En Route to Alamar / Rebeca Monzo

It was an afternoon like any other. The bus was full of passengers, with their tired faces and lost stares, going back home, after a day of hard work, or just working hard trying to finish the day.

Everything was normal: occasionally slamming on the breaks, loud conversations, deafening music coming from the last rows, the same as every day. This bus doesn’t go through the tunnel, it goes along a highway bordering the town called The Ring. Some people had already gotten off the bus, others took a seat. Almost everyone left was going to the neighborhoods of Bahía or Alamar.

Suddenly, in one of the darkest and most deserted stretches of road, two men get in the bus, they take out knives, one starts threatening the driver, while the other threatens the passengers. Soon, they go from passenger to passenger demanding their watches, gold chains, cell phones, money and anything of value. A lady who seemed reluctant was treated especially harshly. One of the robbers told her: Now, since you were such a pest, you have to give me your clothes too: the poor lady arrived home in her underwear. This happened just two weeks ago.

I remembered what the police officer told my friend, the doctor, when she was robbed. It’s your fault too, because you were wearing nice clothes and a gold chain.

I hope those unlucky folks, who were robbed and degraded, will not file a report at the same police station where the police officer mentioned in my previous post (see “The Victim’s Fault”) works.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

November 6, 2010

Pieces of an Assault / Luis Felipe Roja

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I

Martha Díaz Rondón tells me, “There were more than thirty of us. We took flowers to honor Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the word to pray for him and to say ‘Zapata Lives’ as we were leaving the cemetery as we have done in spite of acts of repudiation and other provocations on other Sundays, when there has been no accredited press.

“When we left the church the atmosphere was very tense but we followed the usual program and entered the cemetery. Leaving was the worst.

“We all were severely beaten, the men acted as a shield but it wasn’t enough. The men tried to protect us and put us in the middle. They made a human chain but the combined forces, trained to beat people, broke the chain and disabled us by force. They forced us onto buses with blows, including Reina Luisa who is an older woman with health problems. All of us were taken to the police station in Banes.

“There, the women suffered the worst humiliations. I was stripped naked, forced me to take off my panties and do squats in front of the guards. We saw the guards because they had the doors open. Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez, Dulce María, Prado Portal Barbara, and another girl whose name I can’t remember, and Romero Maritza Cardoso, all went through the same humiliation.

“Those who forced us to do it were women they brought from the prison. We asked them to close the doors because the male uniformed police officers, and those not in uniform who were political police, were there outside the doors and they could see everything, but they wouldn’t. The men were looking at us as they did the search.

“Then they took us to Holguin to a place called Pedernales (the Ministry of the Interior Training Center) and as if the previous search wasn’t enough, they did the same thing all over again. They stripped me, made me take off my blouse and everything, and then made me do squats while pulling down my pants. In this place they put us in the cells and we were there until Monday night, when they returned us to our hometowns but not without giving us a warning letter. They said they were going to charge us with Law 88, which we all know as the Gag Law. None of us ever signed those papers and we told them that yes, we were going to follow up, and then they told us we had been warned and we could end up in prison.

“They were trying to intimidate us and keep us from accompanying Reina Luisa to the cemetery every Sunday, and from undertaking the ZAPATE VIVE marches.

“Today my arms and legs are all covered in bruises and I ache all over. They gave it to Gertrudis in her chin and it’s very inflamed, and Belkis Barbara Portal was also beaten very hard, Reina Luisa could not feel worse and her children can’t even talk.

“I couldn’t see the men from the other towns because they took them to Guantanamo and other provinces after holding them prisoner there in Pedernales, but those I’ve seen here in Banes and Antilla have a lot of bumps and bruises.”

II

Ditzán Saavedra Prats sent me a text message from his cell phone just as they were launching the attack against them outside the Banes cemetery. Then I lost communications and I believed they had been arrested. A little later I called to get more information about what had happened. He said,

“What I saw left a big impression on me. I never imagined that they would attack a group of men and women and beat them in that way. The only thing we had to defend ourselves with was our voices singing the national anthem and saying ‘Long Live Human Rights,’ ‘Zapata Lives,’ and ‘Down with the Dictatorship.’ They used every martial arts technique there is, kicking us, dragging us, beating us. Some of them put choke holds on us and I thought I was drowning or that they had broken my neck. The men tried to protect the women, but it was impossible. There were many political police dressed in plain clothes; I don’t know where they came from but it wasn’t Banes because I know everyone here. Those dressed in police uniforms weren’t allowed to beat us but they were allowed to help them force us into the cars. They forced us onto the buses and if anyone threw himself to the ground he was dragged.

“Brother, I don’t want to overlook what they did to Reina Luisa Tamayo and the other women. She is a dignified human being and doesn’t deserve that. They beat them, dragged them, kicked them.

“Once they got everyone in the buses and the buses hadn’t started yet they came inside and beat everyone with even more fury. And what hurts most is that no one saw that. Those among us who had cameras had their bags quickly thrown out and they took away the cameras and the cell phones. There will be no record of that day because no journalists came even though we had announced so often that we were going to March; it seems strange.

“I denounce the political police and the Castro regime and say one more time that Reina Luisa and her family are in danger and that we, the members of the Democratic Alliance, will always stand by her and support her.”

This time I am limiting myself to only transcribing what my friends told me. But this is not everything. The testimony of other victims will unfold later. If the information mountain will not come here to Eastern Cuba, we will go the Mountain; through my blog we will cross the barbed wire so that everyone will know that we want Freedom but we are seeking it without weapons, without hate, without vengeance.

When a government mistreats and beats women it is a government of assholes.

Television’s Amnesia on its 60th Anniversary / Miguel Iturria Savón

To the calendar of Cuban celebrations we add, these days, the sixtieth anniversary of the beginning of television, recorded on October 24, 1950, which started in the building in the Vedado neighborhood occupied by the Institute of Radio and Television, expropriated from the founders of the medium, who went with their images and sounds to other lands of America, where they found new support for cultural information.

With the expropriation of the television studios, radio stations, magazines and newspapers of the island, the revolutionary government created a monopoly on information to manipulate the means of expression and to gag culture. The design imposed has not changed in five decades. The censorship is evident in the National Television News, aired three times a day, and the mono-thematic Roundtable talk show, which underpins the discourse of power and promotes a collective idiocy.

I will not dwell on those programs that interweave half-truths and outright lies, because their fabrications spread in all areas, including shows about literature, history, sports, and even tele-classes that distort reality according to policy, understood as whatever our nation’s leaders perceive it to be, given that we are still governed by the same group that took over the country in 1959.

Six decades after that sign that surprised a few who expected a miracle in their own homes, television is essential. The small screen is the greatest means of entertainment and information to millions of people. Compared with television, radio broadcasts and productions of cinemas and theaters are just one option. The TV comes into every home and enriches or impoverishes the spirituality of family members.

Television, like the movies, relies on technical, human and financial support. It draws from the press and radio, literature, history, geography, political events and artistic performances, and sports, and calls on science, education and other areas of life that inspire its programming.

But back to sixtieth anniversary of the founding of television in Cuba, one of the first countries to broadcast it in Latin America, along with radio which began on the island in 1921. The radio stations, along with the television studios and channels seem obvious to us, since we almost all grew up with them and they are there, just press a button and sit and watch and listen, change the channel or turn it off.

Broadcasters now evoke the initial moments of our television, interviewing directors, writers, producers, actors and camera operators, in long appearances before the cameras, in addition to dramas, dance and music that marked the early times, and figures such as Enrique Santisteban, Germán Pinelli, Consuelo Vidal, Cepero Brito, Eva Rodríguez, Rosita Fornés or Manolo Ortega. But there are no mentions of the founding entrepreneurs or the stars who went into exile during the dictatorship.

And speaking of dictatorships, we remember that 58 of the 60 years traversed by Cuban television have been lived under tyrannies who “tightened the belt” on television and other media. The first, led by General Fulgencio Batista between March 1952 and December 1958, did not exercise absolute censorship. The second, under the leadership of Castro since 1959, has put the press, radio and television under the complete control of the ideology department of the Communist Party, which justifies what is excluded from the media, fabricates heroes and news, and draws a zone of silence around prisons, law enforcement, government inefficiency, political immobility, corruption and other evils of a system that has hit bottom.

The complicity of our television producers with centralized despotism has no limits. Nothing comes to the small screen without passing through the filter of censorship, one of the keys to converting the people en masse. We will see until when. On television a reporter will announce the changes and breathe life into a freedom where all voices will be heard. Only then will we celebrate with joy that transmission of October 24, 1950.

November 4, 2010

Cuba: Toward a New Political Scenario / Dimas Castellanos

nuevo-escenarioThe elimination of civil society within Cuba — solid base of totalitarianism and source of immobility — was accompanied by a foreign policy based on confrontation. The dispute with the United States, the rejection of re-entry into the OAS conditioned on the acceptance of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which requires respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, non-entry into the Cotonou Agreement — binding relations of cooperation — the refusal to ratify human rights conventions signed since 2008 and the conflicting relationships with the European Union, form a strategy to avoid any commitment to restore civil society, respect for human rights and democratization, and closer ties with countries and institutions where these requirements do not exist or are circumvented.

In early 2010, the convergence of a set of internal and external factors made the order of the day the limiting of immobility. Attempts to homogenize the social diversity, to convert the citizenry en masse, to ignore the vital role of rights and freedoms and to determine what, when and how to do everything, to override the human person, leading first to stagnation and decline until ending in a fiasco, which translates, to paraphrase Lenin, in which the underdogs don’t want to and the top dogs can’t, and a recognition in official discourse of the decision to update the model.

Emerging from the permanent crisis has its starting point in the economy: the lack of productivity, the stagnation, the importing of food that could be produced in Cuba, the decline in exports, the inability to return foreign funds deposited in local banks, etc., among other ills. An urgent need because of the fragility of the terms of trade with Venezuela, which are based on a political relationship that could vary sharply if changes occur in the South American country, as happened with the Soviet Union.

The first obstacle to this plan, known as an update of the model, lies in the need for external sources of financing, access to which passes through the release of Cuban political prisoners, which explains one reason for the current process of release from prison. Some colleagues say that the release of prisoners is a government maneuver aimed at changing the external image to access funding sources. Although this idea has its basis in previous events, it loses sight of who we are in transition to a new scenario that precludes such a purpose.

The politics of confrontation arose in the context of the Cold War and was sustained by the aid from the former Soviet Union. The conservation of this policy after the Cold War was made possible by the cooperation of Venezuela, for other than economic reasons, which could disappear at any time. For this and many more reasons, I am inclined to think that the updating of the model consists of the introduction of some reforms that, while lacking the political will for democratization in Cuba, will form a new context. The release of prisoners and economic measures such as a generalization of self-employment, including hiring labor, point in that direction.

The new stage, marked by a turn from the politics of confrontation to understanding, the emergence of new actors, public discontent and the consensus for change, could lead to deeper economic measures and other demands of Cuban society, such as the right to enter and leave the country freely, free Internet access, or freedom of expression, to name three of the most pressing problems for Cubans. Ultimately, politics has less to do with desires than it does with what is possible at each moment. The challenge is the ability to turn that possibility into reality, and that has little to do with complaints or hasty judgments.

The weakness of the internal forces due to the absence of an independent civil society and legally recognized, have to rely to some extent on the international community, which together with the release of prisoners, the Cuban government should require ratification by human rights treaties signed since 2008 and bring domestic laws in line with these documents. That and the inability to update the model without accompany the implementation of human rights, the basis of dignity and self-interest, the purpose of leaving the economic crisis is void.

If updating the model means preserving totalitarianism, the attempt contain an insoluble contradiction, for without the participation of interested citizens as active participants in the destiny of the nation, emerging from the crisis will be impossible. The State and civil society are two elements of the same system and the field of politics goes beyond the State, therefore imposing in the short or medium term a replacement of the totalitarian model for another more democratic and participatory. In short, for socialism, in all its variants, there is only one thing it cannot do and that is deny the idea of democracy, and so this implies structural changes that can not be subject to ideology. That is the challenge of the powers-that-be, and the strength of the forces of change.

The political history of Cuba is a demonstration that changes in the absence of civic participation of citizens always lead back to the starting point. This explains how, in terms of civil liberties, we have regressed to the state Cuba was in in 1878. People’s willingness to follow this or that leader, has resulted in a politics monopolized by elite figures or characterized by the rule of personality, messianic leaders, the use of physical and verbal violence, and the control over the private domain by the public power. That story tells us how inescapably vital are the changes in the economy and human rights.

Right now, the public reappearance of former head of the Cuban state has, as a common denominator with the past, the absence of the citizen as subject of history. That is our Achilles heel. It is not about imminent or nuclear war, but about that fact that we Cubans, regardless of that war, are threatened by serious problems in our backyard and we most solve them. Perhaps our greatest contribution to conflicts in other parts of the world would be to solve our own problems to demonstrate our ability and responsibility. And this has more to do with converting Cubans into active participants, than with trying to persuade President Obama.

August 12, 2010

Moral Exchange / Ernesto Morales Licea

Apparently the uneven playing field in the euphemistic “cultural exchange” that is happening today between the United States and Cuba alarms no one.

Week after week, artists from this side of the ocean continue to arrive on American soil, filled with remarkable talent, an understandable excitement, and a willingness to return to the island that, until the last second, remains up in the air.

Week after week the new faces of musicians, comedians, and public and TV people from the island appear in the American media, without, in my opinion, generating a serious and significant analysis about the policy between the two nations.

How do I see it? Both are turning a blind eye, while artists from here parade across to the “enemy” nation, without, in fact, any national repercussions in Cuba, nor approaches or conditions on the part of the United States.

The Cuban press – what else can you expect? – is not aware of the considerable flow. With one exception: to praise the attitude of Silvio Rodriguez who, right in New York itself, demanded immediate freedom for the Cuban Five, elevating them into a category of heroes for some, while for others they’re considered textbook-case spies.

Anyone who has not passed across the Yankee’s stages lately, it is because they’re still in line, or because the authorities won’t grant them an exit permit because they are not considered “reliable.”

The number of the privileged is ever growing. From La Charanga Habanera to Los Van Van. The duo Buena Fe as well as the troubadour Carlos Varela and the multifaceted Edesio Alexander. All have appeared on TV shows, or have found space to promote their audiovisual products.

Before, long before, Paulo FG had gone to Miami with the safe conduct of his Italian citizenship, and had generated a Byzantine controversy with the televised statement of his faith in the Comandante.

We later learned, also, that Amaury Perez, not satisfied with showing off the rare privilege of a satellite dish in a country where this is against the law, spent a couple of days in Florida with family and friends. In passing, he granted an interview to the journalist Jorge Ramos, in which some of the later paragraphs came back to us with great interest.

The comedians Osvaldo Doimeadiós and Carlos Gonzalvo, also went to enjoy the nightclubs, television programs, and media headlines.

And so that the name “cultural exchange” will seem real, rather than a farce, the government of the island allows the American jazz musician Wynton Marsalis to perform in Havana, with national acknowledgment. The American Ballet Theater will also arrive shortly.

This imbalance of quid pro quo is simple mathematics. An aspect even more striking, however, is that seen in the circumstances in which, under President George W. Bush, this kind of exchange was permanently dropped from the agenda, to the point that everyone has forgotten who most craves to be part of the “exchange.” Everyone has forgotten the artists based in Miami.

Despite constant requests to sing in his homeland, there has been no “exchange” with the talented Amaury Gutiérrez, nor with the salsa dancer who, hands down, has been emblematic of Cuban dancers: Willy Chirino. Nor have Bebo Valdes and Arturo Sandoval been allowed to take part.

There have been no exchanges with Pancho Céspedes, or Alexis Valdés, Daisy Ballmajó, nor even with film celebrities such as Reynaldo Miravalles and Carlos Cruz.

The list is endless. Everyone could add a new name, a new figure, who would shudder with excitement at the prospect of returning not only to sing or act in their homeland, but to simply reconnect with their origins.

And this implies irresponsibility and insensitivity involving the governments of both nations which, for the first time, agreed on a bittersweet point: to deny Cuban artists living in Miami a chance to reunite with their original audience.

Each government has played its part in the conspiracy:

The establishment on the Island praises and magnifies that Silvio sang at Carnegie Hall, to denounce the “unjust imprisonment of the Five,” and to confirm his unbending attachment to the Cuban Revolution. However, in one of the contradictions inherent in that system, official spokesmen say they could not admit Willy or Estefan to the Cuban stage, because these characters would come with a political agenda and provoke people. An amazing and awesome way to bite your own tail.

For its part, the Obama government has enabled a ghostly exchange without conditions or demands for equal opportunities. And this, in politics, is an unforgivable defeat.

How do we understand that the author of “Unicorn,” a paradigm of the Cuban revolutionary process and the brilliant musician of all official events, gets — applause please — his necessary visa, but that this does not, in exchange, imply a trip, for example, for Pancho Céspedes to visit his own country? Why instead of negotiating the characteristics of this exchange, is what has happened so far a virtually unconditional acceptance of “shipments” from Havana?

Gray, too gray, clarifying the reality.

Moreover, the most execrable of the Cuban “cultural invasions” to the United States is the adaptation of their discourse and the morality transplant than many undergo, once they land in Miami.

It turns out, if we pay attention to the statements that the singer-songwriter (turned television presenter) Amaury Pérez offered Jorge Ramos in that controversial interview, the son of Consuelito Vidal is an intellectual who, despite his revolutionary commitment, is noted for his criticisms and discrepancies with the official model of his country.

On this program, we Cubans learned that Amaury disapproved the White Letter, but signed the Black Letter by phone, supporting the execution of some of his fellow citizens, and argued for serious changes in the way of this country is led.

On his return to Cuba, the Amaury whom I admire for his boundless charisma and a willingness to always dialogue, also returned to his political silence and intellectual docility.

Another case of fear was that of David Calzado, director of Charanga Habanera, when he outdid himself in opportunism and, like a chameleon, changing his skin with ease, “varied slightly” the lyrics of one of their popular songs during their U.S. tour.

Instead of satirizing the suffering of the nostalgia, the longing of those who today do not live with their families, with the chorus that goes, “You are crying in Miami, I am enjoying Havana,” the turncoat decided to conquer the Tyrians and Trojans with, “You are enjoying Miami, I am enjoying Havana.”

Back home, in his comfortable capital, the song would never be sung that way, under pain of censorship.

So then, in what measure has there been a real exchange, and how far has a relaxation between the two governments reached, but only in a one-directional way: bound for the United States?

Without a sensible and sober policy in this sense, such a segregated and limited cultural exchange between the two opposing governments cannot be just.

I welcome the visits of my brothers to the nation Martí also visited and Varela protected. I support everyone, honest and opportunistic, mediocre and talented, Los Aldeanos and Sara González, Isaac Delgado, Manolín and Paulito FG, to express their art in any country in the world without ideological constraints putting a brake on their expansion.

But I support it, as a fundamental premise, because the opportunity to perform on stages beyond the seas should open the door for all, not only to the virtuous on this side of the water, much less should it be a privilege for those who change their morals whenever they change the ground under their feet.

October 21, 2010

“Guayabera-ing” / Regina Coyula

Photo: OLPL

A couple of weeks ago, headlines were made by the establishment of the guayabera as the garment for formal occasions, where once reigned a jacket and tie. The guayabera goes well with our climate and although other geographical regions claim its paternity, Sancti Spiritus, in the center of Cuba, is regarded by Cubans as the cradle of the garment, and is about to open its own museum where one can find the guayaberas of the painter Kcho, Garcia Marquez, Compay Segundo, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro, among others.

Who attends formal activities in which the use of the guayabera is now in good taste? Officials. At receptions and official functions they gleam due to their whiteness. For young people, however, this garment is identified with power and they would only wear it if obligated. But if they decided to wear it, they would face a serious difficulty. The officials receive this garments as part of a module of clothing, or something like that. But guayaberas are only available in the foreign currency markets at the following prices:

Short sleeve, polyester: 13.50

“Creole” linen, long sleeve: 38.00

“Compay Segundo” linen, long sleeve: 64.00

The Distant Hill / Claudia Cadelo

My friend Evelyn is a happy woman. She has lived through a thousand hardships in her youth but now that she’s nearing forty she looks back and the balance is more than positive. For me, younger than she, she inspires my admiration: her daughter is lovely, she’s cruising right along in her career, and she lives according to her principles and ideas — this latter something that is in danger of extinction. We met when I was seventeen and since then she has not voted nor participated in any of the scenes staged by the government, nor given in to fear or the double standards of the people.

Evelyn could not study at the university. When she was at the Lenin vocational school, her classmates rejected her for her politics. She went to the province and on appeal her class raised their hands a second time to mark her file for life. She was not an independent journalist, nor a member of any party, nor did she walk up and down the central hallway preaching the universal declaration of human rights. She was, simply, a teenager, half rocker, half folk-singer.

Years passed and of that group at the Lenin school almost none are left in Cuba. On Evelyn’s Facebook account she sometimes gets friend requests from those who once raised their hands to destroy her life. It seems they live in France, Canada, Spain or the United States and it’s like a big confession that washes away all their sins and gives them the right to demand unconditional forgiveness from their victims. But my friend doesn’t forget. She never seeks revenge, nor does she let the rancor fester. But, to the “Facebook friends,” and the little tea parties the group holds when they return to Cuba, they may get tired of inviting her: She will always say no.

November 6, 2010

MY SIGNATURE IN SUPPORT OF MIGUEL BARNET… / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Miguel Barnet, President of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union, is reported to have said that Cuba is moving, soon, in the direction of eliminating the Ministry of the Interior’s White Card as a repressive mechanism of Travel Permits. Putting aside the other statements he has been making, WE NEED TO SUPPORT THIS…! Leave your signature in the space for comments if you agree…!

es.noticias.yahoo.com/9/20101105/ten-obama-no-ha-movido-f…

www.diariodecuba.com/cultura/1601-miguel-ba…rnet-en-cub…

Translator’s note: The links above are to articles that report Barnet’s other recent comments: “In Cuba there is freedom of expression. I’ve never been handcuffed”; and that Barack Obama, “Has not moved even a single chess piece regarding Cuba.”

November 5, 2010

#SanGeely / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

#SanGeely This photo was taken November 6, 2009: they knock and they know what they are doing…!

Translator’s note: The day this photo was taken Orlando and Yoani Sanchez were kidnapped “Gangland Style” by plain-clothes Security Agents, beaten in the car, and then thrown back out on the street. The photo in this post is Orlando’s neck later that evening.

November 6, 2010

Dreams and Desires of Gays in Havana / Iván García

He closes his eyes and sees himself with a bouquet of flowers, the white wedding veil and an 18-carat gold ring on his right index finger. And more. Roberto, 38, a gay hairdresser, wants to be married with all the trimmings, with children serving as pages and, as he emerges from the Havana Wedding Palace, people throwing rice. Lowering his voice he said, “My dreams is to be married by the church.”

And it is not only gays like Roberto trying to get homosexual marriage legalized in Cuba. Every night, in the dark street that runs parallel to the Malecon, queers of every kind and age gather to chat, flirt, drink rum and let their imaginations soar. They feel they are in their element.

For some time, the stretch between Maceo Park and the start of 23rd Street, La Rampa, has become the largest gay club in Havana’s nightlife. Those who are barely out of childhood, like Arturo, 14, who have left school to live off sex. Or Raimundo, 61, who defines himself as “an old faggot, unhappy and suffering, who hasn’t given up on finding a stable partner.”

Roberto the hairdresser also goes there. It was just a night this August when he met his current partner. “I feel very comfortable on the Malecon. My life did a complete U-Turn. To be hunting dicks on October 10 Street, to have a place to share and talk about our frustrations and aspirations. It’s very comforting.”

Among the dozen homosexuals I consulted they all agreed that the good manners with which the government treats them lately should be applauded. Even the police, they assert, have left off with the bad treatment and beatings. They see Mariele Castro, daughter of the general and president Raul Castro, as an icon. “She has done a lot for us, the queers. Now we have a gay pride day, May 17,” says Yasmani, a 25-year-old nurse.

Ruslán, 21, with his hair in spikes and wearing a T-shirt with gold letters from Dolce&Gabbana, wants to be a haute couture fashion model. “We go to gay parties and every month we organize fashion shows in a theater, without police interference. We see homophobia in their looks, but they don’t repress us. When they look at us like freaks it’s like anyone, and sometimes they insult us.”

But the twelve gays I interviewed want more. They summarized it in three demands that are essential to them: allowing legal marriages and adoption of children; the ability to occupy senior management positions or head up companies; and allowing them to have their own union, association or party.

Roberto doesn’t ask for too much. “I don’t see myself, a sissy my whole life, sitting in parliament discussing important topics, nor with a Cuban Communist Party card in my bag. That will not happen, nor do I want it. If they don’t let dissidents into their Party, I don’t think they’re going to let us have our own, even though there are more of us than there are dissidents.”

What the barber wants is to marry his boyfriend before a notary and in style. Better still if it were in a church. The other, he says, is asking too much.

Photo: AP. Day Against Homophobia Celebration in Havana, May 2010.

November 6, 2010

So As Not To Forget / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Walking through the recently restored Plaza Vieja in the historic center of Havana, I noticed a large poster with photos with landslides, debris, garbage, etc., which read: SO AS NOT TO FORGET. I looked for some date and didn’t find any: when the photos were taken is not clear.
  2. I asked some of the young people, and not so young people, sitting at the El Escorial café nearby, if they knew what era the photos corresponded to, and without exception they said: before the Revolution.
  3. Respectfully, I explained to them that they were wrong, that before the Revolution there was an underground parking garage, a park, a cinema, a printers and stationery store, and different business all around the square, and that the photos correspond to the decade of the 1970s when all of Old Havana, due to abandonment, had become a huge slum, and they had to organize work teams and convoys of trucks to remove the accumulated trash and rubble from the building collapses and clear it away.
  4. I admire the City Historian and his collaborators for the magnificent work they have done and are still doing, often against all odds, faced with incomprehension and even lack of resources. I think it highly commendable to show each building or area as it was, before being restores, as this should help to raise awareness about the need for care and maintenance, but I also think that it is necessary, to avoid confusion, to clearly show the dates of the photographs on display.
  5. Without any bad intentions, only by omission, we could be contributing to further distorting the already misunderstood story.

The Period of the Silent Scandal / José Milián / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate

For Antón de Milián

Many friends, and others who are not friends, have approached me, interested in my opinion about this debate on the parameters or simply, the fact that non-participation in it could be interpreted as indifference, apathy or in the worst of cases… cowardice. Those who really know me know that I do not suffer from any of these three evils. The reason is very simple: I have no mailbox. But I have kept abreast of what is happening because there are always good souls who have helped me receive messages in some way and because I have attended various meetings.

Now, to the point. I never thought that Pavón, despite his ideas, acted alone. The phenomenon is more complex. On this point it is very easy to think that we must look up, but I am also talking about that we must look to the sides, and at times down. I have documents signed by him, evidence that was based not only on the decisions of the Congress of Education… and Culture, but a Legal Advisor whose name I don’t want to remember and other representatives of institutions, in this case the Union and the Ministry of Labour. But we also relied on criteria coming from their own Theater Groups or it could be from their Work Councils. Advice that in some cases they reconsidered and joined the victims and others who, from the beginning, supported them. Those who emerged from the famous hearings held by the so-called Evaluation Commission, came out with a ticket in their hands, with ten days to appeal the sentence, if they didn’t agree with it, otherwise they had to present themselves and face the penalties of the law against Vagrancy. Could Pavón have created this judicial machinery alone? I will not mention, of course, the ordeal we had to go through.

The story is more or less known and this is not the appropriate framework in which to tell it. But when this man signed, with his own hand, on my expulsion decision, that: “…His works AGAIN JEHOVAH WITH THE STORY OF SODOM AND THE TAKING OF HAVANA BY THE ENGLISH allow his literature to be categorized as pornographic and obscene” …he is not alone. There, in that document, are other signatures. And in the process, other names. He had planned the conditions before acting. And he received support from people who thought like him. And in the realm of ideas I do not know if we bring something to this debate by questioning who felt the same and who no longer did. Because time has gone by.

There is only one idea in which Pavón and I completely agree: a better world is possible. But for him, or for them, that world is better without me, or without us, the parameterized. The superficiality and naiveté–to put it in some way–with which we were tried, cost us a lot. And I refer to certain words that Blas Roca told Fernando Sáenz Peña and Lazarus: “The parameterized are a living test of faith in the Revolution, that the wrong will be rectified, because if not, they would have given up already… and despite there not being a place in different instances, they still insist, for that they must have great faith.” And of course there’s the argument that we had it once and still have it. And for that faith we come back and are still here. But for this case to have been forgotten in the past–where it deserved to be– it should have been analyzed and corrected at that time. It should have been spoken about and judged.

This is not about vengeance, and much less about justice. It was and is about saving a project of social justice that was above us and even above Pavón, yet it was he who truly suffered from it. He and his allies were affecting the credibility of this project and with this massacre it was they who served, on a silver platter, the gossip to their enemies themselves.. For me, this was never El Quinquenio Gris, the Five Grey Years; for me this was always El Período del Escándalo Silencioso, The Period of the Silent Scandal. Playwrights and directors, actors and designers, etc. have existed within artistic education whether the professor dares to speak about them or not. Because of ignorance or fear of not knowing if they were among us. And it is precisely these young people who are now professionals that I am thinking about. What will happen to them? Will they be willing to not make the same mistakes?

Excuse the delay and perhaps the large extent of my words.

José Milián

February 9, 2007

Translated by: Dolores M. Goizueta

Watercolor of a Havana Autumn / Iván García


Right now, many Havana residents are sending up last minute prayers that the hurricane won’t hit the city. The hurricane season, June 1 to November 30 this year, has been gentle with Havana. Thank God.

The capital of all Cubans has an infrastructure of tears. The Fourth World. The ancient buildings in the old part of the city crumble under moderate intensity downpours.

Most are held up by a miracle of physics. Decades of lack of building maintenance has resulted in Havana suffering more than it should from any natural phenomenon.

Avenues and streets are overflowing from a persistent downpour. The sewers are clogged with vegetation, or don’t work at all and collapse in a few minutes. The exposed electrical wiring decomposes in the wind, with gusts exceeding 35 miles per hour.

‘Paula’, the latest tropical storm, insignificant in terms of strength, caused 48-hour blackouts in various locations around the city. The Havana seafront is in urgent need of repair. Winds from the north or bad weather cause severe flooding that affects residents in the areas of Vedado and Centro Habana.

For a habanero, the worst that can happen at this time is a late hurricane. Otherwise, it’s the best time of the year. There is not the usual stifling heat. The nights are cool, the mornings bright and full of possibilities, the sun bearable.

True, the skyrocketing number of beggars are crowding out and bothering passersby in the main streets, parks and squares. And public transportation is going from bad to worse.

In the fall there is a more active cultural and sporting life. Although theaters are few and most are damaged and lack air conditioning. Like the movies theaters. Of the 300 theaters in Havana in the ’80s, in 2010 only around 40 remain. Almost all are rickety, the seats broken, the ushers lack lights, the bathrooms are as dirty as can be. Still, the cinemas of the city are preparing to receive a flood of people when, in early December, the curtains rise on a new edition of the Latin American Film Festival.

Also in the fall baseball season begins. Without a doubt the greatest show there is in this country. There will be about 50. And the government and the relevant sports federation intend this year to be the highest quality in half a century. I doubt it. With a Pleiad of young talent taking to the road to the American and Latin American major leagues, the old Cerro Stadium, in a critical state, does not augur a high quality season.

La pelota, “The ball,” as Cubans call baseball, and movies are still within reach of everyone. The entrance to the cinema and stadium costs ten cents. Outside, five pesos (0.25 cents) buys a package of popcorn… so let’s entertain ourselves!

The worst part of attending any event for most people comes when it’s time to catch the bus to go home. The next day, when the excitement of the game or the film is over, routine returns: the lack of hard currency and the headache of trying to come up with two hot meals a day, or a snack for the kids to take to school. We Cubans are already used to that reality.

Despite fears of a sudden storm, the evident deterioration of the city, the legion of beggars and a government that has spent 50 years ago shouting from the rooftops that this was “a revolution of the meek and humble,” I recommend a visit to Havana in the fall. It’s the best there is.

November 5, 2010