New Chapter in the Saga of the Snitches / Iván García

Just like 8 years ago. The ghosts of the Black Spring of 2003 seem to fly again over the skies of Havana. On a Cuban television program, the regime’s Special Services unveiled two of their moles inside the peaceful opposition.

These are the cases of the “independent journalist” Carlos Serpa Maceira and the “dissident” Moses Rodriguez. For 25 minutes, the two of them painted a pathetic picture of internal dissent and independent reporting on the island.

They accused several opposition leaders of being corrupt and serving the United States. Nothing new. In addition to mediocrity and the small ability of the Cuban dissidence to call people together, Castro’s Secret Service has always penetrated various opposition groups to do its dirty work.

These episodes, which occur from time to time in Cuba, are far from being a brilliant spy operation. Dissident groups on the island work openly and publicly, and there is no need to be a spymaster to infiltrate any of their organizations.

It’s as simple as knocking on the door of any opposition party and saying that you want to join. Already by the spring of 2003, it had come to light that various agents of the political police served as witnesses for the prosecution in the summary trials carried out against the 75 imprisoned dissidents.

Everyone who disagrees with the Castro government knows that in one way or another, they are being monitored by the toughs of State Security. They can listen in on your phone calls. Read your email. And they have complete dossiers on your personal life.

That’s not something that overly bothers the independent journalists, human rights activists, bloggers and dissidents. The striking thing about this, and what could be the real purpose of the message released by the regime in Havana that night, is to transmit fear and paranoia to the opposition.

These are difficult times for the regime. Excepting North Korea, China and Cuba, the tide is turning for nations governed by autocrats with many years on the throne.

Poor people, hungry for freedom and democracy have taken to the streets and squares in almost all the aged Middle Eastern governments. Despite the distance, the bullets are hitting near the island. No totalitarian government feels safe.

And as usual with the Castros, they are fleeing forward. Well-informed, the Cuban Special Services knows the majority of the population is disgusted with the critical economic performance and lacks confidence in their leaders.

The Castros are deflecting the blow, isolating the short circuits in the system. And in these cases, dissent is always an opponent to be reckoned with. Therefore, they make a special emphasis to discredit it.

The soap opera of informers, and imputations against opposition leaders and prominent figures in the blogosphere and alternative journalism, will likely continue.

What is at issue, is whether these revelations of the moles are an isolated episode. Maybe not.

It is not unusual that when internal problems worsen in Cuba, the Castros launch an onslaught of repression against all dissent. They have in their hands laws enacted to protect them. Especially now that they have emptied the jails of political prisoners.

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Translated by Rick Schwag

March 3 2011

Cries of Freedom / Rebeca Monzo

Last night at a gathering at the home of friends, there was a lot of talking and speculating about the cries of freedom that came from the Middle East.

This made all of us who were there question the different implications of why on my planet apparently nothing happened, and no one decided to take to the streets.

There was speculation about whether or not we had this tradition of struggle. Analyzing the various events that occurred during our history, we realized that the overthrows of dictators were not preceded by these street demonstrations. The strikes came after, in celebration.

For over half a century, we have witnessed several mass exodus: Camarioca, Mariel, the Maleconazo, with a single goal: to leave the country. There has never been a mass protest demanding freedom. The closest we came to that was during the great concentration of people in the Plaza, on the occasion of the Mass offered by the Pope during his brief visit. More than a million throats shouted “Freedom! Freedom!”, but it didn’t happen. Induced fear has been the constant in our lives. That, not to mention that the main task of us all during these decades has been to get food to bring to our homes. Here is where the people have indeed been combative. Many of these demonstrations, to get potatoes, rice, sugar, etc., have ended in fights, assaults and even broken arms.

Everyone gets excited when the distant cries of freedom come to our ears, and we would like to infect ourselves, but we must be honest and recognize that, as a people, we are paralyzed by fear, fatigue and hopelessness.

Translated by Rick Schwag

February 16 2011

Letter From Valle Grande Prison / Silvio Benítez Márquez

Valle Grande Prison

Havana Feb 3, 2011

To: Silvio Benítez Márquez.

President of the Liberal Party of the Cuban Republic (PLRC)

Dear Silvio, today when I have completed exactly 1 year and 3 months of being unjustly imprisoned, I am writing to you in order that the world should know, whether the European Community, Alaska or the 5 continents, that huge human rights violations are committed in our country also. A platform that the communist regime uses as a measuring stick against other countries and yet no one mentions the atrocities that are committed here.

My name is Lidanel Pérez Mullings and that of my partner in the cause is Ramon David Tornes Hernández, both of us soldiers and members of the Communist Party (PCC) of the Provincial Patrol Unit of Artemisas, with years of experience in the area.

Our unfortunate story begins on November 3, 2009, on being detained by the internal counterintelligence of Ministry of the Interior at the prison known as 100 y Aldabo, which is where it is located, placed under a process of investigation and accused of involvement in a crime. The two of us were held for interrogation and methods of torture for a period of 2 ½ months, during which no crime could be proven against us.

That same month, December 2009, in an interrogation room in said investigative unit Major Roberto Albolay, Instructor of counterintelligence of the Ministry of the Interior, and First Lieutenant Duran, head of the police cadres of Artemisa, presented themselves before me, communicating that they were going to arrange a temporary release until the conclusion of the investigative process on account of my having minor children, alleging that the Ministry of the Interior would not leave my family destitute and that they would continue to pay my salary which amounted to 450 pesos.

This was nothing more than a manipulative hoax by said officers, since from January of 2010 my family did not receive even a penny of my salary to feed the three minor children or maintain a house, where on several occasions the electric company has cut off the power to the house and have on three occasions removed the electric meter making cooking impossible.

This situation has led my wife Yanaidis Martínez Olazabal to the point of despair, saying she would take her life along with the three children rather than continue to suffer need and starvation. And on top of that, no body or competent authority has made amends by giving us signs of understanding.

I do not understand why the Ministry does not trust our words of being innocent. I do not know why this organization is so enraged against us and our relatives, knowing that we are innocent. Why throw my three children into abandonment, separating them from their father and without a morsel of food to put in their mouths before going to bed. Where is the proclaimed justice that does not put the leaders who lie and abuse their office in their place, allowing all these wrongs without being questioned and investigated. It is as clear as day that they are protected by the leaders of the country under the mask of the new man. A mask that will one day crash into the wall of truth.

Dear Silvio, I only mean by this letter to inform the national and international public opinion that in Cuba also the most elementary human rights are violated. Depriving my children of the right to grow up with their father. Depriving them of having money for food, clothing and footwear. All on the cursed whim of a gang of amoral people who have us unjustly behind bars. This is a true shame for people who once defended and believed in the nobility of the judicial process.

So many lies! So much abuse for two soldiers and members of the PCC for 15 and 29 years of service. Who were purged, condemned to a civil jail sentence with the bad blood of knowing we would have problems with the prisoners for having been police. A warped campaign of Roberto Albolay and Yusmaiki Pelegrin Pelegrin, Ministry of Interior instructors responsible for extinguishing our lives and that of our families.

To those who read our letter today, wherever they are, we only humbly ask for our freedom.

Lidanel Pérez Mulling.

Ramón David Tornes Hernández.

Translated by Rick Schwag

February 17 2011

The Borders of Choco / Miguel Iturria Savón

The Villa Manuela Gallery extended until the end of November the exhibition Beyond the border, of the painter and engraver Eduardo Roca Salazar (Choco), who according to N. Echevarria, “returns to drawing and even makes a foray into three dimensionality through a set of “sculptured” figures, the inclusion of “Choir” (2010), anchored in earlier works, in which collagraphy forms a structural axis.”

Choco, like Fabelo, Medive or Sosabravo is an artist with his own style and identity, indeed quite oversized. He belongs to the generation of the seventies and studied at the School of Art Instructors and the National Art School, which, combined with his talent and hard work opened institutional spaces within and outside the island.

His resume includes prizes, citations and awards for his prints in exhibitions in Bulgaria, Cuba, Spain and Japan; personal and collective exhibitions in and beyond our island, and works in collections of museums and art institutes in Havana, Chicago, Mexico, Palma de Mallorca, Tama, Kochi (Japan) and Germany.

Human representation is at the center of the eleven pieces that Choco displays, which plunges us into the imaginary intimacy of dark syncretic faces, reaffirmed in earth tones, natural sienna, black and white as a contrast. Their faces and asymmetric bodies — male, female or hybrids — seem to say that beauty is in the information and the artistic sense, highlighted by the relationship between figure and background.

Although Choco studied painting and triumphed with his prints, years ago he showed a preference for collagraphy and sculptures of glued paper, which require perseverance, craft, and a love of manual meticulousness, enriched by the composition and the work of color in each offering, whose corporeality and expression infers eroticism and vitality.

His geometric symbolism in “Reflejos” (2004-2010), made up of four medium-sized pieces of mixed media, appears as if looking through glass, not water. In these profiles can be seen traces of African features, palpable in a previous series of great visual intensity, such as the sculptures “Juegos de Cabeza” and “Bemba Colora”, tied to the ethnic origin of the creator.

The sculpture “Abrazos” (glued paper of 158 by 40 and 22 cm), asymmetric and symbolic, demonstrates mastery of the body and offers readings that break from the sensuality and texture of the piece; while in “La Siesta”, a work of background and figure, the color and technique enhance the expression, enriched by stripes, lines and numerical indications that hint at hidden messages.

In mixed-media creations such as “Beyond the Border “, “The Wall That Surrounds Us”, “Silence” and “Torso”, Choco demonstrates his figurative mastery in the exploration of the tactile, addressed in a number of sculptures, prints and collagraphs that travel from lyricism to a subtle everyday intimacy, but evade other realities.

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Translated by Rick Schwag

November 28 2010

Cuban Laws Destroy the Principle of Innocence / Laritza Diversent

“One accused is presumed innocent, as long as he has not been convicted.” The principle is regulated internationally in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but for the Cuban state it is irrelevant, despite having pledged in 1948 to respect the rights contained in it.

When it comes time to legislate, ignoring the most basic respect for the law, what matters is to apply “drastic measures and make an example of” those who dare to take advantage of the conquests of the “Socialist Revolution.” Nor do they take time to reflect on the guarantees that the constitution of the state is obliged offer.

In 2003 the Council of State, chaired by the ailing Fidel Castro, enacted Decree 232 which imposes confiscation or loss of rights, by administrative authority, on the owners of private houses or locales where acts of corruption, prostitution, pimping, human trafficking, pornography, corruption of minors, etc. occur. It also applies to owners who lease their property without legal authorization.

The application of this provision assumes that “citizens’ ownership of housing and land is the result of revolutionary work for the benefit of working people. ” It declares it unacceptable that unscrupulous people take advantage of the socialist spoils for profit and personal enrichment.

As can be seen, in these cases the Council of State authorized the Provincial Housing Department to confiscate personally owned real estate. The procedure is simple. The Prosecutor or the Ministry of the Interior is required to submit the criminal investigations to the administrative body which, after 7 days, gives the order to confiscate.

I do not question the need to “combat with major rigor and energy” these evils. However, it is unacceptable that in the suppression of this conduct they should violate human guarantees, such as the presumption of innocence. Decree 233 is applicable regardless of what is determined by a court in a criminal proceeding.

If those prosecuted under this provision are found guilty by the courts, they are doubly penalized. They lose their freedom and their possessions. If found innocent, they are punished for no reason.

In either case there is a violation of fundamental rights. The victims of this provision do not have an effective remedy before national courts for protection from administrative acts that violate their rights recognized by the State Constitution of the island, which “guarantees the ownership of housing to those who possess a fair title.”

Those affected by Decree 232 have only 3 days after the notice of the confiscation order to challenge it — through a review before the President of the National Housing Institute — but this challenge does not disrupt the exercise of the confiscation.

The Civil Procedure, Administrative and Labor Law anticipates an administrative dispute process against acts and decisions of agencies of the State Central State that violate citizens’ rights. However, the provision issued by the Council of State does not permit the appeal of the decision of the Director of the National Housing Institute, neither administratively or judicially.

The exercise of human rights in Cuba is restricted and violated by the law. Decree 232 is an example. In its application, it destroys the presumption of innocence and places the citizen in a defenseless position.

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 23 2010

Welcome, Mules / Iván García

Eliseo, 39, is considered a public benefactor. A guy who is always welcome. For a decade, this Cuban American has been a ‘mule’. He resides in Miami and makes some fifteen trips to the island every year. Sometimes more. Right now, from his mobile phone, he calls his usual driver to pick him up at the entrance to the Jose Marti International Airport, south of Havana. He loads a bunch of bags and briefcases. He will be in Havana for one day. His mission is to unload the 150 pounds of food, medicine, electronics, clothing, shoes and toys, among other things, in a house that he trusts, where later they will take charge of delivering them to their destinations.

Eliseo has set up a small business operating at full throttle, especially in the month of December. He charges $5 per pound of food or medicines, and $10 per pound of other items. To move certain goods controlled in Cuba, he discretely slips a hundred-dollar bill in the pockets of the customs authorities. In Miami he also greases the palms of air terminal officials. When George W. Bush turned the screws on the embargo against Castro, Eliseo always wrangled it to bring products and sums of money that violated U.S. laws.

“Now with Obama everything is easier.” The current occupant of the White House has taken steps to facilitate family relationships. Since December 20, you can send up to 10 thousand dollars via Western Union. On top of that, residents of the island can collect it in convertible pesos. Facing the urgent need of the “imperialist enemy’s” greenback, the Cuban government eliminated the 10% duty on the dollar.

On October 25, 2004, an angered Fidel Castro, supposedly caught laundering 3.9 billion old dollars in the Swiss UBS bank — something prohibited by the embargo — he announced a 10% tax on the dollar during a television appearance. Starting on November 8 of that year, the only currency that circulated in Cuba was the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).

Remittances from family members and the sending of goods by “mules,” in large part brace up the fragile and inefficient island economy. According to international organizations, through remittances alone the government allows some billions of dollars to enter the country every year. Darío, a 52-year-old economist, thinks it could be double that. “There is a lot of money that isn’t accounted for. It’s a source that permits the investment of money free of the State’s nets. The government knows it and won’t lose sight of it. It’s probable that in months to come they’ll stimulate it even more.”

In Miami, dozens of agencies are dedicated to the shipment of packages and money to Cuba. Meanwhile, Cubans on the island ceaselessly ask their relatives for things from disposable toilet wipes and tennis shoes to laptops and plasma televisions. If the embargo were to end, the interchange of merchandise and capital could exceed 5 billion dollars annually. And if the Havana regime would repeal absurd laws that prevent Cuban-Americans from investing in the country of their birth, the numbers could triple.

What’s certain is that the embargo hasn’t prevented families on the island from receiving money, by one means or another. Neither foodstuffs, medicines, nor other articles. Eliseo assures us that he earns almost 2,000 dollars in profit each month. “If it’s the end of the year, a little more. In whatever way, despite the fact that I live off of this ‘business’, it satisfies me to see the people’s joy when they receive their packages, or while you count out a bundle of bills for them.

But above all what sticks with me are the hopeful faces of children when you see them unpack toys and sweets.” Moments like those make Eliseo feel like a tropical version of Santa Claus. The families on both shores appreciate him.

Translated by Rick Schwag with a little help from JT

December 30 2010

Costly Dreams / Laritza Diversent

José, with his 35 years, dreams of driving a convertible silver Audi. His eyes are open, it was not difficult for him to come back to reality when his fan stopped due to a blackout. The heat of the night activates his brain. He thought of a solution for his existential problems.

He wanted to prosper economically, but was convinced that anything he thought up would carry him over the line to illegality, and with it, the possibility of going to prison. “If I were Mexican, I’d risk my life crossing the border,” he said to himself. But he was in Cuba, a country that strictly regulates departures from the country.

He devised a plan to cross the 90 miles of sea that separated him from his American dream. Building a rustic vessel that he generously called a boat. He invited his two best friends to join in his enterprise. Each looked for two iron tanks (55 gallons), the kind that people commonly use to store their water reserves.

They began their work in the living room of his house. First they sealed the containers with no more than 20 liters of water inside. Then, they joined them together with angle brackets leaving space between them to put inflatable truck tires. They only lacked the installation of the keel to break the waves, when they heard a knock at the door.

They jumped out of their skin when they saw the chief of the sector, accompanied by two policemen in a patrol car. First they said that neighbors had complained about the noise of hammers and engines, and then that they had information that they were building a boat to leave the country.

They came with a search warrant which they executed on the spot. They seized what didn’t look much like a boat, and took them as detainees to the police station. To their astonishment they released them five hours later, without any penalty.

They were naive, because 15 days later they received a decision from the Harbor Master imposing a fine of 3,000 pesos in national currency, for building a boat without permission.

The infraction, described as very serious, is characterized in Decree Law 194 of June 19, 1999, “Of the infractions with regard to the possession and operation of vessels in the country,” supplemented by Resolution No. 2 of December 7, 1999 of the Ministry of the Interior which establishes procedures for its implementation.

The rule issued by the Council of State, considers 14 offenses and classifies them as minor, serious and very serious, punishable by fines ranging from 500 pesos to 10,000 pesos, including the possibility of subsidiary punishment of forfeiture. The Harbor Master is authorized to implement the sanctions.

José added to his already overwhelming economic problems a fine that exceeds what he could legally earn in a year. They say it costs nothing to dream, but trying to realize a dream can be very expensive.

Translated by Rick Schwag and Ivana Recmanova

December 25 2010

The Pork’s Leg / Rebeca Monzo

Cristina was all busy preparing the leg of pork she had struggled for, after putting up with an excruciating line. She jealously guarded a secret family recipe.

Christmas Eve arrived and Cristina presented the dish that she was so proud of, together with the usual black beans and white rice. Everyone loved the roast. “My friend, please tell me what your secret is,” and “Why do you cut off the stump from the leg? Does it have anything to do with the recipe?”

“Look, I’m not going to share the recipe, but don’t take it personally, but about the little stump, the truth is that I don’t know why it is done that way, my mother did it like that and she says that’s how my grandmother did it. Better we should ask her.”

Days later when they went to grandma’s house, the famous little leg and its amputation came up in the conversation.

Faced with the unusual question, the grandmother, who was very old already but who has perfect memory, responded with an angelic smile and declared, “My girl, there is no mystery here! What happened was that the oven in my kitchen was very small so we had to cut the leg so it would fit. What I don’t understand is why you and your mom still do the same, even though you have larger ovens!”

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 25, 2010

Cuba Also Has Anti-immigrant Laws / Laritza Diversent

Not infrequently, the Cuban government has spoken out against anti-immigrant laws in developed countries. However, nobody could imagine that there are legal regulations on the island similar to SB 1070, which was passed by U.S. state of Arizona on April 23 and which authorizes state police to arrest people suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

In 2008 the National Assembly expressed its rejection of the Return Directive approved by the European Parliament, calling it a blatant and shameful violation of human rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and various international regulations. However, it lets the government punish a citizen who stays in the nation’s capital without permission.

The only difference between the U.S. state and Cuba is that, the former adopted a single legal standard, and on the island there are several: Decree 217 “Internal Immigration Regulations for Havana” of 1997, Decree No. 248, “System of Identification and Registration of Voters” and its rules, and Resolution No. 6 / 07 of the Interior Ministry, both from 2007.

The last two make it illegal for a citizen to live in a new home for more than 30 days without submitting a change of address and his entry in the Registry of Addresses. In addition they require that Cubans over the age of 16 must carry and show identification to the authorities and their agents, whenever requested.

Since 1971, the Cuban government controls the movement of citizens within the national territory, through the Population Registry and Registry of Addresses. These institutions are run by the Ministry of the Interior, a State body responsible for controlling the country’s internal and external migration, complemented by the record books kept by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

For its part, Decree 217 prevents people from other provinces from residing in Havana, the capital of the country, without prior government authorization.

The regulation issued by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers establishes a system of personal offenses punishable by fines ranging from 200 pesos to 1000 pesos in national currency, for those who violate its provisions. In every case it requires the offenders to return immediately to their place of origin

The application of this provision also violates personal freedom because the law enforcement agencies are authorized to detain, arrest and deport to their places of origin, people suspected of being an illegal in the capital. However, no criminal regulation criminalizes the stay in the capital as a crime.

There is no doubt about the hypocritical attitude of a government that defines itself as a defender of human rights and criticizes the European Union and the United States for their anti-immigrant policies, when it severely restricts its own nationals from freedom of movement within the island.

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 27, 2010

One Year for “Crossing the Barbed Wire” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I would have liked to have a public celebration in an internet cafe because in every respect this blog is not mine alone, but it also belongs to my readers and friends. But reality imposes itself and I know I am far from such merrymaking.

The generosity of a group of people has allowed me to post from a physical and technological distance, living in this little town in the center of eastern Cuba.

The kindness of some kids (I am nearly double their ages) have made it possible to have my work read in English, French, and, God willing, in a few days in Polish, and this, for a writer whose books haven’t sold 500 copies, is an unbelievable celebration.

It’s been a year and writing this diary, this road map of the Cuban reality has given me a passport to some police cells, a gang of outlaws who watch my house every day (they make a living out of that), and has placed my name on the lists of various highway checkpoints. That is not a record, or even a good average, just the response of a wounded animal: the absolute power that does not permit fingers to point out its stains.

A balance sheet of the road taken reassures me that the whippings for not bowing down have been greater than the awards and nominations, but this will serve as a reminder of what happens in my country, not a wailing wall or a tourist postcard. Those who seek to discredit me: thank you for the time that you dedicate to me, the actions of the regime you defend give me reasons and strength to continue. To those who encourage me: “Rosi de Cuba,” “Armienne,” Lory,” “Gabriel” and everyone else, thank you, I humbly say, thank you, I will try to be more objective every day, you’ll see.

The interest of Yoani Sanchez so that I could open this weapon against the human rights violators and those who think they own this country has made this part of the blog possible. To her, I express my gratitude.

Finally, my faithful administrator, that person who from the North Pole will continue being a guajira, and a good soul beyond compare, thank you.

What I can say with all the pleasure of the world is that this is a blog that is made in fragments, between the horror that I see, and that my countrymen tell me about, the little I know about writing to put these stories together, and the commentary of the readers, for all that, applaud yourselves. Greater efforts will come. Congratulations.

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 26 2010

Promise Keepers / Iván García

They are already arriving and being noticed. Afternoon comes to Santiago de las Vegas, a town south of Havana, with low houses and dusty streets. The followers of Saint Lazarus move along the road, dressed in clothes made of jute bags and dragging huge stones.

A person with a bunch of leaves goes before them, making a gesture as if cleaning the road. In a rough wooden cart, a good sized image of the saint of lepers. And a piggy bank for the curious to put small coins in.

They are the promise keepers. People who feel they owe their life and happiness to the miraculous saint. Anecdotes abound. A fat lady does an act on the road. She has dragged herself from a neighborhood of Marianao to El Rincón, where the church dedicated to the worship of Saint Lazarus is found.

The woman walked over 15 kilometers. According to her, she was condemned to die from cancer. She entrusted herself to “to the old Lazarus,” as he is known in Cuba, and the cancer disappeared.

From that moment, she promised that every December 16 she would crawl on her knees to offer her tribute to the saint. And today is the day. It is freezing.

During the week in that area, the thermometer fell to 44 degrees Fahrenheit. An unusual temperature in Cuba. If you add the high humidity, the wind chill is 33 degrees or less. But those who are fulfilling their promises are not stopped by cold or by distance. Ubaldo comes from Bayamo, a city over 500 miles from Havana.

On arriving, together with a few with relatives at the train station in the old part of town, he put together a great four-wheeled wagon. He placed a dazzling portrait of the saint inside. He put on a pair of short pants made out of a sack, and without a shirt, at the risk of catching pneumonia, began to drag himself towards el Rincón.

At times he stops and takes a big swig of cheap rum. People encourage him. One of his sons says the old man had suffered paralysis in his legs. The doctors assured him that he would never walk again. Ubaldo went to the parish of Our Lady of Charity in El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba. There, as he made his pleas, a pious man commended him to Saint Lazarus. “In a few months my father could run.”

Since then, every year he makes the pilgrimage from Bayamo to el Rincón. On the way to Saint Lazarus you always hear miracle stories. The atheists, who go out of curiosity or snobbishness, don’t believe all the legends heard in the journey. It is admirable to see so many people, many of them elderly, making a considerable physical effort to keep their promises.

Thousands of Cubans show up spontaneously for an appointment with St. Lazarus. They arrive in Santiago de Las Vegas, and along a narrow dark road about a mile long, they walk towards the temple. Along the way they sell soup, a broth made with vegetables and pig’s head. Also corn tamales, bread with pork and hot chocolate.

The government does not interfere. Nor does it encourage. The official media do not publicize this. Nor invite the followers that attend the parish. Although it attempts to pretend otherwise, the State does not agree with the Church. Of course, it does reinforce public transport and schedules a train at three o’clock in the morning to facilitate the return home.

It was not always like that. Romelio has been going to Rincón for thirty years. “At that time, we had to manage as best we could. The police were always on alert and watched us like dogs,” he says sitting on the tarmac after walking a long stretch on his knees.

As tradition dictates, the promise keepers rush to arrive before 12 pm in the sanctuary, to deposit their contributions and listen to the Mass. Outside, a concentration of pilgrims sing and warm themselves with mouthfuls of rum from a plastic bottle that is passed amongst them. Every time someone arrives crawling, they open a path, yell and cheer him on like a marathon runner reaching the finish line.

Sweating despite the cold, the promise keepers throw themselves on their backs almost breathless. No wonder. They have fulfilled their vow to Saint Lazarus.

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 19, 2010

Guidelines* on Christmas Eve / Rebeca Monzo

Today, on the night before Christmas Eve, the farmers markets are full of people looking for pork, yuca, and vegetables, trying to put together, as best as possible, tomorrow’s dinner.

When I came back from the market with heavy bags (that I had to take there, since, there aren’t any), two pretty, young girls were walking ahead of me, talking loudly about the topic of the moment: the January lay-offs, what people here are calling the month of terror. One was telling the other about the injustice of laying of, now, the great number of people who are going to be unemployed. The other said, emphasizing: “As always it’s going to get out of hand for those who are left, who are going to have to do the work of of the two or three people who’ve been fired from their department, for the same salary.”

“Imagine,” said the other, “It’s not our fault they inflated the payroll, so they could tell the world that there’s no unemployment on our planet. So now, not only do I have to type, clean the bathrooms, hand out the papers and update the bulletin board — how wonderful! — and all this for a salary that isn’t enough to begin with. AND, I have to do it on Christmas Eve and New Years! Already those guidelines* are making me feel bad, really bad!

OK my friend, now you know, take it easy and Merry Christmas!

*Translator’s note: This post contains a play on words that is not directly translatable. “Linimentos” (used in the original title) means “liniments” — that is ointments. “Lineamientos” means “guidelines.” The Guidelines (Lineamientos) for the 6th Communist Party Congress have been released, and the pun in the text is based on the fact that Cubans are apparently pronouncing “lineamientos” as “linimentos.”

Translated by Rick Schwag

December 23, 2010