serrano hired by NTV), Armando Calderón recorded his madness live, the jeering at merengues and old cars among the neighbors of the Calle de la Paz, the languid art-nouveau girlfriends, the rascals and policemen, all an anachronistic chronicle of that utopia called the United States of America, nothing less than a little despotic country where single-party communism sanctions you forever if “you maintain correspondence with family abroad” and you don’t confess it in every professional or academic interrogation.
Every Sunday, like in the song by Carlos Varela, the sun rose in another city. A poverty-stricken city like once-ruralized Havana, but where even the sense of film adventure allowed us to breathe. Our gods, like in another song by the same folk singer, were Charles, Cara de Globo, Soplete, Barrilito and Barrilón, the fat Matasiete, Pellejito, the Conde de la Luz Brillante and the inevitable charleston.
Armando Calderón wasted himself away before our eyes and we didn’t realize it. He howled, rattled tin plates and bottles, blew his harmonica and sometimes only the air of a siren, rattled fences that had collected in some project, shot gang-gang shots, feigned breaths of orgasms before anyone in his pipsqueak audience had had one, clicked his practiced tongue at all kinds of trades of republican capitalism, while his everlasting suit wore itself out and his tie hung like a bad hangman’s noose.
Our Renaissance gentleman who made himself a ringbolt on camera, lacked the British funding for the future series The Storyteller, but nevertheless, in terms of creative motivation, he had nothing to crave. Still, the most mediocre and repressive of the Cuban cultural institutions, one which, from the beginning, put its antennas in the hands of the Chief Hegemon of our History, gave itself the luxury of sanctioning him more than once, perhaps so he would finally mummify himself and depart to grieve in silence, which this dumb magician was responsible for.
His era had technically ended: color transmission in Cuba was beginning, after a humiliating delay for the #2 nationwide television program in America. Being dumb teenagers, we could no longer tolerate another second of even the best film photography.
Whether it was the alcoholifan at the bar or cancer in his vocal cords after decades of force, we simply did not realize his metamorphosis. The owner of our local divine Comedy watered himself down to one of his dead characters throughout almost a century, but life then was eternal for my generation, and the destiny of the early Sunday morning wasn’t important to us, not a shred to his beloved lovers.
Listen to the silence of the bugle.
18 November 2013
Luis Leonel León: The Black Eyes of Rosa María Payá
From El Nuevo Herald
The magazine “People en Español” chose her as one of the 25 most powerful Latin women. On a list that includes Jennifer López, Sofía Vergara, Kate del Castillo, Lupita Jones, Paulina Rubio, Doctor Polo and other celebrities across the entertainment industry, this young woman stands out. She doesn’t design jewelry, isn’t a business woman, doesn’t star in reality television, nor does she scream or cry in soap operas. On the contrary, she contains her immense tears that television would love to scoop up. Many have tried, from Bayly to María Elvira, but she keeps her black eyes still, shaking from within. They only cry in private. And that may be their greatest power.
Paradox of fate, her image became popular for a terrible event that marked her life and her gaze, perhaps forever: on July 22nd her father, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, and his colleague Harold Cepero, lost their lives on a lonely rural road.
The Cuban authorities say that it was a “traffic accident,” where these two Cubans died and the two foreigners that accompanied them were saved: Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig (who was asleep at the time of impact and then lived eight days of Kafkaesque prison in Havana) and the Spaniard Angel Carromero (who in Cuba was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and who in his own country demanded an international inquiry into what her considers a State crime).
The two foreigners were isolated and coerced by the State Security. There are witnesses who saw these four people enter the hospital alive, but the only “investigations” permitted are those of the same dictatorship that more than once threatened to kill Payá, whose version is validated by the Spanish government. Rosa María, like many others, we are convinced that it was a shadowy operation still pending, like so many other manufactured horrors, for the Castro government will never admit the answer.
For many, Payá was a prominent international figure of dissent on the island. Founder of the Varela Project, he is to date the only man who has gathered thousands of signatures from Cubans (with names and identity numbers) requesting an opposition to the dictatorship.
Never in 54 years, has anyone gone so far in a peaceful confrontation to totalitarianism, to the point that the island autocracy was forced to change its constitution, to contain the purpose of the signatures with not only manipulations and state terror, but also with chains legislated to force people to vote for the irony of a single party, damaging free elections, Payá and his followers still claim, risking everything, even death.
No wonder he won the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Human Rights Prize in 2002 and was an official candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. The official version crumbles before the darkness of the facts and background, as an answer blowing in the wind: it was eliminated because it would not agree with the false reforms that the Cuban government sells the world and its own citizens, cementing the power of new leaders with consumer checkbooks fattened on behalf of that hypocritical melodrama called socialism.
Despite daily violations of the most elementary freedoms, Cuba has once again joined the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Rosa Maria Payá has not stopped speaking before this or other international forums to denounce the reality, to ask for help to speed up democracy and to ask for a serious investigation that would show the true reason for the death of her father and her friend Harold.
Also under death threat by the agents of the regime, for some months she has lived in Florida with her mother. As a good daughter and tenacious disciple, she continues fighting for the holding of a plebiscite that would provide the basis for authentic democracy in Cuba.
Opposing the great hoax called “cosmetic change” which will make the leaders of the Communist Party (or whatever they come up with) legally richer, while making poorer those who asphyxiate every day and that luckily are losing their fear of protesting publicly in the streets. For many this is a chimera. For her it is a desire. Her faith. Another inheritance from her father.
Thanks to People the image of this 24-year-old Cuban (the youngest on the list) is repeated in news and signs, newspapers and social media along with other popular Latinas, powerful (even millionaires), talented and beautiful. Her message, unknown to millions, will be transmitted through other channels a lot more popular to keep attempting to break the blindfold that has covered the eyes of a people for more than half of century, and also the eyes of a good portion of the world.
Neither sad, nor happy, it is Rosa Maria who looks at us from this snapshot by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, taken in Lawton, Havana, a few months after her father’s death. The collapsing building where she appears, between reality and a metaphor: the wall of Cuba.
And her black eyes, deep and sincere, through which we can see the horror and the hope, the persistence and the tenderness, and that reward with another nuance, this kind of almanac of successful women. Vagaries of fate. From there, again overcoming again the invading eye of the press, she sustains her fixed look at the kidnapped island.
Translated by: Boston College Cuban American Student Association (CASA) and LYD
15 November 2013