Audiovisual Education / Regina Coyula

The concerns of cultural and UNEAC officials over the potentially dangerous ideological content of the paquete* (package) is also causing me some concern. I am not an avid consumer of either the paquete or of television in general, but a furtive look, a stolen glance, a scan across the horizon raises serious doubts about the ammunition these Cuban organizations have to counter the barrage of audiovisual material coming from this package.

Are they trying to educate us with soap operas like Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue), in which the growing middle class does not make the connection between economic prosperity and good manners or good taste?  Or, alternatively, is Paraíso Tropical (Lost Paradise), which is currently being broadcast, now considered to be the model?

Are they betting on Cuban soap operas, rejected as “ugly” because they portray the current reality or labeled as “sci-fi” because they sugarcoat that same reality?

Do the latest South Korean soap operas (where nothing is ugly and everybody is an idiot) have some deeper meaning that escapes me?

Are they thinking of getting rid of many of their musical programs in which triviality, vulgarity, sexism and bad taste exert a pull over producers as well as musicians?

Is education going to be achieved through interview programs, whether they deal with politics, addiction, entertainment or public services?

Will cinematic education disrupt the profile of their programming, turning the Saturday Movie into a different version of the Sunday Matinee and Midnight Cinema by replaying B movies?

All of this is making me wonder if officials are really as concerned about quality as they are that the paquete continues its expansion unchecked by state supervision. Nah! it doesn’t matter how many operations they carry out. Like the Hydra, for every distributor that is eliminated, two more show up. And if they are trying to counteract its effects with the above-mentioned content or other similar programming, the education of the citizenry will continue to decline. On the other hand, the future success of the paquete, in which everyone chooses what he or she wants, is guaranteed.

Translated by Corriver

*Translator’s note: The paquete, or package, is a selection of foreign entertainment programs distributed informally throughout Cuba. In July, 2014 the national television broadcaster, TVC, admitted it could not compete with its selection of programming. UNEAC is the Spanish abbreviation for the Artist’s and Writer’s Union of Cuba.

17 November 2014

Birthday / Regina Coyula

I can’t forget the first time I saw my blog. I’d gone several weeks making posts through friends, but thanks to a web-connection gift card, finally I could feel the vertigo that comes with peering out from the abyss of the internet. The two hours of that memorable connection were consumed by a virtual onanism; I spent them looking at my own blog, …from the outside.

I couldn’t remember my password in my nervousness. Nervousness joined with the feeling of transgressing a very real internet access restriction which in those days was enforced discretionally and arbitrarily. Nervousness, also and above all, for doing something suspect; that stamp in the Cuban psyche that says that what is not expressly authorized must be prohibited.

It is now five years since those experiences. I’ve become, if not a privileged user, at least an able and avid user of the tools of the web. The blog I began with an urgent feeling is today more sedate, but it has granted me two important things. The first, to take myself on as citizen –which to anyone can be inferred, but we are in Cuba– to learn of projects like the Asociación Jurídica Cubana (Cuban Law Association) or the campaign for the signing of UN covenants on basic human rights. The second, to receive invitations for collaboration with online news sites, particularly with BBC, on the subject of Cuba.

Malaletra (Bad Handwriting) has paid the consequences. I post sporadically and I have lost readers. The comments section, once effervescent, now languishes with one or two notes (which I am grateful for and take into account as I did since the first day).

I also have the impression that after the boom of the Cuban blogosphere, the water level has sunk, but these details I leave to the specialists, because the importance that this virtual space has had for freedom of thought and expression (or quite the opposite) will be part of the history of this strange age in which we’ve been thrown.

Five years later, I continue imagining myself before a screen into the future, always ready to supply opinion.

Now I blow out the little candles.

 Translated by: Ana Diaz

14 November 2014

Equality: Together But Not Intertwined / Regina Coyula

That equality is still a concern in our society is yet another sign of failure in our society, no matter that organizations are created or laws promulgated to promote it. For the 77% of the population — born after 1959 — formal measures have been one thing and practical applications something else.

That which is supposed to function for preventing discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference and religion, should also be valid for avoiding political discrimination.

Equality is not decreed — it occurs. Respect for differences should be inculcated as a value. As part of such an education, when making a promotion to a higher position or job, the important thing is the candidate’s ability and not meeting some quota of supposed equality that results in the selection of the most “correct” candidate, rather than the best one for the job.

Nobody says this is easy to accomplish, but it is imperative.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

29 October 2014

A Survey from Granma / Regina Coyula

In its Friday edition, the newspaper Granma has asked readers to fill out a questionnaire with the laudable goal of improving its quality. I’ve had some great times with Granma, but this survey marks one of the highpoints.

Among the questions is whether the news presented is timely, if the way it is presented is original, if articles create an information vacuum because they lack insufficient (I assume they mean sufficient) data, if topics are repetitive and if there is follow-up. This is a joke; the first thing readers who get their news exclusively from Granma or any other national news outlet need is references.

People more serious than I will take the time to analytically answer the survey in question, but if one were to ask how the newspaper is doing, there are several possible answers: 1) Very good, 2) Good but could use improvement, 3) Bad — certainly one that would have to be included — and 4) Very bad.

Granma is not the worst newspaper in the world. That would have to be Rodong Sinmun.* Remember that we are talking about the official media outlet of the Communist Party, which is almost like saying the only news outlet since all the others parrot its editorial line.

With or without the survey, Granma will continue to be in high-demand for the subsidiary role it plays in personal hygiene and home care.

An anecdote: My son once asked a friend to read the above-mentioned publication and if there was anything interesting in it. Tossing aside the newspaper and dragging out his response for emphasis, the friend gave a very enlightening answer:

“Nothing. It’s all a Granma.”

*Translator’s note: Worker’s Newspaper, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of  North Korea. 

3 November 2014

Indifference (With Background Music by Juan Formell) / Regina Coyula

I just wrote a text for the BBC where I used my own experiences to illustrate how, faced with everyday situations, the questionable breeding of the citizenry is on display. Either I have very bad luck and ride buses where trouble breaks out, or this is so widespread that it happens to anyone.

The Chinese-made Yutong buses have a platform facing the back door on one side which, according to the original design, is for baby strollers and other impediments, but here they are occupied, almost without exception, by passengers. In one of these buses whose problems haunt me, a full but not crammed Route 69, there was a passenger with a huge sack which he had placed on a corner of the platform.

Across from the Clinical Surgical Hospital on the 26th, a couple got on by the back door with a disabled woman in a wheel chair, and the man accompanying her cheerfully asked the man with the sack if he could make space for the wheelchair so that the disabled woman could use the rail to help lift her weight.

The reaction of the man with the sack was defensive: there wasn’t any room, the wheelchair would only fit sideways, etc. An older gentleman who was riding standing up, ignoring his partner pulling on his sleeve, intervened to accuse the man with the sack of being insensitive.

The disabled woman and the couple with her were silent, but their discomfort was obvious. The man with the sack turned to the gentleman, “Insensitive, me? Don’t fuck with me, I rode this same bus yesterday with my two-year-old son and no one gave me a seat or held the boy, so mind your own business, it’s got nothing to do with you.”

Silence, even from the gentleman whose lady companion had successfully counseled him not to respond. The disabled woman got off at Santa Catalina and Vento and the two couples further on. The man with the sack continued his soliloquy. I imagine he was trying to justify himself.

Only after alighting on the street, two riders exchanged meaningful glances as if to say, one to the other, “In this country we have lost the capacity to care,” and the other replying, “Yes, nobody cares about anyone anymore.”

Translated with considerable help from Alicia Barraqué Ellison

8 October 2014

The Camera Says More than "Cuba Says" / Regina Coyula

For several months now the Tuesday evening television news has featured a series called “Cuba Says.” The reporter, Thalia Gonzalez, and her team seem to have been given the go-ahead to bring up — only to bring up — the actual problems of average citizens. Yesterday’s subject was employment. What struck me more than the shallow discussion of this topic were the opinions expressed by the respondents.

Notable was the widespread acceptance that anything coming out of Ministry of Labor offices is of interest to no one, the aspirations these people had to work for a private firm or to own a personal business, the ease with which the they spoke about money and the repeated use of the verb “to resolve,” along with all that implies for us Cubans.

The camera revealed what neither the interviewers’ questions nor the interviewees’ answers could: the indifference with which the young respondents on the street looked into the camera. Having a job is not enough to get by. Salaries are not enough to live on.

22 October 2014

Lost War / Regina Coyula

The war against the weekly audiovisual package is a lost war. The television programming is an inestimable help. And the way these things are usually synthesized with examples, I have my next-door neighbors’. I wouldn’t have heard that they are “package” customers it if weren’t for the discussion between the eighty-something father, militant and member of the Cuban Revolution Combatants Association, and the thirty-something daughter, a civilian employee of the Ministry of the Interior, MININT.

“That’s ideological diversionism,” thundered the father, undoubtedly repeating some “orientation” he received at the core of the party.

“But papi, what if what we watch is the soap operas!”

“Still diversionism!”

And they kept on like this until the wife of the retired combatant and the mother of the active combatant intervened.

“You, you watch your Telesur and your ballgames and leave me alone with the soap operas, and if it’s ideological diversionism, at least it’s nice.”

15 October 2014

The Long Tour of Pancho Cespedes / Regina Coyula

I’m going to start gathering my posts from other sites here, because I’m writing very little  these days and have half-abandoned my blog. In addition to this concert, I attended the one by Fito Paez and enjoyed it even more than this one. However, Fito came (to Cuba) two years ago, while Pancho had stopped singing for the public for a while. Here, then, is this chronicle published in 14ymedio.

From 8:00 in the evening on Saturday, the traffic jams at the corner of 1st and 10th in Miramar were a sure sign that a major event was in the works at the Karl Marx theater. Well-known artists such as Carlos Varela and Edesio Alejandro could be spotted in the crowed.

Shortly after 9:00 pm the hall was packed, and an agile, tall and slim Pancho Céspedes made an entrance sporting his new image. Having been away for 24 years from performing for his fans, he was quite nervous. He said so various times, plus it was obvious. However, that nervousness could not ruin the more than two hours of conversation, smiles, tears and – above all else – the songs shared with a public that welcomed him back with affection, sang along with him, and were all the while focused on making him feel comfortable. Pancho had come home. Continue reading

Pot With Missing Cord Doesn’t Come With a Guarantee / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Fachada-centro-comercial-Puentes-Grandes_CYMIMA20140908_0003_13

Exterior of the new Puentes Grandes shopping center (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, Regina Coyula, 8 September 2014 — Tiendas Panamericanas [Panamerican Stores], owned by the CIMEX corporation, has just launched a grand (for Cuban national standards) shopping center. Utilizing the building formerly occupied by the old towel factory, Telva, on the corner of 26th Avenue and Calzada del Cerro street, a side addition was built, doubling the space. The opening of Puentes Grandes has been well received, being that until now only small stores have existed in that neighborhood, and the closest shopping centers — La Puntilla, Galerias Paseo, and Plaza Carlos III — are located about two miles away.

Spurred by curiosity, I visited Puentes Grandes last Saturday. Hundreds of people had flocked to the place. There was a line at the handbag security station, because bags and purses are not allowed inside stores that take convertible currency. There was another line at the entrance. We were going on half an hour already. In other circumstances I would have left, but resisted the impulse just to be able to write this article. Finally, I went through a narrow entryway where, as always, are those who wait, and those other, clever ones who butt the line. The interior entrance is quite spacious, with metal shopping carts, and other cute small plastic carts on wheels for which I predict a brief, happy life, and baskets. All is set up for the customer to select his purchases; merchandise is kept behind the counter in the perfume and household appliance departments.

A large interior arcade connects the grocery and housewares area with the hardware department, where I was detained by an employee. To go from one area to the other, you have to now go outside and re-enter, even though just days before you could walk directly between departments and check out at any register. Why is this? The employee doesn’t know, but he was assigned there to enforce the trajectory. I had placed various items in my cart, then had to stand at the register line, go outside, stand in another line to leave my purchases at the handbag security station, then go stand in another line to enter the hardware area.

Continue reading

Accessories and Sandwiches / Regina Coyula

The school year has just begun, the first for many children. Filled with enthusiasm and wonder, these little ones are unaware of the disruption their new status as students creates for many Cuban families.

Along with the canasta basica,* the school uniform is the last holdout of the ration book as far as manufactured goods are concerned. It is provided to each student upon enrollment in the form of a ticket to buy subsidized uniforms, which he or she must treat with great care since there won’t be any more given out until the fourth grade.

As everyone knows, education in Cuba is free but other expenses related to a child’s schooling come directly out of the family budget. I am not referring only to shoes, a backpack or a lunchbox. The first parents’ meeting will confirm what families already know from their own experiences or those of others.

There are always parents who offer to buy paint and others who offer to paint. There are always collection drives for cleaning supplies and sign-up sheets for mothers to clean bathrooms. It is now standard practice to start the school term every year by collecting five CUC per child to purchase fans.

Teachers and administrators adopt a stance of giving in to these family initiatives in a game of role playing in which it is assumed that the Ministry of Education will provide everything that is needed to do the work and that the family wants what is best for its children.

All this and other things that follow are part of an unwritten but demonstrably effective methodology, which only gets better from one school term to the next The youngest children must not bring backpacks, only luncheras (lunch boxes). If they bring soft drinks, they must be in plastic containers, even if they are in cans. Everything must be able to be kept at room temperature.

Special emphasis is given to the lunchtime sandwich. No roast beef, ground meat or fish. Chicken must be shredded, ham sliced. Even better if it is the ever popular perrito (or hot dog).

Every pre-schooler must bring a sturdy shoebox to store all his or her projects for the entire school term. They must also bring scissors for cutting paper, crayons, an eraser — all items available only in hard currency.

The classroom is a place where the disparities that have become entrenched in society are there to be seen. Every student has a right to education but equality ends there.

From the moment they arrive at school, even before morning classes begin, their footwear and accessories tell a story of which the students themselves are ignorant protagonists and about which their parents will speak in private with cynicism or shame, depending on their personal ideas about what constitutes success.

Translator’s note: The “basic basket” is an allotment of foodstuffs intended to provide Cubans with a minimum of 3,100 of calories per day. The items include beans, rice, sugar, cooking oil and coffee. There is also a monthly allotment of meat, chicken, and eggs. Prices for these goods are heavily subsidized but the items themselves are often in short supply.

5 September 2014

From Digital Pages to Paper Books / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, photo from her blog

Regina Coyula, photo from her blog

Note from Translating Cuba: Regina Coyula turns to the crowdfunding site INDIEGOGO to bring books by Cuban writers from a warehouse in Spain to the Miami Book Fair.  PLEASE HELP HER. No donation is too small! (And you get a book or books! Or artwork by Rebeca Monzo! Or a handmade case for your glasses!)

14ymedio, Havana, Reinaldo Escobar, 2 September 2014 — Regina Coyula combines her work on the blog La Mala Letra (Bad Handwriting) with collaboration on various digital media. She is not determined to bring a mountain of books by Cuban authors from a warehouse in Spain to the Book Fair in Miami. Among the maelstrom of tasks involved in coordinating such an initiative from Cuba, she found a few minutes to chat with the readers of 14ymedio.

Question: Your name is associated with blogs, daily vignettes, and social criticism. We’ve learned that you’re now involved in a publishing project. Do you find it a very different scenario from independent Cuban blogs?

Answer: I’ve found myself in this project, #Desevillamiami (From Seville to Miami). This is me, I like books and editorial work, especially after coming to know the Renacimiento publishing house. Most companies in the book business turn unsold books into pulp, but Abelardo Linares, who runs this publishing house, saves them and has two warehouses full of them. In some cases he has ten or a hundred copies left, but he doesn’t destroy them. And from there the idea of this project arose, basically to retrieve the books. Continue reading