TAKEN FROM VOCES 1 / Yoani Sánchez / Posted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

That one will not return

Yoani Sánchez

I CAN STILL remember my mother’s sighs in front of the television, during those boring eighties, while Fidel Castro gave one of his marathonian speeches. He was the dreamy stud of many Cuban women who—from seeing him so much—could anticipate what he would say, they knew each of his gestures, even the new wrinkles that appeared on his face.

The attraction which that peculiar countryman of more that six feet, Grecian profile, and surprising oratory generated, took my mother and her friends into a prolonged paroxysm. It was like that until, in 1989, Arnaldo Ochoa’s trial was televised. He was accused of being involved with drug trafficking. My mother sighed once again, but this time opposite the face of the one who would be executed in a few days.

Something was broken within the “fan-club of the beloved and invincible Commander-in-Chief,” because in my house, nobody again listened stupefied to his speeches.

The age marked by Fidel Castro’s personal tantrums seemed to end. His absence in the media made us begin to forget him. Like every sorcerer, he needed to perform his magical moves for us, leaving us widemouthed and contented. He had to take the rabbit out of the hat and the scarf out of the sleeve in order to keep our attention.

Without his demiurgic image many of us ended up leaving our chairs and looking around. How little remained of “Him” in those four years during which we did not hear his speeches, when we didn’t have his punches on the table and his explanations of how the economic plan would bring the “solution” to all problems. Of the man who imposed himself with the strength of his presence, of the lulling us with his long diatribes, some unconnected reflections barely remained, published on the front pages of newspapers.

Suddenly, Pedro Luis Ferrer’s tune, warning us that “If grandpa does not agree, nobody paints the building” began to go out of style, to lose part of its meaning.

For starters, there were dozens of flu outbreaks going around Havana, and nobody thought of calling them by his name. During his long convalescence, practically no new nickname was added to the list of the ones He already held. And Pepito, the eternal rascal of our jokes, stopped mentioning him in his funny stories. Little by little, we had begun to forget Fidel Castro, even while he was still alive.

Homemakers were calm because the Brazilian soap opera kept its stellar nighttime time slot, without the delays that the Great Orator caused. The sports coaches felt lighter since they didn’t have to listen and follow his advice; meanwhile the meteorologists got startled, in the middle of a hurricane, when remembering the precise and irrefutable forecasts of the Expert in Chief.

The ministers, on their part, began to wonder if they had to make decisions for themselves, of if Raul Castro would inherit all the cabinet positions that his brother held. All of them, to some large or small degree, had stopped feeling the huge olive-green weight on his shoulders.

That sensation of lightness came about because since July, 2006, the Commander had not shown himself alive in front of them. All that time he did not give a speech or attend a public event. Neither did he approve a new law nor champion the sports delegations that traveled to international competitions nor sponsor the formal decorations to the presidents that visited the country. He was conspicuous by his absence in the numerous congresses celebrated and in the inaugurations of the new health centers. He practically did not utter any political opinion over how things had to be done in the country. Ultimately, he did not act like Fidel Castro.

And then he returned, like a blabbering elder with shaky hands that had nothing to do with that once well-built military man of Grecian profile, who from a plaza, where a million voices chanted his name, proclaimed laws that hadn’t been consulted with anyone, pardoned death penalties, announced executions or proclaimed the right of revolutionaries to make revolution. Little is left of the man who for hours took over television programming and kept an entire nation on the edge of their seats.

The great improviser of other times assembles now in a little theatre with an audience of young people, to read the summary of his last reflections—already published in the press—and instead of inducing that old dread that made the bravest tremble, he provokes, at best, a tender compassion. A young journalist asks an indulgent question and publicly bids him for a wish: Would you let me give you a kiss? What of that abyss that no audacity dared jump?

We had begun to remember him like something of the past, it was even a noble way of forgetting him. Many were willing to forgive his mistakes and failures in order to place him in some cindered pedestal of 20th century history, where his face—photographed in his last best moment—already appeared next to the illustrious dead. Suddenly he has come out to lewdly exhibit his ailments and announce the end of the world, as if he wanted to convince us that life after him will lose all meaning.

During recent weeks, he who once was called the One, the Highest Leader, the Horse, or with the simple personal pronoun HIM, has presented himself to us stripped of his former charisma, to confirm that the other Fidel Castro—fortunately—will not return again, even if this time, he makes the news again.

Translated by: Joanne Gomez

August 9, 2010

Other Steps / Fernando Dámaso

1. When we speak of solving the economic problems that overwhelm us, the road ahead appears complex and intricate. It has grown too much invasive marabou weed over the years and clearing it is no easy task. The solution is not to open narrow paths that, ultimately, are difficult to navigate and close up again with the first rains.

2. The solution is to open wide avenues where initiatives and work that will produce wealth for all Cubans can take hold, freed from the bureaucratic patronage that has produced nothing.

3. Public ownership in some key spheres, cooperative ownership, and small- and medium-sized individual ownership, without limitations, must become real factors in our development. The balance of each one will be determined over time.

4. It is time to abandon old and obsolete formulas that have failed everywhere, and face reality with ways and methods that correspond to the integrated and globalized world. It means taking no steps backward, only moving forward.

August 10, 2010

Taking Note / Regina Coyula

A few days ago Fidel met with the panelists of the television program Mesa Redonda (Round Table)* and he encouraged them to pose more difficult questions to him, as if he were a student well-prepared for an exam. The week ended, and a printed version of the encounter ran in the newspaper Granma, but I was left waiting for the broadcast of Mesa Redonda in its normal television time slot. There are various speculations: it has called the attention of those who notice these kinds of things, that they haven’t televised the meeting; there are even those who think that censorship has been imposed upon “Him.”

In his latest writings, customarily titled Reflections, Fidel offers his opinions on a book about world governance, and with his habitual process of copying and pasting, he gives us some very long quotes from the book in question by an author named Daniel Estulin, which leads me to ask myself, wouldn’t it just be simpler to have the book published in Cuba so that no one has to read it to us? This could be arranged if Fidel, who has even invited the writer to Cuba already, were to divert a portion of the 500,000 copies of La victoria estratégica (The Strategic Victory), the first of his books dedicated to the struggle against Batista, to make a modest print run of this other book that has inspired so much enthusiasm in him!

*Translator’s note: Mesa Redonda is a weekly current events/debate roundtable discussion program. Before taking ill, Fidel Castro was an almost permanent fixture, along with other rotating guest panelists (depending on the week’s topic) and the program’s regular panelists and moderator.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 31, 2010

Cuba’s Theatrical Metaphors / Miguel Iturria Savón

A friend from Miami told me over the internet last Friday, that in July he saw two theatrical works representing the island in festivals in the United States, “where there is a real invasion of Cuban artists, including orchestras, troubadours, reggaetoneros, and dance and theater groups, almost all very good, although some are irritating due to the ambivalence of their music or the statements they make, not thinking that here there are no issues of ‘enemy propaganda’ or ‘ideological diversionism’.”

The theater groups representing Cuba in the United States were El Público and Buendía, both revitalizing collectives due to their way of making and conceiving of theater. The former performed The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, shown as part of GLBT Performing Arts Theater’s “Out in the Tropics,” at the Colony Theater of Miami Beach. The latter performed their versions of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, premiered in Havana and seen now at the Latino Festival of Theater, organized each year by the Goodman Theater of Chicago, from where they went on to perform at the Manuel Artime Miami stage.

I won’t tackle the three proposals, whose focuses, montages, and spell-casting strategies reveal the plurality of Cuban theater, marked by universal and local themes, austere stage settings, and dialogue that implicates the audience, whose eagerness is visible in Havana’s halls.

I’ll focus on The Visit of the Old Dame, a cruel and stark comedy rewritten by Flora Lauten (director) and Raquel Carrió (adviser) based upon the original by the German author, Friedrich Durrenmatt. The original plotline is preserved, but with a smaller cast that condenses characters and changes some details of language and narrative style, which suits its proximity to our Cuban reality.

With The Visit of the Old Dame, Buendía offered a theatrical metaphor of Cuban daily life, marked by confinement, misery, and intolerance. After decades of exile, now wealthy Clara Zajanin returns to the impoverished town of Gula, where she’s received as a prodigy child and future omen. She evokes her shadowy and frustrated past, the betrayal of a young-lover-turned-town-mayor, who will be the target of her vengeance, while the townspeople who once detested her now flatter her in hopes of loans and other favors.

Such an expansive scenic view would seem a pretext to create a dialogue with the public about the problems that erode human existence, recreated by the magic of theater, with excellent performances, live music that enhances the nostalgia in Martha Strada’s mythical voice, and illuminating references to the island’s context. For Buendía‘s cast, it’s as if foreign plays serve to support our imaginariums and utopias, the way to deal with that which is mythic and ordinary and to polemicize the present and future.

There’s an overflow of charm and splendid performances upon that altarpiece of scenic passions, where comedy wins the bout over tragedy and the masks reveal something of the mythic and the ordinary, without evading the problems of the present and future.

Those of us who follow the island’s theater scene know that Buendía Theater, founded in 1986 by the actor and professor Flora Lauten, is grounded in an intelligent selection of works, whose versions reach the public and speak to them of the issues, challenges, and circumstances that can move their lives.
The favorable reception by the public and critics in Chicago and Miami of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, Buendía‘s recent works, will likely stimulate the further creative research of this drama collective, with their headquarters in the Coptic church on Loma and 39th Streets, in Havana’s Plaza municipality, where their sessions are held, along with their Research Workshop and Center for the Education of Actors, Directors, and Technicians.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 16, 2010

The Same Old Story Again / Antunez

Here comes the same old story again, the elimination of restrictions on commerce with the Havana dictatorship.  Once again the same voices, influenced by powerful interests, continue talking about the same thing.  Sometimes, it’s as if we lose faith in our own efforts as Cubans.

Not long ago, I read and heard about an important shipment of I-don’t-know-what kind of ham that arrived from the United States for none other than the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  This is a crude insult to the people who suffer, not only from those who eat it, but also on behalf of those who promote politics that allow this to happen.

Enough of double standards, enough of feeding those who spill the blood of and oppress our people!  Enough of the dictatorship eating quality ham while the everyday Cuban feeds himself with whatever he is able to fish, if he is even allowed to do so.

Could it be that if we promote tourism, and if we fill up homes and the hotels that belong to the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), and the oligarchy while our children go to bed hungry and go to school nearly barefoot and in rags;  is that how we promote democracy?

Oh, Barack Obama!  Oh, all those letters to  Congress asking for more trips, increased remittances and cultural exchanges only with artists approved by the dictatorship!  Oh, Cuba, how you suffer and how they toy with your pain!  Oh, Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo!  If only you could see what they have done with your country.  If only you could see how our Church, from Rome all the way to Holguin, allies itself with our oppressors, lending itself to an operation to clean out and exile the best sons of the Nation.

If only Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata Tamayo were alive and could see how the message of reconciliation, understanding, and flexibility was being appealed to in order to not to bother those who murdered them by starvation  during their hunger strikes.  But at times when some seemed to doubt and to resort to an alternative without independence, the Bronze Titan* said:  “I don’t want even freedom, if with it comes dishonor.”

And that is the watchword of those who struggle for Change in and out of Cuba, a maxim which strengthens and encourages us.

*Translator’s note: Bronze Titan was the alias of Antonio Maceo, historic Cuban freedom fighter for independence from Spain.

Translated by Raul G.

August 20, 2010

Inside the Neighborhood, Outside the Heart / Yoani Sánchez

Barrio Adentro Clinic in Venezuela -- Image taken from: http://paulagiraud.blogspot.com/

“You must turn in your passport!” So they told him on arriving in Caracas, to prevent him from making it to the border and deserting. In the same airport they read him the rules: “You cannot say that you are Cuban, you can’t walk down the street in your medical clothes, and it’s best to avoid interacting with Venezuelans.” Days later he understood that his mission was a political one, because more than curing some heart problem or lung infection, he was supposed to examine consciences, probe voting intentions.

In Venezuela he also came across the corruption of some of those leading the Barrio Adentro Project. The “shrewd ones” here become the “scoundrels” there, grabbing power, influence, money, and even pressuring the female doctors and nurses who travel alone to become their concubines. They placed him together with six colleagues in a cramped room and warned them that if they were to die — victims of all the violence out there — they would be listed as deserters. But it didn’t depress him. At the end of the day he was only 28 and this was his first time escaping from parental protection, the extreme apathy of his neighborhood, and the shortages in the hospital where he worked.

A month after arriving, they gave him an identity card, telling him that with it he could vote in the upcoming elections. At a quick meeting someone spoke about the hard blow it would be to Cuba to lose such an important ally in Latin America. “You are soldiers of the fatherland,” they shouted at them, and as such, “you must guarantee that the red tide prevails at the polls.”

The days when he thought he would save lives or relieve suffering are long gone. He just wants to go home, return to the protection of his family, tell his friends the truth, but for now he can’t. Beforehand, he must stand in line at the polls, show his support for the Venezuelan Socialist Party, hit the screen with his thumb as a sign of agreement. He counts the days until the last Sunday in September, thinking that after that he can go home.

August 31, 2010

Havana Reinvents Itself / Iván García

The family of Hector Iznaga lives hand to mouth. His daughter, 18-years-old, was going to have a baby, and they realized that their house was very small. They got to work. Without permission from any state body, they quickly turned the balcony of their small two-bedroom apartment into a new bedroom.

Many families in this country are like the Iznaga family. There are areas of Havana geography that have been turned into veritable architectural Frankensteins. Very different from their original design.

In Cuba, the respect for rules and directives of the Housing Institute and for the municipal architects do not exist. In general, people wipe their rear ends with the norms of urban order.

It’s like we live in an African jungle. The disregard for the laws of coexistence is typical on the island. People like Hector Iznaga show why. His family has lived for 20 years in an dreadful building of five floors in the Alamar neighborhood, one of the largest and worst slums in Havana.

its upkeep, supposedly, falls to the State, but only in theory. No official organ cares that the inhabitants of the property have carried their water for months, because the water pumps don’t function.

When it rains, the roofs leak to even the lowest floors. The situation is the same with the sanitary services. The stairways are dark and without handrails. The building speaks for itself. Filthy and dilapidated, crying out for a even a little paint.

The neighbors have complained to their local delegation of the Popular Power in their area, but nothing. Life continues the same. So, the inhabitants, in the face of such state slacking, do as they please.

At a glance, you can see that numerous families make adaptations without legal permission. They change the facade. They take collective areas for themselves. And without any knowledge of construction or engineering, they tear down load-bearing walls, putting themselves and the rest of the residents in danger.

I’ll offer you a figure. Sixty percent of the housing in the city of Havana is in fair to poor shape. In general, up to four generations live in one house.

In the middle of the capital, or in other overpopulated areas like Luyano, Lawton, or Vibora, it has been decades since many buildings have seen repairs. They have not even been painted.

People who live in larger houses or chalets renovate them based on their economic situation. It’s “save yourself if you can.” Although the State offers very little, it severely punishes urban violations.

According to the official press, just in Havana, in the first six months of the year, more than 3,500 fines have been imposed for illegal construction projects in private homes. The fines range from 200 pesos (10 dollars) to 1,500 pesos (60 dollars). In the case of about 500 families, newly finished construction projects have been torn down.

The issue of housing is one of the unresolved problems of the government of the Castro brothers. The deficit of housing is enormous. They have tried to patch this enormous gap with small patches, like allowing organizations or individuals to construct their own homes, but the supply of materials is precarious, and of poor quality.

Throughout the city, one can see buildings that have been under construction for ten years or more. And they threaten to take longer. In the face of such a necessity, families patch them together the best they can.

The same families construct “barbacoas,” a 100% Cuban invention. It consists of a wooden or concrete porch inside their own house. If later, they want to add on to the house, if they have an empty lot next door, they will take it over and expand their dwelling with no consent from the authorities.

This all serves to give a little more capacity for a relative from the country, or for a baby on the way. Like the Iznaga family, who got rid of their balcony in favor of a new room for their future grandchild. And they have been lucky, not having been caught by the state inspectors. For now.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by: Gregorio

August 29, 2010

Epilogue of the JJ Saga / Miriam Celaya

JJ during his hunger strike in which he lost over 40 pounds

This past August 24th, 2010, on his return from the Archdiocese of Havana, where he had been summoned, Juan Juan Almeida settled his hunger strike: his departure from Cuba was being discussed. He eventually left by way of Mexico on the afternoon of the following day (August 25th). This ends another one of the personal dramas that the absurd Cuban emigration procedures provoke, in which every Cuban must go through the odious and humiliating process of soliciting an exit permit from the authorities. This time, another Cuban who stands up for his rights just won over the opportunity to exercise them, I rejoice.

Due to the extent and complexity of the subject, I would like to put aside, until another occasion, the proposal for a debate on the fickle and secretive institution that answers to the name “Directorate of Emigration and Foreign Affairs”, where certain uniformed officers –who misleadingly appear humanoid- dictate whether or not to authorize the release from this country-prison any ill-fated person who has committed the unlucky mistake of having been born into it. If the insect in question (a category that I state while taking into account what the circumstances suggest and not meaning to offend any of my countrymen who, like myself, are subject to the same disgraceful tourniquet), that is, if a Cuban who asks permission has the additional aggravating circumstance of belonging to the black list previously composed from on high, names and inventory numbers (i.e., Identity papers) those highly toxic individuals who are absolutely banned from leaving the country, must say goodbye even to the simple idea that there is a world beyond the geographical boundaries of Cuba, and can only hope for a miracle … or make the miracle happen. We all know that.

For now, I will just refer to the comments that my post (Breaking the Stigma) from August 17th provoked and thank the readers who participated in it for their sincerity. At the suggestion of some readers, I have posted a picture of JJ during the strike, which I found on the Internet, you can appreciate the difference between the pictures when compared with the one I previously posted.

I think that you and I have found in that debate -which was colored by the most diverse criteria around, contrasting and even sharply polarized- how much hatred has been sown among us in these 50 years of dictatorship and how much there is still left to argue and cast out of our souls so we can find reconciliation, the necessary foundation for the Cuba who so many of us dream of.

I am also thankful that all points of views, whether in favor of solidarity with another Cuban, (not “somebody’s son”) as those who chose moral condemnation, helped me to hold on even with more conviction to the principle of harmony that eggs me on: every Cuban who peacefully defends his freedom and his rights against this regime may count on my respect, solidarity and sympathy, independent of his origin, creed and ideology. Nothing is going to make me seem like those who have sown intolerance and mistrust among us.

Nor is remaining in Cuba patriotism. In my case, I have never wanted to leave my country permanently -I assume it would be more convenient for those who have ruined my country to leave- but I have never felt that such a decision makes me a patriot nor a better or worse person than others. “Patriot” is a title that, besides, produces in me certain uneasiness: here and there are terms that have been widely manipulated. Maybe, in order to recoup the true meaning of the word, it would be interesting to also define some day what we are calling “Motherland.”

For now, I will avoid the peculiar word “patriot” while I take back having used the term “idiots” if its use brings unnecessary trouble. Pretend I never wrote it, however, I will leave it in the original post to have it remain a witness, lest some suspicious person suggest that I cheat or that I delete my mistakes so I can deny them. Just know that I defend my stumbles as much as my successes: they make me more human. I don’t write to please, but it is not my intent to offend anyone.

I congratulate Juan Juan right now for having achieved his goal (personal or otherwise) and I offer my best wishes to regain his health. In addition, to all my readers, including some that from time to time carry the suspicious aroma of a camouflaged troll: remain in the ring. Thank you.

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 27, 2010

Hatuey* in Flames… / Henry Constantín

[Translator’s note: This post apparently got posted in the original missing the beginning… whether it starts in the middle of a sentence, a paragraph, we don’t know, as we haven’t been able to get in touch with Henry. If he adds the rest, we’ll add it here… but given internet access in Cuba… or lack of same… readers are advised not to hold their breath.]

but without the Catholic clergy or the heroism: the town where my father and grandfather were born has been consuming itself for years in that bonfire of miserable and faded Macondos, which for almost a half century have been sizzling and crackling throughout this island.

Alcibiades’ store was the most prosperous in town. Of the three or four there were, it was the best stocked: fine canned fruit-preserves from Europe, wines, spicy sausages and hams, crackers, and soft drinks of the best domestic and international brands… you didn’t even have to go with the exact amount of money: no matter how poor the buyer was, it was enough to be a person of your word to take home all that was necessary, and pay later, with no hurry.

With that method of honest work and duty, which did work back then, my grandfather made up for his almost nonexistent academic education. Long before the era of eternal promises had arrived, Alcibiades Constantín was already a respected member of the Order of Caballero de la Luz and the people of the region, who trusted in then President Grau San Martín’s sense of Cuban identity, had elected him to represent them. His discreet economic prosperity allowed him to help the local 26 of July Movement rebels. While he lived in Hatuey, he never ceased to work as a laborer in the Najasa sugar mill.

A short while ago, I returned to his town, the first one crossed by the central railroad line – to which it owes its existence – that goes from Camagüey to Oriente. Of course, all dust and teetering wooden houses. There’s nothing to eat on the streets, because there’s nothing to buy, except little government sandwiches surrounded by flies. Every night, every evening, every weekend, bored men and the remaining youth get together in any old place, in a doorway or under the trees in the plaza to drink rum, talk about the lives they don’t lead, and drink rum.

An obedient creature showed up that morning in 1968 in my grandfather’s store, with a piece of paper in hand: “Alcibiades, starting today this is owned by the people. Only thus will we all have a better future.”

* Translator’s note: Hatuey was a Taíno chieftain who has attained legendary status for having led an indigenous resistance in Cuba against the invading Spanish colonialists, thus gaining among Cubans the historical distinction of “First Rebel of the Americas”. He was eventually captured by the Spaniards and burned at the stake. There is also the Cuban town of the same name (presumably named after the chieftain) featured in this post, which the author makes use of as a pun.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 28, 2010

Sacrifice / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

She grabbed the mission for several reasons: they would put 50 Cuban convertible pesos (cuc) in a bank in Cuba every month, she could acquire the home appliances that she’d needed her whole life, she could buy her children clothes, and what’s more, she could leave the damn polyclinic that was ruining her life.

She knew Venezuela was pretty violent and politically unstable, but the Cuban delegation would surely be well protected, supposedly they were a priority. They were located on the outskirts in a poor, high crime area. No one warned her that after she got there they would take her passport and she would be undocumented. She worked hard, discovered that most Venezuelans felt like Cubans: politics had split the society in two.

She suffered the hatred of a people who, like hers, had lost control of their future. She discovered that paranoia knows no borders and that fear also travels on airplanes. A colleague of hers was killed in a brawl between gangs in the neighborhood. She asked to return to Cuba, but the commitment was unbreakable — like the Communist Party — and being depressed is not consistent with solidarity among peoples.  She still can’t return and to console herself she gives herself therapy in front of the mirror every morning: 50 cuc, 50 cuc, 50 cuc.

August 30, 2010

From Revolutionary Friend to Foe / Laritza Diversent

If Chilean businessman Joel Max Marambio Rodríguez does not appear before the Inspector from the Ministry of Interior, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Miguel Estrada Portales, this 23rd of August (the deadline specified in an indictment), the criminal proceedings initiated against him could proceed to a final judgment of guilt.

Max Marambio was summoned and interrogated on July 10 and August 3, by Officer Estrada Portales, who is in charge of investigating the case, according to two notices published by the Interior Ministry in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba. According to the published documents, the businessman lives in the “Las Condes” Commune in Santiago de Chile, where his business offices are also located.

Marambio, known in Cuba as “El Guatón” (the fat man), arrived on the island in the mid ’60s, when he made personal contact with then-President Fidel Castro. On the island he began his training as a guerrilla, under the direction of the legendary Manuel Piñeiro, known as Barbarossa.

At the end of that decade he returned to Chile and joined the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and then led the Group of Personal Friends (GAP), the non-military cohort of President Allende. He took refuge in Cuba after the 1973 coup.

He also worked with Patricio and Tony Laguardia, in the Special Troops of the Ministry of Interior, and survived the political scandal that resulted in the firing-squad executions of Antonio Laguardia and General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989. Then he was one of the founders of CIMEX, among the largest Cuban state-owned corporations, with annual revenues of more than one billion dollars.

During the decade of the nineties, under the protective wing of Fidel, he went from guerrilla to successful businessman, to the point that today he owns a holding company that does more than a hundred million dollars of business per year. His memoir, “The Weapons of Yesterday”, was presented a couple of years ago in the Havana Book Fair.

There is speculation about what caused his status to change from revolutionary friend to adversary. Some say it was for financially backing the campaign of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, who was dismissed from the center-left coalition that governed Chile for 20 years, and whose candidate lost to the rightist billionaire Sebastian Pinera.

Others believe that it was for indelicately demanding his capital, when a year ago Cuban authorities froze the funds deposited in Cuban banks, and the transfers of all foreign businessmen, because of the serious lack of liquidity in the country.

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 29, 2010

His Own War / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Saturday, August 7, Cuban television aired another chapter in the media tragicomedy of Fidel Castro Ruz, who chaired the special session of the so-called People’s Power National Assembly, to which he spoke about the disaster that will be triggered in the Persian Gulf if the U.S. government dares to underestimate the threats of Iran, whose government is developing a plan of nuclear weapons, destabilizing the region.

The parliamentary track became a pre-scripted session of claiming the limelight. Castro resumed his role of universal guru and the deputies confirmed their loyalty to the tyrant, interrupting him with applause, complacent questions, and congratulations on his 84th birthday. Without moving from his chair, the former leader showed off his dramatic poses, enhanced by his raving verbal and mental excesses; meanwhile, the entourage of fawningly servile adulators, avidly listened to the Caudillo’s prophecies.

More than a conclave of national interest, the Saturday assembly between the despot and his legislators, became a meeting of shadow plays that accentuated the desperation. Neither the yawns of the Caudillo’s brother, multiplied by zero among so many blunders, nor Alarcon’s caution in conducting the “debates,” justified the irresponsible diatribe of the aged commander, sick from power and prominence.

In this role play of Fidel Castro he fired his last cartridges against the people of Cuba, suffocated by half a century of totalitarianism. Castro, like Stalin, Mao and Franco, intends to rule until the end of his days, with the the reins of power in the hands of his worshipers, whose veneration and servility are beyond doubt.

Castro fought his own war against our island, though disguised his legacy of deaths, mass exoduses, economic devastation, collective misery, generalized corruption and external dependency; camouflaged in speeches from his own barricades of the Cold War, when he was exporting the Socialist Utopia and destabilizing the countries in the region.

The cynicism of the cacique and his vassals elicits guffaws more than sympathy. His recent public interventions, the “reflections” that his amanuenses write in his name, and the 800-page tome on the strategy of his victory, represent his closing mutterings.

In reviewing the Parliament session of August 7, the foreign correspondents accredited in Havana will be respectful and circumspect. Perhaps Patricia Grog, Andrea Rodríguez and Fernando Ravsberg will show their admiration for the island patriarch and describe the warnings against the United States, which now “seeks to humiliate the people of Iran,” whose ayatollahs are Castro’s allies.

Cubans, weary of tragicomedies and verbal bombast, know that Castro’s prophecies of war and the applause of his legislators, are one more branch on the tree of cynicism. More of the same from the pit of inertia.

August 13, 2010

Prison Diary (4) (Hunger) / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo: Karen Miranda

The sergeants collect the empty trays, so well cleaned by the tongues of the detainees they don’t need to be washed.

The sound of the last door being shut leaves a silence that makes them feel more trapped, and the air, scarce and hot, suffocates them.

No detainee would even dare to raise their voice to avoid being taken to the punishment cell for indiscipline. The sergeants walk slowly, stopping to spy through the doors and listen to what the prisoners say when the apathy and despair of seclusion provokes a feverish state of anxiety that spills out into idle talk, and later they denounce them to the higher-ups.

When the silence feels eternal, some sadistic mechanism stops the night, making it last longer than usual; and there comes a whisper, a word grinding at the metal doors, sliding on the floor like a glass of water; and the detainees are frightened because they know well the voices of each sergeants, the steps, the way they let their boots fall when they walk, how they clear their throats and even how they snore. So, from their cells, they are all intrigued because they can’t decipher whose voice escapes like a lament. This time it is not someone who dreams and calls out for a loved one or shouts the name of an officer telling him to stay away, now someone shouts from a cell, every word pronounced forcefully; at first you can’t hear what he’s saying, then you understand something like, “I’m hungry.”

The sergeants quickly walk past the cells, searching, like dogs with rabies, for where the voice is coming from; they open the slot, tell him to shut up, but the detainee talks, and through the orifice of the door the words escape with more clarity, forgive me, sergeant, but I don’t know how to bear hunger, I can’t stand it, a thousand pardons, but I have always been a man with a good appetite; the guards continue advising him it is better to remain silent, that if he continues it will go very badly for him; the prisoner begins to plead, and the plea becomes tears. They warn him that later they won’t be able to do anything when he wants to stop, now is the time; but the detainee cries like a baby and asks forgiveness, he was never a man who caused problems, I never have been, please, understand me.

The sound of the padlock is heard, and then of the bolt being violently opened, then the screech of the hinges. The man’s panic grows, his weeping increases while the menacing voices of the sergeants question him; he begs them not to hit him; and the guards tell him then shut up and they’ll leave and there won’t be any problems; they insist that he understand they are giving him more chances than usual, but the detainee claims that they don’t understand him, the problem is that he can’t stand the hunger, it’s something that’s not in me, I don’t know how to control it.

We hear a few blows, and then he cries. The sergeants ask him if he is finally going to shut up, and the prisoner in the midst of his uncontrollable crying explains that even a piece of stale bread is enough, a tiny scrap of leftovers, a piece of sweet potato. The guards realize that not even the blows will shut him up and decide to take him to the punishment cell, what they call “the hammock.” His weeping turns into screams of panic, not the hammock, please, not there. And the sergeants force themselves on him to immobilize him to be able to move him. The detainee twists his body, curls up like spring so he can burst out and escape the hands of jailers, until he can’t move any more and they drag him in front of the other cells. He keeps crying and apologizing, he doesn’t want them to see him as an antisocial, he’s a good man, but with a big appetite, this is his only crime. Not the hammock, I’m afraid, he says. They take off his clothes, as the punishment requires, throw him in the cell and close it; but the soldiers know they haven’t done much, the detainee keeps asking for food because he is a man with a good appetite, he’s convinced that this excuse is enough to make them understand.

The sergeants open the cell, they warn him if he keeps acting up it’s going to make them furious. But nothing shuts him up, he asks for food over and over. One of them enters, desperate, and hits him over and over until he realizes he won’t shut up as long as he’s conscious. Another soldier brings handcuffs for his hands and feet and some bandages to tape his mouth. They struggle with him a while until the voice of the detainee can no longer be heard. Then they slam the door and from the footsteps of the sergeants and the way they let their boots fall, the detainees conclude that they are tired. The silence returns, a silence that had been forgotten for a few minutes.

At dawn, they open the punishment cell. Nobody has been able to sleep thinking of the man in the “hammock,” on the damp floor bathed by the drops of water that inevitably fall from the ceiling and crash against his body; they know it’s unbearable to spend an entire day there.

When they take the bandage off his mouth he’s still crying, now with less strength, but you can still hear his voice: I’m hungry, please, I’m a man with a good appetite.

Translated by Raul G.

August 29, 2010

POEMS FROM VOICES 1 / Jesús Díaz / Posted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo


by Jesús Díaz

This city was born of the harbor’s salt

and there it grew hot, irreverent,

its sex open to the sea

its clitoris guiding sailors

like a lighthouse on the bay.

And inside Chinatown, Tropicana,

Floridita, Alí Bar, Los Aires Libres,

orchestras of women jamming

a chachachá danced by aliens.

She talked, muzzled,

in a muddy mix of Yoruba and Castille,

of gypsy and Catalan, of Babel and Congo,

and all this patois, this creole,

the sweet streaky Esperanto

of Moore hullabaloos, Cantonese chitchat,

Jewish Jerusalemite jargon,

barbaric Spanglish of bars and bayous.

Stupefied, she confused Lebanese with Turks,

Asturians and Basque with Galicians,

Ukrainian Israelites with Polish,

all together and in sync screaming

on tables of tasteless linens

covered with yellow tamales,

gray crab, red shrimp,

the whitest rices dovetailed

publicly with black beans,

plantains like dicks and for dessert

a papaya open like a dare,

a great cigar and a gulp of coffee,

Satan’s preferred infusion, black and smoking.

An expert in contraband she dressed

with brandies, Chinese silks,

or well she wandered in rums or rags

and prayed Sunday at dawn

in churches of Gothic deceit,

false romantic, Baroque colonnades

sustaining the tricky art nouveau of the mansions.

Full of complexes, shameless, ridiculous,

she enjoyed a dark pleasure

impressing the more famous whores:

in her bay a gray Christ,

contaminated by the slow vapors of the party.

There, in the womb, a toy Prado,

a vacuous Capitol and skyscrapers

that never touched a clouds’ ass.

Euphoric tropical peacock

in the stained glass and ocelli of its sea-reflected tail,

her profound pain grazed above all

listening to soap operas on the radio,

snakes of the hopelessness invented by her

that traveled the world proclaiming

the insatiable evil of men.

Then, at night,

she showed her vampire fangs

elevating a hymn for the slaughters

to the music and lyric of La Guantanamera.

And in the break of day

she even gambled her butt cheeks

which she usually lost with cheer.

She gave herself to joy and strange rituals

and awoke dancing, the fucker,

boleros, mambos, rumbas,

in shindigs, cocktail parties and balls,

the devil’s revelry, her most revered angel.

Nothing moved her, not even

the blood her children offered

by burglarizing the Tyrant’s Palace.

She kept carousing, it was said

that nobody could romance her,

shut her music off and leave her

like a faithful wife, so tempered.

A little later the warriors came

reciting what verses

what songs, compositions, madrigals,

to make her forget centuries of partying?

With what wile did they manage to put a spell on her?

She fell in love with virtue like a whore.

Asked for forgiveness on her knees

to expiate her multiple sins.

Sacrificed her congas, her lies,

her scented soaps, her trifles,

her luxuries, passions, outbursts.

She ate a pair of eggs on a frugal table.

Screamed pure and happy until becoming hoarse.

She waited in a long line, interminable,

and to her great dismay, sometimes,

while with a saint or a man

she suffered the delirious nostalgia of the frolic.

Her pronouncement was not enough.

The sons of bitches, us, her bastards,

denied her three times. She never again had

nailpolish, not even

a sip of reflecting alcohol

to take to her lips in her frenzies.

And if she screamed with thirst, we did not hear her.

We were clamoring for the world

Translator: Joanne Gomez

August 10, 2010

Thirteen Hours of Punishment / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

On Monday, August 16, at 6:45 AM, the political police burst into my house to detain me. I was forced to sit in a chair in the lobby, where everyone passed by, of the police station in San German for thirteen hours. It was a punishment, I was nauseated, I had a constant migraine, and muscle pains that lasted for days. I was unable to do anything, anything but pray during the intervals between both of the interrogations, and wait for my release or that they would finally put me in the general prison barracks that the G2 has in the Pedernales neighborhood.

I returned to the love of my relatives after 8:00 that night. One day, I will not return home so quickly, I know it. Now, I write while I can. My wife also suffered her par, spending the entire day in front of the Police Station, informing the press by phone, leaving voice-mails and being on the lookout to see if they sent me back to Holguin.

The week before I had posted the report about human rights which the Eastern Democratic Alliance released that week and which they also published on various web sites or sent to various organizations which monitored human rights in countries which violated them.

I saw it coming, I even had a premonition dream about it (it has happened more than once to me).

I have searched the Human Rights Covenants, including the one about “Principles for the Protection of All People Subjected to Any Form of Detention or Prison.” In paragraph a) it says: ” By ‘arrest’ is meant the act of apprehending a person who has supposedly committed a crime or by an act of authority.”

Amongst the different norms about torture, and cruel or degrading treatment, there is nothing about sitting a person for 13 hours in a chair without access to any food, simply because in a specific place in the region where I live, they were going to undertake a peaceful activity, or for divulging the testimonies of horror that I have seen, as it seemed was my case.

Their arguments seem to run out quickly, the corporal punishments assume the morality of those who have the power. This reminded me of when I was a child and I misbehaved, like now. I have always been irreconcilably disobedient, I don’t think I will change at this point in my life.

On Monday the 23rd, I hadn’t even gotten up from bed when I once again heard some loud banging on my door. I had to live through the same police story, only with the difference that now they told me about reports denouncing human rights violations, about my blog, and about the independent journalism which I do. They reminded me that to write, like I do, many others spent much time in prison since 2003. They told me about the Gag Law which mentions something about 25 years behind bars.

I could only think of Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, of his brother Nestor, of Enyor Diaz Allen, Roberto Gonzalez Pelegrin, and Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz who were all imprisoned incommunicado, over there in olive-green Guantanamo. They were paying for the crimes committed by the police of Baracoa.

Now I wonder, what will the regime consider my next prank to be. I think about the path that has brought this country the totalitarian power that is eating away at itself. What will be my next punishment?

Note: This post was delayed 15 days from being published on “Crossing the Barbed Wire,” but it was finally able to be posted.

Translated by Raul G.

August 29, 2010