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 It’s an outdated remake of the old theory of the noble savage, which has been firmly discredited.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

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