August 22, 2010
August 22, 2010
The Limits of Immobility
By Dimas Castellanos
The multiple factors that made possible the paralysis of our history in recent decades, while interacting on a different stage, have placed the limits of immobility on the daily agenda. The attempts to convert citizens by the masses, to ignore the vital function of rights and liberties, and to determine from above when and how every single thing needs to be done, ultimately killed personal interest, generated stagnation and lead to a profound structural crisis with immeasurable material and spiritual damages. It is a publicly recognized fact, by way of the country’s authorities themselves posing the need to cambiar todo lo que sea necesario (change everything necessary); even though they did not manifest the corresponding political will to face said changes.
Like I have expressed during other opportunities, the coincidence between the exhaustion of the model, the unhappy citizen, the stagnation of the nation, the deterioration of the exterior image, external pressures and the citizen’ consensus for change, has shaped a scene that summarizes that los de abajo no quieren y los de arriba no pueden seguir como hasta entonces(those below don’t want to and those above can’t until then). In that context, it interrupted a chain of events in the year 2010, among them: the prohibition of entry into Cuban territory of the Socialist MEP (Member of the European Parliament), Luis Yánez, the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo during a prolonged hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas’ hunger strike, the repression against independent journalists, bloggers, Damas de Blanco and other opponents, during a time in which, thanks to information technology, power began to loose its monopoly over information.
Immersed in the complex social framework, the Government announced in the congresses of the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas or Communist Youth Union (October 2009) and the Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños or National Association of Small Farmers (May 2010), the “actualización del modelo” (updated model), an impossible proposition without first replacing the foreign policy of confrontation with the acceptance of critical dialogue, whose first and most basic requirement is the release of political prisoners, a fact which created a shift in the Cuban authorities, whose main event was to call on the Catholic Church to mediate before the Damas de Blanco and Fariñas’ strike, and initiate a process of gradual release of those incarcerated in the spring of 2003. Something to which they had refused for seven long years. Although that shift is not synonymous with the political will for democratization, it expresses at least an awareness that without changes their own proposals are unthinkable, equivalent to the failure of immobility.
If in the new conditions, the intention of the Government is to liberate prisoners to change the image and accept plans for cooperation and sources of funding, it is on the path to flat-out failure; since the release of the first prisoners, regardless of the form or pace at which it is occurring, will become, like it or not, a prelude to other urgent demands from Cuban society. Not ignoring the grave dangers that new stagnancy would represent, the liberalizations will lead, sooner than later, to other changes. Stopping on this point, it is important to note that since 1902, when it the Republic was established, Cuba has changed many times only to return to the starting point again, a reality that forces one to take into account the causes of the regressions when faced with evident prospects for change.
Among them, these cases highlight the weakness of civil society, independent and legally recognized in the first half of the twentieth century, and then its disappearance between 1959 and 1968, without whose existence it’s not possible to advance personally or socially toward modernity. In the absence of civil society and civil and political rights, the concept of the citizen was eclipsed until it came to be considered a pejorative term. This means that at the time that Cuba is approaching changes, it lacks the essential tools and spaces to realize them. A reality that constitutes the most complex challenge for the many transformations that don’t leave to a return to the point of departure. Everything depends on the capacity of the pro-change forces, of intelligence in the form of action, and also of the hidden forces that oppose this process.
In the next installment I will discuss various figures of the Republic emerging from the revolutionary movement who opposed the extension of Gerardo Machado’s powers, who, from the Army or the student population, were characterized by the use of physical and/or verbal violence, and by personalizing public affairs; these are phenomena closely related to the current situation, so this analysis may give rise to valuable lessons for the present. In this article I will concern myself with a man who was essentially characterized by the fight against corruption.
Rene Eduardo Chibas y Rivas (1907-1951), journalist and politician, exalted character, talkative, bold and eccentric, joined the Student Directorate Against the Extension of Powers in 1927. He was highlighted in the Student Directory of 1930, was arrested, imprisoned and exiled on several occasions: in 1925 for his participation in the rally demanding the release of Julio Antonio Mella; in 1929 accused of wanting to kill Machado; in 1931 imprisoned in the Castle of Prince and the Island Prison Pinos; in March 1935, he spent six months back in the Castillo del Principe; and in 1950 her served six months in prison handed down by the Emergency Court.
A member of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, founded in February 1934, in 1939 he was elected delegate to the Constituent Assembly, and sat in the House in 1940 and in the Senate in 1944. In 1947, the result of an internal split in the Authentic Party, founded together with other leaders of the Party of the Cuban People (Orthodox), he ran for the presidency of the republic. From March 1928, he published his first statement in El Mundo, and he made intense and repeated use of the freedom of the press. As early as 1934, the Silver Anniversary edition of the magazine Bohemia, he appeared among its collaborators. In addition to The Crucible and other media of the printed press, he used the radio station CMW Voice of the West Indies, the CMQ, and from 1946 the COCO. His denunciations and controversy formed a new style in Cuban politics, based on the use of the media to stay in the limelight of public interest. He defined himself, in this work, as leader of the Moral Revolution.
He was essentially controversial and contradictory, constantly going from defense to aggression. Some examples: In September 1933, when it was agreed to dissolve the government known as the Pentarchy, he proposed Grau San Martín for president; then, in January 1946, praised the work of President Grau with the following words: In the educational order, we have cash, for the first time in the history of Cuba, which was a dream of Martí and a desire Estrada Palma: that the republic would have more teachers than soldiers. However, in June 1948 he accused Grau of: emulating the Borgia, the greatest pretender that has been given to the world since the time of Caligula, at whose side I have sacrificed twenty years of my life, without asking or accepting anything.
Consummate anti-communist, he presented at the Constitutional Convention a motion of solidarity with Finland on its invasion by the Soviet Army and among other things said: Stalin has betrayed the teachings of Lenin by transforming himself into an imperialist despot in the style of Ivan the Terrible. And in July 1940, during the signing ceremony of the Constitution, he denounced “that it already is being violated in spirit in favor of some who signed it.”
He employed the accusations, mainly corruption, in a systematically way. In May 1939 he accused Blas Roca of treason; in 1942 the chief of police of overstepping his boundaries; in 1943 he filed two motions in the House against Batista and against Congress; in July 1945 he accused Carlos Miguel de Céspedes of the sale of a piece of Paseo; and in January 1947, in a letter read on the radio, he challenged Grau for alleging intending to be reelected; in 1950 he accused President Prio of the assault on a correctional court, and stealing the documents of a charge of embezzling hundreds of thousands of pesos; in 1951 he accused Rolando Masferrer of a placing a bomb in the house of Roberto Agramonte, and so on.
His behavior earned him friends and enemies. Considered crazy, he replied: I’d rather be a mad person with shame than a shameless thief. When Carlos Prio won the 1948 election, he said: Chibas has been a fraud all his life. Not exactly crazy, but abnormal. Chibas doesn’t know where his heart is and is not aware of the existence of truth. With others, Chibas dueled with swords, guns and fists. The defense of what he considered useful at any time led him to make critical assessments.
In February 1946, he established a distinction between a revolutionary attack and simple terrorism. He said: The use of the bomb can be explained when it is used as a crack of rebellion against a regime of terror … but never when used against a government which is the product of national will.
Death was in his work and in his speech. In November 1939, on the eve of the election of delegates to the Constituent Assembly, he was wounded and when asked who had been the aggressors, he said: Do not worry about finding out, I die for the revolution, vote for Grau San Martín; but the popularity from having been shot gave him second in the voting.
In January 1948, at a meeting of the party, he jumped on the head table and began to shout, Throw out your heart! Orthodoxy needs a martyr! In May of that year, during a campaign tour in the East, he said: The day that Chibas is thinking about warning of an extinction or a decline in the civil love, part of a shot to the heart, not for cowardice before the failure, his sacrifice will lead to the victory of his disciples. In 1951, unable to prove the charge against Aureliano Sánchez Arango, he shot himself on August 5, from which he died on the 16th of same month.
In The Crucible of August 7, 1944, setting forth the reasons for authenticism, he said that it only needed a group of Cubans ashamed of the government of the State to break the circle that is suffocating the Republic, and condemning us to the status of outcasts in our own land. Then, to create the Orthodox Party, which was considered the only political force that provides the people of Cuba a new perspective, one that opens new avenues into the country. As a result of his work and his style, in a survey conducted in June 1950, Chibas was the strongest candidate for the presidency, which was confirmed with another held on May 20, 1951, which gave him 29.70% of the vote against 19.03% for Fulgencio Batista.
The idea of administrative honesty was the essence of the political movement that started from the Authentic Party and continued from the initiation of the Orthodox Party: The bad politicians, he said, steal from the rich people, all domestic political struggles are rooted in lack of honesty, it is essential therefore to put the reins of the Republic in clean hands. Chibas reduced the moral — a cultural component responsible for regulating human behavior in social relationships — to administrative honesty. The simplification of the concept allowed him to use it as a weapon against his enemies in elections, but it was unusable as an instrument of profound changes in the political class and the people. It had a purpose: to draw attention to administrative corruption at a time when the disease was becoming a public menace. The slogan Shame against Money!, served perfectly to achieve power as an immediate objective, but not to build the nation honored with social justice that he himself professed.
The program of his party had three main directions: economic independence, political freedom and social justice, but in those times, as in the present, Cuba needed a change capable of breaking both the elitist monopoly of the economy as a policy to access social justice. Because it was necessary to strengthen existing civil society. Chiba devised a perfect paradise to be imposed on a complex reality, mentally constructed from his imagination: expel the thieves of power and put in place an honest man, servant of the nation. That man had to be his own person, who did not desire nor need the national patrimony, and thus the changes advocated had to be realized from the damaging pattern of focusing on personality and warlordism, two of the negative cultural phenomena rooted in our political history.
The concept of immediacy, characteristic of the revolutionary changes, did not allow the drafting of a policy to respond to the existing conditions and social psychology of Cuba. On one occasion he said: Our people are reporting the theft of the rulers with the same calmness that they read the pages of color comics or listen to radio programs. So he called desperately to the public conscience of the indifferent Cuban citizens: People of Cuba, wake up, not realizing that the changes within people do not respond to revolutionary emergencies. So, quite rightly, someone said at his death: Chibas was a man imbued with messianic ideas about history, morality and politics. He dedicated no time to thinking of the new order, because ultimately, the new order was himself, a chronic disease that we still suffer from.
Chibas is a paradigmatic example of the impossibility of social change if it is not accompanied by a corresponding civic culture and arises from a strong civil society, as a condition of participation. That’s one of the main lessons that comes to us from this martyr to cleaning up society. An experience that tells us now that the release of political prisoners can not be more than the starting point for other rights and freedoms, without which Cubans remain marginalized in the decisions of the nation. These include: the right to freely leave and enter the country, whose absence explains the continuing mass exodus by any means; free Internet access, without which superior technical and professional qualifications are devalued in the knowledge era; and freedom of expression, the foundation of all other freedoms.
Translated by: Antonio Trujillo
August 16, 2010
Claudia Cadelo uploaded, very early, her photo of the accident at Fabrica and Lyuano streets at:http://a.imageshack.us/img826/4273/accidente.jpg. In recent days in August several accidents in Havana involved these large articulated buses.
[Translator’s note: This blog post is a reprint of a series or “tweets” from Twitter — which are combined here into a single text, slightly edited to be less “choppy.”]
It’s dangerous to have so much traffic, especially where the children and grandparents of Luyano live, a poor area where people live at street level next to the hot asphalt. Factory Street is very narrow and doesn’t accommodate so many large vehicles and the drivers go too fast for the area.
Hopefully the injured will recover as soon as possible. The causes of this disaster need to be clarified as soon as possible.
It’s been a black day for Havana and Cuba. Victims taken to the Calixto Garcia Hospital, according to what I heard.
The bystanders started to gossip and even joke, and talk about the black market, life resumes as soon as possible after the tragedy.
In the end the children of Luyano were hanging out the windows to see what was happening inside the bus; the police chased them off without much enthusiasm.
I heard the driver survived the impact but I don’t know where he was taken afterward.
Already the traffic is running on Fabrica and Luyano again, although I haven’t seen any P7 buses go by, perhaps it’s that it’s already early morning and the P7 only runs until midnight.
I also took some pictures, the bus left a terrible hole in the wall of the bakery that could easily collapse now.
In the end the State Security agents disappeared leaving only the police, and people began to film and take photos with their cell phones.
Relatives of the victims were severely affected, some going into shock or even fainting at the scene hours later.
There were apparently victims standing in line at the bakery, or standing nearby, thus the terrible confusion in the neighborhood.
The P7 apparently hit or was deflected by a truck and then was embedded in the wall of the bakery. Even after midnight people remained in suspense about the tragedy which involved fatalities to neighbors.
With the situation under control people are finally returning to their homes, with the news traveling from balcony to balcony. Sadness and misfortune.
It’s dark, the streetlight failed. They quickly brought in artificial lights. They are using a saw and a crane to remove the bus.
My photos are only from a single perspective and don’t capture the human drama, the victims, firefighters, police.
A Security Agent came and we talked and he almost took me away, but I eluded him, and continued watching from several yards from the tragedy. I went up to the balcony to avoid him. He asked for my identity card and didn’t read it. I asked him how I could help.
Then a young one came up and asked me for my license to be a photographer as if the street was the private territory of the rescue workers. The neighbors are in the street. Talking about the events. My immediate source of information. How to help in this tragedy? I tried to take photos. I see the stretcher bearers running in. Police are parting the bystanders to open to the street but it’s not happening quickly. Officers on motorcycles. Military in green. Police in blue. Civil Security. Two hours later the operating is slowing down. The majority of the wounded are in the hospital.
There are many corners taken over by police around the Enna Reforma Rodrigues Municipal factory and beyond. They won’t let you take photos. There is no press.
The neighbors are taking about mutilated bodies. Heads, arms, organs. Very difficult even for the specialized personnel. Families are desperate. Initial victims taken to Miguel Enriquez Hospital and others in Havana. Critical cases. The rescue operation is huge. They also have to avoid incidents and vandalism and disturbances among the people.
Later the Ministry of the Interior activates some kind of special system to help in disasters. They come with young civil defense people, and even high level people.
The neighbors are gathering around, chilling screams, crying, hysteria, panic. The first call was to police, fire and ambulance by phone. There was an impasse at the beginning because the magnitude of the accident was too much for the poor people, but then they were very supportive.
About 8:10 or 8:15, then it was on the TV news. Then they noted that the bus was completely embedded in the facade of the shop and also a family home.
In the shock there were those who heard the frightening crash and ran in all directions thinking it was an explosion in some factory.
The P7 doesn’t normally run on Fabrica Street but rather on Calzada and Luyano, but for some weeks its been detoured while Calzada is being repaired.
Terrible bus accident with the articulated P7 (number 758) at Fabrica and Luyano streets, almost 2 hours ago, situation continues difficult.
Corners of Luyano taken over by police and State Security. Neighbors gathering, talking of deaths. No photos close up. No signs of the press. Two hours later they haven’t taken away all the bodies.
Today, Saturday, August 21, 2010, barely 12 hours after a terrible crash of a bus into bakery, the Luyano Mortuary is full of the grieving families and neighbors in the area, as well as abundant military personnel.
August 21, 2010
Ciego de Avila. The inmate Pento Ariel Garcia received a beating, August 16, 2010, by the two heads of internal order, subordinates of the Minister of the Interior Roberto Mesías y Rigoberto, who is better known as El Indio. Both have stood out for beating prisoners while they are handcuffed. Pento García, 34, resides at No 7612 Ave 105, between 76th and 78th streets in Güines, Havana Province, and has been beaten by officers on several occasions and confined in solitary confinement even though he suffers from psychiatric disorders.
Report: Pedro Argüelles Morán, from the group of 75, from Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila.
August 18, 2010
“Confusion Painting” by Keenya Woods
After nearly 200 years since humanity has known a prophet, the earth has one, his name is: Fidel Castro Ruz. This aged prophet is trying to write an epilogue to the Apocalypse, although much more catastrophic. To do this he called an extraordinary session, on August 7, of the one-party National Assembly, of the so-called People’s Power, and met with four Venezuelan journalists the following day. This allowed the official communist organ, the newspaper Granma, in its August 10 edition, to devote seven pages to the interview.
At the same time, said organ of the State press has been publishing for some months the so-called “Reflections of Comrade Fidel.” Here he analyzes the problems of the entire world, expect the urgent — problems of every kind — the Cuban ones.
Also this neo-prophet tries to present himself as a champion of peace, but he forgets that in the early years of the decade of the sixties of the last century, during the October Missile Crisis, he then asked the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to launch a first strike nuclear attack against the United States of America. That during the sixties, seventies and eighties of the same century, he tried to export the socialist revolution to different cardinal points, sending Cubans into guerrilla wars or training guerrillas here in Cuba, and providing them medical care. He also sent regular troops to the Republic of Angola and to Ethiopia in Africa, just to cite two examples. Perhaps now the prophet Castro would like to get another Nobel Prize, this time for peace, along with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he got years ago for turning the entire country into scrap metal.
Pedro Argüelles Morán, from the group of 75, from Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila.
August 18, 2010
Lethal August. I arrive gasping at 23rd and 12th and find, scattered on the ground, various papers as in the photo: FREE IRAN. My God, what’s this? I grab one and look around, I would say I’m the least surprised of those around me. A guy who looks like State Security gets caught in the act of putting one in his pocket and makes a gesture of disgust with amazement. I don’t think he likes it. I couldn’t say if FREE IRAN falls within “Enemy Propaganda,” but apparently it’s not “Friend Propaganda.”
At 23rd and G there are more. Many more. Most have been trampled. Who could have thought up such a brilliant idea? I have no doubt that this is related to the fixed ideas that have gripped the hallucinatory mind of Fidel Castro. How would Compañero Fidel take it if if instead of the Third World War what came to pass was the end of the Iranian dictatorship?
August 20, 2010
Photo: Alina Sardiñas
At first I thought I was isolated, that there were no other prisoners in the other cells; sometimes I heard some door that would open slowly and quietly, as if trying not to strain its hinges; with time and so much silence my ears became fine-tuned, they began to warn of a certain scraping, then something dragging, later I discovered it was the sad steps of someone carrying the world on his shoulders, trembling legs bent in panic, but I didn’t care, the joy of knowing you’re not alone overcomes you, that you aren’t the only unfortunate, your eyes tear up, you want to beat on the door, to see through the iron and the walls, eager to embrace, to be hugged, to hear a word, a whisper, but just let it be a human being; later I preferred no noise, to say not a word, or I didn’t have the courage, I would just huddle in front of the door, knowing the guards would trace it back to me immediately, and in reprisal they would send me to the hole, the punishment cell, and possibly deny me family visits.
I had a little cry against the cold stone. I would have loved to feel the warmth of another human being; I tried pressing my body to the floor, staying that way a few minutes until I could feel the sweat on my back, and with an agile movement I flipped over and rushed to press my face to the still hot place that had been covered by my skin; I thought I might materialize another person this way, preferably a woman, who would stay beside me; the movement barely took two seconds, I practiced it so many times I could do it in one second, but every time I pressed myself to the floor I was overwhelmed by the coldness, the same as in the eyes of the soldiers when they interrogated me, or as flowed from the walls and the doors, emanated from the food and the air; I also blew my breath into my hands, trying to catch it in my fingers and smell it, seeking the sensation of having someone close, accompanying me.
Finally I came to the conclusion that all this effort was useless, I felt that the place was designed to make us feel like a piece of meat in the slaughterhouse.
August 20, 2010
A suspicious incident has provided me with writing material this time. As a sample of a rare will for controversy and democratic confrontation, the site Kaos en la Red, which promotes itself as the champion of intellectual reflection, has just censured a post originally published on this blog, which some reader decided to post on that portal.
The text My Own Vindication of Cuba appeared on that site under the free publication section and soon after went to the main pages of the section named Cuba. After reaching a considerable amount of readings, and after being commented on by many readers, it disappeared without leaving a trace.
The interesting thing is that, according to some comments I had access to via e-mail, a few feverish readers uttered howls of indignation before such opprobrium towards the progressive Kaos en la Red. The opprobrium was the appearance of my text there, not its later censorship, even requested by many of them.
How is it possible – they asked themselves – that our site, the trench of the united leftists allows the enemy to infiltrate in such way? How is it possible that we offer tribune here to an author (me) who admits on his Facebook page that he reads with dedication Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Alberto Montaner?
Soon after, Kaos en la Red retired my inglorious article.
I must confess: I have enjoyed the anecdote. At some point they announced to Sigmund Freud that the Nazis burned his books. The response of the wise psychoanalyst was a sarcasm without equal: “Humanity has progressed so much!” he said, “in the Middle Ages they would’ve burnt me.”
In no way does my ego want to think itself dangerous to the orthodox leftists, just as it seemed the work of Freud was to the retrograde fascists. But this thought seduces me: it had to have something, right? Otherwise my simple article would still be there.
Neither do I think I can discover any truth by affirming that Kaos en la Red represents a faction increasingly impoverished and discredited precisely for their lack of plurality, for the panic that divergent voices inspire in them; I wouldn’t expect anything else.
Even more analyzable is the scream “Enemy in sight!” coming, perhaps, from any of the trained boys from the University of Information Sciences (UCI), or from any other group with similar occupations, whose brains possess a delicate programming in binary coding: zeros-ones / friends-enemies.
As for me, I propose each day to fill myself with more doubts with respect to these frontiers. To undergo a general skepticism that can make me doubt how good of a friend the ones who call themselves my friends really are, and how much of an enemy are the ones that introduce themselves as such…
One of my best friends is a militant of the Communist Party. He’s 38-years-old and was previously a part of the Communist Youth. I have argued with very few people in my life as much as I do with him. In between beers and beers we have come, in certain moments, to whip ourselves up in an intellectual duel which (good Cubans that we are) resembles a violent dispute rather than a confrontation of ideas.
Later, having finished our drinks, we each go our own way onto our chores, and continue to miss each other for the rest of the day.
This friend possesses a vast universal culture, and a humanistic formation that with unusual frequency, allows him to disagree with the party he is a member of. Why does he confront its directives and arbitrariness, and yet keep sympathizing with the process? If I had those answers, maybe I wouldn’t argue with him so much.
But a man who loves women and Martí as much as I do, who would never betray nor condemn anybody for thinking differently from him, and who seeks out his own path for the well-being and progress of his country, can’t be my enemy, even when some of his ideological positions seem incompatible with his intelligence.
A little while ago, during my ephemeral link the official Cuban journalism, I met a radio broadcaster who had a certain prestige in my city. He would announce himself every day before the microphones, at six in the morning, and conduct an informative program lasting two hours which, in my Socialist Cuba, was strictly compliant with the establishment.
That man wouldn’t poke even a toe out of the box which his militant conscience established as just and necessary for his country. He felt proud of his politically committed broadcasting but, luckily, in his conscience of what is just and necessary, he would publicly whip incapable managers, demand attention to the handicapped elderly, and face, from his microphone, the prevailing local violence.
I rarely agreed with him in his visions about the Government, or on infinite topics surrounding Cuban politics, but in my particular Republic I would include a broadcaster who believes in what he says, whether he agrees with me or not, and who knows when to be on the side of the weak people if that is what his conscience dictates.
Now, the conflict occurs when this way of understanding divergence is not reciprocated. I have to admit it is necessary to be cold-blooded, to have a Tibetan superiority, in order to not harbor hostility against those whose beliefs we respect, but who are not capable of returning the favor.
Those who call us “the enemy,” and in their infinite array of vicious euphemisms, use terms such as “worms,” “scum,” and “deserters” to define all those who do not agree with their ways of understanding a social process.
I believe that a good exercise for all, liberals, leftists, humanists, republicans, ecologists, would be to copy the phrase from Voltaire on a piece of paper and stick it on the most visible spot of their home: “ I detest what you say, but I would die to defend your right to say it.”
After incorporating such message, it is very hard to censor articles, denigrate opponents, and consider as enemies all those who express, out loud and without hypocrisy or opportunism, what they really think, either about an ideological or religious doctrine, or about any sexual conduct.
My definitions of friend-enemy rarely pass through a political sieve. Above all, I am interested in human rights, and I celebrate that many great people I know don’t share my postures. When you are a democrat, when you have pluralistic thoughts, you are radically unable to accept intolerance and exclusion.
August 16, 2010
They knocked on the door twice before identifying themselves. When they said “It’s the Police,” he already knew it couldn’t be anybody else. No one else would’ve knocked with such rudeness.
His face pale from nerves, he let them enter, knowing there was no going back. After searching the house all over, they decided to open a washing machine placed (strategically) behind the bathroom door.
They looked at each other with a satisfied expression: they had found the merchandise. The thief was lost. Soon after, in a drawer in the bedroom they would also find some money that, although it wasn’t much, it was proof of illegal commerce; therefore, it would also be seized.
They took him out in handcuffs, in the middle of the day. They put him inside a police car. One of them stayed at his house, interrogating his wife who was barely able to stammer with her throat tight from fear and astonishment.
The operation had concluded with great success on a busy city street, and the curious, the neighbors, and the occasional lingerers stepped away so as not to be taken as sympathizers of the disgraced.
I would’ve wished all this to be only my imagination, my literary voice, but it’s not. What I just described took place in Bayamo only three days ago. The detained man was a personal friend of mine. I have to confess I haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep since this past Thursday.
This delinquent is not really a delinquent. The merchandise is neither marijuana nor laundered money. It was simply pants. Just that. A load of twenty jeans bought at a good price in the country’s capital, and brought (along with many sleepless nights, shock and hardship) to this eastern city.
Let me clarify the “good price”: fifteen convertible pesos. They were bought at a store in Havana that had lowered their price for having small manufacturing defects.
They could be sold for twenty convertible pesos, or with luck for twenty-two, in this part of the country. Small profit for this smart merchant, big profit for the buyer who wouldn’t have had access to them any other way.
Nevertheless, the eyes trained in the art of informing don’t rest. Some diligent “collaborator” reported the crime, and the forces of order showed up. What crime? Well… something that in this, my island of euphemisms has been named, “hoarding.” That’s how it’s defined, and that’s how it is punished.
What does this idea of hoarding consists of? Possessing a large enough quantity of something to make it worth trading in it. It doesn’t matter if it is soda crackers, fan blades, or in this case, jeans with small manufacturing defects. The number they consider as too high has not yet been stipulated. That is left to the police officer’s interpretation.
That is why I remember, for example, my trips to the University of Santiago De Cuba, when the cops would board a truck full of students, go through our entire luggage, and detain or give tickets to anyone who had more than the usual packs of candy or wafers than was considered normal. Obviously, the merchandise was confiscated as well.
Many times it was only bread, guava paste, or any other edible product students would have to sell in order to earn some money to subsist, while at the same time alleviating the hunger of their companions in poverty.
“Hoarding” is only one of the many denigrating terms with which every attempt to trade, for personal benefit, can be nipped in the bud in name of a supposed common equality which becomes more pathetically fictitious each day.
Behind this term lies a government mentality dedicated, at its fullest, to mercilessly sweeping away anyone who refuses to live as an indigent on their state salary, anyone who decides to try to get by through some kind of trade, as minimal as it is stressful. For those, the path is strewn with red lights.
Two currencies circulate in Cuba. Workers’ wages are paid in one – “national money” or Cuban pesos; but what workers buy must be paid for with the other – “convertible pesos,” which are worth twenty-five times more. It is evident that “buying” the convertible peso – required to purchase basic needs – is, in itself, an almost constant labor for Cuban workers.
OK, at least in my city, with nearly 300 thousand people, there are only two “Exchanges” where you can undertake the operation legally. The serpentine lines that snake out through its glass doors are depressing — hundreds of people standing under the sun in order to be able to obtain the convertible pesos.
What does this bring as a consequence? That many choose to buy those convertible pesos at the Exchanges in order to then sell them to their fellow countrymen, who can then avoid the long lines under the hot sun for the such slight rewards. They would lose more time standing in line to get the convertible pesos at the Exchanges, than the time it takes the cops to arrest them if they are caught selling them in front of the stores.
The iron fist of a centralized economy, however improbably, never slips, never sleeps, never leaves an area uncontrolled. The private commerce in Cuba is a painful demonstration of the way in which a system has forced millions of humble beings to live.
Recently, I heard an elderly barber say that he had turned in his permit that allowed him to operate legally, and that he would, from time to time — at the price of being a nervous wreck — see some clients at night in his back yard. The reason? Right after the supposed economic reforms in favor of our society, the State had raised his taxes to up to two hundred pesos a month. With such lump sum, he would barely have any profit.
Seeing that old man with his wrinkled skin, his clothes transparent from being worn every day, knowing that he won’t even be able to cut hair peacefully, managed to ruin my day.
As a consequence, I can’t stop wondering what we have done to the ones who lead us, the ones who sign the laws, who manage the fate of this nation, that they would make us lead such a difficult and battered existence. How is it possible to think that a man who earns one Cuban peso – 4 cents – for each convertible peso he sells, or a few cents with a bag of limes that he displays in some doorway, is a deplorable scourge whom this society needs to wipe out?
AN EPILOGUE THAT IS NOT
I have not yet heard anything about my friend. I have passed by his meager apartment (which is so small it almost makes it hard to breathe) a couple of more times and every time I go I find the same windows and doors are shut. I’m scared for him. I know that he would at least be charged with a huge fine and lose all his investment. I know that if worse comes to worse, his wife and five-and-a-half-year-old son would not know how to live with him behind bars, without his risky inventiveness to sustain his family’s stomachs.
But I am mainly scared for the conscience of those who arrested him, and of those who blew the whistle. I suffer from the decorum of so many Cubans devoted to reporting their neighbors, with withering smiles, of taking away what little they acquire , of vaporizing the shred of peacefulness that it represents to a pater familias to be able to earn some money with which to alleviate the scarcities of the home kitchen.
It makes me suffer because in my commitment to some day building a happier and freer country, a country that better meets the needs of its sons and daughters, they will all be the burden that will tie us to the past.
Translator: Angelica Betancourt
August 14, 2010
I will continue my strike, asking for help and solidarity, to visit the doctor, hug my family and return.
I think it’s practically normal that some citizens engage in violations of the law, but NOT that it be the government that violates it. This is a homicide, a torture, a defiance.
I thank all those who have, in one way or another, raised their voices for me, those who have remained silent, and those who have criticized me. I’ve said, I am plural; to the latter let me say that if, being the son of my father, asking for specialized medical care and wanting to be with my family makes me guilty of something, I assume with pleasure full responsibility.
My goal is purely family, humanitarian, domestic and very Cuban; perhaps somewhat stubborn and unwavering, but nothing epic.
August 20, 2010
Sometimes people use the term friend-brother irresponsibly, without taking seriously the connotation and the commitment that is implicit in the word.
Juan Juan Almeida is more than fifty days into a hunger strike. This cheerful young man, who is bright and loves life, came to this choice following the refusal of his just petition: to leave the country to receive treatment for his unusual illness and to be reunited with his wife and daughter, from whom he has lived apart for more than two years. He has sent letters which included his medical history as requested on each occasion by the State: his answer has been silence. His journey has been solitary, carrying posters on which he asks that his rights be respected. He has not wanted to involve anyone else, nor involve himself in anything that isn’t his private problem. He has been imprisoned as a result of his petition on several occasions. Everyone seems to understand the justice of his plea, but only one person has the power to authorize his departure from the country.
Dear readers, I am a mother and, as any normal mother, I adore my children. If it should occur to anyone to say that I am their friend, their sister, and in spite of this, they mistreat any one of my children, it would be more than a joke, it would be a betrayal of our friendship.
Translated by Jon Lindsay Miles
August 15, 2010
“That was before,” answered the girl who was ahead of me, when I mentioned the old slogan. “Now it’s more like Save Yourself If You Can.” Though still very young, she spoke as if we had known each other our entire lives. Looking through the windows of the store, awaiting the doorman to authorize our entry with the well known little phrase que pasen tres (three may pass), we kept busy watching the cashier struggle, due to the exaggerated length of her fake fingernails, as she input codes and prices. My attention was drawn to the ring she exhibited on her ring finger. It was round, flat and huge; just like a bull-fighting arena. This, together with the noise caused by her plastic fingernails as they crashed against the calculator, made me think that she too was haciendo el papeleo (processing her paperwork) to become a cubañola (a Spanish citizen who would still pass as Cuban) and was simply, already trying to fit into her environment. Well, it sounded almost like castanets playing.
“We’re almost there,” commented the girl, who by the way, was either nervous or in a hurry and wouldn’t stop talking. “I’m here,” she told me, “because I’ve gone through all the stores in el Vedado, plus all the ones in this town and this little store is the only one that has it.” “Calm down,” I told her, “it’s almost our turn to go in.”
At that moment, a truck parked in front of the store and the doorman pokes his nose out. “Now us right?” I asked him as soon as his head peeked out. “No ma’m, I’m very sorry, the sale will stop because merchandise just arrived and as you can imagine, we have to unload it and take inventory.” The talkative young girl, looked as if she was about to have an anxiety attack. I tried to calm her but it was impossible. She screamed saying, “And Now? What will I use to wipe my …? This is the only store that has any!” “Be quiet I told her,” before I left. “Remember, the customer is the last card in this deck.”
Translated by: Antonio Trujillo
August 12, 2010
From the silence, the impunity, and with the same contempt for the activists who promote human rights in Cuba, the political police triggered the arrests and threats in Havana and other cities in the country, between July 10 and August 12, which coincides with the resumption of activities by ex-president Fidel Castro and the official celebration of his birthday, on Thursday, August 13.
As the press is an area where the real world and that world designed by the ideologues of power meet, it is enough to compare the newspaper Granma and the official media who display the tyrant’s need to be in the limelight on the island, with Cubanet and other pages from exile, that report the daily events from alternate sources, without censorship or half-truths.
To illustrate the repression it’s worth some examples of arrests, threats made to people in their homes and at police stations, beatings behind bars, “persuasive conversations” in offices of the “apparatus,” statements, written denunciations and unusual outbursts, like that of Colonel Samper to Alfredo Guillaume (age 82), to whom he said, “It’s not worth wasting a bullet on you, but we would save resources.”
A reported dated July 26 and signed by Joel Lázaro Carbonell Guilar, leader of the group Human Rights Free Cubans, illustrated with names and recent violations the Articles 3, 9 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Articles 9 (sub-paragraph a), 58 and 59 of the Cuban Constitution. According to the activist: “They include acts of genocide and torture against members of civil society, victims of detentions, threats, mistreatment, kidnappings on the public street and being besieged by mobs organized by the political police.” He adds that, “the events remain unpunished and the damage to the injured is not repaired.”
Yoel Lázaro Guilar refers to the cases of Lilvio Fernández Luis, leader of the Comisión Martiana, taken from his house to a cell in Villa Marista; Alfredo Fernández Silva, president of the Partido 30 de noviembre, taken by force from his home and help in a distant place for 10 hours; Juana M. Oquendo Gómez, executive of the Partido Liberal Ortodoxo, detained and threatened in front of her son, whom they detained to pressure her; and the kidnapping of the elderly man Alfredo Guillaume.
The arrests gained intensity on July 12, before the anniversary of the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo (resulting in 41 deaths, including children); the days before the July 26 anniversary, celebrated in Santa Clara; the lead up to the August 5 anniversary of the Maleconazo riot in 1994; and August 12 as a gift from the Minister of the Interior to Fidel Castro on his 84th birthday (August 13). Activists calculated that there were more than 100 arrests on August 5.
Ricardo Medina, a theologian and representative of the Liberal Catholic Church was arrested on August 4 together with the activist Hugo Damián at the Pinar del Rio bus station, where he was to greet the layman Dagoberto Valdés. He was taken by an official from State Security with Ricardo’s dossier, and freed two days later.
The arrests in July on the Malecon in Havana and on August 5 in the Park at Calzada and K in Vedado, added the names of journalists and independent librarians who enlarged the list of opponents interrogated in Santa Clara, Holguín and Guantánamo.
The siege against human rights defenders in mid-July and August coincided with the release of a dozen prisoners of conscience, and with the media role of Fidel Castro, who retakes the ideological reins of the regime and announces universal catastrophes.
August 18, 2010
As a teenager I imagined that writers were wise, sensible, creative, focused and responsible people. For me, a poet was a chosen of God in communion with men, capable to singing to the moon, describing encounters with the stars, and shouting the word freedom before the rifles of the tyrant. With the passage of time I met several literary types and discovered the human profile of some poets and writers.
I didn’t imagine, however, that there was a trafficking in praise, a commerce in applause, and even poems and stories made to order. Perhaps in exchange for prizes, publications, trips, and positions at cultural institutions. So I thought until I read an August 14 article in the daily paper Juventud Rebelde — Rebel Youth — by José Luis Estrada Betancourt, “The Poets Are on This Side.”
Incredible but true. The writer starts with a fragment from Declaration of Love by Carilda Oliver Labra, National Literature Prize of 1997, who read this work, and continues with her Song to Fidel, in the recent fair at the Cuba Pavilion where she participated with other literary celebrities in the recital, “With Fidel and For Peace,” organized by the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) the previous day, on the occasion of the Island tyrant’s 84th birthday.
In reviewing the evening, the journalist set out the certainties around the peace of the figures assembled with Carilda Oliver, who came from Matanzas to receive the Youth Teacher Prize, awarded by the Asociación Hermanos Saiz and given out by Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture. The writers lists the names of the other personalities, quotes the worlds of novelist Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, and ends with a poetic apology by Nancy Morejón to the despot who calls for world peace after half a century of shooting off canons.
As it never rains but it pours, on Saturday night I saw on the National Television News the faces of Fernández Retamar, César López, Barnet, Carilda, Pablo A. Fernández and other scribblers with more excuses than published books, all attentive to the orders of the Caudillo, ever ready to grab a stick and frighten the sparrows.
If Carilda Oliver re-read her old Song to Fidel, Miguel Barnet repeats the pacifist chant Coma Andante, and Nancy Morejón described the fortune of being loyal to Fidel, it’s all consistent with the Juventud Rebelde reported who affirmed without blushing that “The Poets Are on This Side,” as if the island had only one shore and the mission of the rhapsodies consisted of denigrating a nation enslaved by its enlightened ringleader.
Although time has taught us that some poets sell their verses and write tributes for a crumb of power, we know that on other shores of the island’s geography there are dozens of writers without prizes nor choruses, sensitive and creative people who suffer for a geranium, discover the beauty of the rain, and challenge the campaigns of the despot who convenes the debased.
August 19, 2010
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Paid or unpaid, collaborating or not collaborating with technical and artistic professionals, what’s certain is that Cuba is getting along without TeleSur. Fortunately or unfortunately, save in certain “super-authorized” offices, in Havana there is no way to tune in to this great channel whose North is the South and which is supposed to unify the new dawn in Latin America. In telecommunications, Cuba remains in a continental twilight.
But at night a small breach opens in this so-called dike of our Bolivarian brothers. On an educational channel of TVCuba, Walter Martinez appears, summarizing what we Cubans wouldn’t know how to interpret for ourselves. Like a good teacher, or better yet, a nice literacy coach, Walter Martinez unforgettably marks the screen.
Moody and with the throaty voice of a soap opera Latin lover. Enigmatic light of a Hitchcock, terrifyingly anti-hegemonic. Intimate solitude of the magister revolucionarium on the set. And a media patch over his right eye (his mono look is from the left): irresistible symptom that we traffic in pirated information that, in any other way, would never happen on the Island of the Free.
Our WWWalter appears each night with a little of this and a little of that. He doesn’t let anyone talk, but it doesn’t matter: he is the polyglot or he works with a team of translators who move easily from Farsi to Korean to Guarani.
Walter Martinez narrates with objective anti-capitalism the bombings of the day. Democracies dragged down by the Marines. Yankee bases boycotted. Diseases created by companies. Floods caused by the First World. Apocalyptic accidents. Corrupt leaders. Misery close up. And so on and so forth from a shitty post-liberal planet.
A full hour of the Gospel According to Saint Walter. Cuba trembles at his feet, to the point where many change the channel to avoid the worst. Even the Roundtable show is more palatable, in neurotropical terms. Even the rebroadcast of the rebroadcast of some official speech.
The fact is that Walter Martinez is now our ambassador of ill-will and this deserves respect. He’s even spoken, as friend-to-friend, with the re-emergent Fidel Castro. And it wouldn’t come as a surprise of, sooner rather than later, Cuban TV assigns him his own interview program in the style of Amaury Pérez Vidal.
In my neighborhood I’m one of the few who sees, every night, this slice of censored TeleSur. I don’t do it to keep myself informed, which would be ironic, but out of sheer perversion. I have a hunch hat Walter Martinez doesn’t even see us as people, with his one surviving eye. I have the impression that Walter Martinez, in reality, spies on Cubans through the black patch of his empty socket.
He knows something Cuba is still ignorant of. And that is horrifying. It’s called the marketing of paranoia: Walter Mercado falls short faced with the predictions of Made in Martinez. In this effect hooks you on something for which there is no cure before the proletarian screen of your TV.
August 19, 2010