Neither Shields Nor Swords / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Often, in the name of a false defense of national identity and values, they have erected barriers that instead of protecting something what they have done is to isolate us and separate us from the rest of the world. In short, identity and national values have been formed by mixing customs and everything else, from different regions.
  2. Take, for example baseball, considered the national sport. It emerged in the United States and was played by Cuban expatriates in the colonial era, and they brought it with them on their return, until it became widespread and formed part of national identity. This did not happen with bullfights; practiced in the country in the nineteenth century, they discontinued from the early twentieth century. Water sports which had a great popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, were restricted with the triumph of the insurrection, given that the sea and everything having to do with it was considered a bridge with the United States, the eternal enemy. In this case, the political interests did not care about the identity and national values reflected in sports, or about our condition as water-rich archipelago, which would imply these sports should be practiced and prioritized and developed.
  3. In other countries, they have assimilated other sports events, art, etc., without losing their identity and national values, and attached them to their heritage, enriching it. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, Holland, Italy, Egypt, etc. are good examples.
  4. We exclude and declare war on tennis, golf, equestrian sports and others, considered bourgeois although they had nothing to do with socialism. Like we did with the avant-garde in the sixties and seventies, prohibiting the Beatles and other groups and musicians, and their foreign their music, persecuting those who listen to them and accusing them of ideological deviation. This happened also with the visual arts, literature, theater, film and dance. All this happened and should not be forgotten, although the same people who banned the Beatles have allowed a statue of John Lennon, years later, in a park in El Vedado. These absurdities rather than enriching our identity and national values, impoverish it.
  5. Now, someone has come to the rescue of the national patrimony with the guayabera, the man’s shirt, widely used in the first half of the twentieth century and then less so. Now the leaders have started to wear it., I think it is a wasted effort, however, for its price (between forty-five and fifty convertible pesos for the linen or cotton ones and fifteen of polyester) are beyond the purchasing reach of the population (representing, in the first case of two to three months’ salary, and the second a month’s) and those who wear them are not exactly the people who the young people and less young people aspire to imitate. Identity and national values are enhanced when there are no restrictions and customs barriers or anything else, and we mix and merge in this global village where, for better or for worse, we must all live together. Isolation does not protect or defend anything. Instead of shields and swords what is needed are open arms.

November 7, 2010

Lawton Hill / Fernando Dámaso

So the adults called it in the far off years of my childhood. It was, and still is, along Giral street where it led to Dolores Avenue, near the old slaughterhouse. On one side, toward the railroad tracks, there was a huge metal water tank. It was one of the neighborhood kids’ favorite places. Going up the hill was like a great excursion. We always went with an older person, because we thought it was too far. We would go some Sunday, after lunch, as the sun was going down. We’d get ready and start walking along the winding paved road, which we called a street, between cattle farms, crossing the bridge of the tortoises. Our dogs would come with us. It was rich in stones and gravel and almost completely bare of trees; just small thorny bushes. We’d nimbly climb the natural terraces until we got to the top. Once there, we’d breath the pure fresh air of the heights, looking all around as far as we could see: to the side of the tank, the cattle trains heading for the slaughterhouse; toward Dolores Avenue, a few scattered brick houses; toward Giral street, land and more land with scented shrubs and more cattle; and behind us, small villages with dirt roads, adjoining El Moro castle.

We stayed there until late in the afternoon, looking across at the huge flocks of blackbirds on their daily flight from Managua, El Calvario and other places, to the trees in the Paseo del Prado and Fraternity Park, where they slept. There were days when we saw the Firestone or Goodrich blimp pass over, with signs painted on their gray sides, or trailing some enormous red banner with Coca Cola in white letters, or political propaganda for some candidate for mayor or president.

The road back was always longer than the way there (at least so it seemed), and in those childhood times the fear of ghosts instilled terror in us. Why bring up these memories. It happens that a few years ago, forty years after these happy and enthusiastic visits to the hill, by a twist of fate, after having been to many mountains in my own country and in Europe, Africa and Central America, I found myself back on that hill. It was not the same. It seemed small and insignificant, surrounded by a belt of poor settlements (much poorer than before). I did my work and, when everyone retired, I sat down to think. Like a strange hallucination, it seemed that my life had drawn an enormous circle back to the same starting point. It was a violent clash with the reality of the passage of time, and now retired and dedicated to writing, I revisited it. In reality, the existence of a person is made up of their successes and failures, their pleasant and unpleasant times, their usefulness and idleness, happiness and sadness. And so it has been for me as well, but of all the hills and mountains I have known, I prefer my Lawton hill as it was in my childhood.

October 25, 2010

So As Not To Forget / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Walking through the recently restored Plaza Vieja in the historic center of Havana, I noticed a large poster with photos with landslides, debris, garbage, etc., which read: SO AS NOT TO FORGET. I looked for some date and didn’t find any: when the photos were taken is not clear.
  2. I asked some of the young people, and not so young people, sitting at the El Escorial café nearby, if they knew what era the photos corresponded to, and without exception they said: before the Revolution.
  3. Respectfully, I explained to them that they were wrong, that before the Revolution there was an underground parking garage, a park, a cinema, a printers and stationery store, and different business all around the square, and that the photos correspond to the decade of the 1970s when all of Old Havana, due to abandonment, had become a huge slum, and they had to organize work teams and convoys of trucks to remove the accumulated trash and rubble from the building collapses and clear it away.
  4. I admire the City Historian and his collaborators for the magnificent work they have done and are still doing, often against all odds, faced with incomprehension and even lack of resources. I think it highly commendable to show each building or area as it was, before being restores, as this should help to raise awareness about the need for care and maintenance, but I also think that it is necessary, to avoid confusion, to clearly show the dates of the photographs on display.
  5. Without any bad intentions, only by omission, we could be contributing to further distorting the already misunderstood story.

The Misfortunes of Others / Fernando Dámaso

  1. The son of a friend, living in Sweden for years, with a Swedish family, sends an email with interesting photos of people in times of natural disasters and other such. The photos are heartrending, but what prompted this post are the texts that accompany them. Summaries indicate that there is always someone worse off; then why complain.
  2. I’ve never been conformist and consider the philosophy of conformity a waste. If as human beings we were conformists, we would still be living in the Stone Age, with none of the achievements, for better or worse, that exist today.
  3. Accepting our misfortunes, because there is someone in the world even more unfortunate, is an unacceptable attitude for someone with average intelligence. It is not looking down, but looking up, that leads to development. People aspire to excel and progress, and take not the losers as examples, but the winners. It is right and what has always happened.
  4. In my country, especially, we tried to make everyone equal in poverty and not in wealth. So we liquidated the rich and the wealth created, and turned them into poor citizens. So we achieved social equality. The formula is not original, and previously had been applied elsewhere, with similar disastrous results.
  5. I think if we ask Cubans who are here, or in Sweden, or another country, to not complain and accept our misfortunes quietly, as there are people in worse conditions in other countries, it causes inertia and stagnation, our two major ills. Fortunately, not too many people think this way. Being dissatisfied and struggling to leave our troubles behind, with our eyes on those who have made it, is a civic position. Our reality does not cloud our vision, a thing which, unfortunately, sometimes happens to those who are far away from it.

November 1, 2010

Help For Whom? / Fernando Dámaso

  1. I’ve always been aware that Support Groups for Solidarity with Cuba exist in different countries. Most are organized and staffed by the corresponding embassies and repeat the official propaganda, responding, like the legendary RCA dog, to the voice of their master.
  2. I prefer to believe that many of their members, if not some of their leaders, are honest people who feel they are doing something useful for the Cuban people. However, a fact that is well-defined in their respective countries — that there is a difference between a people and its government — is obviously absurd in the case of our country. Cuba is not only its government, but also the citizens who do and don’t support it and those who don’t opine.
  3. It seems that, unfortunately, the mixture of terminology coming from our country for many years now, where country, nation, socialism and party are synonymous, has crossed national frontiers and sparked confusion and chaos among our friends.
  4. I consider the Groups of Support and Solidarity necessary, but not with the government but with Cubans, with all Cubans without exception because, in one way or another, we all suffer the most serious scarcities and we are immersed in a national tragedy.
  5. Cuba, as a nation, is much more than an ideology or transitory politics, like everything human. Help and solidarity with Cuba is accomplished with the whole nation, not the government.

November 4, 2010

The Scolopi Fathers of La Víbora / Fernando Dámaso

In the half block between Flores Street and Correa and Encarnacion, in the La Víbora neighborhood, a modern and magnificent building was erected at the end of the forties for the Pious Schools. They also had schools in Havana at Manrique and San Rafael, in Guanabacoa, Pinar del Rio and Camaguey, all for boys. There was also one for female students in El Cerro.

I had the good luck to be among those who inaugurated the new facilities in La Víbora. I remember the majestic main entrance, the huge hall, the granite floor with the inlaid compass, and the tubular glass urns with the flags of Cuba and the school. Also, behind them, a long green granite bench, and on the floor there was a map of Cuba and the Caribbean, also in granite, and a large concrete patio surrounded by the galleries in a U-shape.

In my memory I can still see the spacious and airy classrooms, the library, dining room, chapel, the medical cabinet, and even the bathrooms on each floor. There were also vending machines for Coca Cola and candy. Nor have I forgotten the clean smell, the books, the polished wood and the colored chalk. These are all important memories of a personal nature.

The most valuable, however, was having had teachers such as Carlos Ruibó, Enrique Puente, Jorge Arango, José E. Caramés and the priests Angel Oliveras and Juan Capdevila, true teachers, who instilled in us the Pieta and Letters, the famous motto of San José de Calasanz, founder of the Piarist Order.

Today, many years later, I remember dear Father Oliveras, always restless, spending hours of Theology — by mutual agreement and with the doors closed — imparting knowledge about sex, answering our questions and clarifying our adolescent doubts. Also the time devoted to discussing the problems of the country and different issues in our society.

With the Scolopi Fathers we practiced thinking with their own heads, and I learned respect for the opinions of others and the value of tolerance, as well as the entire contents of the materials of different years. Unfortunately it has been many years since the Pious Schools have existed in my country, and its facilities are quite dilapidated, although they still exist in the rest of the world. I hope for their return, at least so that my grandchildren or the children of my grandchildren, can reassume this generational educational chain, which never should have been broken.

October 19, 2010

Language and War / Fernando Dámaso

Cubans, historically, have been a peaceful people. Since our emergence as a nation, the actual time devoted to war has been relatively little: a combined total of no more than twenty years. This does not mean we are cowards, it happens that we much prefer to live in peace. Our bellicosity of recent years is more cyclical than real: it responds to political constraints.

  1. Why bring this up? Well, because the military terminology fills all the days of our lives: we combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito with battles; the fight against cancer is a struggle; the economy is in the spotlight of the leaders; the volleyball matches, the boxing matches, the baseball games, etc. are all fights; street cleaning is an operation; collecting recyclable materials is a campaign; to recover the coffee production is a strategic battle, and so on.
  2. This militarization of everyday language, in addition to distorting the real meaning of words, further complicates grammar for our students, giving a negative impression on our society, which is actually quite peaceful.
  3. The Spanish language is rich. Why not use the words that go with things? Epidemics are treated with medication and health measures; similarly cancer; with the economy we take measures; in sports we compete; the streets are cleaned; the recyclable materials are collected; and the coffee harvested. This would enrich rather than impoverish.
  4. A Spanish friend told me a few days ago, “Fuck, to understand you guys you have to go to military school.”

October 16, 2010

Account Settled / Fernando Dámaso

Tomás Lima, the wisest man in my neighborhood, told me one day when I was a boy, we all bring a debt with us at birth. The only purpose of life is to pay it back. I didn’t understand, then, the meaning of his words and issued no opinion, I limited myself to a shrug of the shoulders.

Time passes and today, I don’t know why, I remembered his sentence. Valdés, who worked with me for seven years without ever even saying good morning, shot off his fat mouth: “Today I got up against all the debts. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are moral or material.” I didn’t know what to answer, and he continued: “The material don’t worry me, because sooner or later I pay them, even with interest, and that’s that.

“The ones that taunt me are the moral, because they don’t seem to ever be paid. They get tangled up in your feet, climb your legs, squeeze your testicles, wrap around your waist, squeeze your chest and, if you let them, they wrap around your neck and strangle you. They are snakes. The important thing is not to let them get to your neck.”

I looked at him strangely. What was that rant about? Nothing less than a fast and I haven’t eaten!

“Yes,” continued Valdés, “the first doubt is what they say we have with God, because Adam ate the apple Eve gave him, who in turn listened to the snake. I don’t give a crap for this debt! This debt is not mine! Let Adam and Eve pay it, if God doesn’t have the balls to claim it, that’s his problem! Let him sell it to the bank and you’ll see them collecting on it!”

He paused. He looked at the people who were starting to gather around.

“There is another they want to charge to me,” he said, “the one I have with my parents for giving me life. That was already paid, before I was born, by the pleasure they experienced in conceiving me! Account settled!”

By now there were more than ten people around Valdés. I meant to tell him to shut up, to get back to his work, but I let him continue.

Valdés, not addressing anyone, continued, “There are also debts to society. If it gives me education, health care, work, etc. that was its job. If not, what is society for? And what’s more, with education I’m the one who wore myself out studying, the doctor never comes (I think society owes me a debt), and as for work, I put in the effort and they only pay me for a part of it. The rest they appropriate, saying that it’s for the collective welfare and general enjoyment. So there I’ve paid for my education and medical care. Account settled! Every day I am more convinced that it is society that owes me.”

He looked at me and continued, “Not they say I have a debt to Africa, to Latin America and finally with humanity. What debts are these? As far as I know, no one in my family had slaves nor exploited slave labor. Nor did anyone use anything from Latin America, or ask for or borrow anything. Still less with humanity: that’s something very generic. If it’s really the case that all these debts are mine, better not to live.”

A murmur ran through the crowd which had grown to twenty people. I tried to signal to Valdés that he should shut up and get back to work. He didn’t notice or refused to understand.

He continued, “I shit on all these debts that aren’t mine. Let those whose debts they are pay them. From today I am against all debts.”

Then he sat down on the wooden box next to his machine, put his elbows on his knees and clutched his head in his hands. We were all silent.  The group of onlookers slipped away. Only I stayed with him.

For some minutes it seemed that he didn’t notice. Then, as if he’d discovered something, he raised his head a bit and looked up and said, “Did I talk too much shit?”

I didn’t answer. I stayed quiet for a few moments and, for some reason, those reasons in life you can never explain, I put my arm around his shoulders and muttered, “Sometimes you just have to do it!”

October 7, 2010

The Martí I Prefer / Fernando Dámaso

  1. The ideas of José Martí, the largest and most universal of all Cubans, have been used for a long time by this person and that depending on their political interests. his scale and his having tried virtually everything human and divine in his work has influenced this situation.
  2. His ideas and thoughts, presented as general guidelines applicable to any geographic region and time, break the narrow framework of every country and time, and are extended to humans. This, has increased his value and made his work susceptible to various uses, which can move easily between opposing extremes.
  3. This has also contributed its part to the ambivalence that various scholars of Marti’s work who, from their individual worldviews have interpreted, sometimes honestly and sometimes not, responding to their own circumstantial interests to which they apply it. Thus has emerged a strange “multi-use” Martí, far from the real man. The brutal practice of extracting as if by forceps phrases and ideas outside their original context, as conveniences, and exposing them as dogmas, has expanded enormously, and today most people only know this castrated Martí.
  4. In addition, critical editions of his works, analysis, interpretations and even ratings, have flooded our libraries and schools, each with its vision and burden of subjectivity, tending, often without malice, to undermine and compromise Martí’s thought.
  5. I am proud to have the four volumes of his complete works, published in 1946 and, even more, to have read them. I’m not a specialist, but merely a connoisseur and admirer. Sometimes I have returned at different times to them, looking for something important and always to a greater or lesser extent, I have found it. This pure Martí in his natural state, unpolluted, with no additions or subtractions, is my favorite.

October 1, 2010

The Story of the Aboriginals / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Over the last years, “Indigenism” has taken center stage in Latin America. Indigenous leaders, whether real or virtual, demand the re-establishment of ancestral rights. They consider themselves, by right of seniority, as owners of the lands and bodies of water, and all the riches that these may have. Also, they’ve become defenders of the flora and fauna and, in tune with the times, ecological crusaders. Everything would be fine, and it would even merit applause, if it weren’t for the immobility it represents, and the obscurity to which they relegate the various protagonists of the growth of the nations they live in.
  2. Taking for granted they really were the original people of the various regions they inhabit (which is very questionable, given that we could ask, since when?, as before them there were others, and others, and others, until the time of the dinosaurs and stone age men, the only ones who are truly original), the current nations didn’t just come to be as a result of their pure and unique way of life and worldview, but of the mix of diverse peoples and races, who have, through time, contributed their virtues and defects, and also different levels of social and technological progress.
  3. To accept that indigenous peoples should govern the nations, just because they are the original inhabitants, excluding all the other citizens of such nations, is as racist and prejudiced as the historical injustice that is supposed to be healed. It’s an outdated remake of the old theory of the noble savage, which has been firmly discredited. Following that road will lead to societies fragmented by absurd rights, moving away from unity, inside the individual diversity that we need so much.
  4. It should be a well established fact that the wealth of the nation is not the property of any original group or people, but of all the citizens of each nation, and what is decided about it and its exploitation involves the representatives of the whole society (indigenous and non-indigenous). To try adopting extreme and violent positions to obtain some gain, is a stance that shouldn’t be supported by anyone on his right mind, nor allowed, nor permitted, by any responsible government.
  5. The immobility that some indigenous groups support, with respect to the natural resources found in their so-called original settlements, ties the hands of the nation to the interests of a minority which, during the course of history has not shown, for one reason or another, their capacity to grow, remaining in a primitive state and blaming everyone else for their situation.
  6. It’s OK to support the aboriginals, but not so they can become independent entities, but to integrate into the citizenry of their nations with all the rights, but also with all the duties, that entails. That is the only way to achieve growth and prosperity.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 3, 2010

More on Crossed Signals and Other Absurdities / Fernando Dámaso

  1. A few days ago I wrote all about self-employed vendors Tulipan Street, first evicted and then located in a small park at Loma and Tulipan. I wrote that I hoped they would let them stay in that place.
  2. The peace lasted exactly one week. And they were forced to disappear again. It happens that the manager and the players continue with the crossed signals. Or maybe it happens that the team owner, who is directing it, is bypassing the manager.
  3. Today I was surprised not to find plastic bags in the foreign currency stores (in the Panamerica it is common), nor the usual old men and women who resell them at the entrances to the farmers’ markets. The first is becoming routine. The second is due to a police operation against them, making them disappear, despite the fact that they are compensating for the lack of pensions, the miserably retirement which is not enough to survive.
  4. The people selling in the market stalls complained that sales had declined, as buyers, having no bags, could not carry their products. It happened to me: I couldn’t find any bags, so I didn’t buy anything.
  5. We all know that the model does not work. It’s so bad that they are are incapable of producing even simple plastic bags or simple paper cones to carry products sold in stores. We must devote more attention to bread and less to the circus.

October 7, 2010

The Writer / Fernando Dámaso

The novel had gotten out of hand. Although he’d been trying for day, he couldn’t finish it: he couldn’t find a fitting end. It had all started with a simple anecdote that seemed like it would make a good story. From the first lines, however, the characters were coming to life and demanding to act on their own. He let them at it and, when he wanted to call them back to order, it was already impossible. They’d outrun the limits of the story and had gotten embroiled in a long history, where they were influencing each other.

Dominated by them, he continued writing: simply relating, as a chronicler, what they did. It was all developing normally until one of the characters started to quarrel with the others about his importance in the work. They all wanted to be the main character. One night when he managed to get them together, he explained the need to have one be the major character while the others would be secondary. Although they gave in, before his threat to stop writing, they weren’t convinced and, from that moment the gossip, tripping each other up, all the other vices of human vanity, flourished in his pages.

He tried to mask them with baroque prose, but one or another line lifted their ears. With perseverance, page by page, he was putting together his stores and he felt equally pleased with all the characters. So he came to the end and here came the catastrophe: all the characters wanted a happy ending and they wanted to be a part of it. He asked for help, retraining, but they were unable to shed their miseries. He was still unable to finish the novel. How can there be a happy ending when there are thirteen characters involved?

October 13, 2010

An Odd Anniversary / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Yesterday, October 10, was the 142nd anniversary of the Cry of Yara. The Cuban flags, so plentiful in government buildings, and also in the facades of some slogan followers’ houses, during days of celebration of the Socialist Calendar, were conspicuous by their absence. It seems this date, just like February 24, fundamental in defining our national identity, has lost its relevance, ceding its place to more important ones.
  2. It was a day like any other, only highlighted on the official media with a few news-flashes and some images, while most time and space was dedicated to other matters.
  3. It is true that, in the face of predicted ecological and political cataclysms, historical reenactments, necrophilic remakes, announcements of massive layoffs, increases in the price of products and services, and other misfortunes, there’s not much to celebrate.
  4. I remember my mother, on a day like this, trying to coordinate the colours of the flag in her clothes, and pinning a flag-coloured badge to the collar of her blouse. Those were different times, when civic pride was a fundamental part of life, without the need for decrees, instructions or slogans to honor the nation, its founders and its acts.
  5. Maybe a few years from now, when the 150th anniversary of the Cry of Yara comes and some things might have changed, we’ll adorn our houses with the national flag again, feel proud to be Cubans and celebrate this holiday, the most important, along with February 24, for the Cuban Nation.

Translator’s note: This date marks the beginning of the Ten Year’s War.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 11, 2010

Speaking of Homeland / Fernando Dámaso

  1. According to the dictionaries, your homeland is the country where you were born. Thus, it’s determination rests on a high dose of chance. Starting from here, come all the meanings the word has been given, including its sacredness.
  2. For some, country is humanity. For others it is their family, friends, or the house where they were born; and also the neighborhood, town or province. For others, more romantic, they think of their homeland as sunsets, starry nights, the ocean, a river, the forest. Some see a homeland as the place where they triumphed, where they have accomplished things, or where they fell in love. And there are some for whom their country is a source of pain, others for whom it is a joy.
  3. As we see, there are as many concepts of country as there are individuals and all are valid and respectable. There are countries for every taste and feeling. Homelands have nothing to do with politics or ideology. They are outside of all that.
  4. To speak of a socialist country is as absurd as speaking of a capitalist, feudal or slave country, which never existed and which, fortunately, no one ever thought to designate as such.
  5. Although, historically, this practice has been repeated in the name of all kinds of interests, it is not healthy to manipulate so casually something that is intimate and personal.

October 9, 2010

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