IF YOU WANT TO COMMENT, PLEASE READ THIS POST / Regina Coyula

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.

A Korean Theme

I would like to discuss a detail that I do not know, which the rest of the world has been reading about. The Korean heir must not have been very convincing on his trip to China following allegations about the sinking of the Cheonan, in that China voted against North Korea in the Security Council.

I still remember when that son of his father claimed to be developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes. I do not know if the poor Koreans will have electricity from the atomic plant, but their president has the Bomb. If he lied then, I don’t know why he wouldn’t lie now.

Second Calls Are Never Good

In a previous posting, I had commented on the entrance exams for university education, which this year were a disaster, so a second call was made to compete for places that were not occupied by the kids who passed at the first opportunity. For this second call they gave reviews from May until now. The test should have taken place on Thursday July 15, but when the students arrived in the classroom, the test had been suspended. It soon leaked out that the suspension was due to the questions leaking out. I cannot imagine a bunch of kids executing a robbery Mission Impossible-style; rather I see a tempting wad of money passed with discretion under the table. Do you remember a recent post titled “Explode“?

My Personal Hero

The disenchantment with a political process that was mine, might make me look like a cynic. I’ve developed an unconscious suspicion of politicians, and if they are charismatic, it’s even worse. But there is a man who reconciles me with politicians and partially gives me back my trust in this necessary evil. That man is Nelson Mandela.

His fight against apartheid is well known, his years in jail, his freedom and then his election as the first black President of South Africa. If that controversial prize, which is the Nobel, has been so unfair several times, with Mandela it is justified and it does justice to a fighter who moved from violence to understanding and respect.

All that alone would ennoble Mandela. But my personal Mandela is great because he forgave the offenses, and because after becoming President, venerated by his people and the entire world, he didn’t pretend to be the owner of the keys to govern and he retired from politics leaving behind him a healthy democratic precedent for his young country.

Congratulations Mandela, my hero, my friend.

Translated by Al

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Regina’s Blog: Bad Handwriting.

Binomial of Three

Frank Delgado and Buena Fe have made a record together. I like the chemistry of these artists a lot, they have a very good eye for looking and for making music which is catchy and makes you think at the same time. The first song, Extremistas Nobles, from which the record gets its name, is a statement of intentions. The songs of love (and loss) are excellent, Retazos de amor, and especially the bachata song Loco por ti have beautiful lyrics. I have always been a fan of Frank Delgado, a rebellious singer who hasn’t been broadcast as much as he deserves precisely for that- he answers back. The duo of Israel and Joel, who are also among my favorites, have had a successful career starting with Sicología al día, and even though they have been marketed, broadcast and received several awards, some of their songs have been censored; but beware: the young crowds still sing their songs and fill their concerts.

This new record is a mix between both styles, which makes it very unconventional. Lacking any pictures for this post, I post here the lyrics for Cubannolito.

Please visit rockason.wordpress.com. I wanted to post some audio from the song here, but I didn’t know how to do it.

Hey, my brother, how come nobody wants to be Cuban anymore

And everyone is busily searching for their ancestors

Do you remember the black Marcelo, all dark and with long grelos

He got a blue passport*, yes, because he’s got a Basque great-grandfather.

Patriotism comes with many strings attached, I’ve been a Cuban for four generations.

The Spanish are achieving what the Gringos couldn’t

Maybe next year we’ll already be subjects of King Juan Carlos.

Nor was it that the Bourbons managed to be a panacea

But they got into the parade and now they’re the door to the European Union.

Perucho Figueredo** points his arrow up. It so happens the Spanish anthem doesn’t have lyrics.

I say what I think: Little Spaniard, say pal what’s up, or low grade Cuban.

And so I find many acquaintances, practicing this new sport, running with the whole family to make sure nobody ends without a passport.

And since it comes with the right to vote in spanish elections, their candidates will be coming to campaign in Cuba.

The good things and the bad things. Fighting to paint or to fade the flag.

If you’re Cuban they will bust your balls (with a stone). The voice of command has a Spanish accent.

When you finally get to be a Spaniard you’ll feel important, you’ll finally be able to travel and even open an elegant restaurant.

What I would like the most is a trip to Spain, but everyone is going from the slum to luxury, it’s becoming a crowd. To the Nigerian embassy!

Translator’s Notes:
* Spanish passport.
** Composer of the Cuban national anthem

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Telephone

Since I started this blog I’ve felt like never before the isolation produced by not having a phone line. It’s not that I didn’t want one. If blame needs to be apportioned to anyone or anything besides the boycott and the imperialist menace it should be to my husband who never wanted a phone line when he was still an active member of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC for its initials in Spanish). His reasoning was that the telephone ring, the same as the door ring, would upset the state of grace in which he needed to immerse himself in order to write. By the time he knew about answering machines he was already a “writer on hiatus” as he likes saying, and despite my begging he didn’t want to ask for a letter from UNEAC avowing his condition as a founding member of the institution. For those who are lost at this point of the story, I have to clarify that the telephone company is in charge of deploying new lines, but only after being authorized by the Poder Popular Municipal, which is more or less the equivalent of a city government.

Somewhere around six years ago, and without my husband knowing, I went to UNEAC’s literature section and filed a written application for e-mail service, to be “anchored” to the telephone line from my mother’s house. I was told back then that it would take some time because of upgrades on the CUBARTE server taking place at the moment, and I never got an answer afterwards. It seems that my husband doesn’t meet their criteria on reliability, or they knew beforehand that he wouldn’t accept the signed user agreement included in the contract, which implies that no information criticizing the government may be sent or received.

I’m considering now applying for a mobile phone, but I haven’t decided yet, for as long as there are no fixed tariff plans, which is what I really want, a mobile phone may be a luxury or a necessity depending on circumstances.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Sports Chronicle

I

Bishop Ortega as a striker just made the decisive goal after a pass from Moratinos. Key in making this play was the impressive defender Fariñas and the timely intervention of the regulars always dressed in white. Once again the team play and short but effective passes, end in victory.

II

Something unprecedented has happened. On the occasion of the World Cup, young people have flooded several of the capital’s downtown cinemas to watch the games. They have created a stadium atmosphere with flags, t-shirts, posters, wigs, makeup, and even the grating vuvuselas have appeared in Havana to break the monotony of the first evening of this summer vacation.

III

And while my sympathy is with Guardiola and Barca, from the beginning of the World Cup I put my hopes in Spain. And they didn’t  let me down against Germany, it’s not important they didn’t have more goals; the match was so nice, so effective was the famous tiquitaca, that I think yes, on Sunday instead of shouting GOOOAL! the sportscasters are going to cry OLEEEEEE!

Oil

As a child, I remember the great commotion that erupted with the discovery of oil on the beach in Guanabo. The enthusiasm was such that it seemed that our need for crude would be solved with these wells. In the best native chauvinism, it was as if we would to prove to the Americans and Soviets that we didn’t need them. Many years later the Guanabo oil is remembered for the filth and stench of sulfur that it left on the beach. Nobody talked then of analyzing the cost/benefit relationship. That was a time when the term environmental pollution had not appeared.

I wouldn’t be thinking of this anecdote if I hadn’t seen, along the coast between La Habana del Este and Cojimar, a tower and several oil rigs, right on Route 58 (Bus Station = Reparto Bahia); I heard there would be more because the Chinese are investing.

Now that we are indeed familiar with terms such as environment, ecosystem, environmental licensing, and related pollution, I wonder if we analyze the cost/benefit. I am no specialist, but is it worth it to get oil out of the city and run the risk of death damaging its deteriorating but beautiful heritage?

Exploited

The workers of Ali Bar took exploited people by adulterating the products and prices. Those of the consulate of Spain by selling citizenships. Those of Rio Zaza by stealing from the Treasury and other et ceteras. The high school teachers exploited the students of the high school Comandancia de La Plata by selling exams. Housing inspectors of the Plaza municipality by accepting bribes. A cosmetic surgeon in Ameijeiras Hospital by converting a new bathroom in his house into implants in the operating room. The Party secretary of Havana by influence-peddling … And so on.

The denominator of this conglomeration is corruption. A phenomenon that has metastasized in our country, sometimes facilitated by government figures or government structures, sometimes without the government able to avoid it. The truth is that we have become a people of swindlers,receivers of stolen property and related crimes, because the morality of survival is permissive and semantic trickery disguises a guilty conscience.

Those who steal are said to “fight,” to divert resources is to “resolve.” We will have a democracy when the laws of biology take effect, but it will be difficult to return to people the perception of where evil deeds begin. The laws may be violated not only by taking the bills from someone’s pocket or the application of violence. Those born after 1959 have never known it, though perhaps they heard of it, and understanding what the rule of law is and moral learning will take time.

I’ll know things are progressing when one can purchase milk or cement in the same market at an affordable price relative to incomes.