Julio And Enrique Iglesias, Two Moments In The Life Of Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group “Gente de Zona”. (Networks)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 January 2017 — My mother had a T-shirt with the face of the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, bought in the informal market in the early eighties. At a meeting of the Union of Young Communists they warned her she could not continue to wear it. The author of La vida sigue igual (Life Remains the Same) had fallen into the blacklist of censorship and after that the garment languished in a drawer in our house.

This January, almost four decades after that point in my childhood, Julio’s son Enrique Iglesias has come to Cuba to film the music video for the single Súbeme la radio (Beam me up to the radio). A legion of fans is preparing to follow him to the locations where he will work alongside director Alejandro Pérez, musician Descemer Bueno and the Puerto Rican duo Zion and Lenox. Continue reading “Julio And Enrique Iglesias, Two Moments In The Life Of Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Although the national media have handled Iglesias’ visit with caution, the news spread rapidly among the people. There will undoubtedly be crowds around the places where the singer plans to go, in the style of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katty Perry, the Kardashians or Madonna, during their stays on the Island.

This Wednesday, many young people sigh to get an autograph of the successful artist and wait to capture on their cellphone a moment in which he approaches, passes, makes himself seen. They are women who are the same age as my mother was in those years when she was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt with the face of the other Iglesias, the forbidden one.

My mother could never go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch

At that time, the Cuban authorities offered no explanations about the ban. There were only rumors and half-statements: “He made statements against Cuba,” was heard in some official circles; “Julio sang for Pinochet in Chile,” warned the most furious militants, in reference to the artist’s 1977 trip to that South American country.

The truth is that Iglesias, the father, swelled the list of singers who could not be broadcast on radio and television. Has name was added to others excluded, such as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Nelson Ned and even Jose Feliciano. The latter was only broadcast again in the Cuban media much later on.

A few years before he was banned, the film inspired by the life of Julio Iglesias had been a blockbuster in the island’s movie theaters. Many viewers boasted of having seen the film several times in one day and the choruses of its songs displaced the songs of the New Trova.

Iglesias, as well as appealing to artistic tastes, meant a fresh wind at a time when Cuban music was filled with slogans. He spoke of romance, love, loss and oblivion, in a country where the bolero had been set aside and the only passion allowed was that which could be felt by the cause and the Revolution. He took off among young people, tired of so much focus on trench warfare and feeling the need for more flesh and less Utopia.

My mother was never able go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch. Another Iglesias has arrived, his songs are different and the Cuba in which he has landed little resembles that Sovietized island of old. Music just won a match over ideology.

Juan Condemned To Nothing / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

In just over 50 minutes, the script details the expenses that face this fictional character, inspired by the director’s own brother. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 January 2017 — How to explain to our grandchildren the economic absurdity of today’s Cuba? What pedagogical juggling will be needed to detail the black market, the ration book, the “Hard Currency Collection Stores,” and the capped prices? Will they believe us when we describe the devalued Cuban peso and its counterpart, the chavito? The movie The Singular History of Juan With Nothing, by the director Ricardo Figueredo, could help in this educational endeavor.

The documentary tells of the life – the “survival” – of Juan, a worker whose only source of income is his monthly salary of 250 Cuban pesos (CUP), the rough equivalent of 10 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC – each worth roughly one dollar). Juan is a hypothetical “ordinary Cuban” who does not receive remittances from abroad, who does not “divert” (i.e. steal) state resources, or resell products to survive. A citizen living a grey life, that doesn’t allow him to buy even a new shirt, invite his girlfriend to a coffee shop, or polish his shoes. Continue reading “Juan Condemned To Nothing / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

In a little more than 50 minutes, the script details the expenses faced by this fictional character, inspired by Figueredo’s own brother, in order to feed himself and pay for basic services such as water, electricity and gas. The story is based on real testimonies that delineate a distorted economy, plagued with contradictions and where honesty is an obstacle in the struggle to survive.

In the voice of actor Luis Alberto Garcia, who serves as narrator, The Singular History of Juan With Nothing details the products still distributed on the ration book and their corresponding prices, a glimpse of the subsidized poverty enthroned by the rationed market which, as the economist Juan Triana says, also “transmits injustice.”

A selection of archive images helps to understand the misery trap in which millions of today’s Cubans are snared. It is an explanation sprinkled with sarcasm and certain historical details that the government has wanted to bury, such as its promises that shortages would never reach our markets or that Cubans would never fail to be able to enjoy their traditional Christmas nougats.

It is likely that this mix of humor and good memory have contributed to the film’s not having been selected to participate in last December’s latest edition of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema. However, the film is already circulating in alternative media networks, which means it enjoys a larger audience than it would have had in a few showings in December. So the life of Juan is being seen in the same way that characterizes it: separate from institutions and away from official privileges.

Among viewers, the title of the film awakens the memory of a poem by one of the regime’s favorite poets, Nicolás Guillén, in which he assures us that, after January 1959, we Cubans will become “Juan with everything,” an assertion that becomes a mockery when the protagonist uses a fifth of his salary to buy soap and deodorant in state-owned stores, at prices with “taxes of more than 200%,” the documentary says.

The agricultural market and illegal trade networks complete the choices that the impoverished man must resort to in order to feed himself, while simple arithmetic makes clear he won’t be able to do so, that no one can live a decent life with a decent wage. The tension grows and the audience’s uneasiness rises as the money slips out of Juan’s hands and his plate remains empty of food.

The interviews with self-employed workers, retirees, state employees and analysts make Figueredo’s film transcend a mere didactic explanation to achieve a high testimonial value, a hardened portrait of a Cuba no one is satisfied with, not even the voices closest to the official discourse that are heard in the film.

However, the greatest achievement of the documentary will only be seen later, when the incredulous generations of the future believe that we are exaggerating by telling them what we have lived through. The Singular Story Of Juan With Nothing will be like those fossils that, when unearthed, show the fierce anatomy of an extinct animal, the grim skeleton of an economy in ruins.

Citizens… Time To Tighten Your Belts / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 29 December 2016 – My generation knows no good news. We grew up with the grey subsidies of the rationed market, we reached puberty amid the rigors of the Special Period, we raised our children in a country with two currencies, and now they warn us that times of economic stress are coming. It appears there is no respite from this long sequence of disasters, collapses and cuts that we have suffered for decades.

This December the National Assembly of People’s Power acknowledged the negative numbers that reality made clear long ago: Cuba is not growing, production is not recovering, and the so-call Raulist reforms have not given citizens a better life. The island is heading toward the abyss of defaults, cuts in vital sectors of the economy, and continued stagnation. Continue reading “Citizens… Time To Tighten Your Belts / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

In other places, the rulers would resign before the panorama facing this nation, due – in great measure – to bad management. However, since the general president did not win office by a popular vote, no one can punish him at the ballot boxes in the next elections. To the opposition that has demanded his departure, the iron fist of repression and punishment is always applied.

Instead of a mea culpa, the officials who, on Tuesday, detailed the economic debacle and in somber tones said it will continue in the coming year, have called for greater productivity, a reduction in superfluous expenses, and using the so-called “efficiency reserves,” the final official euphemism used to explain what little remains in the national treasury.

However, a few hours after concluding the parliamentary session in which such bad omens were unveiled, the second of the three planned test runs began – Friday will be the third – for the huge military parade that will be staged in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution on 2 January. A mass gathering, with parades of war tanks and soldiers marching in lockstep, that will cost Cuba hundreds of thousands of pesos, if not millions.

The traffic on the capital’s most important arteries has been paralyzed as of the early morning hours of yesterday, Wednesday. Thousands of state employees didn’t have to complete their workday, and a long line of buses had to travel from various municipalities to the parade grounds. Countless snacks were distributed among the most faithful participants in what is coming to be seen as a “Raulist coronation.” The younger brother has planned his own investiture in power, now on his own, after the death of the former president Fidel Castro.

Why this waste of military resources in the middle of the crisis that the country is going through? Such delusions of grandeur are not consistent with the 0.9% decline in GDP this year. This military parade, with its boasts of strength and a “baring of teeth,” will squander some of the resources needed to repair the deteriorated roads of the island, to give just one example.

In this city that has suffered serious cuts in public lighting, where the last-hour bus terminal have been overwhelmed before the lack of interprovincial transport, and where a pound of pork costs up to two day’s wages, what will take place this coming Monday is far beyond wastefulness, it is a sign of lack of respect.

And so, there are certain politicians. They call – for the umpteenth time – for a tightening of belts and a reduction in the expectations for a better life, while they waste enormous quantities of national resources playing at war.

Reggaeton, Reality’s Soundtrack / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Videoclip from Maluma’s ‘Cuatro Babys’. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 27 December 2016 — The car is about to come apart at the seams every time it hits a bump in Havana’s crumbling streets. The passengers in the shared taxi vibrate with the rattling of the vehicle and the reggaeton blasting from the speakers. It is the music of the early 21st century, a genre of raw lyrics and explicit sexuality that accompanies every minute of our reality.

With a paternity shared between Puerto Rico and Panama, this urban sound marks the birth of the millennium. It has added a naked touch and a certain lascivious rhythm to the times we live in. The lyrics of the songs venerate ostentatiousness as a virtue, celebrating a world where the size of your watch and the thickness of your gold chains are ever more important.

Reggaeton has won out over the protest song of so many social dreams born in Latin America, most of them failed. Its raw materiality has also displaced those anthological boleros that had us weeping on our bar stools, and the carols that overwhelm us at the end of the year. The singers of this fierce music don’t want to be seen as heroes nor as broken-hearted lovers. Rather, they want to convey an image of cynical survival, of calculated lightness. Continue reading “Reggaeton, Reality’s Soundtrack / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Hence the fuss kicked up by some in response to the impudent lyrics of Cuatro Babys, a song from the Colombian Maluma, where he brags about having four women at his beck and call. The repulsion gets buried in the 200 million (and counting) views the video has enjoyed on YouTube. These are times of hits… not of indignation.

Maluma’s assertions do not scandalize the followers of the rhythm, who see him as the chronicler of a tangible and known reality. It is not reggaeton, it is life that has not taken hold as it should. The Colombian is only the loudspeaker of such a distrubing but common message that doesn’t raise a single eyebrow around here. Blushing does not change the environment.

Reggaeton has become a way of looking at life, in a cosmogony lacking in delicacies or half-tones. It doesn’t matter whether you follow it or not, if you like it or not, there is no way to cover your ears and ignore it. It is here, there, everywhere. Our children hum its choruses. “Tengo money,” repeats a seven-year-old girl in a Cuban classroom, using the English word for cash; and her classmates complete the phrase of a popular reggaeton song. A few minutes earlier they had been shouting a slogan in the school’s morning assembly: “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che!”

Speaking and understanding the codes of reggaeton is essential to communicating with the younger generation, but also with many of their parents. Minimizing and censoring it only strengthens it, because it has become the compass that expresses rebellion. It has lasted longer than any other genre pushed by record labels or cultural policies.

At the end of the last century, very few would have predicted that for nearly two decades already this urban rhythm would dominate the music that is played at nightclubs, private parties and on the devices we attach to ourselves with earbuds. But it has stayed with us, grabbing us with its wild impudence. Perhaps it only interprets what beats down below, far from the lights of the ceremonies, the outfits for special occasions and the opportunism.

Who would have said it? From the songs of Victor Jara to the catchy phrases of Don Omar, from the utopian Silvio Rodríguez to the emaciated Cuban musicians Yomil and El Dany. “My Blue Unicorn” grazes now in a meadow of minuscule bikinis and hundred dollar bills. Those who hummed they would “give their heart” have decided to trade it in for swimming pool in which a thousand and one nymphs frolic and don’t say a word.

To reject reggaeton, this rhythm incubated in the “New World,” is like rejecting the potato domesticated in the high plateaus. Sooner or later you will end up eating it, sooner or later you will end up dancing. Even at the most glamorous parties, the dresses are hitched up, the makeup runs, and the social climbers, the nerds, the “good kids,” end up dancing doggy style, sweating in a spasm of lust and oblivion.

Fought against far too often with the dictionary, the academy and too much café con leche, the reggaetoners are teen idols and set the styles, the customs and the forms of speech. They do not travel in yellow submarines but rather in luxury cars, surrounded by alcohol and kisses. These are not the psychedelic years, but the years of touching down, when the lower the fall and the deeper the plunge into the abyss of excess the more tracks they will sell.

Reggaeton is also a lingua franca, a common language like Esperanto once hoped to be, like HTML code did manage to be. All its followers descend or ascend to the same level when they dance. The hips that touch under its influence don’t understand ideologies, social classes, the exploitation of man or capital gains. It is the universal language of sheer pleasure, the jargon learned before birth, which we pass on with confidence.

Not by chance did Barack Obama, in his historic speech in Havana, allude to the contagious rhythm when he said, “In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja.  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull.”

A lyrical battle, where reggaetoners tackle the stage and confront the microphones, fighting for the audience as if it were a reality show. The crude lyrics and machine gun blasts in their productions reinforce the sense of combat. A contest where everything is achieved with pelvic sweat.

Reggaeton has proved to be the unexpected antidote against the malaise of a culture diagnosed by Sigmund Freud. It represents, like few phenomena, the end of innocence. Was there any left? A workhorse that returns us to the state which perhaps we never left, a moment when we are only flesh and guts.

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Editor’s note: This text was published on Tuesday, 27 December 2016 in the newspaper El País.

Maduro, Disciple of a School in Decline / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 December 2016 – On television a speech by Nicolas Maduro reverberates. He is talking about international conspiracies, the enemy that wants to end the “Bolivarian” revolution and the “monetary mafias,” a refrain that recalls the deceased Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro, obsessed with blaming others for the disasters caused by his own decisions.

The differences in style between the two leaders are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. Decades have passed between Castro’s interminable oratory about Cuba and the Venezuela ruled by the erratic Maduro. Continue reading “Maduro, Disciple of a School in Decline / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

In that time, we Latin Americans have become suspicious of populist discourses and learned to reveal the seams of the redeemers, who hide authoritarians under their robes. Their political speeches do not work like they did before. Like those hackneyed verses that compare the eyes with the stars or the mouth with a rose, and that now only provoke mockery.

In these times, when from the podium the homeland is invoked too often, the spectrum of foreign interference is constantly dangled and results are never offered, this is the time to be on alert. If the leaders call on us to spill every last drop of blood, while they surround themselves with bodyguards or hide at some “zero point,” we have to cease to believe them.

A dose of skepticism immunizes against these pernicious harangues where it is explained that the country’s problems originate outside the national borders. Suspiciously, the whistleblower never takes any responsibility for the disaster and blames the failure on some alleged externalities and media wars.

Maduro was trained in the school of politics as permanent agitation, a school headquartered in Havana. To make matters worse, the Venezuelan leader has been a mediocre student, who interprets the original script with a lot of huffing and puffing, very little charisma and a huge dose of nonsense. His main blunder has been not to realize that the manual designed by Fidel Castro no longer works.

The Venezuelan leader arrived too late to take advantage of the gullibility that for decades made many people of this continent exalt dictators. His speeches resonate with the past, like bad poems, that neither move our souls nor win our affections.

“There Is Nothing Worse Than An Artist Who Collaborates With A Repressive Government” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The film 'Hands of Stone', directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz, will be presented this December at the Film Festival in Havana. (Courtesy)
The film ‘Hands of Stone’, directed by Venezuelan filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz, will be presented this December at the Film Festival in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2016 – He has a Polish last name, a first name of Hebrew origin, and Venezuelan blood running through his veins. Jonathan Jakubowicz is as complex and versatile a filmmaker as the skein of influences that make up his family tree. Born in Caracas in 1978, the director has received both pressure from the government of Hugo Chavez and the most resounding applause from his audience. This December his film Hands of Stone will be shown in Cuba during the Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

The film, based on the story of the Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran, includes in its cast the fellow Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez, in the starring role, and the Oscar winner Robert de Niro in the role of his trainer. Jakubowicz responded to questions from 14ymedio about his expectations on presenting his work to a Cuban audience, and his reaction to the exclusion from the festival of the Cuban film Santa y Andrés, by director Carlos Lechuga. Continue reading ““There Is Nothing Worse Than An Artist Who Collaborates With A Repressive Government” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Sanchez. During the Havana Film Festival of Havana Cubans will be able to enjoy your film Hands of Stone, one of the most interesting films that will be screened in this year. How can viewers on the island inform themselves before seeing the story of the legendary Roberto ‘Mano de Piedra’ Duran?

Jakubowicz. I think that Cubans feel the story of Duran as their own. Duran is the son of an American Marine who was assigned to the Canal Zone and who had an affair with a Panamanian, and then left. The relationship between the boxer known as Manos de Piedra and the United States is complex starting from his birth. But paradoxically it is only thanks to the help of his gringo coach, the character played by De Niro, that he becomes world champion and beats the United States boxing idols on the biggest stages in the world. It is a Latin American epic, filmed mainly in Panama but with Hollywood legends. I am sure Cubans will enjoy it.

Sanchez. You’re aware of the censorship of the film Santa y Andrés, directed by Cuban filmmaker Carlos Lechuga, and even thought of withdrawing Hands of Stone from the Festival, in solidarity with that filmmaker. Why have you kept your film in the Festival line-up? What do you think about the exclusion of the Lechuga’s film?

Jakubowicz. Cuba and Venezuela are sister nations, not only in our history but in our political present. When my first film came out, Secuestro Express (Kidnapping Express), the Chavez government charged me twice and published in the state media all kinds of information to discredit me. Only someone who knows what it is to be persecuted because of his art can understand the pain that means. That is why it affected me so much to read about censorship being applied to this Cuban film.

I felt that going to the Festival to show my film would be a hypocrisy, like when I saw international filmmakers photographing Chavez while I was being persecuted. I was afraid of becoming that dismal figure of the artist who supports the repressor, a very common figure in our countries, and one that has done great damage to our people.

But Cuban filmmakers themselves asked me not to withdraw my movie from the program, because the festival is one of the few windows left on the island to see the outside world, and so I decided to do it. At the end of the day I don’t live in Cuba and the only thing I can to do is help those who do live there.

Sanchez. You’ve experienced first hand harassment within your own country. How do you experience all those pressures?

Jakubowicz. With much anguish and sadness. My film was not even against the government, but was made by people from all social classes in Venezuela, and the success filled Chavez with insecurity, because his power was always based on dividing the population. On attacking us, he attacked our invitation to overcome the problems we have as a society, but also made it impossible for me to continue making films in my country. So I am filled with admiration for Cubans like you, like Gorki Aguila, El Sexto and others who dare to stay in the cave of repressor to do battle for freedom from within.

I just published a book, Las Aventuras de Juan Planchard (The Adventures of John Planchard), showing the corruption of the Chavista revolution in all its glory. It is my grain of sand in this fight. There are people who ask me if I’m not afraid to publish it, and my answer is that if there are people in Cuba and Venezuela who put their lives on the line daily for freedom, the least I can do is support them with my art.

Sanchez. What do you think of the relationship between cinema and power? Between artists and official institutions?

Jakubowicz. Cinema and power have always been related, the problem is when those in power repress some filmmakers, and welcome and support others. There is nothing worse than an artist who collaborates with a repressive government. To put your sensibility at the service of a power that persecutes human beings who want to express themselves like you do is a contradiction which, in my opinion, annuls you as an artist and makes your work into propaganda.

History is full of talented artists who have done that and ended up persecuted by the very machinery they supported. Generally those who remain cozied up to power forever are mediocre, they would have no capacity for transcendence if not for the help they receive as payment for their complicity.

Sanchez. In Cuba, as of more than three years ago, a group of filmmakers has been promoting a Film Law to gain autonomy and protect their work. What would you recommend to your colleagues on the island in that regard?

Jakubowicz. In my opinion they should focus on creating methods for their films to be viewed online. Just as there are now journalistic spaces coming out in Havana and reaching everyone, create spaces for local filmmakers to put their work on the internet. Almost all filmmakers in the world are doing works that are exhibited on the internet.

Even Woody Allen is making a series for Amazon. No one can underestimate the power of the internet as a tool for the distribution of independent cinema of the future. I find it commendable that they are trying to pass this law, but in my experience art cannot beat authoritarian governments with laws. They can be conquered with art. The laws were not made for artists.

Lights After The Ashes / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)
Despite the mourning, some have dared to put up Christmas decorations. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 December 2016 – Timidly, without much noise or fuss, Havanans are shaking off the national mourning decreed for Cuba, as of last Saturday, for the death of Fidel Castro. Despite cultural activities having been cancelled, the closed theaters and the bars without alcohol, the first Christmas decorations are beginning to be seen in some homes.

The owners of these houses adorned with lights and garlands risk being reprimanded by those closest to officialdom or by the police.

In a city where the authorities have severely reprimanded those who play loud music in their homes, or who plan any kind of festivities, to install Christmas decorations is true defiance, a gesture of irreverence more daring and forceful than an opposition slogan shouted in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Thousands of families across the capital city are waiting for the end of this period of seclusion imposed by the powers-that-be to prominently display their tree with a star and snow made out of cotton. These are the symbols of the new times, of the holidays that will inevitably come after the great funeral.

Cuba Survives Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A group of older people waiting for bread talk about the death of Fidel. (14ymedio)
A group of older people waiting for bread talk about the death of Fidel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 27 November 2016 – Few people were watching official television at that hour. The news of Fidel Castro’s death began to spread through the night on Friday by phone, as information that was vague and imprecise. “Again?” my mother asked when I called her. Born in 1957, this Havanan of nearly six decades does not remember life before the Commander in Chief took power in Cuba.

Three generations, we Cubans have put the final period on an era this Friday. Each person will define it in their own way. There are those who claim that with the departure of the leader a piece of the nation has also left and that now the island seems incomplete. They will be those who will shape the creed of Fidelism that, as a replacement of imported Marxism-Leninism, will fill the manuals, the slogans and the burning commitments to continuity.
Continue reading “Cuba Survives Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The propagandists of the myth will put his five-letter name in the pantheon of national history. They will dedicate a revolutionary prayer every time reality seems to belie “the teachings” he left in his hours of interminable speeches. For his followers, everything bad that happens from now on will be because he is no longer here.

In Miami, the exile so vilified in his harangues celebrates that the dictator has embarked on his last journey. On the island, within the privacy of many homes, some uncorked a bottle of rum. “I kept it so long I thought I would never be able to taste it,” an early rising neighbor told me. There are those who have woken up this Saturday with one less weight on their shoulders, a sensation of lightness they are not yet accustomed to.

These are also the days to remember those who didn’t make it this far. Those who were killed during the Castro regime, shipwrecked at sea, victims of the censorship that the Maximum Leader imposed, or who lost their sanity as a consequence of the delusions he promoted. An immense chorus of victims is expressed today in the sighs of the survivors, the euphoria in the streets of Florida, or in a simple “Amen.”

Most, however, after learning the details of the great funeral, turn down the TV and express their disgust with a simple shrug. This indifference contrasts with the messages of condolence from international leaders, both the ideologically aligned as well as the others. On the wall of Havana’s Malecon, a couple of hours after Raul Castro announced the death of his brother, some groups continued to behave as on any other late night: sweat, sensuality, boredom and nothingness surrounding them.

Cubans who were under 15 in July of 2006 when the then-president’s illness was announced, barely remember the timbre of his voice. They only know him from the photos in which he would appear lately when some foreign guest visited, of through his increasingly absurd Reflections, published in the national press. It is the generation that never vibrated to his oratory and never seconded the dreaded cry of “Paredon!” – To the Firing Squad! – that he bellowed from the Plaza of the Revolution.

These young people have now been charged with reducing his historical dimension, in inverse proportion to the hubris he exhibited in governing this nation. They won’t stop listening to a single lyric of their preferred reggaeton songs to intone the slogan “Viva Fidel.” They will not give birth to a wave of infants who will carry the name of the deceased, nor will they beat their breasts and tear their clothes during the funeral.

Fidel Castro in Rome in 1996
Fidel Castro in Rome in 1996

Never have we heard less about the Commander in Chief than at the moment of his death. Never had oblivion loomed like a more threatening shadow than when his end was announced. The man who filled every minute of Cuba for more than 50 years receded, faded, was lost to spectators’ sight in this extremely long film, like the character who walks off down a path until he is barely a blip on our retina.

He leaves behind the great lesson of contemporary Cuban History: tying the national destiny to the will of one man ends up passing on to a country the imperfect traits of his personality and inflates one human being with the arrogance of speaking for everyone. His olive green cap and his Greek profile, for decades, have encouraged the nightmares of some and the poetic residues of others, along with the populists promises of many leaders on the planet.

His “anti-imperialism,” as he stubbornly called it, was his most constant attitude, the only slogan that he managed to take to the ultimate consequences. No wonder the United States was the second great protagonist of the documentaries national television began to broadcast as soon as the news was announced. Castro’s obsession with our neighbor to the north ran through every moment of his political life.

The eternal question that so many foreign journalists asked, now has an answer. “What will happen when Fidel Castro dies?” Today we know that he will be cremated, his ashes will be carried across the island and placed in the Santa Ifigenia Cemeterey, a few yards from the tomb of José Martí. There will be tears and nostalgia, but his legacy will fade.

The Council of State has decreed nine days of national mourning, but the official elegy will last for months, time enough to cover with so much hullabaloo the flat reality of post-Fidelism. A system that the current president is trying to keep afloat, adding patches of market economy and calls for the foreign capital that his brother abominated.

A representation of the “good cop, bad cop” that both brothers unfurled before our eyes, is now missing one of its parts. It will be difficult for the defenders of Raul Castro’s regime to argue that the reforms are not faster or deeper because, in a mansion at Point Zero on the outskirts of Havana, a nonagenarian has applied the brakes.

Raul Castro has been orphaned. He knows no life without his brother, no political action without asking what his brother will think about his decisions. He has never taken a step without this gaze over his shoulder, judging him, pushing him and underestimating him.

Fidel Castro has died. He is survived by a nation that has lived through too much mourning to dress in the color of widowhood.

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Editor ‘s note: This text was published on Sunday 27 November, 2016 in the newspaper El País.

Enough With the War Games / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Regular troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces parade in military exercise. (Archive)
Regular troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces parade in military exercise. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2016 — Tiredness, in the voice of the friend who calls and asks when they are going to mute the sirens that have been going off since morning. Exhaustion, in the neighbor who couldn’t get home in time after work because traffic was diverted due to military maneuvers. Annoyance in the young reservist who was ordered to participate in military exercise on the exact days he was planning a getaway with his girlfriend.

The three days devoted to “Bastión 2016” have left many Cubans feeling extremely saturated. Especially because after 72 hours of aggressive confrontation, and just when it seemed that the nightmare of machine guns was over, the government decreed this Saturday and Sunday to be National Days of Defense. For those who don’t want to fight… three bullets. Continue reading “Enough With the War Games / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Exhausted from so much “trench warfare” and too many allusions to the enemy, we wonder if it wouldn’t be more coherent to use all those resources to alleviate daily problems. To reverse the chronic difficulties of urban transport, the quality of the bread in the ration market, or the shortages of medicines in the island’s pharmacies, would be better destinations for the little money contained in the national coffers.

Why waste money on fuel for war tanks that could be used to improve elementary school lunches?

The threat of battle is part of the mechanisms of control. The trench is the hole where we are immobilized and reduced; the platoon erases our individuality; and the canteen filled with water that tastes of metal and fear exorcises our demons of prosperity.

The war games have reminded us that we are only soldiers. As the bugle’s roar pulls the uniformed from their beds, these days of military exercises have awakened the country from any dreams of citizenship.

End of the Obama Era: Valuable Time Lost / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Barack Obama in one of the last rallies of support for Hillary Clinton. (EFE / EPA / CRISTOBAL HERRERA)
Barack Obama in one of the last rallies of support for Hillary Clinton. (EFE / EPA / CRISTOBAL HERRERA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 November 2016 – On Tuesday a new era opens for the United States and for the rest of the nations on the planet, while for Cuba a period of great opportunities will end, one that the Plaza of the Revolution’s stubbornness did not use to its advantage.

The normalization of relations between Washington and Havana, announced on 17 December 2014, began a time of possibilities to improve the lives of the Cuban people, a time that the Cuban government received with excessive caution. Every step taken by Barack Obama was responded to with suspicion by Raul Castro, without any lessening of political repression and, in recent months, with a escalation in the tone of ideological rhetoric. Continue reading “End of the Obama Era: Valuable Time Lost / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The general-president has wasted the enthusiasm of the thaw, squandering chances and delaying – with his stubbornness – the inevitable opening that the island will experience. He has chosen entrenchment rather than ease the iron controls that strangle the country’s economic, civic and cultural life.

When the opportunity opened for Cuban coffee growers to sell their product in the United States, our side responded with a tirade from the National Association of Small Farmers. Before proposals to strengthen ties between the young people of both nations, olive-green officialdom barricaded itself in a bitter campaign against scholarships offered by the World Learning organization.

Google’s offers to help connect the island to the internet ran up against the monopoly of the Cuban Telecommunications Company, which only at the end of this year will begin a “pilot project” to bring the great World Wide Web to 2,000 homes in Old Havana. Meanwhile, censorship is still in force against digital sites, and wifi zones maintain their high prices and poor service.

The Plaza of the Revolution has focused its discourse on the glass half empty. For long months it has blamed Obama for not managing to lift the embargo or to return the Guantanamo Naval Base, a propaganda strategy of strident demands to cover up the evidence that our neighbor to the north has shown itself in a better mood for reconciliation.

The photos of Castro and Obama shaking hands and smiling for the cameras matter little. The reality is far from deserving the headlines in the foreign press, which tell us that Cuba has changed because Madonna walked the streets of its capital, a United States soccer team shook the stands of a stadium on the island, or that both countries are collaborating on protecting the region’s sharks.

In recent weeks, the slowdown has been felt more strongly. Cuban authorities know that the new occupant of the White House will face many challenges ahead. Her or his first months’ agenda will focus on emergencies such as the war in Syria, the conflict with ISIS, and the country’s own internal problems, which are neither few nor small. Cuba will not be a priority on the agenda of the next president of the United States.

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins today, it will be some time before the new president addresses the issue of the island and makes it their own, with an imprint that could mean “freezing the thaw,” or deepening the path initiated by Obama. But the reins that keep Cuba locked in the 20th century do not issue from the Oval Office, they are held in the hands of an octogenarian who fears this future that awaits us, one where he will not be.

The Old Age of Elpidio Valdés / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The image of the artist Denys Almaral gives an unexpected turn to the iconography created by Juan Padrón.
The image of the artist Denys Almaral gives an unexpected turn to the iconography created by Juan Padrón.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 24 October 2016 — Several generations of Cubans have grown up watching cartoons based on the adventures of Elpidio Valdés. A Mambí – Cuban freedom fighter – friendly and popular, the character has starred in many popular sayings and some jokes repeated ad nauseam. Willing to annihilate the Spaniards with a slash of his machete, nationalist to the core and vindicator of the version of history clung to by the official discourse, this insurrectionist tried to represent Cuban identity in his picaresque rebelliousness.

The image created by the artist Denys Almaral gives an unexpected twist to the iconography created by Juan Padron. Aged, forced to sell newspapers to survive and marked by economic hardship, this Elpido Valdes of this little vignette belies the heroic tints in which he appeared in numerous shorts and feature films dedicated to the witty independence fighter. Continue reading “The Old Age of Elpidio Valdés / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Instead of the country for which he fought, the rogue spends his last years in a Cuba where those who live better are those who have hard currency, where the dreams of equity are a thing of the past, and where the generation that helped to build the system is a “hindrance” to the government’s desire for a monopoly.

The island is full of Elpidio Valdéses asking for alms, standing in long lines to buy the only bread they have the right to each day and dreaming of the project of this nation that led them to the countryside to shake off the yoke of a foreign power. Now, they are not subjects of the metropolis, but of the Castro regime.

Elpidio Valdes -- the Jaun Padron version "in his youth"
Elpidio Valdes — the Juan Padron version “in his youth” Source: kreweofmambi.com

Panama’s Darien Gap, a Mediterranean Without Boats or Headlines / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Cubans crossing the Darien jungle to get to Panama. (Courtesy to '14ymedio')
Cubans crossing the Darien jungle to get to Panama. (Courtesy to ’14ymedio’)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Panama, 23 October 2016 — If anything deserves to be called “tropical” it is the Darien jungle in the south of Panama. Humidity, mosquitoes and heat makes moving within the dense vegetation of the area a superhuman task. Through the dense jungle extends one of the most dangerous migratory routes of the world. A Mediterranean without boats or headlines, but one where opportunity and death also converge.

Where Central America joins in a narrow embrace with South America, is is the deadliest and most feared stretch along the route to the United States. Crossing from Colombia to this area in Panama are migrants arriving from nearby or distant countries, such as Cuba, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Somalia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

This piece of land has lodged in many migrants’ memories as the most difficult in the long march toward a dream. However, for migrants from other continents, coming from Asia and Africa, overcoming it is a major effort. There are those who cross the Atlantic at the mercy of the human traffickers, hidden in the cargo holds of ships that often depart a Europe incapable of confronting its own immigration crisis. Continue reading “Panama’s Darien Gap, a Mediterranean Without Boats or Headlines / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Without speaking a word of Spanish, nor knowing the least cultural details of this area of the world, the recently arrived collide with a region where reality oscillates between the marvelous and the sinister. In most cases, they carry no identity documents and only a few know words such as “water” and “food.”

Those who manage to cross the thicket of vegetation and danger, celebrate on the other side, now in Panamanian territory, with the joy of reaching a final destination, but with the crossing of the rest of Central America and Mexico still ahead of them, some of it semi-desert. But conquering the Darien comes to be seen as winning a medal in the most difficult Olympic disciplines… one in which the athletes play at life.

There are no half measures in this strip of rough terrain. A coyote might be an experienced guide who leads a group of travelers toward the next frontier, or a criminal who delivers the group into the hands of extortionists, rapists and thieves.

Through the jungle, the migrants appear in groups, some with children riding on their shoulders, stumbling through the mud and branches along makeshift routes. Their stories are barely told in the foreign media, and international organizations have been parsimonious in highlighting the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in this narrow waist of land that enhances the curves of America.

It is also a path marked by simulation. Many Haitians cross the jungle passing themselves off as Africans. The citizens of the country in this part of the world hardest hit by natural disasters and poverty are considered as pariahs, with little appeal even to the human traffickers.

In no other place on the continent, as in the Darien, are the deficiencies of Latin American diplomacy in coordinating common policy more apparent. Meanwhile, Nicaragua continues to keep its borders closed to migrants, Costa Rica seeks to stem the flow of foreigners flooding it, and the president of Panama warns that those who enter the jungle area separating his country from Colombia “are going to be given humanitarian assistance to continue their journey.”

The Darian Gap incarnates the fiasco of regional integration, delayed by the short-sightedness of the politicians and the successive attempts to create select clubs of countries, united more by ideological conveniences than by the urgent needs of their citizens. The greatest failure is the fault of the Central American Social Integration Secretariat (SISCA), incompetent to implement an effective contingency plan for the situation.

It has been of little use that James Cavallaro, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), made a call to the United States of America to act “immediately to open channels that allows these people to migrate legally and safely.” In the government palaces, everyone seems more focused on lighting their own fires than in supporting joint efforts.

This diplomatic selfishness didn’t escape Cavallaro, who also said that “the fact that the migrants resort to irregular channels and human traffickers is explained by the lack of legal and safe channels to migrate,” a situation that increases their vulnerabilities to the abuses and extortion of criminal organizations, human traffickers and corrupt police.

The landscape worsens every day with a Europe overwhelmed by the massive arrival of migrants and a “destination America” appearing as an option for those fleeing armed conflicts: the poor and the desperate. Like a river that starts with a thin trickle of water, the flow of those crossing the Central American isthmus grew and grew, swelled by thousands of Cubans who fear the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the benefits it offers them in the United States.

The drama takes place beyond the photographers’ lenses. The images of the boats filled with refugees coming from Myanmar and Bangladesh trying to get to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand filled the newspaper headlines in the middle of last year, while the Darien hid its most terrible scenes. It barely appeared in the international press.

To those who boast of living in a hyper-connected world, with every inch already explored and with the eyes of satellites crossing it foot-by-foot, they would do well to visit this jungle. One of the last natural redoubts that terrorizes men, stops the most daring expeditions and seems to laugh at adventurers in the style of Indiana Jones.

A descent into the abyss of humidity and insect bites could shade the reading of news about space probes that reach distant planets and collect images of other galaxies. The region remains as stark as in the days of the Spanish Conquest.

The Pan American Highway, which runs from Alaska to Argentina, is interrupted here. A situation that has helped to preserve the natural diversity of the area but that certainly increases the deadliness of this stretch for migrants.

In September of this year, a family of three drowned in the Turquesa River. Fishermen in the area reported the body of a child not yet four years old floating in the water. Then they also found his parents. All had “foreign-features,” according to the Panamanian border service.

They are just a few of the many victims claimed by the Darien Gap. This jungle is so thick that not even screams escape it.

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Editor’s note: This text was published on Sunday 23 October in the newspaper El País.

Information as Treason / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

"For the retrograde Cuban officialdom all cats are gray." (EFE)
“For the retrograde Cuban officialdom all cats are gray.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 14 October 2016 – Authoritarians aren’t very given to calm. They need the citizens to feel widespread discomfort to be able to govern them with ease. This scenario of fears has sharpened recently in Cuba, where the government has strengthened or opened new fronts against the opposition, against the self-employed, against young people who aspire to a scholarships to study in the United States, and, especially, against the independent press.

The battle drums sound and the main enemy is embodied on this occasion by journalists not affiliated with the state media who are reporting on the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. The government is opposed to “private sites, or those openly in service to the counterrevolution” giving “an image, not of a different, but of a distorted reality,” according to an article published this Thursday in the official newspaper, Granma. Continue reading “Information as Treason / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The Granma article, titled “Matthew: Humanism, Transparency and Manipulation” is barely a skirmish in the escalation of recent weeks against publications that have escaped Communist Party control. What is new is that this time the attack reaches certain areas of the independent press that have fought tooth and nail not to be included in the sack of “enemies.”

The current offensive against them, embodied in the arrests suffered by the Periodismo de Barrio team and its director Elaine Diaz, the threats against Fernando Ravsberg about a possible expulsion from the country, and the sanction against Holguin journalist Ramirez Pantoja, show that for the retrograde Cuba officialdom all cats are grey, or, and it’s the same thing: the journalist who doesn’t applaud with sufficient enthusiasm is a traitor.

The official onslaught has reached the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the situation of the press in Cuba, a study prepared with the cooperation of Ernesto Londoño, a journalist for The New York Times whose editorials in favor of the thaw with the United States were, until recently, praised by Cuba’s government press.

Now… now we’ve all been tossed into the same sack.

It serves the new victims not at all to distance themselves from those who have been stigmatized by official propaganda on prime time television programs. There is little to be gained today by the acrimonious official rejection of independent journalism born in the nineties. Nor even that abomination of “controversial” or dissident bloggers as they publicly insist they are guided by a leftist ideology.

None of that matters. Because what is happening now is a clash between two eras. An era in which the Cuban Communist Party could control, decide and manipulate at will all the information published in the island’s media. A time when we learned weeks later that the Berlin Wall had fallen, and when the images of the 1994 Maleconazo uprising in Havana itself were whisked off the front pages of the national dailies. This era is dying and another is being born, thanks to new technologies, to many journalists’ commitment to the truth, and to the growing eagerness to be informed displayed by many Cubans.

However, to the Plaza of the Revolution, accustomed to deciding each headline and appointing the directors of every newspaper, radio and TV station, it matters little whether the new object of their animosity is a fashion magazine, a sports publication or an information site. If it doesn’t have the Party’s seal on it any attempt to inform will be seen as a declaration of war.

As long as Cuban journalists fail to recognize that beyond their editorial nuances, their phobias or their individual ideological affiliations they must unite and protect each other, officialdom will continue to land these blows. They will demonize, arrest and confiscate the tools of the trade, whether the journalists they are talking about the migrations of birds of prey or acts of repudiation suffered by the opposition.

The only thing worth distancing ourselves from right now is letting the forces most opposed to free information tear us apart. Separated, we are just journalists at the mercy of the whims of power; together we are united in a vigorous and needed profession.

Let this article serve to transmit my solidarity to all my colleagues who today are in the crosshairs of repression, whatever their editorial line, the focus of their work or the color of the dreams they cherish for our country.

The Grandchildren Of The Revolution Aspire To A Normal Life With Neither Utopia Nor Frustration / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A group of young people connect to the internet in a Wi-Fi zone in Havana (EFE)
A group of young people connect to the internet in a Wi-Fi zone in Havana (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Guatemala, 12 October 2016 – This will be the story of at least three stages my nation has lived through. Three moments when the young amassed hopes, collected frustrations and used their ingenuity to overcome obstacles along the way. Without this renewing energy and a capacity to defy the established, we would very likely be sunk much more deeply in a lack of rights, in surveillance and control.

They opened the window when the door was closed, but the challenge is to cross the threshold of freedom without subterfuges or ideological concessions.

The first generation I want to talk about is that of my father. A train driver, a Communist Party militant, a member of the political process that came to power in Cuba in January of 1959. He could not choose, he just followed the course designed by others who barricaded themselves behind the name of the historic generation and came down from the mountains, bearded, young, possessors of hope, in a convulsive and memorable era. Continue reading “The Grandchildren Of The Revolution Aspire To A Normal Life With Neither Utopia Nor Frustration / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

My father was a child at the time and saw how the country around him skipped a beat. The streets were euphoric, anthems filled every space and in the photos from that time his contemporaries are smiling and optimistic in front of the platform where the Maximum Leader speaks for hours, with his index finger defiantly extended. To my father’s generation fell the heroic tasks, like the literacy campaign, the voluntary labor to catapult the country to the highest standards of prosperity and knowledge.

However, what most marked that time was the sensation that they were working for the future, that all this sacrifice and energy would end up building, for their children, a better tomorrow. They were young, they wanted to have fun and be together, but they accepted being led and reduced to the attitude of mere soldiers, so that those who came later would inhabit a more prosperous and more free Cuba.

In order to achieve that dream, that generation set aside in great measure the rebelliousness that belongs to that age, accepted a foreign doctrine as distant as Marxist-Leninism, and offered their best years on the altar of history. No contribution was enough, so the government asked for more sacrifice, less individualism and above all, no complaining.

Their names were the first signed up for the so-called libreta, the ration book for food and manufactured products that were distributed to Cubans in identical amounts, to avoid social differences and the appearance of that demonized middle class that Fidel Castro’s regime had erased through confiscations, stigmatization and exile.

My father could only choose atheism in a Cuba where families hid their prints of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the back of the room and avoided even saying “thank God,” and postponed for several decades the celebration of Christmas. For the prevailing ideology, religion wasn’t just the opiate of the people, but endowed the individual with a spiritual world to which the Party had no access. When Cubans escaped in a prayer, in a supplication, the bureaucrats and materialistic theorists lost ascendancy over them.

In every form you had to fill out to go to school or start a new job there was the question about your religious beliefs. Many hid their crucifixes under their shirts, emphasized that there were “trusted comrades” and marked “no”… saying they believed in nothing other than the Revolution, its leader and the Party. In this and other ways the basis of the double standard that runs through Cuban society today was set.

These were the Cubans who, on becoming young adults a decade after January 1959, filled the ranks of the soldiers who left for internationalist wars in far off Africa. They didn’t know it, but they were just canon fodder, “toy soldiers” that the Soviet Union deployed at will in the turbulent war scenario of the Cold War. Thousands went mad, died, and wept in those latitudes, without a good understanding of how the people on our island got involved in such a conflict.

But those who were also young back then had to say “goodbye” to many of their relatives once more, when they were forced to emigrate from Camarioca or through the Port of Mariel. Many of them, beardless and confused, were used as shock troops to scream, at their own family members, that official slogan with which Cubans confronted Cubans, “Out with the scum!”

Uniformed, with military haircuts and optimistic about the future, these young people began to have their own children, whom they nursed on the belief that they would live in Utopia, with absolute equality and happiness for everyone. It was my generation that would arrive in a world where everything was decided and programmed.

I was born in the midst of the absolute Sovietization of Cuban reality. The Three Kings of our Christmas celebration, olive oil and privacy were all simply memories from a past that should not return. We were the New Man that knew nothing of capitalism, the exploitation of man by man, the market, the law of supply and demand, respect for privacy and, of course, we also knew nothing of freedom…

We all knew, in that Cuba of the seventies and eighties, how our classmates dressed or what they ate, because it was exactly the same, a carbon copy, of what we ourselves ate and wore. Using the first person singular, “I,” became a problem, so we talked about “us,” we were comrades and projected collective dreams and the longings of the platoon.

With the concept of the “masses” that need to be be managed from above, my generation was sent to schools in the countryside. A social and teaching laboratory where we would be Cubans more committed to the cause, people disinterested in all material things, and ready, at any moment to exchange our schoolbooks for a gun, if the fatherland – or at least those who called themselves the fatherland – needed us.

However, the human being in an environment of excess indoctrination always reserves a piece of themselves, where the cacophony of power is not heard and where no ideology has access. That redoubt, defended with masks of complacency and hidden from colleagues, relatives or the neighbors who might denounce you, was the refuge of our generation.

They, the powers-that-be, promised us Utopia, but we wanted to enjoy the present. So we pretended to obey while we incubated rebellion. We yelled the slogans like automatons and minutes later we’d already forgotten the words we shouted. We learned to lie, to put on a mask, to unwillingly applaud, and to promise eternal fidelity when inside there was only apathy and doubt. In short, we learned to survive.

We came to puberty and the Berlin Wall fell. We weren’t the ones wielding the chisels and hammers that brought down the symbol of an era, but every blow against the stones echoed in our heads. My father cried for that communist East Germany that he knew from a trip he’d earned as a vanguard worker, designed so he would know the future. But my generation felt a tingling, a satisfaction…our Sugar Curtain could also fall.

With the Communist Party Congress in 1991, in which it was accepted that religious believers would be allowed in the only political organization permitted in the country, we saw how our parents pulled out their old hidden religious objects.

The hunger also came, that burning stomach that doesn’t let you think about anything else. With the implosion of the Soviet Union and the “socialist camp,” Cuba lost the subsidies and the “fair trade among peoples” that had kept the country afloat for decades. That currency that had bought our fidelity, that gravitational field that we orbited around the Kremlin, vanished.

We came up against our own reality. It was hard, sad, without expectations. Nothing resembled those projections of the future with which my father put me to sleep when I was a little girl. His generation had inherited a moribund doctrine and to us fell the heavy task of burying it.

The Rafter Crisis that erupted in August of 1994 was one of the many ways that my contemporaries found to bury that mirage. We didn’t confront power in a public plaza, nor tear down the walls of control surrounding us. A good part of Cubans preferred the sea, the waves and rickety boats as the path to escape.

On Havana’s Malecon we watched them assemble the rafts of disillusionment, people my father’s age and the new shoots, energetic and young but frustrated. They left, we said goodbye and the cynicism began, the nothingness, the stage of not believing, of no illusions but also no rebellion. We arrived at this moment in our national history that could be called “every man for himself.”

Between the sound made by the oars of the rafts that sailed the Florida Straits and the stubbornness of the power that kept calling us to resist the economic vicissitudes, my generation began the difficult task of being parents. Those we brought into the world were the babies of disenchantment: the grandchildren of those who cursed having given their best years to a failed project and the children of a generation that should have been the “New Man” but didn’t even manage to be a “good man.”

Not much can be asked of them, but the young people of today have been better than us. The generation of my son, who is 21 now, suckled our disbelief, heard us blaspheme in front of national television, buy in the black market, surreptitiously escape from the public marches and hope – in a whisper – that the future wouldn’t be the one our parents dreamed of. Because we already understood that was a golden cage in which others had planned to lock us up.

With a touch of indifference and a shrug of the shoulders in that so Cuban gesture that, translated into verbal language, means “Me? What do I care?” the new generation of young people is dismantling what is left of the Cuban system. It is doing this without heroic gestures, one could almost say with a certain reluctance and a touch of indifference. Nothing they say from the official podiums touches their hearts, or even instills fear.

Unlike those who came before, today’s Cubans under 25 don’t know about the ration book for manufactured products, where you could buy a single pair of pants or one shirt per year. They barely remember hearing a speech by Fidel Castro and haven’t had to accumulate ideological merits or brownie points at or work to be able to buy a home appliance.

Instead, they live on an island where the only valid thing is real money, which is achieved by doing the exact opposite of what my father once had to do to get a refrigerator, and where the black market has crept into all spheres of life.

Almost from childhood, these Cubans of the third millennium have been glued to a computer keyboard. Their parents bought their first computers and laptops in the illegal market. Their first kilobytes and videogames have come through the alternative distribution networks and represent the exact opposite of the ideology taught to them in school.

With haircuts inspired by Japanese manga, by figures from international show business or rebellion, today they populate our streets.

My son’s generation does not seek revolutions because they already know what they cause. They have learned to be suspicious by nature of Robin Hood style discourses that know how to steal from the rich and divide the spoils among the poor, but have never learned to generate wealth, to make a prosperous nation, one with opportunities like those once promised by that band of outlaws that came down from the mountains with their beards and olive green uniforms.

Today they have the appearance and dreams of any young German, English, Guatemalan. They look back with the necessary disdain and with a certain confidence that the future will not be as predicted in the science fiction books of the twentieth century, nor like that predicted by totalitarian ideologies. They believe it will be, at least, a more humane and pluralistic time, and a more free one.

When someone tells them that the Castro regime is here to stay and that Cuba will never return to its democratic path – imperfect and risky, like that of any nation – these Cubans living on the island today smile and remember those impetuous young people who drove the changes in the far off Soviet Union. Like them, they say to themselves, it doesn’t matter that the historic generation has the power, because we – fresh and skeptical – have the time.

They grow up, go to the gym, listen to pirated music like anywhere else on the planet, make love, take selfies, try to share their lives on the web, and continue to live in a country where officialdom fears information. In short, they are twenty-somethings while Fidel Castro is in his nineties. They belong to the twenty-first century, but the old caudillo remains a prisoner of the twentieth.

These grandchildren of the generation of sacrifice and children of the generation of Utopia are the ones who, for the most part right now, feed the emigration that is crossing Central America. They suffer, die and are carried away in the hands of the coyotes while escaping the country that, by this time, should be the paradise once promised by their elders.

These young people today are the future. They will do it their way. Without listening to the advice of their parents. Who, under 30, follows the path traced by others? Especially when those who preceded them were so wrong? They are the grandchildren and children of a chimera. They come with the necessary pragmatism of forgetting and with the indulgent balm of forgiveness. They will live in a Cuba we never imagined, or knew how to achieve. A country, finally, with room for everyone.

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Editor’s Note: Lecture given on October 6 by Yoani Sanchez in Juan Bautista Gutierrez Francisco auditorium at Marroquin University in Guatemala.

 

Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

World Learning's scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.
World Learning’s scholarships are targeted to 16-18 year old students in Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to me to be the pedestrian, or the driver who runs over him.” Continue reading “Scholarships, Fears And Attractions / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.