The Children / Yoani Sánchez

Glancing at the TV I was caught by a phrase from Zenaida Romeu, director of the chamber group that bears her name. It’s Tuesday and the energy of this woman, a guest on the program With True Affection, Two… had me sitting in front of the screen while the potatoes burned on the stove. She answered the questions skillfully, with a language far from the boring chatter that fills so many other spaces. In a few minutes she told of the difficulties in creating an all-woman orchestra, how bothered she is by the lack of seriousness in some artists, and of the day when she cropped her hair to appear with the maestro Michael Legrand. All this and more she told with an energy that calls forth an image of her, baton always in hand, score in front of her.

It is not her own story, however, that has me thinking when I return to the pot on the stove, but that of her children. She is the third or fourth guest on Amaury Perez’s program who has admitted that her children live in another country. If I’m not mistaken, Eusebio Leal* also spoke of his emigrant kids, and a few days earlier Miguel Barnet* described a similar experience. All of them speak about it naturally. They discuss it without thinking that it is precisely this massive exodus of young people that is the principal evidence of our nation’s failure. That the children of a generation of writers, musicians and politicians — including those of the Minister of Communications and of the director of the newspaper Granma — have chosen to leave, should make them doubt themselves, make them wonder if they have contributed to building a system in which their own descendants don’t want to live.

This migration is a phenomenon that has left an empty chair in almost every Cuban home, but the high incidence of among families who are integral to the process, is very symptomatic. The number of children of ministers, party leaders and cultural representatives who have relocated abroad seems to exceed that of the offspring of the more critical or discontented. Could it be that in the end the dissidents and nonconformists have transmitted a greater sense of belonging to their children? Have these famous faces noticed that the babies born to them are refusing to stay here?

I look at Teo for a while and ask myself if someday I will have to talk to him from a distance, if at some moment I will have to confess — in front of a camera — that I failed to help create a country where he wanted to stay.

*Translator’s notes:
Eusebio Leal is the Havana City Historian, director of the program to restore Old Havana and its historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Miguel Barnet is a Cuban writer.

November 18, 2010

Communist Party Congress To Work on Economy but Not Human Rights / Yoani Sánchez

It is seven in the morning and a crowd is waiting in front of the neighborhood’s only newsstand. They aren’t there for Granma, an example of a newspaper with few pages and less news, but rather for a booklet with the guidelines of the Sixth Cuban Communist (PCC) Congress to be held next April.

After thirteen years without a meeting of “the highest leading force of society and the State,” the next conclave has finally been announced. The last time they met was in 1997, when Fidel Castro — still, today, the Party’s first secretary — could improvise long speeches, turning the discussions into one endless monologue.

Rice and Russian Meat
For me, born in 1975, the year of the first PCC Congress, these every-five-year meetings have marked different stages in my life. I especially remember the 1986 congress that led to the “rectification of errors and negative tendencies,” putting an end to the free farmers’ markets and leaving on our tables a monotonous menu of rice with canned meat from the USSR. When the Fourth Congress came around in 1991, the highpoint was the relaxation that allowed religious believers to join the party, although the percentage of believers who joined was not nearly as high as the number of existing members who dropped the mask of atheism and confessed that they had another faith, in addition to Marxism-Leninism.

The years labeled by the regime “a special period in a time of peace,” with all the material shortages we suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Union, forced us to wait until 1997 to see the “organized vanguard of the Cuban nation” meet for the fifth time. That time the great event concluded with the creation of a document entitled, “For Democracy and in the Defense of Human Rights,” which attempted to be a substitute for an actual program. A great irony in a country that one cannot leave without permission, and where even today free association is punished and free expression is a painful illusion.

Chavez’s Island
Just when we thought the only party allowed might never meet again, the Sixth Congress was announced. There were even those who speculated that the nation was returning to the years between 1959 and 1975 when there was no attempt to hide that the government consisted of the will of one man; that the economic projects, policy initiatives, and social programs all issued from a single head, under an olive-green cap and sporting a wispy beard.

But during the last visit of Hugo Chavez to Cuba, amid the official commemoration of ten years of economic trade — though subsidy would be a better word — between Caracas and Havana, Raul Castro took the microphone and advised the Communists they would be meeting again. He announced it without any fuss, any details, no comment about who decided this was the occasion to announce something so long delayed. He did say that the party convention would address only the economy, and mentioned that a national PCC conference would also be held, throughout 2011.

Without Freedom
On reading the 291 points of the Political, Economic and Social Guidelines for the VI Congress, various omissions jump out at one. There is not a single mention of openings in the area of civil rights, nor of loosening the rigid political structure that holds us in its grip.

Nor is there any mention of eliminating the absurd restrictions on travel that prevent Cubans from freely entering and leaving our own country, much less the ability to form parties other than the one with the hammer and sickle, nor of a chance to vote in direct elections for the president.

The brochure only discusses issues of finance and productivity; civic conquests will have to wait or happen in parallel with the rigid framework of this document.

Expected Changes
If you set aside the rhetoric and certain triumphalist approaches, the platform of the coming congress includes some interesting proposals. It reinforces, for example, self-management of businesses, the self-employment initiative, and even talks about creating a wholesale market for independent workers.

There is talk of a willingness “to apply flexible formulas for the exchange, purchase, sale and rental of housing,” which would open the door to a housing market currently prohibited on the Island. The authorities have refused, all these years, to take this step, fearing that in a short time people would redistribute themselves, revealing the true social inequities that run through our society.

Although many of the economic proposals raised in this document head in the desired direction — of reform and opening — the fact is that neither the depth nor the speed at which these adjustments might be made is likely to calm the frustration of most Cubans.

Fidel Re-elected?

The most heated issue of this party meeting seems to be the possible re-election of Fidel Castro as the eternal leader of the Cuban Communist Party, or his replacement by another figure, undoubtedly his younger brother who has already inherited the leadership of the nation. The expectations around this decision, however, were cut short by the announcement of a national conference — in parallel with the congress — where internal organizational issues will be discussed.

A date for this has not yet been set, but the planned conference removes all political decisions from the PCC Congress. Such that the real congress will not be the one that occurs in the spring of this coming year, but another, we don’t yet know when or where. What we do know is that there is no doubt that it will mark my life — our lives — with the same stubbornness and blindness of every other Party meeting since the year of my birth.

This article originally appeared in the Peruvian newspaper, El Comercio.

Mustard Colored / Yoani Sánchez

A sequence of roofs, avenues and narrow streets, reproduced with plastic and paint. A small scale city, locked in the Model of Havana room in the Miramar neighborhood. Yellow glasses let you travel, at a glance, along the streets, around the corners, up the little elevations and along the serpentine coast. The same magnifying lenses help us to enjoy the Capitol dome seem from above, or the dark face of El Morro. A model in miniature of a city that from any tall building seems to go on forever, but here it is, captured in a diminutive duplicate, trapped in a few square yards of cardboard.

The guide to this peculiar museum explains — once you enter — that the representation has been painted in four different colors: brown is for the constructions of the colonial period; mustard for the buildings from 1902 to 1959; bone-colored for the buildings erected in the last five decades; and white — striking and distant — for monuments and future projects. All the visitors and tourists end up saying the same thing, “Havana is mustard!” And I can see that yes, it’s true, while explaining a detail here, some twist or turn there.

Yes, my city is mustard, spicy and sour, seasoned by the old, increasingly distant from modernity. A sample at natural size, where there are days in which one would it like to be — like in the Model of Havana — made of plastic, or cardboard, but not suffering from so much ruin.

November 14, 2010

Toe Shoes in the Night / Yoani Sánchez

Photo: Cuban National Ballet performs Don Quixote

On the stage is a figure in toe shoes and a tutu, one of the principle dancers of the American Ballet Theater which is visiting Havana. The audience applauds to delirium for a dance troupe that hasn’t been in Cuba for 50 years. We’ve had a week of glamor, of sustained applause and shouts of “VIVA!” from the orchestra. Of nights of haggling on the black market for a ticket to enter the theater and be dazzled by the lights and music.

The Ballet Festival has managed to pull us our of our everyday concerns, especially those caused by the mass layoffs affecting tens of thousand of people around the county. The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Swan Lake, have also served as a distraction from other issues of national importance, such as failure to meet the deadline for releasing the political prisoners, 13 of whom remain in prison. A short break of sequins and fantasy, but when it ends we must face a city every more shut down and a nation mired in growing anxiety.

Between the choreography and a tight schedule of performances, the first week of November seemed unreal to us, outside the context of concern in which we live. So I decided to see Don Quixote in the Garcia Lorca Hall and there I witnessed a magnificent festival of lights, costumes and music. When it finished I was the last to leave that room full of velvety red seats. Even though the curtain had fallen and the dancers had taken their makeup off backstage, I stayed a little longer. When I left, everything was different: the darkness extended around the Capitol and it was time to go home.

Originally published in The Huffington Post: November 13, 2010

The Art of Speaking Without Speaking / Yoani Sánchez

When you grow up decoding each line that appears in the newspapers, you manage to find, among the rhetoric, the nugget of information that motivates, the hidden shreds of the news. We Cubans have become detectives of the unexpressed, experts in discarding the chatter and discovering — deep down — what is really driving things. The Draft Guidelines for the Communist Party’s VI Congress is a good exercise to sharpen our senses, a model example to evaluate the practice of speaking without speaking, which is what state discourse is here.

Its more than thirty pages of text contain only economic proposals, more appropriate for the Ministry of Finance than for the compass of a political party. It’s true that it lacks the language of the barricade, resolving everything based on slogans, but it suffers from being a sugar-coated list of what could be done if the system really worked. For those who think my skepticism is exaggerated, take a look at the points from past congresses and check to see how many of them really came to pass.

Scrutinizing the verbiage, one positive is that the “state-budgeted sector” — this colossal blood-sucker that feeds on me, on you, on all of us — is going to shrink. Expanding the stage for self-employment is also comforting, but whenever I ask someone if they’re going to take out a license, they tell me they don’t think they’ll “take the bait” to start paying taxes. It’s hard to overcome the distrust, and a government that sinks the national economy with ts voluntarism and its idiotic programs has little credibility when it announces to rescue it.

It is disappointing that not a single line refers to the expansion of civil rights, including the restrictions suffered by Cubans in entering and leaving our own country. Nor is there a word about freedom of association or expression, without which the authorities will continue to behave more like factory foremen than as the representatives of their people.

The Party will meet in April, will approve some guidelines very similar to those in the pamphlet and, within a year or two, we will all be wondering what happened with so much ink on so much paper. What happened to that program where it said “perfect and improve” instead of “change or end”?

November 10, 2010

Personal Catastrophes / Yoani Sánchez

Aerocaribbean plane ATR 72 (CU-T1545) at the airport Holguin, Cuba, similar to the plane that crashed today

How many human dramas around each victim in the crash of Aerocaribbean Flight 833. The similarity of names in the passenger list suggest that parents and children, brothers and sisters, couples with their offspring, have been lost. I remember that among the names mentioned on the news this morning was that of a Japanese tourist, who also lost his life thousands of miles from that other island so different from ours. I can’t stop thinking about him or the others who died in the plane that should have been a road, a bridge, a highway, but never the last one.

Behind each of the 40 Cuban passengers the tragedy is also enormous. They bought that fatal ticket three months before their departure day and waited in a long line to board a mode of transportation that in this country is rare and extremely expensive. Probably relieved to know that they would make the trip from Santiago de Cuba to Havana in something a little less chaotic than the national train. Their presence on that ATR 72/212 was the conclusion of a sequence of sacrifices that started just when they had the need — or the desire — to travel within Cuba, and that would end only when they arrived at their fate.

Misfortune lurks on all sides, this we know, but it is difficult to process the idea that people climb the stairs of an airplane and a shortly afterward their names are read, in a solemn voice, on national television. I return again and again to the images of the possible family embrace that was waiting in the arrival airport, of the mother who learned in Buenos Aires or Amsterdam that her son would not return, or of the pilot’s wife saying goodbye while thinking, like every other time, that he would soon return home. These are the personal catastrophes, the human dramas, that began to descend in the same minute that the plane fell to earth.

November 5, 2010

My Little Piece / Yoani Sánchez

Five decades of “we,” of indoctrinating us in the behavior of the shelter or the squad, and yet in the park this morning a young man said, “What I want is to have my little piece.” He said it as if he were confessing a sin or coveting something at a great distance to satisfy an evil desire for which he would be publicly scorned. As he spoke of his “ambitions,” he gestured with his hands as if bringing invisible dreams toward his body, dreams that he named: “a roof,” “a decent salary,” “permission to travel.”

Collectivization has not erased in us that human longing to have our own piece, and forced egalitarianism has only fueled the desire to differentiate ourselves.

Empty Hallways / Yoani Sánchez

Ministry of Agriculture building in Havana

Ten in the morning. In those hallways where last week people gathered and chatted during working hours, today not a soul passes. What happened in the seventeen floors of the Ministry of Agriculture that no one steps foot outside their office? The answer is simple: Many fear being on the list for the next cuts, so they avoid appearing away from their posts and thus seeming to be dispensable. Where before they roamed around the office, arms crossed, the strategy now is to look busy, even if it means having to sit behind one’s desk for eight hours.

This scene is not an exaggeration. A friend who works in one of these state agencies, where over-staffing is a chronic disease, described it to me. She explained that there’s not even a long line in front of the water cooler like there was in the past, but that not even that will save them from layoffs. The institution has told them that only those who are indispensable will remain and some have already been notified of their dismissal. My friend squints her eyes and laughs. “They are certainly not going to kick out the director, nor the secretary for the nucleus of the Communist Party, and much less the woman who runs the union,” she concludes, sarcastically.

I’m surprised by the mixture of fear and disdain with which Cubans have taken the drastic reductions in personnel already implemented. On the one hand no one wants to lose their job, but on the other there’s a feeling that unemployment can’t be worse than working for the State. When I recommended to my friend that she take out a license to become a self-employed button-coverer, or a coat-hanger maker, she jumped up from her chair waving her hands, No! No! “If my name is on the next list,” she said, “I’m going to create a scene that will be heard in the office of the minister and every hallway.” But I don’t believe her; like many others she prefers to hide her protest.

October 29, 2010

Eight Times in Three Years: Refused “Permission” to Leave My Island / Yoani Sánchez

Exclusive to the Huffington Post.

Fortunately I had few illusions left, because otherwise I would have felt cheated a couple of weeks ago when I was refused – for the eighth time in just three years – permission to travel abroad.

Since General Raul Castro inherited Cuba’s presidency in February 2008, the topic of greatest interest to scholars and Cuba-watchers is the changes he will implement in Cuban socialism. Speculation was fueled by the General’s own statement that it was necessary to eliminate arbitrary prohibitions and to make structural changes in the economy.

Many of us had the fantasy that restrictions imposed on those of us living on the island would be abolished; for starters we assumed we would be able to have internet service at home, along with cable or satellite television We assumed he would eliminate the absurd prohibition on selling a home or a motor vehicle and that, finally, the economic right to found a company would cease to be a privilege allowed only to state and foreign investors. But our most delusional chimera, from the time we began to hear of coming “openings,” was that the restrictions that force the inhabitants of the “first free territory of America” to ask permission to visit another country would be eradicated.

But there should be no illusions that this kind of change is close to happening; better we should change our illusions. Mine are not focused on the will of my leaders, but on the weight of obstinate reality. Everything will change, whether they want it to or not. My grandchildren are going to think I’m a liar when I tell them how things used to be in my time, and I will be happy seeing that none of this nonsense will remain to fall on their heads.

October 25, 2010

From Honey to Bile / Yoani Sánchez

He was wearing a cap pulled down over his ears, but I still recognized in his face the features of the former vice president. Carlos Lage passed in front of me at the intersections of Infanta and Manglar streets with that gait typical of the deposed, a cadence fallen into when all hope of vindication has been lost. I felt badly for him, not because he was walking in the sun when so recently he had had a chauffeur, but because everyone looked at him with that punishing silence, with a look of revenge. A woman passed me and I heard her say, “Poor thing, look who had to do all the dirty work and in the end they did this to him.”

A year and a half after the dismissal of Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque, we still haven’t learned what led to their political demise. In an unusual display of discretion, the video shown to Communist Party members — explaining the motives for their sudden fall from grace — has never filtered out to the alternative information networks. Nor did they convince us with those photos where the two of them are at a party drinking bear and smiling; if that were cause enough to lose your position there wouldn’t be a single minister at his post and the presidential chair would be vacant. The phrase written by Fidel Castro in one of his Reflections — that both the foreign minister and the vice president had become addicted to “the honey of power” — seems more like the confession of someone who knows all too well the royal jelly of a government with no limits on the explanations of errors committed by others. So we are left without knowing why, this time, Saturn devoured his children, with that aftertaste of someone who is eating the final litter, the generation that might replace him.

I felt compassion for Carlos Lage, seeing him with his cap pulled down over his face as he hurried past to avoid being noticed. I had the impulse to call out to him to say that his expulsion had saved him from a future of ridicule and made him a free man. But he went by too quickly, the asphalt gave off so much heat, and that woman looked at him with such mockery, I only managed to cross the sidewalk. I left the ousted one with his loneliness, but believe me, I wanted to sidle up to him and whisper: don’t be sad, getting the boot, in fact, is what saved you.

October 25, 2010

Tropical Sakharov / Yoani Sánchez

Guillermo Fariñas with a few of the Ladies in White

It’s difficult to imagine that inside the frail body of Guillermo Fariñas, behind his face without eyebrows, is a willingness to confront discouragement. It is also surprising that at the times when his health was most critical, he never stopped caring about the problems and difficulties of those around him. Even now, with his gallbladder removed and painful surgical stitches crossing his abdomen, whenever I call him he always asks about my family, my health, and my son’s school. Such a way this man has of living for others! It is no wonder that he closed his mouth to food so that 52 political prisoners — among whom he personally knew very few — would be released.

There are prizes that impart prestige to a person, that shine a light on the value of someone who, until recently, was unknown. But there are also names that add luster to an award, and this is the case with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded to Fariñas. After this October, the next recipients of this highest laurel of the European Parliament will have one more reason to be proud. Because now the Prize has a higher profile, thanks to its having been awarded to this man from Villa Clara, an ex-soldier who renounced arms to throw himself into the peaceful struggle.

Who better than he, who undertook an immense challenge and accomplished it, who has given us all a lesson in integrity, who has subjected his body to pains and privations that will affect the rest of his life? There is no name more appropriate than that of this journalist and psychologist whose main characteristic is humility, to be included in a list where we find Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and Cuba’s Ladies in White. A straightforward man whom neither the microphones, nor all the journalists who have interviewed him, nor the cameras’ flashes of recent days have managed to change. With a modesty so admired by his friends, Coco — because even his nickname is humble — has made the Sakharov Prize seem much more important.

October 22, 2010

Fidel’s Words Continue to Echo… Bitterly / Yoani Sánchez

A relic of crumbling Soviet era architecture along the Malecon, Havana’s waterfront boulevard and seawall

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Rarely does a person interviewed complain that a journalist has interpreted their statements to the letter; more frequently the opposite occurs, when, whether from negligence or malicious intent, a clear statement is ignored, mutilated or misinterpreted. So even though Fidel Castro has accustomed us to think of him as different from common mortals, we were surprised when he said he meant the exact opposite of what he said when he told Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic magazine that, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”

As if they were mutually exclusive arguments incapable of sharing space in the same brain, the once great rhetorician rejects the journalist’s interpretation of his words, arguing that, “My idea, as the whole world knows, is that the capitalist system doesn’t work for the United States, nor for the world (…) how could such a system serve for a socialist country like Cuba?” Those of us who read Goldberg’s report of the interview, and then heard the verbal juggling from the Maximum Leader as he spoke at the great hall of the University, were left very confused.

If someone wants to get an idea of the uncertainty such declarations have generated in Cuba, imagine for a moment that after 50 years of marriage, a husband learns that his wife has told her best friend that their marriage doesn’t work. When asked to explain her indiscreet comments she responds, “What I think is that the marriage of the couple across the street doesn’t work… Who could possibly think that I’d now like to marry my neighbor’s husband?”

I don’t know who is best able to analyze this issue. A philosopher to dismantle its sophistry? A linguist to better organize the words? Or a psychotherapist to explore the Freudian slip hidden behind the declarations of el Comanadante. For those of us who were born and came of age under the social experiment he tried to shape in his image and likeness, to hear such self-criticism leaves a bitter taste that feels very much like betrayal.

I recall that when I first heard his words I wrote a little message and immediately published it on my Twitter account: “Fidel Castro joins the opposition.” A friend who read my brief opinion called me urgently at home to confess that, “If he has joined the dissidence, then I’m moving over to the government.” We Cubans have spent the past week living with jokes of this type, along with expressions of surprise, not to mention quite corrosive opinions about the mental health of the persistent orator. Even the worry about the economic problems, and the imminent layoffs of nearly 25 percent of the country’s workforce, fade in importance. No one has been able to remain indifferent to such a monumental slip of the tongue.

Since he dropped his official responsibilities because of ill health, Fidel Castro has barely spoken of our country and its problems. He frequently publishes Reflections on environmental matters and the threat of nuclear war. Now, since his recent “resurrection” he again appears in public wielding the microphone, his favorite instrument of the last half century. In the four years he has been out of power, he hasn’t addressed a single word to the way his brother Raul has performed for the country; and now, this ambiguous allusion, referring to the functionality of the Cuban model, is the first we have heard, after so much time avoiding the subject.

Nowhere in the interview did Goldberg interpret his words to mean that Fidel Castro is recommending American capitalism for Cuba; rather he simply respectfully transcribed the controversial phrase which the ex-president himself acknowledges having said, “without bitterness or concern.” And where do these enigmatic four words come from? Could it be that the bitterness and concern within the heart of the Maximum Leader are captured in that idea — which he assures us he wanted to express — that capitalism no longer works for anyone?

The bitterness is felt today: by the families of the internationalist who died trying to bring the Cuban model to so many countries in the world; by those who renounced the pleasures of youth, sacrificing the best years of their lives to make the model work; by the sincere members of the Party, expelled from the organization for much less severe criticisms; by those who lost their jobs for an inappropriate comment; by those who ended up behind bars for opposing the model; in short, by those who had the insight to see that things were no turning out as expected, who said so in good faith, and who received, in return, only disproportionate punishment. They all have the right to feel frustrated and above all fooled by the irresponsible man who assumed the post of wise clairvoyant marching in the vanguard along a path that led nowhere, and who now fears that alternative paths lead to dead ends or, even worse, back to the starting point of — oh! horror! — the capitalist past.

The concern that all of us who inhabit this Island share is that we will find we are a nation bereft; a nation where the programs, and the euphemisms of “to perfect” or “to actualize” the system, cannot explain clearly where we are going, although everyone knows by heart the meticulous description of the Utopia that we could never reach.

October 22, 2010

A Speech and a Cyclone / Yoani Sánchez

A zinc roof tile flies off, performing an incredible choreography in the air before falling onto the roof of another building. The winds of the tropical storm Paula tore off branches, caused 22 buildings to collapse in Havana, and left us without power for more than a day. On an island accustomed to the passage of powerful hurricanes, this little meteor with a woman’s name has been a disagreeable surprise, keeping us semi-paralyzed for more than 24 hours. It was so unexpected because the media, not wanting to trigger an alarm, underestimated the effects of the wind and rain. Nor did they take into account the country’s housing stock, so deteriorated that any meteorological phenomenon can wreak havoc.

After Paula made landfall in the town of Artemisa, people were simply cursing the Institute of Meteorology and assessing the damage, obviously upset. The storm caught many of us off-guard — in the street, in schools, in workplaces — because the Civil Defense institutions never called for people to leave work or school and take cover. We all thought it would be enough to carry an umbrella that day, but we could barely open it in the midst of the gale. I myself was left stranded at the entrance to the tunnel on Linea Street, fearing that at any moment the waters would rise and cut the city in two. Fortunately a friend rescued me in his car but when I got home the situation was alarming. There, fourteen floors above ground, I could see things flying around, trees falling, and the dangerous dance of the palms, bent nearly double, on Independence Avenue. We hadn’t prepared ourselves for this. What was going on?

More than a cyclone, Paula was the evidence that our authorities couldn’t bear to add one more ounce of discomfort to our already tense reality. At other times, they would have announced, ad nauseum, that we should reinforce our windows, stay on top of the news, and buy candles and batteries to prepare for possible blackouts. But this time their silence revealed guidance coming from above not to create any kind of nervousness among the citizenry. But we have paid dearly for that silence and today the worry and distrust in the streets is on the rise, because for many it has become clear that a good part of the buildings that make up this city cannot withstand a stronger hurricane. The feeling of helplessness is growing.

Curiously, on the evening of that windy rainy Thursday, the television news spent almost half an hour reading the fourth part of a long reflection written by Fidel Castro. Under the title, “The Empire From Within,” the former president devoted himself to reeling off internal details of American politics, while in his own backyard we were all expecting news of the tropical storm. The announcer, in his pompous tones, read the lengthy text while hundreds of thousands of viewers lost patience on our side of the screen and got up from our chairs. It seemed that no danger was befalling us, to judge by the share of prime time occupied by the Maximum Leader’s diatribe against the United States government. We ended up knowing more about Barack Obama’s private conversations, than about the damage caused by Paula in her passage through our country. It might appear that we Cubans swallow such absurdities with patience and move on, but that’s not the case; what remains in us is the irritation. The annoyance caused by seeing how something so important and momentous in our everyday lives is whisked away by political discourse, and how empty phrases and the mania to always look for the mote in another’s eye, keeps us from feeling the enormous stick in our own that is blinding us. Disgust, yes, because even the mention of a storm coming is concealed by politicians who have determined that it is not convenient to deliver bad news.

It makes you want to urge the families who lost their homes to Paula — the phenomenon we didn’t see coming — to assemble at the same television studio where they hid the truth, or at the office where it was decided that it would be better not to alert people of the danger. Not one of those who cautiously held back the news this time has lost their roof, no one who ordered the newspapers not to contribute to the shock is sleeping under the open sky tonight. For them, it was just a tropical storm that faded away after it left Cuba; for many others it will always be the day they witnessed their home collapse, or the day on which, finally, they lost their faith in the official media.

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

This article originally appeared in Spanish in Penultimos Dias.

October 20, 2010

Occupational Therapy / Yoani Sánchez

Some make figurines out of paper, others string colored beads on a necklace that never ends, or paste pieces of fabric onto an infinite quilt. Occupational therapy they call it; keeping the hands busy so the mind doesn’t lose control, is what I would call it. Occasionally one of these repetitive occupations manages to divorce me from reality, though I don’t do it with needles and glue, but with the help of screwdrivers and clippers. I get to disconnect circuits, rebuild cables, open up every kind of appliance to see if their working diagram is more logical than our absurd reality. I make and remake technology.

Perhaps one day I will manage to create some gadget that not only will relax tensions, but will serve, finally, to connect us to the Internet.

October 20, 2010

Tarará / Yoani Sánchez

Two weeks into the Tarará Pioneers camp and my sister and I would return home talking about our dips in the ocean. But this time it would be different, because we would be part of an activity to show someone very important that this area that was once private houses was now a place for the enjoyment of the workers’ children. On the lawn beside the stream we clasped hands and, dressed in the clothes typical of each region, made five large circles representing the continents. It fell to me to be Lithuanian.

My mother rented the costumes from a store in Galiano Street — all that remains of it now is a sewer pit draining onto the sidewalk. I had to wear a long-sleeved blouse with a colorfully embroidered thick cloth vest over it, plus a decorated headband and gaiters over my shoes. The outfit was totally inappropriate for the blistering sun of July 1984, but I stood it for several days out of curiosity over who the distinguished visitor would be. Nearby, some of my fellow classmates were dying of the heat, stuffed into multi-colored Mongolian pomp. The leader was blowing a whistle while we had to turn this way and that on the cut grass, waiting for those distinguished eyes that would watch us spin.

On the day planned for our live world dance performance, I discovered that someone in the hostel had stolen one of my gaiters, and my sister was showing the first signs of heat stroke. We reluctantly danced our rounds, while the rumor flew that the Maximum Leader’s brother would show up at any moment. A convoy of fast cars — three green Alfa Romeos — crossed the bridge over the Tarará River. A minute later we were told we could abandon our formation; the eminent visitor was already gone. Raul Castro, as in the Spanish film Welcome Mr. Marshall, had left us all dressed up, choreography rehearsed.

October 17, 2010