Without Freedom… Even to Travel!

One of the various unresolved and failed issues of the Castro brothers’ government is the Cuban citizens’ lack of freedom to travel. If a foreign friend invites you to spend some time in his country, in addition to extensive and tricky bureaucratic red tape, ultimately, with nerves of steel, you have to wait for the exit permit granted by the Department of Immigration, which is part of the Ministry of Interior.

This department determines whether or not you have the right to travel. Also, if a person has been exiled, said military body is the one which determines whether or not such a Cuban can visit his native land. It’s humiliating. It’s like begging to be allowed to leave Cuba, and, what’s worse, to be allowed to enter your own land.

For me this is the most flagrant violation of personal rights committed by the government of the island. It doesn’t matter if an individual who wants to visit a friend or a relative has an immaculate record and doesn’t have any prior convictions. If Immigration considers you unsuitable, you cannot leave the island.

It’s a form of punishment. Something like, you better behave if you want to see the world. To behave badly is, above all, to publicly dissent from the way the State administers the country. Another major arbitrary act is when a person definitively leaves the country. It doesn’t matter that he owns his house. If he lived alone, he doesn’t have the right to leave or give his house to whomever he wants.

No. The government’s laws put an end to your right to dispose of your own home. This is coupled with a number of tricks and lies to circumvent the unjust measures that the State applies. Whenever people think about leaving the country for good, they put the name of a friend or family member on the deed beforehand so they don’t lose the house.

Days before you abandon your country, an inspection from the Institute of Housing inspects your home and verifies the furniture and electrical appliances that you possess. If, at the moment of leaving, it’s proven that you have given someone these things, your permission to leave can be denied.

What people do is to give away or sell the furniture, refrigerator or television, before the housing inspectors visit. It’s arbitrary. I will tell you a personal story.

My mother, Tania Quintero, an independent journalist, together with my sister and my niece, left Cuba to go to Switzerland, on November 25, 2003, at the beginning of the Black Spring. [Translator’s note: The “Black Spring” refers to the 2003 government crackdown, when independent journalists and democracy advocates were arrested and imprisoned.]

When she left, she did not know my daughter, Melany, who was 9 months old. Because she was a political refugee and a persona non grata for those who direct my country, Melany’s maternal grandmother had to content herself with seeing her in photos and chatting by telephone when her rare retirement resources allowed her to telephone.

She will probably die in the staid city of Lucerne without ever knowing her other granddaughter. The government hasn’t given the slightest inkling of doing away with its absurd rules on emigration. It’s true that in the USA, on account of another stupid law, North American citizens aren’t allowed to travel to Cuba. Ninety miles apart, the two countries are still living in the Cold War era.

Both of our communities, so close geographically and, at the same time, on account of the policies of their respective administrations, so distant, must insist on having our rights count.

There’s no reason why my mother should have to die 9000 kilometres away without ever knowing her granddaughter. It’s unreasonable for anyone to stop her. But the Castros keep in their pockets the files for all exits and entries. And Melany’s grandmother is not to their liking.

Iván García

Translated by Regina Anavy & RSP

The Letter of the Year


Photo: Reuters. On the right, the Cuban writer and journalist Natalia Bolivar

With the arrival of the first serious cold front, which in these days of January has lowered the thermometer to unusual temperatures in Cuba, the babalaos of the island gave the expected Letter of the Year.

This time it was announced with a drum roll and cymbals. Friday the first of January, Radio Progreso, a broadcaster of national importance, gave the whole reading of the document issued by the Cuban Council of High Priests of Ifá.

According to the Cuban babalaos, this year the sign is Obesa, ruling Yemayá and accompanying Changó. On the island, the devotees of Afro-Cuban religions count in the millions. No one knows the number to a scientific certainty. But religious sincretism is so strong that it is common to see a Catholic who “makes himself a saint” and a Santero being married in the church.

One song from Adalberto Álvarez, who sings Afro-Cuban songs, says in its refrain, “There are people who believe in nothing and they go for consultations at the first light of day.” It’s true. Frowning Marxists from the Communist Party have their bean-tokens and at times “feed them” to the higher power.

It’s speculated that even Fidel Castro, since he was a boy, has a Haitian voodoo doctor. The government never has denied the rumors. But let’s get to the point. In the letter for 2010, the local babalaos offer their recommendations and advice.

In a cryptic reading they offer a series of adages from the signo, which Juan Carlos Ariosa, 25 years old, a young sculptor, believes interprets signs of the political diatribe towards the government. Luis Álvarez, a retired soldier, who, since his participation in the African wars has been a devotee, in capital letters, of Afro-Cuban religions, interprets everything just the opposite.

“It’s a good sign that the government gives the Letter of the Year official publicity. The Council of Priests is a group of patriots who support the Revolution. If you read the document carefully, you will come to that conclusion,” affirms Álvarez, elated, with her necklaces of green and yellow beads and a white hat.

Each to his own. And those who are desperate, because of the extended outcome of the economic and political situation in Cuba, think that the babalaos expressed a weak sign in a veiled way.

If Cubans know anything it’s how to read between the lines. Neither the Catholic church nor the Council of Priests has publicly and openly condemned the politics of the government. At least in the last 10 years.

It’s like a cat and mouse game. If you shut up, we give you space. And at least, in my assessment, a part of the religions on the island have made themselves complicit in this silence.

It’s not possible that the majority of common people think otherwise and the churches and temples don’t speak their minds. As far as the Afro-Cuban religions are concerned, in the last two decades, they have converted themselves into a prosperous business.

It’s become the mode to become a babalao to mount a throne and get hard currency. Hundreds of devotees from Spain, Switzerland, Japan and even Australia come to the country of sun and palms to be blessed. It’s not cheap. For a Cuban it costs a minimum of 10,000 pesos (400 CUCs), a year and a half’s salary for an engineer. For a foreigner it costs double.

Faithful practitioners are many. But some beliefs, like the Afro-Cuban ones, have degenerated and become commercialized. In any event, the announcement of the Letter of the Year always awakens great expectations.

In an ancient mansion dating from the beginning of the 20th century, in the Calzada of 10th of October between Josefina and Gertrudis, where on occasion the babalaos consult the saints, on the afternoon of January 3, a group of 20 to 30 people were trying to read, with anxiety, the Letter of the Year 2010.

Probably they had not heard Radio Progreso. Also, at the same time, some thousands of kilometers away, in Peru, the South American shamans predicted that the Venezuelan president was very sick and that Fidel Castro had a vague death that protected him. According to the Peruvian oracles, Castro could live for the years that he offered.

To confirm the validity of their prognostications, they gave the example that last year they said that Barack Obama would win the US elections. On the island, when people saw on Channel 23 in Miami the news of the religious leaders of Peru, many were astonished.

At least the Peruvians were daring and gave prophecies. The Cuban babalaos were neither one nor the other. You would have to continue reading them between the lines. Something anyone could do by reading the latest edition of Newsweek, where they predict that 2010 might be the last year on earth for Fidel Castro.

Iván Garcia

Translated by Regina

The Joke of the New Man / Ivan Garcia

The formation of the New Man has always been a fruitless task. Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara, its precursor, with his straw full of mate (a kind of tea that Argentinians drink from a bulb-shaped container, through a straw), was delirious in his moments of rest in the guerrilla war, on the road to Santa Clara in the last days of 1958. At that point in the war against the dictator Fulgencio Batista, the Argentinian Guevara was convinced that in the future society that would be built in Cuba, they would have to start by designing a “laboratory” man.

Che, a Maoist and radical communist, was dreaming, and he believed it would be possible, but the fun-loving Cuban people–with a tendency to idleness and informality–would need a firm hand to discipline them. According to Guevara, these Creoles, given to unending parties and festivals, playing around and disrespectful with their neighbors’ women, needed a revolution, with a dose of repression and terror that would permit the construction of a Communist society.

The Argentine tried it. In the short time he was Minister and an important man in Cuban politics, besides festively pulling the trigger in the large, damp patios that served as firing fields in the San Carlos de La Cabaña Fortress, he imposed “voluntary” work, moral stimulation and other formulas that the doctor from Rosario (i.e. Che) had read about in his Marxist studies.

Until he realized that fabricating men in an assembly line from a test tube who were monogamous and would not move their hips to the rhythm of drums was an impossible mission on an island of sun, drink and craziness. Che was a convinced fanatic, argumentative and with faith in proof by bullets. But his friend Fidel Castro was another specimen.

The lawyer from Birán (Fidel), in the best of cases, was a pragmatic opportunist, with an inflated ego, a narcissist who saw in guys like Che and Communist ideology the best way to draw up a plan for permanent and effective power. Guevara then marched to his own drummer, creating centers of guerrilla warfare and the formation of killing machines that would annihilate the gringos without mercy, anywhere in the world.

He died convinced, risking his hide to try to demonstrate his truths. This was around 42 years ago in Quebrada del Yuro, Bolivia. After his fall, he was converted into one of the largest marketing operations in history.

Castro, Cuban after all, knew that to modify the souls of his countrymen, who were given to Santería and not taking things seriously, illusion was necessary. In order to dominate for 50 years, he has used, at his discretion, fear, prisons, and a pinch of cheap idealism. And above all, a false morality, excitedly imparted to him by Ernesto Guevara in the days they were in a jail cell in Mexico City, in between chess games and theoretical discussions of what the future would be for Cuba and Latin America.

Not an atom remains of the New Man that Che Guevara dreamed of. Almost all Cubans steal whatever they can at work, from a straw to a piece of paper. When someone begins a new job, he is not interested in how much his salary will be, only in how much he can steal.

A few followers remain. At appropriate moments – historic dates and anniversaries of his death – they put on their masks and at the daily work meetings or publicly, they raise their voices, put themselves on automatic pilot and even act emotional talking about Che. Excellent actors, unseen and missed by Hollywood.

And the Revolution sails on. Now, functionaries and rulers try to gain time and search for hard currency. No one remembers the New Man, nor the stupidities advocated by social engineers like Che Guevara. The supposed New Men are in the lines outside the Spanish Consulate or the U.S. Special Interests Section, crazy about leaving.

They have forgotten about the world crisis. Since they were born, they have lived in a crisis and in ghost-wars against the Yankees. Many of these “new men” go out at night as transvestites, to engage in sex and drugs until dawn, and with luck, to hook up with a foreigner. Or they are dissidents, independent journalists or bloggers.

For the tired and unbelieving Cubans, the true New Men are guys like Kendry Morales or Isaac Delgado, who seized their chances, who are free to name their own price and who make a lot of money, whether it’s by making home runs or dancing in public with their contagious music. To talk about the New Man is today a joke in very bad taste in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Ciro’s Swans

The Cuban musician Ciro Diaz, from the group Porno para Ricardo (Porn for Ricardo) made a rock version of Swan Lake, written by the Russian composer, Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). For the title he put “I Hate Swans.” It was recorded on La Paja Records,* an underground music studio in Havana. The drawings are by Charlie Bravo, who was inspired for the story by the supposed clash between swans and crocodiles for the control of a lagoon on the island.

Translator’s Note:

*”Paja” means masturbation, and “Paja Records” is a play-on-words of pajarraco, an expletive for a bird, as in “damned bird.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Chronicle with a First Quarter Moon

Perhaps I’m not the right person to write this chronicle. Or perhaps I am. I know of colleagues who personally knew Silvio Rodriguez in that first stage of the revolution, ingenuous and difficult, crude and contradictory, where children, as if by magic, were converted into men.

Again I am going to talk about the spell that Silvio cast on my generation, considered by many to be “lost.” All of us under 50 years of age found a rare similarity in the way we agreed with his lyrics.

Perhaps in school, in the theme song for a child’s television show or in the voice of a friend, I don’t remember exactly now, but when I discovered Silvio he was composing songs for a little while, and he had been one of the founders of the Sound Experimentation Group of ICAIC (the Cuban Institute of Art and Cinematography), together with the indispensable Pablo Milanés, Noel Nicola and Vicente Feliú, among others, all directed by Leo Brouwer, who already was a maestro.

One year later, in 1973, the New Trova Movement, of which Silvio was a major part, had been created. The Beatles, already a myth around the world, had disintegrated in 1970, and it was no secret to anyone that the geniuses of Liverpool, with their rock-ballads, had left an irremediable vacuum after their break-up, in spite of the psychosis that they gave to the Cuban cultural and political authorities.

Then, I think the experts on culture strategy saw a gold mine, and thus they supported that unkempt group that sang about strange things but in the end were “revolutionary.”

A truce was declared. The media spread Trova, little by little. They were at the service of Silvio and the New Trova. With his reserve, of course. At the beginning, to the disgust of the Trova singers, they were heard only during political events, patriotic commemorations or days of national mourning.

The official propaganda up to then emphasized the known themes of Silvio Rodriguez, like The Era is Giving Birth to a Heart, Gun Against Gun, Song for the Elected and the Mambi Chief, songs that with their metaphoric and poetic language demonstrated support for the revolution. Silvio also sang about the every-day and lost love but, for the moment, until his complete loyalty was not shown, those lyrics sailed away into semi-secrecy.

The singer-songwriter from San Antonio de los Baños was a kind of diminishing quarter-moon. We could aprpeciate only one part of his face. Thus, in that way, he came to our generation.

We hummed the lyrics on patriotic anniversaries or when remembering the martyrs. Silvo was growing up with us. When the 80s arrived, the proven Cuban composer was not censored. It had been a sad and traumatic birth, but here was this Rodriguez, in his proper place. One of the best Cuban composers of the 20th century.

The lyrics of The News Summary and I Hope So stopped raising suspicions. On the contrary, he was a prophet in his own land and also in Latin America and Spain. Many, the same as I, pursued and annoyed him, from concert to concert. We knew almost his whole repertoire by heart.

Human beings need myths, leaders, chosen people….and for us, Silvio was it. Or, at least he marked a precious percent of Cuban youth, although some of them later were converted into critics of his work and his ideological position. Others say that he was blocked, he adapted and was intimidated.

My current political position differs a good bit from that of Silvio Rodriguez during these days of November when I turned 63. But I’m not going to stop admiring his songs for that reason. It would mean negating and betraying an important part of my life.

Now, Silvo, we see you clearly, bereft of the halos whose lights deceived us. And we are grateful to you, we have been enriched spiritually and separated from superfluous and useless music. Millions of those from my generation are far away in other lands, under the sea or have split forever. I don’t know about others, but I want to thank you for having proposed something to us, not imposed. For having freely transmitted to us good values. That is more important than any militancy.

Iván García

Photo: Interiano Vinicio, Flickr

Translated by Regina Anavy

Silvito the Free and I

Before Sept. 20, when Juanes * at the end of his concert made public thanks to Los Aldeanos (The Villagers) and Silvito El Libre (Silvito the Free), the rapper son of Silvio Rodriguez was already known on the internet. “Who said that the Cuban revolution is in the final stage, that there is no renewal or new blood? Here we have Silvito el Libre … We still do not know if he uses the words sunset, hummingbird and soothsayer in his rhymes, but surely he will be a big summer blockbuster. “Don’t lose sight of him,” they wrote August 25 on the Chilean Web site The Clinic. Among his topics that you can hear on You Tube are the Hero, Now We Will See The Faces, Kill Yourself, Mamá and Rap, I’m Still Here, Nothing and The Etik, among others. More about his life, published in the cyber-magazine on the blog Rapdiacion Local.

* Colombian pop singer.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Cristal River

Río Cristal, a tourist center inaugurated in 1960, is located on Avenida Rancho Boyeros, close to one of the airports in the capital, after passing the Aqueduct of Wind. It’s on the site where, in the 18th century, a slave barracks existed, and, later, a convent for nuns. Remodeled on different occasions, it still enjoys being the choice for the people of Havana, above all those who can pay with CUCs to stay there.

The entrance is still the same, wide and shady.

The swimming pool is in great demand all year.

…surrounded by a tranquility and a vegetation that is absent in the best hotels of the city.

And, for the kids, the park.

…in particular the little castle, in good-enough shape.

Inside the same installation, not only are there unattended areas, there is also the river. According to data published on Cubanet on September 22, between 2008 and 2009, five young people drowned in the Cristal River, which borders the recreation center of the same name.

Because of the deaths and accidents. the police have put up a sign prohibiting swimming in the river, but the young continue to do it. They say it’s because they don’t have other places where they can go to have fun.

Alexander, a lifeguard at the Rio Cristal swimming pool, said that on many occasions he has had to help kids who were on the point of drowning, but he did not always arrive on time.

Ana Lidia, the mother of a child who lives in the area, asserted that the river water is very contaminated. “The time my son escaped from me and went into that filth, he contracted a staph infection.”

Iván García, with text and photos by Robin Thom, of Flickr.

Translated by Regina Anavy

An alcoholic with a name

Rufino Delagado, 38 years old, in his occasional lucid moments, admits that his life has already hit rock bottom. And he looks up to the sky, impotent, as if looking for an answer to his problem with alcohol. He has not always been a dirty and rude guy. Six years ago, he used to work in the warehouse of a tobacco business, and with what he used to steal from the State and the salary he received, he could afford to keep his wife and daughters with some ease.

“I used to offer a box of tobacco for 20 CUC. There were days in which seven or eight were sold. As my wife received remittances, the money left over was used to buy me drinks.”

He started as a social drinker. And ended as a common drunk, one who sells the little that is left in order to get a drink. At the beginning he used to drink quality rum and beer. Now, Rufino drinks the alcohol of the miserable, filtered with molasses, in improvised barrels, where a liter costs 10 Cuban pesos. He cannot live without drinking. His family put him under medical treatment. But it didn’t work. Rufino always would come back to the alcohol.

When he was drunk he was a monster. He used to hit his wife and daughters. His wife got rid of him, as you throw away an old sofa, when one night in 2006 she arrived at their poor apartment and found him naked among vomit, food and cockroaches that were enjoying themselves in the mess as if they were at a party.

He never again had news about either his daughters or his wife. He lost his job. Now he roams in the surroundings of La Vibora. He eats, when he eats, from the little that people throw away in the bins. He has no friends. Only sad guys like him, that every day get together on the corner of Calle Carmen and 10th of October, opposite Plaza Roja, to drink the drink of the forgotten.

They always finish in the same way. Fighting among themselves. In the squabble they hit each other and cause a huge disturbance. Even the police are not interested. If by chance they are detained for a couple of days, they bathe and kill the hunger of their days with prison food.

In his occasional periods of lucidity, Rufino remembers that he was a guy who used to love his daughter, and he used to dress tastefully. He took baths with hot water and ate home-made food. After, he used to sit with his wife to watch the soap-opera of the moment on the telly. He never thought that his life would become hell.

When he is not drunk, the memories take him back to alcohol. Among tears and curses, with the 10 Cuban pesos that he gets selling some old item or money given as payment for a favour, he goes to the same place, to buy distilled alcohol. His existence is a vicious circle. And what is left is for going to church and imploring the Virgin to let death take him away, soon. With just one wish to be granted, that, before dying, he will be allowed to see his wife and two daughters.

Iván Garcia

Translated by: Tanya May and Regina Anavy

If the comandante danced to rock…

If the Cuban generals had liked rock, things in Cuba might have been different. Perhaps the soldiers would not have gone out in their vulgar Russian jeeps, scissors in hand, cutting the hair of those devoted to this type of music. And they would not have had to arrest thousands of young people whose only crime was to be a fan of the songs of the Beatles, the mythical quartet from Liverpool, and send them to those concentration camps that were called the Military Units of Support for Production, more commonly known by their acronym, UMAP.

If Fidel Castro and his military court had frequently hummed “Yesterday,” or some other ballad by Led Zeppelin, and at their ranches, between beers and select rums, while they filled their mouths with shrimp and masses of fried pork, the weekends had been spent with the Rolling Stones or some other rock band of the epoch, perhaps Cuba would not have known the Gray Period in the ’70s.

Later, everything was pure cynicism. The Cuban leaders always hated rock, Western influence, books of foreign authors and the consumer market. They thought that the flock of sheep that is the Cuban people ought to be immunized against the “brutal and decadent capitalist society.”

Therefore, zero short-wave broadcasts, music, styles and foreign pleasures. They wanted those long-hair types and druggies who composed strange songs to remain very far away from the proletarian and internationalist archipelago.

When the air from the East began to blow, indicators that the “brothers in the socialist camp” were tired of collective societies, repression and unanimous thought, then the comandante and his generals decided to paint over some things.

They named a minister of culture with long hair, who perhaps in his youth had listened to prohibited music. But as soon as he entered into the martial discipline of the Communist Party, he had to trade his tastes and sing loud and clear the marches and hymns that Fidel Castro liked.

The summit of impudence was to erect a statue to John Lennon in a park in Vedado, in Havana.

lenon.jpg

And very serious and with remorseful faces, celebrate in Havana the 8th of December, the day Lennon was assassinated in New York. One of so many ways to insult peoples’ intelligence. Because when the ex-Beatle was alive, in order to listen to him, you had to be a prisoner in Cuba.

Also, they are now paying homage to the playwright Virgilio Piñera and the writer José Lezama Lima. If the comandantes and generals have demonstrated something on the island, it’s that they know how to take advantage of the figures of culture, above all after they’re dead. Although I do have one doubt.

If in the hypothetical case that the Castro dynasty lasts 100 years. would they raise statues to the poet Raúl Rivero, the blogger Yoani Sánchez or the opposition figure Oscar Elías Biscet? From a regime as surrealistic as this one, anything can be expected.

Perhaps, if the commandante and his generals had danced to rock, none of this would have happened. And our country would be enjoying democracy. It’s symptomatic, in societies that are not closed, that the leaders enjoy rock music. In Cuba it could not be different.

Iván Garcia

Translated by Regina

Bad Luck

If bad luck had a name it would be Antonio Fonseca.  An enormous black man of almost 400 pounds, with a wide nose, sharp cheekbones and lips two fingers thick, who was born one cold, wet night in January 1981.

His mother, stark raving mad, set her husband and son on fire, when the latter was three years old. The father died. Fonseca still has visible marks on his entire body. And he still wonders what his mother’s motive was for her macabre pyromania.

Not having any family to take care of the little boy, from the age of three he lived in a state orphanage to the south of Havana, very close to the José Martí International Airport.

“In my childhood I had very few happy moments. One of them was when I was 10 and a group of us escaped from school to go watch the big planes take off and land.”

Antonio, wearing dirty, discolored, denim shorts, was seated on a wooden bench, in the shack where he lives, in the heart of Havana. On his nude torso you can see large bruises, produced by the burns of his disturbed mother.

“I don’t know the name of the woman who gave birth to me. I have never wanted to know about her; I only know that she spent many years in prison,” recounted Fonseca, while he took a drag on his cigarette.

He finished the 5th grade with great difficulty. And since he was 12 years old, the only thing he knows how to do is to commit small crimes and smoke marijuana. In spite of looking like a basketball player, he is not a violent guy. No. The three times he went to prison were for possession of drugs for his own consumption, It’s been a year since he was referred to a drug addiction clinic. But nothing helped him get better.

“I feel better when I’m high, only then can I sleep and hope for another day.”

And his eyes shine brightly. He works as a construction worker and does any work in the neighborhood, from finishing a patio and clearing debris, to filling buckets with water. Then, with the money, he buys a couple of joints at 25 pesos each. And on dark nights he feels like he’s in the clouds when he walks through Brotherhood Park, in the direction of Monte and Cienfuegos, in search of a cheap whore to calm his sexual appetites.

His minor crimes, to get some money, usually consist of stealing lightbulbs or chairs from some house. The money, of course, is destined to buy marijuana. This was Antonio Fonseca’s vicious circle. A big baby who could barely read and write. A prisoner of drugs. A sick guy whom luck avoided.

But the culmination, just a few days ago, was that in the tenement where he lives there was an over-the-top police operation. As usual, Antonio was high. And with his red, bleary eyes, he found himself accused of a violent robbery. A witness recognized him as the man who savagely beat a young person in order to steal his gold chain.

He swore to the authorities, on the mother he never new, that he was innocent. But confronted with a guy from a dissipated life with prior crimes, the police had already closed the file on the case. He remained in jail, hoping they would take him to preventive detention, where he would wait for his trial.

The prosecutor is requesting a penalty of 25 years. Without family, children or friends, Antonio Fonseca knows what fate awaits him. “No one can do anything without luck,” he used to say. He was right. Luck was never his ally.

Iván García

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Poet Was Listening to Boleros

I saw him. It was he. He did not recognize me, engrossed as he was, in a bar on Belascoaín Street, listening to one of Orlando Contreras’ boleros, or perhaps it was La Lupe, with “Yours is Pure Theater,” on a decrepit, recycled RCA Victor record player.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, September 8. An almost desert-like heat seemed to melt the asphalt in Havana. Without a drop of breeze. People were crowing into a dirty little store on Sitios Street, trying to cool off from the heat wave by drinking a tasteless juice, with a slight taste of orange.

It was the day of the Virgin of Charity. Dressed in yellow, many people were walking quickly toward the Church of the Virgin, located on Salud Street, at the corner of Manrique. At 6:00 in the evening, a procession would leave from there with the patron saint of Cuba, to walk through the streets of Central Havana.

To kill time, I sat down in a bar with a blackened mahogany counter. And as if it were a miracle of “Cachita,” when I turned my head, I saw the poet Raúl Rivero playing dice with the bard Rafael Alcides and the journalist Reinaldo Escobar.

A record player salvaged from some warehouse of useless objects offered a recital of boleros. From the two Orlandos, Contreras and Vallejo, continuing with La Lupe and Blanca Rosa Gil, up to Freddy, that voice that puts meat on the chicken.

Reinaldo and Alcides were drinking out of glasses, in no hurry, from a bottle of Caney rum, aged seven years. The plump Rivero, with closed eyes, was enjoying the music, while in his fingers a mentholated cigarette threatened to burn his hand.

I did not want to call him. I did not want to break the spell. But I swear that the man with glasses, seated with his friends among drinks, dice and boleros, was he. The poet who in his last years in Havana lived on Peñalver Street, in the La Victoria neighborhood. He had come back in disguise. To this Havana in 2009, without charms or spells. But with something to put under my pillow at night to fall asleep.

Yes, I saw Raúl Rivero. One of my journalistic icons, who for seven years directed me at the Cuba Press Agency. It was in the middle of the ’90s, until the fateful spring of 2003, when an arrogant and closed government, that did not want – and does not want – to permit ideas and poems to be published on their merits, sentenced the poet of La Victoria to 20 years in jail.

At that time I was a novice wanting to consume the world. His journalistic advice was engraved on me forever. For me, a one-hour chat with Rivero represented years of classes in any school of journalism.

One cold afternoon in the spring of 2004, he left Canaleta prison, in Ciego de Ávila, the land where in 1945 he saw the birth of a world war, recently ended. He marched into a hard exile with his native land and his friends on his back. Also his manias.

In the splendid city of Madrid, a stranger to the city and its people, to boleros and record players. For that day of the Patron Saint, he jumped over to Havana. And I discovered him seated, listening to boleros, in a bar on Belascoaín Street. It must have been a miracle of the Virgin.

Iván García

Translated by Regina