Sex, Truths and Video Cameras / Ernesto Morales Licea

Nobody knows her name or the sound of her voice. Except for her family or close friends, her individuality doesn’t matter.

And yet she is a kind of atypical national celebrity. Her image has traveled the island from one end to the other, smuggled, multiplied by infinity in hundreds, thousands of personal computers and storage devices.

Currently she’s not a student: she was expelled from school where she intended to graduate in Computer Science a few years ago. Her body shows the perfection of youth in just over thirty digital photos available to any Cuban who owns a computer.

“I didn’t do it for money,” she explains. The occasion just presented itself, and I thought it was fun.  The person who took them was my boyfriend at the moment. There was no money in it.”

“And what did he tell you he was going to do with the photos?” I ask.

“Nothing. We were playing around and he took the camera out and I started to pose.  But it wasn’t something we planned or prepared, it’s something you can notice in the photos, it was just spur of the moment. When we finished having sex we looked at them and he told me he was going to save them on the computer. Then he gave me a copy of all of them. But he made the copies on a computer at school and that’s where they spread from.

She doesn’t doubt my knowledge of these images. She knows that I, just like a thousand other people – mostly men — have seen them on a personal computer, some have been stored with zeal and have been a secret inspiration for desperate single men.

This girl from Camagüey is twenty-three years old. Her beauty is impressive for a young girl from a working class family, without extremes of skin care or silicon devices. She asks me, though her body is better known than that of the Giraldilla, not to mention her name. I nod. It’s the only privacy she has left.

In 2005 she was another one of those purged from the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) in Havana.

After an explosion of digital pornography spread out from the center to the rest of Cuba, the managers had to invest more time in meetings and disciplinary measures than in teaching classes.

The scandal had gotten out of hand like never before in Cuban society.  Dozens of young men and women from every state of the country had been photographed and filmed in erotic poses, semi-naked, completely naked, or during full sexual acts with endless imagination.

The existence of a national or foreign market for this type of merchandise was proven in some cases.  In others, it was only about pure enjoyment of new ways of sexuality, which extended throughout the population by the negligence of whoever saved the material; simply out of desire.

“When we had taken about twenty photos was when he went and looked for the other girl,” she tells me.

Because in fact, the peculiarity of her images is the bisexual practice displayed.  While in the initial pictures it was only about her in diverse positions, including oral sex with her boyfriend (who never appears), later she surrenders to carnal pleasures with another young girl, a roommate, according to what she tells me.

“Are you resentful?” I ask.

“Listen, I think that the only thing that honestly hurt me was getting expelled from school – she says. “I patched it up fast with my parents, they know that I’m young, but that I am also an adult, and I make my own decisions.”

“Tell me something, how have you been able to handle the publicity that those intimate pictures have attracted?”

Her answer, in this case, seemed to me so sincere it scared me:

“Look, that doesn’t worry me one bit. And you know why? , because what I did on there, and what everyone sees, is what the majority of people, especially young people, are doing when they are intimate. Or what many haven’t done but would love to do. I don’t have to be ashamed for something that doesn’t harm anybody. If I had killed someone, if I had stolen, that would be something else.  But for having sexual relations with a man and a woman before a digital camera, not at all.”

I am from the same generation as she is, and despite it all, I cannot get over being surprised by her shameless declaration. The phenomenon seems a bit striking to me. I think about the sexuality I began to discover during adolescence, and I’m aware of the notable differences that exist with today’s practices.

Not only because ten years ago I had never seen a digital camera, not even up close.  But also because not too long ago, the behavior of the most sexually active people still had an intimacy, hidden from the public, like something sacred and inviolable.

FROM ALFRED KINSEY TO TODAY

His name represented a watershed for the understanding of the human sexual behavior, early 20th Century.  Alfred Kinsey, a North American biologist and sexologist, was one of the precursors of the so-called Sexual Revolution that came a bit later.

Nobody, before him had spoken with such freedom and naturalness about the phenomena which were perceived by the public as pathological deprivations, or human psyche deviations.  Let’s say masturbation, (feminine especially, a subject which has not yet overcome its taboo) let’s say homosexuals and bisexuals.

“Kinsey’s Scale,” one of his most fundamental contributions, understands all the steps that, according to the scientist, explain human interests in the sexual area, with its nuances and variations.

In his books “Male’s Sexual Behavior” (1948) and “Female’s Sexual Behavior” (1953), affirmations like the following could be read: “Nothing that takes place between two adults, during their intimacy, and with the consent of both parties, can be considered sick or unacceptable. The supposed immorality is another social farce.

Also, provocations as such: “If all human beings would come together at a stadium, for example, and each one confessed aloud their sexual fantasies, they would all discover that what they assumed to be individual barbarities, in reality area the thought of by almost everyone.”

I think about this, now that the sexual map of my country seems to have changed colors. It is notoriously changing. To see it, it is enough to sharpen the senses. It is enough to put together evidence, declarations. To study with a magnifier the reality that surrounds us, to discover that, to the surprise of many, while in the sociopolitical plan the Island is still the same as a few years ago, Cuban sexuality has experienced an evident transformation, especially in its younger population.  Mrs. Karelia Cobas Ordaz, Master in Sexology and author of a soon-to-be published book about new challenges towards sexual education in adolescents, also recognizes the same thing:

“Despite it not being a private phenomenon in Cuba at all,” she tells me, “this type of freedom is very interesting in our country because of the fact that in other aspects, Cuban society has barely changed. For example: In a country as sexual as this one, places to go on a date for occasional relationships are almost nonexistent, nor does pornography sell as a legal product. So it seems very unexpected that, under these conditions, the sexual practices in the young community have experienced such a notable change.”

She also affirms something very important: according to the data included in her Master’s thesis, the occasional lesbian relationships of young girls between the 18 and 27 years of age, in Cuba, surpasses by a few percentages the data retrieved in studies about sexuality in countries like Chile, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

According to Cobas Ordaz this doesn’t reveal an increase in the young lesbian population, but an openness to practices, especially feminine, where curiosity about of new ways of pleasure, lead to its acting out, for example, sexual threesomes where relations between women are frequent.

About the subject of “advertising” sexual intimacy, the specialist affirms:

“It’s a subject that Sexology in Cuba has pending in a special way.  Is evident that modesty, the fear of exhibiting one’s own body in a public way, has yielded the field to other types of behavior.  It’s true: many young people photograph themselves nowadays without worrying about the spread of those pictures. In many cases, they spread them deliberately.”

For these types of behaviors, which teeter towards the edge of very dangerous terms like pornography or prostitution, the Cuban Penal Code does not recognize sanctions.  According to what Alejandro Mojena Ramirez, a Law School Graduate explains, in this type of material, whether it is pictures or videos, there is no felony as long as the people involved are over age, and no monetary profit is gained by the ones who are involved in such acts.

The truth is that the number of young people, mostly females, whose bodies can be appreciated today in the digital Cuban universe, is not only very large but is also growing.  For some it is about a way of earning easy money.  For others, it’s a way to access new experiences.

While from the beginning connotation of a national scandal that surrounded the case of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) student was extended to the new “models” who appeared everywhere; there is no doubt this vision has started to change.  It no longer sparks extreme surprise.  All that is left is the inevitable disease and the lewdness that attaches to each new girl whose nakedness becomes common property.

How much do the positive and negative of these tendencies weigh on social patterns?  It is something that sociologists and specialists will have to determine. Or how helpful are the practices that don’t allow us to assume that sex is an act only of two, and bring it back to previous centuries, when the term orgy was patented almost exclusively for sexuality?

Meanwhile, I hold in my mind the last words from that exotic girl from Camaguey, whose flesh and attitude are a sample of this new era of Cuban sexuality.  Before saying my goodbyes from that unusual interview, she asks:

“It seems to me that at least in the subject of sex Cubans have stopped being obedient to the norms and have started to do what they really want. I think young people are very free in the sexual field.  Don’t you think that’s a good thing?”

And I, with an amused smirk on my face, say, “Yes.”

Translated by Angelica Betancourt

September 13, 2010

Family Remittances, The Surest Line Item / Miriam Celaya

It is a real irony that after 50 years of a socialist revolution in Cuba, the surest foreign currency income that the government is counting on today is the income in the form of family remittances from abroad. Such remittances, a monolithic truth, are, for the most part, sent by Cubans who live in no other place but in the bowels of the dearly beloved monster, since that is the place where the great majority of emigrants from this island live. This turns capitalist labor, the terrible imperialism, and the demonic currency into sources of continuing permanent support for the regime that — oh, paradox! — has led to the largest emigration of nationals since Christopher Columbus landed, almost by accident, on this, the most fair of lands.

Surely, the astute reader will have understood that the title of this post refers to the uncertainty that arises for the olive-green tower from the results of the recent parliamentary elections in Venezuela. Apparently, with the reawakening of the opposition in that South American country, after the unfortunate political mistake that had led to its withdrawal from the last presidential election — leaving the door open for the populist chieftain and thereby promoting his ratification in power — Chávez’s adversaries have gained ground in public opinion and today there is an effective force against the dictatorial pretensions in Venezuela, which means that things are going to be uncomfortable for the boisterous Mr. Chávez, who — after failing to gain the seats he sought with all the usual ventriloquists — must start submitting for approval his hitherto unilateral decisions which have allowed him to freely dispose of Venezuelan resources. Ergo, the horizon of the Caribbean military caste gets overshadowed at times in the face of the real possibility of the end or of a drastic reduction of Venezuelan subsidies in the medium-short term.

For its part, despite new laws that offer attractive opportunities for those wanting to buy a parcel of Cuban land for tourist purposes — provided they meet the prerequisite of not being Cuban-born — potential foreign investors are being a bit reluctant to a financial venture on this sort of postmodern Turtle Island, ruled by the most cheating and greedy pirates all time, where there is no respect for any agreements, contracts or foreign coffers, and is set at the whim of the capital of unsuspecting investors who once fell in the trap. There have been many a sheep who, shorn by the insatiable pirates, are still bleating their disappointment and showing their scrapes. Now the Buccaneers seek to lure none other than the pragmatic and calculating gringos, who don’t seem to have the urgency of the decadent military elders. It is an open secret that, despite the official media – just like a jilted lover, they keep reviling the “eternal enemy of the people” — all hopes of the Cuban elite are codified on the Empire: I hate you, my love.

And since, meanwhile, the stealing must go on, Cubans remain the perpetual victims, in this case the émigrés and their families in Cuba. Lacking an honest recourse, and in the absence of any other ability, official turpitude uses family ties as emotional blackmail to raise hard currency. An enormous number of émigrés — more knowledgeable about Cuban reality that any foreign investor, and appreciably involved with the fate of their family in Cuba — budget part of their income to the saving remittances that help alleviate the hunger and poverty of their kin, subjects of the slavery of this dismal plantation. As soon as they arrive on the Island, the remittances are taxed immediately and ostentatiously by the gluttony of the landlords, and converted into headquarter tokens (they call them CUC), with which the slaves acquire, at astronomical prices, products offered at the company stores, owned by the same landlords. No Way Out is a perfect cycle of robbery, “legal” and assured, because the dictatorship knows that the majority of Cuban émigrés will avoid by all means letting their parents, children or siblings suffer deprivation and will strive to spend even a handful of dollars or euros to ensure the minimum safety of their families.

And I hope nobody thinks that I am launching a criticism to those who send their remittances, or those who receive them. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy food, clothing, shoes and medications knowing my family is lacking them, nor would I deprive my children of certain benefits that, unfortunately, in Cuba are only available to a few. I just want to remind readers how subjected we still all are — or nearly all — in or out of Cuba, to the dictatorship’s diabolical machinery. The ones “over there” are forced to work harder to meet the needs of their Cuban family and to ensure the government’s free juicy slice; those “over here” are permanent hostages of the official extortion, and unwitting accomplices in the exploitation of their exiled families, with whom they don’t know when or how they will reunite, because the reunion also depends of the humiliating entry or exit permit of the masters. And in addition, these olive-green parasites, with haughty contempt, dare to call us “subsidized”! The condition of today’s Cubans is really sad. A regime that condemns us to so much material and emotional poverty depends so much on us!

Translated by Norma Whiting

October 15, 2010

THE LATEST FROM OMNI ZONA FRANCA / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

http://omnifestivalpoesiasinfin.blogspot.com/2010/09/protesto-todos-unidos-26-flow-de-los.html

Exclusively in the most recent issue of PROTEST of Omni Zona Franca and 26 underground Cuban rappers ALL UNITED against censorship and official lies.

Since last Thursday, September 3, the audio is distributed free inside the island and will be collected in several albums of Cuban alternative groups, to say loud and clear to the Ministry of Culture Omni Zona Franca Cuban culture is that all resolutions and subsidies together.

Since last Thursday, September 3, the audio has been distributed free within the island and will be collected in several albums of Cuban alternative groups, to say loud and clear to the Ministry of Culture that Omni Zona Franca is more culturally Cuban than all their resolutions and subsidies put together.

September 4, 2010

The New National Joke / Ernesto Morales Licea

Big Guy: I was a shoemaker and the Revolution made me an engineer.
Big Guy again: Now I’m a shoemaker again.
1st Little Guy: The retraining model is working!
2nd Little Guy: Long Live the Re-Use-Olution!

For the forward-looking among us, who lost their jobs before the Government announced its layoffs, the social chess game on this Island of the Absurd has a different connotation. Recent events don’t surprise us too much.

I, who was a pioneer in this expendability, will one day claim my diploma and prize.

So I opened the double pages of the newspaper Granma last Friday with a different mood from most people; less biased, perhaps. More “light.” When you’re already unemployed, little that is printed in the official newspaper frightens you.

Howling with laughter cleared my head. Getting to start the morning roaring gave me another lens through which to write the truth.

I’ve gone over and over the list of 178 new occupations that my Government benefactor has created for the support of its citizens, and every time the scene repeats itself: I start with a suppressed smile, and end up laughing my head off.

Someone told me not long ago: “This is a crazy country.” That is, it is not a country of crazy people, but a nation that has lost its sanity. This time even our leaders have contributed to the joke

I look at the list, ordered alphabetically, and I ask myself if any of these great careers would be suited to my talents as an idled scribe. After discarding “Tutor,” thinking myself lacking in pedagogic talent, I start to sort through them.

As a teenager I never got the chance, during my stay at high school, to climb a coconut palm and tear off its fruit. And not because it might have cost my life; my hunger was so fierce I would have climbed Everest. OK, maybe not this one.

I cross off “Palm Tree Harvester.” I imagine the fortune within my reach, but reason helps me to see my way to refusing it. If starving to death and adolescent hunger weren’t enough to get me to the top of a coconut palm…

2. In my house there’s a talking parrot and a dwarf turtle which, although nearly 20 years old, fits in the palm of a hand. With the profession of “renter of animals” now approved, I searched my brain trying to figure out how I could exploit the pets in my home, and in this way reactivate my non-existent economy.

The parrot is such an egomaniac that 99 percent of its entire repertoire starts with it mumbling its own name. It is also surly and phlegmatic, and I’m sure that the instant someone rents her from me to amuse their family, she will shut her beak entirely until the day of her return.

The turtle has the most boring existence any animal could experience. Except for filling the house with luck with its mystical ways, I see no other utility to it through which I might be able to raise some capital.

3. As the list is explicit, although I was trained in the art of weaving I could not exercise the profession. I would not be safe from doubts and malicious eyes. To acquire a license for an activity that says, with no margin for doubt, “Embroiderer-Weaver,” does not make me feel comfortable.

4. One of the options, which they’ve even marked with asterisks, is “Collector-Payer.” I like the idea of responding, when someone asks me my profession, “Well, I work at collecting and paying.” I could pass for an investor or a businessman, even if my pockets haven’t heard about it. Either way, a certain social recognition would attach to me.

5. Quite the opposite of those who announce their official status as, “Hairdresser for domestic animals.” True, it is an honorable profession where it is practiced, frequently in developed nations. But I automatically distrust the home environment of a girl I just met, for example, who confessed to me that her father earned a living cutting the bangs of poodles in his city.

6. There are some professions recently recognized that need a little public clarification in order to address popular misconceptions. Item number 156 says, “Dandy,” and no one has any idea what could be going on in the minds of our leaders. That said, some of my best friends have started to shave their chests, hone their muscles, and even buy themselves hats and canes. Who knows.

7. On the other hand, the newspaper Granma should have provided some kind of key to go with this compilation of legendary trades of the most mysterious and indecipherable; they need an explanation. I have to confess I couldn’t sleep thinking of the devils who devote themselves to the position of “Button coverer,” or “Book possessor.”* I think my optimism will be confirmed if I find that I am able to support my current and future family through the latter line of work. If they are going to pay me for having books… Hallelujah!

8. Not even the astral world has been passed over by our Government in its effort to provide every Cuban with a living and personal well-being. Now the “Fortuneteller” can read in peace, (license in hand), the future of her client in a deck of cards. Even guessing the fate of the inspectors who ask to see the license for their illuminating work.

Also the “Tropical fruit peeler,” could remove the skins of bananas and mangoes without worrying about being caught out; for a small tax the State will authorize him to devote himself to this juicy business.

The only thing not clear to me is when our sardonic newspaper will publish the tag-line that clarifies everything. The text that finishes off this incredibly original joke with which the highest echelons of power wanted to favor us. For a Creole joke it’s not bad, but we have all laughed heartily already, let them start taking us seriously… Deal?

*Translator’s note: The idea of “Book possessor” is funny in two languages/cultures: English/Spanish; Capitalist/Communist. The term is actually the equivalent to the English “bookkeeper”… But what Cuban keeps books? In the socialist paradise where the State owns all…

September 28, 2010

Is Now The Time To Eliminate the Travel Permit? / Ernesto Morales Licea

The question has been going around and around in my mind, with a subtle persistence, since I found our recently that for the eighth time in three years the Cuban government has denied Yoani Sanchez an exit permit.

For those unaware of the Cuban reality, let me clarify: This country of ours demonstrates, today, one of the most backward and arbitrary travel permit systems that can be found anywhere in the world. A system expressly designed, without failures or slip ups, to endlessly impede any personal effort to come to know another country, and, at will and without any effort at all, to impede the travel of an “uncomfortable” citizen.

This is one of those points where my socialist Cuba does not admit moderation, pros or cons, or lukewarm analysis: it is an official aberration, that we deliberately crush point 2 of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Every person has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.”

There are two possibilities: either we Cubans cannot count ourselves as human beings, and if so this prerogative does not apply to us; or, I don’t know how else to say — what other words to use — to stand in any forum, before any international competition, and categorically deny that Cuba violates any human rights.

In the endless arsenal of terminology and “bureaucratese” to leave Cuba, I think there is not other evidence more flagrant in the authoritarian will of the system, than the so-called “white card,” which is popular parlance for the Permission to Leave granted by the Department of Immigration and Foreigners.

A White Card because, apparently, that is a complete description of it: a sheet of paper where the Government concedes the questions and with immense grace allows you to leave the country. Temporarily or permanently — “definitively” as the latter is called.

So great are the obstacles to be overcome, so important the privilege of that card, that more than a few people, after obtaining one, make an offering to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre in Santiago de Cuba, a devout promise for a favor granted. The Patron Saint knows what that fragile sheet represents.

This Permit to Leave is the exclusive patrimony of the Department of Immigration. They grant it, they deny it. There are no ways to access the oracular voice that pronounces the Yes or the No. Although it is an open secret that the institution which, in these matters, gives the last word is: State Security.

The citizen exhausts himself in the hundreds of suffocating procedures, collects such a large number of letters and certificates that, with so much paper, it is an attack on the permanence of the forests; and in the end… he never knows if all his effort and hours of waiting for officials makes any sense, because the white card is never discussed. When it is denied, there is no explanation.

Now, looking at this through the lens of the new reality that, it seems, is starting to spread across the Island, I think my question takes on a different meaning. Is this the precise moment to put out to pasture this monstrosity, this Cuban immigration system?

And I clarify that with this approach, I only pretend to assume for a second the logic of those who erected the white letter as a compulsory procedure. Otherwise, my question would be disingenuous: there should never have existed such a violation of our individualities.

But looking through the lens of power, we can analyze what this prerogative, this faculty that the Government claims for itself to decide who leaves this country, as if it were a private plantation. Why, then? Because, in the nation as we have it today, I don’t believe there is anything they were trying to show the world, by establishing this Exit Permit.

What other purpose can they have to deny a human being the right to travel freely, except to prevent the mass exodus that would lead the world to suspect the truth behind the social paradise?

Or to put it more simply, at some point the white card must have fulfilled an ideological objective: preventing the testimony of those who abandoned the Island from destroying the Revolutionary myth of a united and happy Cuba. It was the same principle of those who strafed the Berliners who chose to tackle the wall and cross into West Germany. But let’s be clear: do we have, today, a mentally challenged world, incapable of reasoning?

After seeing that in 1980 ten thousand people took refuge in the Peruvian embassy; after the Rafter Crisis when young people chose the sea and the jaws of the sharks rather than the reality they suffered at home; after hundreds of thousands of Cubans chose international visa lotteries, Spanish citizenship, and the legal loopholes that let them escape this Caribbean island… In truth, what is the use of the iron Exit Permit? What hidden truth and illusion does it sustain?

None, save to prove clearly the militaristic character of the State that decides who will escape the fence, and how, and who will grow old within it.

However, now our leaders have added and subtracted points, now they have placed in the balance of a benefit-cost ratio, for example, repressing peaceful opponents with prison. Now that they have also launched a cry for help for the rusty national economy, would now not be the perfect time to rid themselves of the political cost involved, nationally and internationally, of not letting Cubans travel freely throughout the world?

I believe letting the white card evaporate, eliminating the steel barriers, and allowing Cubans to have the same opportunities to travel as the rest of the free citizens of the world, would begin to solve a specific problem: permanent — “definitive” — emigration.

Why do Cubans leave their country forever? Why do they “desert” (another aberration of terminology)? Those athletes, doctors, artists, who leave to settle permanently in other countries. Elementary: Because it is so difficult to leave the country, they must seize the opportunity. Now or never.

But the Jurassic apparatus aside, I am convinced that the vast majority of Cubans would choose to travel, to work for a time outside of Cuba, raise capital and, then what? Take advantage of the opportunity to spend that money in their own country, among their family and friends.

Like so many Mexicans do, who cross the border to earn a living however they can; as the South Americans do to find work in Europe, while leaving their family in their birthplace: returning to invest or spending their earnings elsewhere.

We all know that a serious percentage of the national economy is supported by… Whom? The exiles. The emigrants. The just under two million Cubans who have scattered across the world. So what would be the impact if those with capital could enter and leave the country, like other citizens with money, they could get on a plane?

Finally, I believe that there could be no stronger evidence of real change, verifiable, in the way the country is run, no better way to improve national opinion, than to remove these travel barriers. Cubans would start to feel respected by their government. They would start to believe in a will to find solutions beyond permits to run a barber shop, or depriving them of their jobs. And they would start to plan their lives not according to whether or not they will leave the island forever, but how they will come to know other countries, make a living with hard work and honesty, and then return home like the prodigal son.

Putting an end to the virtual prison in which we are forced to survive, would also avoid the rigmarole of the indefensible, the desperate explanations, when an uninhibited Cuban asks them why they can’t travel like so many workers and middle class and lower class people in other countries.

Ricardo Alarcon, the President of our Parliament, would have been saved, for example, from that demeaning argument that still today surprises us, when a Computer Institute student wanted to know why he could not go to Bolivia, to see where his admired Che Guevara died.  (“Imagine if 3 billion people in the world could travel, the congestion there would be on the airlines…”)

But above all, our leaders would stop using the sacred right to travel freely as a means of repression against those who choose to meet their arbitrariness with words and peace.

It is not about Yoani Sanchez, or many artists “who can’t be trusted,” or the peaceful opposition, or the children of “deserters” from a sport or a medical mission. It is about the fact that this is the right time to show, not the world, but Cubans, that our rights are part of the review that a more sensible and humane government wants to undertake in the country today.

If the arrogance didn’t cloud their reason, I think the logic of this thinking would ultimately prevail. By cruel misfortune, our recent history is marked by the disregard of logic.

October 12, 2010

The Writer / Fernando Dámaso

The novel had gotten out of hand. Although he’d been trying for day, he couldn’t finish it: he couldn’t find a fitting end. It had all started with a simple anecdote that seemed like it would make a good story. From the first lines, however, the characters were coming to life and demanding to act on their own. He let them at it and, when he wanted to call them back to order, it was already impossible. They’d outrun the limits of the story and had gotten embroiled in a long history, where they were influencing each other.

Dominated by them, he continued writing: simply relating, as a chronicler, what they did. It was all developing normally until one of the characters started to quarrel with the others about his importance in the work. They all wanted to be the main character. One night when he managed to get them together, he explained the need to have one be the major character while the others would be secondary. Although they gave in, before his threat to stop writing, they weren’t convinced and, from that moment the gossip, tripping each other up, all the other vices of human vanity, flourished in his pages.

He tried to mask them with baroque prose, but one or another line lifted their ears. With perseverance, page by page, he was putting together his stores and he felt equally pleased with all the characters. So he came to the end and here came the catastrophe: all the characters wanted a happy ending and they wanted to be a part of it. He asked for help, retraining, but they were unable to shed their miseries. He was still unable to finish the novel. How can there be a happy ending when there are thirteen characters involved?

October 13, 2010

Varadero Hotel International / Regina Coyula

The Varadero Hotel International is one of the symbols of my adolescence. I stayed there twice, and if you spent a vacation week in Varadero you had to go to the cabaret at night, there were no discotheques then, your spent your beach nights there or at the Kawama cabaret. The International is linked in my memory with daring attitudes that were only summer kisses. I loved coming into the spacious lobby and finding familiar faces, even an ugly photo next to a vase of artificial flowers that they had in the vestibule.

For those like me, who have treasured the image of Varadero for more than twenty years, the familiar and beloved silhouette of the Hotel International will be no more. It is going to be demolished to reaffirm the loss of identity of Varadero in pursuit of the new, more Benidorm, more Cancun. Rounding out my feeling of loss, is that I haven’t even been able to find the ugly photo.

October 14, 2010

Neoliberalism / Yoani Sánchez

With the start of mass layoffs, our authorities own official propaganda apparatus has announced their worst nightmare, the day the system collapsed. The drastic measure has been justified as a part of perfecting, or actualizing, the Cuban economic model, euphemisms with which they try to mask the growing use of market rules in the functioning of the economy.

What the current government is doing is a relief to the politicians of the future; it will be they who will get to announce the beautiful part of the transition, when civil liberties and economic rights will take center stage. Contrary to how it was presented by the regime’s propagandists, the rocks against which the ship of the Revolution is crashing, with all its conquests on board, are not along the far shore where the sirens of capitalism sing, but here, in the illusion of Utopia, on this shore.

October 14, 2010

Another Cuban Evil: School Violence / Iván García

The Cuban Ministry of Education prohibits teachers’ use of any punishment, whether verbal or physical, on students of all levels of education.

However, although the official media do not report it, through word of mouth from independent journalists, alarming cases of school violence have come to light. In almost all cases they appear to involve teachers with little experience as educators.

A decade ago, Fidel Castro himself made a crusade to produce teachers for the country. Urgently, and with accelerated courses, in one year they trained thousands of “emergent teachers” as they are officially called.

The aim was to overcome the deep crisis in which the national education system was, and is, mired. The low salaries of teachers in primary and secondary means they often spend little time in the classroom, quickly moving on to other jobs.

They desert their profession to work where they can earn foreign exchange, as porters at a hotel or cleaning bathrooms in a restaurant. Into one of these vacant positions 19-year-old Fernanda moved, as a teacher at October 10th Elementary School.

Fernanda lives with her family in an uncomfortable two room house, with three generations under one roof. Breakfast is almost nothing, when she even has it; her salary of 325 pesos (13 dollars a month), does not cover her expenses. She enrolled for a little excitement and to earn some money and become independent. But she doesn’t really have a vocation for teaching and the poor pedagogical skills she acquired don’t help her in her battle with some twenty children between six and eight-years-old.

In her case, as in others’, they often make up for their deficiencies with insults and profanity. And when they run out of patience, they try a smack of ruler or a stick on student’s head or shoulders to make them be quiet and pay attention.

A parent who requested anonymity said her daughter refuses to have anything to do with the teacher Fernanda and she had to take her to a psychologist. And that’s not an isolated case. Norge, 36, a father of two who are in the 3rd and 5th grades in another school in the city, said the verbal and physical violence is alarming.

On top of all this, there is the poor quality of the education. Parents pay between 10 and 20 convertible pesos (12 to 25 dollars) a month to retired teachers who give their children “refresher courses” so that they can learn something.

When a teenager finishes high school and doesn’t make it into the university, he has the choice of studying Teaching or Medicine, the least demanding of the courses of higher education. They’ve been devalued so much that they call them “junk careers” or garbage.

Violence on the part of teachers has led to tragic events. On February 1, 2008, 21-year-old Joaquin Torres, “emergent teacher” at Domingo Sarmiento secondary school, in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana, threw an iron chair at a 12-year-old student, Daniel Castaneda, killing him.

That same year at Antonio Aucar Secondary School in Santa Clara, the “emergent teacher” Yaniel Basail, punched the student Daniel Castellanos and kicked him in the face for refusing to eat the bread with mortadella and a glass of soy yogurt offered through the government’s “Battle of Ideas” program.

Not a few parents who have lost patience have taken justice into their own hands, and have gone to the schools to beat the young teachers.

On November 13, 2009, Leafer Perez reported on Cubanet, “School violence that shook up several secondary schools in the 10th of October Municipaility, has reached new levels, which worries the students’ parents.

“In the first days of November, a fight involved dozens of students at Cesar Escalante and Jose Maria Heredia schools. In the dispute, a teacher was wounded in the arm with a knife, and several students received grave injuries. It all started as a challenge between the two schools, which grew into an exchange of gestures and verbal insults, culminating in a huge brawl.

The school principals met with the parents to ask them to check their children’s backpacks, to make sure they weren’t carrying knives, awls and other aggressive weapons to school. Students who repeatedly resort to violence will be dealt with by officials from the Department for the Care of Children in the Ministry of the Interior.

“The addresses for these centers met with parents to ask them to check their backpacks, to prevent their children to carry knives, punches or other articles used for aggression. Students in violent repeat offenders will be treated by members of the Child Care Department of the Ministry of Interior.

“On the other hand, the boys say they have sex in the bathrooms, and the kids who are a part of the subculture known as “emos” get together during recess to cut themselves. They don’t cut their veins, rather they cut into their legs because they can cover the wounds with stockings.”

The Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, has not spoken publicly about the increased violence in Cuban schools. The official silence does nothing to curb the situation. On the contrary, it aggravates it. The government should take action on the matter. As soon as possible.

October 13, 2010