14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 29 January 2016 – My father is a train engineer. It has been decades since he drove a train, long years in which he hasn’t sounded the whistle of a locomotive while passing through a village with children running alongside the line. However, this still agile retiree originally from Matanzas still marks the 29th of January on the calendar and says “it is my day.” The day still smells of iron braking on iron, and has the rush of the platform, where some leave and others say goodbye. Continue reading
Yoani Sanchez, El Nuevo Herald, 10 January 2016 – She raises the phone and holds it in front of her eyes. A tear rolls down her cheek while her son tells her, in a video call, that early mornings on the border “aren’t that cold” and he has “a mattress to sleep on.” Thousands of immigrant Cubans, stranded in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, are in contact with their families thanks to technology. Screens and keyboards bring close what geography separates.
The beginning of the thaw between Cuba and the United States aroused expectations of economic improvements and political changes on the island. Along with these illusions, there was growing hope of better access to the internet. While some marked the date of 17 December 2014 as the end of a diplomatic confrontation, the youngest identified it with a flood of kilobytes just off the horizon. Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 January 2016 – If Hugo Chavez were alive and Fidel Castro active, the Venezuelan opposition would not have taken over the National Assembly. The comandantes knew that if they accepted an opposition majority in this body of power it would spell their political end. The Cuban leader eradicated the multi-party system in order to prevent something like this, while Chavez, leader of a military coup, shielded the electoral system and bought loyalty with oil.
However, the worst nightmare of both just took shape in Caracas. This Tuesday the deputies from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) became aware of their overwhelming minority given their small number of legislative seats. In a place where they can no longer even see the image of the “eternal president,” Chavez’s followers received a democratic slap in the face. Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 6 January 2015 – Sometimes I wish I lived in the country they show on television. This hopeful nation of rose-colored dreams presented by the official press. A place of props and slogans, where factory production exceeds goals and employees are declared “workplace heroes.” In this Cuba, bouncing off the antennas to reach our small screens, there is no room for sickness, pain, frustration or impatience.
The official Cuban press has tried to approach the country’s reality in recent years. Several young faces appear on TV programs to report on administrative negligence, poor services, or consumer complaints about bureaucratic paperwork. But even still, state journalism continues to be a long way from objectivity and respect for the truth. Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 January 2016 — I was ten years old when Fidel Castro launched the economic battle he called the “Rectification of errors and negative tendencies.” The Maximum Leader’s rage fell, at that time, on private farmers and on the intermediaries who marketed their products. Cuatro Caminos Plaza in Havana, then known as the Single Market, was assaulted by officials and after that raid several foods disappeared from our lives: onions, garbanzo beans, chili peppers and even taro.
Almost a decade later, when the country had reached bottom with food shortages and scarcities, the government again authorized non-state food markets. The first time I approached a stand and bought a string of garlic, without having to practice stealth, I recovered a part of my life that had been snatched from me. For years we had to appeal to the illegal market, to a precarious clandestinity, to get things ranging from a pound of beans to the cumin seeds needed to season them. Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 31 December 2015 – Tiny and tasty, they seem to look at us from the plate and mock the work it takes to get them. Beans are not only a part of our traditional cuisine, they constitute an effective indicator to calculate the cost of living in Cuba. The price increases these delicious little bits have experienced in the past year is proof of the disastrous economic policy promoted by Raul Castro.
When, in February of 2008, the former Minister of the Armed Forces assumed the presidency of the country, many were betting on the pragmatic character of his mandate. His sympathizers never stopped reminding us of the phrase in which he asserted, “Beans are more important than canons.” They predicted that our national agriculture would work like certain farms managed by the Ministry of the Armed Forces and the Youth Labor Army. Continue reading
Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 12 November 2015 — My grandmother only knew how to write the first letter of her name. She would sign documents with an almost childish looking capitalized “A.” In spite of being illiterate, Ana always advised me to study and learn as much as possible. Nevertheless, that laundress who never went to school taught me the best lesson of my life: that tenacity and hard work are needed to accomplish one’s dreams. She instilled in me the urgency of “action.” Action with a capital “A,” like the only letter of her name that she could write.
However, action can become a problem if it is not appropriately accompanied by information. An uninformed citizen is easy prey for the powerful, a guaranteed victim for manipulation and control. In fact, an individual without information cannot be considered a whole citizen, because her rights will constantly be violated and she will not know how to demand and reclaim them. Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 5 November 2015 – Calling for austerity while living in opulence has been common practice for Cuban leaders for more than half a century. Demands to “tighten one’s belt” are brandished about by officials with fat necks and ruddy faces, who for decades haven’t known what a refrigerator with more frost than food looks like. This contradiction undoubtedly annoys those who have to divide rationed bread with a family member, or cleverly cut up a bar of soap so it will last for several weeks.
The popular unease before the contrast between words and deeds could have led the journalist Alexander A. Ricardo to publish a metaphorical but accurate text in the opinion section of the Havana Tribune*. Under the title The Travels of Gulliver Junior, the opinion column refers to someone who “is seen in giant enjoyment of the shores of the Mediterranean, or as a dwarf adventurer without a problem in his life, in his visa.” Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 October 2015 — The wall of the Malecon tastes of salt and is rough to the touch. Standing on it, my school uniform splashed by the waves, every October of my childhood I threw a bouquet of flowers into the sea. The tribute was addressed to a man who had died fifteen years before I was born. His face was on the walls and in schoolbooks, with an enormous smile beneath a broad-brimmed hat. Those were the days when I still dreamed of meeting Camilo Cienfuegos.
The story, repeated to the point of exhaustion in school assemblies and official propaganda, told of a plane that disappeared while the Commander was flying between the cities of Camagüey and Havana. For the children of my generation it was an almost magical enigma. We believed that one day we would find him, a bearded jokester, somewhere in the Cuban geography. It was just a matter of time, we thought. Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 October 2015 — “What is the Cuban dream?” he asked, as one inquires about the hour, the quality of the coffee, or the afternoon’s weather forecast. Around the table we all remained silent in the face of this question launched by the visitor. More than answering him about the country desired, the provocation made me think about the need for our dreams to reflect that faces of those who hold them, the people who inhabit them.
I remembered this conversation last Saturday, while enjoying the musical On your feet! in a crowded theater on Broadway in New York. Based on the lives of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the work transcends the story of a Cuban couple making their way in the competitive world of entertainment in the United States, to become a story of nostalgia, tenacity and success. Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 12 October 2015 — Pepes, Yumas and tourists are some of the names we give to those who visit our country. For many Cubans, these travelers are their main source of income, through accommodation, transportation, dance and language classes. Some also share classrooms at the university, or work in a joint venture. However, in most cases their stay is brief, they are passing through, for only a few days or months. What happens when they come to stay?
A painting on a Havana wall addresses the contradiction between the official discourse that prides itself on the solidarity of a nation, but one where the immigrant has no place. This drawing of Che Guevara with a contentious quote – “In the homeland of solidarity there are no foreigners” – lasted just a few hours in its makeshift place, before the censor arrived in the form of a blue brushstroke to cover it over. For the government, when the foreigners arrive on their cruises, stay a few nights and leave their cold hard cash in the state coffers, everything seems fine. It is a whole different thing when they decide to come and stay. Then, the nationalistic hostility that characterizes the Cuban system shows itself. Continue reading
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 October 2015 — The ceremony is solemn. The national anthem echoes from the loudspeakers and an adult with a serious face ties the blue scarf around the student’s neck. Little has changed since my childhood, when that initiation turned us into members of the youngest mass organization in Cuba. A piece of cloth and a slogan sealed the commitment: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!”
These days the initiators of the Cuban Pioneers Union, renamed as the José Martí Pioneers Organization (OPJM) in 1977, are applying for retirement at their workplaces. They no longer have that glimmer of hope one saw in their eyes long ago, nor do they even speak about “communism,” a concept that the Party in power itself has forgotten to mention in the Guidelines issued by its last Congress. Continue reading
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 October 2015 – We never got to hear Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston on our national stages. Freddie Mercury died without touching down in Havana, and when The Beatles broke up, we were a country where English music was considered ideological diversionism. We followed the career of Elvis Presley from a distance and the charismatic Amy Winehouse slammed the door on life without stepping foot on this island. However, now we are about to regain part of what was lost: Mick Jagger’s emblematic mouth is here, the eternal youth of The Rolling Stones has arrived.
While the analysts debate, looking for signs of change in the Cuban political or diplomatic scene, transformations are capricious and take another direction. This country is not going to change itself into a new nation because John Kerry visited, nor because of the third visit by a pope in less than two decades. But Cuba is changing when people like this British rocker, icon of good music and of the greatest possible irreverence, touch down in Havana. Continue reading