Involution / Fernando Dámaso

As he was growing, all around him long shoots were developing that bit by bit enveloped him. First they sprouted next to the soles of his feet. They were like bamboo shoots. Then they grew long and joined together across the time, until they formed an enormous oval cage that followed him everywhere. At first he tried to break them, but they were very flexible and wouldn’t break. Every day they became more dense and blocked the rays of the sun. It was true that he could walk and move in any direction, he could even float on the water of the ocean, but always within this strange plant container. Little by little he adapted to the situation and stopped fighting it. Then the shoots settled into the earth and he couldn’t move any more. With each day that passed they became more dense. To look out he had to push through the tiny open spaces that remained. One day the shoots formed a trunk and he disappeared.

September 4, 2010

A Pending Subject / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In my school years I studied a subject call Morals and Civics. In it, step by step, they inculcated principles in us to conduct ourselves in life as citizens. Ethical norms, morals and civics that, without realizing it, complement and deepen the teachings of our parents in the heart of the family.
  2. We learned to love our country, respect the flag and shield, and to sing with great excitement the national anthem. We also felt proud of our history. We learned, also, to respect, study and work, to deal with our fellow men, to be supportive and polite, to keep our word, and to be loyal friends and to live in society.
  3. Thus, our nation was formed and developed, becoming, in different spheres, ahead of many countries in the first half of the 20th century.
  4. After a patriotic climax in the early years of the sixties, perhaps driven by the rapidity of the events that were talking place, we forgot, above all, the primary responsibility of educating our children, and for the omissions of that time, today we are paying handsomely.
  5. There is too much talk of recovery, but lost generations are as irrecoverable as time. They constitute our moral and civic collapse.

September 13, 2010

The Return / Fernando Dámaso

The old Mambí, on his stool, raised his saber, and with a perfect slash cut the large table where his twelve family members were fighting over the spoils in two. The radio stopped playing Michael Jackson singing “I’m Bad,” while from the window came the deafening noise of a the microbrigade’s concrete mixer. Daniel pulled on the tablecloth and some of the fine Italian dishes fell to the floor with a clatter. Then Maria, completely nude, doing ballet, went over to the old Mambí and standing before him on point, gave the diners an eyeful of her buttocks. In her right hand a red flag flapped incessantly, back and forth in front of the old Mambí‘s face.  When the chandelier hanging over the table was lit, everyone stood up, rattling their hardwood and embossed leather chairs. Daniel gave a great leap and ended up hanging from a nail on the wall, next to the painting of his grandfather in his Spanish uniform. Maria started to twirl continuously before the old Mambí and the red flag floated in the air. From the kitchen Joaquina emerged, clad in her white coat, carrying a tray of steaming chicken and rice. At her side was a Santa Barbara escorted by a hundred lit candles and a black and white goat, which filled the dining room with a strong smell of urine. The old Mambí kept his saber unsheathed. He raised his head and looked at the ceiling. Four bats hanging there let go and began to flutter, soaring at high speed over the heads of the diners. Daniel pressed against the wall and Maria stopped dancing. The song ended and only the noise of the concrete mixer continued. The old Mambí slid off his stool, put his saber in its sheath, mounted his horse and rode at a gallop over the entire family.

August 20, 2010

A Different Solution / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Reading the newspaper Granma, I find that in the last coffee harvest we only collected 6,000 tons of beans, a long way from the 60,000 the country achieved in the past. Also the production of cacao suffers the same situation as coffee. On another page I read that 94.3% of 1,497 miles of mainline and branch railways are in a bad state of repair. There is other data but that sample is sufficient.
  2. To this is added the loss of good manners, treating people well, ethical and moral values, work and social discipline, work productivity, the quality of products, citizen education, etc.
  3. In this situation, the verb of the hour is recuperate. I remember that, some years ago, we used: reverse, overcome, turn the setback into a victory, corral the problems, etc.
  4. It’s important to differentiate between material and spiritual losses. The first, with an efficient economic model, resources, responsible and intelligent work, in places large and small, can resolve themselves. I use the verb resolve in its correct meaning.
  5. The second are a bit more complex. They need time, education and demand, starting in the family, continuing at school and ending in society. I doubt that at the present time some of these areas are addressing this. Therefore, the solution has nothing to do with voluntarism, and could be a question of two or three generations.

September 21, 2010

Like Baseball / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In Tulipán where it runs through the Plaza municipality, around the tiny April 19 railroad station, there is a long established series of private timbiriches (precarious tiny kiosks) that, with their principally artisanal products, support people who are not served by state markets.
  2. On day, a few months back, they were dismantled by the order of someone, and they disappeared. Now some State timbiriches have sprung up, mainly offering fast food and alcohol.
  3. I don’t know which of our brainy economists came up with this original timberiche economy idea. It’s possible it was the same one who thought up State parking lot attendants. Perhaps with that one he or she might be nominated for the Nobel in economics.
  4. On the one hand, the press publishes studies about expanding self-employment, and on the other, they are closed down. If this happens in a baseball game, we say that the manager and the players have gotten their signals crossed: you bat in batting order and vice versa. So no one wins even a crappy game. Let’s agree, those who are paying the fees for these endless studies are we citizens.
  5. A few days ago, in a small park at the corner of Tulipán and Loma, there were some nomadic self-employed, offering their wares. I hope they are allowed to stay, at least until the much-announced nuclear winner is upon on.

September 23, 2010

A Tepid “Change” / Fernando Dámaso

  1. I have carefully read the List of Self Employment Jobs, that the government authorizes citizens to undertake (something unlikely in the 21st Century), as well as the clarifications of various officials, particularly in the newspaper Granma of September 23.
  2. Mentally I’ve traveled to the feudal period when the master of the castle authorized his servants to engage in commerce on their land, but with one difference: he never established any list that limited their development of initiatives.
  3. None of the authorized jobs have anything to do with production or with substituting local products for imported ones, two slogans much repeated lately. They only have to do, for the most part, with offering services, most of them pretty basic.
  4. The reason for their limited reach, is based on the patch added, under pressure, to the Constitution some years ago, declaring that our political and social system is irrevocable. Our Mambises, who were pretty smart, when they edited the Constitution of the Republic-in-Arms, always made it clear it was temporary and could be changed. This is provided for in the Guáimaros (10.4.l869) in the Jimaguayú (l6.9.1985) and in the La Yaya (29.10.l897) versions. In the constitutions during the Republic they respected this principle. The Constitution of 1940, considered the most complete and best, was substituted for what they called the Fundamental Law at the triumph of the insurrection and then replaced by the Socialist Constitution, which was later amended as well. As we can see, nothing is irrevocable. Trying to put a straitjacket on current and future generations is naive as well as unjust.
  5. I have belabored the previous point, because this is the main argument not to make the changes truly necessary, and to put makeup on a corpse to make it look as if it is alive and kicking, by freezing, for some time longer its natural process of decomposition.

September 26, 2010

From Rafaeil Alcide to Pablo Milanés / Regina Coyula

Dear Pablo you are in my heart even if I never see you:

They tell me (I do not read the press) that you made some statements days ago, where you admitted the need to straighten out some things in  Cuban socialism, you ended up urging Fidel and Raul, almost forbidding them, they  said, to commit the imprudence of dying without leaving a  successor.

Caramba, Pablo, you don’t say, if in that respect these people have left us, not just one successor, they have left us a ton, six at least. Count them and  write a song.

When Fidel and Raul die, then we have Machado  Ventura, and when Machado Ventura dies the following week, we will have Ramiro, and when Ramiro dies the following week, we will have the Army  Corps General and Hero of the Republic Julio Casas  Regueiro, and when Casas Requeiro dies the following week, we will have Lazo, and when Lazo dies the following week, we will have the successors  to the Honorable Lazo who, perpetuating the tradition established by the  historic leadership, would have named a series of successors to the task following the number and formalities of the original scheme, and so, dear Pablo,  while the Cuban Communist Party has elders, there will be no lack of successors in  the Cuba of your dreams.

Or what is the basis of those statements you made  without it seems, for us to decipher it, dear Pablo Milanés, that you are not satisfied with the successors in view today, those appointed by Fidel  and Raul? If so, I will still not agree with you. But do not lose  sleep, poet, put aside those little things, and continue to make songs that the  world will remember, songs that honor your Bayamo, songs that bring with them all the honors which for once and for all accompanied Perucho Figueredo. The successor is not a package that is left at the doorstep, Pablo, the successor is someone who  gives himself supremely to the people.

Bayamesamente,

Rafael Alcides

Translated by: Julio de la Yncera

September 27, 2010

Present, Past, Future / Fernando Dámaso

1.  The only thing that a human being truly possesses is his present.  The past is something that already occurred, for better or worse, and the present itself, with the passing of seconds, continually becomes the past.  The future is what might or might not be, in whose roots the present is found.  Seen this way, in all of its simplicity and objectivity, the present is to live, the past that which was lived, and the future that which is to be lived.  The future, upon becoming the present, also starts to turn into the past.

2.  The majority of politicians on the left consolidate their programmatic platforms by questioning the past and proposing a future, skillfully evading the present, be they communists or recalcitrant socialists, moderate or recycled, populists, nationalists, nativists and even Islamists, that new category so in vogue these days.

3.  Once power is taken, be it through violence or peacefully, their first and greatest task is to painstakingly revise the past: land has been ill-distributed, economic development has been unfair, signed treaties have undermined sovereignty, foreign policy has been wrong-headed, school curriculae programs have been ill-conceived, the health system has been badly organized, public transit has been ineffective, and so on, covering the entire political, economic, and social spectrum.  They dedicate time and effort not to the present, but rather to criticize and readjust the past, categorizing the previous presidents as bad or moderate, according to political convenience.

Usually, they start with the redistribution of land: it must be distributed among the farmers and poor, as if it were a dogma, even if it brings as consequences chaos in the agriculture sector and lack of productivity.  It doesn’t matter, for this comprises the first obligatory step in obtaining massive popular support, before proceeding to nationalize large farms and cooperatives, which are also unproductive.  The following measure is for financial reform: the state must monopolize and control all capital in order to squander it and plan a future.  Other reforms follow:  education reforms, healthcare reforms, urban reforms, justice reforms, etc…

5.  The center of attention, as is easy to observe, is concentrated on changing the past, but in reality, the past is impossible to change, unless it’s in the rhetoric of speeches and history books, by new writers, which exist independently of our present.  These changes and attempted changes are carried out against all logic, they are carried out to insure the future.  As we can see, the present is again excluded, for these leaders live distantly from it.

6.  In revising the past, the scalpel is applied deeply and an attempt even made to remove traditions and customs: a people without a past or with a mutilated past are easily manipulated.  The future is offered up as a panacea, whose cost is defrayed by today’s sacrifices.  Except the future has no palpable limits or measurable time: everything is placed in the limbo of things to come, which with every passing day moves further away, as unreachable as the horizon.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 24, 2010

Phone Companies’ Request To Obama Is A Ray Of Hope For Cubans / Yoani Sánchez

A long line of people waits in the sun outside the telephone office on Obispo Street in Old Havana. Some passersby ask about the latest news for those hoping to open a cellphone contract.

Many of them carry some old device with a monochrome screen, bought in the black market or sent by relatives abroad. But there are others with a sophisticated iPhone, Blackberry, or the latest model Motorola. Such modern phones and all their features can barely be used on the island, because of the technical limitations of the country’s only telecommunications company, ETECSA. But this doesn’t paralyze us, as we Cubans have a marked predilection for circuits and little flashing lights even if we can’t use their full capabilities.

The appetite for electronic gadgets feeds off precisely material shortages and the control maintained by the State over their distribution. What’s remarkable is that even with rudimentary technology we have been able to do so much. Imagine what we could do if Cuba’s isolated citizens had access to the technology and innovation that spawned the Internet revolution across the Florida Straits.

We have always been able to turn to illegal market networks, which offer everything from computers and all their accessories to electronic messaging. It is in this underground market — persecuted but essential — where every type and model of cellphone is offered today. Phones are the most common product on the censored webpage Revolico.com, a sort of Cuban Craigslist where the ads are free.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Havana, it is rare to walk a hundred yards and not see someone texting. According to official statistics, the number of mobile phone users nationwide is exceeds one million. Considering the growth in cellphone use in other Latin American countries, it is a low figure, only about one Cuban in twelve. Nevertheless, one could say that no element of our economy has grown as fast, in recent months, as mobile phone use. Moreover, despite the technical limitations and the difficulties in purchasing modern and inexpensive phones, the symbol of modernity represented by this little gadget has begun to change our lives.

When, Raul Castro allowed us to contract for prepaid mobile phone service in 2008, no one would have imagined that two years later these devices would be used to broadcast news censored by the official press. Through text-only messages we inform ourselves and send news out to the world. Since August 2009, some in Cuba have begun to use Twitter for small alerts, or S.O.S. calls sent from cellphones.

And independent journalism and the alternative blogosphere have realized an old dream, long deferred: immediacy. Once the Cuban networks were ready to transmit multimedia messages, the vast World Wide Web welcomed the first videos, audio and photos able to travel from the “Island of the Disconnected” to the world at large. This, despite the fact that none of the people sending these dispatches had a cellphone connected to the Internet, not to mention that the cost of sending a text message abroad exceeds the salary a professional earns for four days work.

An added difficulty is that this explosion in cellphone use is not matched by a corresponding development in ETECSA’s infrastructure. The number of clients grows, but the number of antennas and the satellite capacity does not keep up. Thus, we get frequent messages telling us “there is congestion on the lines,” and on holidays it becomes impossible to send or receive messages. Trapped between excessive costs and poor services, users cannot choose to switch to a more efficient company, because the state monopoly does not allow other companies to compete.

Thus, the request to President Obama from the firms Nokia, AT&T and Verizon, asking for an easing of the embargo and trade with Cuba, is a ray of hope for us. If we have managed to do so much with so little, what will happen when having a cellphone, sending a text, connecting to the Internet, all become as easy as talking, walking, shouting a slogan?

Note: This article originally appeared as an op-ed in the The Miami Herald on Sept. 21, 2010.

Possible Utopia (I) / Miriam Celaya

Photography by Orlando Luis

In the last few weeks, one topic has become the focus of comments and expectations: the announced increase in self-employed persons, mainly from the massive layoffs that will literally leave half a million state employees out on the street in just one quarter. Speculation grows, while the case is being cooked -as always- behind the curtains of the Palace, with no clear information on the magnitude and pace of applications for licenses for those who will begin to operate outside the “protection” of the state.

There are many edges from which a question, at once complex and controversial, can be addressed, especially if we underline some of the unpublished touches contained in its embossed printing: never, since 1959, had the government prepared a similar wave of layoffs, not even in the critical conditions of the 1990’s. The Cuban Workers Union had not previously displayed, so publicly and openly, its complete submission to the State. On the other hand, it is totally absurd that the loss of half a million members might lead to the “strengthening the organization of the working class”, as its Secretary General recently stated, unless the government intends to recognize the right of unionization of the self-employed in different branches, which, of course, is unlikely.

For now I’ll just refer to one issue that seems to have been forgotten amid the comments, especially by the foreign press, which seems to overestimate the provisions of the government. A list of about 124 professions, trades and other occupations that will be licensed has been unofficially released, which has unleashed a wave of speculation even among ordinary Cuban citizens, who have not been formally apprised of the news. A foreign journalist just mentioned to me, with almost jubilant optimism: “finally, the Cuban government is implementing innovative changes.” Of course, I am also in favor of the changes and of the abolition of the dependency of individuals on the State, I just do not believe in half measures because they do not resolve the root of the evil, especially if these provisions are forced. We can’t lose sight that the government is applying them because it has no other alternative. Somehow, it will continue to try to exercise a strong hold on the new “independent” workers. It remains to be seen if the measurements become “improvements” or not, and that won’t depend on the government alone.

Another detail: none of the occupations approved so far are new, but they have all been practiced illegally for decades. Who in Cuba has not retained the services of a carpenter, a mason, a welder or a plumber? Let’s be clear, if anyone here needs to buy or repair furniture, he goes directly to the nearest state carpentry and negotiates the terms and the price of labor with a carpenter. The raw materials and machine tools belong to the state; the benefit is private, in a process that my friend and colleague Dimas Castellanos has named “staticular work.” The same applies to the blacksmith or welder. Where do they get the oxygen, acetylene and metals for jobs in a city that, because of the increase in theft and violence, has bars on all its windows? In the workshops and state warehouses. Widespread illegal work is such that the authorities have chosen to look the other way, and today it enjoys almost total impunity.

So, these occupations have been carried out on their own and without any licenses because, in 1968, the State canceled all small family businesses or cooperatives offering such services, but it failed -both because of its inefficiency and the impossibility of such an endeavor by any State- to create the infrastructure necessary to offset people’s demand. As a corollary, an underground service market supplied with state resources to cover basic need requirements for the population was established. Revolutionary or not, every Cuban has had to resort to these illegal actions, aware that he is committing a crime and “resolving” the problem by their thievery against the State; in this scenario are included numerous individuals whom we know, responsible for monitoring for the CDR. At the end of the day, as the saying goes, “The thief who steals from a thief…”

And so it was that, in trying to eliminate all vestiges of individuals’ property in order to cause economic independence to adhere, and with it, their freedom, the government only managed to encourage crime and corruption. The new government measures of today are merely legalizing what until now was illegal and uncontrollable. After more than 40 years of the Revolutionary Offensive, we return to the starting point: the restoration of what should have never been abolished, the small private property.

But now, the other aspect of the matter is just how the self-employed will ensure, henceforth, the raw materials, which thus far have come out of state warehouses. Or, for example, how does the government plan for household appliance, bicycles or automobile repairmen to work without commercializing spare parts, as dictated by the business? Will there be warehouses that will sell parts and accessories at reasonable prices? Will the state be able to keep those stores stocked? Probably not. And, as for taxes, will they be fair and beneficial to workers? Because existing taxes are really abusive and arbitrary, which implies that most of the self-employed who have survived prefer to buy their products and raw materials on the black market and pay bribes to tax inspectors, to make their activity less burdensome. The pseudo-socialist self-employment, as a genuine product of this system, thus becomes a generator of corruption.

In the current climate, compromises are not worth it. The liberalization of so high a portion of the labor force and its insertion in the private production of goods and services will have to be sufficiently profitable to become effective and stimulate the domestic economy. In that case, the worker who is able to fend for himself will be able to overcome the current survival conditions and will attain the material well-being he wishes and deserves. We must also note that, by being outside the official trade union organization -as logic would indicate- these workers should have the right to organize according to their own interests in order to demand the enforcement of contracts and commitments they might establish with the State. The self-employed would then cease to be “mass” to become citizens and strengthen civil society: the first step towards a possible utopia.

This time, the government must consider the fact that, with these layoffs and with the new legalization of the old self-employment, it will lose a great deal of the control (including ideological blackmail) that it exercised, at least over this half a million Cubans. There will probably be 500,000 less marching each May 1st to contribute their annual “labor day” to the Territorial Militia Troops, to pay its union dues to the State or to clamor for the release of these or the other heroes of the day… Unless licenses, like streets and universities, turn out to be for “self-employed revolutionaries”.

September 24, 2010

DIRUBE’S DRAWINGS…? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

A VISIT TO VISTA MAR

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

In a cultural magazine of the Catholic Church, I read the tiniest notice, published maybe a couple of months ago. It spoke of a chapel abandoned for many years and of a mural by Dirube that survived in its interior decor.

This past weekend I went up the Santa María del Mar hill, crossed a small, grassy park full of prisoners or crazies with gray uniforms (they performed labor-therapy), and I found the chapel at the end, with its cross raised towards the sky between a telecommunications tower and hard-currency hostel.

The place was beaten by neglect. Palsied fences, planks, bricks. A family inhabited a part of the building, as worse they could. And, in fact, I saw master strokes on the wall, adjacent to what may have been an altar.

It was a virgin. A Picasso virgin, chopped. Ruled, with baby God and little boat of charity with its three rafters included. Thin and thick lines, straight and curved, interwoven, illegible, perhaps a dystrophic flower, a goatish eye, everything holding glimmers of light that may well have been just remains of another painting that eventually faded.

There was an atrocious silence. A resonant vacuum perfect for Dirube, who was deaf from infancy, as well as unknown on the island during his biography. I put my ear to the mural. On the other side one could hear the voice-over bustle of a black Cuban family at the margins of a worldwide 21st century. It smelled of cockroaches and fresh cement.

I felt an inconsolable sadness. Fifty years ago, that division was being built to populate the future. People came and climbed these same hills and put their money to work as a function for creating an architecture of rupture against the patriotic Provincialism of our city concept.

Then they had to immediately flee from the overwhelming justice of the Revolution and they lost forever the epiphanic vision of a cyan sea. The vision that I now had for free, ignorant witness but susceptible to pain.

I took pictures. I breathed. I looked at the concave and claustrophobic line of Playas del Este. It was Saturday afternoon. It seemed to be the last weekend of the nation.

I do not know if, as he died in the nineties, Dirube remembered this mural. I don’t even know if he finished it or if I marveled at a mere sketch at the hands of a magician. Nonetheless, it was a miracle that his work still remained standing, fading without an audience in the face of ministerial indolence, waiting for me to pass serendipitously though here and kneel before the gods gone to pray.

I wanted to be humbled, sink before the splendor in ruins of a dead countryman, ask for forgiveness for so many kicks and coffins in exchange for nothing. I wanted to rebuild the imminent Cuba parting from a Dirube that may well have been a fake or by another painter (I do not trust the cultural magazines of any church).

Cuban culture is somewhat like that smudge, that scribbling of papers and walls, that despotic disregard against those who do not commune with the official faith, that masterpiece for nobody, that apocryphal elite that the people employ as latrine or guest house.

I left. I don’t know if I’ll return to the little chapel. Maybe I should organize a camping trip or hold a mass there in the name of all of you. That super modern temple, that the sloth of the religious institution did not know how to conserve, would be an excellent niche to begin repainting with the colors of change in Cuba.

Translated by: Joanne Gómez

September 21, 2010

ONE SQUARE METER OF FREEDOM / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Antony of el Grupo Amistad, the Friendship Group, (the same group that ran the March for Non-Violence on Friday, November 6, 2010), at the start of the presentations during the performance ONE SQUARE METER OF FREEDOM in the Park at 21st and H, El Vedado, Havana, Cuba, today, Saturday, September 25, 2010, at 4:00 PM.

September 25, 2010