“I’m a demon who writes what she feels” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Wendy Guerra at a conference at the Casa de America, Madrid

Wendy Guerra at a conference at the Casa de America, Madrid

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 December 2014 — Wendy Guerra is a rare bird in a country where everyone is seeking conclusive adjectives and extreme descriptions. Actress, writer, blogger and a Havanan down to her core, she always stands out. We remember her on the TV screen; in the pages of a book her writing will always touch us.

Today we talked about her literary work and the thematic and vital obsession that Cuba has been for her.

Question: The book Posar desnuda en La Habana (Posing Nude in Havana) surprises the reader with its perfect symbiosis of Anaïs Nin’s voice and your own voice. What is your creative process to achieve that effect?

Answer: First, I thank you for starting this exchange with a question of a literary nature.

Everything is in the language. Each fragrance that is in this book is powerfully driven by her voice and it is the use of her own turns of phrase, the discursive character of the author that distills and strengthens it. I spent twelve long years researching the Cuban fibers of Anaïs Nin. I earned several scholarships in France and the United States to find clues about the Cuban footprint of the author. It was the UCLA Department of Special Collections that gave me the opportunity read her unexpurgated diaries to research Anaïs’s island origins.

Accents lost and recovered, endemic pains, her marriage at La Finca La Generala, her relationship with the Cuban “sugarocracy,” her deep uprooting and the uncontrollable way of riding with her father, the Cuban pianist Joaquín Nin Castellanos. Her relationship with her brother, the composer and singer Joaquín Nin Cumell. Her mother, the Cuban opera singer Rosa Culmell, the hard exile that took her from luxury to poverty, from pain to euphoria… all this was the perfect climate to approach the writing of Posing Nude in Havana. What came to the fore was a deep respect for completing her words with mine.

Keep in mind that her Cuban Diary has very few pages and my delirium was always to write an apocryphal novel; literary conjecture about what might have happened.

Father-Cuba-Diary, for both of us, were, are and will be subjects as intimate as they are universal.

Q. What new literary project are you working on now?

A. I’m writing a novel about fear. The feeling of persecution many of us Cubans have, the panic that they are recording our conversations, of being watched, searched, harassed. This psychosis travels with us. La espía del Arte (The Art Spy) (the working title) will have approximately 100 pages. A brief piece full of neurosis and a sense of humor, the human-Cuban spectacle uncovered, what’s left of us after the long observation, the obligatory exhibition.

Some of my friends in exile think I am the spy of Cuban art who returns to Cuba with their secrets, which I pass on as reports or accusations. In Cuba, on the other hand, they think I’m hiding something, that I have some plan; they are suspicious of these long visits among the exile and think I’m the head of something, the spearhead of something. Who am I? A demon who writes what she feels, confident in her impressions, who manages to translate them, and therein lies the danger. I write or say what people think is not fashionable.

Another ongoing project is research into Ana Mendieta. Ana has been my literary and personal inspiration, now I’m beginning to find my way into her mystery. It will be long, I will spend all my savings in finding it, but… perhaps it isn’t literature, to open every one of the tightly sealed doors to find yourself?

Q. Many of us remember you for your performances in several TV series and programs. Should we resign ourselves to not seeing that side of you any more?

R. Vicente Revuelta was the person who made visible all my skills. Without him I’d never have seen my ability to act which, even so, I consider limited. Everything I did on television came from a path that he had already traced like a tattoo on my intellect. This cycle was very important because, for me, to write is to incarnate and thanks to this effort I respect the character and sense of interpretation… but no, no I didn’t feel happy as an actress, it is in literature where studying and growing makes me better, frees and defines me.

Vincent knew that Andrea Sarti (Gallileo Galilei) could repeat the lines and expand them. I was that actress that was arguing within each one of the speeches and with the director’s determinations. I was the actress who managed to write and dictate her own character.

Not all Cubans have found it possible to be a person, most of us have changed into characters to win this long race of resistance.

Q. From the publishing point of view you’ve experienced the extremes. From accolades like the Editorial Bruguera prize and the 2009 Carbet des Lycéens prize, to the scant attention your work has received from Cuban publishers. What do you think you’ve missed experiencing?

A. I want to publish in Cuba everything that’s been translated or published outside of it. I want to bring the best literature of my generation and my country, Cubans are excellent readers and deserve the power to update and feed their hunger for reading. I want to keep flowing with all my publishers and I want Cuba to accompany me in this process. I want what happens with Leonardo Padura to happen to me. Whenever his book comes out in France or Spain, Cuban readers have the opportunity to read it in their own land. The prizes are the vehicle to make yourself known in the world, to be published in your homeland is the way to confront the nature of what you do and are.

Q. You suffered an incident of censorship in the Santa Cruz Festival of Literature of Bolivia. Was it a surprise or were you able to foresee something?

A. It seemed like a distant situation but all this is so recognizable for us that we can even hum it like a Russian song that talks about snow in the middle of a Cuban beach. I imagine that this time those who blocked my presentation have reasons to agree and accept censorship, or to remain silent and bow their heads. The strange thing is to think that something a woman like me says in public can disrupt or affect a system like this… is it that fragile?

Q. The title of one of your novels is very revealing of the Cuban situation. Everyone Leaves, says the cover, and many of us wonder why Wendy Guerra is not leaving this country?

A. When I saw the filmed version of this novel, directed by Colombian director Sergio Cabrera, I knew this was not my own story. It’s a fictional story that left my hands and belongs entirely to those people who, like me, suffered the State as an executioner-intrusion installed in the center of the most sacred relationship: the family. The novel talks of the desertions of the soul, not only does it touch on the heartbreaking geographical exodus, we are talking about the flight of family and close friends in the name of a slogan or political responsibility.

I don’t want to go to restore a foreign space that I don’t feel a part of. In my particular case, I want to feel that each one of my ideas, tantrums and battles goes to nurture the emotional and human restoration of girls like me, who have come to maturity without the ability to explain to ourselves why they abandoned us in exchange for a castrating and false collective happiness. This place where being human ceases to matter, to become ciphers.

If I haven’t left it’s because I think that the wounds, before being healed, have to be named, starting from the scene of the pain. Some day, when everyone returns, I will go to a town on the other side of the world to learn how to write diaries from afar.

Google Chrome now available for download in Cuba…

Message from GOOGLE:

Google Chrome is now available for download in Cuba

U.S. export controls and sanctions can sometimes limit the products available in certain countries. As these trade restrictions evolve we’ve been working to figure out how to make more tools available in sanctioned countries. In the past couple years we’ve made Chrome downloadable in Syria and Iran. We’re happy to say that Internet users in Cuba can now use Chrome too, and browse the web faster and more safely than they could before.

Get Chrome here: http://goo.gl/W0i15l

Memories of My Duty / Victor Ariel Gonzalez Celaya

Part I: The Zambrana Mustache

The most notable feature of Colonel Zambrana was a mustache, thick and very black, under his nose. I, who had thought there could not be a mustache more … mustachioed, than that of a regular presenter on the television news, I found that the Zambrana far surpassed this record: it seemed a caricature, as if the colonel had not been able to finish aspirating a brush. If we add the belly this fifty-something man had grown, plus he was bald, wearing the olive green uniform, with the ends of his pants tucked into boots, then we have the most colorful character with whom I would I spent my five weeks “duty” or basic military training.

The first time I saw that mustache haranguing us, I had to make such a big effort not to laugh it gave me a headache. The second time I was not so eager to laugh because the colonel was carrying a pistol in his belt. So they were very tense days: Fidel Castro had been given the TKO that prevented him from continuing to exercise a power of nearly fifty years, and everything was upside down. What kind of fate is mine, gentlemen! Daddy-bearded-one gets fucked just when I’m starting military service!

Military unit 3635 was stationed in 3635 Santiago de Las Vegas. It is an anti-aircraft detachment from which you can see very nearby José Martí airport. Its troops are on “the front line” against the “imperialist enemy invader.” And to fulfill this important mission, have a few rockets from the Soviet era with which we can bring down—why not?!—those very same American B-2 Spirit bombers the day they dare to come flapping around the area

Because it was there that I began my year as a soldier. A lapse that many would like to forget, yet marks us as if we were cattle with consciousness. This stratum of common memory occasionally emerges, more so because my military service was truly unforgettable.

Víctor Ariel González Celaya

20 August 2014

The Maleconazo Seen Through the Blinds / 14ymedio, Ignacio Varona

1000472_474759539275644_1332749336_n14ymedio, Ignacio Varona, 5 August, 2014 – Amalia Gutierrez was living on Gervasio Street in the San Leopoldo neighborhood when she heard the shouting on the other side of her blinds. Roberto Pascual was a patient waiting for dialysis outside the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital. And Vivian Bustamante sold illegal pizzas near the Spanish Embassy. They were three coincidental witnesses, that 5 August 1994, of the greatest social explosion in Cuba in the last 55 years. Nobody knew what was happening, but all three were afraid, curious and anxious.

“I saw a ton of people come running, scantily clad, the way we all dressed in those years,” said the illegal vendor. “I was afraid and took off running and hid myself in a stairwell right on the Malecon,” relates the woman who says she saw “the most amazing thing” in her life that Friday. At the entrance to an upstairs apartment she found a niche that had once held a water pump, and hid herself there. Through a slot in the door she could see “carrying on” and later the repression. She didn’t come out of that hole until nightfall

It all started days earlier. The boats that crossed Havana Bay to Regla and Casablanca were hijacked three times in a less than a fortnight, with the objective of emigrating to the United States. All over the city there was a rumor of another possible Mariel Boatlift and an opening of the borders to everyone who wanted to leave.

Vivian tells it in her own words. “We were living in a very hard time, I had the trick of brushing my teeth to make myself think I’d eaten so I could sleep on an empty stomach, but there was a time when there wasn’t even toothpaste.” Her story is common among those who lived through the Special Period. However, the social explosion caught her off guard. “I never imagined that this was a protest, I thought at first people were rushing to watch some brawl, but later I realized it was something more serious.”

“I thought at first people were rushing to watch some brawl, but later I realized it was something more serious.”

Roberto died ten years ago, but his story of those days continues to be told in the family. His son had never seen his father so frightened as on that 5th of August twenty years ago. “We were waiting for his dialysis when the nurses started to close the doors of the Emergency Room and they called the patients because we were waiting outside,” he explains about those first minutes in which they began to realize something was happening. A huge crowd was arming themselves and no one knew what to tell us about what was happening.”

Several doctors were coming and going whispering. A cleaning lady, who’d made friends with Roberto, called him aside. “The people have come out in the streets,” said the woman, smiling from ear to ear, “now they’ll have them on the run,” she finished. “Afterwards we knew that some doctors and employees in Cuba’s biggest hospital had gone to the highest floors to look out the windows at the pitched battle raging down there.” That day Roberto stayed until late, until they carried out his procedure.

Amalia experienced it with the greatest intensity. The windows of her house gave directly on the Gervasio Street near San Lazaro. Her door was open when she started to see people running and screaming. “The most recalcitrant members of the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) were hiding themselves, a lot of people closed their doors so as not to have any trouble,” she remembers, speaking about that day when everything was about to change.

“There were a lot of very poor people in particular, you could see it in what they were wearing, they were shouting and some were carrying sticks or stones.” She thinks she recognized several neighbors from her area also in the crowd.

The repression was carried out by paramilitaries hiding under the clothes of construction workers.

The repression of that popular protest was carried out by the police and paramilitaries hiding under the clothes of construction workers. The Blas Roca Contingent played a leading role in putting down the rebellion. The construction workers went at it with blood and bricks, as they had been taught. “It was criminal what they did, beating people with iron rods, in front of the door of my house there was a young man who fell with his head all bloody, I never knew his name.” Amalia was one of those who didn’t dare go out.

One of the reasons for the failure of the Maleconazo was precisely the absence of many of the social actors in the popular explosion. Amalia’s, Roberto’s and Vivian’s reasons can be summarized as fear of being physically injured, lack of information about what was happening, and fear of losing the few belongings the Special Period hadn’t already deprived them of.

Coda and lessons

The Maleconazo was too brief for the news to get out in time. It happened in a Havana without mobile phones, with a totally collapsed transportation system and one where private vehicles had serious difficulty finding fuel to enable them get on the road. Neighborhoods with high poverty rates and dissatisfaction, such as San Miguel del Padrón, Cerro, Guanabacoa, Arroyo Naranjo and areas of Central Havana closest to Zanja Street, only found out what happened hours after the uprising had been smothered.

The lack of reinforcements exhausted those who set the spark and left them surrounded by a repressive pincer that closed around them, without new forces coming to their aid. The fact that the revolt started in a place as exposed as the Malecon demonstrates its spontaneity. Protesters were corralled against the sea wall. There was no way out. The place should have been their escape and its horizon were transformed into the worst trap.

If that uncontrolled mob had started on streets such as the Paseo del Prado, Galiano Avenue or Belascoaín it would have been fed by neighborhoods with high anti-government sentiment.

The driving engine of the revolt was not political change but emigration, and this weakened the Maleconazo. When many of those involved in the protest realized there wasn’t going to be any boat to leave on, they turned away from the crowd and in the worst cases turned to looting the stores and hotels. There wasn’t a united democratic goal, just the most basic human instincts: fear, hunger, flight as a form of protection.

The absence of an articulated leadership also conspired against the revolt. In the absence of a leader who would shout “This way!” or “Go over there!” the avalanche of people scattered and was an easy target for the repressive troops. Nor was an “open neck” possible in the middle of a crowd that stretched for miles along the Malecon and didn’t receive any directions.

The Maleconazo was doomed to be crushed. However, it was a wake-up call, a jolt that forced the government to open the borders to the mass exodus of some 30,000 people and to take a number of measures to ease the economy that gave people a break. We owe the small bubbles of autonomy and material development that came afterwards to these men and women who faced beatings and insults.

The Maleconazo also demonstrated the apathy of a lethargic population, who observed more than participated in those events. Instead of joining the revolt, Amalia, Robert and Vivian hid behind blinds and waited, “for what would happen, what had to happen.”

Tomorrow, July 10: 20 Minutes of Silence for 20 Years of Impunity

CUBA: Young Leaders Group, Center for a Free Cuba and the Cuban Democratic Directorate Call for Twenty Minutes of Silence for Twenty Years of Impunity

Washington DC. July 8, 2014. Human rights and civil society organizations have called for a symbolic nonviolent protest action in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the murder of 37 Cuban passengers of the “13 de Marzo” Tugboat, who on July 13, 1994 were killed by agents of the Cuban government for trying to escape the island.

The demonstration will take place on July 10 at 12:00 noon outside of the Cuban Interests Section located on 2630 16th Street NW in Washington DC.

Human rights activists, members of international civil society and Cuban exiles will gather in front of the embassy in order to hold twenty minutes of silence for each of the twenty years that this crime has remained unpunished. Continue reading

Cuban Architect Mario Coyula Cowley Dies

mcoyula070714In the early hours of Monday, architect Mario Coyula (16 June 1935 to 7 July 2014), winner of the National Architecture Award, died of cancer, according to the island’s official press.

Born in 1935, Coyula directed CUJAE’s School of Architecture, he was the Director of Architecture and Urbanism for Havana, for the Group for the Integral Development of the Capital, and first president of the Havana Monuments Commission.

Among the “most notorious” of the works he participated in was the Mausoleum of the March 13th Heroes, located in the Colón Cemetery, as well as the Martyrs Park at Infanta and San Lazaro, “considered the first major monument after te triumph of the Revolution.”

He also did the Duplex House in the Camilo Cienfuegos City School and the conversion of the of the former Caballero Funeral Home into a House of Culture. Continue reading

“Indiscipline” Unites* Us / Fernando Damaso

The Electric Union (UNE), considered a Socialist State Great Enterprise, offers citizens some really original services, regardless of whether or not they are requested. Among them are:

Programmed weekly defrosting of refrigeration equipment through power cuts of eight hours or more, to avoid their clients having to be concerned with and waste their precious time with such trivial matters.

Destruction of trees in streets and cities through indiscriminate and savage pruning, to avoid unscrupulous people undertaking this on their own account. Continue reading

Open Letter to President Obama on Cuba: Support Civil Society in Cuba

Editor’s note: As this letter is the source of much discussion and debate, we are providing an easily accessible copy (that you don’t have to download), for our readers’ convenience.

May 19, 2014

Dear Mr. President,

Your administration has taken several important steps to support the Cuban people by opening travel for Cuban-American families, expanding remittances, and enabling purposeful travel for more Americans. Those policies have fostered direct contacts between the United States and the Cuban people, provided a lifeline for average Cubans, and empowered Cuban civil society. As a result, Cuban society and U.S. society are sharing more information and are more connected today than in the past fifty years.

Now more than ever the United States can help the Cuban people determine their own destiny by building on the U.S. policy reforms that have already been started. Such efforts would seek to provide openings and opportunities to support the Cuban people in their day-to-day economic activities, and in their desire to connect openly with each other and the outside world and to support the broad spectrum of civil society, independent, non-state organizations created to further individual economic and social needs irrespective of political orientation. Doing so not only promises to deepen the contacts between the U.S. and Cuban society, it will also help Cubans increase their self-reliance and independence. Continue reading

The First Book of the End of Castroism / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Cuban dissident and opposition party leader Oswaldo Payá in an interview before his death. Photo: Tracey Eaton

Cuban dissident and opposition party leader Oswaldo Payá in an interview before his death. Photo: Tracey Eaton

The Madrid publisher Anaya has just released the first book of the end of Castroism—that is, of Castroism understood as a myth perpetuated by the intellectual left. From now on, one cannot sympathize with the Castro dynasty without also becoming a criminal collaborator.

The book is called Muerte bajo sospecha (Death Under Suspicion) and it contains the testimony of Ángel Carromero, the young Spanish politician who witnessed a double State assassination in Cuba on July 22, 2012. In the attach, both the human rights activist Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá, founder of the Christian Liberation Movement and winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002, were killed.

Two years ago, on July 22, Carromero was driving a rental car from Havana towards Santiago de Cuba, accompanied by the Swedish politician Aron Modig and the Cubans, Cepero and Payá. A little after midday, they were rammed off the road by another car. Nobody was injured. A group of unidentified men in plain clothing descended on them immediately. The foreign men were taken in separate vans to Bayamo Hospital which was already occupied by army officers and the police. Hours later, Cepero and Payá were dead. The identities of the men who transported the two survivors has never been revealed by the Cuban government. A few months later, during the trial that sentenced Carromero to four years in jail for “negligent homicide,” there was no investigation into the unidentified men. Continue reading

Raul Castro’s Son-in-Law Rises to General

Luis Alberto Rodríguez López Calleja, Raúl Castro’s son-in-law

Cubanet, 19 March 2014 –A son-in-law of Cuban leader Raul Castro, in charge of the military businesses that dominate the economy on the island, has risen to general, according to a report today in the south Florida’s El Nuevo Herald.

Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, barely over 50, who for a long time has been identified Colonel in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), was identified as a brigadier general in a January 29th report on the website Cubadefense, a  publication of the FAR, according to the Herald.

Rodríguez directed the Business Administration Group S.A. (GAESA), the business branch of the FAR–the armed forces controls 80 percent o the Cuban economy, including hotels, factories, restaurants and airlines–and he belongs to the Communist Party Central Committee.

Rodríguez López-Callejasis also is in charge of the development project for some billion dollars of the Port of Mariel to the west of Havana, a strategic attempt by Cuba to reinsert itself in the global economy with the help of $800 million in Brazilian financing.

Rodríguez, married to Raul Castro’s eldest daughter, Deborah Castro Espín, is seen by many as one of the most powerful and ambitious men in all of Cuba.

19 March 2014