14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 August 2016 – The baby cries in her cradle while her mother sings to console her. Barely three months old, her name is Michelle, like Barack Obama’s wife. This little Havanan who still nurses and sleeps most of the day, came into the world after the armistice: she is a daughter of the truce between the governments of Cuba and the United States. A creature without ideological phobias or hatred on her horizon.
In the history books that Michelle and her contemporaries will read, these months after 17 December 2014 – “17-D” as Cubans have dubbed it – will remain in a few lines. In these retrospective summaries there will be optimistic tones, as if the whole island, stranded for decades on the side of the road, had set out anew from this moment, putting pedal to the metal and making up for lost time. But, for many, living through the reconciliation is less historic and grandiloquent than was playing a starring role in a battle.
A process that, one day, analysts will compare with the fall of the Berlin Wall and perhaps define with high-sounding names like the end of the sugar curtain, the death of the Revolution or the moment when peace broke out, is losing brightness now, faced with the daily exhaustion. Indeed, the truce quieted the noise of the slogans and has allowed us to hear the persistent hum of the shortages and the lack of freedom.
The day when the presidents of Cuba and the United States announced the beginning of the normalization of relations has been left somewhere in the past. It will be a reference for historians and analysts, but it means little to those who are facing a whether decision to spend the rest of their lives waiting for “this to be fixed” or to choose to escape to any other corner of the world.
17-D has increased apprehensions about the end of the Cuban Adjustment Act. The number of Cubans who, since then, have crossed the United States border has shot up, with 84,468 arriving by land or air while another 10,248 have tried to cross the sea. The popular ironic phrase of the latter for leaving the island –“turning off El Morro,” a reference to Havana’s iconic lighthouse at the entrance to the bay – dramatically foreshadows those numbers.
Why not stay in the country if the thaw promises a better life or at least a more fluid and profitable relationship with the United States? Because 17-D arrived too late for many, including several generations of who had to face off against our neighbor to the north, shouting anti-imperialist slogans for most of their lives and abetting the commander-in-chief in his personal battle against the White House. They don’t trust promises, because they have seen many positive prognostications that survived only on paper and in the mystique of a speech, lacking any impact on their dinner tables or their wallets.
After a prolonged skirmish lasting over half a century and eleven US administrations and two Cuban presidents with the same surname, the nation is exhausted. The adrenaline of the battle has given way to dreariness and a question that finds it way into the minds of millions of Cubans: Was it all for this?
It is difficult to convince people that the confiscations of US companies, the diplomatic insults, becoming the Soviet Union’s concubine, and the many caricatures ridiculing Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush were all worth it, even with all the official propaganda that controls every one of the county’s newspapers, radio stations and TV channels.
The American flag raised at the US Embassy in Havana just one year ago, on 14 August 2015, put a final end to an era of trenches and to the eternal soldier: the Cuban government with its still hot Kalashnikov and a marked inability to live in peace. It is prepared for confrontation but its ineffectiveness is clearly evident in times of armistice. In his convalescent retirement, Fidel Castro noted how the country he molded in his image and likeness was out of his hands. The man who controlled every detail of Cubans’ lives cannot influence how he will be remembered. Some rush to deify him; others sharpen their arguments to dismantle his myth; while the great majority simply forget he’s alive: he is buried while still breathing.
Children born since 31 July 2006, when the illness of the “Maximum Leader” was announced, have only seen the president in photos and archival materials. They are the ones who don’t have to declaim incendiary versus before him in some patriotic act, nor be a part of the social experiments that emerged from the gray matter under his olive-green cap. They live in the post-Fidel era, which does not mean they are entirely freed from his influence.
For decades to come, the schism created by the authoritarian leadership of this son of Galicia, born in the eastern town of Birán, will divide Cubans and even families. The aftermath of this tension that has infiltrated the national identity, otherwise lighthearted, will last for a long time. There will be a before-and-after Castro for the followers of the creed of political obstinacy he cultivated, but also for those who will breathe a sigh of relief when he is no longer.
The Maximum Leader’s 90th birthday, celebrated this August 13 with cheers and a good dose of personality cult, has all the earmarks of being his farewell. Now his closest family members should be exploring the calendar to select a date to announce his funeral, because such a huge death won’t fit just any date. They will have to pick a day that is not associated with the memory of some offensive in which he participated, a project that he opened, or some lengthy speech that hypnotized his audience.
There will be no need, in any case, to disconnect the machines or to stop administering medications. To say the final goodbye, it will be enough to give him his measure as a human being. Forget all those epithets that extolled him as “father of all Cubans,” “visionary,” or “promoter of medicine” on the island, along with “model journalist,” initiator of the “water-saving policy”, “eternal guerrilla,” “master builder,” and a long list of other grandiloquent titles that have been repeated in the days before his birthday.
Fidel Castro and Michelle, the little baby born after the visit of Barack Obama to the island, will be together in the history books. He will remain trapped in the volume dedicated to the twentieth century, although he has made every effort to put his name on each page dedicated to this nation. She will star, along with millions of other Cubans, in a chapter without bloody diplomatic battles or sterile confrontations.
Editor ‘s Note: This text was published on Monday 15 August 2016 in the Spanish newspaper El País .
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 August 2016 – Turn on the radio and the announcer reads a brief headline: “Fidel Castro, The Great Builder.” The man goes on to explain that the most important works of the country have come from this head that for decades has been covered by an olive-green cap. Weary of so much personality cult, I decided to watch television, but on the main channel a lawyer was detailing the legal legacy of the Maximum Leader and at the end of the program they announced a documentary about “The Invincible Guerrilla.”
For weeks, we Cubans have lived under a veritable bombardment of references to Fidel Castro, which has increased in proportion to the closeness of the date of his 90th birthday, this 13 August. There is no shame nor nuance in this avalanche of images and epithets.
This whole excess of tributes and reminders is, undoubtedly, a desperate attempt to save the former Cuban president from oblivion, to pull him out of that zone of media abandonment in which he has fallen since announcing his departure from power a decade ago.
We have left the man born in the eastern town of Biran, in 1926, in the past, condemning him to the 20th century, burying him alive.
Children now in elementary school have never seen the once loquacious orator speak for hours at a public event. Farmers have breathed a sigh of relief on not having to receive constant recommendations from the “Farmer in Chief” and even housewives are thankful that he does not appear at a congress of the Federation of Cuban Women to teach them how to use a pressure cooker.
The official propaganda knows that people often appeal to short-term memory as a way of protecting themselves. For many young people, Fidel Castro is already as remote as, for my mother in her day, was the dictator Gerardo Machado, a man who so adversely marked the life of my grandmother’s generation.
Followers of the figure of Fidel Castro are taking advantage of the celebrations for his nine decades of life to try to erect a statue of immortality in the heart of the nation. They deify him, forgive him his systematic errors and convert him into the most visible head of a creed. The new religion takes as its premises stubbornness, intolerance for differences, and a visceral hatred – almost like a personal battle – against the United States.
The detractors of “Él,” as many Cubans simply call him, are preparing the arguments to dismantle his myth. They await the moment when the history books no longer equate him with José Martí, but offer a stark, cold and objective analysis of his career. They are the ones who dream of the post-Castro era, of the end of Fidelismo and of the diatribe that will fall on his controversial figure.
Most, however, simply turn the page and shrug their shoulders in a sign of disgust when they hear his name. They are the ones who, right now, turn off the TV and focus on a daily existence that negates every word Fidel Castro ever said in his incendiary speeches, in those times when he planned to build a Utopia and turn us into New Men.
Tired of his omnipresence, they are the ones who will deal the final blow to the myth. And they will do it without hullabaloo or heroic acts. They will simply stop talking to their children about him, there will be no photos in the rooms of their homes showing him with a rifle and epaulettes, they will not confer on their grandchildren the five letters of his name.
The celebration for the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro is, in reality, his farewell: as excessive and exhausting as was his political life.
Editor’s note: This text was published Saturday August 13, 2016 in the newspaper O Globo of Brazil
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 July 2016 — My father came home with his head spinning. “What is the crime that several Cuban athletes in Finland are accused of?” He had only heard the official statement signed by the Cuban Volleyball Federation read on primetime news on Monday and published in the written press. The text did not clarify the imputed misdeed, so my father speculated: “Illegal sale of tobacco? Theft? Public scandal?”
The rape of a woman, for which the athletes are presumed responsible, was not mentioned in the statement, which constitutes an act of secrecy, concealment of the truth and disrespect for the audience. The official press acts as if we are small children with delicate ears to whom they cannot mention any gory details. Or worse still, as if we don’t deserve to know the seriousness of the accusations.
What happened, again makes clear the straitjacket that prevents information professionals from doing their jobs within the Communist Party-controlled media. This is something that many of them bear with pain and frustrations, while others—the most opportunistic—take advantage of the censorship to do work that is mediocre or convenient for the powers-that-be.
Why has no prominent Prensa Latina correspondent in Europe gone to Finland to report minute-by-minute on what is happening with the athletes from the island?
We suffer omissions of this type every day in the national media. These absences, now chronic, belie the winks that accompany Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel’s call for a journalism more attached to reality and without self-censorship. Where, now, is that official to urge the reporters to investigate and publish the details regarding the fate of the volleyball players?
It is very convenient to urge the journalists to be more daring and to take the time to guide them to be cautious or to remain silent. Such duplicity has been repeated so many times over the last five decades that it has inculcated in the collective imagination the idea that the press is synonymous with propaganda and with being an informer, a representative of the government.
The damage inflicted on Cuban journalism is profound and systematic. Repairing it will take time, a framework of respect for such an honorable profession and even the emergence of a generation of informers who are not marked by the “vices” of the current academy of Cuban journalism. These young people, without compromises with power, are the only hope left to us.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 15 June 2016 – The news mourned on Sunday, a week that ripped apart and will forever mark the lives of the victims’ families. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became a death trap for dozens of people at the mercy of a madman. The motivations that led Omar Seddique Mateen to kill 49 human beings and injure another 53 are still being investigated, but solidarity does not need to wait for FBI reports or summations, it should be immediate and unhesitating.
The official Cuban press has treated the fact that the event took place in a gay establishment with omissions and squeamishness. The prudery on television and in the national periodicals, with this silence, only promotes homophobia and belies their own discourse of changes. This absence is also noted in the condolence message sent by Raul Castro to Barack Obama, where he called the locale of the tragedy “a nightclub.”
The omissions don’t end there. The press in the hands of the Communist Party delayed until Wednesday the news that two Cubans were among the dead, when it was already vox populi on the streets. Why the delay? Because they were gay or because they were emigrants? This double condition must be upsetting to some in the government and thus in their periodicals, which operate by way of ventriloquists.
Also surprising is that the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) has limited itself to a formal statement of condemnation and has not called for a vigil, for flowers to be left at the doors of the mothers who lost their sons, or at least a symbolic action that reflects the pains of the Cuban LGBTI community.
None of that has happened, and not for lack of indignation or sadness, but from the same lack of freedom of expression that prevents a dissident from making a public demand, or any person from carrying, spontaneously, a banner that recognizes: “We were all at Pulse.”
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 10 June 2016 –“Why did you bring the girl if it is raining?” my friend’s daughter’s second grade teacher asked when she brought her child to school on Wednesday. Although the school year should continue, many elementary school teachers took advantage of the precipitation this week to hasten its end. The bureaucrats used the excuse of the bad weather to delay paperwork, while countless medical clinics opened late due to the weather.
Many state employees behave as if they are sugar cubes, or watercolors about to dissolve, or allergic to water when the rain comes. This reaction is laughable given that we live in a tropical country, but there is also a lot of drama involved in the serious damage the rains cause to millions of people. Over and over again, public services behave as if each rainy season was the island’s first.
The banking system, dysfunctional throughout the year, collapses almost entirely when two drops of rain fall from the sky. The Nauta email service – operated by the state phone company – is thrown into crisis, and urban transport outdoes itself in terms of problems. A drizzle and schools suspend classes, retail markets barely open, and even the emergency rooms in public health centers work at half speed.
All this without a hurricane, or 60-mile-an-hour-plus winds, or one of those heavy snows that keep nations further north on edge. The paralyzation of life here caused by the rains is more than a justification, it is an alibi, one that allows many, during these days, to do what they most desire: Nothing.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 9 June 2016 — The woman had something. In addition to her deep voice and the passion she poured into the microphone, she had an attitude that fascinated us. When she appeared on the television screen my childish self-absorption was put on hold and I stopped running around and paid attention to her. There she was, “Lady Feeling,” the teenager who had debuted on CMQ radio, the girl who was born in the same year that the cieba tree was planted in Fraternity Park in Havana. I shut up and listened to her.
Temperament, emotion and an interpretation that went beyond good diction or memory were her hallmark. She lived each song. She was ready to fight over an infidelity, cry over a heartbreak, relish to the point of madness, or say goodbye like a woman waving her hand from threshold of any door. In the Cuban musical scene of the seventies and eighties, filled with fear and duplicity, Elena Burke was authentic, seeking neither to please nor to humor.
Others reaped the glories of the international media when that imposing and sincere lady was no longer with us, when the lady of filin had gone. But no Cuban singer has managed to improve on her interpretations of songs composed by José Antonio Méndez, Marta Valdés or César Portillo de la Luz, among the many other songwriters she gave voice to. Because with a microphone in hand and her physical volume she filled the entire screen; she was simply herself, unadorned, uncompromising, forthright.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 June 2016 – Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution shows its loyalty to its friends in many ways. One of them is complicit silence. When the Tlateloico Massacre happened in 1968, Fidel Castro did not condemn it because his ally, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled Mexico at the time. Something similar happened with the events in Tiananmen Square in China, still absent to this day in Cuba’s official press and discourse.
It has been 27 years since thousands of students demonstrating peacefully in Beijing to demand democratic reforms were forcibly evicted from the square. The turning point of these protests was on June 4, when the army cracked down violently to those gathered at the square, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. This coming October, the last known prisoner of those who were arrested during those riots, Miao Deshun, is expected to be released.
Along with the more than one thousand detainees who were sentenced to harsh penalties for showing their desire for change, China sent many other protesters to forced labor camps to be re-educated. Since then, significant resources and millions of hours of propaganda have been dumped on society, to suppress the idea of rebellion and stifle memories.
Recently, several activists who were trying to evoke the date have been detained by the government or prevented from leaving their homes to pay tribute to the victims. The gag-rule extends to virtual space, where China’s internet police have skillfully managed to erase many of the references to the events of Tiananmen Square.
However, despite the fact that in June 1989 the foreign press had been expelled from the area and the government restricted coverage of events, an iconic image was imprinted on the retina of humanity. A defenseless man with a bag, standing in front of a military tank, showed the absolute fragility of citizens under a totalitarian power.
That picture has never been reproduced in any Cuban media managed by the Communist Party. Thus the island’s authorities have joined in the attempt to erase history, vigorously led by their Chinese comrades. They are complicit in the attempt to create a hole in the past.
Today, along with China’s booming economy and environmental problems, there is a country where it is not permitted to speak publicly about its history. A nation that has been offered an unequal economic well-being in exchange for its conscience, but where, also, many have not accepted the deal. They are the ones who remeber that young man who was going to the market when his luck changed forever.
In the case of Cuba, the effort to force amnesia does not begin and end with the tragedy that took place in that vast and distant square. Cuba’s official media once hid from us the fall of the Berlin Wall, denied the Chernobyl accident for weeks, and “made itself scarce” in the face of Nicolae Ceausescu’s crimes.
The loyalty of the Plaza of the Revolution toward its ideological comrades includes the ignoble task of accompanying them in altering the figures, hiding the news, and burying the dead in silence.
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 May 2016 – People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.
In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.
In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?
The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2016 — All signs point to the collapse of Venezuela. Every minute that passes the country is disintegrating in the hands of Nicolas Maduro, who insists on maintaining with revolutionary violence a power that he has not known how to keep through efficiency or results. His stubbornness has led a nation rich in resources to misery and his incendiary oratory is now pushing it towards a violent explosion.
In front of the microphones, Maduro claims to defend a chimerical 21st century socialism that only works in the minds of its progenitors. However, his political and repressive actions are aimed at preserving the privileges of a clan that rants against the bourgeoisie while living in opulence and looting the public coffers. He believes in the Robin Hood of the children’s stories, but this time Sherwood Forest has become unlivable, even for the poor.
Power outages, insecurity in the streets, food shortages, emigration of the young and professionals, along with the highest inflation in the world, are some of the signs of deterioration experienced by a nation trapped for almost two decades in a populism that has bled the economy and polarized society.
Corruption, mismanagement and a string of neighboring countries that have behaved more like leeches than allies, have drowned Venezuela in less than twenty years. Few still have the shamelessness to publicly support the delusional regime that has installed itself in Miraflores Palace and brought the nation to the verge of collapse. Even former fellow travellers, such as Spain’s Podemos Party, led by Pablo Iglesias, and former Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica, have distanced themselves from Maduro.
A member of Podemos has criticized the Venezuelan president’s attacks against Spain, while the Uruguayan politician described Hugo Chavez’s heir as “mad as a hatter.” Others, like Raul Castro, remain complicity silent while, from the shadows, weaving the threads of support for the Bolivarian forces. No wonder Evo Morales has rushed to Havana to receive instructions about how to proceed in the face of his floundering comrade.
However, Chavism, and its bad copy “Maduroism,” has entered its endgame. Its motorized faithful can instill fear in the population and the National Electoral Council can delay ad infinitum the review of the signatures on the recall referendum, but this will not restore the popularity enjoyed in the times when a military coup hypnotized millions with revolutionary rhetoric interspersed with anecdotes and songs.
Nicolas Maduro is collapsing and dragging a nation down with him. In this fall into the abyss of violence, a military coup or other demons, he has not shown a single instance of the greatness that would put the interests of Venezuela first, ahead of his party and ideological affiliation. History will remember him in the worst possible terms and he deserves it. He has ruled from caprice and exclusion, ultimately inserting his name on that deplorable list of caudillos, satraps and authoritarians who have trampled our continent.
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 26 April 2016 – In films there are final epics. Systems whose final moments pass between the sound of the hammers tearing down a wall and the roar of thousands of people in a plaza. The Castro regime, however, is going through its death throes without glorious images or collective heroics. Its mediocre denouement has become clearer in recent months, in the signs of collapse that can no longer be hidden behind the trappings of the official discourse.
The epilogue of this process, once called Revolution, is strewn with ridiculous and banal events, but they are, indeed, clear symptoms of the end. Like a bad movie with a hurried script and the worst actors, the scenes illustrating the terminal state of this twentieth century fossil seem worthy of a tragicomedy:
- Raul Castro erupts in fury at a press conference when asked about the existence of political prisoners in Cuba, he gets entangled in his earphones and comes out with some rigmarole a few feet from Barack Obama, who looks like the owner and master of the situation.
- After the visit of the United States president, the government media releases all their rage at him, while Barack Obama’s speech in the Great Theater of Havana is number one on the list of audiovisual materials most requested in the Weekly Packet.
- Two Cuban police officers arrive in uniform on the beaches of Florida, after having navigated in a makeshift raft with other illegal migrants who helped them escape from Cuba.
- A group of Little Pioneers, dressed in their school uniforms and neckerchiefs, contort in sexually explicit movements to the rhythm of reggaeton at an elementary school. They are filmed by an adult and the video is uploaded to the social networks by a proud father who thinks his son is a dance genius.
- Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accuses Obama of having perpetrated an attack on “our conception, our history, our culture and our symbols” a few days after receiving him at the airport and without having fearlessly said any of these criticisms to his face.
- An obscure official at the Cuban embassy in Spain says in a chat with “friends of the Revolution” that this is “the most difficult moment and its history,” and calls the coverage of Obama’s visit in the foreign media as a “display of an unparalleled cultural, psychological and media war.”
- Raul Castro is unanimously reelected as first secretary of the Communist Party for the next five years and choses stagnation. Thus, he loses the last chance to pass into the history books for a gesture of generosity to the nation, as late as it might be, instead of for his personal egoism.
- Fidel Castro appears at the Congress’s closing ceremony, sheathed in an Adidas jacket, and insists that “we not continue, as in the times of Adam and Eve, eating forbidden apples.”
- A few days after the end of the Party Congress, the government announces a laughable reduction in prices to try to raise fallen spirits. Now, an engineer no longer has to work two-and-a-half days to buy one quart of cooking oil, he only has to work two days.
- Thousands of Cubans throng the border between Panama and Costa Rica trying to continue their journey to the United States, without the government of the island investing a single penny to help them have a roof over their heads, a little food and medical care.
- An economist who explained to the world the benefits of Raul Castro’s reforms and their progress, is expelled from the University of Havana for maintaining contacts with representatives from the United States and passing on information about the procedures of the academic center.
- Two young people make love in the middle of the San Rafael Boulevard in plain view of dozens of onlookers who film the scene and shout obscene incitements, but the police never arrive. The basic clay of the Revolution escapes in the individual and collective libido.
The credits start to run and in the room where this lousy film is being shown only a few viewers remain. Some grew tired and left, others slept through the long wait, a few monitor the aisles and demand loud applause from the still occupied seats. An old man is trying to feed a new, interminable, filmstrip through the projector… but there is nothing left. Everything is over. All that’s left is for the words “The End” to appear on the screen.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 4 April 2016 — What to do when you have a loudspeaker in your hand? Since 2007 when I started my blog Generation Y, this question has haunted me. Often the visibility does not benefit those who need it most and the protective umbrellas provided by access to international organizations only reach a few. To occupy the microphone to broadcast only your own speech is a wastefulness that is a monologue more than an informative work. The Voice of Your Rights, the new interview program I will host on the Deutsche Welle Latin American TV program seeks to bring the megaphone to those who need it most.
With 40 episodes filmed in Panama City, the new space hosts a guest list essential for those who want to know our region and learn about the stories of its people. Environmental activists, women who fight against femicide, human rights organizations that denounce prison overcrowding and groups addressing child labor from all viewpoints are some of the themes that will be addressed by the people with whom I will share the studio in the coming weeks.
My role in this program, which has as its protagonists those who are trying to open a window where the door is closed, is not only for a professional challenge in my career as a journalist, but part of a personal commitment to the most silenced in every society. The cameras and the power of audiovisual media will serve to make their projects more effective and their lives less dangerous.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 March 2016 – He arrives on the Island on Palm Sunday, will attend a baseball game, and has already spoken by phone with the most popular humorist on the Island. Barack Obama’s plane has not yet landed and already he has stolen the hearts of a legion of admirers through a series of symbols. A meal in a paladar (a private restaurant), a phrase from José Martí in his major speech, and a mention of Cachita, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, would complete his upcoming gestures of enchantment.
On Saturday night Cuban TV broadcast a video in which the humorist Pánfilo called the White House to talk to the president of the United States himself. A masterstroke of the Obama administration, it thus placed itself miles away from Cuba’s powers-that-be, who lack any talent for laughter. Through the character of this old man who is obsessed with his ration book, the president of the United States addressed the Cuban people and did so in their own language.
This morning, for a few hours, people will put aside conversations about high food prices and complaints about the collapse of transportation, aggravated by the security measures that plague the city. On the streets there is a resurgence of jokes starring Pepito, the mischievous child of our folktales, who emerged from his long silence to laugh even about the great visitor’s mother-in-law.
Symbols are a part of Obama. For black and mixed-race Cubans his coming is a reminder of how remote the arrival of the Cuban president seems to some of them. Cuba’s historic generation, white and rancid, has ruled for more than half a century over the destiny of a people whose skin tones span the racial spectrum. In the poorest neighborhoods, the occupant of the White House has many fans, and in those same areas the popularity of the Plaza of the Revolution is taking a nose-dive.
The man who today will descend the airplane stairs with a firm step, trotting as usual, will present a strong contrast to the gerontocracy that dominates Cuba. In a country with a serious demographic problem, where the majority of young people dream of emigrating, this leader born after the events of the Bay of Pigs is read like fresh page in a history book with too many volumes dedicated to the past.
He is also coming, with his family, to a nation where we never knew who Fidel Castro was married to and where, for decades, his children were never officially presented in public. He will visit the cathedral in Havana and for his major speech on Tuesday they have chosen a historic theater, one of the few places on the island where ideology has not been able to remove its purely cultural connotations.
However, with each symbolic chord Obama touches in the popular imagination, he assumes a responsibility. The expectations are overflowing because Cubans want to cling to any hope that makes them believe the future will be better. The dreams of economic relief, the end of food shortages and improvements in the country’s infrastructure, are at their highest point this Sunday but have a short expiration date.
People want Saint Obama to work miracles. They have placed candles on his altar and said a prayer that he will bring them the prosperity promised by others for more than half a century. For many families, the most anticipated marvel is summarized in it being easier to get a plate a food, a desire expressed in the street with every possible rhyme that joins Obama’s name and the popular word for food: jama.
Thousands of parents across the country are putting on the shoulders of the visitor the responsibility of convincing their children not to leave on the rafts of despair. They believe that he will be able to stop this incessant flow that is bleeding the country, if only he manages to persuade them that a new Cuba is just around the corner. For the nine migrants who just died trying to cross the Straits of Florida, it is a chance that comes too late.
The marvel others are expecting from Obama is connectivity, as if in Air Force One the United States president will have brought the fiber optic cable that will lift the Island from the precarious state of its internet access. The man who has used social networks intensively in his political career is seen as someone who can do a great deal to sneak Cubans into cyberspace.
In the prisons, thousands are waiting for the president of the United States to achieve an amnesty. Opponents of the current government project major openings in political spaces and room for expression. In the hospitals, patients await the arrival of resources to upgrade deteriorating emergency rooms, and in the Cuban countryside expectation of access to machinery and seeds bears the face of Uncle Sam.
Obama arrives in Havana on the first day of Holy Week. Awaiting him is the glory of his popularity and the cross of excessive hopes.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez,Generation Y, Washington, 3 March 2016 — A few days after the murder of two young Argentine women tourists in Ecuador, a man in the city of Santa Clara in Cuba set fire to his house with his two children inside, as revenge against his ex-wife. Violence against women runs freely in Latin America and on most of this planet. A day like this March 8th, a day of tributes, flowers and speeches full of praise, does not erase the horror, nor the belittling.
The constant aggression we women suffer takes the form a blow from an abusive husband, but also is present in every minute of our lives, both in the professional order and in the social order. To walk alone at night, to sit alone in a park, or to take the sun on a beach “unescorted” by a partner, are moments that many Cuban women experience with more discomfort than enjoyment.
The limits within which we can move are made clear very early: Respectable or whore? Good wife or questionable spinster? Dedicated mother or bad mother? Submissive or quarrelsome? Made up or slovenly? Good cook or useless in the kitchen? Every attempt to free ourselves from these narrow frames implies double the effort for a man and a proportional quantity of external insults.
The violence starts from the time we’re small, when we prepare to be “beautiful and delicate,” forcing our tastes, affinities and vocations. They impose on us to be condescending and sweet, demure and silent; subordinate to masculine initiative and patiently bearing all. The ways girls are raised, in their families and in the education system still prevailing in our country, lock us into narrow, 19th century gender roles.
We are measured on more demanding scales and asked for the highest levels of patience. If a woman is the victim of lewd abuse in the street, most people’s immediate reflection is that she is wearing “very provocative clothing” or wiggling her hips too much. The aggressor is considered someone who “is acting like a man” while the woman is the brunt of the worst adjectives.
Women television presenters must be luxuriant and attractive, while her masculine colleagues can be gray-haired, double-chinned and pot-bellied, and no one bothers him about it. In government something else happens. The “male chauvinist” power we have lived under for nearly 60 years likes to be photographed with pretty faces and hold honeyed ceremonies on International Women’s Day. They give us flowers and call us “compañeras,” while the rest of the year they put the brakes on women’s demands and the independence of any initiative for gender equality.
What has happened to Cuban feminism is what happens to a professional woman who ends up locked in the house with a jealous and dim-witted husband. They take her best years, keep her from experiencing life and taking to the streets to demand her rights and now demand that she remain calm, gentle, supportive of those who mix testosterone and power, which is another form of violence masked by supposed praise and compliments.
The appropriation of our bodies by force is a heinous crime, as is taking our freedom, imposing on us a model of what we should be, and prolonging these discriminatory patterns, this false market of values, where ovaries are worth less than testicles.
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 6 March 2106 — There is an aunt with her hair in rollers and a maternal gaze, a neighbor in a housecoat and that friend blowing out the birthday candles. They are known faces, family members, but they live hundreds of miles from the island, and come to us, as in a mirror that returns our image without distortions or cracks, through Gandy Pavón (b. Las Tunas, Cuba, 1974) and his exposition, The Cuban-Americans.
In that far off geography, the emigrants weave their dreams, taking on new customs, maintaining their taste for rice with beans, and sighing for a country that only exists in their memories. In that “internal space” where Cuban-Americans pass their lives, what the writer Gustavo Pérez Firmante called the hyphen or dash, “that unites, while separating, nominally and culturally, the Cuban and the American.”
Pavón captures in a series of black and white photographs that were exhibited at the Cervantes Institute of New York, a part of the nostalgia of those who carry their roots on their shoulders so that a new generation can bear fruits. Parents who left behind their world of references, the house where they were born and even their wedding rings, with the obsession of giving their children a future. They are like us, but they have lived more, and the title of “Cubans” sounds sweetly and painfully in their ears.
Their names are Josefa, Paco, Pedro, Yosvany, Miguel… and they have experienced daily contact with other cultures, the pleasure in the little things they managed to carry with them: a yellowed photograph of Grandma and a memory of the dog barking from the farm path. They are also burdened with the depression of exile, the conviction that they don’t belong entirely to the land they left behind nor to the one that received them. They are beings who carry with them their own homeland.
The author of The Cuban-Americans took as a reference Robert Frank’s famous series of photographs, The Americans. The work of the American artist was heavily criticized in its time for not embodying “the image of progress and greatness they wanted to project in the fifties,” recalls Pavón. Like Frank, he also wanted to escape “the stereotypes, the commonplace.”
This “no man’s land,” where the exiles have found themselves because of politics, intolerance and immigration restrictions, resembles in many details the island we have woven within the bubble of our intimacy. An identity hard to catch in the tourist snapshots or sepia postcards that so content the foreign eye. More than a photographic work, Pavón has had to undertake a true immersion in that abyss of Cuban identity.
From this plunge, he has returned without beautiful ruins, old cars, or easy smiles. Instead of that, the artist claims to have “found another Cuba outside Cuba,” a nation that long ago ceased to be contained on an island.