The Ancient Dictator Died Long Ago / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Fidel Castro celebrates his 90th birthday in the Karl Marx Theatre.
Fidel Castro celebrates his 90th birthday in the Karl Marx Theatre.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 November 2016 — The official media have just announced the last and definitive death of Fidel Castro, and I think I have perceived more relief than bereavement in the mournful message. If I were a religious person, I would feel at least a tiny bit of grief, but that is not the case. Definitely, pity toward despots is not among my few virtues. And, as I have always preferred cynicism over hypocrisy, I am convinced that the world will be a better place without him.

At any rate, to me, the old dictator had died a long time ago, at an unspecified date, buried under some dusty headstone, without epitaph in the deepest recesses of my memory, so I can only be curious about what this expected (exasperated) outcome might mean for those who have kept their destinies tied to every spasm of his many deaths.

Nevertheless, just because I had given him an early funeral doesn’t mean that his irreversible departure from this world is not a momentous event. The image of the defeated specter he had become will now disappear, and his passing will also cease to gravitate over the superstitious temperament of the nation as an unavoidable doom. We will finally find out whether the prophecy Cuba will really change after Fidel dies is true or false, because it seems that, for almost all Cubans, waiting for changes that result from nature’s course is easier than taking the risk to do it themselves. Peoples who feel ashamed of their fates often blame their rulers for their own collective irresponsibility. Continue reading “The Ancient Dictator Died Long Ago / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

There are also the superstitions, a nice wild card for the national lethargy. There are too many people that believe in some god, in a sense of fatality, in the tarot, in the zodiac signs, in the I Ching, in the Tablet of Ifá or other prophecies of the most varied kind. I have never believed in any of them, perhaps because accepting the mysteries of these predestinations as true would have made me feel I was cursed just for having been born in Cuba in 1959. Far from it, such an adverse coincidence became the challenge that I accepted gladly, so I never experienced the deep feelings of frustration that oppress several generations of Cubans, choked under the effects of the power of a sort of superhuman entity that seemed to sum up all creeds in it and that intervened in every destiny. An impostor, in short, pretending to be god, oracle and mantra all at once.

For almost all Cubans, waiting for changes that result from nature’s course is easier than taking the risk to do it themselves

Nevertheless, all my memories are intact. They have survived every cataclysm in good health. How could I go back on them if our spirit is pure memory? I reminisce without love, without resentment, without bitterness and without regrets, as if I were observing, in an old movie, my own story which is the same for millions of Cubans like me. There are even some chapters I find amusing. How could we have once been so naïve? How did our parents and grandparents allow us to be manipulated in such an atrocious way? It was because of fear. Fidel Castro’s true power was never the love of Cubans, but the unspeakable fear they felt toward him, an irrational and irate leader, and an individual whose limitless egomania could only be matched by his inability to feel empathy. Sometimes fidelity is only a resource for survival.

Looking back on the first 20 years of my life, I remember Fidel Castro as a sort of omnipresent magma that invaded every space of public and private life. He seemed to have the gift of ubiquity and to appear everywhere at once. My earliest memories of childhood are invariably associated with that image of the bearded man who never smiled, dressed in a military uniform, whose portrait could be found anywhere, whether on the wall of a building, on a fence, on the covers of magazines, newspapers, or in a carefully framed picture in the halls of revolutionary Cubans, who were a majority back then.

That same man very often appeared on the screen of my grandmother’s television (in my mind, I thought he lived inside that device), or he invaded every home from the radio stations, thundering and fierce, making long threatening and scolding speeches, loaded with harangues. He was always irritated, so I was a little afraid of him and tried – with little or no success – to stay away from his vibrations. My elders swelled with ecstasy and even cried out, excited about the false prophet’s this or that bravado. “It’s El Caballo!* that’s how it’s done!” The admirers of the new hard man would bellow, drunk with a fervor that I did not understand but which, over time, succeeded in infecting me.

In any case, “Fidel” was one of the first words uttered by the children of thousands of families which, like mine, had discovered that on the dawn of January 1, 1959 they were suddenly revolutionaries. And thus, also suddenly, in a nation traditionally Catholic, quite a few proclaimed themselves as atheists and renounced God only to accept a new faith, Fidel Castro as savior, and communist dogma as catechism.

Fidel Castro’s true power was never the love of Cubans, but the unspeakable fear they felt toward him

Meanwhile, countless families were fractured by political polarization and emigration. Parents and children, siblings, uncles, cousins who had always lived in harmony, clashed, became filled with grudges and distanced themselves from one another. There were those who never spoke to each other again, and died without the embrace of reconciliation. Many survivors of this telluric rupture are still picking up the pieces and trying to recreate some parts of our battered lineages, at least out of respect and homage to our estranged departed family members, all because of an alien hatred.

Then came the militias, the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis, the compulsory military service, the rationing card, the monumental harvests, the Revolutionary Offensive, Angola, the in-field schools and the schools in the countryside, and the permanent consecration of endless delusions of the Great Egomaniac. And with the passage of time, the signals of the ruin we insisted on ignoring began to arrive.

The increasing shortages were silenced with slogans and with gigantic plans doomed for failure, all freedoms were buried and rights disappeared, sacrificed on the olive green altar under the weight of once sacred words and now debased by speeches (“homeland,” the most tainted; “liberty,” the most fraudulent), while – unnoticed and blind – we Cubans ourselves helped to build the bars of our prison and, docile, left the keys in the hands of the jailer.

The first great schism between the lunatic orator and me were the events at the Peruvian embassy, and especially the Mariel stampede, between April and May, 1980. They were not, however, isolated events.  The first conversations (they are often referred to as approaches) had taken place in 1978 between the dictatorship and a group of emigres living in the United States, which resulted in the opening of family visits in 1979, although only in one direction: from Miami to Cuba.

Cubans themselves helped to build the bars of our prison and, docile, left the keys in the hands of the jailer

Suddenly, the stateless-wormy-counterrevolutionaries were not that, but “our brothers from the Cuban community abroad,” who had been able to preserve their original cultural values and their own language in foreign lands, and who were being offered the right to visit their country of origin and reunite with their families. Now they happily arrived, weighed down with gifts for the beggars who had chosen a revolution that proclaimed poverty as a virtue. Naïve or not, many of us felt the manipulation and discovered that we had been scammed, and although one does not wake up at the first bell after a long and deep lethargy, we began to live on alert and to question the system.

Then, without expecting it, the New Man, forged under the principles of that celebrated whore called Revolution, witnessed in surprise the spectacle of the hordes gathered at the Peruvian diplomatic headquarters and the mass flight through the port of Mariel. And we were perplexed by the thousands of deserters and horrified by the repudiation rallies, the beatings, vexations and insults towards those who were emigrating and the impunity at the barbarism that was only possible because it had been instigated and blessed from the power.

By then I was sporting my new motherhood, and before every fearful scene I would cling to tenderness for my son. I think it was then that I began to definitively tear all the dense veils of the lie I had lived for 20 years and became obsessed with the search for the truth in which I would bring up my children: freedom as a gift that we carry inside, which nobody grants, which is born with the being. So ended Fidel Castro’s leadership of me, dragging in his fall any possibility of future glitches in my spirit.  The dissident, living in silence within me, emerged that year, and the paradigmatic leader of my adolescence began to transmute into an enemy.

The feelings his existence infused in me were fear, admiration, respect, devotion, doubt, disbelief, resentment, contempt, and, finally, the most absolute indifference

That is why the difficult events and the Fidel battles that followed my conversion did not make a mark: the Ochoa case, the associated executions, the Special Period resulting from the collapse of real socialism, the Maleconazo, the Balseros Crisis, the rescued child rafter Elián, the Open Tribunes, the Roundtables, the Five Spies, the Black Spring, the Battle of Ideas, the Energy Revolution and so much nonsense that resulted in swelling the ranks of the discontented and the disenchanted, widening the rift between the power and millions of Cubans.

My feelings for Fidel Castro went through several stages. It could not be any other way, since I was born in 1959, since I grew up in a family of Fidel fans and since I’ve spent my whole life in Cuba. The feelings his existence infused in me were fear, admiration, respect, devotion, doubt, disbelief, resentment, contempt, and, finally, the most absolute indifference.

News of his death, then, does not stir emotions. A friend recently wisely told me that Fidel Castro was not cause, but consequence. It seems to me an accurate sentence to summarize the history and idiosyncrasy of the Cuban nation. Because we Cubans are not (we have never been) the result of Fidel’s existence, but the reverse: the existence of a Fidel was possible only thanks to Cubans, beyond political or ideological tendencies, beyond our sympathy or resentment. Without all of us the power of his long dictatorship would not have been sustained.

That is why I take this, the occasion of his ultimate death, to sincerely make a toast, not to his memory, but to ours. May our memory never falter, so that we do not forget these decades of shame, so that no more Fidels are repeated on this earth! And I also offer, with all my hope, to celebrate the opportunity that this happy death unlocks to the new life that all Cubans will finally build in peace and harmony.

*The Horse: Fidel Castro’s nickname among Cubans

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez and Norma Whiting

More than 200 Activists Arrested Throughout the Island / 14ymedio

Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). (14ymedio)
Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2016 — The arrests of 209 activists is the final result this Saturday, a day on which several opposition groups demanded the release of political prisoners. The majority of those arrested are members of Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Cuban Patriotic Union, UNPACU), according to a statement to 14yMedio by its general coordinator, José Daniel Ferrer.

The bulk of the arrests took place in the eastern provinces and in the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud (the Island of Youth, formerly the Island of Pines) when the activists demanded publicly “the release of political prisoners, respect for human rights and the end of repression against the Ladies in White,” stated the activist formerly imprisoned following Cuba’s Black Spring. Continue reading “More than 200 Activists Arrested Throughout the Island / 14ymedio”

Other activists were prevented from leaving their homes during police operations, including Zaqueo Báez, who was arrested on two occasions this past week. A similar situation was denounced by Arcelio Rafael Molina, a member of UNPACU, who has been forbidden to leave his home in the municipality of Playa, in Havana, which is also the headquarters for the western branch of the organization.

The group denounced as well that, this morning, a group of 15 of its members in Havana’s Parque Central (Central Park) was “surrounded by political police agents who threatened them with arrest if they created any demonstration.”

In the eastern part of the country, the bulk of arrests are concentrated in Santiago de Cuba with 147 detained activists, plus 28 in Guantanamo, 16 in Las Tunas and 6 in Holguín.

UNPACU is the largest opposition organization in the country, and it has shown public support for the visit of Barack Obama who will arrive on the island this Sunday. In its communiqués UNPACU has also warned about a possible increase in repression during the president’s stay in Cuba.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

The School for Others / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Havana International School on 18th Street in Miramar
Havana International School on 18th Street in Miramar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 February 2016 — She is not wearing a uniform, she is not carrying a bag with snacks, nor does she have a kerchief tied around her neck. However, at nine years of age, Malena is on her way to school, a learning center for the children of diplomats where she has been able to register with her parents’ economic means and a Spanish passport – a legacy from her grandmother.

Cuban education is no longer the same for everyone. There are classrooms where students enjoy unlimited internet connection, air conditioning and new furniture. In the dining halls, the menu is varied, vegetables are plenty and it is common to hear a child talk about how he or she spent the weekend at the exclusive Cayo Coco resort or that his or her dad got a new truck.

Founded more than forty years ago, the Havana International School was originally designed for the children of ambassadors and consular personnel. In the 1990s, the children of foreigners working for joint venture firms arrived, but as of a few years back Cubans who can afford the high tuition fees and show a foreign passport have appeared. Continue reading “The School for Others / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

As opposed to public schools where material resources are scarce and the deficit of teachers increases, the International School on 18th Street in Havana’s exclusive Miramar neighborhood, has a library, a multimedia center and a playground. The waiting list of those interested in working at this attractive place would be enough to fill all the empty positions in primary and secondary classrooms throughout the country.

To register a child in the International School or the Spanish Education Center of Havana, near the Aquarium in Miramar and founded in 1986, you must show documents that confirm you are a foreigner. A condition that up to a few years ago was exclusive to the children of diplomats, but that now is shared by the offspring of returned émigrés and those naturalized as Spaniards through the Spain’s Grandchildren Law, like Malena.

Registration requires showing the student’s previous test results and a willingness to pay the tuition. A year in the first few grades of elementary education can cost between $4,000 and $10,450, from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Despite the high fees, there are Cubans who can afford this amount to avoid sending their kids to public school. Among them are those who, after living long years abroad, refuse to accept the ideologized Cuban education. “Our girl was born in Madrid and is not used to any of those things you see in schools here,” the mother of a teenager who attends secondary school at the so-called “Spanish little school” told this newspaper. Married to a renowned artist, and after a more than a decade living in Salamanca, they now juggle to pay the school’s tuition.

“But, we make the sacrifice because there they teach her to be creative and to think for herself,” added the proud woman. “I don’t want to even imagine what it would be like to have to register her in a one those other schools,“ she says from her house in Central Havana. The girl shares a classroom with the children of foreign reporters, managers of joint venture companies, and the new rich.

The teachers at these schools, as well as the administrative and maintenance personnel, are hired directly through recommendations. In this case, there is no involvement of the agencies controlled by the State, and this is common in the majority of positions paid in freely convertible currency or tied to foreigners.

Lina, a young graduate of San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy, taught for several years at one of these learning centers thanks to her good English language skills. Now, she says that the salary was “magnificent,” but that the most important thing was the “airs of freedom that could be felt upon entering.” On its web page, the International School describes itself as a “progressive institution.”

More than a third of the teachers at the school come from Canada, United Kingdom, Holland, Germany and Portugal. The rest are Cuban hires that had to show that they are “versed in modern pedagogical methods.” At the end of their studies, the pupils obtain valid diplomas that are recognized by the European Union or other nations.

The curriculum is not very different from that of the public education, although the way it is taught is. Among the subjects that they must learn in elementary school are Math, English, Spanish, Arts Education and Music, together with Physical Education, Computer Science and Civics. This last one without an iota of ideology.

With the just obtained Spanish passport, Ivette, owner of a paladar (private restaurant) in Old Havana decided to save her daughter from the “dirty bathrooms, the greasy metal [lunch] tray, the female teacher that smokes and yells,” states the prosperous entrepreneur, talking about her own childhood school experiences. “This is the best money I spent in my life,” says the woman about the “little school for yumas*” that her daughter attends every morning.

*Cuban slang for foreigners.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

Don’t Get Too Close, Brother Francis / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Works in progress to build the altar for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Luz Escobar)
Works in progress to build the altar for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 September 2015 — A Cuba of different points of view and clashing passions is what the Bishop of Rome will find when he begins, in a few days, his visit to the island. A country that wants to enter the future, but that remains clamped in place by a political discourse that died in the 20th century. This context will require all of the diplomatic skills of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, but it is worth advising him of the imposing verse from Ruben Dario: “Don’t get too close, Brother Francis.”

On his arrival in Havana a massive welcome and the corresponding family photos will await the pope. He will have to pose next to a power that decades ago ordered a the tearing off of scapulars, prohibited crucifixes, and forced the portraits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be hidden in the depths on our homes. The same government that blocked, under fear of reprisals, several generations of Cubans from being baptized or entering a church. Continue reading “Don’t Get Too Close, Brother Francis / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

In the plaza where the face of the atheist Ernesto Guevara adorns the façade of the Ministry of the Interior, Francis will celebrate his Mass. He will come preceded by his reputation as a revolutionary within the Church, a conciliatory man willing to break with protocol. He also carries on his shoulders having been a mediator in 18 months of secret conversations between the governments of the United States and Cuba.

The responsibility he has taken on with a gesture such as this surpasses the glory he will receive for his intervention. Now, it is time for other interventions. Francis will know close up a society where a few have excluded the millions in making decisions. A nation where ideological differences are paid for with insults, repression and exile. A system that has cultivated the evil leaven of intolerance, and where the individuals who govern are supported by the wolf of intransigence.

A papal visit will not change Cuba nor does the Vatican Head of State have to carry the demands of its eleven million inhabitants

Bergoglio will visit ex-president Fidel Castro in his long convalescence, the principal architect of so many divisions and sorrows. But beware: “Do not get too close, Brother Francis.” This man and power in Cuba represent just the opposite of what a Holy Father wants to promote in his homilies and acts.

The Cuban government will seek from this visit validation and prestige. Without a doubt, it will gain something. It will show a better disposition toward believers, although deep down it continues its distrust of the Catholic Church and has not offered a public self-criticism for the years of excess against the faithful. On the other hand, it will pardon almost 3,500 prisoners, but it will maintain intact the penal code that sends so many people to prison for the simple act of killing a cow or opposing the government.

The faithful and the people in general will live days of hope and control. If the repressive blueprint of Benedict XVI’s visit is repeated, many will learn the content of the Masses days later when they emerge from the cells where there will have been held in “preventive detention.” They also will want the shepherd to intercede for them, to speak for them, to recognize their existence. Can Bergoglio gather up these demands?

We must remember that a papal visit will not change Cuba nor does the Vatican Head of State have to carry the demands of its eleven million inhabitants. “Go to your monastery, Brother Francis, continue on your path and your sanctity,” the Nicaraguan bard would have told him. However, this time, we need you to stop, to be aware, to calm this beast of political nonsense that lives among us.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

Why Cuba could not build the new man promised by Che Guevara / Regina Coyula

All photos from the BBC
All photos from the BBC

Regina Coyula, from BBC Mundo, 4 June 2015 — One of the most attractive promises of the 1959 Cuban Revolution for a Third World thirsty for paradigms, was, undoubtedly, the prospect of a generous, industrious, learned and well-mannered human being.

This New Man would be the result of the new schools that as the cradles of a new race, together with the Marxist and Martist[1] combination of work and study, would forge a personality without the burdens of a bourgeois education.

Mass produced, the new man would put the collective interests above his own, and would take the future by assault to build a superior society. Continue reading “Why Cuba could not build the new man promised by Che Guevara / Regina Coyula”

For 56 years, this government has never lacked attractive rhetoric and great international public relations. But, what about the New Man?

Many refutations can be made of this experiment. The economy alone would fill volumes, especially those dedicated to agriculture with an emphasis on the sugar cane industry. But in the social aspects, that education, aimed at sweeping away the past, has left very ugly and persistent scars on this society.150604140419_cuba_blog_624x351_afpWith the devaluation of the older generation of professional educators who did not show enough commitment to “the process;” the just right to a universal free education required prodigious waves of new teachers. Hundreds of young people, filled with revolutionary fervor, stepped up to answer the call to teach.

Vocation could be seen as a bourgeois leftover so many of whom, in normal circumstances, would have opted for other careers, found themselves in front of a student body barely a few years younger than themselves, and many performed well. Because in difficult times, everyone has their definitive test.

The queue of new teachers began to thin. Too many demands and too little reward, beginning with the salary. An exodus toward new horizons forced the training of new teachers, each time younger, each time more improvised.

150604145016_estudiante_cubano_624x351_afp
“Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che!”

If this weren’t enough, the Commander in Chief, who decided everything from beer distribution to the introduction of intensive cattle grazing, decided to recruit teachers from among those just graduated from high school, mostly to cover the deficit of teachers in the capital.

A tidal wave of young people from other provinces, whose mediocre academic results prevented them from accessing a college career, responded to the attractive prospect of living in Havana, making a magnificent salary and avoiding military service.

The Comandante decided as well that these teachers would teach all subjects. Readers who have a strong preference toward the sciences or the humanities will be able to envision how the classes in the teachers’ non-favorite subjects, with some notable exceptions, went.

Hopefully the ignorance of doctors relates only to their spelling
Hopefully the ignorance of doctors relates only to their spelling

You can trace down the results of the university entry exams, there is an online compilation of curated nonsense, we have a worrisome number of university graduate professionals who can’t spell, and we hope that the ignorance of a doctor or an engineer is related only to spelling. Many of our professionals babble unintelligibly because of their awful diction or read taking long pauses and making mistakes because they are unable to read smoothly.

This situation is the result of hastily created teachers and parents educated by hastily created teachers. Neither in school nor at home do the models help.

But, what about the New Man? He never coalesced in any junior or senior high boarding schools in the countryside where coexistence had more to do with jailhouse bullying than with Communist altruism.

150604140330_cuba_blog_624x351_afp

The children of those who emerged from the study-work experiment and remained in Cuba learned to differentiate between political discourse and private opinion, to say something while thinking something else…

To our New Man the concept of freedom doesn’t say much, but his eyes sparkle when someone tells him about the latest iPhone, puts his name down for the visa lottery[2] hoping to win, and he has adopted as his philosophy of life the motto of a chain of hard-currency-only stores: Me first.

Translated by Ernesto Suarez

[1] Martist = Martiana(o): referring to the ideals of Cuba’s José Martí, the National Hero. A 19 century writer, journalist, political activist and organizer of the 1895-98 war of independence from Spain.

[2] The US allows Cubans and other nationals to enter an annual lottery for permanent legal emigration visas to the US.

Alan Gross, the hook that ended up being swallowed / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Demonstrations demanding the release of Alan Gross
Demonstrations demanding the release of Alan Gross

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 17 December 2014 – With the pessimism that has now become chronic in our society, many Cubans thought that Alan Gross would only leave Cuba, “in a box,” in an image allusive of a fatal outcome. The stubbornness shown by the Cuban government in its relations with the United States didn’t presage a short-term solution for the contractor. This Wednesday, however, he has been exchanged for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, bringing to a close a long and complicated political chapter for both parties.

Gross was only useful alive and his health was rapidly deteriorating. And Raul Castro knew this very well. Hence, in recent months he raised the decibels around the proposed exchange for the agent Antonio Guerrero and the officials Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández, all serving long sentences in the prisons of our neighbor to the north. To the extent that the 65-year-old contractor grew thin and lost his vision, official campaigns grew increasingly insistent about the exchange. When Gross threatened to kill himself, the alarms if the island’s government went off and the negotiating schedule accelerated. Continue reading “Alan Gross, the hook that ended up being swallowed / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Barack Obama, for his part, made clear that any change in policy toward Havana would come up against the insurmountable obstacle of an American imprisoned for “threats against the security of the State.” Even the New York Times had suggested an exchange in one of its editorials on Cuba, and the publication of that text in such a prestigious newspaper was read as a preview of what would happen. As in every political game, we see only one part, while in the intricacies of power the threads of the agreement made public just today were being woven.

For those of us who know the mechanism of pressure used by the Plaza of the Revolution toward its opponents, the capture of Gross itself was a move aimed at recovering the Interior Ministry’s agents. The contractor wasn’t arrested for what he did, but rather for what they could do with him. It was a simple hook and he was aware of this from the beginning. His crime was not in having brought satellite equipment to connect the Cuban Jewish community to the Internet, but rather in carrying in his pocket a passport that immediately converted him into a medium of exchange on the board of tense bilateral relations between Washington and Havana.

If we review the five years of captivity endured by Gross, we see a well-designed information script that the Cuban government used to put pressure on the Obama administration. Each image that came to light publicly, each visitor allowed to see him, was authorized with the sole condition of reinforcing the exchange proposal. In this way, the Castro regime has managed to get its way. It has managed to exchange a peaceful man, embarked on the humanitarian adventure of providing connectivity to a group of Cubans, for intelligence agents that caused significant damage and sorrow with their actions.

In the game of politics, totalitarian regimes manage to win over democracies because the former control the public opinion inside their countries, determine all legal results to suit their purposes, and can continue to waste their nation’s resources trying to free the moles they sent to their adversary’s camp. Democracies, however, end up conceding because they must answer to their own people, they must live with an incisive press that criticizes them for making or not making certain decisions, and because they are forced to do everything possible bring their dead and alive back home.

The Castro regime has won, although the positive result is that Alan Gross has emerged alive from a prison that promised to turn into his grave. Now, we can expect long weeks of cheering and slogans in which the Cuban government will proclaim itself a victor in its latest battle. But, there is no space in the national pantheon for so many still-breathing heroes, and little by little, the recently returned agents will lose importance and visibility. The myth created for them from a distance will begin to fade.

With the main obstacle for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations eliminated, the only unknown is the next step. Is the Cuban government planning another move to return to a position of force vis-a-vis the US government? Or are all the cards on the table this time, before the weary eyes of a population that anticipates that the Castro regime will also win the next move.

Translated by Mary Jo Porter and Ernesto Suarez

Alfredo Guevara In His Own Words / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A recent interview published in the magazine Letras Libres, reveals Alfredo Guevara’s mood months before his death. The meeting, that came to be thanks to filmmaker Arturo Sotto, brings us closer to a man conscious of being on the last stretch of his life. His words try to find, or give sense to his existence, to justify some horrors and exalt some achievements.

Caustic but careful, Guevara ventures in topics of the past such as the divisions within the 26 of July Movement and its clashes with the forces of the Popular Socialist Party . Between one anecdote and the next, he reveals—perhaps without intention—details of a power taking shape among betrayals and rivalries. The scene of Celia Sánchez who lived with Fidel Castro in a house in El Vedado and would ask Guevara to expel the old communists from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) “by kicking them in the ass,” slips through his words, he lets it go just like any other story. Continue reading “Alfredo Guevara In His Own Words / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

Reading the interview took me back immediately to a Sunday morning in the year 2013 in which I received a phone call. They were telling me about a police search in the home of the recently deceased Alfredo Guevara. Before dawn, several police cars and a minibus from the Technical Department of Investigation (DTI) had arrived responding to an alleged complaint about the traffic of art works. In the house there were only the housekeeping lady and an elderly man remotely related to Guevara.

A few minutes after receiving the news, we went over to verify what was happening. A few burly men, some in uniform, and a lady who could barely form any words because of fear, made up the scene we were able to glimpse when they open the mansion’s door a few centimeters. Using the old trick that we were looking for a “handyman,” we rang the bell, and were able to see that something very serious was going on inside. The news spread rapidly and the official voices were quick to explain the case as one of theft of the national cultural heritage. Nevertheless, some of us were not totally convinced by the story.

Through the testimony of those who witnessed the police raid, we learned that the officers placed particular emphasis in the search for documents. They took great pains to disassemble ceilings, to dig under mattresses, to explore drawers and file cabinets full of papers. Were they looking for some document or writing treasured by Alfredo Guevara? I have asked myself this question thousands of times since that day. The interview in the Mexican magazine Letras Libres confirms some of my suspicions.

We are before a man yearning for lasting relevance, and with valuable information in his hands; an elderly man who is able of realizing the re-writing that has been done to history to make it seem more heroic, more sublime. When he refers to Fidel Castro’s memoirs, Guerrillero del Tiempo, he states: “I think that he has his version and I have mine, but I don’t want to create any contradiction. I want to be very careful, I am afraid…” A man like that probably shields evidences of how things really happened. Some of them he lets slip in the excellent interview in Letras Libres.

However, the largest evidence that Alfredo Guevara leaves us is neither a photograph, nor a piece of paper signed by hand by someone, much less an official document extracted from some obscure archive. His main testimony is the deception perceived in his words, the bitter touch in his stocktaking, the final clarity of not knowing with certainty if history will absolve him or condemn him.

dreaming in gUSAno* / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The dreams begin, comrades.

Noises in hotel rooms.  I begin to hear noises in the hotel rooms where I stay from coast to coast in the United States.

In Cuba, I was never a victim of the homeland paranoia; I only had the certainty of being spied on with criminal cruelty. Millimetric, butcher. I am sorry for Castroism: it failed to sow in me the syndrome of suspicion.

But, in Philadelphia, for example, or in Washington DC, in LA, in Miami, in La Crosse, in Madison, in Chicago, in Boston and who knows in what other city of the union, it is very different.  There are hotels, those labyrinths that in Cuba are a rarity in terms of civility.  And in the hotels things are heard late at nights.  Sounds, whispers.  And a cosmic cold that penetrates the soul and only then do you understand that you do not exist here.

Halfway through the late hours of the night, frantic knocks on my room door wake me up.  Or not.  Perhaps they are at the room across, who knows.  The fact is that I wait and wait, but the assault does not repeat itself. Until the next day, during the wee hours of the night, at any time after the silent midnight.

They drag cleaning carts at random times. They scratch the parquet or the cardboard walls that make every building Made in USA.” They walk loudly.  They speak a language of unknown accent that in Havana I would have perceived as English.  There are little permanent lights that come in through the curtains or fall from the ceiling tiles in the form of a sea of alarms that never cease.  And then begin my dreams. My North American dreams.  North American dreams about Cuba, it is understood.

At this point in history, to dream of Cuba is purely a preservation instinct.  I dream that I am back there, of course. And I laugh, I laugh like a madman.

I laugh at the assassins paid by the powers-that-be who did not arrest me or search my things with the twisted pleasure of rapists at the airport customs. I see things as if they were very small, dilapidated, but with an insane shine, like a drug addict.  I see the houses of my city, the ones that I can recognize with my eyes closed.  I see the small house of wooden planks, the only one in my life, the one in which I was born and died several times in Lawton; and I see my sacred objects, the ones I barely said goodbye to; and then someone tells me (usually someone I loved a lot, but not anymore): “When are you returning to the United States?”

“Never,” I reply, and suddenly I cannot breathe in the dream, and at that point I invariably wake up crying.  With pouting.  A baby’s cry, a cry of mental patient.

To return.

Cuba.

Never.

The United States.

The agony of the fighting fish.  Their branchiae wide open, like swords. The oxygen of an atmosphere  that will never be my atmosphere. Not having ground under my dreams.  To be without existing.  Orlando, Orlando…why have you forsaken us…?

I open my eyes. It is not dawning yet. I want to forget. My temples hurt. There are weird noises in the rooms around me. I am alone.  Desolate.

If one day I go out on a walk, if it snows, and I get lost erasing my footsteps, who and when is going to ask about me?  Who takes care of me?  Who misses me?  Who will feel sorry for my loved ones if one bad day my country’s military death reaches me by edict so that I do not live my life after Fidel?

I turn to the other side of the bed. I sleep naked. I curl up under the blankets and sheets which the American hotels provide me from coast to coast in the nation.  The beds are cold here. More than exciting, they are pure erection. I cannot resist myself.

Nor am I sleepy now, but I surrender very quickly.  I yawn, I must be exhausted. I nod. I myself make the noises and whispers that are going to reach, incognito, the other room.  Strange. I do not stop myself. It is warm and tender like the deep light of the northern skies.  Like the smile of teenagers who dispense insipid dishes at a cafeteria while they complete their PhD. I swallow air. I retain it. I am choking. I am not here.

I think about collecting all the Cuban dreams of exile.  They are not here.

I am asleep, we are asleep.  Soon it is about to be dawn.

*Translator’s note: The word “Dreaming” appears in English in the original. “Gusano” (worm) here refers to the insult hurled by the Cuban regime and its vassals at every person who has opposed the regime in any way, or who has left the country to escape it.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

29 September 2013

Oscar in Memoriam / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Photo from paraclito.net

I met Oscar Espinosa Chepe† at the home of another opposition activist around the year 1997.  Later, I had the opportunity to interact more with him when he would go to the headquarters of CubaPress, then situated in the residence of Ricardo González Alfonso, in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, so that the editor of that press agency could edit his next article to be published.  So careful was he when stating his opinion responsibly and in the best way possible, that after a while, Germán Díaz Castro told me that the articles that Chepe would bring him did not need editing.  In his effort to “say and to write well” he had acquired the necessary dexterity to provide with discernible journalistic skill his economic observations of the Cuban situation.

Years of opposition activities led us to running into each other several times, and in him I always found a decent, cordial, solicitous and supportive fellow citizen, a comrade in peaceful fights so polite that he never “threw the chalk piece”* of bad behavior against his comrades in the struggle.  His path of economist, civic and opposition activist, plus the intolerant and dictatorial nature of Cuban authorities, led him unjustly to prison in March of 2003.  He was sentenced to twenty years, and released on parole the next year, for health reasons.  He came out with the same humility and simplicity, without the rancor that corrodes and weakens moral and character, and which are the trademark of the dictatorial men in charge that ordered his confinement.  From prison he came out marked by the ailment that closed his eyes to life a few days ago, and opened them to immortality.

This past Sunday, September 22nd, he absented himself physically.  I prefer to remember that part of Chepe’s biography that I knew: educated like a diplomat, and as humble and as much of a dreamer as any patriot opposed to the totalitarian regime.  The man who worked so much for Cuba that for many years we will have the light shone by his analyses and his wisdom guiding our democratizing economic paths.  Those that inevitably will come to create and encourage laws that stimulate trade and production so that our country can definitely prosper without this failed planning socialism –centralism- in which the government has been the flogging and destructive gendarme of our economy and the archipelago in general.

I send my sincere condolences to his widow and other relatives for the death of Oscar, as well as to all who like me, are afflicted by this grievous loss.  R.I.P.

*Translator’s note: Cuban expression that means to misbehave in a furtive way.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

26 September 2013

Eugenio Yanez Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe
Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Oscar Espinosa Chepe was a person convinced of what he did in life, without any extremist opportunisms or false remorse about his “revolutionary” phase from his earliest youth. A person of integrity, when speaking or writing he did not care about what his bosses (when he had them) would like to hear; or, after breaking up with the regime, what opposition activists and exiles [would like to hear or read], but [about] the analyses needed to understand the Cuban reality. His didactic virtuosity made any topic that he took on look easy and simple, but the rigor of his analysis and the depth of his conclusions showed a professional committed to the pursuit of the truth. As an economist, independent journalist and opposition activist, he is an example to all Cubans on both shores of the Florida Strait.

Eugenio Yáñez. Writer and Columnist. He edits Cubanálisis-El Think-Tank

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

24 September 2013

The Anti-Gospel According to Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

1 I, that had no motherland, have lost my motherland.

2 The motherland is, of course, the place where your neighbor will mourn over your dead body.  3 And, I never wanted this. 4 I resisted from the time I opened my eyes and saw.  5 Everything was so ugly, so false, so Cuban around me. 6 That I never wanted to give them the only thing that made me good and real. 7 My body.

8In the silent night of childhood. 9 In the fading light of adolescence.  10 In the early mornings being nude on stairwells and neighborhood alleys. 11 In the youth devastated by the nightmare of the 1990s. 12 In the two thousand-nothings when all who were to die had died and love still had not shown up. 13 Now. 14 When I want the least to be mourned in my country or to have a street named after me in democracy.

15 I do not want to be mourned. 16 Seriously. 17 But I want a country. 18 Please.

19 Life is too much of life for it to be humiliated by death. 20 If life ends in a wake, then it was not worth living it. 21 Life opens to life or it will never be life at all. 22 I wish to live.

23 I am going to repeat it slowly because these are two verbs that we Cubans did not know how to execute from that arrogance of beings living in freedom: to wish, to live. 24 We Cubans, who massacre each other in that mystic rapture called Motherland to achieve our most heroic state of slavery.

25 Neither wish. 26 Nor live.

27 Cuban politics is the organ (what a creepy word: organ) in charge of diplomatically avoiding these two vital verbs, to have them forgotten through pure patriotism and terror, to manipulate them in its image and convenience to cheat us out of our time and humanity. 28 That is why the people does not exist. 29 Because it has no body, just mass.  30 Because we fuse as a whole, as a something, as a living organism. 31 Because we are that: scattered organs. 32 Decrepit 33 Lifeless viscera.

34 That is why the Revolution and Castroism will have no day after. 35 It is impossible to resuscitate what has not even died, but continues to live in perpetuity.  36 An unlivable life.

37 The lyrics of the National Anthem are foreboding in that sense. 38 A macabre song, of incarnation of Evil in men and women who were already departing and in those who were yet to come. 39 Demoniacal march, just like the sight of its author on a horse in the outskirts of a city that should have been capital and ended up being holocaust. 40 Mortuary music composed precisely on a Horse*, apocalyptic beast that in less than a century will implement that same anthem to its last poetic consequences.

41 Poetry, and not Cuban politics, has been the main genocidal compulsion in what was on the verge of being my country. 42 Cuba, scaffold.

43 The word “motherland” is not better than the word “impiety.” 44 Someone had to state it for you, Cubans. 45 The word “hope” is not sterile, but breeds sterility exclusively.

46 On the claustrophobic line of the horizon 47 In the planetary twilight of the one thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine exiles. 48 In the bodies abandoned in the stampede. 49 In the love promptly betrayed.  50 In the invisible beauty. 51 In the family that vanished.  52 In the weightless home. 53 In the Cuban body constantly constrained to the cadaver that is going to inhabit it.

54 Men and women of my country, I have loved you from the distance of the most intimidating inner space. 55 From these trachea and intestines I have seen things that you, Cubans, would never believe.

56 Mercy is not enough. 57 You, that never had a motherland, will never lose the motherland. 58 And that pain is unspeakable.

59 May you remain, then, in the posthumous peace of my words.

*Translator’s note: From Spanish “El Caballo,” “the Horse,” one of Fidel Castro’s many nicknames among Cubans.  It denotes masculinity and vigor, and it is deeply rooted in that Cuban tragicomic “machismo.”

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

19 August 2013

Alejandro Armengol Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

mail4-300x168Two qualities, among others, were always prominent in the articles by Chepe that appeared regularly both in Cubaencuentro as well as other publications like El Nuevo Herald.

One of them is that he could achieve the delicate balance that allowed him to present a balanced article or analysis while making clear his point of view.  To this end he would always base his writing on data and reflections free of bombastic criteria, the usual demagoguery and opportunism.

The other quality was the use of data supplied by the Cuban government itself, supported by other from international organizations, to support his analyses. That way he never conceded to the convenient argument that all information from the island is false; an argument that may have some truth to it, but that also brings an easy and complacent negativism among certain groups of exiles. It is not that Chepe believed all that the regime said, on the contrary, he knew what to question and how.  In that sense, he and professor Mesa Lago have set the precedent, and have valuable information where others refused to look.

Personally, and during the time in which I had the pleasure of editing his works for Cubaencuentro, aside from an honor, it was always a pleasure to have such a precise intellectual, both in the numbers he offered as well as his composition and spelling, all of this done with absolute humility.  He was what be said easily, but that is almost impossible to find: an example.

Alejandro Armengol. Journalist.  Editor in Chief for Cubaencuentro.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

24 September 2013

Haroldo Dilla Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

indexDespite living for so long on an island so small, I never met Oscar Espinosa Chepe in person. It would have been an honor and an opportunity for me, mostly after discovering him in one of his incisive articles for the late magazine Encuentro during a night of insomnia on a plane in route to Madrid.

Since then, I have read him faithfully. And every time, the acumen of the analyst and the consistency of the democrat, but most of all the integrity of the intellectual, have gratified me. Despite spending several years in prison for doing nothing other than thinking well and differently, Chepe never allowed his emotions to overcome his professionalism.  And, this makes him one of those intellectual figures called to be enduring.  And for that, we will continue reading him for a long time for the good of the prosperous, equitable and democratic that he advocated.

Dr. Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, Sociologist and Historian

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

Carmelo Mesa-Lago Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

oscar-espinosa-chepe_menuOscar Espinosa Chepe was one of the best informed and courageous Cuban economists. Despite the difficulties to access the internet, he was always up to date on the regional and local [Economics] organizations’ publications; and his works were always well documented and objective.

His criticism was based on publications and official figures, but he also criticized the US embargo as an instrument that had failed to end the [political] system while being used as a scapegoat for all its economic failures.

To me, Chepe was always a source of inspiration, his articles are abundantly quoted in my own publications, and I had the honor of writing the foreword for two of his books.

When he came out of prison in Cuba, due to the bad state of his health’s, I was able to get two dozen prestigious economists from around the world to sign a letter to the Head of Government of Spain requesting his exit [from Cuba], but in the end  he decided to continue writing in Cuba.  He offered his life and his health for Cuba.

We met in person in Havana in 2010, and the tiny and modest apartment that he and Miriam inhabited surprised me; filled with books, magazines and papers, almost leaving no space for daily living.

He was a humble man, frugal and amiable, who loved his fatherland very much. I was able to see him in Madrid this past June and he was staying with Miriam in a tiny room of a hostel. Although already very sick, he attended the presentation of my book at Casa de América and I publicly paid him my last homage. We are going to miss him very much.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

24 September 2013

The Great News / Enrique del Risco

madagascar—Did you hear?

—What? About the robbery of the giraffe from Havana’s zoo?

—Yeah, a giraffe, four monkeys and a pony, but I’m not talking about that…

—Those guys must have been ninjas.  A Cuban version of “Madagascar,” “Calabazar[1]: The Story of How a Group of Zoo Animals Trying to Prevent their Friends from Becoming Giraffe Sandwich”

—No, I am talking about Robertico Carcasses, who was banned from playing music the other day.

—Why?

—For singing…

—The truth is that he’s never been very good, but a ban seems excessive to me…

—Well, it was more for demanding direct elections, freedom of information and equal rights. You know, and it happened at a concert for the release of The Five[2].

—Listen, can’t you count?  A giraffe, four monkeys and a pony are six, no five.  Well, I guess what’s important is the solidarity with the poor little animals.

—No, dude, I’m talking about the five spies jailed in the Yuma[3].

—What do the five spies have to do with the giraffe?

—Nothing, you made that up. The deal is that Robertico Carcasses said all those things at the Anti-Imperialist Stage[4] and on live television.

—Ah, I see.  When did they shoot him?

—That’s the interesting part: they only thing they dared to do was to ban him from any state-owned stage in Cuba, indefinitely.

—In my time, for less than that Robertico would end up worse than the zoo’s giraffe.

—What? They already know what happened to the giraffe?

—That’s exactly what used to happen, you’d never hear of them.  Now, they only beat you up, and if you resist, they’ll throw you in jail for five years charged with contempt. Times change.

—Well, this time there was a commotion and even a member of Calle 13[5] protested the ban.

—Which one?  The one that looks retarded?

—No, the other one, the one that doesn’t sing.  The deal is that even they didn’t know how solve the imbroglio when Silvio Rodriguez[6] himself stepped in.

—Jeez! I thought it was the blue unicorn[7]. I was afraid that on top of the giraffe we would now have to deal with Silvio’s little animal.

—So, Silvio showed up saying that what Robertico had done was a great faux pas, but that the punishment should be something else.

—I see, like King Solomon…

—Wise?

—Nah, just spreading the blame equally.

—Or like Cardinal Ortega, who intervened when the government had run out of things to do against the Ladies in White.

—Well, the Cardinal Ortega of UNEAC[8] got the penalty lifted.  He had to announce it himself because for the official media Robertico has never sung.

—See, we agree on something. The Comandante[9]’s words to the intellectuals[10]have been transformed into “With Silvio, everything, without Silvio, nothing.”

—Bueno, ya eso es un cambio importante. Ahora todo radica en que Robertico no deje que lo confundan con la jirafa.

—Why? Because they are going to eat him?

—No, it’s just that he’s not good at taking care of animals.  Look at what happened to the unicorn.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

18 September 2013


[1] Calabazar is a town south of Havana.

[2] Also known as the Cuban Five.  These are five convicted Cuban spies serving sentences in the United States since 2001.  They were part of a large group called The Wasp Network (Red Avispa).  Twelve were arrested, only 5 pleaded non-guilty.  These are the only ones that the Cuban regime defends.  One of them was released in 2012 after serving his sentence. He renounced his US citizenship, and moved to Cuba. So, The Five are really The Four now, but the Cuban regime has never been good at Math.

[3] The Yuma (el Yuma or la Yuma) is a Cuban slang term for the United States. The origin is murky, but some trace it, unlikely, to the 1957 movie 3:10 to Yuma.

[4] Tribuna Antiimperialista in Spanish.  It is a large stage set up in front of the United States Interest Section in Havana to show state-sanctioned protests against a number of actions by the US.

[5] Puerto Rican hip-hop group and a darling of the dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.  They have performed at the Anti-Imperialist Stage.

[6] Silvio Rodriguez is a famous Cuban singer-songwriter who after a brief period of rebellion in the 1960s, became one of the regime’s official troubadours and later on even a delegate to the National Assembly.  He wrote among many songs, one titled “My Blue Unicorn” dedicated, according to many, to a lost trophy in the shape of a blue unicorn.  It has become his avatar.

[7] See previous.

[8] UNEAC is the official Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.

[9] Fidel Castro.

[10]“…within the Revolution, everything goes; against the Revolution, nothing.”http://lanic.utexas.edu/project/castro/db/1961/19610630.html