A Tepid “Change” / Fernando Dámaso

  1. I have carefully read the List of Self Employment Jobs, that the government authorizes citizens to undertake (something unlikely in the 21st Century), as well as the clarifications of various officials, particularly in the newspaper Granma of September 23.
  2. Mentally I’ve traveled to the feudal period when the master of the castle authorized his servants to engage in commerce on their land, but with one difference: he never established any list that limited their development of initiatives.
  3. None of the authorized jobs have anything to do with production or with substituting local products for imported ones, two slogans much repeated lately. They only have to do, for the most part, with offering services, most of them pretty basic.
  4. The reason for their limited reach, is based on the patch added, under pressure, to the Constitution some years ago, declaring that our political and social system is irrevocable. Our Mambises, who were pretty smart, when they edited the Constitution of the Republic-in-Arms, always made it clear it was temporary and could be changed. This is provided for in the Guáimaros (10.4.l869) in the Jimaguayú (l6.9.1985) and in the La Yaya (29.10.l897) versions. In the constitutions during the Republic they respected this principle. The Constitution of 1940, considered the most complete and best, was substituted for what they called the Fundamental Law at the triumph of the insurrection and then replaced by the Socialist Constitution, which was later amended as well. As we can see, nothing is irrevocable. Trying to put a straitjacket on current and future generations is naive as well as unjust.
  5. I have belabored the previous point, because this is the main argument not to make the changes truly necessary, and to put makeup on a corpse to make it look as if it is alive and kicking, by freezing, for some time longer its natural process of decomposition.

September 26, 2010

Present, Past, Future / Fernando Dámaso

1.  The only thing that a human being truly possesses is his present.  The past is something that already occurred, for better or worse, and the present itself, with the passing of seconds, continually becomes the past.  The future is what might or might not be, in whose roots the present is found.  Seen this way, in all of its simplicity and objectivity, the present is to live, the past that which was lived, and the future that which is to be lived.  The future, upon becoming the present, also starts to turn into the past.

2.  The majority of politicians on the left consolidate their programmatic platforms by questioning the past and proposing a future, skillfully evading the present, be they communists or recalcitrant socialists, moderate or recycled, populists, nationalists, nativists and even Islamists, that new category so in vogue these days.

3.  Once power is taken, be it through violence or peacefully, their first and greatest task is to painstakingly revise the past: land has been ill-distributed, economic development has been unfair, signed treaties have undermined sovereignty, foreign policy has been wrong-headed, school curriculae programs have been ill-conceived, the health system has been badly organized, public transit has been ineffective, and so on, covering the entire political, economic, and social spectrum.  They dedicate time and effort not to the present, but rather to criticize and readjust the past, categorizing the previous presidents as bad or moderate, according to political convenience.

Usually, they start with the redistribution of land: it must be distributed among the farmers and poor, as if it were a dogma, even if it brings as consequences chaos in the agriculture sector and lack of productivity.  It doesn’t matter, for this comprises the first obligatory step in obtaining massive popular support, before proceeding to nationalize large farms and cooperatives, which are also unproductive.  The following measure is for financial reform: the state must monopolize and control all capital in order to squander it and plan a future.  Other reforms follow:  education reforms, healthcare reforms, urban reforms, justice reforms, etc…

5.  The center of attention, as is easy to observe, is concentrated on changing the past, but in reality, the past is impossible to change, unless it’s in the rhetoric of speeches and history books, by new writers, which exist independently of our present.  These changes and attempted changes are carried out against all logic, they are carried out to insure the future.  As we can see, the present is again excluded, for these leaders live distantly from it.

6.  In revising the past, the scalpel is applied deeply and an attempt even made to remove traditions and customs: a people without a past or with a mutilated past are easily manipulated.  The future is offered up as a panacea, whose cost is defrayed by today’s sacrifices.  Except the future has no palpable limits or measurable time: everything is placed in the limbo of things to come, which with every passing day moves further away, as unreachable as the horizon.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 24, 2010

The Ant / Fernando Dámaso

The tiny hardworking ant dug with her legs into the sticky black mud covering the stone, and with a gigantic effort loaded the heavy fern leaf onto her back, staggered under the weight, and started walking towards the old oak where she had been born, a tree eaten away by the years and burnt by a lightning that struck during the summer’s last storm. She walked with a limp and slowly, struggling with her own legs while trying not to get trapped in the mud. She looked around, straightening her antennas. The humidity had stuck to her body, which shone like it was slick with oil. She kept going painfully slowly, and the small distance she had covered seemed like a great victory. She had lagged behind the long column that had departed at dawn to search for food, while trying to free the juicy leaf, which would prove useful at the end of the fall when the trees become bare, from the mud.

The sun had barely begun to warm the land and it cost her a supreme effort to reach her destination before noon. While making up her mind to the task, she had calculated all the time she would need: to move the leaf, to get it out of the mud, to load it onto her back, to unstick every one of her legs from the mud, to walk the whole way back, to fight against the mid-morning wind making her movements even more difficult. She felt safe, and capable of accomplishing her goal. She gathered all her strength, and step by step, began to approach the oak. There weren’t any predators in the surroundings and this made her feel more certain of her coming success. She reached the tree, completely exhausted, before eleven o’clock. Right before entering the cave, the index finger of the man who was resting there, and who had watched her since the very beginning, crushed her against a bare root.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 10, 2010

An Old Suitcase / Fernando Dámaso

Looking through an old suitcase one always finds interesting things, that once brought happiness and sadness and that today, forgotten by all, seem to have no value. However, if you feel them, put them to your ear, they vibrate with their own life as if reborn, full of noises and sounds for those who want to hear and smell them. This happened to me on a day when, yearning for the memories of my childhood, I opened an old suitcase of my grandmother’s, saved for who knows how many years in loft of the stairway.

Putting the key into the worm-eaten lock it gave way, moaning like a virgin on being possessed. On opening the lid, dozens of sprites of different shapes and sizes, leaped out onto the floor, and ran in all directions, hiding behind the furniture and curtains. I was caught between shock and surprise, but recovered quickly, staying still, just watching them. As they gained confidence they abandoned their hiding places and approached me, looking at me with bulging eyes and feeling me with their little hands. I felt like Gulliver in Lilliput, but I was reacting as if ignoring them, rummaging through the contents of the suitcase. Then it seemed that the leader, being the oldest, pulled on my pants leg and in a bell-like voice said to me:

“What are you looking for in the past?”

“The reason for the present,” I answered.

“The present is the present.”

I became pensive and closed the suitcase. In there were my grandmother’s things, but the goblins also got free and accompany everywhere all the time. Only I am the only one who sees and feels them. In old suitcases one always finds interesting things.

September 17, 2010

A Problem of Sizes / Fernando Dámaso

Socialism is so rigid it is practically impossible to reform it. It is like a straitjacket imposed on society the minute it begins, and afterward we are forced to live with it, ignoring any development of change in sizes.

  1. A conception less orthodox and dogmatic would understand changes, and at least go from a Small to a Medium and then to a Large and Extra Large, avoiding the annoyance and in the end the tearing.
  2. But this is like asking for the impossible. And Marti, with his foresight, warned against the dangers of socialism. It’s just that, as in many other things, we forget his warnings and fall, and continue to fall, into mistakes he warned us against.
  3. There is no doubt that the ideas of Marx and Engels, as a theory, attracted and do attract as many intelligent beings as fools. Developed in their private offices and German breweries and London pubs, which is not meant as a criticism, fortunately they never applied them in life, assuming them to be Utopian.
  4. Our great disgrace has been the continual enforcement of these social models. Each one in its way, to a greater or lesser extent, in different eras, has demonstrated its failure in the real world.

September 11, 2010

Philosophy of Hate / Fernando Dámaso

  1. A philosophy of hate has spread across the world like a pandemic which seems to cover everything, calling into question whether humans are thinking beings of superior intelligence. Love has been pushed to the side and must struggle fiercely to show itself, in public as well as private social relations. Intolerance and violent confrontation reign in modern life.
  2. The background of hate has different handholds, from the settling of scores for the discovery and colonization of the New World, to the Crusades to the Holy Land to spread Christianity. Without a doubt there were excesses and faults, but to go hundreds of years later clamoring for revenge is altogether absurd.
  3. The history of mankind and, within it, the formation of the nations, has known intense periods of violence where some ethnic groups and peoples imposed on others, fundamentally due to their greater level of development. Entire civilizations have appeared and disappeared this way, up through our times. Demands for material and moral compensation for events in the long course traveled since the Big Bang are, aside from irrational, also impossible to satisfy. It would be a never-ending story, and nobody could be left out of it, because the responsibility is shared.
  4. It is true that Spain colonized the Americas, but before that the Moors had colonized almost all of Spain. It is true that Europe colonized Asia and Africa, but before that the Ottoman Turks and the Huns, to cite just two examples, invaded Europe, the latter led by Attila even reaching the gates of Rome. It is true, getting back to America, that Spain subjugated the Aztecs and the Incas, but before that these same had subjugated all the surrounding peoples, turning them into vassals or slaves as they built their empires. We see that the culprits are those who prevail.
  5. To set out today, on the basis of these distant events, to fuel passions and hatred and call for political or religious crusades only serves to demonstrate, as Albert Einstein put it, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity”.

Translated by: Mark B.

Judges / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In my country there is the disastrous custom of different figures appointing themselves as judges of historic facts and personages. These are then analyzed through the political-ideological lens which, according to their point of view, exalts or debases them, ignoring the times and situations that created them and in which they lived.
  2. As a result, the study of our history is a very complicated thing. People once respected and accepted by the majority, are today considered traitors or, what’s worse, collaborators with the established powers. Others, complete unknowns, emerge as saviours of the nation, but without any clear demonstration of any of their supposed virtues.
  3. Everything is reduced to a process of labeling. If someone is labeled a reformist, annexationist*, autonomist, etc., they are marked for life and, from that point, any time their name is pronounced or written it is preceded by their corresponding label.
  4. One of the most notorious cases is that of Narciso López, whose name is always preceded by the word “annexationist,” although no one has ever demonstrated this. So he is left hanging, historically, just like the poet Plácido (Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés) because of the first verse of his well-traveled posthumous poem, Prayer to God.
  5. Perhaps it would be healthy to leave this task in the hands of historians, allowing them, independently and without demands nor pressure of the ideological-political sort, analyze events and people and express their honest opinions which, like everything in life, are not required to be identical or unanimous. So, history would be more interesting and digestible, as contradictory as reality, and precisely, therefore, more useful.

*Translator’s note: An “annexationist” is someone who would like Cuba to become part of the United States.

August 31, 2010

Gestation / Fernando Dámaso

The tree began to spread its leaves on June 14th. First slowly and then more quickly. In the morning they began to cover the windows and towards noon they already reached the roof and had started to become intertwined. Their first effect was the dim light they let into the room. It seemed as if they took possession of everything and this would make them grow. By nightfall the room was a single entangled vine unable to be penetrated by any human being. On the fifteenth day the leaves began to extend under the door and broke the glass of the window, looking for new space. In three days the house was engulfed in full green leaves.Hundreds of birds came to the vine, filling every day of the week with their songs. As the hours passed, the leaves spread more and more. After the house, they covered the neighborhood and later the whole city. They grew on cars, on posts, illuminated advertisements and over shop windows. Everything went well and was acceptable until the moment in which they started to grow on people. The first one who noticed was García, a mason, when he was on his way to his work: leaves sprouted from his fingers. He ran screaming like a madman until a root set him into the ground next to the bus stop. The same thing happened to others. After one month, in the place where the city would have been there was a beautiful forest. This is how it remained for decades until one day when from a tree, a child was born.

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Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

The Hero / Fernando Dámaso

The small blue circle was widening and growing until it ended up totally enclosing him. At first his feet and hands remained outside of it, now his whole body was inside the circle. He barely managed to keep his head outside, in a tenacious battle that he knew, if he lost it, if would all be over. Bystanders watched, some sympathetically, others indifferent, but no one stopped to help him or to hurt him. So he spent two nights and two days. It was the afternoon of the second day. It was always easier in the morning, as long as he didn’t get too burnt by the sun, or find the air too thin. The circle stretched at times, giving the sensation that he might be able to break it, but it only lasted an instant, and then it would immediately contract, squeezing even harder, trying to take in even his head. It was a terrible battle.

It had all started suddenly. he was walking, like every night, returning home, when he felt something trap his feet. He tried to keep his balance but he couldn’t, as he fell to the ground. From that moment he never stood up again. The circle tied his feet, after covering his ankles and then his knees. He fought that night and all the next day, and kept the circle from advancing further. Only in the morning of the second day did the circle manage to capture his arms. He was dirty and his clothes were torn, but he held his head erect, outside the circle. He tried to fill his constricted lungs with air and to not close his eyes, convinced that if he did he would be defeated. Just then he saw a child come running. In his right hand was a carnation and his face was one huge smile, the greatest he had seen in all his forty-eight years. He tried to warn him with a gesture of his face, to show the danger, but he failed. The child kept coming, and when he was near enough, he kissed his cheek and then dropped the carnation into the circle. Everyone was shocked. The circle stretched in one sudden movement, but this time it didn’t contract again, but broke into pieces, which in turn fell apart and disappeared completely. The man felt that his body was free again and looked around for the child among the crowd that was beginning to gather, but he couldn’t find him. He saw, however, that all the people around him had a small blue circle on their left legs, reaching up to their ankles.

August 16, 2010

Of “Patriots” and Citizens / Fernando Dámaso

In my childhood and adolescence, personalities from the war of independence were the ones they called patriots and, in its most general sense, all those who took part in it in one way or another. With the passing of years, the word fell into disuse, and was sometimes applied, rather ironically, to some politician at election time.
<ol>
<li>From the beginning of the sixties it was taken up again, and started to be used with athletes, artists, professionals, et cetera, who experiencing some success abroad, chose not to stay there and returned to their homeland.</li>
<li>Recently, different authorities in the field of education are proposing once again that the first job of education is to form ever more prepared patriots.</li>
<li>I beg to differ: I believe that the principle job of the family, of education, and of society, is to form citizens. When I write citizens, I am referring to people with moral principles, ethics and civics, capable of fulfilling their duties and exercising their rights. These people, unfortunately, are now in the minority, an important cause of the deterioration of our social existence.</li>
<li>In place of a country of patriots and heroes, I prefer one of citizens.</li>
</ol>

August 13, 2010

THE IMMIGRANT / Fernando Dámaso

The cubicle was permeated with a strong odor of antibiotics. On the pole hung two hundred and fifty grams of blood plasma and two vials of serum, attached by thin plastic hoses that ended in his chest and arms. The oxygen cylinder was connected to his nose through a tube, trying to east his strangled breathing. His nose also had a drain hose discharging into a bottle hanging on the left-hand bar of the bed. Another hose coming from his abdomen drained urine into a bottle on the floor.

Every so often nurses checked on the jars and hoses and took his pulse, measuring his heart rate. In the next bed, an elderly man operated on for ulcers, emitted rhythmic moans from a state of drowsiness. The guy opened his glazed eyes and looked, lost in the morning of the accident between the crash and the screeching of brakes, searching the Asturian mountains for the wolves who preyed on the unsuspecting sheep. From time to time he raised his left arm, looking for his hand, and tried to scare away the hawk that, flying high, also searched for easy prey. The sheep pushed in around him, one against another, and he, the child-shepherd, stroked their woolly backs, giving them confidence.

The first heart attack surprised him in the morning. It was a hot blow tearing into his chest. He pressed against the sheep and merged with them. He wanted to avoid the wolves’ bites and raised his left arm again, fending off the sharp teeth. He felt the wolf move off, after biting him. The sheep stopped their bleating. The nearby olive grove wafted well-known odors his way, and the cold mountain wind ruffled his hair. He pressed the blanket against his chest. The nurse came and moved his arm.

“Careful,” she said, “you’ll disconnect the transfusion.”

Again the sheep surrounded him. He started to remember that old melody that, at night, when he returned home, he used to sing to scare the wolves away. From the church came the procession, carrying the virgin dressed all in white. María Isabel carried the ring and sat on the garden bench, stretching her legs. He looked at her and smiled. She hid her face.

The nurse felt his chest and again adjusted the drops falling from the bottles of serum.

In the distance was the roar of the guns. The sheep became frightened and ran from side to side. He tried to stop them. Then the second heart attack came. He felt his chest was on fire. He saw the doctor’s face bending over him. The boat rocked him on the waves and he was dizzy, feeling like he wanted to vomit. He clung to the railing. The doctor beat on his chest. The hawk launched itself at its prey. He raised his arm once more, trying to scare it, but he couldn’t. Then he began to feel like a speck of earth floating on the mountain air.

August 11, 2010

Other Steps / Fernando Dámaso

1. When we speak of solving the economic problems that overwhelm us, the road ahead appears complex and intricate. It has grown too much invasive marabou weed over the years and clearing it is no easy task. The solution is not to open narrow paths that, ultimately, are difficult to navigate and close up again with the first rains.

2. The solution is to open wide avenues where initiatives and work that will produce wealth for all Cubans can take hold, freed from the bureaucratic patronage that has produced nothing.

3. Public ownership in some key spheres, cooperative ownership, and small- and medium-sized individual ownership, without limitations, must become real factors in our development. The balance of each one will be determined over time.

4. It is time to abandon old and obsolete formulas that have failed everywhere, and face reality with ways and methods that correspond to the integrated and globalized world. It means taking no steps backward, only moving forward.

August 10, 2010