Who Will Bell The Cat? / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Exhausted from accessing power through armed struggle, a typical method in the ’60s and ’70s of the last century, the Latin American left reorganized itself and adopted a new tactic: using the institutions and instruments of democracy. Consistent with that, populist leaders outlined politically attractive programs, offered solutions to accumulated social problems, and launched mass media campaigns to capture power in elections.
  2. The new tactic yielded good results and leaders on the left, both democratic and totalitarian, adopted the same. The first, once in power, respected the democratic institutions they used to get there and ruled their countries without political or social trauma. The latter, once in power, have taken on the task of dismantling democracy with the objective of keeping themselves in power, considering themselves chosen by history as the only capable leaders of their nations.
  3. This reality has been ignored by regional and global institutions, based on the criteria that they are democratically elected governments who came to power through elections.
  4. It is generally assumed that these governments were elected by the people. In reality, no government is elected by all the people: it is chosen by a portion of them (fifty percent plus one, or sixty percent, or sixty-five percent of those who voted; there is another forty-nine percent, or forty-five percent, or thirty percent who did not vote for it). It should also be taken into account that a certain percent abstained from voting, usually quite a high number, between forty or fifty percent. All of these taken together would really constitute the people.
  5. It seems that the fact of being elected gives them carte blanche to do and undo whatever they like, forgetting that they should govern for the whole nation, and not only for a part of it, with a cooperative attitude, or at least taking the world into account.
  6. Before the new tactics of the totalitarian left, the democrats, always ready to confront the totalitarian right, have not known how they should react, and have allowed the expansion of evil to become a real epidemic. What can be done with a democratically elected government that, once in power, dismantles democracy? Should one respect their anti-democratic actions. Should one stand by with folded arms because they emerged from the ballot boxes? The answers to these questions either don’t exist, or there is no consensus on them.
  7. It is time to adopt a tactic of confronting these totalitarian leftists governments in power, and not allowing them to go on forever. Not to do so, out of respect for established democratic principles, is to defeat democracy.

September 25, 2010

The Good Optimist / Fernando Dámaso

“Ole,” they said in my childhood, is a word that has no explanation. With NO, it is the same. You go walking through the streets of God in this atheist city, at least officially, thirst grabs you and tightens your throat, and all you find, written with various materials in different ways, an infinity of little notices: There is no water. Then you wonder: Is it that it hasn’t rained all year? Have all the rivers dried up? Are the aqueducts extinct and the did the pipes explode? No one gives you a logical explanation. You only hear about rescuing the culinary honor, etc. etc. etc.

You are optimistic. You keep walking. And continue to find little signs: Keep Out. No Visits Allowed. No Unauthorized Entry. Don’t Touch. Do Not Disturb. Don’t Talk. And much more. You, continuing to be optimistic, sit on a bench (after looking everywhere to see if there is a No Sitting sign) and ponder longingly some little signs that for many many years made you happy. No Illiteracy. No Bureaucracy. No Slums. And then you wonder: What became of them? Where are they? And you get up and keep walking (I already said it, you are a magnificent optimist!).

You come to your workplace (because you’re going to work, you just have to walk there because there’s not enough transport!), greet everyone you meet (some respond, most don’t), go into your office and sit at your desk. Your secretary, helpful as always, comes and says, “We haven’t received authorization to do what you want to do, there is no possibility you can resolve it.” With a slight headache you ask her to please leave you alone for a moment and then she continues her report. The secretary, half puzzled half hurt, leaves, looking at you with incredulous eyes. “Today the boss is a jerk!’ she thinks.

You — of course! — remain optimistic. You decide to draft a waiting document and ask, through the intercom, for some bond paper. You receive the following response, “There is no bond paper, only bad newsprint.” You accept it. Sit down to write. Finish. Ask for an envelope. There aren’t any, she answers. You, who continues being optimistic, decide to take a break and leave to walk walk walk, to clear your head.

You visit a few local currency stores, which is what you receive your salary in: There is no deodorant, no razor blades, no toilet paper, no soap, etc. etc. etc. You go to the milk store: There is no milk. You go to the bakery: There is no bread until further notice. You think: man does not live by bread alone. You go to the market where you are supposed to buy the things on your ration card. There is no detergent. There is no chicken and no fish for those on a medical diet (mackerel — the only fish in the entire sea — or at least the only one that allows itself to be caught).

You remain optimistic, a great optimist, the greatest of all optimists. You think all these things are trifles, articles of consumer society, simple, shoddy, material. You think of spiritual values: There is no begging (in the newspaper); There is no prostitution (in the newspaper); There is no gambling (officially); There are no drugs (or are there?). You keep thinking. You start to get annoyed by some fastidious gremlins whispering in your ear, so no one else can hear it: it’s not good to say these things, it is not a principled position to do it, it’s not good for you, who is an Optimist, the scare of a slap.

You get home. You climb the seven flights of stairs since the elevator doesn’t work because it broke yesterday morning. Finally you put the key in the lock and turn it. You’re covered in sweat. You crave a cool bath and sleep. There’s no water, your neighbor tells you from the hallway. The motor couldn’t pump it because there’s no electricity. Then you start to scream and run headlong into the walls. The neighbor calls the other neighbors. José has gone crazy, she says. The neighbors gather and grab you. Try to hold you. You keep screaming and wanting to get away from them. You do. You run down the stairs. You go out. The neighbors are behind you. Other passersby join them. Some people scream, not knowing what’s going on.

“Stop the thief!” A cop crosses your path and stops you with a karate chop. Then comes then ambulance (with the letters in reverse) and they take you away. You go to the hospital. They inject you and when you are sedated a doctor comes and asks you strange questions. You realize he is a psychiatrist. They think I’m crazy, you think. You answer some and others not. He writes and writes and writes. In the end he says, “You have nothing, you may go. It’s all been a nervous shock. Your nerves betrayed you, friend!”

You leave the hospital and look for a taxi. There are none. You try to catch the bus. It’s late. You decide to walk, and certainly walking is healthy. Don’t step on the grass — Decree 80. You pass a collective dumpster. Close me, I am your friend — you read. You’re not sure whether to shake its hand or hug it. You control yourself.

You just got out of the hospital. You have absolutely nothing. You keep walking. Return to your normal life. Try not to read the little signs, to forget the No’s. You, in spite of everything, continue being an optimistic man. You manage in the daytime but at night the dreams come. It’s as if you continually read a grammar book with only two little letters on each of its pages: no no no no no no no. Tenaciously. You can’t. And then you decide to go to the psychiatric hospital and ask for admission. How? Why can’t you let me come in? Because I didn’t come through the established channels?

September 22, 2010

Rejected Invitation / Fernando Dámaso

  1. The ambiguous Silvio Rodríguez, good at music, doesn’t rise to the political rumor. His written invitation, reproduced in the today’s edition of Granma, to his personal blog, Second City, is an unoriginal repeat of the official black history coined over the republican years. There’s a reason Granma published it.
  2. Accepting that Havana wasn’t the ruins it has turned into today, and even daring to share responsibility, to immediately tell us the sad story of the poor boy who was, having no money for a toy, one of the black beggars beaten by the police and urinated on by a drunk sailor (he used another word) against the statue of José Martí in Central Park.
  3. Silvio takes isolated incidents, that happened or could have happened, and magnifies them, generalizes them, as if they were the norm, as if this Havana lost in time existed only for the bourgeois and the powerful. However, it also existed for those of us who lived in neighborhoods like Mantilla, Párraga, La Víbora, Los Pinos, El Cerro, Luyanó, El Diezmero, etc. It existed for everyone, only our parents worked and this allowed them to put a roof over our heads, feed us, clothe us, educate us, and even buy us a toy at the Galiano Ten Cent Store, which had them costing ten cents.
  4. It would be desirable if the singer-songwriter worried a little more about knowing the true history of his country and was able to tell the difference between light and shadow. In fifty-six years of the Republic, despite the problems and unresolved tasks, a country was built that came to be among the first in the Americas and other parts of the world in education, public health, constitutional and workers’ rights, infrastructure and development. In our archives and libraries there are documents attesting to this. One only has to consult them.
  5. Regarding his criticism of the changes in political positions and people, I consider it nonsense. The only Cuban thing that doesn’t change is the baseball team. If humans can change their religion, why not their politics? What’s more, as the years go by we acquire new knowledge and experiences, discard what doesn’t work and look for the new. This has always been the path to development. No one tries to return to the past, which is impossible because it doesn’t exist. What is needed is to incorporate the present and advance with it. It should not be allowed that, once again, we step aside and end up tossed out on the San Antonio de los Baños train platform, as happened to Silvio.

September 14, 2010

Amanda / Fernando Dámaso

Amanda was a nightingale. Every morning, with the first rays of the sun, she flapped her wings and started to warble. From her prodigious throat came, one after another, the most dissimilar and original musical notes: now a fortissimo treble, now a deep note that penetrated the soul. All the songs of the birds were contained in her and acquired a level magisterial execution. She reveled in them, absorbed in her own song, without paying the least bit of attention to what was happening around her. All who passed near Amanda’s window stopped to listen. Sometimes she caused traffic jams, and the police had to intervene to get things moving. Amanda’s song was the most famous in the city and there were those who rose at daybreak to listen, in the stillness of the dawn, before the noise, her first trills. Connoisseurs comments that they were the most beautiful, always new.

The months and years passed and Amanda’s singing became an important part of the city. All the tourists who came demanded that their schedule include a visit to hear her. The same thing happened with official delegations. People gossiped for days about the visiting president who rescheduled his flight, breaking all protocol and ruining the official welcoming ceremony to listen to Amanda at dawn. Given the number of people who gathered in front of Amanda’s house every day, the authorities decided to connect microphones to the radio network, so that everyone could listen to Amanda singing from home. From that time on she was a part of breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was present when people were talking, making love, being born and dying. And her singing was always new. She sang without pause from morning to night, as long as the sun shone. On cloudy and rainy days she remained silent and only sang when a rainbow appeared. Then she sang with the same force as at dawn.

On day Amanda stopped singing, and the city, little by little, began to die.

September 28, 2010

Involution / Fernando Dámaso

As he was growing, all around him long shoots were developing that bit by bit enveloped him. First they sprouted next to the soles of his feet. They were like bamboo shoots. Then they grew long and joined together across the time, until they formed an enormous oval cage that followed him everywhere. At first he tried to break them, but they were very flexible and wouldn’t break. Every day they became more dense and blocked the rays of the sun. It was true that he could walk and move in any direction, he could even float on the water of the ocean, but always within this strange plant container. Little by little he adapted to the situation and stopped fighting it. Then the shoots settled into the earth and he couldn’t move any more. With each day that passed they became more dense. To look out he had to push through the tiny open spaces that remained. One day the shoots formed a trunk and he disappeared.

September 4, 2010

A Pending Subject / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In my school years I studied a subject call Morals and Civics. In it, step by step, they inculcated principles in us to conduct ourselves in life as citizens. Ethical norms, morals and civics that, without realizing it, complement and deepen the teachings of our parents in the heart of the family.
  2. We learned to love our country, respect the flag and shield, and to sing with great excitement the national anthem. We also felt proud of our history. We learned, also, to respect, study and work, to deal with our fellow men, to be supportive and polite, to keep our word, and to be loyal friends and to live in society.
  3. Thus, our nation was formed and developed, becoming, in different spheres, ahead of many countries in the first half of the 20th century.
  4. After a patriotic climax in the early years of the sixties, perhaps driven by the rapidity of the events that were talking place, we forgot, above all, the primary responsibility of educating our children, and for the omissions of that time, today we are paying handsomely.
  5. There is too much talk of recovery, but lost generations are as irrecoverable as time. They constitute our moral and civic collapse.

September 13, 2010

The Return / Fernando Dámaso

The old Mambí, on his stool, raised his saber, and with a perfect slash cut the large table where his twelve family members were fighting over the spoils in two. The radio stopped playing Michael Jackson singing “I’m Bad,” while from the window came the deafening noise of a the microbrigade’s concrete mixer. Daniel pulled on the tablecloth and some of the fine Italian dishes fell to the floor with a clatter. Then Maria, completely nude, doing ballet, went over to the old Mambí and standing before him on point, gave the diners an eyeful of her buttocks. In her right hand a red flag flapped incessantly, back and forth in front of the old Mambí‘s face.  When the chandelier hanging over the table was lit, everyone stood up, rattling their hardwood and embossed leather chairs. Daniel gave a great leap and ended up hanging from a nail on the wall, next to the painting of his grandfather in his Spanish uniform. Maria started to twirl continuously before the old Mambí and the red flag floated in the air. From the kitchen Joaquina emerged, clad in her white coat, carrying a tray of steaming chicken and rice. At her side was a Santa Barbara escorted by a hundred lit candles and a black and white goat, which filled the dining room with a strong smell of urine. The old Mambí kept his saber unsheathed. He raised his head and looked at the ceiling. Four bats hanging there let go and began to flutter, soaring at high speed over the heads of the diners. Daniel pressed against the wall and Maria stopped dancing. The song ended and only the noise of the concrete mixer continued. The old Mambí slid off his stool, put his saber in its sheath, mounted his horse and rode at a gallop over the entire family.

August 20, 2010

A Different Solution / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Reading the newspaper Granma, I find that in the last coffee harvest we only collected 6,000 tons of beans, a long way from the 60,000 the country achieved in the past. Also the production of cacao suffers the same situation as coffee. On another page I read that 94.3% of 1,497 miles of mainline and branch railways are in a bad state of repair. There is other data but that sample is sufficient.
  2. To this is added the loss of good manners, treating people well, ethical and moral values, work and social discipline, work productivity, the quality of products, citizen education, etc.
  3. In this situation, the verb of the hour is recuperate. I remember that, some years ago, we used: reverse, overcome, turn the setback into a victory, corral the problems, etc.
  4. It’s important to differentiate between material and spiritual losses. The first, with an efficient economic model, resources, responsible and intelligent work, in places large and small, can resolve themselves. I use the verb resolve in its correct meaning.
  5. The second are a bit more complex. They need time, education and demand, starting in the family, continuing at school and ending in society. I doubt that at the present time some of these areas are addressing this. Therefore, the solution has nothing to do with voluntarism, and could be a question of two or three generations.

September 21, 2010

Like Baseball / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In Tulipán where it runs through the Plaza municipality, around the tiny April 19 railroad station, there is a long established series of private timbiriches (precarious tiny kiosks) that, with their principally artisanal products, support people who are not served by state markets.
  2. On day, a few months back, they were dismantled by the order of someone, and they disappeared. Now some State timbiriches have sprung up, mainly offering fast food and alcohol.
  3. I don’t know which of our brainy economists came up with this original timberiche economy idea. It’s possible it was the same one who thought up State parking lot attendants. Perhaps with that one he or she might be nominated for the Nobel in economics.
  4. On the one hand, the press publishes studies about expanding self-employment, and on the other, they are closed down. If this happens in a baseball game, we say that the manager and the players have gotten their signals crossed: you bat in batting order and vice versa. So no one wins even a crappy game. Let’s agree, those who are paying the fees for these endless studies are we citizens.
  5. A few days ago, in a small park at the corner of Tulipán and Loma, there were some nomadic self-employed, offering their wares. I hope they are allowed to stay, at least until the much-announced nuclear winner is upon on.

September 23, 2010

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.