Seasons Greetings, Readers! / Regina Coyula

My Santa is from the Industriales baseball team

As the holidays approach I believe that everyone, regardless of what side of the ocean they are on, celebrates them. In every Cuban, however, there is some nostalgia–the feeling that the puzzle is never complete. So, I would like to wish everyone a warm celebration with their families and close friends, with the health to live and see. A virtual hug and the happiness for the dialogue we are creating from different points of view. This gives me hope for the future of Cuba.

Translated by: Lita Q.

December 21 2010

The Importance of Having a White Deer / Fernando Dámaso

According to the Small Larousse Illustrated Dictionary: A a deer is a ruminant mammal of the cervidae family equipped with shovel-shaped horns.

In the Pocket Guide for Nature Lovers Jeanette Harris says: Deer 86-110 cm. height at the withers. Tail with black tip, which contrasts with the surrounding white spot, which also has the black border. The summer coat is brownish orange with white spots, in winter more gray. Usually in herds. Forests and parks.

This is the information I can provide about the deer. However, I will not talk about these deer, I am going to tell you about the white deer, yes, immaculately white, which originate in childhood and only leave with death. Mine, which has accompanied me since I was six, appeared one night in December before Christmas. I think it was fifteen or sixteen, I don’t remember clearly, it being so many years ago! Well, that night of the year of 1944, my white deer came with seven bells ringing, galloping through the clouds and entering through the bars of my window lattice. I awoke with a grunt and opened my eyes, I found before me eyes blacker and brighter than I had seen in my short life.

“I have come for forever,” he told me. “From today forward I am a part of you.”

His words surprised me. I never thought having a deer! I don’t know if it was that I was half asleep or because I loved the idea of having a white deer, the truth is that I accepted. Since that night, he has come in December each year, more or less on the fifteenth, and at the end of the first week of January he leaves. I never knew why, nor did I dare to ask. It was enough that he came. I knew he belonged to me, even if he was only with me twenty days each year. When I talked to my friends about my white buck some laughed. Who has seen a white deer! It will be gray or brown! “White deer don’t exist,” they said.

Others looked at me with complicity and a smile on their faces. Then I realized that there were those who knew the white deer and those who did not. Years passed and I grew up to become an adult, which is how to stop dreaming, but my white buck came back each year and accompanied me. As I learned more I realized that the white deer were different: they were not worried about eating grass and tender shoots, they were not in herds, and their feet did not leave visible traces, even in dusty or muddy path. Over time I learned that their favorite foods were love, tenderness and truth. Hate makes them sick and lies put them on the brink of insanity. Then they kick like wild horses and nobody can get close.

Remember, I saw mine only in that situation once or twice, fortunately not because of something I did, but for something he had seen or that had happened when he trotted to our annual meeting. He never wanted to talk about it. He always said, “In our bit of the year we only talk about happy things.” This was real, his presence filled me with joy and gave me enough energy to live until his next visit. My white buck and I continued with our meetings until the seventies.

Then, for reasons I’d rather not remember, the extinction of the white deer was decreed. Those who only had brown or gray deer turned to look for the owners of white deer. The white deer was found slaughtered. I decided to protect my white buck when he arrived that year with seven bells ringing, I asked him to be very quiet and hid him in my pillow. This was repeated the following year and another and so on until last year. That year, upon arrival, I asked him to ring his seven bells. He looked at me surprised but said nothing. In recent times he had learned to keep quiet. We took a walk, something we hadn’t done for many years, and I didn’t hide him from anyone as we toured the city. Some could see him and some could not. Those who could not see him were saying, “What a fool this man is talking to himself!” Those who saw him exclaimed, “What an incredibly beautiful white deer!” Then I knew that many had not forgotten the existence of the white deer.

In these days of the year, I began to behave as it did when I was a child and young. After the first week of January, as always, he left. He seemed happy and his black eyes glowed. I accompanied him with my eyes until he disappeared between two white clouds. Since then I keep thinking about him. This year, when December arrives, I will anxiously await the return of my white deer. I’m sure he will come with seven bells ringing. It is important to have a white deer!

November 25 2010

There Was a Concert / Claudia Cadelo

Ciro in his uniform as Lt. “Telaplico” with Hebert to the left, behind.

This weekend La Babosa Azul and Porno para Ricardo played a concert in the distant suburbs of Havana. The concert was outstanding, my legs hurt from dancing so much and I’m hoarse from singing “El Comandante.”

I’m going to upload a video and then take a seasonal vacation.

Setting up the concert
December 21, 2010

…they will see me fight again in the Sala Kid Chocolate, in the Sports City or in whatever other place… / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ Odlanier Solis Fonte, you are a glory of sport and the pride of Cuba. Three-time world champion, Olympic champion in Athens 2004, a personality in professional boxing. Why do you think that the Cuban government – violating its own laws – forbids you to enter your own country?

OS Look, I ask myself that but I can’t find an answer. There is no reason to put up with this exit permit, nor an entry visa. That affects us all, but soon, someday it will have to change…. These people are not going to be in power forever. We’re Cuban, Cuba is our country. We have to protest, it is not fair, or decent to bear this injustice.

JJ Yes, we have to protest, but meanwhile, those people who followed you and still follow you from Cuba, and especially from Havana, can’t see you fight.

OS See, that’s something that hurts. To them I dedicate this fight and victory. But sooner or later they’ll see me fight again in the Sala Kid Chocolate*, in the Sports City* or elsewhere. I’m Cuban and proud of it.

*Translator’s note:
Sala Kid Chocolate is an indoor stadium in the center of Havana, near the Capitoilio. Sport City is an athletic complex a few miles out of town, where promising young athletes are sent to live and train, sometimes from childhood, and which houses various sporting venues, and the headquarters of the Cuban Government Sporting Association.

Translated by ricote

December 21, 2010

Tania is so very Tania / Yoani Sánchez

Imagen tomada de - Foto: nuria curras

I remember well the day of the Havana Biennial when Tania Bruguera, in her performance titled Tatlin’s Whisper, installed a pair of microphones so that anyone could enjoy one minute of freedom from the podium. Shortly afterward, this irreverent and universal artist went to Columbia and shocked everyone when — as a performance — she distributed cocaine to the audience. In Cuba, her gift to us was an intense dose of opinion without any gags; in Bogota she confronted them with evidence that drugs are the beginning and the end of many problems in that nation. The Colombian authorities were scandalized, but ultimately accepted that art is inherently a transgressor. But some of us who participated in Tatlin’s Whisper here, continue to be barred from entering movie theaters, theaters and concerts.

A week ago I learned that Tania — our Tania — has decided to found the Migrant Peoples Party based in New York and Berlin. This new party will defend those who were taken to the United States as children and now feel themselves in danger of being deported. She will also focus on undocumented Yugoslavs in Madrid, Nigerians who hide from the police in Paris, and Tamils who falsify their passports to stay in Zurich. Her new work of art/politics is grounded in those who, driven by personal dreams, economic hardship, war, family reunification or the unequal conditions of the world, have settled — without papers — in another country.

I admit I have the impulse to join this immigrant party, give than we eleven million Cubans are segregated in our own nation. There are pieces of our own territory we cannot access, cruise ships plying our waters that we are barred from by our national passports, land given in usufruct for 99 years only to people who can prove they weren’t born here, and joint venture companies for people who say “Madame et Monsieur” or speak in the cadences of Spain. Not to mention the severe restrictions they impose on us to enter and leave our own borders, restrictions that evoke the airport checkpoints where they detain illegals. There are times when we feel our nationality is like an expired visa, a canceled residence card, permission to be here that they can take from us at any time.

December 21, 2010

Cuban Society Seems to be a Theatrical One-Act Farce / Laritza Diversent

The newspaper Granma has called the meetings of country’s social sectors, to define what the economic model should be in future, an unprecedented and improbable event in the contemporary world.

The Newspaper is devoted to making us feel that we live on another different planet. It is sometimes hard to understand Cuban socialists’ form of expression. Is it irony or just a joke? I can’t call it ingenuousness.

Who would think to mention the word ‘define’ to characterize the supposed debate of the Economic Guidelines of Socialism for the next five years? One would have to be a demagogue to assert that the proposed policies will be analysed by our political leaders.

It would be naive and exaggerated to declare that 15% of the guidelines will be redefined after debates with the population in a system where planning and state control come first, and where the only economic actor favoured is State.

Let’s look at the Guidelines in their current formulation with an authentic and radically revolutionary intention, as Granma suggests in its propaganda for the VI Communist Party Congress. Let’s take two points of the Guidelines: The concentration of properties in individuals and legal entities will not be allowed; and higher taxes will be levied on higher incomes.

Let’s think about the problem: the island needs an economic recovery and Cubans want changes; for example, a free market and the abolition of the dual currency. Logic says that if the State Sector has a surplus of more than a million of workers who are already being laid off and if, in the new circumstances, they should support themselves in some way, then the State should give advantages and facilities to the new actors who are capable of generating the jobs that many families will depend on.

The Guidelines say nothing about these aspects. On the contrary, they contain obstacles that impede economic development and the social progress of Cubans. If they ask me what results will be obtained, vis-a-vis the public debate, I predict countless judicial processes for tax evasion, for fattening corruption and a flood of confiscations for illicit enrichment.

None of these topics will be on the agenda of the communists leaders for next April, when they plan to celebrate VI Congress. New policies are defined in accordance with the interests of those who lead and control the country.

Cuban society seems to be a vulgar theatrical one-act farce, and the majority of the population, a simple spectator. It is improbable that in any other part of the world the destiny of more than eleven million people would exclusively depend on the will of a few.

Nor will there be, this time, debate or a real discussion, just demagoguery. Everything is already decided.

Translated by: Antek
December 21 2010

Prophecy / Rebeca Monzo

At the end of the eighties, my son Alfredo, who had recently taken up photography, got a camera. He walked through the whole city, observing and pressing the shutter without stopping.

This is one of the many images he took then, in Reina Street, and to me it seems prophetic.

Slogan on kiosk: Shoot and shoot straight.

These are images I have taken recently in the same street.

clip image0063

clip image0082

Everything indicates that they’ve improved their aim.

December 20 2010

Human Rights Day / Pablo Pacheco

While the world celebrated Human Rights Day, in Cuba the government was repressing peaceful dissent and the Ladies in White. Some of us former political prisoners, exiled to Spain last summer, also raised our voices that day, in support of democracy, respect for the fundamental rights of all Cubans, and for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience on the island.

Several weeks ago, the Amnesty International group in Huelva extended an invitation to me to mark the day. Fortunately, I was able to arrive on time after missing the train, and so was able to describe the harsh reality of my country. I managed to help at least a dozen people to understand that in Cuba there is no government for the people, as Havana has tried to convince people for several decades, but a cruel dictatorship that systematically violates human rights and has turned Cuba into a nation in ruins.

It is the ideal time for the democratic world to support the Cuban people. To understand that we care less about the ideologies of left, right, liberal or otherwise. We just want to live like human beings, with freedom, dignity and by the sweat of our brow. The regime, which has enslaved us for years, is weak and isolated. To miss this opportunity may cost us many years of suffering.

Much news filled that day. The greatest media coverage was about the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao, whose government prevented him from collecting his Nobel Peace Prize. Personally, I do not think his seat was empty as the press reported. It is true that his body was absent, but his soul was there in the empty chair, and although the communist regime in Beijing has him behind bars, he is a free man. Human freedom begins with our thoughts and they can only imprison us when we allow our thoughts to be chained. The names of the countries who boycotted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony does not surprise me, because their governments are also enemies of freedom.

December 17, 2010

Note: Pablo Pacheco formerly blogged in “Voices Behind the Bars” when he was a political prisoner in Cuba. He has now been released and forcibly exiled to Spain, and has a new blog, “Cuban Voices from Exile.” We will continue to post him here, for a time, until his faithful readers have found their way to his new home.

A Fine Line / Fernando Dámaso

  1. When in a society fear find itself enthroned, there is a tenuous line that separates it from valor, doubt gets hold of citizens who start questioning how far they can go without being punished.
  2. Under such circumstances one opts for not taking too many risks and for self censorship as a means not really civic but so convenient to survive while waiting for better times
  3. This moral ambiguity hurts the individual consciousness and contaminates the social one, creating an ideal breeding ground for people without their own opinions, more concerned with repeating what has been approved and established, rather than with raising questions.
  4. Examples can be seen daily in our media, when someone is interviewed or asked to answer an intelligent question. The answers oscillate between utter vagueness and the exact repetition of slogans and clichés. Generally, what is said or written is not what is thought or felt, easy to detect when establishing a personal dialogue without interference from the media.
  5. This abnormal, unnatural and unhealthy situation does not help clear the way for solving our many problems, but complicates it. One needs to decide to cross the thin line between fear and courage.

Translated by: d

November 28 2010

Democracy and Subversion on the Bus / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

Once more I made the journey from Havana to Santiago de Cuba in a glistening Yutong made-in-China bus, which doesn’t belong to us Cubans, but rather to those “embattled workers” of the capitalist world who come to spend the summer in Cuba. It was the Transgaviota busline, a tourist emporium that belongs to the Revolutionary Armed Forces in my country.

Since these buses should not return empty to the east of the island, they are made to pass through the bus stations to pick up those passengers who have spent several days in line to move between provinces. This time I must shamefully admit that Raul Castro’s government has made some changes, superficial (as the politicians say), skin deep (as ancient Cubanology states), but there have been changes. Now, instead of poisoning us with the latest reggaeton or the last concert tour of Alvaro Torres through Europe (forgive me, fans of the Salvadoran), they showed us a Celia Cruz concert where she never ceases missing her homeland. Some young people behind me were surprised and they were asking why not show it. When we left the first conejito on the National Highway, the driver surprised us with a selection of the hundred best plays in the Major Leagues, and we saw Ordóñez, José Ariel Contreras, Canseco and Alex Rodríguez.

I don’t like the lovey-dovey music of Marco Antonio Solis, but when those Hispanic crowds cheer him on, I take my hat off and step aside. In a tribute that makes up the stock of any respected bus driver, Marco Antonio is greeted by former President Bush and when they shook hands, I saw the face of a Lieutenant Colonel in the People’s Revolutionary Army who was in the row next to me — he looked like he was recovering from a heart attack.

Afterward, the trip became boring. They started playing a few programs which were made in the USA, called “Decisions” and “Case Closed”. Everyone on the bus would just stare at each other in awe as those Hispanics butchered the Spanish language — and yet, they had jobs and they were apparently happy. The trip ended with a “Case Closed” episode, a sort of personal life program. In this specific episode, a Dominican man was being accused of exploiting a semi-mentally challenged girl. Astonished, he was alleging that he had not done anything out of the ordinary, stating that, “in Cuba they give you a girl for 20 bucks!” The bus driver started lowering the volume, while some on board were staring at the Eastern landscapes. The afternoon was arriving and we barely even noticed when the guy behind the wheel put on a bank-robber movie. We were hungry and sleepy, worn out by 700 kilometers of bad roads and horrible food service. But for 12 hours, we lived outside the heat of the nation and of its television, something which the housewives and workers who will now become unemployed cry out for.

This is also my country.

Translated by Raul G.

December 20, 2010

Falcor / Fernando Dámaso

My dog Falcor, or rather my son Anibal’s dog, died in the early morning hours of the tenth or eleventh of August. On the 31st he would have been 18 years old, a really long life for a canine. His body was buried in the patio of the Ayestarán house, along with those of other beloved mascots who passed away earlier. At least he’s not alone, his soul is already in dog heaven. He accompanied me faithfully all these years, always noble, always loving, always playful. In reality, from the first meeting we recognized each other: In the house of some friends near the Tropicana, along with his siblings when he was fifteen days old, he broke away from his brothers and with faltering steps approached Anibal, then 9, and tried to climb up his legs. When the owner asked us, “Which one do you want?” the answer was obvious.

From that day we called him Falcor because he reminded us of the dog-dragon in The Neverending Story. He was a cocker mix.He shared his joys and sorrows. He liked to play: Stealing toys, chewing the innards out of stuffed animals, chewing on shoes, catching balls and marbles and bringing them to us to relentlessly continue the fame. He responded to the command, “Closer!” approaching any object. Until almost his last days he was capable, although his reactions and movements had slowed, he walked like Charlie Chaplin, and he was nearly blind. I watched him fade away, like a candle burning out, and I was sad. Still, he had time to say goodbye to Anibal in June, during his flying visit. I continued caring for him, determined not to hasten his death, waiting for it to happen naturally. Luckily that is how it turned out.

He left a great emptiness and made me think about the relativity of time. We shared those 18 years and it seems to me they went too fast. I remembered the puppy, entertaining everyone, now grown and gravely ill, fighting for life during fifteen terrible days, with antibiotics and daily serum, watching him sleep, lying down and not getting up until the moment when he surprised me one morning with a bark. By the afternoon we was up on all fours running around the house, perhaps more cheerful and playful than ever. His greetings at the door, walks together, his travels, love for children. In my years of solitude he was my only companion, day after day.

At night he lay down next to my bed, and when I felt sick, he knew it. Giving up his solitude he was able to adapt to the companionship of Putica, Rebeca’s little female dog. They would compete to run to the door first any time someone visited. Putica died and we got Lucky, the new little female we found in the street, and he adapted to her and her street-wise misbehavior. I think she was his greatest joy in his later years and gave him a new zest for life. He was rejuvenated. Together they ran to the roof, fought over toys (his favorite was the plastic hippopotamus), barked at all the neighboring dogs and at Mitsukusu, the house cat, when he climbed on the eaves. He was good dog, generous and intelligent. More than a dog he was a great friend. Today I miss him. I spent 18 years of my life with him.

October 31, 2010

Lezama’s Hundredth Birthday / Regina Coyula

I still remember my first encounter with Lezama. In 1973, a bookshelf in my first office called my attention (another bookshelf, not one I already I mentioned) packed with a single book. The same book from the collection Cuban Letters filled three shelves. In the time I worked there, no one took a single one of those books, not even me, who knew nothing of Lezama beyond the fact that he was a writer who “wasn’t clear,” along with Virgilio Piñera, what remained of Origins, and others, almost all, today, glories of official culture. Lezama died surrounded by silence and only three or four of those who knew dared to go to his funeral. Most learned of his death the day after his burial from the little note appeared on an inside page of the newspaper.

Today a CSI team with Grissom at the head of it, just landed in Havana to follow the Master’s prints, discovered on a glass display case in Manzana de Gómez. These are prints of the ring, middle and index fingers of the right hand. Presumably these prints will be sold for a high bid in some curiosities auction, or even an art auction, considering they belong to the immortal hand that wrote Paradise. But that’s not all.

The National Jubilee which ends today includes the reopening of the restored house-museum, the publication of his Complete Works, a photo exhibition of his portraits, with associated honors for the photographer, Chinolope; the issuing of a commemorative coin and a postage stamp, and even the recreation of the the Death of Narcissus in a ballet.

One can only imagine that in his afterlife, Lezama is laughing enigmatically, enveloped in a cloud of smoke.

December 19, 2010