Remembering the Tugboat Massacre of 1994 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Castro sign

During the summer of 1994, death ruled with impunity in my country. During that period, Cuba, which had been a civilian graveyard for decades, more closely resembled the gallows.

In the early hours of July 13, the whirlwind of violence to which the Cuban state was subjecting its citizens came to its criminal climax. The Revolution needed to prevail over the people through blood and fire. Raúl Castro summed it up in a televised speech from the Colon Cemetery: “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

We were in the middle of the so-called Special Period in the Time of Peace. The repression was ferocious, but so too was the people’s resistance. So too was the corruption of public servants. So too was the vandalism. There were robberies and grisly killings on every block. Family men went mad and wound up murdering their loved ones. Electricity was a luxury that we enjoyed for just a few hours a day. It was vox populi that the police had been ordered to shoot to kill. So too had the paramilitaries of the Rapid Response Brigades who wielded clubs rather than firearms.

On the early morning of July 13 a stolen tugboatfull of civilians attempted to escape the Bay of Havana. The boat was named the March 13. It was a state-owned boat, but no violence took place during the theft. In fact, it was the port workers themselves who took the boat and headed for the US. Continue reading

Wendy War

 

Grown in Exercises of Death, Wendy Guerra (Taken from her blog HABÁNAME) (Reposted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in his blog)

I have death as white and truth far away… – Don’t give me your fresh roses; I am terrible for roses. Give me the ocean…Dulce María Loynaz

Death, solicitous and vigilant followed me until my fall. It was my companion – solicitous and loving - Rafaela Chacón Nardi

Dreadful voice in funeral I mourn, that flies from the seas of my homeland to the beaches of Iberia; sadly confused the wind delays it; the sweet song in my throat freezes and shadows of pain cover my mind. Ah, that suffering voice, that America denotes with its pity and on these beaches the ocean casts, “He died,” is uttered, “the ardent patriot…” “He died”, repeated “the Cuban troubador.” And a sad echo moans in the distance, “the sublime singer from Niagara died!” - Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda

I carry the subject of death very badly. I bow before death with too much grief. Just by peering at a roof I can fall overwhelmed by fear.

This week I wake with the memory of those who have passed on. My parents, my friends, my poets, my personal saints.

The soul, the body, the emptiness, the abandonment or slipstream that our most beloved dead leave, fight within me with severe injuries.

This week the world’s newspapers talk about death, confinement, the hunger strikes in my country. My head and my body are trapped in a bird cage that is the act of dying.

For many cultures it is a cycle that is closed to open other cycles that are clear and bright. This is the way I should see it, as death to me appears to be the end of everything. But death weighs me down and casts me toward a powerful darkness.

It always appeared normal to me that someone would decide to die rather that live indefinitely with an incurable illness. Always, even when the dilemma of euthanasia touched me closely. I looked at the still living body of my mother, looked at her face and closed myself off from any possibility other than finding a miracle or unearthing a hope. I convinced myself that in the care of the body that still flutters before us, hope lives.

The cage of life opens.

I mishandle death but one must confront it. Six Marches back, I had surrendered before my mother on the day of her death. Continue reading

Fury and Delirium / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The Books on the Cuban Death by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

There is a literary genre more popular than the rest of Cuban literature, which, by the way, has become a dying phenomenon since a few decades ago.

That genre is the “books on death,” the books written by the serial killers in the island (who spread to Latin America), as if they were perverse characters from an ideological thriller called the Revolution.

Today, 15 years late, I felt the spontaneous urge to read one of the vital and monumental works on Cuban deaths: “The Fury and the Delirium” (Tusquets, 1999), by the killer son of killers and earning wages from killers Jorge Masetti, whose destiny to become a depressing or best-selling star I ignore, but whose prose I will always admire for its morbid monstrosity. Continue reading

Street Sense / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

COWBOY POET Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

It’s called  Street Sense,  which is sort of like El Sentido de la Calle in Spanish, which is a much better title than any Cuban magazine or newspaper has got; and that obviously includes the ones published abroad.

It comes out fortnightly in Washington D.C., which isn’t just the capital of the empire, but it’s also North America’s Homelessness Central. I have never seen so many homeless as I have here. Mostly, they are in the subway stations, where they take up residence according to some kind of timetable, and where, according to Wikipedia,  they have the world’s longest escalators. But I also see them out in the open, exposed to the dreadfully cold springtime rain. And, before that, out in the worst of this city’s infinite winter.

You never come across the same homeless people, not even if you pass by the same place two thousand times. They have either moved, or they have died. No other possibility.

Many of these humble homeless guys get published in Street Sense. Those of them who have not been eaten up by hate, crime or illness. Those who have retained enough mental clarity and nobility of spirit. Those who are trying, as best they can, to get back into the machine that once vomited them out, or who were crushed by it, possibly because they tried to resist the hypocritical mediocrity which comes with any kind of success. Continue reading

My Father, Jennifer and Me / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

We both fell in love at the same time with the same girl, who wasn’t my mother, in front of an Elektron-216 black-and-white TV, on an afternoon in the seventies in Lawton, another of those lost words that no one in the world would think are Cuba, except Cubans.

She died on screen, Jennifer. But before, she ran with him, Oliver, through the unknown streets of a miracle called The United States. And they both were beautiful and free like love, and so tender and irascible, immortals.  And they ate snow and threw snowballs at each other’s heads. And neither of them had ever heard of Fidel or the Revolution.

My father had just retired. He’s been a gray bureaucrat in a nationalized industry dealing with the importing of polymers. Of the Lili Dolls of Havana Plastics. His successive offices, like his checked shirts, smelled of nicotine and that salvific smile that didn’t belong for a single minute to his environment. Continue reading

Who Said All Is Not Lost? Anyway, I Come to Offer My Heart / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.40.26 AMMy people are exhausted. My people are skeptical. My people are free and happy. Over half a century of forced one-party rule in Cuba, call it a dictatorship or a Revolution, has left us in n a redemptive, irreversible, irrepressible loneliness.

Cubans escape from Cuba. That is now our victory, our permanent plebiscite. We are leaving. Goodbye, intimate and intimidating little island of my love. Goodbye, homeland lost and unforgettable forever. Goodbye, finally, Fidel.

We did the best we could while we could. For decades and decades trying to place a magic bullet in the heart of Castro. To kill death. Or busting his head in his convertible Mercedes Benz, like Dallas. Very diabolical, perhaps also very vaudeville.

But we lost that first marathon of who killed whom. We didn’t even dare to poison him. To put him in a wetsuit with skin toxins. To give him an exploding cigar, to make him fly into a thousand splinters in the worst half of our country. A foreign woman, Evita excited that she sat on Fidel and squeezed from him a couple of olive green orgasms, cost the CIA thousands and thousands and all for what. The Commander amply demonstrated his criminal ability was second to none. Whoever kills first, can not be killed later. That’s how it is. Continue reading

OLPL Speaks at Johns Hopkins / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Bnxj5_DIcAASRLXSpeech by OLPL in Kenney Auditorium, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Washington DC, 16 May 2014.

Dear friends:

As a Cuban from the Island —and all Cubans are, no matter how far and how much time has passed since we left or were expelled from the Island—, as a critical intellectual —that is, a writer and photographer who believes in the beauty of truth, even when nobody listened— and also as a Cuban from the exile, of course —because all Cubans are as well, no matter if we still live inside the Island, where we are “inxiles”—, it’s a privilege and a great honor to be invited here to share my experiences and my vision with you today.

I hope that my words can give voice to the countless alternative voices that exist and resist in my country. These are real men and women who cannot live normal lives in their birthplace, since their whole existence is disrupted day by day —and decade after decade— by the perverse nature of a regime never elected by my people, by the propaganda machinery and the impunity of the political police, in a despotic version of socialism that, as in any totalitarian State, starts by abolishing private property, only to end up destroying private life as such, harassing citizens whether or not they become aware of the power of the powerless and decide to bear witness to their own reality. Continue reading

Leaving / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

At 7 past 7 in the morning of 5 March 2013, yesterday, I left my wooden house where I had lived all my life, to go to José Martí airport. I spent the whole night copying things on a few flashdrives. And deleting evidence of my ever-more-obvious work as a dissident and counter-revolutionary.

Of course I copied texts, which don’t take up much space, of which I had thousands, mine and other peoples’. I copied photos, which do take up a lot of space and aren’t worth the trouble. I copied what I could in those pendrives which would constitute all my work from that Tuesday onwards. Those gigabytes will be my oblivion and my eternity. My portable homeland, my body, my lack of spirit. My illusion that the journey was not true.  I did not want the journey to become true with the passage of time. But it did. Better that way.

I left everything I loved on top of my bedsheets. My mother still hasn’t changed the bed clothes, she tells me every so often on the phone: a white and yellow bedcover, knitted in 1934 by my paternal grandmother, the Andalucian lady who was born at the end of the 19th century. Continue reading