Personal Catastrophes / Yoani Sánchez

Aerocaribbean plane ATR 72 (CU-T1545) at the airport Holguin, Cuba, similar to the plane that crashed today

How many human dramas around each victim in the crash of Aerocaribbean Flight 833. The similarity of names in the passenger list suggest that parents and children, brothers and sisters, couples with their offspring, have been lost. I remember that among the names mentioned on the news this morning was that of a Japanese tourist, who also lost his life thousands of miles from that other island so different from ours. I can’t stop thinking about him or the others who died in the plane that should have been a road, a bridge, a highway, but never the last one.

Behind each of the 40 Cuban passengers the tragedy is also enormous. They bought that fatal ticket three months before their departure day and waited in a long line to board a mode of transportation that in this country is rare and extremely expensive. Probably relieved to know that they would make the trip from Santiago de Cuba to Havana in something a little less chaotic than the national train. Their presence on that ATR 72/212 was the conclusion of a sequence of sacrifices that started just when they had the need — or the desire — to travel within Cuba, and that would end only when they arrived at their fate.

Misfortune lurks on all sides, this we know, but it is difficult to process the idea that people climb the stairs of an airplane and a shortly afterward their names are read, in a solemn voice, on national television. I return again and again to the images of the possible family embrace that was waiting in the arrival airport, of the mother who learned in Buenos Aires or Amsterdam that her son would not return, or of the pilot’s wife saying goodbye while thinking, like every other time, that he would soon return home. These are the personal catastrophes, the human dramas, that began to descend in the same minute that the plane fell to earth.

November 5, 2010

The Press That Devalues the Writer / Miguel Iturria Savón

In October, when the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, author of The City and the Dogs, Conversation in the Cathedral and The Feast of the Goat, the Cuban press downplayed the contributions of the great novelist and wasted ink on slander, due to the author’s criticism of Castro, whose spokesmen break their spears over anyone who demystifies our dictatorship.

Long ago, however, the American reporter Joseph Pulitzer suggested that “real journalism never takes sides, no matter what happens,” advice rejected in Cuba and elsewhere on the planet. On this Caribbean island bias is still the norm and censorship the law, because the media are in government hands and are based on ideological simplifications, which idealize allies and demonize enemies.

For Pulitzer, “A free press must always advocate for progress and reform. Never tolerate injustice or corruption. Fight demagogues of all stripes. Belong to no party. Oppose privileges and public pillage. Offer its sympathy to the poor and always remain devoted to the good.”

He noted further that the media has to be ethical and professional and provide two sides of every coin, that is, the version of each warring party, always equally displayed. “If not, then it isn’t journalism: It’s just trash, and the worst kind, that is the typical garbage that sells itself to any political or economic interest distinct from the real truth of things.”

In Cuba we are far from applying those definitions, although we know that in other latitudes Pulitzer’s advice is included in the codes of ethics of newspapers, magazines, digital media and radio and television stations. Set-ups and half-truths are expensive because the media are based on news sources, but to reverse the pyramid and expose the voices of people without an agenda, elucidates the problems and oxygenates the atmosphere.

There is very little credibility in the press. By design it is a part of the ideological department of a single party and of ministerial interests, so that its perception does not approximate reality, as it excludes its images, including art, literature and socio-historical notions of the country.

When Pedro de la Hoz, Granma’s cultural writer, lashed out against Mario Vargas Llosa, he accomplished nothing more than to demonstrate the impunity and self-censorship of those who serve a regime that loathes ethics and truth and opposes any critical appreciation, even in the case of a writer recognized with awards such as the Prince of Asturias Prize in Letters (1986), the Cervantes Prize (1994) and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010.

November 5, 2010

Sakharov for Fariñas: Acknowledgment of Cuban Democrats / Voices Behind The Bars

Generally, awards give rise to controversies, and that is normal. Only totalitarian regimes are bent on wanting everyone to think and act the same way. But, despite some voices who disagree (most of which come straight from those who defend the regime), the most popular and prestigious awards handed out throughout the world during the last couple of years have favored the struggle for democracy.

First, the Norwegian Academy prized the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, with the Nobel Peace Prize. Days later, the journalist and peaceful Cuban dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, has been awarded the Sakharov prize. Both of these fighters share a common characteristic: Liu and Fariñas both defend human rights, and have both suffered political imprisonment for promoting civilized changes in their respective countries. Most likely, neither of these two men will be able to accept such awards, which were achieved after much effort, willpower, and courage, in person.

The Cuban authorities have systematically violated the rights of Cubans to exit and return to their countries freely. And this is the third occasion that one of our very own has won the Sakharov prize – a fact that I am beyond proud of. The first recipient was Osvaldo Paya Sardinas, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (2002). In 2005, the Ladies in White were distinguished with the award, and now it has been Fariñas’ turn. But the authorities of Havana did not authorize the representatives of this group of women to pack their bags to assist the ceremony being held at the European Parliament to receive the award. And, if Paya was able to take that trip in 2002, it was solely accredited to the pressures of the international community.

The process of the liberation of Cuban political prisoners, which went underway this past summer, and of which I benefited from, was made possible to various factors. The unfortunate death of the political prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was what put the whole process in motion. Later, we must signal out the bravery displayed by the Ladies in White, the firm attitude kept by those who were imprisoned due to reasons of conscience, and the final straw was the hunger strike undertaken by Fariñas, which had the purpose of demanding freedom for the gravest of the 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring. All of this was further backed up by a strong wave of international pressure.

This is why I cannot help but congratulate (and appreciate) Fariñas for his Sakharov Prize, which he has dedicated to the Cuban people. His recognition of all democratic Cubans leaves it very clear that he will continue fighting for democracy in Cuba.

– Pablo Pacheco

Translated by Raul G.

October 27, 2010

Pleasant and Overly Familiar / Rebeca Monzo

Every day, in the establishments where they offer any kind of service, in the shops, schools and even in offices, one finds staff who lack the capacity, knowledge and skill, for you to deal with them with any confidence, to a point that borders on excessive familiarity. Could they possibly think that in treating you this way they are being pleasant?

Wherever you go, it’s gotten so bad it’s a joke, you find people who address you with expressions like “Aunty,” “Moms,” “Old lady,” “China,” and so on. They are incapable of respect, cannot respond appropriately to a question put to them, because for the most part the lack any understanding of what respect it. And in general, they don’t take any responsibility for the answers they give you.

For two months I’ve been calling the National Archives once a week. I signed a sort of contract with them two months ago, and paid in advance, as required, for them to do some research. Every time I call the same person — I know it’s the same person because it’s the same voice — tells me, “Nothing yet Moms.” When I rebuke them, stating my rights, she says, “We don’t have enough staff Moms, to do what you want.”

Today, once again mustering my patience, I called the Archive and the same voice answered, and said exactly the same thing. I asked her name and very quickly, as if I’d attacked her, she answered, “Sorry Moms, I don’t have to give my name.”

“What? Then you are working there illegally?” I said. “Look Moms, I have to hang up,” was her response.

Given the situation, I plan to go there to meet with her in person, her and her immediate superior.

Help For Whom? / Fernando Dámaso

  1. I’ve always been aware that Support Groups for Solidarity with Cuba exist in different countries. Most are organized and staffed by the corresponding embassies and repeat the official propaganda, responding, like the legendary RCA dog, to the voice of their master.
  2. I prefer to believe that many of their members, if not some of their leaders, are honest people who feel they are doing something useful for the Cuban people. However, a fact that is well-defined in their respective countries — that there is a difference between a people and its government — is obviously absurd in the case of our country. Cuba is not only its government, but also the citizens who do and don’t support it and those who don’t opine.
  3. It seems that, unfortunately, the mixture of terminology coming from our country for many years now, where country, nation, socialism and party are synonymous, has crossed national frontiers and sparked confusion and chaos among our friends.
  4. I consider the Groups of Support and Solidarity necessary, but not with the government but with Cubans, with all Cubans without exception because, in one way or another, we all suffer the most serious scarcities and we are immersed in a national tragedy.
  5. Cuba, as a nation, is much more than an ideology or transitory politics, like everything human. Help and solidarity with Cuba is accomplished with the whole nation, not the government.

November 4, 2010

Notice / Regina Coyula

Seeing what the area for comments has become, I am trying to shape this space to be a place where opinions lead to a debate about the future of Cuba, and an exercise in the understanding and tolerance we are so much in need of. With this in mind I am planning to moderate the form, but NOT the content, of the discussion. I will publish simple rules which, if adhered to, will maintain respect for others Those who fail to comply with the rules will be blocked. I have tried to communicate with the most frequent violators but many people list false email address and my emails to them are returned. They say that war does not kill warned soldiers. Many thanks for your attention. Respectfully.

With Feet Firmly on the Ground / IntraMuros

By Sironay González Rodríguez

One could say that the vast majority of Cubans are seriously concerned about the unsupportable reality of our present and the blurred vision of the future of Socialist Cuba. Those who apparently fell asleep in the arms of compliance bristle at the idea that the political system now governing us cannot last much longer.

It is Cuba’s present and future that should be important now, principally to the leaders of our nation. Our past struggles for independence and against old dictatorships should serve us to learn from the mistakes made and to remind us that we Cubans defend our rights at any price, which seems to have been forgotten.

Unfortunately, those responsible for the direction of the country are still living in the Sierra Maestra. They have not come down to solve our problems.

I congratulate them on their victories and achievements of 50 years ago, though I don’t know if I thank them, ut we have problems that must be solved with feet firmly planted on the ground.

November 4, 2010

Who Are The Debtors? / Miriam Celaya

He’s vanishing. Photo by Orlando Luís

A source that I’m not authorized to quote assures me that, on October 30, 2010, the privilege of the SEPSA agency will be withdrawn, by virtue of which the “blue” custodians – so nicknamed because of the color of their uniforms – have been paid a “stimulus” of 48 CUC a month (1,152 in the misnamed “national currency”), an amount that they have been getting since they took away other privileges years ago, such as regular allowances of toiletries and food. As a result of this new cut that will eliminate the only attractive feature of the occupation, many of these guards, who work as custodians at banks and at exchange houses (CADECA) have begun seeking other horizons of employment prospects in a time when having access to a job in Cuba is equal to or more difficult than eating a piece of beef (which is saying something).

Though the wave of layoffs has not reached the status of the tsunami that it will achieve between the first quarter of next year and 2012 – when the final completion of approximately 1,200,000 layoffs, which is said will be the number of unemployed on the Island – social discontent is palpable. Uncertainty, irritation and a slight but steady increase in the crime rate are the notes that make up today’s Cuba. On the other hand, there seems to be a kind of popular consensus to not apply for licenses for the exercise of self-employment (a palliative that the government is trying to implement as an alternative to a crisis of unprecedented labor supply for the revolutionary process) due to excessive taxes, the lack of a wholesale supplier market, the chronic instability of supplies and the high retail prices, the uncertainty about the economic future and – particularly – in the absence of a legal framework of guarantees to investors, among other causes. The experience of those individuals who in the 90’s were victims of official pressure and systematic extortion by the state inspectorate responsible for “controlling” the quality of services and the “legality and purity” of self-employed workers, discourage people’s interest in risking their funds, usually minimal or very limited, in a leap so uncertain and where those who invest their capital are the most helpless of the system: the common Cubans.

The employee at a public office who was complaining a few days ago about the recent loss of her husband’s job and claimed that, because of that, she would stop making payments for the Chinese refrigerator they had given them in exchange for the old Russian home equipment. Little more than three or four years ago, the tropical sultanate took up the eccentric decision to imitate the old story of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in which they exchanged old lamps for new, but with more practical sense in the Arab case. “I cannot afford to deduct one cent from my salary”, the woman lamented, and she added: “If they start discounting it, I will also stop working and will use that same refrigerator for the sale of ice pops”.

Which brings up another small detail, forgotten by everyone in the middle of this storm surge: until fairly recently, the Cuban press published, with some regularity, short articles about the huge debt that people owed the state due on overdue payments for household appliances, – mainly cheap Chinese refrigerators that had replaced the old American equipment from before 1959, and Soviet from the 70’s and 80’s – that were distributed on a massive scale with the so called “energy revolution,” an idea thought up by… well, we all know who could have had such a great idea. In short, the newspapers would publish drawings reflecting the movement of such payments through provinces and municipalities, to the extreme that one of the indicators to be considered when granting a province the status of “vanguard” or “outstanding” was based on the performance of that province’s repayment history, a consideration also taken into account in awarding the site of the great celebration for the year’s 26 of July ceremonies.

For several months, the issue of the defaults recurred on TV and the written press, urging people to repay what “the state had acquired with so much effort and sacrifice for the sake of saving energy and raising the living standard of the people”. In order to pressure the debtors the food markets, where products on the ration cards are obtained, displayed lists of “slow paying consumers” who had not yet begun payments. Rumor had it that payments would be deducted from wages and communist party militants would be sanctioned if they had not complied with their payments on a regular basis.

Now, mired in the biggest socio-economic crisis that Cubans can remember, such a debt is not spoken of, nor are the slow payers mentioned, as if, all of a sudden, the debtors had settled their outstanding debts. Or could it be that, half a century behind, the hacienda owners have suddenly discovered that, in fact, we are the creditors?

Translated by Normal Whiting

October 29, 2010

Galban: Testimony before the CSI (International Confederation Union) / Voices Behind The Bars

Miguel Galban speaks before the International Confederation Union.

First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for allowing me this opportunity to be here with you today. I will briefly tell you about what happened to me in my country. My name is Miguel Galban Gutierrez, and I was imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, being sentenced for 26 years of confinement, and afterwards, I was condemned to a life sentence by the Ministry of the Public Prosecutor. My trial did not consist of any lawful procedures, at all. At the moment of my detainment, I was the sub-director of the National Center for Training Labor Union (CNCSL) and a journalist for the independent newspaper Habana Press. My work simply consisted of denouncing the Cuban reality to the rest of the world, and similarly, in the union, my job was to provide the peaceful opposition and the Cuban workers with efficient information that would further allow them to defend their rights as workers.

I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and later completed my Masters Degree in Maintenance. I would like to point out that, ever since the year 1998, the Cuban government has denied me the right to perform as a professional just because of my political views and my rebellious attitude. Let’s not forget that in my country the only employer is the government.

I must tell you all that during my unjust confinement, which lasted longer than 7 and a half years, I was tortured both physically and mentally, and I was humiliated and harassed both my prison guards and by officers from State Security.

When I was first thrown into prison, they placed me in a penitentiary that was located nearly 180 Kilometers from my house. This prison was known as the dark and fearful Aguica, a stronghold of torture and horrible treatment, considered by the regime to be at the “forefront” of all those other terrible places which can be found throughout my entire Cuban island. When I arrived at that place, there was a sign hanging at the entrance which foreshadowed the horrors I was about to endure in that living Castro-ite hell. It read: “You have arrived to Aguica. If you don’t fix yourself, we’ll fix you.” And so they would try, with the only two methods that they know- horrible treatment and beatings. I was able to confirm this on many occasions during my stay there for four years in a half, while they kept me confined to that dungeon of torture known as 15 & K, which happens to be the same spot where the headquarters of the National Direction of Established Penitentiaries resides.

The most repressive of the torturers there was captain Emilio Cruz Rodriguez. I recall one occasion when he applied an asphyxiation technique on me, with the help of various henchmen of course. This painful process consisted of him pressuring both of his hands around my neck, pushing down on my carotid artery until I was at the point of nearly passing out. For a few days after that, the area which he pressed down on was deeply bruised. He got permission to do all of this from the director of the prison unit, captain Diosdado More and a State Security official called Porfirio Penate.

This place I am telling you about does not offer the prisoners adequate food or medical care. We lived in subhuman conditions, while we’re all crammed into overcrowded spaces- spaces which are about 24 meters squared, where 24 prisoners must live side by side. There is a lack of ventilation, illumination, and the hygiene is terrible. There is no psychiatric attention available for the prisoners, and therefore, the levels of suicides and self-inflictions are very high in comparison with other jails throughout the country. Furthermore, the prisoners do not have the right to receive any mail, while the few who are actually allowed to receive some have no privacy whatsoever, for guards give them in their letters only when they have read it first and understood it. Only then can a prisoner receive his open envelope.

As for the medical attention I received during my prison years, I can say that it was nearly nonexistent. I waited for more than 5 years to have an endoscopy performed on me because of my gastrointestinal problems. My vision has been strongly affected, as has been my hearing. Many of my teeth have deteriorated while some of them are missing, due to the strong pains which I felt in some of them, leaving me no other choice than to take them out. The stress I suffered from left some serious consequences, as well as lots of damage to my memory. I have undergone some serious misfortunes that will forever mark my life, like the death of my mother, who passed away on October of 2008. Her death was not a product of a biological disease, but instead solely due to all the suffering she went through because of my unjust and cruel imprisonment. In addition, she was not able to visit me, for the distance was very far and she was not able to travel for such long trips. The Cuban authorities only allowed me to see her twice.

The Cuban regime did not just condemn us, but also our families. They were victims of such repressive mechanisms for 7 years and a half. We must keep in mind all the difficulties they confronted just to visit us and take us essential things we needed to survive in those cemeteries of living men. Our families deserve to be acknowledged for all their bravery.

My niece, who was doing very well in her job as an information specialist, was forced to quit after they punished her with slashing her salary by 50%, for the sole reason that the Cuban Intelligence Unit had found out that she received an e-mail from someone abroad who was asking about my condition.

Cuba has not changed, and it violates all international covenants of the International Worker’s Organization (OIT) which it has signed. Cuban workers are continuously denied the right to strikes, to peacefully protest, and to move freely to the capital to find work. Workers on the island are defenseless in the face of such arbitrary measures formulated by their employers, they suffer discrimination at work for political beliefs, and they are forced to affiliate themselves with the CTC which is the official union that is a subordinate of the state and run by the Communist Party. Furthermore, they are required to assist political activities and must be paid according to union quota.
I find myself here today not because I was released as a result of a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the Cuban authorities. Instead, I have been used as a token of trade which had the objective of ending the measures which the European Union has kept towards the Castro regime. My decision to accept such a deportation has been strictly because of family, for they could no longer continue to be victims of the dictatorship. They deserve honorable lives, decent lifestyles, and to live in freedom just like our creator wanted for all people.

We hope we can count on support from all of you so that during the next International Worker’s Conference, which is scheduled to take place on June 2011 in Geneva, the Republic of Cuba will be included in the list of the 25 countries which violate worker’s rights the most. We hope that a mission goes underway that members of the CSI or of OIT could meet with Cuban union members, whether they are official or independent, so that they can see the reality. Independent workers carry out their labor in very dangerous conditions, just like my own case which I testified here before you: they sent us to prison with very long sentences, forcing us to live side by side with actual dangerous criminals charged with elevated rate of dangerousness, molesters, and murderers. In addition, we hope that our case be present in the OIT and in the annual report made by the CSI, because the Castro-brother’s government continues with its inactivity.

May God bless you all,
Thank you very much,
Miguel Galban

Translated by Raul G.

October 24, 2010

Stale Cakes / Regina Coyula

I was surprised that the cake man passed by my door in a hurry without calling out to me. I was going to my mother’s house when I ran into him, and as we were on neutral ground I asked him what was wrong. With downcast eyes and few words he told me that it wasn’t “convenient” to talk to me, a neighbor had warned him that I was “one of those Human Rights” and could derail the management of what they were doing. Saying Good Evening, he ended the conversation. Poor country where the citizens don’t know how to reclaim their rights, where fear sows distrust.

November 4, 2010

El Nuevo Herald: Article About the Campaign to Free Dr. Biscet / Oscar Elías Biscet

Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet

By Juan Carlos Chavez

Winnie Biscet, daughter of the Cuban prisoner of conscience Oscar Elías Biscet, launched an international campaign to demand for the immediate release of her father, sentenced to 25 years in a maximum security prison.

“We ask for his unconditional release,” said Winnie, age 22. “And to achieve this we are opening a website and a blog. I want people to know him not only as a patriot, but also as a father.

Winnie is also sending a letter to president Barack Obama asking for his help, and for him to denounce the abuses against Biscet. By Wednesday, she had already collected over 300 signatures.

“I miss my father terribly. I fear for his health and safety. But I support his decision, his continued resistance to tyranny and his strong commitment to freedom and human rights for all Cubans,” her letter said. “Please, Mr. President, join us in this fight and do so publicly, because your support will help to make all the people of the world aware of this injustice.”

Exile organizations, such as Former Cuban Political Prisoners Organization, have joined the call for his unconditional release. The president of the group, Rodolfo Rodríguez San Román, said the release should not be contingent on his leaving the country.

“We are going to fight for him, for freedom without exile,” Rodriguez said.

Biscet is one of at least five political prisoners who have refused to leave Cuba under the current process of releases, which began after talks between the island’s Catholic Church and the government. Incarcerated since 2003, in the Combinado del Este prison in Havana, the 48-year-old Biscet is one of the prisoners most critical of the Cuban government. He started his opposition in 1986, shortly after graduating in medicine. In November 2007, former president George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Freedom Medal, in absentia.

Biscet gained international fame when he released a document condemning the indiscriminate use of the drug Rivanol in Cuba, a drug intended to induce abortions.

See the original interview here.

October 30, 2010

Who Said All Is Lost? / Ernesto Morales Licea

One

Anyone seeing all six-feet-eight of him go by, looking like a basketball forward, would never guess his true profession and what he cares about. Unless he puts on, obviously, the huge white coat he wears which marks him as a saver of lives.

His name: Fernando Mederos. For a long time he’s been the top hematologist in my city, devoting his life to treating children with blood cancer. A doctor with a radio-announcer’s voice, careful manners, and a positive energy that gives him a shocking sense of clarity.

In spite of all that, Mederos’ reputation has a sensational and more painful edge to it: he is the longest-living HIV-infected Cuban on the Island who is surviving without medical treatment. He became infected in 1978 in Guinea Bissau while on an internationalist mission.

To summarize his life in a few paragraphs is beyond my abilities. However, to say that this man was among the first diagnosed in Cuba, and that he suffered discrimination from ignorance, was held in HIV wards where, according to his own words, people were brought more to die than to be healed; to say that he was unable to practice the profession for which he had studied, and which he loves madly, for a very long time, perhaps sheds light on his background and history.

No one who passes through the narrow streets of my city imagines the enormity of the affronts, the infinite sadness, that this admirable man has suffered. Much less, those who depend on him for the life of their child, or who experience the sweetness he imparts every day while robbing death of another victim.

Two.

Among the tear-filled and desperate stories experienced when Hurricane Dennis hit my area, I heard one directly that I keep in my cache of reasons for, like Marti, having faith in the betterment of mankind and the uses of virtue.

The only brick house in a very poor neighborhood known as Revacadero, in the town of Media Luna, was home to five families who, in a single night, lost their roof and all their belongings.

One family, however, after the tremendous winds had died down, stood in the open without daring to approach a neighbor’s house which was serving as a temporary refuge. The reasons were religion and social distance.

The helpless family was made up of five Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had never made friends with the owners of the privileged house, who were devoted Catholics. I learned later that the antagonism between them had been passed down through generations with a hateful stubbornness.

But no natural phenomenon destroys the humanity and feeling of good men.

The pater familias of the Catholics, a carpenter with the thunderous name Ormán Villalón, refused to be separated from the five Protestants and their wreck of a house until he had convinced them, by sheer force of a will stronger than theirs, that he had blankets for them in his home. I remember the wariness in the eyes of those who entered, for the first time, what until then had been the inner sanctum of their enemies.

Just recently I heard from these two families whose gods have faced off in other times: for the last five years they have been like brothers. Living together in the same tiny town, divided by faith, but with a mutual thankfulness that their wounds have been forever healed.

Three.

He passed with unusual speed, from social hero to villain. As things happen in the land of fanatics.

He went from being the most admired and honored teacher at the primary school in my town, with a unique curriculum and the vocation of an evangelical, to being the incarnation of evil to the alleged defenders of truth.

His name: Enrique Martínez Fajardo, a 33 degree Mason, a man idolized by endless generations of Bayamo’s citizens educated under his aegis, who have never understood how “Mr. Martínez” could have been vaporized with such bitterness.

What was his sin? According to the anonymous accusation, a group disaffected with the system met in his lodge and disagreed with national policy. He was accused of founding ghost political parties, and instructing local dissidents. Even today, when he tells of it, Martínez Fajardo displays a bittersweet smile.

The most notorious acts of repudiation in this city were directed against him. The most massive, the most fierce. The end of the paroxysm was huge: leading the mob were his former students, children of eleven, who did not understand why, but they knew they now had to shout at and offend their beloved Mr. Martinez.

I remember this very well. Although by divine fortune I was not among those chosen for those terrible events, when I was still tiny I studied in the same school. The school, incidentally, that changed its anthem because the former one, which had always been sung with pride, had been written by Mr. Martinez.

Now he cannot go anywhere unnoticed. With his decades behind him, he stops at every corner to talk with a friend, a friend of his friends: Martínez Fajardo was the master of an entire city, and not even stigma nor acts of repudiation can erase that fact.

Nor has he abandoned the amusing laugh with which he tells his stories to the children, nor the wonderful smile that mocks the slander of which he was a victim. I, who never let him pass by me without stopping, have failed to notice any speck of hatred among his battered memories.

Final

Alejo Carpentier wrote the most memorable paragraph in a Cuban novel. One paragraph that I have never read without feeling a shudder deep in my skin:

“And understand, now, that man never knows who will suffer and wait. Suffer and wait and work for people he will never know, and who in turn will suffer and wait and work for others who still will not be happy, because a man always craves happiness beyond the portion he has been granted. But the greatness of man is precisely his desire to improve. To impose on himself labor. In the kingdom of heaven there is no greatness to conquer, because there everything is an established hierarchy, with an unknown clarity, there is no end, no need to sacrifice, only rest and delight. Therefore, overwhelmed with grief and labor, beautiful within his misery, able to love in the midst of the plagues, man can only find his greatness, his maximum reach in the Kingdom of this World. ”

Carpentier was devastating.

The more I think, and the more I remember these worthy stories, the testimonies men close to me have presented to me in these days without faith, the more I wonder, with Fito, who said that all is lost while so many are willing to offer their hearts?

November 1, 2010