Flowers / Regina Coyula

In the history of the Cuban Revolution, there was a woman who had Fidel’s total confidence, the custodian of documents from the insurrection and the early years after the revolution took power. She did not want military ranks and, in spite of her power and influence, always stayed discreetly in the background. Upon her death in 1980, she became Celia Sánchez, the most autochthonous flower of the Revolution. And it has been thus until these last few days of August, when the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Federation of Cuban Women was celebrated. For this reason, there has been much talk about Vilma Espín, its founder and president, who also had a résumé that started in her native Santiago with Frank País between 1955 and 1956, and who passed away last year. And Vilma, who had never been referred to by any designations, became the most universal flower of the Revolution.

Autochthonous is what is native to a country; universal, to state the obvious, refers to the whole universe. It’s impossible to forget that Celia was Fidel’s right hand and Vilma was Raúl’s wife, and to use the same designation, changing only one word, leaves Celia at a local, domestic level, whereas Vilma acquires an ecumenical connotation.

The desire to give an almost mythical aura to the Revolution’s historic figures reminds me of the old social pages that referred to the “highly-educated, beautiful and genteel señorita“, now transformed to the “insightful, fierce and loyal compañera“.

I thought of the paucity of ideas, so common in the media the government uses for its propaganda; and then I wondered if this might be the expression of a movement that aims to put itself on good terms with Raúl, given Fidel’s condition. In any case, there is no fixed time for the ridiculous.

Translated by: Espirituana

September 3, 2010

Golf Courses / Regina Coyula

A little less than fifty years ago, it was decided that a splendid school for the arts would be built on the Country Club golf course – why keep such a symbol of the bourgeoisie.

But now I have to let my friend Tony know that, if he waits a bit, he’ll be able to buy a little house for his retirement next to one of the 16 golf courses that are planned and approved to be built here in beautiful little Cuba. Some very nice, and judging from the plans, very expensive condominiums, with which we are betting on the arrival of the longed-for American tourists. They will be part of that Cuba shown on postcards, and will have a perimeter fence and security guards at the entrance.

I learned with amazement that these artificial paradises, so green and harmonious, are the opposite of sustainable development, as they require for their maintenance 800 gallons of water a day per acre – and this water does not come from the idyllic ponds that are so characteristic of such places. Each course would require, on a daily basis, the equivalent of the amount of water as that used by the population of a city like Camagüey.

Why Cuba? Because it doesn’t have the environmental laws that would prohibit this madness.

I don’t understand anything. The nuances of high politics and finance escape me, but the first two things that came to mind were questions of geography: Florida, whose swampy conditions have made it into the world capital of golf, and Santiago de Cuba, awaiting its promised water for fifty years.

September 5, 2010

“Papá” Takes Care of Us / Regina Coyula

“Our daily bread”, as they call it, will no longer be on the ration booklet, nor will it cost the current five centavos; as the cause of hypertension and weight gain, those who want to — and can, will have to buy it for 80 centavos.  Whereas before you’d spend one peso and 50 centavos monthly per person on bread, now you’ll spend 24 pesos for the same amount.  Cigarettes, those survivors of an era when smoking was a pleasure, were only alloted to those born before 1958, and since they cause cancer, they’ll also be withdrawn from the rationing system.  Even coffee, where blended coffee for 10 centavos per four-ounce pack was switched out on us for a supposedly purer coffee at five pesos for the same pack, now it’s also rumored that it will be decreased in the libreta de abastecimientos (national ration booklet of supplies), due to its effects on insomnia and gastritis.

There is a manifest concern on the part of Papá State for the health of us all.  If you doubt it, just keep going and check these facts:

At three years of age they take away baby food, whose sugar content predisposes you to diabetes.  At age seven they substitute soy yogurt for milk, the cause of excess calcification.  At age 13, the monthly quota of picadillo (ground beef), which was instituted some two years ago as a result of a national study on the size and weight of our children, but it turns out it could lead to gout, so, along with the soy yogurt, it is also taken away.

Now they have decreased the allocations of sugar and salt, poisons, as we all know.  They don’t offer red meat on the ration booklet; only soy and dark meat picadillo, and you can find chicken and sometimes mackerel.

All of that and more can be found in the foreign currency stores, but the government is interested in the health of the people, not the health of sturdy tycoons bursting with CUCs (the acronym for convertible pesos).  We’ll all die healthy.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

September 2, 2010

Us… the Food… / Regina Coyula

There are a few journalists on the TV News Broadcast that seem to be the only ones authorized to do critical reporting, whether it be about a construction site or about a hospital.

On last Tuesday’s nightly news, the source of indignation of one of these reporters was the distribution of agricultural products on behalf of the designated entity known as Acopio. The camera panned an impressive amount of deteriorated or rotten agricultural products. But the best were the interviews. The farmers were protesting because Acopio had told them that they could not continue harvesting; the executives told them there are problems with transport, and here comes the best part, they added that the market is saturated.

Since the state-run market is not regulated naturally, the saturation of products is caused by the high prices.

I watched the report. The agricultural products… us… and always a boss with justifications.

Translated by Raul G.

September 1, 2010

Taking Note / Regina Coyula

A few days ago Fidel met with the panelists of the television program Mesa Redonda (Round Table)* and he encouraged them to pose more difficult questions to him, as if he were a student well-prepared for an exam. The week ended, and a printed version of the encounter ran in the newspaper Granma, but I was left waiting for the broadcast of Mesa Redonda in its normal television time slot. There are various speculations: it has called the attention of those who notice these kinds of things, that they haven’t televised the meeting; there are even those who think that censorship has been imposed upon “Him.”

In his latest writings, customarily titled Reflections, Fidel offers his opinions on a book about world governance, and with his habitual process of copying and pasting, he gives us some very long quotes from the book in question by an author named Daniel Estulin, which leads me to ask myself, wouldn’t it just be simpler to have the book published in Cuba so that no one has to read it to us? This could be arranged if Fidel, who has even invited the writer to Cuba already, were to divert a portion of the 500,000 copies of La victoria estratégica (The Strategic Victory), the first of his books dedicated to the struggle against Batista, to make a modest print run of this other book that has inspired so much enthusiasm in him!

*Translator’s note: Mesa Redonda is a weekly current events/debate roundtable discussion program. Before taking ill, Fidel Castro was an almost permanent fixture, along with other rotating guest panelists (depending on the week’s topic) and the program’s regular panelists and moderator.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 31, 2010

¡Buen viaje! – ¡Bon voyage – Safe journey! / Regina Coyula

At last! The punishment for my neighbor and friend Juan Juan Almeida was lifted, and he will be embraced by his wife and daughter. I’m not going to tell the story that all of you already know, but then I ask, and I can not find the logic: why did the government close the doors to a natural and discreet exit in a humanitarian case like that of Juan Juan’s, to turn it into a political case in which the Church had to intervene? I confess that I did not like JJ’s decision to undertake a hunger strike, it did not seem in keeping with the public figure he represented, more in tune with his carrying signs or sitting in the Plaza.

But on Monday when I went to see him at noon he was in bed and appeared to be small, as if the bed was huge. He could barely speak and when I asked him several things he answered by signs. I left his house very distressed. Afterward I related the experience to my husband, who never leaves the house, and after my comments he said that we would go to see him. We went on Tuesday night, he wasn’t there, but that visit, which never happened, was like a farewell; I know it must have been a very happy moment when JJ heard the good news of the visit from the greatest poet of the world, as he usually would say to charm my husband. ¡Buen viaje! Bon voyage! Safe journey!

August 26, 2010

Summer / Regina Coyula

I’ve been around here less, but I’ve had the joy of being with new friends who bring messages from old friends and with friends I haven’t seen in some time.

The first was Carmen Agredano, from Córdoba, who doesn’t live in Córdoba but in Las Palmas, and who brought me an old card from my friend Manolo Díaz Martínez. Carmen came to give presentations in several cities on the (Cuban) isle and I had the pleasure of enjoying her spectacle on two occasions. Poets to whom Carmen lent her beautiful voice and emotional Flamenco interpretation, with arrangements and accompaniment from that luminary Reynier Mariño, so good with the Flamenco guitar that he literally dances at the home of the spinning top*. Seeing him play, you get the deceitful impression that such flourishes are simple. They completed the spectacle with a most versatile dancer, the actor Carlos Padrón, Cecilia reciting poems and two more musicians (box drum and bass), plus any that should show up casually. It was a group of friends having a good time, doing what they like to do, transmitting good vibes to the public who knew how to appreciate it.

And two days after saying goodbye to my friend Carmen, Marival and María came to see me from Logroño, Spain. Like the Wise Men, they came loaded with gifts and love from all the friends we have over there. For my friends from Logroño, I gave them a somewhat profound walk around Havana and here in our little garage, we spent the hours conversing.

Although they carry back to our friends all the impressions of having been with us, I am taking advantage of this opportunity to thank Alfonsa and Ane, to Doctor Germán, to Isabel and Colo, to Rafa Pérez Foncea, to the Mongoleles for that little magazine that I adore. To all those who sent books.

Many thanks for the friendships that have given me something similar to a vacation.

* Translator’s note: bailar en casa del trompo translates literally as “to dance at the home of the spinning top.” In colloquial English, the best translation would be “to best someone on their home turf”; but this is one of those literary uses that would be lost in translation … so artful that I just can’t cover it up.

Translated by: JT

August 18, 2010

Hair, And Sex / Regina Coyula

Until now, hiding my grey hair has been a matter of principle. I intend to die ridiculously blond even if I’m 100 years old. I’ll be like my aunt Tita, with her 96 years she keeps her hair mahogany and her lips red. You can see her in the photos on the Diario de viaje page on the tab in the header of this blog. The other day I was going around looking for hair dye, and my experience was disheartening. I went to various shops, two of which specialized in “cosmetics for the hair,” and I could have dyed my hair golden blond, copper blond, chestnut or red, but those highlights, the ones that soften my hair’s proclivity towards carrot, were nowhere to be found. I was equally fruitless in the search for an electric shaver for my son, with that trend these days among youth to shave more than beards and mustaches.

Discouraged, on my way back I stopped by my friend Sandra’s. I thought we’d take turns venting our frustrations, but she’d just returned from the Spanish embassy where they’d imposed new requirements for citizenship… of course, the hair dye and electric shaver thing hardly seemed serious. But it was Sandra herself who shook off pessimism and, with no explanation, gave me a case full of CDs with one sentence: “So you can relax.”

The case was large and full. So, when I had a moment, I sat down to pick through its contents. Sandra was right, because therein was Sex and The City, that monument to frivolity that settled me down better than a jar of prozac, and even made more bearable that incipient yet unmistakable grey line that expands in my hair. It ain’t always that deep.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 25, 2010


After many days without being able to access my blog, I was dismayed to see what it had turned into. When I opened this space, I believed it would be for exchanging ideas, opinions, that it would help to develop a debate among people who only had to agree on one thing: the good of Cuba. And what did I find? An escalation among the commentators, some wasting testosterone and others trying to annoy those who took seriously some jokes in order to make a succulent inventory of insults. I wonder how could I have brought all this about, and the feeling of failure is inevitable.

I claimed that I didn’t want to use moderation, assuming the naive and tricky concept of democracy as absolute freedom. This is not true. Every social organisation has its rules, its laws. Even at home one sets out things in a proper order. I attempted to prevent these “lunatics” with a banner but it didn’t work and it had no effect at all. So some of you come to my space, take off your shirts, putting your feet on the chairs and don’t even ask permission to use the toilet. I don’t know… am I too old fashioned? Is this relaxed attitude normal on the Internet or is it that these commentators are not really ready to argue with someone who has a different opinion? It will also be a failure if I do not succeed in giving my readers the perception that this national debate, so necessary, must be carried out with respect. A member of the government speaking about the Big Bad Wolf, seems equally unserious to me as an opponent talking about Coma-andante (thus, substituting “walking coma” for “Commander”). Please, think about this.

Many of the readers don’t know that nowadays you don’t need to have an internet connection to publish. It simply takes a friend who has access to e-mail so he can send a text to a certain address for me and this becomes a new post, with photos if you want to include them; platforms like WordPress or Blogspot are very smart.

I invite the most suspicious among you to ask yourselves why I didn’t rise in MININT (The Ministry of Interior Affairs) or another institution at my convenience. I didn’t lack the intelligence and the contacts to profit in any ministry or foreign firm. Contrary to those who firmly believe or merely pretend to believe, I asked for my discharge in the same year as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cause I, by my account twenty years, and not those of Gardel.

My life is very simple, and if you have any doubts you can come visit me. You have nothing to lose. I live at #693 24th Street, between 35th and 37th, in the small garage under the Royal Poinciana tree, near the Acapulco cinema. Since I don’t have a telephone, it will be a surprise, a cup of coffee and we’ll be able to talk. I’ll make the coffee.

Translated by David Bonnano

August 20, 2010

Old Wineskins / Regina Coyula

Most people I know didn’t sit in front of the TV to watch the special session of the National Assembly called by Fidel Castro in order to analyze current international events; it seems they didn’t care about it. But it was interesting. It allowed me to see Fidel almost live. Almost, because the broadcast must have been delayed by a few minutes to fix any unexpected blunders. Nevertheless some gaffes couldn’t be edited out; always a risk when broadcasting live.

We have heard very often about the subject of this session, even before the caller’s reappearance, but always under his aegis. The subject was that war that Obama has delayed just to make Fidel look bad. But our fiery ex-president doesn’t give up: If the war doesn’t begin, it will be thanks to the immense, international and intense campaign started by him with his historical letter last week to the American president.

After Fidel read his message, some of those present “spontaneously” intervened to read prepared written statements, always starting with a compliment to the top leader. Then, as if they were in school, deputies were given three questions as homework. Questions they will have to answer using a new angle defined by the former president. I couldn’t help thinking of storing new wine in old wineskins.

War and the environment are his concerns. (In his crusade for the environment, he always references the French documentary Home, which is good, but very inferior to An Inconvenient Truth, the overwhelming documentary presented by Al Gore.)

After seeing what I have seen since his resurrection, I have no doubt that Fidel’s race for the Nobel Peace Prize should be taken seriously.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

August 11, 2010

Media Deployment

We’ve all seen him. With something of the vitality of former days, with a few more pounds, although with an exaggerated girth under the tartan shirt, or with the olive green shirt of a thousand battles. The intense media deployment of TV cameras since last week makes one think that he still decides; that he’s never stopped deciding. He’s returned to being El Comandante and not The Comrade.

His themes: war and the environment. Not even a word about the internal economic situation for which he is wholly responsible. Not even on the subject of the ecology of which he has become a champion, has he thought about environmental nonsense such as that of the Che Guevara Invasion Brigade, knocking down valuable fruit-bearing species in his way between Camaguey and Oriente to sow sugar cane and today taken over by grassland of the invasive marabu weed; the coastal roads, the Hanabanilla Falls converted into a hydroelectric plant that already nobody remembers, but which deprived us of the most beautiful waterfall in Cuba. And fortunately there weren’t resources for the megaproject of draining the Cienega de Zapata, the most important wetlands in the Caribbean.

Time and a succession of illnesses and medical procedures have been cruel to his appearance. I can’t recognize that confident and imposing man of days gone by. I look at him and his sunken eyes leave an impression on me, as do his facial tics and his mouth, where the lower teeth seem to dance; his faint and extinguished voice shocks me; I am stunned to see him digressing and miscalculating.

But what impresses me the most is that he doesn’t even realize what anyone is saying to him.

Translated by: JT

Sui Generis

I don’t know what lesson to draw from this boring celebration of the 57th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes military bases, an action which is considered something of a Genesis for neohistorians. Beginning at midnight, in the first moment of July 26, I was very surprised they didn’t stop the regular programming on TV to read the usual congratulatory statement for this date. At seven-thirty in the morning, amid choral singing, the official event started. The showings of local culture continued with a poem declaimed and some troubadours. And then the Party Secretary for the province hosting the event remarked on the achievements and the tirelessness of the locals, and president Raúl Castro handed rewards to the winning provinces; the high point of the event was the speech by Venezuelan minister Rodríguez Areque. Thanks to this speech I found out that the next war will not be in Asia, but in our own backyard, between Venezuela and Colombia. At the end, the speech by Vice-president Machado Ventura, clearly written by himself, demanding more sacrifice and exalting the unshakable friendship between Cuba and the Bolivarian Republic… does it sound familiar ? Yes, it sounds familiar!

At eight-fifty-five, after the July 26 anthem, it was over. It was the first time we’ve seen such a brief and lackluster celebration. As I said before, I don’t know what lesson to draw from this. Should I try to see anything new in the loquacity of Fidel and the terseness of Raúl ?

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Cold Air or the Fridge Up in the Air / Regina Coyula

On Mother’s Day last year, my niece gave my mother a refrigerator as a gift. My mother was delighted, since in spite of being larger, the new refrigerator consumes less electricity than the former one.

And everybody was happy in my mother’s house until this New Mother’s day. First the refrigerator and then the freezer stopped working. As the refrigerator had a guarantee of three years, the following day my sister decided to find out how to repair this important piece of equipment. Now things began to get worse; the fridge stopped being cold. My sister spent all morning on the telephone trying to find the Copextel shop that was supposed to maintain the sick refrigerator. When she finally got through, the young person on the phone who receives complaints told her to expect the visit of the technicians between three days and a week. Ten days later, they appeared, and in one glance diagnosed a fault in the source of the manufacturing lot and said the sick refrigerator couldn’t be cured. It should be exchanged.

“Now?” Hopeful, my sister began to ask about the conditions for the replacement.

“No, señora. Two technicians will come from the other shop to certify that there wasn’t a fraud and that the refrigerator should be replaced.”

“A fraud?”

“Yes, so that we don’t exchange a repaired refrigerator under the table for a new one.”

“And how many days will this take?”

“Between three days and a week.”

Improving on the record of the former visit, the new repairmen appeared within two weeks. They lingered, more in hopes of getting coffee than because my mother ordered them to certify the broken refrigerator. More cautious than before, my sister asked:

“And now what?”

“They are coming from the Division with the new refrigerator.”

“Yes, but how long will it take?”

“Between three days and a week.”

Ten days later, my sister again found herself on the phone calling all the workshops of Copextel. In her latest telephonic escalation, my sister talked with the workshop chiefs, the head of public relations, and the head of the division. A kind of smokescreen existed there. And always the same words:

“Don’t worry, we’re going to solve the problem.”

She called so many times that now they knew her case. But – big surprise! – one Friday she got a call saying they were going to bring the new refrigerator on Monday morning. Finally she could stop leaving packages of food and water at the neighbors. But it wasn’t until the following Thursday, after 65 days, that the new refrigerator arrived. Finally! it took the place of the defunct fridge.

Translated by Regina Anavy

A Personal Theme

I am against war. All weapons, but especially nuclear ones, seem to me to be an aberration. The armies should be disbanded and spend their budgets to solve the problems of hunger in the world (an issue in which the Vatican would be decisive with its influence, but above all with its wealth). I believe in an economic independence that guarantees political independence. I see the United States as a neighbor. And here I apply the same principle as in my neighborhood: I say Good Morning, I help if I am needed, I ask for help when I need it, and if I don’t like the neighbors sticking their noses in my business, I don’t stick my nose in anyone else’s.

Trying to go along with the new century, I like to think of the global village, and whether you live in Africa or in Europe, it makes no difference. I know we have a long way to go, at worst the natural state of man, as history shows, is one of confrontation. But it is now with the visionary and arrogant heads of state that we find a balance between our ambitions and the common good. And how good it will be when we define the common good as that of humanity.

The fact that I have absolutely no influence in these events makes this a rant, a catharsis, that I write one weekend for people I don’t know and who don’t know me, but if my readers take the smallest thing away from this, it could be a butterfly effect, and if not the youngest, their grandchildren, or beyond, will see the result. That is, if some lunatic hasn’t already pressed the button.

An Iranian Theme

Just the fact that I am a woman makes me look with disfavor on the current government of Iran. As a housewife who reads, I remember that the era of Mohammad Reza, with everything bad that could mean, signified for the Iranians the opportunity to emancipate themselves. I do not know very well what happened after Khomeini, but the Revolutionary Guards persecuted those who had opposed the Shah but did not agree with the fundamentalism of the Ayatollah, and in this purge of Persian society many Communists were killed. And for women, they imposed backwardness, the role of object, all at the expense of the most ferocious repression in the name of Allah.

It would be worth remembering who pulled the strings behind the Iran-Iraq war of the eighties. It would be worth asking why Mr. Ahmadinejad does not want to sit down to talk now, but would be willing to do it later.

And certainly it would be worth considering if the enemy of my enemy is my friend.