Che’s Grandchildren / Iván García

Forget the New Man Che Guevara dreamed of one day. We said goodbye long ago to that guy dressed in a uniform twelve hours a day and on the weekends we would prefer to read realistic Russian works like Volokolamsk Highway and How The Steel Was Tempered, before having a beer and listening to the geniuses from Liverpool. That New Man never put down roots in Cuba.

This incorruptible man with his unlimited hatred of the imperialist enemy, who didn’t enjoy drinking rum with coconut water on the beach, a hooker at his side, could not be cloned on the island of sugar cane.

Guevara must be turning in his granite and marble mausoleum where his remains rest outside of Santa Clara, some 200 miles east of Havana. Now, in 2010, teenagers and young Cubans see Che as a marketing fetish; clothes and objects with his image on them clutter the foreign exchange stores.

Yesenia, 19, loves rock, detests the Castro government, but wears a Dior T-shirt with the face of the guerrilla saint. “I read that in real love Che was rigid, authoritarian and violent, but the Argentine was charismatic because he wanted to be different from the rest,” says the girl, sitting with her friends listening to music on their Mp3s.

The children of those who waged war on African soil and who instead of the Bible read Che’s Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War, are closer to his time than their parents. They are allergic to slogans and revolutionary marches. No one can inculcate them with the idea of voluntarily working to clear the marabou weed without charging a cent.

These grandchildren of Che think of visas to the United States or Spain. They go to good discotheques. Drink Coca Cola and quality whiskey. Dress in the latest fashions. Dance to Shakira’s waka-waka, and if they have hard currency, they take a snort of cocaine.

The most nonconformist in Cuba today are precisely the young people. They want to live in a democracy. For them, Ernesto Guevara is a myth. And a legend what can be worn on a watch or tattooed on an arm, like Maradona.

The current generation of Cubans now prefer to sit in the park or on the Malecon with their iPhones or Blackberries, sharing psychedelic music and talking nonsense. They don’t hate the gringos. On the contrary. They fight for Made in USA products.

Forty-three years after his death in Bolivia, the New Man dreamt of by Che has become a boomerang.  At least in Cuba.

Photo: volkerfoto, Flickr

October 9, 2010

A Sky The Color of Winter / Rebeca Monzo

On my planet the sky dawned today the color of winter. It looks like when a cold front comes. Still hot, but there is a breeze and the sun is less aggressive. Magnificent day to go out and do things.

Passing Zapata and 12th, opposite the cemetery entrance, all the activity called my attention. It looked like they were preparing for an event. I didn’t pay too much attention, because I am hoping I am going to hear it first by shortwave.

Upon arriving at the Immigration officer, to ask them to search for my other grandfather, I met a friend in the line. She came to apply for a Permit to Reside Abroad (PRE), and she showed me the front page, all in black, of the Granma newspaper she had in her hands. Suddenly my heart leaped. Has it happened and I haven’t heard. Impossible, I would notice in the street, and all along the way, except at the cemetery, everything seemed normal. When I read it, I was afraid. They have issued a decree establishing October 6 of every year as Victims of State Terrorism Day, for all the Empire’s acts of terrorism we have been subjected to.

Gentlemen, you cannot assign terrorism to one name. Nor democracy.

Terrorism was the plane in the Barbados, terrorism is the ETA, terrorism is the FARC, terrorism was the twin towers, terrorism is Al Qaueda. Everything that wants to impose through acts of force, that involves the death of innocent people, whomever does it and wherever it comes from. To claim the lives of others, destroy public buildings, plant bombs, kidnap, impose ideas and social models by force, in my humble opinion, this is terrorism. A sky the color of mourning, like the terrorist want to impose, is not the same as a sky the color of winter, like today.

October 6, 2010

NIGHTERATURA FOR SANDRA / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

NIGHT OF THIS NIGHT WITHOUT NIGHT

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Night in Cuba can be as claustrophobic as the sunny days. You sweat. You stink. You’re exhausted. Desire disappears. It is better to die than to be depressed by the national nightmares on top of the tedium of your coming day.

But the summer is over, however unlikely. October blows its mysteries of a bad month for mediocrity. It’s even cold. The direction of the air changes, the atmosphere is open to the sky. The stars rotate counterclockwise. The moon doesn’t show itself too much. Everything is noble grey. The nights shrink, there is no distance between objects. Lightness is synonymous with Freedom. There is no government nor resistance. There is only Cuba, the only one. The one of truth. Cuba unrecognizable, or at least unknown.

And then we breathe. That. For the first time in this year we Cubans her breath. O2: oxygen, orlando… Click Play.

I go outside. I record in mp3 syllables what Havana dictates to me. I am privileged, I recognize it, I am a tiny imitation of god. I wish the entire world was under my skin, shivering under my sternum. So much reality still virgin. So much luxury and so much splendor. All of a sudden visible, soft, hyper-real. An unexpected city. Suicide.

Down below the Ceguera hospital looking for the midnight music of the sea. I go alone, as appropriate to all limited experience. Unlimited. Seventieth street has preserved its decorated trees. Subversive roots that cracked the solemnity of the concrete. Also granite benches. A desolate funeral. A bookstore without illusion. State cafeterias that deserved to be bombarded by a multinational force. Riotous semaphores for anyone. I crossed on the red, the green and the yellow. No one saw me, not even me. I’m a ghost, of course, but the ghost of a real citizen who is leaving our performance of a country.

On 19th the P-10 bus crosses in front of me, very long, bright and colossal, empty of people, driven automatically, perhaps, from the general headquarters of the Yutong company that made the bus, pure material imported from the future Caribbean that never was. What loneliness so healthy. Where are the Cubans at this time without time? Who will wish me luck and not assassinate me, a shadowy zombie exiting socialism? When will the asphalt end and I will finally tread the dogtooth that is our most faithful border? Why did I not fall asleep forever in one of those plastic cans with signs in Catalan?

It should not dawn. They should not dawn. We should not dawn.

The Russian embassy is a quadratic syringe. I’m sorry, it always seemed precise to me in its deformity. It’s a lizard, a symptom, simply sensational. I imagine it full of spies and satellite dishes, maybe micro-satellites and isotopes and some sad girl with a handkerchief of icons on her head, cut out of one of those colored magazines from the eighties.

I don’t know what I am listing. I am in ecstasy. I speak alone, like the locos, all the fault is the mp3’s.

An estate. The pines still uncut. Democracy will enter Cuba by this avenue, I know. The architecture predisposed. Beauty calls. Even if dawn never breaks, Havana may be saved.

The sea. Next to the Dutch or Hispanic or Swiss hotel, or what I know of the H’s H-Europeans H-invoked now. Little waves. Foam. Salt on my myopic lips. Fear of not being afraid and going with my clothes and boots into this sea. Hiding myself with humility. Under that immaculate odor of cosmic milk from above. Constellations, galaxies, high points of light that never blink. The sense of this place escapes me. I would undress, touch my body, explode. Orlandoisms that don’t fit in the prudish country that persistently kicks us. As a teenager I was like this, pleased with the outside world. Without penalty. Without asking pardon, but with dread. A patrol approaches me from the alley that bites the reefs of the sea.

ID card, of course. We un-inhabit the Island of Identification. My hair makes them nervous. My height. My mannerisms. My clothes. My voice on the mp3. Distilled truth. I am, for an instant, immortal. Immoral.

Two hours later I’m back on 70th Street. The intermezzo doesn’t matter, does not fit in the fragility of this narration. Nothing happened. Decrepit dialogs of authority. Winks of the author. Official fiction. Tonight we were unstoppable, Cuba, me and those who right now follow with the view my voice (just in that ungrammatical order). It is the kind of anecdote that turns exclusively in me. I have told it in Sad Tiger and Decalogue of the Year Zero. A mistake. Horror always is.

Seventieth street above is just exquisite. It never reaches 31st. Snoring mansions illuminated, with their dead owners in the cemeteries of some other country. Roofs slender, curved, futuristic, classic. There were men living in this story. Their mistake was not to leave too early, but to abandon us parting from here (to the papyrus here). A Cuba of mute memories pressing on our retinas, throats and heart. Click Stop.

I turn to home. I hear it. I type, I tremble. I am in an invented winter. Some cats are disemboweled on the other side of my wide open window. The red sky. Drizzle. Hoot. I p[ray that the night does not end now. I pray never to find a line that accommodates the final period without violence.

October 7, 2010

AND WHAT ABOUT MY CUBA…? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

2010 — Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru

2009 — Herta Mueller, Romania and Germany

2008 — Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, France and Mauritius

2007 — Doris Lessing, United Kingdom

2006 — Orhan Pamuk, Turkey

2005 — Harold Pinter, United Kingdom

2004 — Elfriede Jelinek, Austria

2003 — J. M. Coetzee, South Africa

2002 — Imre Kertesz, Hungary

2001 — V. S. Naipaul, United Kingdom

2000 — Gao Xingjian, France

1999 — Gunter Grass, Germany

1998 — Jose Saramago, Portugal

1997 — Dario Fo, Italy

1996 — Wislawa Szymborska, Poland

1995 — Seamus Heaney, Ireland

1994 — Kenzaburo Oe, Japan

1993 — Toni Morrison, United States

1992 — Derek Walcott, Saint Lucia

1991 — Nadine Gordimer, South Africa

1990 — Octavio Paz, Mexico

1989 — Camilo Jose Cela, Spain

1988 — Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt

1987 — Joseph Brodsky, United States

1986 — Wole Soyinka, Nigeria

1985 — Claude Simon, France

1984 — Jaroslav Seifert, Czechoslovakia

1983 — William Golding, United Kingdom

1982 — Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia

1981 — Elias Canetti, United Kingdom

1980 — Czeslaw Milosz, Poland and United States

1979 — Odysseus Elytis, Greece

1978 — Isaac Bashevis Singer, United States

1977 — Vicente Aleixandre, Spain

1976 — Saul Bellow, United States

1975 — Eugenio Montale, Italy

1974 — Eyvind Johnson, Sweden; Harry Martinson, Sweden

1973 — Patrick White, Australia

1972 — Heinrich Boll, Germany

1971 — Pablo Neruda, Chile

1970 — Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet Union

1969 — Samuel Beckett, Ireland

1968 — Yasunari Kawabata, Japan

1967 — Miguel Angel Asturias, Guatemala

1966 — Shmuel Agnon, Israel; Nelly Sachs, Sweden

1965 — Mikhail Sholokhov, Soviet Union

1964 — Jean-Paul Sartre, France

1963 — Giorgos Seferis, Greece

1962 — John Steinbeck, United States

1961 — Ivo Andric, Yugoslavia

1960 — Saint-John Perse, France

1959 — Salvatore Quasimodo, Italy

1958 — Boris Pasternak, Soviet Union

1957 — Albert Camus, France

1956 — Juan Ramon Jimenez, Spain

1955 — Halldor Laxness, Iceland

1954 — Ernest Hemingway, United States

1953 — Winston Churchill, United Kingdom

1952 — Francois Mauriac, France

1951 — Par Lagerkvist, Sweden

1950 — Bertrand Russell, United Kingdom

1949 — William Faulkner, United States

1948 — T.S. Eliot, United Kingdom

1947 — Andre Gide, France

1946 — Hermann Hesse, Switzerland

1945 — Gabriela Mistral, Chile

1944 — Johannes V. Jensen, Denmark

1943 — No prize awarded

1942 — No prize awarded

1941 — No prize awarded

1940 — No prize awarded

1939 — Frans Eemil Sillanpaa, Finland

1938 — Pearl Buck, United States

1937 — Roger Martin du Gard, France

1936 — Eugene O’Neill, United States

1935 — No prize awarded

1934 — Luigi Pirandello, Italy

1933 — Ivan Bunin, stateless domicile in France

1932 — John Galsworthy, United Kingdom

1931 — Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Sweden

1930 — Sinclair Lewis, United States

1929 — Thomas Mann, Germany

1928 — Sigrid Undset, Norway

1927 — Henri Bergson, France

1926 — Grazia Deledda, Italy

1925 — George Bernard Shaw, United Kingdom

1924 — Wladyslaw Reymont, Poland

1923 — William Butler Yeats, Ireland

1922 — Jacinto Benavente, Spain

1921 — Anatole France, France

1920 — Knut Hamsun, Norway

1919 — Carl Spitteler, Switzerland

1918 — No prize awarded

1917 — Karl Gjellerup, Denmark; Henrik Pontoppidan, Denmark

1916 — Verner von Heidenstam, Sweden

1915 — Romain Rolland, France

1914 — No prize awarded

1913 — Rabindranath Tagore, India

1912 — Gerhart Hauptmann, Germany

1911 — Maurice Maeterlinck, Belgium

1910 — Paul Heyse, Germany

1909 — Selma Lagerlof, Sweden

1908 — Rudolf Eucken, Germany

1907 — Rudyard Kipling, United Kingdom

1906 — Giosue Carducci, Italy

1905 — Henryk Sienkiewicz, Poland

1904 — Frederic Mistral, France; Jose Echegaray, Spain

1903 — Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Norway

1902 — Theodor Mommsen, Germany

1901 — Sully Prudhomme, France

And not one of them from Cuba!

October 10, 2010

Oil, Chapter 2 / Regina Coyula

Photo courtesy of Orlando Luis

On July 8 I published a post about my alarm about the oil drilling practically at the entrance to Havana Bay. Well it turns out that a well between East Havana and Cojimar had to be sealed because of the leak of very dangerous sulfurous gas. The work being done in Mariel to “move” the commercial activity to the Port of Havana, the cleaning of the bay, including decommissioning the refinery, all with the idea of converting the capital’s harbor into a marina focused on tourist cruises and private pleasure boats, is in direct conflict with this unusual drilling.

The gas is toxic, full stop.

October 4, 2010

EATING THE CABLE / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

PULL YOUR GROUND WIRE

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Once again, like every few months, they were in the neighborhood collecting cables. Lawton dawned shifting into reverse. Vans from the telephone company, ETECSA, or the Ministry of the Interior (MINIT) or both. Cooperation from the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) along with the National Revolutionary Police (PNR). Running around at the last minute on the roofs and in the corridors to be avoid being caught in flagrante. Throwing the anonymous cables into the middle of a lot or a yard. Fines of thousands of pesos to the providers of clandestine signals. And here nothing has happened, ladies and gentleman, but to put the cables back and wait for Papa State’s next raid; apparently he doesn’t like foreign television: it seems that only the top officials (and also Amaury Pérez Vidal) are authorized to watch anything other than Cuban TV (TVC).

María Elvira y Oscar Haza, go home…!

It’s funny how the Havana government likes to wear itself out money. It’s possible that the Cuban establishment is just that: the cunning art of ruining the economy of a nation.

Everyone knows that the illegal market for cable TV has stabilized at a relatively cheap 10 CUC a month (about $12 U.S.). So it’s not unusual to find buildings with dozens of clients, nor blocks where there are more than a hundred (it’s rumored that in Bauta and its surrounding towns there are thousands). The Ministry in charge, perhaps the Ministry of Community Common Sense, should have normalized the situation long ago, not repressing it by force but assuming that the Cuban people are a part of the planet. And they want to see. Will they finally learn, the towering leaders of the Revolution? In addition to living, we shall see what we shall see!

Until recently no cell phone in Cuba actually belonged to a Cuban citizen. How long with they stay immersed in the stupidity of not allowing us to independently connect cables that free us from the four educational channels and allow us to mass-mediocresize ourselves in peace?

Everyone knows that the average Cuban spends his time consuming audiovisual junk. Soap operas, shows by who knows who, reality TV, comic caricatures that go back to the 1950s, and even media crisis news of the worst Latino channels. All in Spanish or, worse, dubbed. All at the speed limit. Ephemeral. Amnesia producing, after the tapestry of instantaneous super-information, Futile future. I know I look like an evangelist for the Round-table show on Cuban TV, but I feel bad about the consumption statistics of our tired culture even before the start of whatever will change.

Of course, the dozens and dozens of viewers affected by the State in Lawton yesterday, tolerated it all with their usual indecency. Not a single protest, not one hard stare, head held high, not a whispering little voice wondering what was going on or how long so much arbitrary randomness would last (right now Amaury Perez Vidal and the rest of Havananothing are going to enjoy their illegal satellite TV).

In truth, when I think about it now, it’s possible they may not deserve any other kind of television ever. Every people has the imbecile box it deserves. Bon appetit, Cubavision.

October 8, 2010

In Limbo / Regina Coyula

Courtesy of Orlando Luis
Those who have heard of me, and who sincerely, or with teeth bared, support the government, I am a a person of rights. Of rights because I want a democracy where people exercise free expression and all the other freedoms that help a nation to prosper, because they believe that my critical views are those of a mercenary seeking patronage, or because I have political ambitions for the future; because I don’t like this Revolution that has degenerated into a government — to say it the Mexican way — that has been experimenting for more than 50 years without success for the economy, but with notable success in managing to stay in power.

Those who have talked with me know that I am against the Embargo, that I put Bin Laden and Posada in the same box, that I defend the right of every citizen to education and health care along with the other human rights, that I cannot find the logic in having people inconceivably rich who don’t worry about the hunger of the Third World; fine, these people would label me like the leftists.

There are conventions which they have accustomed us to: right = bad, left = good. But there is nothing better than politics to show the ambiguities of labels on one side or the other. I am not even capable of calling myself politically postmodern like a dear friend of mine. I feel in limbo in this area. And from my limbo, dreamy and Utopian, I continue to imagine a country where there is room for leftists, rightists, post-modernists, limbo-ists and, like the nautical compass, all the positions in between.

October 8, 2010

The Country of Our Dreams / Rebeca Monzo

Those childish and youthful dreams were a long time ago, when we were excited to see the flag and hearing the first notes of the national anthem could move us to tears.

I remember years ago, being in Madrid at the International Crafts Fair, with some of my students and I heard in the distance the first notes of our anthem. I trembled, felt my throat go dry and, excusing myself from them, left to go where those first notes were echoing. I was dressed in campaign mode: jeans, t-shirt and sneakers to be able to run between the different pavilions. Suddenly, when the music great louder and clearer, I saw standing in front the then Cuban ambassador to Spain, with the doctor who had spent a lot of time taking care of my mom. We were both surprised. He very elegant, his wife like she’d stepped from the pages of Vogue. I was embarrassed but noticing my confusion he gave me a hug that surprised everyone present, then, when I’d regained my composure, he asked me an uncomfortable question, “And what about you, what are you doing here?”

“It’s a long story,” I answered, while saying my goodbyes and getting away.

Later, back home, I remembered those verses by Martí that were always my among my favorites:

“The mother love of the Country is not a ridiculous love of the land, nor of the grass our plants walk upon. It is the invincible hatred of anyone who oppresses it, it is the eternal rancor of anyone who attacks it.”

To feel oneself Cuban, to be Cuban, it is not necessary to live in Cuba (an absurd criteria they would like to impose upon our culture). To be Cuban is an innate condition, incorporated into the depths of our feelings, there is nothing nor anyone that can stop it, no decree can exclude it, they would have to tear out our soul. My country is my family, my children, my friends, my neighborhood, the place where I was born. Country is much more than an anthem and a flag.

October 9, 2010

Those Who Don’t Want to Leave Will be the Last to Get Out / Iván García

Photo: Pedro Argüelles Morán, the first political prisoner who declared he would not leave Cuba.

Perhaps as a punishment for their decision not to leave Cuba, the prisoners of conscience from the Black Spring of 2003 who have chosen to remain in their country will be the last batch to come out of prison.

This was announced by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla in an exchange with the New York media. I don’t know if it is a concerted strategy by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, General Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, as had been expected that the “plantados” — those who refuse to emigrate — will be the last to be released.

There is also a serious drawback. Rumors are that the political prisoners will be released on “extra-penal license,” an ambiguous legal term, which has already been applied to dissidents from the Group of 75 such as Martha Beatriz Roque, Jorge Olivera, and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, among others.

Said “license” is an open invitation to the government. And under certain circumstances, they could be returned to prison. It’s a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of released opponents and independent journalists who remain in Cuba.

I would like to know if the plans of the triumvirate of actors in who negotiated the prison releases of 52 dissidents, anticipated that these “extra-penal licenses” would be kept in place against the opponents who don’t want to go into exile.

It was a masterful psychological move by the regime. It is not easy for a group of men who have spent more than 7 years behind the bars of a cell, to say no to a friendly phone call from Cardinal Ortega, suggesting they can go to Spain voluntarily in a matter of hours, if they wish.

Among those refusing to leave are Pedro Argüelles Morán, Oscar Elias Biscet, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Guido Sigler Amaya, Angel Moya Acosta, José Daniel Ferrer García, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Librado Linares García, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Iván Hernández Carrillo and Diosdado González Marrero.

Among the group of those released and exiled to date (of which two are in Chile and the United States), some wanted to stay at home and then changed their position. Perhaps pressure from their families or because of fear that the government, at any time, could change its mind and not allow any more exits to Spain.

Everyone already knows how the regime works. They are unpredictable. The mood of the brothers from Birán varies in accord with certain regional and global events. And the majority of imprisoned opponents know that.

None of those who have left have done so with pleasure. They had wanted to remain in their provinces to continue working peacefully and writing their points of view about the reality within the island.

Almost three months have passed since the government statement, where they agreed to release the 52 prisoners of the Black Spring over the course of four months and it’s clear that their strategy was to try to have the least number of dissidents remaining in the country.

They are uncomfortable people. The fewer of them remaining in Cuba, the better for the Castros.

October 1, 2010

Being a Dandy is Now an Official Trade in Cuba / Iván García

Photo: Andry Bracey, Flickr

On the streets of Havana you can see older men dressed like dandies, which used to be seen as an eccentricity. Not anymore. It is one of the 178 activities the government has authorized for self-employment.

It is one of the most striking, but not unique. The activities also include fortune teller, and the “Havana woman,” as they have decided to call those women, almost all of the black, who in recent times can be found in the colonial areas of the city: colorfully dressed, smoking cigars, selling flowers, or giving spiritual consultations to distracted tourists.

Novelties aside, the fact is that hundreds of jobs were eliminated in Cuba after the arrival of the Castro brothers. In their place others grew up, creations of necessity.

One of them — and with this name, at least, it doesn’t appear on the list issued on September 24 — is that of debris collector. Jose, 53, unemployed, charges 100 Cuban pesos (4 dollars) for each sack of bricks, stones, pipes, pieces of wood, and leftovers from home repairs. “I put the sack on a cart and empty it in the first vacant lot I find.”

Luisa, 64, retired, works cleaning rice at home. For each pound she charges two Cuban pesos (ten cents on a dollar). “I already have an established customer base. I earn about 100 to 200 pesos a week and with that I can buy pork and food at the farmers market.”

Although not included in the official list, such work already forms a part of the native landscape. Older people sell “jabitas” (nylon bags), newspapers, single cigarettes, peanuts and homemade candy. Others, younger, prefer to refill cigarette lighters. Yes, the same ones that in other countries are thrown away.

After 1959, the wearing of suits, collars and ties went out of style in Cuba. The Mao style prevailed.

Men dressed alike, thick cotton, opaque colors and Russian boots. That’s when the tailors started their decline.

Lacking material, the dressmakers became “patchworkers.” Thanks to Rosa, 71, many neighbors can cover themselves with sheets and dry themselves with towels that are more or less decent.

As a patchwork specialist, Rosa cuts out the worn parts of a sheet or towel and on her old Singer sewing machine, joins them with pieces in better condition. “I don’t trash the worn out bits, I throw them in a box and give them to a relative who uses them as wadding to stuff mattresses.”

If there is a trade in high demand in Cuba in 2010 it is mattress repair. And the same for the private shoe repairers, plumbers and electricians. Although no one is as well as paid as the car mechanics, charged with keeping the ancient American cars rolling.

With or without a license, for a long time one has been able to hire clowns for children’s party, and photographers, who have become experts in photo-montages or Photoshop work for weddings, baptisms and birthdays. One of the most successful private businesses is the legion of specialists in quinceañeras — the celebrations for girls when they turn 15 — from gown rentals to the choreography and editing of the party video.

Unlike seamstresses and refillers of lighters and mattresses, this sort of trade in a luxury in a country full of shortages. Similar is everything relating to dogs, an activity that is emerging from the closet of illegality. Orlando, 39 and gay, alternates giving ladies haircuts in their homes with the attention and care of their dogs. “The little tame dogs, I bathe them and do their hair. If the owner pays me I make clothes for them. For the big fierce ones, I don’t want to know,” he says, laughing.

Those are for a braver race of men among whom we find Manuel, 43, who pocketed almost two thousand Cuban pesos (80 dollars) in a month — four times his salary — training German shepherds.

Perhaps they don’t earn as much, but the dandies are more picturesque. At least they don’t have to tramp around the city selling peanuts, cigarettes and newspapers.

October 3, 2010

Monologue of an Unemployed Cuban / Iván García

Photo: Jan Sochor

“I’m sick of everything. Fidel Castro and his brother Raul’s “blockade.” I can’t stand one more speech. It’s all lies. False promises. At this point in my life, after working for 50 years and fighting in all the wars they sent me to, they come and say now is the time to build socialism.

“Fuck this government. And what hurts most is to see how they’ve used me. I’ve been manipulated like a puppet. That’s what I’ve been: a common puppet moved at their will. This is as far as I go, as Saramago said.

“Not one day more will I support those two who have ripped off my future, my dreams, even my family. For supporting them I lost three marriages and neglected my children. Both left the country and we stopped talking, because I was a Party member. The first thing I’m going to do is call them ask them to forgive me.

“After taking part in every kind of Revolutionary idiocy, from planting coffee in the Havana Cordon, cutting cane like a slave in the ten Million Ton Harvest, even training the Latin American guerrillas in subversion and putting my own skin on the line in the wars in Angola and Ethiopia, now comes some guy wearing his white guayabera and chatting about the past and after giving me a pat on the back, he tells me I should write a book about my Revolutionary career and suggests I should rent out my Russian car, my Lada. And the only thing I have after half a century of being a true believer, I should chase some bucks with the Lada? That’s the solution they have for me, after leaving me in the street without even a latchkey?

I’m 68 and now that I’m old it seems I’m not the right person for my job. That we have to do everything to move the country forward. That the economy can’t support State paternalism. Then, why the fuck did they install it? Nobody, at least no one I know, asked the government to be our father.

“I don’t have a cent and the easiest thing is to lie and pretend that we’ll keep applauding those who are leaving us unemployed. Machiavelli is a baby at the tit next to the Castros. To do this to me, who never stole a thing; who traveled halfway across the world in the name of this government, and it never crossed my mind to flee with a suitcase full of dollars. They throw me out like some disposable object.

“That hurts. But the worst thing is that they’re not capable of facing reality. And they say what goes on in Spain is bad, the United States is hell, and nuclear war is around the corner. They are not capable of explaining, looking you in the eyes, that the Cuban system is broken and we have to change it.

“At this age, I have to go back to my beginnings, when I was 18-years-old and driving a taxi to help my widowed mother. I don’t mind that I had to do that. What pisses me off is having been such an asshole. I distanced myself from a part of my family and many of my friends because they thought differently.

“Now, after it’s all gone to hell, I feel like a free man. Without political strings. I’ve learned my lesson. I hope it’s not too late.”

October 7, 2010

Hookers and Thieves Could Increase With The Layoffs / Iván García


Troubled waters, a growth in the number of jineteras — prostitutes — and thieves. With the number of unemployed expected to be more than a million in the coming year, the streets of Havana will be getting more dangerous and cheap hookers will be the order of the day.

Loipa, 24, draws his weapon. After a stint in jail she thought she’d redeemed herself. And she started work as a receptionist at a business. But she was the first to be laid off.

The only option they offered her was as a farm laborer. Then she decided to return to the “trade” she knows best: hooker. “I don’t think the police presence will be too severe, I will be engaged in a lot of things. Now I’m going to offer my services, even in national currency, but in foreign currency, of course, if I can catch some ‘yuma‘ (foreigner). It will be hard. There aren’t enough tourists for the number of prostitutes in the country, there’s three of us for every one ‘yuma,'” commented this mulatta with expressive eyes and a striking mole under her mouth.

Competition in the prostitution world in Cuba is strong. There is a legion of teenagers between 14 and 17, still students, who spend their free time selling their bodies. Cheaply.

The crippling economic situation, that has lasted 21 years, and the growing number of hookers swarming the streets, has lowered prices in the island’s pleasure market. Already no outsider pays more than 30 convertible pesos (35 dollars) for a hot night with a whore. For 70 convertible pesos (85 dollars) you can take a couple of lesbians to your room.

When they give another turn to the screw of harsh living conditions in Cuban life, it’s not unreasonable to think that the number of “sex workers” will shoot up. The same as other illegal activities. The thieves are also having a field day.

In times of crisis and hardship, delinquency rears its head. Havana is not yet a city where violence is a problem. It’s far from being Caracas or Juarez. But so many unemployed people, with no future and empty wallets, is a perfect breeding ground for thugs to prosper.

The black market has dried up, leaving the residents of the poor neighborhoods, who live by doing “bisne” (business) under the table, few alternatives. The women, young or old, if they have a good butt and have grown up with the promiscuity, might be thrown into the street. Not to protest. To “search for bread” (prostitute themselves).

Black men, strong and athletic, could begin to try their luck as ‘pingueros‘ (‘dick-men’, i.e. toyboys), which until now has been the province of good-looking whites and mulattoes, gays and transvestites. Or they might “specialize” in stealing music equipment from the cars of tourists, or in the “art” of swiping the bags of visiting foreigners.

The news is very bad for the police force. A ton of disgusted people without money, who are trying to put food on the table by any means possible, and to dress in the latest fashions, is a more serious matter than it might seem.

Loipa has already gotten her start us a hooker. She lost fifteen pounds at the gym and is chasing after the first tourist to buy her two or three dresses, high heels and a nice perfume. That’s a starting point.

Her ultimate goal is that of any prostitute. To marry a foreigner with several credit cards in his pocket. Loipa’s hope is that the United States Congress will end the travel ban for Cuba.

“If this happens, I’m going to ‘hacer el santo‘ (make an offering to the gods). But all I want is just let the gringos come. I am waiting for them with my legs open,” she says, laughing.

Like Loipa, thousands of Cubans pray for this measure to pass. The Americans are seen as a lifeline. And not only by the hookers. Also by the Castro government.

October 7, 2010

Zoé Valdés, a Pen Like a Whip / Iván García

On one of those nights in Havana, when the sky is clear with a handful of stars as a witness, someone told me that the Castro brothers feel a particular hatred for three Cubans. The list, what a coincidence, three writers: Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas and Zoé Valdés.

The resentment was so great, this person told me, that they even performed curses, with the bones of the dead and elephant tusks brought from African soil. I don’t think that’s true. But I have to admit that this woman from Havana, born with the Revolution on May 2, 1959, is feared by more than the Castros.

Zoé Valdés uses her pen like a whip. She usually fires high caliber bullets. Between prose and poetry, this woman with 22 published books and a collection of prizes in her Parisian bag, writes for the Spanish and European media. She has a personal blog and whoever wants to read or hear it will hear how she sees Cuba and the world, without any rose-colored glasses.

Her brain is directly connected to her tongue: critical, controversial and bold. At times vitriolic, most of the time gently. With a recurring dream: to walk with her daughter along Havana’s Malecon and through Old Havana’s cobblestone streets.

Valdés’s grudge is exactly that: Fidel Castro has usurped her Havana. And the sensitive and altruistic novelist will never forgive him. When the dark years have become a part of our past, perhaps Zoe will devote herself to writing children’s books. From her house in Paris, she has given us an interview.

La Nada Cotidiana (1995) (The Daily Nothing) has become one of the most read of your novels by Cubans on the island. Do you expect that El Todo Cotidiano (The Daily Everything), your latest novel, will be also?

“Although El Todo Cotidiano is not a continuation of La Nada Cotidiana, we can talk about it as Part Two, because the people, for the most part, are the same; We also find characters there who represent other exiles. I hope that many people in Cuba will read this novel, because my natural reader, despite the censorship and the ban on my books in Cuba, is the Cuban reader.

“This is a more thoughtful novel, choral, Pantagruelian, Gargantuan, where there is a great deal of humor but also the Cuban drama from both sides, without morals or moralizing, which is always expected — coming from both sides — of a Cuban novelist. My writing is absolutely subversive and amoral, where desire is the direct resource and freedom, in all its enormity, is the environment in which the characters are moved.

Was it the success of La Nada Cotidiana that led you to continue the saga?

“No, it wasn’t the success of La Nada Cotidiana that drove me to take up writing the novel El Todo Cotidiano. It was the character of Ida, who is the mother of Yocandra, in La Nada Cotidiana. This has partly to do with it being partially autobiographical, because the character has become a literary institution: when I could get my mother out of Cuba, after a great and traumatic effort caused by the Castro dictatorship, I lived with her for two years in Paris. She loved everything about this city, and lived as if she had forgotten the long years during which she had resisted and sacrificed under the Castro regime. She only remembered her life from before 1959, and was enormously appreciative of how she was living. But my mother was very sick, and she only enjoyed two years of freedom.

“As she was dying, she told me I should write this story, of those two years. It all started with her but at one point I needed Yocandra, that it, I used the daughter to better observe the grand the great transformation of a lady — her mother — who had to go into exile, fight the world, and who dares, and so then I had to resuscitate her (Yocandra), and the rest. I started writing and came to the point where it was telling me this was El Todo Cotidiano, that I was telling the daily lives of those Cubans in Paris, mixed with other exiles, from other places that had little to do with the island. And it was all very dramatic and also humorous, because they had already changed, they saw life differently, they were involved, including emotionally, with other realities, but the one thing that didn’t change was the island. So it was born, and in this way the cycle closes.”

On the island, there are those who see you as a feminine version of Guillermo Cabrera Infante, wielding the machete of slaughter against the Castros.

“Guillermo Cabrera Infante is one of my literary fathers, I think the most important. He was a friend, and still is, because through Miriam Gómez, his widow, we have continued codes of understanding, of love, of respect. She is a great friend, she has fought for his work, and she is a great Cuban, universal. My work is inspired in part by Guillermo, that is, in his Havana, but I tell my story, and also I constantly learn from François Rabelais. I deeply love Manuel Mujica Láinez, Lydia Cabrera. They are also literary parents, Then I have literary examples, which can even be my own age, or just a few years older. That’s the case with Reinaldo Arenas, who is two generations — if we count five years — ahead of mine.

“But Guillermo is the author I admire, and the friend, also very loved; for me it is a great honor to be compared with him. I think that we both assume the social and political commitment of the writer, but in reality, between us, we spoke little about it, we only discussed (he most of all) that marvelous Cuba that he lived, and literature and film. In France it is natural for writers to be politically involved with their opinions, even if they don’t belong to any party. This is something I essentially learned in France, where I knew what it meant to live in freedom. Something that for Cubans is extremely difficult.

“I also want to say something about being the machete — as you have called it — anti-Castro, it turns out it is not easy, no special resources are given, in fact it closes many doors, even today, when people want to believe, or see Cuba as a social example. I don’t see myself like that, as a machete, I only respond when someone asks me about politics. I am usually a calm person, but yes, I say what I think, and as I defend human rights for the world, I defend them for my country,  as I cannot defend them in the land where I was born. And I did it long before, from my world, that of literature and cinema, within Cuban in the 1980s and up to the mid 1990s.”

How do you see the situation in Cuba right now? What about the Cubans, including opponents, independent journalists and bloggers?

“I’m a hopeful pessimist in relation to Cuba, at the moment. Because I think that only with the passing of both brothers, number 1 and number 2, and the chaos that will remain, can we resolve the Cuban situation. I never expected anything of Raul Castro, because I know well how communist, totalitarian, countries work. And I will continue expecting nothing.

“But I think he has in his hands the possibilities of parting ways with his brother and delivering the country to the Cuban-Americans who have studied and lived under capitalism, and who have made fortunes, with which they could settle on the island, and in the end they are Cubans; and not, on the other hand, giving it over to the Chinese, the Russians, just for two examples.

“The exile of the political prisoners, and the continuing imprisonment of Biscet and others who have refused to accept exile, speaks to the real intentions of Raul Castro, who is fundamentally following the same hard line. You can’t expect anything else from a person who executed innocents from the first day of the Revolution or the Castro Revolt. The abnormal is how the world had already become accustomed to seeing the normal succession of the Castro-Communist-Dynasty, period. I just hope to see how things go, it can’t get any worse, and then the changes that will be caused by the laws of nature. We know they are preparing their children for the Castro legacy, but I’m not so sure people will put up with it.

“As for the opponents, the independent journalists and bloggers, I think they are all necessary, with their different points of view. Personally, however, I dismiss those who want to keep sucking, now “rebelliously,” at the tit of the Castro regime. I deeply regret that being anti-Castro has become a way of living. That said, I recognize those who have made our country great in recent times: the majority are black, loudly calling for freedom and democracy, without the Castros, and every day they are persecuted, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and murdered as was the case with Orlando Zapata Tamayo.”

Most Cuban exiles tend to keep alive the hope of returning to their homeland before they die. Is this one of your wishes?

“I would like to return, of course, but not to destroyed country. I have my tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, together with my mother. For my eternal rest, I like this place. With the summer sun, and covered in snow in the winter. I am fascinated by snow. I travel a lot, I have other commitments with other people I also love and respect deeply. Thanks to my author’s royalties I am able to help in some places, as in the case of Haiti and Pakistan, I have been able to build shelters and schools for teenagers leaving prostitution. I speak very little of this, because I want to offer support in silence, and when I can, and now make some kind of public fanfare of this. I love Cuba deeply, it is my country, and I will return without any doubt. At the moment, for now, I only aspire to continue writing, to learn from other places, and to further integrate myself into this country that gave me the possibility of being truly free.

Finally, I wonder what is daily life like for Zoé Valdés and her family in the City of Light.

“I work night and day, I have never stopped working on a thousand things at once: my books, films, the production of the films of Ricardo Vega, my husband, and mine, and also the art gallery. I get up and then turn to my notebooks and the computer, later I work on other issues that have nothing to do with my books, I return to writing and I read very late into the night. Ricardo also has his work and our daughter is at school.

“I love Paris, it is a city that each day brings something new, culturally and from all points of view. I could not live in the future without this city. Although I said the same about Havana. What happens is that Havana lives inside me, inside my dreams, and my nightmares. You will notice when you read El Todo Cotidiano, and I think you will really enjoy it.”

Iván García

October 6, 2010

Recycling / Claudia Cadelo


Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

One of the new self-employment “activities” approved by the Cuban government is the controversial “recyclers-sellers of raw materials.” This toughest “private enterprise” encompasses Havana’s beggers who survive on collecting what the rest of the society throws out.

Several years ago Claudio Fuentes Madan was making a series of paintings using the city’s waste, which brought him into contact with many of these men and women who eat, literally, garbage. For the most part they are people without homes (and no possibility of acquiring one since buying and selling property is forbidden to Cubans). They spend the night in the most sinister places in the city (areas of destroyed hospitals, abandoned buildings declared uninhabitable because of the risk of collapse, parks far from the center, and that part of the urban landscape that is essentially shanty towns). They often live as “illegals,” under a Stalinist law that prevents anyone without a permanent address in Havana from staying in the city. To prevent disease, Claudio told me, they mix gasoline or kerosene into the water they use to bathe with, which they do at the home of an acquaintance, paying a modest rent in advance for the use of the sanitary services.

These are people who from now on will have to pay a percentage of their earnings to the Cuban state. It’s so sadistic it’s hard to imagine. You feel like covering your eyes with both hands like during the bloody scenes in terror movies. But this isn’t a movie, it’s what remains of the socialist economy.

One wonders why this business appears to be — I can’t think of another adjective — prosperous enough for the State to decide to relieve its beneficiaries of a portion of their earnings. It turns out that true civics, that legendary course that my parents studied in primary school and I did not, has lost its semantic meaning in Cuba. People do not feel responsible for recycling the trash: if the state needs raw materials, that’s its problem. That’s why the recycling centers — the “offices for the recollection of raw materials” — are ignored; only the dumpster divers bother to take there the plastics and cans that they find in the garbage cans.

The other day a friend collected all the bottles that had accumulated in his home over the years, and set out — the paradigm of the New Man — to take them to the closest center. On arriving he discovered he had to take all his “recyclable material” home again, because he didn’t bring them in a sack consistent with what they would accept. Late that same night he gave them to a girl with a cart collecting rubbish in the city. She had changed her work schedule from three in the afternoon to three in the morning.

October 8, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa: A Nobel Long Delayed / Yoani Sánchez

The literature of Mario Vargas Llosa has been the source of several key turning points in my life. The first was 17 years ago, during a summer marked by blackouts and the economic crisis. With the intention of borrowing The War of the End of the World, I approached a journalist expelled from his profession for ideological problems, with whom I still share my days. I keep that copy, with its cracked cover and yellowed pages, as dozens of readers have found their way with it to this Peruvian author banned in the official bookstores.

Then came the university and while I was preparing my thesis on the literature of the dictatorship in Latin America, he published his novel The Feast of the Goat. My including an analysis of his text on Trujillo gave no pleasure to the panel that evaluated me. Nor did they like the fact that of the characteristic of the American caudillos, I highlighted only those displayed by “our own” Maximum Leader. Thus, the second time a book by today’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature marked my life, because it made me realize how frustrating it was to be a philologist in Cuba. Why do I need a title — he told me — that announces I am a specialist in language and words, when I may not even freely assemble sentences.

So Vargas Llosa and his literature are responsible, in a direct and “premeditated” way, for much of who I am today: for my matrimonial happiness and my aversion to totalitarianism, for my betrayal of philology and approach to journalism.

I am preparing myself now, because I fear that the next time a book of his falls into my hands its effect will last another 17 years, and once again slam the door on my profession.

October 8, 2010