Raul Castro Squandered His Last Chance / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, shook hands a year ago in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.

Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences. continue reading

These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.

The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.

Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.

Utopia’s Courtesans / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

”Jineteras” accompany tourists on a Cuban beach. (Cuban  Human Rights Observatory)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 March 2017 — An aging prostitute is like a book with tattered pages depicting the life of a nation. A survival manual to approach the vagaries of reality, to learn about its most carnal and, at times, most sordid parts. Many of the courtesans of Utopia in Cuba are already octogenarians. They have gone from caressing the chests of their bearded idols to the arthritis they struggle with as they stand in long lines to buy bread.

More than half a century ago this island decreed the end of the exchange of sex for money. No one, ever again, would sell their body for a little food, a social position or a better job. Hookers were a thing of the capitalist past and in a country heading for Utopia there was no room for such weakness. They had to transform themselves into militants, outstanding workers and the irreproachable mothers of the New Man. continue reading

But prostitution, alas, continues to exist. Like the national lottery that was submerged in illegality after being outlawed, and the jokes against the Maximum Leader shared in whispers, the world’s oldest profession hid in the shadows. Clients were no longer nationals with a few pesos to spend at the nearest brothel, nor sailors eager to recuperate in the tropics from their long days of abstinence on the high seas.

Hookers were a thing of the capitalist past and in a country heading for Utopia there was no room for such weakness

Instead, the goal for socialist courtesans was to end up between the sheets with a guerrilla down from the Sierra Maestra, capture some senior leader of the Communist Party, or hook up with a government minister who would provide a car, a trip abroad or a house. Cash was not a part of the operation. She caressed him and he paid her with power. Those were the years of revolutionary polygamy in which a commander who was respected needed as many lovers as medals.

The pimp was transformed. There was a proliferation of heads of protocol who connected these dedicated compañeras with foreign guests of the Plaza of the Revolution. In tightly-fitting outfits they brightened the parties where Latin American guerrillas exchanged toasts with Basque separatists, union leaders and Eastern Europe diplomats. They laughed and flirted. A Revolution is pure love, they thought.

The fall of the Soviet Union caused a cataclysm in those beds where sweat and influence, semen and privileges, were exchanged. With the end of the subsidy coming from the Kremlin, and the economic reforms officialdom was forced to undertake, money regained its ability to be converted into goods, services and caresses. The new generation of prostitutes had read Karl Marx, declaimed the works of Cuba’s national poet Nicolás Guillén, and thrown flowers into the sea after the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos. They were, Fidel Castro said, the most educated prostitutes in the world.

The new generation of prostitutes had read Karl Marx, declaimed the works of Cuba’s national poet Nicolás Guillén, and thrown flowers into the sea after the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos. They were, Fidel Castro said, the most educated prostitutes in the world

International tourism came into play in the mid-1990s with canned drinks, hotels where Cubans were not allowed to enter, and the companionable ladies renamed jineteras (female jockeys). Official propaganda had shouted all over the world that Cuba was, before January of 1959, “the brothel of the Americas”; not it but collided with the evidence that the island had become the whorehouse of Europeans and Canadians.

These were the years of shortages and ridiculous prices. A bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo or a pair of shoes was enough to buy the favors of these young women who had been trained to inhabit the future and ended up in bed with men three times their age who couldn’t even pronounce their names. The dream that many of them now caressed was summed up in a marriage contract, emigration and a new life far from Cuba.

Today, many of these graceful courtesans – who swarmed around the discos in their colorful outfits – have become mothers and grandmothers walking with their offspring through the parks of Milan, Berlin or Toronto. With their pensions they buy apartments on the island and return willing to pay for a young lover who sighs before the passport with the new nationality that they acquired with the sweat of their pelvis.

They are the graceful survivors of a hard battle, but others only achieved venereal diseases, long nights in jail cells, and the treatment of rude clients who haggled until the last kiss.

The official response against the jineteras concentrated on repression. Arrests, prison sentences and forced deportations to their province of origin were some of the rigors these sex workers had to suffer. The pimp became important in direct proportion to the risks on the street. Now, many wait in a room, get a client, collect the money and manage their lives.

The well-known pingueros were not as shamed by the police in a country where the macho tradition does not stigmatize equally merchandise that comes packaged in a young man’s body

Male prostitution also flourished. The well-known pingueros were not as shamed by the police in a country where the macho tradition does not stigmatize equally merchandise that comes packaged in a young man’s body. They manage to circumvent surveillance and fill every space in the national territory where visitors are betrayed by their accents. They populate the wall of the Malecon, show off their meaty biceps on the most touristy beaches, and most offer a unisex service that doubles their opportunities and swells their incomes.

Because money, alas, continues to buy bodies. Much more so at a time when a new class stumbles to emerge among the economic spoils. The new rich do not wear military uniforms, but run private restaurants or administer a joint venture. With them, the national client has returned to the picture of Cuban prostitution.

The increase in social inequalities and the tourist boom that the island has experienced since the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington have also fueled the carnal market. In 2016 the country reached the record number of four million international visitors. Once again, customers arriving from the country to our north are the most popular, those gringos that the official propaganda thought had been removed from the brothels.

These women throw themselves into the arms of tourists because “they cannot meet the basic needs of food, clothing and footwear”

At the recent International Symposium on Gender Violence, Prostitution, Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Persons, held last January in Havana, a researcher from the Interior Ministry revealed alarming figures. Of a group of 82 prostitutes studied, the majority were “mixed-race, followed by white and black, coming from dysfunctional and permissive families, living in overcrowded conditions.”

These women throw themselves into the arms of tourists because “they cannot meet the basic needs of food, clothing and footwear.” One in three began in the trade before age 18 and “charge between $50 and $200,” depending on the service they provide.

They do not seek luxuries, but crumbs. They are the granddaughters of those courtesans who panted between slogans and privileges.

Editorial Note: This text was published in Spanish on Saturday March 11 in the Spanish newspaper El País .

The Day of the Woman in Cuba, More Honored in the Breach / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

On Women’s Day, no protest march is scheduled in Cuba, as if the life of the women in this country was a bed of roses. (Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 March 2017 – Lying in bed, with the light off, feeling each one of her vertebrae howling. After coming home from work she spent four hours in the kitchen, bathed her invalid mother, helped the children with their homework, went shopping and prepared an administrative report. On TV the announcers offer congratulations for the Day of the Woman, but it sounds like a distant echo that does not influence her life.

On March 8, the workplaces end their days earlier, the officials intone mellow speeches and all the stands are sold out of flowers. The news is filled with images of women who cut cane, give life to babies, and carry guns on their shoulders. Nor is there any lack of politics. Officialdom takes advantage of the day to insist that only “after January 1959” have we Cuban women been recognized. continue reading

There are no protest marches, no demands expressed, as if the life of women in this country was a bed of roses

The National Symphonic Orchestra prepares a special concert, the Post Office sells postcards in bad taste, while the Cuba Workers Center – the only legal union in the country – dedicates the day to Fidel Castro and the “eternal president of the Federation of Cuban Women,” Raul Castro’s late wife Vilma Espín Guillois. There are no protest marches, no demands expressed, as if the life of women in this country was a bed of roses.

The noise of the music, the slogans and the triumphalism drown out our complaints. The day, made compulsorily festive, does not allow demands to emerge, nor talk – with bras shed – about the problems that threaten our daily lives. “Today is a day for celebration, not complaining,” many say; but tomorrow other topics will fill the agenda and there will never be “a good time” to talk.

Symptomatically, the initiative of a women’s strike under the slogan #NosotrasParamos (We Stop) does not find space here, although 45 countries have joined the protests to demand equality between men and women. The lack of independence of women’s associations and their subordination to the government prevents the idea of our taking to the streets with posters and demands.

Machismo and gender discrimination fill every space of our daily lives. In the media, a catchy children’s song tells the story of mother ant who urges her daughter to abandon her games and help her iron, sweep and scrub; but the capricious little girl prefers her dolls. In schools, teachers prepare an area of ​​pink kitchens and baby beds for the girls to play in, while they reserve trucks and play weapons for the boys. In workplaces, bosses feel the power to compliment, harass and touch their subordinates, often under the belief that “they like it.”

Power continues to maintain its old-fashioned, cheesy machismo, purportedly “chivalrous”, which veers from flattery to insult towards those in skirts

In the official discourse we are seen as decorative elements, as a necessary gender quota or simple pieces of the ideological gears. Power continues to maintain its old-fashioned, cheesy machismo, purportedly “chivalrous,” which veers from flattery to insult towards those in skirts. The woman who shares their ideology is a “beautiful flower of the Revolution,” the dissident only deserves that hard four-letter word that questions our morality.

The Cuban feminist movement is dead. This system was killed by depriving it of autonomy, extinguishing the discourse of demands and imposing the false premise that women emancipated themselves five decades ago. All a fallacy that hides the drama of millions of women condemned to double or triple working hours, subjected to sexual harassment and surviving every day with a dose of antidepressants.

The entire economic crisis that we have experienced has claimed women as its main victims. The shortages force them into the long lines to buy food and the stress, every day, of having to “invent” a meal. The accelerated emigration has separated them from their children and the layoffs at state workplaces have returned them to the house, back to the hearth.

Where are the figures for the number of women murdered or beaten by their partners? Where can harassed wife who fears the next beating take shelter?

Statistics about women professionals, deputies to the National Assembly, scientists in white coats or athletes, cannot hide the other side. The numbers of battered women, threatened by a boyfriend who has sworn to kill them if he sees them with another, those raped inside or outside of marriage or those who have had to exchange sex for promotions at work.

Where are the figures for the number of women murdered or beaten by their partners? Where can harassed wife who fears the next beating take shelter? Why not talk about femicide in the national media if each of us knows at least some case where a macho rage ended a life?

Today is not a day to celebrate, but to worry. A day of demands that have been extinguished by the music of a machismo reluctant for us to have our own voice.

Revolutionary ‘Justice’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Two women board a shared taxi (almendrón) in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 February 2018 — The distance between the Havana Capitol and the Ciudad Deportiva (Sport City) remains the same and yet it seems to have changed. With the capped prices imposed by local government on the private taxi routes, this journey has become immense and difficult to complete. Where before a person needed to wait between 5 and 15 minutes, now they have to wait up to an hour to climb into an almendrón*.

At this point, those who were rubbing their hands at the reduced prices for private transport, must have realized that the hand of the state has broken a fragile network ruled by supply and demand. The taxi drivers cut their trips in a sign of protest, and many are staying home weighing whether it is worth spending so many hours behind the steering wheel for ever smaller profits. continue reading

The victims of these reductions are all of us. One of the new rich who manages a restaurant, the doctor who needs to get to the hospital, the old man who has a medical appointment, or the student who is counting his centavos to make it to the end of the month. It has not been a blow to the social class that can pay between 10 and 20 Cuban pesos for a trip, but a blow to all those who on some occasion, even if only sporadically, use this type of transportation.

Official propaganda is now unleashed against the workers of the private sector, but it is silent before the exploitive state that pays for such misery

Like many restrictive measures of this “Revolutionary” process, it has also surrounded itself with a whiff of false justice, with an aura of supposed egalitarianism. Official propaganda is now unleashed against private sector workers who charge half a day’s wages for a trip, but it is silent before the exploitive state that pays for such misery.

The television reports approach the passengers to capture the moment when they say, “that was an abuse that could not continue,” or, “now prices are more in line with our pockets.” But they are silent about those shelves in the state stores where a liter of oil cost two days’ pay and two pounds of chicken can mean a week’s hard work.

Will prices also rise in those markets? Will the Havana Administrative Council unleash itself against the retail network where a father has to pay two week’s wages for a pair of shoes for his son? The Revolutionary “justice” is one-eyed in these cases, only looking in the direction that suits it.

*Translator’s note: “Almendrón” means “almond” and refers to the shape of the classic American cars often used in shared, fixed-route taxi service.

Measuring Hopelessness / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Those who believe that the closing of a one door to emigration will act like the snap of the fingers to awaken a society whose civic conscience is hypnotized are mistaken (Archive photo)

14ymedio biggerEl Pais/14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez,12 February 2017 — Statistics are deceiving. They only reflect measurable values, tangible realities. International agencies cram us with numbers that measure development, life expectancy or educational attainment, but seldom succeed in grading dissatisfaction, fear, and discouragement. Frequently in their reports they describe a Latin America and its inhabitants encased in a fog of digits.

This year the region will have weak growth of 1.3%, according to forecasts by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). A data point that barely manages to transmit the scope of lives that will be ruined by the region’s sluggish progress. Unfinished projects and a long string of social dramas will be accentuated in many of these countries in the coming months. The breeding ground from which populism springs.

However, the major drama remains the lack of horizons for millions of people on this side of the planet continue reading

A Haitian who risks crossing the jungle of Panama’s Darien Gap to reach the United States is driven not only by the miserable conditions of life in her country, the destruction left by natural phenomena or the repeated epidemics that cost thousands of lives. The most powerful engine that moves her is hopelessness, the conviction that in her own country she will never have new opportunities.

Seeing no end to violence pushes other Central Americans to escape their countries. In several of these nations gangs have become an enthroned evil, corruption has corroded the internal scaffolding of institutions and politicians go from one scandal to the next. Discouragement then prompts a response quite different from that generated by indignation. While the latter may push people to rebel, the former pushes them to escape.

Meanwhile, on this Caribbean island, millions of human beings ruminate over their own disappointment. For decades Cubans fled because of political persecution, economic problems and weariness. Until 12 January 2017, that generalized choking sensation had a relief valve called the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, but President Barack Obama closed it a few days before finishing his second term.

The most staunch critics of that migratory privilege say that it encouraged desertions and illegal exits. Some people also criticized its unjust character in that it benefitted and offered entitlements to people who were not escaping war, genocide or a natural disaster. They forget, among these arguments, that discouragement also deserves to be taken into account and computed in any formula that tries to decipher the massive flight that affects a nation.

A similar error has been committed by agencies such as the FAO, UNHCR or ECLAC, all of which specialize in measuring parameters such as the number of daily calories ingested, the effect of climate change on human displacements, or the percentage decrease in a nation’s GDP. Their reports and statements never evaluate the energy that accumulates under frustration, the weight of disappointment or the impotence reflected in every migration.

When more than three generations of individuals have lived under a political and economic system that does not evolve or progress, there is a conviction among them that this situation is eternal and immutable. They no longer see any horizon and the idea that nothing can be done to change the status quo becomes rooted in their minds. By now, many of those born in Cuba after January 1959 have grown up with the conviction that everything had already been done by others who preceded them.

That explains why a young man who had recently slept under a roof in Havana, who had access to a limited but adequate amount of food through the rationed market and who spent his long free hours on a park bench, launched himself into the sea on a raft, at the mercy of the winds and sharks. The lack of prospects is also behind the large number of migrants from the island, in recent years, who have ended up in the hands of human traffickers in Colombia, Panama or Mexico.

Washington not only cut an escape path, but the White House’s decision ended up deepening the depression that comes from the chronic absence of dreams that characterizes our country. The Cuban Adjustment Act, enacted in 1966, is still in effect for those who can prove they are politically persecuted, but the most widespread feeling among potential migrants is that they have lost a last chance to reach a future.

However, this undermining of illusion has little chance of being transformed into rebellion. The theory of the social pressure cooker and the idea that Obama closed the escape valve so that the fire of internal austerity and repression will make it explode is a nice metaphor; but it misses several key ingredients, among them the resignation that overcomes individuals subjected to realities that appear unchangeable.

The belief that nothing can be done and nothing will change continues to be the principle stimulus, in these areas, to lift one’s anchor and depart for any other corner of the planet. The pot will not explode with a sea of people in the streets bringing down Raul Castro’s government while singing hymns on that dreamed of “D-Day” that so many are tired of waiting for.

Those who believe that the closing of a one door to emigration will act like the snap of the fingers to awaken a society whose civic conscience is hypnotized are mistaken. The cancellation of this policy of benefits in the United States is not enough to create citizens here at home.

A new bureaucratic barrier is a small thing to those who believe that they have reached their own glass ceiling and that in their homeland they have nothing left to do. This quiet conviction will never appear in tables, bar charts or schemes with which specialists will explain the causes of exodus and displacement. But ignorance of it means the specialists will never understand such a prolonged escape.

Far from the reports and statistics that everyone wants to explain, hopelessness will take Cuban migrants to other places, re-orient their route to new destinations. In distant latitudes, communities will flourish that will dine on their usual dish of rice and beans and continue to say the word “chico” before many of their phrases. They will be the ones who will let drop small tear when they see on a map that long and narrow land where they had their roots, but in which they could never bear fruit.

Editorial Note: This text was published this Sunday, February 12 in the newspaper El País.

When Life Is In The Hands Of Human Traffickers / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Terminal 3 in Jose Marti International Airport in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 4 February 2017 – The wifi signal barely crosses the glass. The wireless network at José Martí International Airport only covers the boarding area. But a woman presses her whole body against the opaque window that separates the travelers’ area to communicate with human traffickers who are holding her daughter in Mexico.

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO. The videochat is cut several times by the poor quality of the connection On the other side, the voice of a man repeats, without backing off, “Three hundred dollars so she can return on Tuesday.”

The woman wipes her tears and unsuccessfully asks for a reduction. Nearby, a maid who cleans the bathroom passes by, idly dragging a cart with cleaning supplies. A customs official walks by, absorbed, and pretends he is not listening to the disturbing request projected from the screen of the phone, “Don’t kill her, don’t kill her.” continue reading

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO

The scene happens in a place crowded with people, most of whom are passengers about to board a transatlantic flight, or a new commercial route to the United States, and there are also the family members and friends who have come to see them off. No one shows any sign of hearing the drama developing a few feet away.

A tourist tosses back a beer just as the woman is asking the man for half an hour to “collect the money.” She starts the race against the clock. She calls several contacts from her IMO address book, but the first four, at least, don’t answer. On the fifth try, a shrill voice on the other end says, “Hello.”

“I need a huge favor, you can’t say no,” the lady stammers. But the head that can be seen on the screen shakes from side to side. “Are you crazy? And if after you pay this money they don’t let her go?” asks the voice. The tension makes the hand holding the phone start to tremble and her granddaughter, who has accompanied her, helps her hold on to it.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay it back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana. The mother agrees, promises she can “repay every cent,” although it sounds like a formula to get out of a bind. The man believes her.

Now they must arrange the details. The victim doesn’t have a bank account but the mother will send information about “how to send the money.” This is how the kidnappers get paid. Only then will they allow her to fly from Cancun to Havana, or at least that is what they promise.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay in back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana

In the middle of last year the Mexican authorities shut down a network trafficking in undocumented people from Cuba that operated in this tourist area in the Mexican state of Qunitana Roo. The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy this January has left many migrants in the hands of the coyotes, who don’t hesitate to turn to extortion to make up for the reduction in the flow of Cubans and, as a result, their loss of earnings.

The wifi signal is lost altogether, but the mother is feeling relieved. “She was in a large group, about 20 people,” she tells her granddaughter. A simple calculation allows us to know how much the captors will earn on “freeing” all those they are holding.

Nothing ends with the delivery of the money. “She is going to want to go again,” concludes the mother, the instant she hangs up from the last videochat. “I can’t stand it here, I can’t” she repeats, while walking toward the escalator filled with smiling and tanned tourists.

Leaving Cuba But Stranded on Another Island / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A group of Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago by immigration authorities. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 25 January 2017 — They left Cuba before January 12 and are now stranded on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, northeast of Venezuela. They arrived with the advantage of not needing a visa, but they have lost hope of reaching the borders of the United States after the cancellation of wet foot/dry foot policy.

Unofficial figures estimate that more than a thousand Cubans have arrived in Trinidad and Tobago and are waiting to be able to leave for the United States. Some received refugee status in this time, conferred by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but have difficulty obtaining a work permit.

Recently 15 Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago for being undocumented, including 12 men and 3 women, stated that they would rather die than return to their own country

Zenaida, a fictitious name, still has a son in Cuba and fears to give her real identity to the story she has experienced in recent months, but her desire to tell what happened demonstrates, at times, a touch of recklessness. continue reading

“The word that they are offering asylum has gotten out, and if the immigration authorities hadn’t turned back a large number, there would be considerably more of us.” Those stuck there when their visas expire are sent to jail.

Recently, 15 Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago for being undocumented, among them 12 men and 3 women, declared that they would rather die than return to their own country. They are trapped on one island and trying to avoid being returned to another.

Zenaida had a job with the Cuban Workers Center (CTC) – nominally a labor union, but entirely controlled by the government – but was disillusioned with the official ideology. “Despite experiencing the time of the mass exodus in the 1990s, I never thought to leave the country because I’m very attached to my family and my only daughter,” she says.

Her nonconformity started from the time she was a member of the Young Communist Union. “I realized that Robertico Robaina, our leader at the time, obeyed the principle of ‘do what I say and not what I do’.” Zenaida worked on a poultry farm and one day discovered, “a great embezzlement of the birds, where the records were falsified.” On confronting the people involved she learned that among the embezzlers was the director general of the enterprise. Frustration washed over her.

She decided to attend the course for political cadres to get away from the poultry farm. “I couldn’t imagine I would go from one hell to another.” After being a witness to the opportunism and the double standards of many of her colleagues, the little faith she still had in the system was completely destroyed.

“I requested to be released from my job after witnessing the outrage that the opposition figure Jorge Luis Perez ‘Antunez’ and his family were subjected to,” she tells 14ymedio. “That was the trigger that made me decide not to continue there.

“I started working secretly in my aunt’s paladar (private restaurant). There they offered me 100 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in dollars) and the cost of my passport if I would go to Trinidad for seven days in order to import clothing,” she said.

But the fate of the “mule” took a turn when, passing through the airport in Havana, she happened to greet and speak with the author of this article. One of the women she was traveling with, who had witnessed the exchange, returned to Cuba before her, and told one of Zenaida’s neighbors that she was now “one of those human rights people.” “Small town, big hell,” she says, recalling that incident, “the news spread like wildfire and even my husband was called in by State Security.”

Trinidad and Tobago Airport

“My mother and my son were also questioned about my behavior,” she says. “I was aware of the consequences I would have to face if I returned to Cuba.”

“There are families who have been stranded here  waiting for a host country for more than two years. I think the world is not aware of the drama Cubans experience”

She applied for political asylum and now her legal situation is complex. “Immigration took my passport and gave me a card that’s called a supervision order, that allows me to be in the country freely, but doesn’t allow me to work.” Zenaida has to work in the shadows to survive. “I do it on my own and I do the hardest cleaning jobs that the natives here reject.”

For the moment, she is receiving some help from a Catholic organization, Living Water Community, which consists of a food allocation that includes rice, sugar, grains, flour, toilet paper, soap and some clothing donated by others.

After some time she will have her first interview with United Nations representatives and only then will she be able to obtain refugee status. “There are families who have been stranded here waiting for a country to take them for more than two years. I think the world isn’t aware of the drama Cubans experience,” says Zenaida.

Although Zenaida has been optimistic since reuniting with her husband and celebrates not being alone, her feelings are contradictory with respect to emigration “I do not know if we are living in limbo, but only now do I know that fleeing resolves nothing. We are left without our customs, our families, our roots, and clash with the hard reality of the immigrant. We will only be free when we don’t cross jungles and oceans looking for an answer that is only inside ourselves.” And she concludes with regret, “What a pity that it is only now that I understand all this!”

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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

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

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.


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