Twitterers in Cuba? / Miguel Iturria Savón


God created the world in six days, on the 7th, he tweeted.

Last month, Yoani Sanchez, the creator of Generation Y, invited some of her friends to contribute to the diffusion of micro-blogging through the group known as “The First Tweet-up on the Island.” In regards to such a meeting, I asked when and where.

Although I have not followed the chronogram of the next meeting, I bet it will be successful and occur soon because Yoani’s summoning power is supported by more than 50 thousand followers on Twitter and millions of readers of her personal blog. If she was able to establish the Blogger Academy in Cuba, she will also be able to set up this web of interchange between those who use that tool of brief and current messages that travel from an individual to the masses.

According to Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, his invention is not a social network, instead it is a communication platform that has grown, worldwide, from 44.5 million users in December 2009 to 100 million users just this past June.

Some considered Twitter to be a trend used by celebrities – Al Gore, Barack Obama, Ashton Kutcher – and it was abandoned during the first month by 4 out of 10 users, and that is a bet in favor of micro texting, conciseness, and brevity, which adjusts itself to the urgency of the times and to the desire of reading about those lives parallel to ours.

The phrase “What are you doing right now?” is what dominates this technology, but it also serves as a source of social information, civic activism, and also provides a space for denouncing crimes. We must recall that in 2008, a tweet from China reported an earthquake 7 minutes before the media of that country did. One year later, thousands of youths in Iran used Twitter against the electoral fraud that shook up the power of the Ayatollahs. Meanwhile, in Cuba, Yoani Sanchez posted about the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the start of the hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas.

The virtual inhabitants of Twitter respond by what they publish, and the velocity of micro-journalism functions as a network which channels the anxieties of the population, which warns and limits power for those in the press and in the government.

Up till now, it is not possible to know exactly how many Cubans have access to the twittering in cyberspace. We know that many alternative bloggers and also state functionaries use this nanotechnology novelty. We have yet to see if rivers of public and private messages will occur, similar to the situation which occurred with drivers in Mexico City which created a Twitter network to alert drivers about blood alcohol level tests.

Perhaps we have other priorities in Cuba, but if Yoani Sanchez already decided to organize “the first tweet up on the island”, such an organization would not lack members who would create profiles, upload web applications to the computer to transfer messages onto their phones, or to create accounts for people who wish to use the website http://twitter.com/ to reach that new communication platform through messages and projects that would ultimately save free expression.

Translated by Raul G.

August 1 2010

Losing a Tooth, Winning a Number / Yoani Sánchez

Months ago I dreamt I lost a tooth. That tiny one on the side that’s been with me for more than thirty years. An incisor that has never moved and that I should care for, knowing it can’t be replaced. If my grandmother were alive she would have interpreted these dream experiences as “an omen that someone is going to die.” Anna associated dreams in which molars, eyeteeth, or front teeth fell out with the loss of a loved one; she had dentures and had buried almost all of her friends from her generation.

I analyzed the superstition coldly and remembered that in our illegal lottery the number eight is also called “death.” It wasn’t hard to find the neighborhood ticket seller; despite a five decade crack down, the well known bolita is present on every block in my country, with the most popular and well-established lottery being the one run by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution themselves. A clandestine network collects the risky money until the bolitero hears the winning numbers on Venezuelan or Miami radio and delivers to each bettor their respective winnings. So, any daily situation can be reinterpreted as a prediction, and you can bet on the numbers between 1 and 100 in hopes of winning a tidy sum. In colloquial speech, when someone says “butterfly,” “horse” or “buzzard” they are referring 2, 1 and 33 in the clandestine raffle, and “nuns” are a reference to the number five.

So I ventured out and put twenty pesos on the number that signifies a funeral. As I expected, I didn’t win anything. Still, I’m not about to give up, to the point where I still poke through the daily paper, Granma, to look for some figure to improve my luck. The first reward I enjoyed from the lottery was when, being a teenager, I ventured on a striking 90 (the number that corresponds to “old man”), taken from a headline in the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party. Believe me, many Cubans read that paper to hunt for clues to guide them in our most popular sweepstakes, not to find real news. Like a secret code, we analyze announcements, dreams, political billboards, anniversaries… signs of reality that are translated into numbers for the forbidden lottery.

August 1 2010

The Fraud Law

Lately, there is a lot of talk about savings. However, that verb is specifically reserved for the inferior people of my planet, not for the native leaders.

Less than a year and a half ago, an apartment building for the workers of Tecnoazucar was finalized, here on Nuevo Vedado street at 41 and Conill B. Logically, a wall was constructed with a very narrow entrance (the entrances here are very narrow). But anyway, they put colonial roof-tiles on the building (that has nothing to do with alignment, it’s just the trend now).

This morning I heard the loud noise of a large hammer. I looked towards the direction of the sound and I figured that they had been tearing down the old wall for a while. Apparently, the person who is moving in does not like the previous design, and since it surely does not cost them anything, then it doesn’t matter.

This whole situation, which is constantly repeated at such levels, is sharply different from the situation of the ordinary Cuban citizens.

On 2nd street, between Ayestaran and Ayuntamiento, there is a woman who lives with her son, both with serious health problems. A small porch (of a former business) and a small room is what they call home. Through lots of sacrifices they were able to purchase the materials and ultimately were able to build another small room on the roof area. Eventually, someone was bothered by this and they denounced them. As is logical, they didn’t have any papers for the cement nor for any of the other materials. So the authorities decided to demolish everything. The worst part of this, and the most painful part, was that it seemed like there was a Committee of the Revolution party going on. There were so many people clustered over there just watching what was happening, while no one did absolutely anything about it. I arrived at my sister’s house, who lives nearby, at that very moment, and a friend of mine told me what was happening as she ran towards the scene.

The saddest part about all of this is that on that same block, on the opposite sidewalk, a party member who had been given the house of someone who fled the country, was remodeling his property, almost at the same exact time that this was happening, while he used and abused all sorts of important materials. However, nobody denounced this man.

Translated by Raul G.

Homework

I go over to a friend’s house and find her roaring with laughter over her son’s homework. She gave me a sheet of notebook paper and invited me to read it, but not before clarifying, “It’s very honest, you can see he’s only seven.”

My school

My whole school is nice except the bathroom, because it is nicely painted and nothing is broken, but the bathroom is badly painted, there is always poop, and it smells like pee. In my school I have many good and funny friends, also the teacher is very good and quite funny. In the morning the director says many things but sometimes I don’t listen. I almost always want to go to school and even more when I go there to eat, today I ate flour and the teacher made me.

The truth is it didn’t make me laugh that much, I remember when I was that age and what happened later. I didn’t say anything to my friend, but if our country doesn’t change, within three or four years the children’s compositions, far from criticizing the smell or remembering the pleasures of playing with their classmates, will mention the dead heroes from the wars of past centuries and the unknown battles of ideas.

Omar, The Image First, The Words Later

Omar, the lens for the word (Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas)

When I heard of him he was already serving a 27-year sentence in the Cuban prisons. He was “the photographer of dissent” whose images spoke on behalf of that emaciated part of Cuba, which they have tried to sell us like a souvenir.

From Omar Rodríguez Saludes, now exiled to Spain with his family, the Cuban political police snatched cameras, and confiscated posters where he had reflected a true country with people who laugh and cry, but they could not tear from him his desire to capture life.

In an interview granted to Fernando J. Ruiz for the book Another Crack in the Wall, he said, “My goal is to remind the Cuban people and all who see these images, of the time they spent, the times so difficult . . . because the images one does not seek, but which present themselves, are like an inspiration, so the camera should always be with me, and this is the concept I have.”

One day in March, the soldiers who don’t shoot bullets or wear uniforms broke into his home, and deprived us of that wonderful testimonial that Rodríguez Saludes had for when the long night of torture passed.

Today, he is in a country where he can breathe free, secure that his eyes and his memory are relieved of the horror he saw in the cell where they put him.

Tomorrow he will leave with a device on his chest to photograph freedom, he will sit down to describe what he suffered and continue his journey through life. Sooner or later we will see his photographs, his vision of today and tomorrow, and that will be enough.

A man who returns from hell always bring news of life.

Clandestine in Miami, with 100 Cuban Sounds

Just a few hours ago, on Friday evening, the 30th, one of the most versatile of Cuban artists exhibited material in the United States that could make history. I am speaking of Edesio Alejandro, who although a musician of great importance, has also been known for a long time as a documentary film maker.

The present material is titled 100 Cuban Sounds, and according to critics and viewers, the return of his inquisitive eye to our rhythm marks a milestone of investigation and artistry.

The beauty, and the irony, is that it is Edesio, a rarity in Cuban culture, who has been carrying on his back this precious company so dear to our nation. He is the Cuban author with the greatest number of movie soundtracks in this country, which puts him, musically, in the same category as classics of our filmography such as Clandestinos, and the aching Suite Habana, both by Fernando Pérez.

Why? Well, because if any of Cuba’s Culture authorities in the ‘70s and ‘80s had been told that this youngster with the controversial image, who had to be very careful, would be one of the archaeologists of our musical identity, he’d probably have replied with a withering smirk.

I think of this, ironically, after rereading the report of a meeting that, fortunately, a journalist had with his some time ago. In my city of Bayamo, 496 years after its founding, Edesio revealed to me some of the keys of his professional history on the Island.

I reproduce a small fragment of this dialog, which I think quite compelling in two respects: First, to understand the origin of those 100 Cuban Sounds in the artistic perspective of this great man; and second, to “Hear his voice,”  whose risk-taking could be the path of an authentic artist in our Cuban of parameters:

– Edesio, you started out as a pure rocker. Then you started to make electronic music, but you had already begun composing, including concert music. Today you are entering the audiovisual world with great strength. Does it worry you that this variety could be interpreted as an artist that hasn’t really found his specific line of work?

– Well, look, no. Not in the least. I’m not worried because I think that the day I remain static is when I will have lost all the evolution that I have managed in my career. I think the evolution is something that is in constant searching, constant experimentation.

When I find a formula, I try to flee from it, as absurd as that might seem, because with this formula I would establish standards and rules which I will then repeat, and the day when I begin to repeat myself I will no longer feel I am creating.

My personality is that of a rather restless guy. In this I think I am a typical Cuban. I like to be constantly changing, and that’s the reason why my works are all so different.

– One of the standard references of electroacoustic music in Cuba is undoubtedly Edesio Alejandro. The majority of experts agree that you have an enormous talent for this type of work. But in the end you didn’t dedicate yourself to this, when it seemed it would be your path. To what do you attribute this?

– As it turned out, in the ‘80s, when I was working the most on this, I decided to participate in a contest that at that time was the most important in the world for electroacoustic music. It took place in Bourges, France. Let’s be clear, this was seen by many as madness.

And then I won First Prize with a work I did with Juan Piñera, a composer with whom I had worked on concert music. You can imagine, this was an incredible thing.

What did it mean for me? Reaching a ceiling, achieving a status that until this time no Cuban musician had achieved within this kind of artistic work, because it was the first time that a Cuban (before or after the Revolution) had won the First Prize in a global music contest.

Then came the disappointed. The prize was greeted with almost total silence in Cuba, its achievement, which was no small thing, was ignored by the media and by the cultural authorities, to the extreme that we were not allowed to go to France to receive the prize. Their excuse was that I was “one of those guys with long hair who walks around in a T-shirt trying to pass for a foreigner,” and that I was of “questionable political reliability.”

I don’t have to tell you… it was a tremendous frustration. Think about it: on the one hand being so young and having won a prize like this made me feel like I’d touched the sky, and on the other to have cold water poured on me, to begin to be marginalized in part because of it, and in Cuba, to be treated like shit.

I said then, “This isn’t for me.” I started to do many more things and I will continue to.

– Your 1987 work Violent, is considered the first Latin American rock opera. And yet it is a complete unknown in Cuba. Why is it that most of your work can be enjoyed only in very narrow circles when so many are interested in it?

– Look, they never wanted me to record in Cuba. This is a truth that I can say without further ado. Like so many other things, Violent ended up in the ether. The music needed to be recorded to be preserved, but on the contrary, it was vaporized. But the Cuban industry never wanted me to record.

For example, this same Violent you are asking me about premiered at the National Theater of Cuba; but at EGREM, which then was the only recording company in the country, I asked them again and again to record it but they weren’t interested.

What did I do then? I worked in radio, in music for TV, in film, I “stole” a few hours at the end of each movie or each serial to devote to something that particularly interested me. I say stole because that’s literally what I did; I used some of the production to record my songs, which, by the way, were very badly recorded because in four or five hours you can’t record three songs.

On several occasions I proposed to EGREM that they make records, and they always gave the answer: we’re not interested. All this is long ago.

Currently, it’s true that EGREM has made proposals to me several times, but now it’s me who doesn’t want to do it. Thank God I have other options with other labels, so fortunately not all of my music has suffered the same fate as that you asked me about.

Car Museum

There is a detail of our reality that fascinates tourists and surprises collectors around the world: the number of old cars still running on the streets of the country. Right now, on some Havana street, a 1952 Chevrolet purrs along, and a Cadillac, older than the Minister of Transportation himself, is in use as a shared taxi. They pass by us, rusting out or newly painted, on the point of collapse or winning a contest for their excellent state of repair. These rolling miracles make up a part of our country, just like the long lines, the crowded buses, and the political billboards.

At first, visitors show surprise and pleasure on seeing the theme park created by these vehicles. They take pictures and pay up to three times as much to sit in their roomy interiors. After asking the driver, the astonished foreigners discover that the body of that Ford from the early 20th century hides an engine that’s just a decade old, and tires adapted from a Russian Lada. As they earn the trust of the owner, he tells them that the brake system was a gift from a European friend, and that the headlights are originally from an ambulance.

Summer people marvel at the taste of Cubans in conserving such relics from the past, but few know that this is more by necessity than choice. You can’t go to a dealership and buy a new car, even if you have the money to pay for it, so we are forced to maintain the old. Without these artifacts of the last century, our city would be less picturesque and more immobile every day.

The Queen of Bolero/Miguel Iturria Savon

Amidst Cuban flags, famous boleros, and white flowers, thousands of exiles and hundreds of Latin Americans bid farewell to Olga Guillot on Monday, July 12th. On Friday Guillot checked in to the Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami, that city where she lived in and occasionally performed ever since the 60’s, although Venezuela and Mexico were her first sanctuaries after leaving Cuba in 1961, while her voice still filled all the radios of the country.

Olga Guillot was dubbed the Queen of the Bolero, the Actress who sang, and the Latin-American Diva, among other titles awarded in her 60 year career, half a century of CDs – 14 of which went gold and 10 platinum- roles in dozens of movies, numerous tours around the world, and her nostalgic declarations about the freedom of her native island, where she achieved success at only 16 after performing on the show called The Supreme Court of Art. She also was part of such vocal groups like the Siboney Quartet, until she debuted as a solo artist in 1945. She achieved her first international hit when she recorded “Mienteme” (‘Lie to Me’), a song by the Mexican Chamaco Dominguez.

Olga Guillot, who was born on Trocha street in Santiago de Cuba on October 9, 1922, took the bolero all over the world and to new levels with her brilliant interpretations of such classics like “Mienteme”, “Tu Me Acostumbraste”, “La Gloria Eres Tu”, “Lagrimas Negras”, “Soy Tuya”, “La Noche de Anoche”, “Palabras Calladas”, and “Eso y Mas“. During her artistic career she shared stages with such names as Rita Montaner, Beny More, Nat King Cole, Sara Montiel, Edith Piaf, Armando Manzanero, and Jose Jose (who always referred to her as his artistic Godmother).

Like Celia Cruz, Cachao, and other legends of popular Cuban music, Guillot did not get to return to the island, a subject which always came up in her success and in her frustrations. Nostalgia marked her human and creative existence, but such artists like Malena Burke, Annia Linares, Vicky Roig, Emilio Estefan, Tito Puente Jr., Meme Solis, and Roberto Lozano, continue evoking her charisma and solidarity through their art.

Despite all the international fame and success achieved by this great artist, her name and her music were both erased from the Cuban music scene. The state censorship was so deep that for three generations of Cubans, the recordings of the Queen of Bolero is limited to nostalgic references made by parents and grandparents.

While in Miami they are saying goodbye with flowers and flags to the first Hispanic artist to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall, in Cuba some of us music lovers are starting to search through our old acetates of Guillot and we ask our relatives in exile to please send us some recording of that one and only Diva, similar to Rita Montaner, Beny More, and Celia Cruz.

The death of the female voice behind the bolero could serve as an excuse to retrieve the musical and human legacy of Olguita Guillot and pay tribute to her on the other shore of this island divided by foreign passions of national art and culture.

Translated by Raul G.

Media Deployment

We’ve all seen him. With something of the vitality of former days, with a few more pounds, although with an exaggerated girth under the tartan shirt, or with the olive green shirt of a thousand battles. The intense media deployment of TV cameras since last week makes one think that he still decides; that he’s never stopped deciding. He’s returned to being El Comandante and not The Comrade.

His themes: war and the environment. Not even a word about the internal economic situation for which he is wholly responsible. Not even on the subject of the ecology of which he has become a champion, has he thought about environmental nonsense such as that of the Che Guevara Invasion Brigade, knocking down valuable fruit-bearing species in his way between Camaguey and Oriente to sow sugar cane and today taken over by grassland of the invasive marabu weed; the coastal roads, the Hanabanilla Falls converted into a hydroelectric plant that already nobody remembers, but which deprived us of the most beautiful waterfall in Cuba. And fortunately there weren’t resources for the megaproject of draining the Cienega de Zapata, the most important wetlands in the Caribbean.

Time and a succession of illnesses and medical procedures have been cruel to his appearance. I can’t recognize that confident and imposing man of days gone by. I look at him and his sunken eyes leave an impression on me, as do his facial tics and his mouth, where the lower teeth seem to dance; his faint and extinguished voice shocks me; I am stunned to see him digressing and miscalculating.

But what impresses me the most is that he doesn’t even realize what anyone is saying to him.

Translated by: JT

YOU TOO, YOUTUBE…?

Cuba is excluded from YouTube’s digital world map. What happens behind the closed doors of this paleopolitical Internet Island is of no concern to YouTube and, in consequence, nor to the audiovisual eyes of the world. The clever papal slogan from the past century and millennium resonates now like a coarse cathedral comedy script: “Let Cuba open itself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba…” Pope John Paul II declared in Havana.

So there seems to be nothing subliminal in the censorship of the current Life in a Day contest, organized by YouTube to document one day of life: specifically, this July 24. The countless scenes shot last Saturday of the planet Earth, in any language, with a high definition professional camera or a cellphone, can be sent by their authors until today, July 31, to the YouTube channel created especially for the marathon.

Although there is no financial remuneration involved, after their work is selected the finalists will be edited into a feature-length documentary directed by Kevin McDonald and produced by Ridley Scott, who plan to premiere it at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011.

The theme is open, but the suggestions of the YouTube chef are quite chic: What do you love? What do you fear? What makes you laugh? What’s in your pocket? Is there a story behind any of the objects? There is room for the “ordinary” (a sunrise, a neighborhood soccer game) as well as the “extraordinary” (a baby’s first steps, a wedding, the reaction to the loss of a loved one).

So, a young woman in Havana thought there would also be room for Cuba. Elena Victoria Molina, 21, a graduate of Onelio Jorge Cardoso’s Narrative Techniques Workshop, a student of Audiovisual Communication at the Superior Art Institute, co-editor of the independent literary magazine 33 and 1/3, and participant in many freelance projects, took YouTube’s propaganda at face value.

Molina has watched YouTube for three years and, in her own words, she thought, “If I did well I could be among those selected, and it would be a magnificent opportunity to talk about daily life in Cuba from a personal point of view.” So she prepared to compete, “To express my opinions about my country, my society, my life, in a framework that would ensure that more people would see our reality and what life looks like from a Cuban perspective.”

Her raw material (they specified unedited video), recorded on July 24, 2010, in an apartment in the vicinity of the Plaza of the Revolution, showed her a bit oblivious, with her boyfriend, “lying around in bed, reading Virginia Woolf, writing in my diary, while on TV the country was enmeshed in the preparations for the July 26 celebration, and some neighbors had hung July 26 flags from their houses. I thought it showed something very common in Cuba: the contrast between the private and the public worlds, that we have a different sensibility, because we live a dual image, what we are collectively, and what we are individually. And it’s difficult to maintain the intimate space of the home when the outside is constantly invading, particularly around national anniversaries of the Revolution.”

But it turned out YouTube’s invitation included a clause that froze her enthusiastic rush to this kind of amateur Oscar lottery: Who can participate in Life in A Day? Anyone over 18 can send footage, except citizens or residents of Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Syria and Sudan, and other people and entities limited by the United States’ program of export controls and sanctions.

Commenting to this reporter, the young Molina (who also made comments in protest on several Cuban blogs, on her Facebook account, and even on the censored contest’s YouTube channel) remarked, “To read that was very disappointing, that a law closes one of the few spaces for expression. It’s an unjust ban that severely limits the very purpose of the project, if the idea is to show a truly ‘normal day’ from the most diverse experiences of the globe.

“What we call a typical day is very different from other parts of the world, given that our life has been shaped in a peculiar way under the system we live in. It’s absurd and frustrating that U.S. laws, supposedly established to support freedom, in practice restrict our freedom of expression and block Cuban citizens from communicating with the world. The American embargo affects individuals who have nothing to do with the government. I feel I have been discriminated against.”

Of the millions of visualizations that human beings ritually watch on YouTube, none will clash, in this “historic cinematic experiment” with the view of 21-year-old Elena Victoria Molina.

The “information capsule for the future,” like a postnational Trojan Horse, will lack any Cubans in its gigabyte guts. We Cubans will star in another alien saga of those who still haven’t come out of the communist closet, in this case because the laws of a democracy don’t want us to. In dramatic terms, we are not even the Other.

“It must be personal, that’s what we’re looking for,” commented the director Ridley Scott, in a videoclip about this project to take the aesthetic of crowd-sourcing to the limit. This throws enough literary light on the nature of we non-persons who live in Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Syria and Sudan. But it doesn’t matter, some proxy will absolve us. For now, the epitaph of that already remote film, Blade Runner, is being rewritten, even before the first showing of this unfortunately despotic documentary: “Like tears in YouTube…”

The thousand and one YouTube Community Standards, so concerned about protecting us from the pornography and realistic violence that daily gnaw at our civilization, have given Cuba a cultural lesson with this abusive Shift-Delete: “Let Cuba close itself to the world and let the world delete Cuba..”

YOU TOO, YOUTUBE…?, originally uploaded by orlandoluispardolazo.

www.diariodecuba.net/cuba/81-cuba/2628-excluidos-de-youtu…

If We Want Everything To Stay the Same, Everything Must Change

By Jesuhadín Pérez.

Things are going badly for Cuba. People lose freedom while trying to get it, and starve to death when asking for justice. Those in power have no ears to listen to the solutions to people’s problems, solutions that would jeopardize historical powers.

This is the contradiction between form and substance. In other words the dead weight of privileges, against the evolution of society and its citizens.

The presidential chairs get stuck to the posteriors of people who have a very peculiar way of understanding democracy. Democracy is a form of government, not a nobility title. In Cuba the time has arrived to turn the page, to respect its people and the natural processes that shape its history.

The history of humankind is filled with men who muzzled their people to try to stop the natural course of events. The fact that all of them eventually fell is no consolation. Our case makes us feel like being buried alive. A pity. We’ve had ten years since the 21st century started. We should be closer to a perfect government.

Here, everyone wants change, you just need to ask to see for yourself. Everyone shouts it if they have the courage, or if they feel safe in the liberties they have been granted by another country. Absolutely everyone wants change, everyone but those in power.

The privileges of those in power are in danger when we talk of change, that is why their main task is to stop and reverse the process using everything at hand… violence or mediation. What a pity that many new-found mediators give higher priority to compromising and flirting than to mediating! What a pity that they go after institutional interests instead of the well-being of the parties involved in the conflict! Even worst, what a lack of historical conscience among those in power. Do they really believe they will be able to hold the system together using banners and slogans, or letting some steam out whenever it seems on the verge of exploding, just so they can close the steam pipe again a moment later?

Just one thing has saved this country till now, just one thing placates the anger and discontent of the masses: A Change. But not the kind of change that consists in giving away lands overrun with the invasive marabou weed, or turning service industry workers into rent paying employees; no. Cuba needs A Change, a big one. Risky. Compromising. Overarching. Resounding. Something everyone can feel. Something that shakes the whole nation. If this tiny changes are the prelude to something for the good, then they are welcome, but if they are just tactical changes they will perish in less than ninety days, because the expectations of the Cuban people are great, and their needs are even greater.

If the Cuban political class wants to keep things as they are, then it will be necessary that everything, absolutely everything changes.

Jesuhadín Pérez Valdés

Founding member of the editorial board of Convivencia magazine.
He lives in Pinar del Río, Cuba.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Dinner Among Strangers

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

The Cuban family is fractured, not only by national separations as a result of emigration, but also by political conflicts between the family members in the country. The other day I was invited to dinner at my friend’s house and by the end of the gathering I was depressed by the clash between two generations, parents and children: one that keeps their mouths shut out of respect for their elders, and the other that offends with their absolutist ideology.

Meanwhile, “The Roundtable” animated my friend’s birthday, her uncle wasn’t sufficiently sensitive to turn off the TV, the mother made terrorist comments about the fate of the United States, and the spouses of both tried like children to change the subject — I don’t know if it was out of solidarity with the youngest among us or simply out of common sense: it was a party. My friend had two choices:

  • Offer her opinions and turn the celebration into a funeral of shouts and intolerance.
  • Keep her mouth shut and focus on her fries.

She chose the second. Her family did not seem to notice the abnormal silence, during the whole evening, of the birthday-girl. Among the exchange of ideas: “Socialism is the only way.” “All those mercenaries should rot in jail.” “I don’t know how Obama can sleep at night.” “The European Union and the Empire are going to pay one day.” “Fidel has always been right.” Meanwhile, forms and documents that were going to be presented to the Spanish Consulate in the morning to apply for citizenship in that European country were passed from hand to hand, and the women commented on the Mexican soap opera which they watch on the illegal cable they have in the house.

The whole time I was overcome by a feeling of profound pity for these militants of the Cuban Communist Party: with a morality so shameless, an ambiguous ideology, and a limitless intransigence. Their blindness prevents them from perceiving the enormous gulf that separates them from the generation they gave life to: they are alone, so alone that not even their children dare to enlighten them.

The Castros, Each One on His Own Side

Those who  expected some clues about the needed economic and political reforms  that the island is crying out for were left disappointed. General Raul Castro sent them a message: you will have to wait.

Castro  II did not even speak at a ceremony held in the province of Villa Clara, 180 miles  from Havana, to mark the 57th anniversary of the assault on a military  barracks in eastern Cuba.

He delegated  the speech to Vice Minister Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, one of the  many elderly men who occupy significant positions in the administration of the country. He said almost nothing.

More of the same. A boring recitation of successes, slogans, clichés, the occasional anti-imperialist  bravado, and a  spirited defense of Venezuela in the ongoing affair with  neighboring Colombia over the issue of the alleged involvement of  Caracas in supporting the FARC.

In one brief line, the vice president said that Cuba would not follow the advice of  the international media, and that changes would be made at the pace and at the time that they decide.

The General saved his speech, short as always, for the close of a Cuba-Venezuela ministerial summit. He  made no reference to topics of interest to ordinary Cubans, who have  many unanswered questions about the economic crisis that has existed in the country for  21 years.

Fidel did not want to be left behind. This July he became a media star. After four years in bed, the Commander in Chief is doing piece work.

He has returned changed into a guru – prophesying nuclear wars and environmental disasters, and reading news dispatches. If anything has changed about the angry Fidel, it is his tone. Now he is moderate and measured. He seems like a political advisor. But he is not.

On  July 26, at a meeting he held with a group of American Protestants, intellectuals, and Cuban journalists, the old fox Castro  sent a message back and forth.

It seemed like another one of his speculations. But it wasn’t. Before finishing his far-fetched theories about the future of the planet, he let drop  the news that perhaps before the end of the year, the five spies  imprisoned in the U.S. since 1998 could return home.

In Cuba, information must be read between the lines. The government is a specialist in speaking about important issues cryptically or remaining silent.

But if Castro I delivered his message it is because something is cooking behind the scenes. It is almost certain that the operation to free 52 political prisoners is an exchange: 52 in return for 5. Remember that Cardinal Jaime Ortega traveled to Washington.

But  the real message from Castro is to put fear in the gut of the leaders and influential intellectuals in the country who are trying to create a window with the  West on their own.

In such closed societies, fear and suspicion is a constant rule. You can see with your own eyes a Castro who overcame death is always an arm of pressure.

Clearly, each Castro brother goes his own way. It might be a concerted tactic. Or a sign of differences between them. The truth is that Fidel is back. And many will have to retrieve candles.

Iván García