Cuban Health Care Workers’ Motives: Idealism or Necessity? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

 

Raul Castro waves goodbye to a Cuban healthcare worker leaving for an overseas post

Raul Castro waves goodbye to a Cuban healthcare worker leaving for an overseas post

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

During an interview last Thursday on his afternoon radio program the host, Ninoska Perez, told me about the mood he perceived in the Cuban medical brigade workers dispatched a few days ago by Raul Castro. He was struck by the “unfriendly” demeanor some of these professionals showed upon leaving for West Africa to confront the Ebola epidemic. I could not comment because I had not seen the television program in question, but his observation did cause me to think about the motives of Cuban health care workers who have joined medical missions in recent decades.

Although regularly presented by the Cuban government as examples of lofty philanthropic aspirations, in reality these missions have become in the span of a few short years the main source of income for this Caribbean nation. We have all witnessed how the government in Havana — rather than simply acknowledging that this is a fee-based service from which it has, on the whole, profited handsomely — continues to portray my self-sacrificing colleagues as selfless messiahs.

At the same time it downplays the notion that a health care worker — someone who is paid poverty-level wages — might embark on such a mission in order to somewhat mitigate his desperate economic situation. The pretense is that this is more than simply a contract labor issue, something for which a fee is paid. In itself this is certainly not immoral, but the assumption is that the “new man” is motivated only by the purest form of altruism.

Far be it for me to question those who put themselves in harm’s way. As I am not God, I have no right to do so. In light of what they are doing, a modicum of humility on my part is in order since I am not the one facing possible exposure. Nevertheless, a number of facts come to mind that cannot be denied.

First of all, the Cuban professionals who have been sent on these missions for more than a decade now do not do so under the same conditions as their counterparts from other countries. Elsewhere, these things follow a natural course. In other words, the workers themselves make the decision to enter into employment contracts based on their own interests and prospects.

Under a totalitarian government like Cuba’s, however, the parameters are quite different since our professional workers are not operating from a position of personal freedom.

It is no secret that a health care worker on a medical mission almost never has any say over where he is assigned. And once in the host country, he is monitored as though he were a child. This applies to his personal relationships — from the people with whom he talks and associates to when and where he goes out with them — as well as to even very small payments for outside work, which are expressly forbidden.

Furthermore, while working overseas, his “salary” is no more than 15% to 20% of the contract price agreed upon by the two governments. In many cases this amounts less than the legal minimum wage in the host country. The remainder is retained by the Cuban treasury.

Upon his return, our colleague is not allowed to bring into the country anything more than stipulated by the mission director, which amounts to a few very limited boxes of merchandise, and then only after his period of service has officially ended. Back in Cuba, he can access only half of the salary he was paid, with the balance remaining frozen in some Cuban bank.

In the event he should decide to end his term of service earlier than expected for personal reasons, he would be considered a deserter and would forfeit all the money he had earned. Even his family would not be able to access his bank account. He would also be strictly prevented from returning to Cuba for eight years, even for a short period to visit his children or in the event of a serious illness or the death of one of his parents.

Given all this, it is understandable why Ninoska would describe the current contingent as “an army of slaves.” Setting aside the harsh description, it is evident that the relationship the government maintains towards individual workers is not one of respect but rather continues to be punitive and despotic in nature.

But there are parts of the world that still do not understand that the government that treats its citizens in such an arbitrary way is the same one that is sending our colleagues to Africa. It is the same one that is killing us at airports with astronomical prices and draconian customs regulations, the same one which pays us salaries that are laughable when compared to a cost of living that reaches soaring heights, the same one that does nothing to mitigate the state of affairs it itself has created and encouraged, all of which are incompatible with its humble proclamations of universal generosity.

Under such circumstances — knowing they face threats from an oppressive force that is both employer and executioner — it is impossible to assess the sincerity of some our health care workers when they appear in public singing the praises of the revolution, the party and proletarian internationalism. It is quite disturbing to see a familiar face among this group after having heard him complain bitterly about living and working conditions that are sometimes simply bad but often are appalling.

This “benevolent” government — the only one that is sends its physicians off to glory or to death — demonstrates its contempt for us in the most brutal way. And the reason it can do this with impunity is because it keeps trotting us around like victory pennants, or like the collateral behind the emotional blackmail it uses to garner votes and commitments from foreign governments in international forums.

That is why in domestic policy they can afford to grossly neglect the welfare of their own people. Who would guess that a government that takes the “laudable” action of sending a contingent to Africa larger than those of the rest of the world combined would be capable of subjugating its own people? How would a world dazzled by such an admirable initiative suspect that our civil rights are not respected or that on a daily basis we are subjected to physical attacks, arbitrary detentions and fully orchestrated acts of repudiation?

When Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, or John Kerry, US Secretary of State, praises the Cuban government — even when it is clear their remarks are limited only to its role in the current health crisis — they voluntarily or involuntarily concede ground and thus give Cuban authorities another slap on the back, allowing them to perpetuate their domestic policy of indentured servitude.

But those of us dealing with this grim reality are not deceived by those who have a monopoly on everything, even when they are disguised as sequined divas on the world stage. We don’t forget that this is the same government which continues to speculate with our most basic needs. We know that they intend to perpetuate our misery because they know that a bankrupt people, materially and spiritually impoverished, will always be more susceptible to their whims than a serene and prosperous people.

From Citizen Zero I wish my colleagues from Cuba and around the world much luck and success in this critical mission, which is essential if humanity is to eradicate this dangerous scourge. At the same time, I cannot help but abhor the way the Cuban government politically manipulates the personal risks these workers are assuming. Ultimately, it will be the infallible, inexorable and certain judgment of history that will separate the gold from the dross and the diamond from the coal.

27 October 2014

An Epidemic of Editorials / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

A few days ago the sixth editorial by the New York Times appeared regarding relations between the Cuban and North American governments. I believe that never has a country so small and relatively unimportant merited so much – and such sustained – attention. This smells of strange interests on both shores.

The editorial writer who undoubtedly pulls down an annual salary in the five figures, must feel fulfilled. It is said, although I cannot confirm it, that he was over here seeking official information for his writings. This would not be surprising.

To cast blame on the embargo for all of Cuba’s problems — even for the exodus of our professionals lured by United States government policies — lacks originality. It is merely repeating the same worn arguments made by the Cuban government during almost 56 years in order to sweep under the rug its own errors, economic failures, misguided adventures, blunders, etc., which have resulted in the prolonged political, economic and social crisis that Cuba endures.

It is true that artists, sports figures, doctors and many other professionals seize the slightest opportunity to leave the country in search of better living conditions. The majority of our youth do this, too. But this does not occur only because North American government policies offers them incentives them do do so.

Rather, it is the terrible situation in their country: no housing, miserable salaries — even after raises — and, what’s worse, no real opportunities for bettering their circumstances.  Every human being has but one life to live, and it cannot be squandered believing in outdated lectures about the future — always about the future — when what is truly important is the present. This is a concept that apparently eludes the editorial writer.

What’s more, if we truly look at reality, only a portion of Cuba’s medical missions abroad are provided freely. The majority are paid-for by the governments of countries that benefit — a juicy business for the Cuban authorities, who even describe them as better revenue-generators than sugar harvests because they provide greater sums of foreign currency. Between 60 and 75 per cent of the total salary payments made by these governments for the services of Cuban doctors remain in the hands of the State, which then apportions the remainder as wages — and even that comes not entirely as hard cash, but rather as rights for obtaining housing or consumer goods, at the artificially high prices set by the State. Something similar happens with artists and sports figures working abroad.

In any event, although many of these professionals leave the country, the Cuban authorities never lose. This is because after the emigres settle in other countries, they begin sending monetary remittances to their relatives, who then spend them primarily in government establishments where the prices are set high, the stated objective being to maximize the collection of foreign currency.

The editorials will continue and the official Cuban press will go on reprinting them in their entirety, down to the last comma and period. It would be helpful if those who influence public policy and public opinion, whether from the inside or the outside, would not allow themselves to be misled.

Nobody is against change, and even less so if such change were to lead to the restoration of normal relations between the governments. However, this cannot be achieved on the backs of the Cuban people without their true and complete participation.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

21 November 2014

Kill, Already, If You Are Going to Kill / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Cuban State Security — that is, the Castroist assassins of the State — just as in Havana, have not ceased from monitoring and stigmatizing me for even one minute since I have been in the US.

It is the sole legacy of a dictatorship that from its inception disintegrated our nation in an irreversible manner.

But we Cubans are free. But we Cubans do not fear Evil. Castro has no more Cubans left. And now we are going to relaunch another country, another Cuba with no traces of Castroism, be it on the Island or in some other spot. There are plans. It is enough to merely awaken the political imagination, to break the bonds of our thinking that the dictatorship is the dictatorship.

And the page of Castroism will remain congealed as a sort of North Korea of the Caribbean, barbaric, abusive, unnecessary.

There will be another Havana, Brothers and Sisters.

Our children will be handsome, gorgeous and free. Never will they know the horror of so many generations destroyed by the person of Fidel and his blackmailed and salaried agents, as well as those already thirsting for lives that are whole, and the hopes of living them. Castroism is a criminal habit.

A Cuba will come that manifests permanent values: Good, Beauty, Truth, Kindness, Love — that which comes easily, which is common, which is natural.

If the assassins of visionaries do not permit me to arrive alive on that shore, there will be another Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo who will love all free Cuban men and women as much as I love them.

Castroism’s crimes are numbered.

Cubansummatum est!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 November 2014

The Nation or Marabou / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez

Marabou weed invades the fertile plains of Cuba. (14ymedio)

Marabou weed invades the fertile plains of Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio,ELVIRA FERNANDEZ, Ciego de Ávila, 21 November 2014 – Seven years after Raul Castro, in a speech, criticized the spread of the marabou weed, this thorny plant continues to gain prominence in our fields. On that occasion, marking the 26th of July, the General said, “Arriving here by land I was able to see if everything is green and beautiful, but the most beautiful, which I could confirm with my own eyes, was how beautiful the marabou weed is all along the entire highway.” Today he could repeat these identical words.

The invasion of what is scientifically known as Dichrostachys cinerea has set off all the alarms. In the middle of the country, its dominion extends across the planes that once served to cultivate cane, the planting of vegetables, or the pasturing of cattle. Nothing is safe from its dense thorny bushes that defy the most intrepid peasants.

Two months ago a troop of men was gathered in Ciego de Avila, armed with rustic tools to fight the marabou weed. The new “Battle of the Revolution” takes place in very fertile lands, but ones which have suffered long neglect from their only owner: the State. Thus they now are drowned under the thorns that have led to enormous weedy thickets.

Something more than 400 men, with axes and machetes in hand, have the arduous mission as their charge. The objective is, that at the end of 2014, all the lands in the upcoming sowing plan will be ready for planting cane. An undoubtedly difficult task, because of the 50,000 acres needed, 32,000 are greatly affected.

Leaders of the territory have promised that the campaign will be recorded in history as “The Epic Against Marabou.” They are unaware, perhaps, of all previous attempts to eradicate a plant that was introduced into our country in the mid-nineteenth century, a plant with the great capacity to reproduce in our country’s climate and natural conditions.

The only advantage of the undesirable marabou is its wood – very hard – which is extremely suitable for firewood, as it burns well and creates little smoke and ashes. However, its collection for these purposes requires strict protection for the farmworker who may be subject to frequent wounds and punctures.

The cost of any collection or eradication of marabou tends to be very high. However, in the new battle against the plague, begun in the center of the country, the savings to the State are guaranteed with the sacrifice of the men who must sweat and bleed, with no right to expect mechanical reinforcements. The directors of the Sugar Company Group have clarified that “because of objective economic conditions we can’t use bulldozers in this confrontation.”

Those who remember, recall that there was no lack of heavy equipment to address other initiatives. Among them two campaigns that have indeed been recorded in history for their disastrous consequences, while opening the way to any plague that invaded the Cuban countryside. The first of these was in the 1970s when the forests were bulldozed and dynamited to sow sugarcane in abundance, with the intention of satisfying the demand from Communist Europe. More recently, many of the sugar mills were dismantled and exported piece by piece to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the cane fields were left to the mercy of the plagues.

The great results of such “socialist epics” — in addition to villages and towns left lifeless, dead — is the health enjoyed by the marabou weed. In their branches is concentrated our economic collapse, in the abundance of their thorns is the result of the excessive nationalization of our lands.

Activists denounce acts of repudiation during a child’s birthday party / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Manzanillo, 22 November 2014 – This morning several activists reported an act of repudiation against the members of the Community Network of Journalists and Communicators in the eastern city of Manzanillo.

According to the testimony of those whom this newspaper had access, Leonardo Cancio had organized a celebration in his home for a six-year-old niece and invited his colleagues from the Network. From the previous day, there were several women surrounding the house, whom the activists said were summoned by State Security, to communicate that they would not allow “a party for children organized by the counterrevolution,” and they also visited the homes of neighbors to warn them not to send their children to such an activity.

Since the early hours a crowd, estimated by the Network to be some three hundred people, surrounded Cancio’s house to block access to the guests. However, some activists like Tania de la Torre, accompanied her daughter and granddaughter, had managed to arrive well in advance. De la Torre explained that “the State Security agents names Alexis and Julio” on seeing them leave the house, “pushed us into the crowd” where they were beaten and threatened with future retaliation.

In statements given to 14ymedio by Martha Beatriz Roque, leader of this group of independent journalists, the dissident commented that, “this is the Cuba that the Spanish Foreign Minister Margallo is coming to visit, where human rights are trampled without consideration.”

Mexico is running out of tears / Yoani Sanchez

Mobilization in Mexico City for 43 missing. (Twitter Juan Manuel Karg)

Mobilization in Mexico City for 43 missing. (Twitter Juan Manuel Karg)

YOANI SÁNCHEZ, Havana, 24 November 2014 — When I visited Mexico for the first time I was impressed by its tremendous potential and enormous problems. I was amazed by a culture whose calendar is lost in time, especially when compared to a Cuba that is still a teenager. However, most shocking for me were all the warnings and advice from friends and acquaintances about the insecurity and the dangers that might await one in every street.

The most heartbreaking testimony of that visit, which I heard from the mouth of Judith Torrea, a Spanish journalist based in Ciudad Juárez who collected the stories of mothers whose teenage children never returned to their jobs or their schools.

It pained me to see how violent death has become commonplace in different areas of this beautiful country. La Catrina – Mexico’s grande dame of death – was no longer smiling, rather her empty sockets seemed a sad premonition of what is needed to live in Mexico. The disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotsinapa has exceeded the horror already suffered by a society where corruption, an ineffective legal system, and the armed force of narco-traffickers have thrived for a long time. As if a people already torn apart by what they have lost could suffer new wounds.

Each one of these disappeared young people is around the age of my son Teo, some of their photos remind me of his swarthy face and slanted eyes. He could have been one of those who one day left school and decided to protest against the status quo. All indications are that the local political power, mixed in with the drug cartels, violently ended the lives of those who still had the better part of their existence ahead of them. Over the last few weeks their families have gone from tears to hope and back to pain. The sad end is not confirmed and no one wants to accept it as fact, but the evidence suggests the worst case scenario.

Mexico is running out of tears. It is the responsibility of Latin America to accompany this beloved nation in the search for answers to the disappearance of the students, but also to the solutions of the grave social and institutional problems that caused it. To the citizens, for our part, we offer our solidarity, and we share their pain and their anger. Let no one look their child in the eyes without remembering those who are missing.

Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana / Ivan Garcia

Cuba-Mar-2011-620x330Just as with most successful businesses in Cuba, the owners of Leyenda Habana, an elegant restaurant in El Cerro, surrounded by ranch houses, are white.

Two miles to the east of Leyenda Habana, in the poor and mostly black neighbourhood of San Leopoldo, the iconic private La Guarida restaurant, where US congressmen and the Queen of Spain have dined, also has a white proprietor. And, unless something has changed, the chef is black.

I invite you to visit glamorous bars like El Encuentro in Linea and L, Vedado: Shangrilá, in Playa, or El Slopy’s in Vibora Park, very near to La Palma; central crossroads in Arroyo Naranjo.

Apart from being comfortable and with efficient service, the common denominator is that the owners are white. Black people work in the kitchen, or, if they are very qualified, and look good, they dispense daiquiris and mojitos behind the bar.

The waitresses usually are white, young girls with beautiful faces and spectacular bodies. Could be pale-skinned mulattas who spend a fortune on straightening their hair to be similar to many white women.

The owners of rental properties with swimming pools or luxury apartments are also white. Or the owners of fleets of American cars and jeeps from the 40’s and 50’s, fitted with modern diesel engines, used as private taxis in Havana.

Ignacio, who has sun-tanned white skin, owns six automobiles and three Willys jeeps, made sixty years ago in the Detroit factories. Every day he turns over 600 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

“Part of the money I invest in gasoline and in maintenance of the cars. I make juicy profits, but my business is in a judicial limbo as it is not something envisaged in the self-employment regulations. For the moment, the government lets us do it,” he indicated while he drinks a German beer.

When you ask him why it is that in the most successful private businesses, 90% of the owners are white, he replies: “Several reasons, ranging from subtle or open racism on the part of many business people, to economic reality, in that black Cubans are the ones with the lowest standard of living and receive fewer remittances from family abroad.”

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that not all of the blame for negroes and mestizos not occupying prominent positions in private businesses can be attributed to the Fidel Castro regime.

“This is a long-running story. When in 1886 they abolished slavery in Cuba, the negroes and mestizos started off at a disadvantage. They didn’t have property, knowledge or money to invest in businesses. They moved from being slaves to wage earners. They gained prestige and a better position in society by way of sport, music and manual trades.”

According to the sociologist, “The Revolution involved the negroes in the process, dressing them up in olive green and sending them to risk their lives in African wars. But in key positions in the economy, politics or audiovisual media, there was an obvious white supremacy.”

For Orestes, an economist, “We cannot overlook the detail that 80% of the Cubans who have done well in exile are whites. The first wave of emigrants to Florida were educated white people, nearly all business people with capital. And those who left without money, thanks to their knowledge and hard work, moved forward and triumphed in the US society.

And he adds that, in the subsequent waves in 1965, 1980 and 1994, there was a larger percentage of negroes and mestizos, but they were ill-prepared and they worked in poorly paid jobs in the  United States. “And because of that, they sent less money to their poor families in Cuba,” the economist explained.

The situation was capable of change. Now, dozens of sportsmen, mulattos and negroes, play abroad and some earn six figure salaries.

Although José Dariel Abreu, who plays for the Chicago White Sox and earns $68 million over seven years, in theory cannot invest one cent in Cuba, because of the embargo laws, one way or another, thousands of dollars get to his relations in the island and they are able to open small businesses in their provinces.

In spite of the fact that the majority of the owners of currently successful businesses in the capital are white, reggaeton singers, jazz players, musicians who commute between Cuba, the United States and Europe, have opened businesses or have provided finance for their family members.

The reggaeton performer Alexander, the write Leonardo Padura or the volleyball player Mireya Luis, among others, have opened bars, restaurants and private cafes with part of their earning in hard money.

But they are the few. Most of the negroes or mestizos who have permits to work for themselves, work twelve hours filling matchboxes, repairing shoes or open up a small shop in the the entrance to their house, with no grand pretensions, trying to earn 200 or 300 pesos a day.

Nearly always the competition from white people with bigger wallets gobble up the self-employed negroes or mulattos. Leonardo, a negro resident in La Vibora, in 2010 put up a jerry-built stall made of sheet metal painted ochre in the garden of his house.

“Things went well. Until in the corner, by the house, a relation of a general opened a modern, well-stocked cafeteria. From then on, my earnings have collapsed. I am thinking of closing,” he says. The owner and employees of the business competing with Leonardo are white.

Although in this case, the advantage didn’t lie in skin colour. Because in Cuba, if, apart from having money, you have a relative who has the medals of a general, that will open many doors. Including those which should remain shut.

Iván García

Translated by GH

13 September 2014

Maduro launches new newspaper under the name Cuatro-F / 14ymedio

Image from Twitter @nicolasmaduro

Image from Twitter @nicolasmaduro

14ymedio, Caracas, 23 November 2014 – This Sunday the first edition of the publication Cuatro-F (Four-F) — a newspaper belonging to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — was announced by the president of this political organization, Nicolás Maduro.

The publication will be weekly, in its print edition. It is expected however that next year its frequency will increase and it will appear daily.

The media’s name evokes the 4th of February 1992, when Hugo Chavez and a military group attempted a coup d’etat in Venezuela against the then constitutional president Carlos Andrés Pérez. The coup attempt failed to achieve its objectives, but in the official calendar it is viewed as the beginning of the “Bolivarian Revolution.”

On the premiere of the new media outlet, Maduro visited the Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex in Caracas. There he witnessed the printing of the first issue of the newspaper and said the information arm will be a tool “to deepen the revolutionary and socialist consciousness of the Venezuelan people.”

The president warned that “this is the birth of a newspaper that is going to make a revolution in the political, social, cultural, national and international journalism in our country. A new revolutionary journalism.”

The announcement of the launch of publication, was made by Maduro himself, through the social network Twitter. In his account, the President explained that the appearance of Cuatro-F was one of the agreements coming out of the Historical Congress of the PSUV.

“Tomorrow the newspaper of @partido PSUV, christened Cuatro-F… All the UBCH members are waiting… to the Charge,” he wrote on his account @NicolasMaduro.

“This newspaper will reach every corner to make revolution in all areas, bringing the truth and the transparent opinion of the revolutionaries of Venezuela. We will not hide behind the pretext of impartiality, objectivity, no, here’s a revolutionary, Bolivarian anti-imperialist and deeply Chavista vision that will defeat the machinery of lies,” he said.

On the front page of the first issue of Cuatro-F a headline called the PSUV militants to participate in internal party elections to take place this Sunday.

Activist José Daniel Ferrer invites a journalist from The New York Times to talk / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Ernesto-LondoAo-foto-archivo_CYMIMA20141123_0004_16 (1)

Ernesto Londoño (Archive photo)

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 23 November 2014 — Ernesto Londoño, the journalist to whom the six New York Times editorials on Cuba-United States relations are attributed, is in Havana. His trip was announced through the social network Twitter and has already provoked some reactions among Cuban activists.

The opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer has made public a message, which shows his concern over the fact that the reporter “only wrote about a part of the Cuban reality.”

In the note, Ferrer warns Londoño about the dangers of “moving from objective, honest balanced journalism to interest-based and biased journalism.” In the statement he invited the young man of 33 to meet. “Although I am in Santiago de Cuba, where they constantly persecute me, I am going to Havana, I would like to be able to tell you how the persecute me in the capital,” the dissident emphasized.

The text continues with several suggestions to the journalist, whom Ferrar recommends to “see it all, if they let you, talk to everyone, if they allow it, with the government, the churches, the dissidence, ordinary Cubans, visit the many slums, go to the interior, visit the eastern provinces, talk with the families of the prisoners of conscience.”

Londoño has been a member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times since last September and previously worked at the Washington Post

CUBA IN SPLINTERS in MIAMI BOOK FAIR

Imagine a country sequestered by a national narrative that leaves no space for dissent or even for disappointment.

Imagine the consequences for imagination in such a closed environment, aggravated by a mass media monopoly that occupies every channel of information, opinion, criticism and legitimation.

Imagine language itself as a prison, with grammar reduced to inertia, with syntax subjected to socialization and desire doomed to discipline, where beauty is suspected of being subversive, the whole vocabulary becoming a kind of vocubalary that makes superfluous any censorship because self-control is now constitutional.

Is fiction feasible under such pressure, between the Revolution and the deep red sea? But, isn’t fiction fostered best under the most despotic rhetoric? Creativity as resistance. Danger as the measure of all things. Literature understood as limiterature.

In the early 90’s, Fidel Castro and his Special Period in Peacetime threatened the Island with the so-called Option Zero: namely, concentration camps to survive local famine as the European Iron Curtain fell and Cuba found itself naked in a post-Cold War Era.

Paradoxically, this meant tons of fresh air for Cuban writing. Please, don’t laugh if you think it’s ridiculous but alas, yes, for the first time since 1959, our authors could publish their books abroad, skipping the need for official permission. Besides, the government’s Non-Governmental Organizations allowed writers to collect honorariums and copyright fees in hard currency, while prodigious privileges were being distributed according to the cultural politics of the “rule of loyalty”: to rent a house, to have access to the internet, to import a car, to own a passport with an exit permit.

Yet, despite the more ample margins for tolerance in terms of content, confrontational voices were still coerced, blackmailed, fired from their jobs, marginalized, stigmatized, beaten, jailed and forced to choose between silence or exile.

In fact, at the beginning of the 2000’s or Years Zero, maybe as guarantee of the original Option Zero, our literary field attained both tokens of totalitarianism: silence and exile. Thus, it was about time for a generation to start from zero.

Generations, of course, do not exist at all. In the case of Generation Year Zero, the 11 outlaws included in CUBA IN SPLINTERS (an anthology of new Cuban narrative translated by Hillary Gulley for O/R Books in New York 2014), behave like okupas or squatters or rather like textrrorists. Provocation as the distinctive trademark of a dysfunctional generation that, out of apathy and almost aphasia, are focusing their fiction on the black holes of memory and tradition, digging into the uncomfortable and the unpleasant, cannibalizing our cannon, escaping from correctness, reappropriating political scenarios to disrupt their logic, a bet on horror instead of heroes,épater le proletaire, vengeance as a fine art, yet from bad painting to worse writing, insisting on a scatological esthetics far from all Cuban stereotypes expected both by conventional readers and foreign editors.

The fragmentary as a splintered strategy to express the inexpressible, fractals versus fossils. A diary of dystopia as the cynical symptom to dynamize and dynamite our State establishment, dealing with a decubanized Cubanness not as scandalous as scoundrelous. I’m afraid that in this bible of the barbaric, quod scripsi, is crisis.

And the 11 trouble-makers of CUBA IN SPLINTERS by O/R Books have plenty of experience in this, since during the last decade they were the editors of the Cuban clandestine boom of independent digital magazines, like Cacharros(s)33 y un TercioDesLizLa Caja de la ChinaThe Revolution PostVoces, among other conflictive documents.

Let’s recognize that almost another dozen of writers could have been included in this literary warfront of new narrative: Lizabel Mónica, Osdany Morales, Jamila Medina, Ainsley Negrín, Abel Fernández-Larrea, Arnaldo Muñoz Viquillón, Legna Rodríguez, and Evelyn Pérez, for example. It is very likely that this anthology of newrrative is the portrait of a family that never was.

The communicating vessels between these short-stories are not bridges, but short-circuits: the tension among each fiction hopefully will produce a fertile friction that will render fractions of sense and nonsense, a bit of idiocy after so much ideology, from the Berlin Wall to the wall of the Florida Strait, from Fidel’s bodyguards to sex for sale at a regional train station; snob Buddhism and socialist zombies; cannabis cubensis so the mind can emigrate before our body crosses the claustrophobic line of the horizon; Habaniroshima, mon amour, the cenotaph city like tears in the ruins of a rheumatic Revolution; remake and collage, plagiarism taken to the paroxysm; who knows if poetry for the pariahs of the Cuban holocastro. It is also very likely that this anthology of newrrative is the portrait of a family meant never to be.

Del clarín, escuchad el silencio, as these 11 anti-national hymns turn out to be hyper-nationalistic histories, as no Cuban can truly escape from Cuba. Fidelity has given way to fatality. So, let it read. Or at least, let it rip these many Cubas in splinters. Unrest in peace.

Original in English

23 November 2014

Miami in a graffito / Luis Felipe Rojas

We went to Miami’s Wynwood District today, a zone of street art, of abundant graffiti. Miami is also redeemed by these beauties and daubings, by this joy that is the festival of color mediated by no other rule than the imagination.

We walked today from one point to another in the district accopanied by the benevolence of a sun that heralds good times. I avoided taking pictures of the compositions and the depths already discussed in books — to gaze upon these lovely things and then press the shutter is to try one’s luck at Russian roulette.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cultural Trick: “I’ll trade you a center fielder for an exiled essayist” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

About the awarding of the Critic’s Prize (in Cuba) to the Cuban essayist Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.  The scholar won it with a book published by Capiro Editions, from Santa Clara.

We have gone back 200 years, the epoch of the barter:

“I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist,” said Mandamas.

“Let me think about it,” responded Queentrentodos…  Why don’t you take a salsa doctor? That way you’ll kill two birds with one stone: You send him to combat ebola and complete the artistic Assembly of the Cuban medical Brigade in Africa.

Translated by mlk.

24 September 2014

(Site manager’s note: This post was translated quite a while ago but somehow got stuck here as a ‘draft’ — sorry for the delay!)