Henry Constantin Arrested at the Airport on His Return From Lima / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)

Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2015 — Journalist and activist Henry Constantin, director of the magazine La hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), a member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) and collaborator with 14ymedio, was arrested at three in the afternoon on Thursday at customs in the José Martí Airport, as he himself reported via text message. “They demand my laptop. And magazine. I respectfully refuse. They do not let me talk,” he said in his text.

Constantin arrived in Havana from Lima, Peru, where he participated in the Conference of Investigative Journalism (COLPIN), along with Amarilis Cortina Rey, Ernesto Perez Chang, Ignacio Gonzalez Vidal and Armando Soler.

Later, Inalkis Rodriguez said by telephone from Camagüey that Constantin was taken to the Boyeros police station, near the airport. However, Constantin confirmed to this newspaper that moments before getting into the car that was to take him to the police station, he was told he could go. According to his account, he was able to handle the pressure and remained in possession of his laptop. He then headed to Camagüey.

Meanwhile, Ignacio Gonzalez, director of En Caliente Prensa Libre (In Hot Free Press), said that he was also separated for a “routine examination” in the words of Cuban Customs officials.

They searched all his luggage, but after a while let him leave without further consequences.

Camagüey’s San Juan Festival, Somewhere Between Fun and Indecency / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)

The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantín,Camagüey, 28 June 2015 — Saint John the Baptist, or San Juan in Spanish, was a man who used river water to baptize those who wanted to purify themselves, yet he ended up decapitated for criticizing Galilee’s corrupt rulers. Ironically, now almost two thousand years later, San Juan’s feast day is celebrated in Camagüey with a public festival organized by the city’s authorities (some of whom are also corrupt), and with plenty of diluted “baptized” alcohol.

One of the San Juan Festival’s aims and outcomes is to defuse the bottled-up but growing discontent and dissent of the preceding year, and it accomplishes its goal with the joyful “decapitation” generated by alcohol, music, and parades. Continue reading

Yes to Regulation, No to Control / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 21 January 2015 — I interviewed Fernando Pérez in a small room of that little movie theater is still left in Camagüey one day after the premiere of his latest production, La pared de las palabras (Wall of Words), a stellar film about which I didn’t ask a single question. I decided not to interview the film director and instead question the intellectual, the public figure who contributes more than just his works to the daily life of Cuba.

Fernando Pérez deserves, and can handle, any difficult question one can think of. His films, never boring and with noteworthy depth, reveal a certain level of social nonconformity and demonstrate high cinematographic and intellectual capacities that transform the slim and modest man into a very serious subject. Despite being thoroughly deserving, the cinematographer isn’t inflated with the airs of a great artist or a prominent public figure and treats with kindness both his public and the press. Continue reading

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo Escobar

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 — Henry Constantin is a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine’s Day, 30 years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá. Continue reading

CUBA IN FOCUS – New Book in English from “Our” Bloggers and Independent Journalists

CUBA IN FOCUS – New book edited by Ted A. Henken, Miriam Celaya, and Dimas Castellanos

Article by Ted Henken, from his blog, El Yuma

Those of you who follow me on Twitter @ElYuma will already know that just over a month ago ABC-CLIO published a new book about Cuba, called Cuba in Focus, that I am proud to have co-edited with Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos. In 2008, I wrote a book entitled Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook, also published by ABC-CLIO.  However, when they approached me three years ago wanting to do a new edition, I responded that I had already said my piece on Cuba but that I would be interested in recruiting and collaborating with a group of Cubans from the island to do a new volume that would give voice to their own analysis of the Cuban Revolution and the heady changes (from above as well as from below) that have taken place there in the last five years.

This volume is the result!

Starting young with Uncle Ted!

We benefitted from the collaboration of a host of perceptive and pioneering authors and activists, most of whom actually live on the island today.  A full list is below in the table of contents, but some of the more notable writers included in the volume are the late Óscar Espinosa Chepe, his wife Miriam Leiva, Yoani Sánchez, her husband Reinaldo Escobar, Armando Chaguaceda, Regina Coyula, Henry Constantín, Marlene Azor Hernández, Rogelio Fabio HurtadoMiguel Iturria Savón, and Wilfredo Vallín.

Of course, Dimas and Miriam did their share of stellar writing as well.

Each of the book’s seven chapters is made much more vivid and memorable by the breathtaking photojournalism of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, supplemented by photos by Tracey Eaton, Luzbely Escobar, and Uva de Aragón (all provided complementary).

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

You can learn more about the book and purchase your very own copy here and here.

What follows are the book’s PREFACE, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, and TABLE OF CONTENTS.


Writing and coediting a comprehensive reference book on a country with such an intricate history and rich culture as Cuba has been both a challenge and a pleasure. Cuba is literally bursting with a diversity of voices and competing perspectives. However, the internal media monopoly and rigid ideological parameters regulating the island’s writers, artists, intellectuals, and scholars often make it difficult for outsiders to hear or make sense of these many voices. Moreover, outside coverage of Cuba often deals in shallow stereotypes and wishful thinking, uninformed by serious, sustained examination of how life is actually lived on the island itself.

Fortunately, this study has been prepared as the island undergoes an unprecedented period of change—coming both from above and below—challenging traditional limits on critical expression and creating more space for independent analysis. In an effort to seize this special moment, the editors of this book (two of whom, Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos, currently live in Cuba) recruited more than a dozen others to give their independent, internal voice to the many topics examined here.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Apart from the three co-editors, the authors include the historian and political scientist Armando Chaguaceda, the late independent economist Óscar Espinosa Chepe, the independent blogger and photographer Henry Constantín, blogger Regina Coyula, Fernando Dámaso, the independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, Dayrom Gil, the sociologist Marlene Azor Hernández, the historian Maritza de los Ángeles Hidalgo-Gato Lima, the poet Rogelio Fabio Hurtado, the artist César Leal Jiménez, the activist and independent journalist Miriam Leiva, the photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, the blogger and independent journalist Yoani Sánchez, the historian Miguel Iturria Savón, and the lawyer Wilfredo Vallín.

All of these authors are Cuban and nearly all continue to live and work on the island today. Most are also both experts and hands-on practitioners in the fields about which they write, including history, anthropology, law, politics, economics, migration, religion, racial and ethnic relations, class structure, literature, dance and music, theater, film, civil society, human rights, the media, and the Internet.

The editors would like to recognize these authors who—each from his or her particular point of view—took the risk of making their knowledge and analyses public. Given that their analyses are often at odds with both the “official story” promoted by the Cuban government and the often ill-informed one coming from abroad, their effort to show this other, often hidden face of Cuba while continuing to reside there is particularly valuable and commendable.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Writing a balanced, accurate, and original overview of this unique and fascinating island-nation has been a daunting task. How does one describe the innumerable ways in which Cubans have embraced and, indeed, internalized much of U.S. culture during the island’s century of independent existence, while at the same time recognizing the fact that the United States has often wielded its power and influence in a manner ultimately harmful to Cuban sovereignty?

Likewise, how does one do justice to the enormous initial popularity and impressive social achievements of the Cuban revolution, without ignoring the suffering endured by the Cuban people both on the island and in exile as a result of the Cuban government’s internal rigidity, intolerance, and paternalism?

As Cubans like to say, No es fácil (It ain’t easy)!

Luzbely Escobar

Although writing and teaching about Cuba can be a political minefi eld of sorts, even for the most enterprising and sensitive of scholars, the country of Cuba, with its unique culture, and the people of Cuba, with their contagious charisma, passionate convictions, and gracious generosity of spirit, make the never-ending task of understanding the country and its people inestimably rewarding and enriching.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

This book is the fruit of more than five years of collaboration among its three coeditors and many authors, often thanks to our strategic use of the Internet and social media to share, edit, and translate the book’s various chapters. Thanks are due to the Swedish, Dutch, and Swiss Embassies in Cuba for opening their doors to the Cuban coeditors, enabling the free flow of uncensored information back and forth between Havana and New York necessary to make this book a reality. We even managed to convince a few brave (and happily anonymous) souls to help us by spiriting author contracts and payments back and forth between Cuban and the United States. We thank them here as well.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The volume provides an up-to-date overview of historical, political, economic, and sociocultural development of Cuba from the pre-Columbian period to the present, with an emphasis on the Cuban revolution, U.S.-Cuban relations, Cuba’s impressive cultural achievements, and the country’s current socioeconomic reality. The book contains seven narrative chapters, on (1) geography, (2) history, (3) politics and government, (4) economy, (5) society, (6) culture, and (7) contemporary issues.

Augmented by a total of 76 brief vignettes on various historical, political, cultural, or biographical topics of special interest or importance such as the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, the Platt Amendment, the U.S. Embargo, the writer Reinaldo Arenas, the film director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, the artist Wifredo Lam, or the human rights activists The Ladies in White. While the history chapter focuses almost exclusively on prerevolutionary Cuba, the bulk of the other chapters are dedicated to chronicling the economic, political, social, and cultural changes that have taken place in Cuban society since 1959 under the revolution.

Tracey Eaton

The editors would like to give special thanks to our two intrepid student translators, Michael Prada Krakow and Natalia Pardo Becerra—both natives of Colombia. With key financial support from Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, Mike and Natalia worked together with the book’s lead editor and translator—Ted A. Henken—for over a year rendering the various authors’ original Spanish-language chapters into an English that would preserve the content of their ideas and the beauty of their language. We also thank Regina Anavy for stepping in at a key moment with her own expert, emergency, volunteer translation of a few sections of this book. Its readers will judge how well we succeeded.

The editors would also like to thank Archibald Ritter, Yoani Sánchez, and Reinaldo Escobar who first introduced us to one another physically. We also acknowledge M. J. Porter, Karen Chun, and Aurora Morera, whose intrepid, behind-the-scenes work setting up portals to host their blogs allowed us to more easily collaborate virtually. Baruch College professor and top-flight literary translator Esther Allen also deserves nuestros más sinceros agradecimientos (our most sincere thanks) as she was a key link in the translation chain at an early stage of this project.

El Yuma with El Chagua & OLPL.

The writer, blogger, and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo also deserves our gratitude for graciously allowing us to raid his stunning trove of digital images of today’s Cuba, 15 of which illustrate the book’s pages. Queens-based graphic designer Rolando Pulido assisted with getting these photos camera-ready. Also, journalist Tracey Eaton, poet Uva de Aragón, and Cuban photographer Luzbely Escobar each generously contributed a wonderful photo of their own to the book.

Kaitlin Ciarmiello, ABC-CLIO’s acquisitions editor for the Geography and World Cultures series was especially instrumental in shepherding what unexpectedly became an unwieldy coedited, dual-language, and multi-author project through various stages of completion. Likewise, both James Dare, the book’s illustrations editor, and Valavil Lydia Shinoj, the book’s project manager were exemplars of resourcefulness and professionalism.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge the assistance of Cuban scholars Samuel Farber, Domingo Amuchástegui, and Eusebio Mujal-León, each of whom provided extensive comments on Chapter 3 “Politics and Government.” Likewise, Dafnis Prieto, the virtuoso Cuban percussionist and MacArthur “Genius” grantee, performed a similar service by thoroughly reviewing the section on Cuban music. Arch Ritter kindly did the same for Chapter 4 “Economy.”

We hope the published book reflects some of their extensive knowledge and editorial care. Of course, all errors, omissions, and oversights are our own.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo


1 GEOGRAPHY, Ted A. Henken and Miriam Celaya

2 HISTORY, Dimas Castellanos, Ted A. Henken, and Miriam Celaya

3 POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT, Wilfredo Vallín and Ted A. Henken

4 ECONOMY, Óscar Espinosa Chepe and Ted A. Henken

Religion and Thought, by Rogelio Fabio Hurtado and Ted A. Henken
Ethnicity and Race, Class Structure, and Inequality, by Dimas Castellanos and Ted A. Henken
Family, Gender, and Sexuality, by Miriam Celaya and Ted A. Henken
Education, by Miriam Celaya
Migration and Diaspora, by Dimas Castellanos and Ted A. Henken
The Media, by Reinaldo Escobar
Internet, Social Media, and the Cuban Blogosphere, by Yoani Sánchez

Language and Literature, by Miguel Iturria Savón and Ted A. Henken
Dance, Music, and Theater, by Regina Coyula and Ted A. Henken
Cinema and Photography, by Henry Constantín and Miriam Celaya
Cuisine, by Maritza de los Ángeles Hidalgo-Gato Lima and Ted A. Henken
Art and Architecture , by César Leal Jiménez
Popular Recreation and Sports, by Rogelio Fabio Hurtado
Popular Culture, Customs, and Traditions, by Regina Coyula and Fernando Dámaso

Raúl Castro’s Reforms: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, by Dimas Castellanos
Agricultural Reforms, by Dimas Castellanos
Political Reforms and Rising Corruption, by Marlene Azor Hernández
Recent Cuban Elections , by Armando Chaguaceda and Dayrom Gil
Cuba’s Demographic Crisis, by Dimas Castellanos
Recent Migration Reforms, by Ted A. Henken
Cuba’s International Relations, by Miriam Leiva
The Catholic Church, Dissidence, Civil Society, and Human Rights, by Dimas Castellanos and Miriam Celaya

Facts and Figures
Major Cuban Holidays and Festivals
Country-Related Organizations
Annotated Bibliography
Thematic Index
About the Authors and Contributors


Another Ship Bound for Korea / Henry Constantin

6a00d8341bfb1653ef01901e67ea1d970b-550wiI have been to Korea a couple of times and the memory of it feels like a weight on my chest. People there work from sunup for a monthly salary that only gets them through a week. They do not know what the internet is and have never used email. They arrive punctually for political rallies and applaud mechanically, as they have been taught to do since childhood. When they leave, they look as though they feel they have wasted their time. They disparage American imperialism and capitalism but seem to have a certain envy of people from there, with their mobile phones and brand-name shoes.

That is Korea. In the hills fourteen kilometers north of Mayarí Arriba in Santiago de Cuba there is a little house belonging to Empresa Forestal Sierra del Cristal filled with men subject to the same gag orders and shortages as their counterparts in North Korea, where our arms are being sent without consent from us, their owners.

People in North Korea do not need to import more armaments. They already have enough — nuclear ones too — and they are not being brought in to make them happy. Like us, what they need besides the essentials of life are to have the tools of freedom put in their hands, not in those of the huge state which wastes them on surveillance.

These include computers, cell phones, flash drives, photo and video cameras, satellite antennas for internet and television, books and manuals on digital technology, human rights, peaceful resistance, a free press and civil society. They need access to Twitter, Youtube and Facebook so they can learn to publish whatever they want. They need roundtrip tickets to anywhere, to learn and bring about their hopeful ideas about the reality of their twin brothers in the south who enjoy an excellent standard of living.

Because Cuba’s foreign policy should never be that of “happiness now in your own home.” As we become more free as people and more prosperous as a nation, Cuba should not forget all the people in the world who are going through things as bad so bad as we are going through. Human solidarity, at the end of the day, is what has been preached for 50 years in our schools and media, though not always with peaceful, innocent or disinterested intentions.

Cuba and the world need to change a great deal. The humble workers cutting timber in the Korea of Crystal Mountain, where I got the traveler pretext for this article, deserve a better life. The North Koreans of the peninsula, which have similar scarcities, too.

And we Cubans need better international politics, one that in addition to looking after ourselves, also includes solidarity with all human beings who are down — regardless of their flag — with the oppressed, not with the little men clinging to eternal and total power: some day our shops will carry internet and computers and books, instead of hidden arms. Some day.

20 July 2013

A Lighthouse Against Old Discourses / Henry Constantin

A lighthouse at the entrance of a bay: a sexual metaphor, or a social one, if we see the bay as part of that Cuba that isn’t fertilized, even if the lives of millions of Cubans have been spent in an attempt to make it fertile.

This lighthouse does shine; not like the resumes of the army general and his officers, in which are divined the economic and social long night they promised to patient Cubans. It’s not a bad lighthouse nor is it like the mists that raise the unanimous applause of the still mute Parliament, or the journalists’ repetition of those numbers only useful to spotting the rear ends of the millions on the island who don’t even have money to buy toilet paper.

The same day that the current president of the Republic talks about the deteriorated civic values, the monstrous malformations in the conduct of Cubans, of cancers of the spirits that grow as much as the economic problems, his police shamelessly mistreating and arresting peaceful people who confront them only with civic values. What did he talk about then?

Because of this I don’t believe the current president. So I am publishing this photo of a lighthouse where I arrived after a dawn of mosquitoes, at the entrance to Manatee Bay, in the north of Las Tunas province. A lighthouse is my own metaphor that there are indeed sure ways to improve this island without the trauma of an infinite reform that hasn’t made us the slightest bit happy here.

Of course it’s not easy to get there: by the dark mountain path there are guards and trails to get lost in, but it’s better to walk with a bad helmsman and an old map. Those who still insist on guiding us with the same mistaken lighthouses as always, the fairy fires that lead us again and again into the reefs or the swamp.

Now, what we need are not more energetic or exhaustive speeches: we need to rectify this bad light and build our own lighthouses, new goals and distinct paths other than those designed in the offices upstairs, to see if, sometime, something really changes down here.

New and true lighthouses, for this island that at the same time is a drifting boat and the promised land. It’s what we are trying to do.

10 July 2013

If Venezuela looks into Venezuela

Fifteen kilometers to the south of Ciego de Ávila, in the center of Cuba, there is another failed town, the outbuildings of the demolished central Stewart, that today is called Venezuela. One more ruin.

Venezuela was once a thriving town. More than 7500 workers earning their bread and some constant progress in a sugar refinery that became the third in production capacity in the whole country. One million sacks of sugar produced in 1952. Big old wood houses that still exists, though leaning a bit and unpainted. A Union capable of hard battles for their workers’ progress, without limits, even against governments or companies, as it should be. Hundreds of residents members of different political parties, lodges, religions, cultural societies, choosing to buy amid different newspapers or crowds of commercial brands.

All that was reduced to One. And often to Zero.

Only one union trained to tell their workers that they must continue working in silence even if the receive less each time; one school where the boys learn a bunch of things that won’t give them any prosperity after graduation if they stay in that town or country. Very little to eat in the street, the farmers market selling very tiny potatoes, some bananas and malangas (a tuber resembling sweet potatoes),amid very fertile soil.

A fish market of chopped fish 30 kilometers from the Júcaro port. A boring museum with the stuff of Indians, Cuban independence warriors, union workers and bourgeois that soon will be another office in this poorly preserved town-museum. The headquarters of the Union that used to give battles against the masters in the republic, demolished.

Huge billboards with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez announcing a future that neither they nor their followers will be able to give to their people. Eternal silences in the nights. And the refinery, that majestic mass of human labor, that factory that 60 years ago exceeded the million sacks of sugar, became a silent ruin.

And that is only the visible part. There isn’t freedom, which is not easily measurable, because people get used to silencing their wishes of progress to avoid jail or being fired from jobs, they get used to the same newspaper, radio and television; to the same politicians, to the same useless currency. They adapted themselves to thinking about running away, very far, without home or family when they can’t take it any more: that custom is the worst thing that happened to Stewart, to Venezuela.

This is Venezuela’s mute drama. That could happen to the other Venezuela, if they don’t learn the lesson of others and vote badly or remain silence in these decisive days, in which I forget that stupidity of not meddling in the problems of people of different flags; between the solidarity for other men, and respect for the very dubious sovereignty made to protect bad governments, I choose solidarity. And I also believe, as did José Martí and Bolivar — liberator of foreign lands — that homeland is humanity.

And Venezuela pains me.

Translated by: @Hachhe

11 April 2013

The Contaminated Flag / Henry Constantín

In the back, the Cuban flag waves high above the world. Far ahead, the Hicacos peninsula stretches across the horizon. Varadero, the only town on the island that has been spared the rust, grows right there. Just don’t look down, at where we stand. Cardenas, the neighboring city, is just a mishmash of oil, industrial waste, and urban trash. And all the patriotism inspired from that highest flag and the shining glory of the nearby Varadero beach cannot change the picture.

Cardenas, Ciudad Bandera — Flagship City — was not splashed by one drop from the Gulf of Mexico’s disaster created by BP. The contamination that saturates this stretch of land is caused by human activity in the ocean, the waste from Varadero beach, and the industrial presence along the shore including none other than the emblematic and prosperous distillery. Yet, the real disaster is the complete lack of concern of those who are supposed to respect and revere the place where our flag was first raised. All this in a country where there are laws to punish the flag itself.

Under these circumstances, the idea of attaining sustainable growth is more like the uncertainty of walking endlessly towards under-development without a sign of relief.

Cubans have not been taught to honor Cardenas as is the case with La Demajagua or Dos Rios. What happened in Cardenas in 1860, although of little influence on immediate political changes, was extremely relevant for the history of the island and at least two other countries: Spain and the USA. Yet, we, as people, are afraid to learn our history, the real one not the convenient heroic one that exists only in books and in the heads of some who benefit from their own version.

That year, the Spanish-Venezuelan Narciso Lopez entered the city of Cardenas. He waved in his hands the flag that has become our symbol to the human race and so it will be as long as we think the concept of nation is bigger than humanity itself. Back then, that idea did not call for too many emotions. The flag was just a rag designed by Teurbe-Tolon and it was meant to be carried by Lopez during his invasion of Cuba. It also provoked complex political associations for it resembled the one used by independent Texans years earlier to separate from Mexico and join the Union. The profuse blood shed of 1868 and the cautious American foreign policy turned a flag with northern flare into the flagship of an army of independent republicans.

In Cardenas, the population, Spaniards and Cubans alike, calmly allowed Narciso Lopez to land. People were not willing to change their world. Life was about getting by, as it is today, while the city grows thanks to tourism and the seashore rots under their nose. Maybe the citizens and officials of Cardenas think the city or the coastline do not belong to them. Perhaps they believe their space ends at the front door of their houses and offices. They are not yet convinced that the city, like the country, belongs to all of us.

Meanwhile, the flag in front of which we should kneel stands tall, two hundred meters away from a swamp of waste. A small swamp that pushes itself beyond the horizon all over the island.

Translated by: Wilfredo Dominguez

November 24, 2010

Closed, for Cubans / Henry Constantín

There are regions in my country where I still cannot enter. At least not unless if I am loaded with official documents, authorizations, guarantees, and recommendation letters. An entire list can be made out of these things. I’m used to it: In Cuba, one can write – actually, those in power have already done so – an infinite list of the things that are restricted for Cubans. There is a list of web sites which I cannot enter, a list of magazines and newspapers which are not allowed to be read in libraries (the list includes any which display my rulers committing any errors worth silencing), another list of films, such as “Before Night Falls” and “The Lost City”, which I can’t find in any of the state video stores or movie theatres. As for musicians that are prohibited from receiving any radio or TV play – Alejandro Sanz, Willy Chirino, Porno Para Ricardo, etc. The most outrageous situations is that of the people whom we are not supposed to call by phone or visit in person – but I do it anyway, and that’s why I probably am included in that list, too. There is yet another list which consists of historical people who cannot be mentioned without evoking much offense – commanders Eloy Guiterrez Menoyo and Huber Matos, president Estrada Palma, and so on. There are dozens of lists which are composed of well-off people the same way that there are those made up of everyday people in Cuba. But it is these outlawed regions of our geography which interest me the most on this Travel Report.

The post with which I inaugurated this blog was about how I could not enter the Cape of San Antonio in Guanahacabibes – in the far Western part of Cuba – for the simple reason that I was not a tourist. At that time, the functionaries of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment denied me the entrance, just as the orders mandated they do so to every Cuban resident on the island. While I was getting over that frustrating trip, a few vehicles with tourist license plates swiftly passed by, heading towards the Cape. They braked right by me, asking (in Andalusian and Italian accents) the solicitous guard where their destination lay as he opened the entrance gate.

In the extreme opposite of the country, halfway from between Baracoa and the Yumuri river – on the North coast – there lies another one of those “border” spots. In it, some locally known cavers, carrying all sorts of official authorizations, waited for almost an hour under the mid-day sun until the official decided that they could pass towards the Maisi Point.

The Sabana-Camaguey archipelago, which borders the northern coast of the central provinces, is also prohibited. It’s made up of a strip of hotels from Santa Maria Key to Paredon Grande, with very little terrestrial access – some anti-ecological and enormously steep embankments from Caibarien to Turiguano – where vehicles which transport Cubans are carefully searched by police officers, who check to see how many documents people are carrying, or who make them get out of the car and stay there. And you can’t just go in under the pretext of simple tourism. If you don’t have a hotel reservation, or if you don’t have any credentials such as being an employee or participant in an already registered event, then you can’t go in.

The same thing occurs in Sabinal, which is less exploited touristically, and also in Romano Key, the largest and most conserved of the keys. As if it wasn’t enough, there is at least one of those small islands which requires a double authorization project: Paredon Grande. Any Cuban who gets there must show his/her permits, and since the terrestrial path goes through Coco Key (where in the entrance of Turiguano they already searched through the papers) then it turns out that you would get searched twice.

But on the Isle of Pines, which still has the official name of “Island of Youth”, it is an even more ironic case. Up to well into the 20th century, Cuban sovereignty was not well defined in terms of this rugged area and with regards those supposed North-American colonizers. And now, in the 21st century, for a national resident to access that minor southern island (the most extensive and inhospitable) it requires even more permits and processes, moreso than a European Union citizen trying to pass from one country to another. And let’s not even mention Largo Key, which lies about 100 kilometers to the East: I’ve only been able to see it from an airplane.

But it isn’t just land that is forbidden. There are also bodies of water which surround the island (and which are supposedly considered territorial waters) which the authorities consider to be malignant for Cubans. A couple of youths from Smith Key (or “Granma Key” as it is officially known) who are owners of boats which are used to explore the interior bay of Santiago de Cuba, opened their eyes wide in disbelief when I suggested to take a look into the exterior part of the bay, where the Morro Castle starts to rise. “That’s forbidden”. And this is a national mandate: any Cuban who is riding upon any sort of water vessel must be heavily armed with authorizations, if not he or she runs the risk of spending the night in a prison.

In all of these cases ecological protection, which is the justification for restricting or controlling the access to protected zones in the world, is discarded simply because of the differences which exist for a foreign citizen and a national resident who wants to visit any of these areas. The foreign visitor would be content just to go in and take a quick look, while a Cuban, when he or she has no reservations (if the area is a hotel zone) could wait up to three months while searching for authorizations from up to half a dozen functionaries — and that really is a valid justification! And, mind you, this is always with the risk present of having such access being denied just because of trivial whims.

Where our internal exile is really colossal is in Caimanera, the city closest to the perimeter of the US Naval Base in Guantanamo. We Cubans consider the territory where the Base is located to be part of our country, and we hope that one day it will really be that way. Of course, we can’t enter that place, but in addition, those who run this country have really gone to the extreme, so much so that in Caimanera, a city which is fully national, no Cuban can get in unless they are pre-authorized and justified by an application filled out by any family they have who are residents of that town, and even they, the family, have to inform the authorities first.

The reason for so much discrimination is really shameful: trying to keep Cubans from leaving the country illegally (perhaps our island is a jail, which is supposed to be the only place where anyone can escape illegally from), protecting the environment, (which they protect from us Cubans who go by foot, and not from foreigners who drive down such zones with their polluting automobiles which can easily exterminate any endangered species), and to prevent diversions of naval vessels and any provocations to the Base…

Out of all these excuses, and out of all the flagrant discrimination which they conceal, we can reach some painful conclusions. The most obvious: that Cubans who are residents of their own country are not considered to be citizens who possess inviolable rights before the State (whose sole purpose is to guarantee these rights), and instead, our role is something very different. We’re supposed to be people who live in a place where others rule, and where our value is below that of politics and the interests of our rulers. The colossal fear which these individuals have of losing authority through illegal exits, improbable clandestine disembarkations, or through the psychological pressure of a conflict with the Naval Base, can never make sense in the 21st century to continue discriminating against its own citizens. This only accelerates the need to get the leaders out of the way, for they have already lost the opportunity to fix things. Today, the goal is very clear: tear down all the silent walls and discrimination which the fears of an older generation erected, be at peace with our own people, and reconstruct our pride.

When any Cuban can stare out to the sea from the Cape of San Antonio, without blushes or permits, then that will be a good sign.

Translated by Raul G.

September 25, 2010

Gandhi Smiling in the Wee Hours / Henry Constantín

Early morning hours. Eight students from “Marta Abreu” Central University of Las Villas, passengers without tickets on a train. They are between cars, standing or crouching, shivering from the most intense cold in the world. In the door to the right, two cops: they don’t let them pass. At the door to the left, three railway officials: they have them surrounded. A man of enormous size and arrogance shouts from the station: the train will start only when those damn students who got on in Santa Clara without tickets get off. This happens at two in the morning in a place isolated even from itself: the town of Guayos, more than halfway to Camagüey, the destination of the boys.

There are many other travelers who don’t have tickets, and they don’t bother them, then why harass the young people?

Two months earlier, some of those same students boarded a train without tickets. That is normal in Cuba: the national railway doesn’t meet even twenty percent of passenger demand and there is a regulation that allows people who board without tickets to ride once they are on the train by paying double the established fare, to the delight of some industrious pockets. This system was applied to these boys, with the peculiarity that after having been squeezed (each one had to give a third of their monthly university stipend to stay aboard), they saw the money disappear into a pocket without getting any ticket or other proof of the transaction. So, it was the officials who got fatter.

What did they do then? They wrote about it in a letter to the State newspaper Juventud Rebelde, the national escape valve of anyone disgusted who can’t deal with the primary causes, and that let to a purification process in certain instances on the Cuban Railways. There were sanctions against a couple of people. We return to Scene 1.

The little train boss, fired up by that event, in a Mafia-like revenge decided to take it out on the Santa Clara university students, until one night we, forced by inevitable lack of transport, got on the train. Far from the station, the character noted our unmistakable presence and ordered us to get off. Faithful police and functionaries pushed us from car to car until they had us all cornered. And there, with shouts, threats of fines and jail cells, they demanded that we get off the train at the first stop.

We decided this was discrimination and vengeance and abuse and they had no right and in the end we decided to remain still and silent. We didn’t want to get off in Placetas. A girl explained to the police the reasons for the disobedience. The train boss swore definitely to stop it in Guayos: “I’m going to call the Party and whomever.” Instinctively, we move closer. The police smoke nervously, without looking us in the eye. A civilian with the suspicious air of a negotiator wants to know what we want. To go to Camagüey and pay what we owe. The shrieks of the train boss, obstinate about telephoning the station, feeling it all on the dark platform. Some hesitated: What if they arrest us? What if they kick us out of the University? No one answered the one who had spoken: his girlfriend looked at him and spit her gum out the window.

Welcome to the land of El Mayor*, says the most visible sign on the Camagüey train station. With our bags over our shoulders, still smiling still scared, we separate that morning at the station. We look back, the stopped train, its masters incapacitated and its servants hideous, in the early morning when some young men lost their fear.

*Translator’s Note: El Mayor is the nickname of Ignacio Agramonte (1841-1873), a hero of Camagüey in the fight for independence from Spain.

September 15, 2010

The Third Issue of La Rosa Blanca Magazine / Henry Constantín

This is the third issue of La Rosa Blanca, you have to walk a lot in order to publish it, and walk even more to deliver it in a country mute and without internet. Every issue of La Rosa Blanca, which I’ll post in this blog as I’ve done before, since I don’t have any effective way to post it someplace else, is the sum of a few eventful trips to collaborators’ houses and loyal readers.

This magazine is also the end of many trips. In the province of Las Tunas, up north, I meet Christian essayist Frank Folgueira at his house, a stubborn historian focused on the history of another one of the towns – Manatí, which is also my birthplace – hit by the plague that is just ending. As if it were a national affliction, in Encrucijada de Villa Clara, in an old high roof wooden house from before the revolution, I meet Gabriel Barrenechea, suffocated by the gray vigilant atmosphere of his village, writing his stories and copious economics and political essays by hand.

Havana… and fourteen long flights of stairs to reach the apartment of two friendly Cubans, Yoani and Reinaldo, because La Rosa Blanca publishes some articles from Generation Y, which needs from channels like this one to be read in Cuba. Afterwards, down Tulipán street, we turn and continue for a couple of streets, in Nuevo Vedado, and underground – and under the sea which floods this island – we meet Rafael Alcides who breaks his self-imposed silence to offer us a few articles of unheard of tidiness.

A bit farther away, where Vedado and Downtown Havana meet, Yoss delivers dozens of writings of every kind, but always weighing more towards fantasy and science fiction, giving a breath of fresh air to the seriousness that national reality imposes on the magazine. I come back to Camagüey, and go to the only house where everything is discussed, freely and thoroughly, located in Agramonte, and I meet with the intellectual Rafael Almanza going through one of the thousands of pieces that make up his work.

Maybe, instead of coming back to Camagüey, I go from Havana to Pinar del Rio, where Dagoberto Valdés and Karina, Virgilio, Jesuhadín, Néstor, Servando and the others patiently try to inculcate a culture of tolerance in all Cubans. Or I’ll go to Bayamo, where my friend Ernesto Morales, who’s been just expelled from his post working as an official journalist – he’s finally managed to get that badge of recognition of his honesty and bravery – writes and blogs in the tense and isolated environment of the eastern provinces; or maybe to visit Elia, in Las Tunas, in search of Carlos Esquivel’s poems, a miraculous writer who has resisted the temptation of the big cities, and refuses to leave his indolent land.

From the work of all of them, and many others, comes La Rosa Blanca, which will later spread from computer to computer, from memory to memory, and even through old three and a half inch floppy disks, with the same silent fragility which characterizes its making. Here it is.

La Rosa Blanca 3.pdf

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 5, 2010