November 19, 2010
November 15, 2010
Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan
Sometimes we say, “What happens to me does not happen to anyone else,” without actually measuring the real possibilities of an extraordinary personal event being unique in the world. But when I heard the story that I now share with you I was, in fact, struck dumb. Not only by the strangeness of the situation, but because, once again, it made me feel like crying to see the state of alienation (using the language of Marxism) that a communist society can bring an individual to.
He was sitting at the stop waiting for the bus to Playa when an old woman begged him to accompany her to Calixto García Hospital.
“Son, please, I can’t walk and I have a doctor’s appointment.”
Going in the opposite direction for altruism is typical of noble souls, and he, well, he is one. Abandoning his own journey, he stopped a taxi on Linea Street and got in with the old woman, headed to 27th and G in the Vedado district.
Along the way she told him that she was alone in Cuba with no one to care for her, that social security had reduced the money allocated for her medications, that she was sick and as she got older she was sinking into a deep and devastating poverty. She had asked for a social worker to look after her, but it was a long process and nothing had yet come of it. He, silent, listened helplessly, feeling a heavy responsibility on his own shoulders.
They arrived at the clinic. Feeling so sorry for her deplorable state, they let her go to the front of the line. He stayed with her so that later he could take her home. As the minutes passed they began talking with the other sick people and to the complete stupefaction of the hero of this anecdote, the victim exclaimed:
“It’s true that we lack many things. But Fidel has never abandoned us!”
Her voice ragged and breaking, she devoted the last moment of the wait to praising this man, and when they finally called her they discovered her appointment wasn’t there and she would have to come back to see another doctor. He, still silent, walked her to another taxi and paid the driver to leave her at the door of her house. Before the car pulled away he told her,
“Madam, before we say goodbye I would like to let you know that I am a dissident.”
November 11, 2010
The pessimists, among whom I include myself, assumed that on the closing date, and only then, the prisoners from the group of 75 who did not accept “the airplane or prison” would be released. However, any negativity is infinitesimal when it comes to the lies of the Cuban government; to become accustomed to being duped over and over again is not a simple thing. When I hear the voice of Arguelles on the phone it pulls at my heart. I wait impatiently for the call that doesn’t come: that he is calling me from his home. But every week I’m disappointed, impatient, sad, to know that he is speaking from Canaleta prison in Ciego de Avila.
The falsehoods of Raul Castro, the Communist Party, and the entire governmental apparatus are our daily bread. So now all that’s left for me is to wait for a communication from the Catholic Church, no? After all, it was the Cardinal who said that the General said that in four months…
My friend Evelyn is a happy woman. She has lived through a thousand hardships in her youth but now that she’s nearing forty she looks back and the balance is more than positive. For me, younger than she, she inspires my admiration: her daughter is lovely, she’s cruising right along in her career, and she lives according to her principles and ideas — this latter something that is in danger of extinction. We met when I was seventeen and since then she has not voted nor participated in any of the scenes staged by the government, nor given in to fear or the double standards of the people.
Evelyn could not study at the university. When she was at the Lenin vocational school, her classmates rejected her for her politics. She went to the province and on appeal her class raised their hands a second time to mark her file for life. She was not an independent journalist, nor a member of any party, nor did she walk up and down the central hallway preaching the universal declaration of human rights. She was, simply, a teenager, half rocker, half folk-singer.
Years passed and of that group at the Lenin school almost none are left in Cuba. On Evelyn’s Facebook account she sometimes gets friend requests from those who once raised their hands to destroy her life. It seems they live in France, Canada, Spain or the United States and it’s like a big confession that washes away all their sins and gives them the right to demand unconditional forgiveness from their victims. But my friend doesn’t forget. She never seeks revenge, nor does she let the rancor fester. But, to the “Facebook friends,” and the little tea parties the group holds when they return to Cuba, they may get tired of inviting her: She will always say no.
November 6, 2010
“I was going to travel on that plane.”
I felt helpless to express the horror of a plummeting airplane, the safest transport there is, according to statistics. The safest and yet one of the most brutal when it breaks the rule. With no survivors, the Havana-Santiago flight has left a trail of horror in the Cuban sky.
List of the dead taken from Diario de Cuba
1- Guillermo Pinero Barros, Cuba
2- Guillermo López López, Cuba
3- Mercedes Cruz Pérez, Cuba
4- Humberto Rodríguez López, Cuba
5- Humberto Espinosa Texidor, Cuba
6- Damaris Ocaña Robert, Cuba
7- Yolennis Díaz Delgado, Cuba
8- René Espinosa Mora, Cuba
9- Frank Román Valido, Cuba
10- Gladis Soublet Bravo, Cuba
11- Juan Mazorra Soublet, Cuba
12- José Arseo Valdés, Cuba
13- Isora Silva Hierrezuelo, Cuba
14- Olga de la Cruz de la Llera, Cuba
15- Rosa Calcedo Reyes, Cuba
16- Jorge Carballo Abreu, Cuba
17- Juan Manuel Pérez Salgado, Cuba
18- Carlos Prado Perera, Cuba
19- Ángel Prado Perera, Cuba
20- Aurora Pons Porrata, Cuba
21- Lourdes Figueroa Sangrong, Cuba
22- Rosmery Ochoa Gordon, Cuba
23- Carmen Miranda Martínez, Cuba
24- Maritza Alfonso Duarte, Cuba
25- Ricardo Junero Rodríguez, Cuba
26- Daineris Venero Acosta, Cuba
27- Andrea Gordon Figueroa, Cuba
28- Orlando Beirut Rodríguez, Cuba
29- Osmar Moreno Pérez, Cuba
30- Deisy Clemente Consuegra, Cuba
31- Leonor Ruiz Méndez, Cuba
32- José Ruiz Fernández, Cuba
33- Odalys Portales Silva, Cuba
34- Ángel Villa Martínez, Cuba
35- Luis Lima Rodríguez, Cuba
36- Raciel Echevarría Lescano, Cuba
37- Martha María Torres Figueroa, Cuba
38- Fara Guillén Brito, Cuba
39- Juan Carlos Banderas Ferrer, Cuba
40- Andy César Galano, Cuba
Passengers of other nationalities:
41- Renata Enockl, Germany
42- Harald Niekaper Lars, Germany
43- Maria Pastores, Argentina
44- Alberto Croce, Argentina
45- Stella Croce, Argentina
46- Carlos Sánchez Marcelo, Argentina
47- Miriam Galucci de Sánchez, Argentina
48- Aruro González, Argentina
49- Silvia Ferrari, Argentina
50- Norma Peláez, Argentina
51- Virginio Viarengo, Argentina
52- Jacqueline Cunningham, Austria
53- Barbara Crossin, Austria
54- Manuel González Asencio, Spain
55- William Mangae Kambi, France
56- Hans Vanschuppen, Netherlands
57- Dirk Vandam, Netherlands
58- Walter Vanderberg, Netherlands
59- Rafaelle Pugliese, Italy
60- Yoko Umehara, Japan
61- Lorenzo Mendoza Cervantes, México
62- Daniel González Esquivel, México
63- Luis Pérez, México
64- Jesús Rangel Medina, México
65- Cynthia Pérez García, México
66- Mario Pérez Rulgines, México
67- Claudia García Castillo, México
68- Cándida Elchaer, Venezuela
November 5, 2010
He comes walking along the same sidewalk as me and can’t avoid greeting me. I understand. He’s weak because I was his fan. His ego is telling him, “That’s Claudia who really admired me and was always emailing me asking for my stories.” What he doesn’t know is that as a writer I admired his daring prose amid the meltdown, “after the socialist realism” had died. This guy who now says “Hi” with an ear-to-ear smile is a ghost who, in exchange for $100 dollars a month on his cell phone account, a new computer at home, a scooter, and a space that he will never be “laid off” from on Cubasí, writes nonsense about Yoani Sánchez and even dares to call her a terrorist.
I look at him stunned. I think if he had a shred of honor he wouldn’t say a single word to me. I laugh at myself. Honor?! What a great word for a Cuba so devastated! I want to tell him I’m very sorry about his death, about him selling his soul to the devil, that he shouldn’t acknowledge me, that he should ignore me the next time he sees me and that all he inspires in me is a deep and horrible contempt. But I feel sorry for him.
“I’ve read what you’re writing now about Yoani. Why do you let them use you like that? Why haven’t you written about me? Are you waiting for your orders?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Of course it’s like that. It’s a shame and an embarrassment. You know it yourself, you know it’s like that.”
We walk away from each other by backing up. He repeated, “It’s not like that,” as I mutely hurried away. I hope I never see him again.
When I got home I reread his first story that had so impressed me six years ago. I still liked it and felt badly for this man who buried his pen in the putrid stomach of repression. I have no doubt: some souls die in life.
November 1, 2010
October 28, 2010
I met Boris by an odd coincidence. One day he came to my house to find some music and we ended up talking about literature. I discovered that we had a world in common: the desire to be free, to know the truth, to dream about another, less battered, Cuba.
He left me this text and I never knew where or how to publish it. “It’s old,” he told me it, “I wrote it when Fariñas ended his hunger strike, but still I want you to read it.”
Boris knows, as I do: Coco carries the history of Cuba on his shoulders. With his martyrdom he is writing the heroic deeds that we have not even been able to dream of.
I offer you this text now because although Guillermo Fariñas has been eating since July, his body still carries the pain of such a long strike. And because there are men and actions that last forever.
“The Responsibility of Guillermo Fariñas” by Boris González Arenas
Less than a week ago I had begun to write an article about Guillermo Fariñas. Just days before, on Saturday July 3, the Granma newspaper had published an interview with one of Guillermo’s intensive care team. At the end of it made it clear that he was already in serious condition and could die if things didn’t go well for him.
I was unwilling to let his death pass without something more.
Suddenly, yesterday, Friday, the Cuban government made a commitment that within less than four months they would free the rest of a group of Cubans who had been disgracefully arrested years ago and condemned to outrageous sentences. I learned from friends who had read the news that Guillermo Fariñas had abandoned his hunger strike.
My joy could not be greater. The political prisoners will be released and Guillermo Fariñas, who has won the admiration of all for his unswerving commitment, will live.
I envy the feeling a generation — my children — will have when they read about this episode where the tenacity of a handful of men and women overcame a huge repressive apparatus and the totalitarian arrogance of its beneficiaries.
No one can read about this episode without a minute’s silence for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whose death we know about not because the Cuban state chose to communicate it, but by the universal indignation of the best of the citizens of the world. A man whose death we also found out about because of a cowardly article published in the official Cuban press, four days later, full of bombastic and disrespectful language that still has not been moderated, despite the fact that everyone is repelled by it.
Is the freedom of those condemned the long-awaited pivot point of the Castro regime, with its decades of failures? Now, in a fit of common sense, has it decided on a slow but irreversible process of change in our country?
I’m sure that’s not the case, that the Castro regime would rather see this nation burn than facilitate its revival from the death it has imposed on it. I want to be wrong, my mistake would be the good fortune of a country that has suffered enough.
Fariñas and Tamayo are symbols of the Cuban resistance and the determination of our country to achieve the social and political freedom that has been so elusive. Both have shattered the perverse policy of presenting the opposition as a handful of men paid by external enemies for chanting what the national and foreign intellectuals have failed to bring to light.
Because is he not tired of the things of life, but only of death, Fariñas is now one of the leaders of the Cuban opposition; his victory has become a foundation of the new Cuba, of a country perpetually under construction. Not of a tiny opposition that aspires to see the entire structure of the Cuban state blown up, and along with it thousands of compatriots in a fratricidal confrontation, but of an opposition of all Cubans who have suffered under decades of the Castro regime’s immobility and irresponsibly and who now demand the reconstruction of our state based on our own free will. Who demand the reconstruction of a Cuba of plural decision-making, one that will not be stopped, by fearful and cruel despots, from the greatness of the task that our citizens have never hesitated to undertake.
Not to build our country to surrender it to the enemies of humanity, whose presence in sovereign nations and whose arms impose an authority over the lives of children, men, women and the elderly. Although today the United States is governed by a progressive leadership no one should forget that in former times it led a genocide and nothing prevents a similar process from overshadowing its present work in a few years.
Nor to build our country under the shadow of credits committed by the Latin American political class, inflamed traditionalists whose treacherous background we Cubans know all too well.
The inordinate challenges facing Cuban society are a consequence of the greatness of its mission, and the severity of obstacles presages a prodigious generation of men and women from the whole world coming to the only conceivable conclusion, a full realization of our humanity.
These are times when we must look at Cuba with new eyes, to feel the force of its breath and the strength of its people. The breath and strength of unsuspected resonances and vigorous inspiration. Guillermo Fariñas is the peak of its virtue and the awakening of its hope.
It is not a small thing that he has asked of his deteriorated body, but men and women like him, those who decide to pull the world toward the dawn, cannot falter when they see the first light.
Sunday July 11, 2010
Posted to Octavo Cerco: October 27, 2010
“Citas históricas” by Gorki Aguila
The photos of Hebert Domínguez
Above Ricardo Orta (from Porno para Ricardo), on the left Guillermo Portieles and on the right Claudio Fuentes Madan
“Drunks” by Heriberto Manero and “Cop with walkie-talkie” by Guillermo Portieles
On the left los Graffiteros, above Arturo Cuenca and below Luis Trápaga
Fernando Ruiz and me
October 24, 2010
2- guillermo portieles / cops with walkie-talkies
3- ricardo orta / uncorker
4- claudio fuentes / el yogultsaldo de soyaldo
satélites / untitled
5- luis trápaga / me, no…
6- incap-ass / say no to superstition
/ the skateboarder died, long live the skateboarder
7- arturo cuenca / we don’t know the title
8- noel morera / this model doesn’t even work in Cuba (Fidel)
/the zebra still sees the lion zebra stays / cuba bremen musicians
9- gorki aguila / historic dates
10-hebert domínguez / ciro I love you
/the photos you shot with the camera and the rest
11-papín / murals painter
12-fernando ruiz / slander column
/ mirror shell
13-rubén cruces / visualization no.23
14-claudia cadelo / my dolls – girlfriend
15-jorge luis marrero /
16-renay / drink only (reading only)
22.mm y tnk / stencil intervention
There’s nothing better than a new day to demonstrate that our decisions are not infallible. I’ve been watching my own evolution with respect to the moderation of comments.
First I swore I did not want to moderate them.
Then that I would like to but I could not.
And now, that I will, as I have found a way to do it through a friend.
I recently wrote that all I knew about my political leanings was that I was not a communist; thanks to the comments on Octavo Cerco I have discovered that I am not an anarchist. Little by little one comes to find oneself.
I have spent several days trying to flesh out the rules for the forum, and here they are. Any suggestions, of course, are welcome.
- Every commentator is responsible for his comments (even if he is a G2 agent and is following orders. Sadly, now with moderation, some will become “dispensable”).
- Comments entirely in capital letters will be erased. In the language of cyberspace that means you are shouting and my blog is not a platform for virtual repudiation rallies.
- Any offensive or insulting comments, or threats against other commentators, will be erased (exercising your right to privacy, do not publicly strip the skin off of others).
- Comments that incite violence will be erased (my resistance is peaceful, if you want to rise up in the Sierra Maestra open your own blog before you take off for Pico Turquino).
- Comments that contain more than two links will be moderated to prevent spam.
- Repetitive comments will be erased (it’s bad enough with Granma having to read the same thing over and over again).
- Comments that usurp someone else’s identity will be erased (I do not care for aspiring secret agents).
- Comments that do not use the Roman alphabet will be erased (even if I could translate them, it takes too long).
I think that’s it and I hope you can live with it.
October 20, 2010
It’s hard to have a conversation these days without landing on the topic of “The list of the 178,” that is the new list of the approved “self-employment occupations.” I personally would like a summary of the most popular occupations of the 16th century, but I know I’m one of the pessimists. Fine, my debate partners tell me that I am among the “pessimists” but to me I’m among the “obvious realists” because for how long are we going to “improve the system”? They say “socialism” but I refuse to call a government socialist that in less then two years plans to lay off a million workers, that has raised the retirement age, that has decreased the number of products euphemistically called “subsidized” and that hasn’t even remotely considered raising wages, not to mention the Sword of Damocles that the dual currency represents in our economy today. I am not going to talk about economic, social or political freedoms because, obviously, for those who consider the Cuban model a socialist model, these freedoms seem something like a capitalist class, or am I mistaken?
Thank god I have not become a “Taliban” — which is what we call the extremists on both sides, especially those of the Cuban Communist Party who are the most abundant in this geographic zone — and I maintain excellent relations with some communists (they say they are communists, I’m not so sure). The fact is that one of my friends has a small private business: custom-made cakes. For several years now she has managed to survive, without luxuries or stealing, by selling little her guava and coconut cakes. With what she earns she has some extra money to give her children, and to fix some of the silly problems with her house, and to eat. When she talks with me she is always on the defensive, so she’s never confessed to me that she buys most of her ingredients on the black market, despite my having seen with my own eyes her doing business with “the egg woman” and the “guy with the flour.” But anyway, citing “American Beauty,” the power of denial is great.
My friend feels guilty, knowing that her little endeavor is included in the occupations on the medieval list and not wanting any part of illegality, at least not much of a part. When we talk she offers a historic phrase: if we all do our part, maybe this time we can move forward. I am not a cruel person so I hold my laughter. She omitted a detail, however, that her husband revealed to me: when he figured her monthly income after taking out a license, he got a round number: 2 CUC (~ $2.00 U.S.).
Note: Starting with this post I will start moderating comments, with the help of a friend. I am still preparing the rules for the forum so we can make Octavo Cerco an interesting place for discussion.
October 16, 2010
A long time ago I was thinking of a hypothetical society that would correspond with the aesthetics of Cyberpunk but that wouldn’t carry the almost Baroque burden of neon, Japanese corporations and yakusas. I wanted to do something different and at the same time something I identified with. And I thought, “If the Cyberpunk movement emerges as Utopia counter to capitalism, I, being Cuban, am forced to make a dystopia of socialism. Oh, and it can’t seem like 1984.” Then the idea occurred to me of a dystopic Soviet society, a “mega-Special-Period” and a Havana-Cyberpunk. Right now I can’t imagine a Havana with another kind of anti-Utopia within the sub-genre. Nor did I have a neon corporate Havana. Mine was one with a dozen plants and Russian trucks. I consider just writing about things that have a benchmark I can identify with. I can’t write about an alternative NY or Tokyo. I simply can’t.
I’ve heard that in your case, unlike what one might imagine, before the novel you weren’t particularly interested in Russian culture and the history of Communism. Tell me a little more about what you had with the story of the former Soviet Union, that now will be the three part Havana Underguater.
The truth is I was never interested in the Soviet aesthetic or the Russian language, beyond enjoying (in some cases developing) the animated Eastern European cartoons. When I designed the universe of Habana Underguater I was thinking specifically about a mega-Special-Period. The old science fiction phrase, “what would have happened if…”, if when we broke relations with the Russians instead of twelve plants there were eighty plants. If instead of the old Russian cars, the Ladas 2106s, we had Lada Blizzards V8, and a crisis like the one we lamentably call The Special Period. This is basically Underguater. I couldn’t write it without knowing, at least, phrases in Russian, the makes of cars and trucks, technical data about Soviet weaponry, or the list of the first secretaries of the Communist Party. I had to do my homework and study a society, one that I lived in during my childhood, from another point of view.
As during the missile crisis, Cuba is once again the center of the world: an island divided by the guerrillas and ideologies, talk to me about that scenario.
It is always tempting to conceive of a story or novel that begins and ends with Cuba, despite the fact that the name Cuba never appears in the novel. I conceived the scene as an island divided into three powerful city-states: Autonomous Santiago, Santa Clara and Autonomous Havana. Havana is the center of the first trilogy because it is a chaotic place that works like any Cyberpunk. Urban guerrillas like the guerrillas of Fanguito. Religious organizations that do not work as such, but rather as a kind of organized crime. A hitman named Acer and hackers who “ride” on the Orishas — Santeria deities — on the Global Web (who control the Soviet States of Space, of course); that is Havana Underguater. A scene where several social and political fears (either a kind of Marxist-Leninist globalization or a cyclone destroys Old Havana and floods part of Central Havana and Vedado) are recreated, but all this is a justification to have our own cyberpunk far from Los Angeles or Tokyo. A Cyberpunk or techno thriller that every Cuban anywhere in the world can genuinely enjoy.
How do you see the development of science fiction in Cuba?
Science fiction in Cuba has survived thanks to a specific editorial policy, a matter of state policy or a group of writers who simply want to make art (or money). Cuban science fiction has survived because of its readers. For a enormous share of the people who read it, from Isaac Asimov to Robert Heinlein, and who consume audiovisual from The War of the Galaxys to the Night Patrol, from Aladar Mézga to Akira. There is a public eager to read science fiction and that’s why science fiction writers have not disappeared despite the different editorial policies or any kind of government support. As for talk of a development, that seems too strong a word for our science fiction has sinned, mostly by always being a copy or an echo of science fiction from other countries. I think that very few Cuban authors (as in the case of Michael Collins in the 1960s and ‘70s) are worried about making their own science fiction without having to mimic the North American, European, Russian or Japanese aesthetic models. Science fiction, in my opinion, has merely survived rather than thrived. I have confidence in a development of science fiction, for me as if it starts tomorrow, but I do not think we are now able to speak of that.
Have you received feedback from readers? How have they embraced the novel?
Those who have read it have told me that they liked it. As an author I can not be more pleased.
Why not be published Havana Underguater in Cuba? How do you feel after being censored, did it affect you? Or is it simply one possibility?
In all honesty the only attempt I made to publish it was sending a collection of short stories to a contest. The result was in part as I expected along with comments about how unacceptable what a “bleak” future is for our country. It was a possibility from the beginning but still, it affected me. I see science fictions as art and not politics. I am not going to tell anyone what the future should be like, and Soviet science fiction is there (published in Spanish for those who want to read it) to show how to create a “hopeful and politically correct” future, recreated in very bad novels (which does not include the Strugaski nor Lem). Nevertheless two stories have been published, one as part of a collection and one in an anthology. Clearly, they are stories that do not speak of the pilgrims going to the Holy Sepulcher of the Guerrilla in Autonomous Santa Clara. Anyway, I’m still writing and I do not care what the publishers or the officials say. I concentrate on making science fiction.
You are beginning the third part. Can you give us a preview?
I just finished the second part, which is an old dream of mine, to do a long novel. It is titled The Russians Themselves and focuses more on a description of the Yoruba elements and the Artificial Intelligence Dissidents in cyberspace. In this novel I delve more deeply into the politics of the Soviet States of Space and the Guevarist Church in Santa Clara. I had fun writing it, people who read it have the last word. Now I’m writing the first drafts of a third (I still have not published the second but I keep writing). I can not give you any preview because the idea is still in my head … and well, it is a chaos of loose ideas. I run the risk of telling you something completely different from what I will later write. And this is not fair.
You can buy the first book in Havana Underguater here
October 11, 2010