When Will the Government of Cuba Have Normal Relations With the Cuban People? / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantin, New York, 31 May 2016 — This video is mute. Like Josefina Vidal, an official from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX), and José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, when I asked them questions that they did not expect, after their lecture on “normalization” at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) held in New York a few days ago:

  • Most Cubans believe that the real blockade is what “those up above” in Cuba maintain against the initiatives of the rest of us.
  • The normalization between Cuba and the United States is well advanced: Cubans receive with joy both the United States president as well as the simple tourist from the north. And they have privileged status when they arrive on the northern soil.
  • We Cubans want not only tourism or entertainment from the United States, but also to be its counterpart in politics, business, media, academics…
  • The biggest obstacle to normalization is that put in place by the Cuban government.
  • This occurs because the Cuban government does not have normal relations with its own people, neither asks nor listens to them, on this or any other subject.
  • And, finally: When will Government of Cuba have normal relations with the Cuban people?

They did not respond. They don’t know how. The “abnormal” is in effect.

At the end of the video I am standing against the conference room wall but content, because it is they who will be against the wall of the future, the day that more Cubans are encouraged to question them. And demand from them.

“Venezuela Is Worse Than Cuba” / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Delsa Solórzano opposition lawmaker (c), with Mr. Angel Medina (r) and Richard Blanco (l) in the "Perspectives of the Opposition" forum in the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington DC, United States. (EFE)
Delsa Solórzano opposition lawmaker (c), with Mr. Angel Medina (r) and Richard Blanco (l) in the “Perspectives of the Opposition” forum in the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington DC, United States. (EFE)

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Washington, 2 May 2016 — “There is nothing: No power, no water, no supplies in hospitals, there is no aspirin, no food, no security,” said Venezuelan Deputy Angel Medina in a debate on Venezuela organized last week by the Inter-American Dialogue Center of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“Venezuela is worse than Cuba,” added Delsa Solorzano, another of the six deputies from different parties grouped within the Democratic Unity Roundtable, which won an absolute majority in the last general elections but which does not control the executive power in Caracas. These parliamentarians are participating in a tour to seek solidarity for the release of political prisoners and for the desperate situation Venezuela is experiencing.
Continue reading ““Venezuela Is Worse Than Cuba” / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin”

“In one of the neighborhoods where we went to campaign, I visited fifty houses, and all of them I asked to look, first of all, in the refrigerator. All had empty fridges. One lady told me she had only a piece of sausage, and six children to feed, ‘How do I do that?’ she said,” recounted one of the deputies present.

“In some places the government has threatened people that if they sign for the recall [of Maduro], they will take away the things they received.” And people tell them, “But we don’t have anything, what are you going to take?” said another of the deputies present.

Included in this tour, undertaken by opponents of the Maduro government, is a meeting scheduled with Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States—who has also been critical of the anti-democratic stance of Maduro’s government—as well as a meeting with the Washington Post, which has published strong editorials against the Venezuelan government.

“We believe in diversity [of opinion] and in Venezuela we want diversity of opinion to no longer be a crime. Right now we have people who are political prisoners simply for writing a tweet,” said deputy Solorzano, who at the end of the event was very warmly by many of the Venezuelan émigrés present.

“Venezuela needs everything. Right now, if you can participate in donating medications that would be very good. And also, those of you who are bilingual, you can translate our messages to that more people can learn what we are experiencing and support us. This is very important,” commented Solorzano, who is also the vice-president of the Domestic Policy Committee of the National Assembly and a member of the opposition party A New Time, which receive the most votes in the last election.

“You have to stay united,” urged members of the audience, mostly made up of young professionals and students. “We are and we will be after the victory, it is not enough to win an election. We must rebuild Venezuela. We make decisions unanimously and discuss all our differences, but we always make it clear that we must act together.”

“But you have to have a strategy, what is your strategy?” protested a lady in the audience, to whom Delsa Solorzano responded, “We have a strategy, and every step that has been taken as been thought through very carefully. What we do not want to do is announce our strategy. And stay tuned, because in peace, without violence, in the coming months very good things are going to happen.”

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

The opening of my 2004 article about the San Juan Festival – a June tradition that always brings joy to the people of Camagüey – was a bit less critical. Nevertheless, it was censored and consequently not published in Adelante, the official newspaper. I was accused of promoting religion for mentioning San Juan in the opening sentence. Now is my chance to get even, although I must admit that there were not many differences between the festival of 2004 and 2015.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment

Just like back in 2004 – and as is the case in nearly all Cuban towns sponsoring public festivals – this year’s San Juan Festival started with the closure of specific streets and squares, where dozens of food and trinket stands, stages for musical performances, trailers carrying beer kegs, and carnival games were placed.

Floats, conga lines and dance troupes filed by in the early evening and after dusk. This year they were very colorful and rhythmical, although some of the musicians and dancers seemed off beat and to have a blank look on their faces. As always, the music and sale of food and beer went on until dawn. This was especially the case at the location where the great Cándido Fabré’s orchestra was performing.

Most students and State employees are grateful for the festival because the afternoons of the week of June 24th become de facto time off. Most people just leave their workplaces.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment, and who also provide what is consumed, transportation, and even the pubic restrooms. Yet our festival has its own peculiarities. We have San Pablo Street, historically and instinctively preferred by homosexuals, reserved for the street carnival.

Then there is Capdevila Street, which is synonymous with overwhelming vulgarity. We have a famous conga line, “The Commandos,” and the events start with a traditional inaugural in which the president of the local government delivers an official proclamation.

On the eve of San Juan’s Day, neighbors get together and make a large stew, which gets weaker every year, as do the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are responsible for preparing the meal. This year, the CDR’s were so kind as to distribute rotting cattle bones to homes on several blocks.

At sunset, thousands of people pour out onto the streets, but most return home after taking a stroll or before the break of dawn. These are then followed by young people, groups of inebriated friends, and lovers. Walking on the streets where the festival takes place with a wallet or cellphone at that time of night is extremely dangerous.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam. Rivers of pungent urine flow from the streets adjacent to the musical bands, from the beer kegs, and even from the walls of private homes. Later on it takes days to disinfect whole neighborhoods. Merry men and women of all ages hide in the dark to relieve their bladders, turning the simple acts of opening one’s front door or looking out the window into unpleasant surprises.

In the pre-dawn hours and in the areas reserved for dancing, it is not uncommon to see women in the crowd with their babies asleep in their strollers, accompanying their husbands who cling to their easily recognizable beer cans. No matter the time of day, the areas set aside for shopping and public consumption of beer are packed with minors, who with or without adult supervision witness and sometimes participate in all the rituals of adult nightlife: the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, public sex, lewdness, urination and defecation, and nighttime delinquency.

For some time now, Camagüey has been ravaged by violence, and the San Juan Festival only exacerbates the problem. Once festivities kick off on June 24th, the city’s residents start echoing the usual warnings: “Be careful out there!”; “Don’t go out at night!”; “Don’t ride your bike!”; “Make sure you lock the door!”; “Make sure to leave your money at home!”

According to older people, this year’s San Juan Festival was not as nice as those of yesteryear. Thousands of citizens of Camagüey stayed home, out of fear, indifference, or lack of money. Those who tried enjoying the festival did so despite the awful conditions caused by scarcity, stench, and danger. Still, the San Juan Festival is the only opportunity the people of Camagüey have in the whole year to forget about their gray lives, their limited hopes, and their bitter struggle for survival.

Translated by José Badué

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

I had to ask him a complicated or daring question in the scarce minutes of my interview because there was little I hadn’t heard following his eloquent speeches before the camagüeyano audiences that had welcomed him in various places throughout the day.

Constantin. Following the prohibition of privately owned movie theaters, do you, cinematographers, still include in your proposals for the Cinema Law the independent distribution and showing of films?

Peréz. We’ve advanced a proposal that, of course, includes the distribution, showing, and preservation of our patrimony.

Regarding showings, there are very few venues that meet the requirements of a real movie theater. There are generations of youths that don’t know what a real movie theater is, even in a moment where the ways of showing and distributing films have diversified, for better or for worse. Rescuing the quality of movie theaters is fundamental. I can watch a movie in a smaller screen, on a laptop even, I don’t oppose that, but its true place is in a movie theater, not because it’s dark or because it is projected on a larger screen, it’s because of the energy generated from watching it alongside a live audience. It’s as if you were living within another movie altogether. Our movie theaters have either lost their intended purpose at the expense of other varied activities or, due to decay, have ceased to operate completely.

“Personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.”

On the other hand, distribution is still centralized within The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). We need to debate an editorial policy that is concrete and safe because there are national works – and I’m not talking about the international ones – that are not shown due to an editorial policy that is unclear. That needs to be regulated as well; it can’t be subjected to circumstantial or temporary decisions.

Q. Does your proposed Cinema Law conceive the ICAIC as the sole entity charged with distributing and showing films in Cuba?

A. Not exactly, although we don’t have all the answers, but distributing and showing is an extensive process that depends on a financial framework that we neither manage nor will. But, we are considering and analyzing the possibility of a breakup, a decentralization of many of these activities, where independent initiatives, regulated but not controlled, can generate improvements and also experience a more dynamic growth themselves.

I think that beyond Cuba’s audiovisual industry, having a centralized pyramidal social structure has caused many aspects of our reality to be plagued by processes that delay, that don’t find solutions, that aren’t dynamic, and that are bureaucratized because they depend on centralized decisions that cannot respond to everything. More freedom to operate and act would facilitate personal initiative, and personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.

This structural relaxation has to somehow be envisioned as part of the system we would like to have. I can’t give you concrete solutions because we are, in fact, debating. We don’t want them to come only from us; we want to explore them with other regulatory entities in our country. Not everything will be feasible immediately.

We feel like that policy is not yet outlined, or like we don’t know where it’s going, or that it’s too centralized, that it starts on a routinely straight line that is very difficult to divert.

“Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all.”

Q. From what I’ve seen within your work, you strike me as a person who believes that art can serve to change the world you live in. How do you see the relationship between art and politics?

A. Art needs to relate and mingle with life and also have its own discourse within that relationship, holding the person at the center of it all. While politics delves into the general, art targets the particular. Politics can serve art, by always upholding the freedom of expression that art needs, and art can serve politics, by rendering its reality more complex without becoming propaganda. If art becomes political propaganda, its reach becomes limited.

Q. I asked you that question because I was interested in knowing your opinion regarding Tania Bruguera’s performance and all that occurred around it.

A. Tania Bruguera’s situation has been very, very, very complicated. I think that it is possible that at some point an open microphone can be placed on Revolution Square. What happened was that Tania proposed it at a time when she knew it wasn’t possible. For a performance to have a deliberate result, it needs to account for its possible reach. Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all. So, the performance was the whole process, the waves of detentions, censorship… it wasn’t the microphone for people to speak through. That will happen someday, but not now.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

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

Later I selected for a research topic the actual level of acceptance enjoyed by the official media in the general population. I was failed, and that report was suggested as possible grounds for my expulsion. Finally, they lowered my grade for poor attendance — a false claim being that the majority of my colleagues had more absences than I did. That was the year my son was born and my professor/advisor had told me, “take care of that and don’t worry about absences.”

My son is now 8 years old – the same age as my problems.

Q: Even so, you tried again…..

A: A year later I was able to enter the University of Santa Clara journalism school. I was the only student who was not a member of the FEU (University Student Federation), and — in the university’s Internet lounge — I learned of the existence of alternative blogs. It was there that we founded a magazine called Abdala*, which we ultimately we named La Rosa Blanca* (The White Rose). We produced it without a computer, but still published five issues, until (another magazine) La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour) replaced it.

When I completed that course, they failed me for having produced a radio script dealing with the effects of the Huber Matos case on the broadcast media in Camagüey.

Q: Were you allowed to present it?

A: The professor thought it was heresy for me to stir up the case of that Sierra Maestra commander condemned to 20 years in prison for resigning his post. He suggested that I do a project on the journalism of José Martí. So I tackled the censorship suffered by the Apostle** at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación. They failed me again, but by that time I had the right to reevaluation.

So I tackled the censorship suffered by José Martí at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación.

I went to Camagüey for the weekend and when I returned (to the university) they were waiting to remove me from the premises. They informed me that I had been expelled from the graduate school by virtue of a disciplinary action — nothing ideological, of course!

Four men escorted me to the door and instructed the custodians to keep me from re-entering the building. They also instructed the newspaper Adelante and the Radio Cadena Agramonte station — where I had done my journalism practica — to call the police if I tried to enter.

Q: So that was your definitive goodbye to university classrooms?

A: I don’t surrender easily. In September, 2009, I took the aptitude tests to enroll in the National Institute of Art (ISA), in the school of audio-visual media. I attained the maximum score and was accepted. While at ISA, I worked on the magazine, Convivencia, edited by Dagoberto Valdes in Pinar del Río province. He proposed that I join the Reporting Council and I said yes. I also worked on the independent program Razones Ciudadanas (Civic Reasons).

Another project I participated in while a student at ISA was Hora Cero (Zero Hour). It began after a strike motivated by the bad food we were served. It consisted in staging encounters with persons outside of the institution. Jorge Molina and Gustavo Arcos came, but when we invited Eduardo del Llano, we were obstructed.

In May, 2011, they scheduled me to meet with the dean of ISA, to tell me they had discovered that I had been expelled from the graduate school. At that point I was three days from completing my courses, so I resisted, arguing that the other students should decide my fate. Once again I was removed by force from the premises, in a car that left me at the bus station. So that is the end of my history as a university student, and my obsession with obtaining a degree.

Q: And after the third expulsion?

A: I returned to Camagüey and re-initiated the Hora Cero (Zero Hour) project, at my own risk, in my own home. We started with exhibitions of the photos of Orlando Luís Pardo, a short by Eduardo del Llano, and music by some troubadour friends. Up to now, we have had good attendance by the public. The poet Maikel Iglesias, the theater troupe Cuerpo Adentro, the poet Francis Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila with his audiovisual work, Un cubano más (Just Another Cuban), have also participated.

To Hora Cero have come university students, professors, neighbors, courageous people who dare to exchange ideas. Some attend who have been instructed to inform about what takes place in these encounters, and others who have been coerced for having received a simple invitation from me to participate.

The first time that State Security visited me, my mother — who at that time was serving on a mission in Venezuela — was threatened. They told her that if she continued supporting me, she could lose the bank account where her salary is deposited. Others have been told that Hora Cero is funded by the CIA.

Q: Have you gone back to your studies?

A: A year ago I heard about a program, Somos un solo pueblo (We Are One People), for young people who have had difficulty pursuing their studies here, and are given the opportunity to do a 6-month course in the United States. Classes in psychology, personal effectiveness, principles of business or sociology, among many others. It was a wonderful experience for me and I learned a lot.

Q: And now?

A: I think I will have my work cut out for me in the next 50 or 60 years, judging by how I see present-day Cuba. If I have any time left over I want to write fiction…but with the way things are, that will have to wait.

Translator’s notes:
* Both of these titles are from the poetry of 19th century Cuban patriot José Martí.
**Martí is referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence”.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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

TABLE OF CONTENTS

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

5 SOCIETY
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

6 CULTURE
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

7 CONTEMPORARY ISSUES
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

Glossary
Facts and Figures
Major Cuban Holidays and Festivals
Country-Related Organizations
Annotated Bibliography
Thematic Index
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