Raul Castro, On the Fence / Iván García

General Raul Castro is trying to give shape to the land he’s promised. El Dorado, the “Cuban socialist paradise,” requires time and patience. And confidence in the old leaders who have ruled the destinies of Cubans for 51 years.

The Castros want to dance the old-style danzón. No reggaeton. Farewell to emergencies and haste. The changes will be controlled and jealously scrutinized under a magnifying glass.

In the latest speech of the Cuban president, as is usual on the island, there are hidden meanings. Subtle codes. Political carpentry. But then you dismantle all the artifice of the partisan jargon, the veiled threats to dissenters and the tiresome slogans, and you note that in the words of Castro II there are two speeches.

One holds everything we read in the press. The other, what isn’t said. Up to a point I understand the Creole mandarins. It’s hard for them to speak frankly about the failure of the economic model and the innumerable disasters committed by Fidel Castro in the administration of the country.

Then he gilds the pill. But when you deconstruct the words of Raul you come to a logical conclusion: the transformations promised to us by the government are the same neo-liberal shock therapy applied by any capitalist country when it enters an economic crisis.

And worse. In capitalist societies there are pockets of unemployment. The island’s government has promised to be more severe with those who hang around in the streets. It’s rumored they will only be paid 60% of their salary for one month. Then, they can get by however they can.

To offset the rising tide of the unemployed, which will exceed a million people, they will expand the rules for self-employment.

But this remains to be seen. Look, in moments when the rope tightens around their neck, the Castro’s often give way. Then, when they get some oxygen, they tighten the rope and return to paralysis, the preferred rhythm of the Havana regime.

On the street, there are more doubts than hopes. It’s good to work for yourself, make money and improve the quality of your life. But it’s not easy. If the government doesn’t lower the taxes, call off the inspectors, and ease up on the constant obstacles in the way of private work, Raul’s announcement won’t be effective.

To establish a private cafe or restaurant in Cuba isn’t always possible. First: where do you get the money. Second: on the island the banks don’t offer credit nor lend money. Third: with regards to getting money, people wonder if the government won’t continue to look askance at it.

Because to have a business and prosper is something that doesn’t appeal to the Castro brothers. For the simple reason that every person that stops living off the State’s tit and manages to become independent, will always constitute a threat to the regime.

Money engenders power, influence and the desire to change the rules of the fame. The Castros know this. So they have always been afraid of private employment. Their interest is that those who don’t work for the State may look for a few pesos, but only enough to eat and little else.

The Castro brothers don’t want any new rich. And the ordinary people are aware of the danger of prospering. They know that hundreds of the paladares (private restaurants) were closed and that people were even imprisoned, accused of “illicit enrichment.”

When self-employment surged in 1994, the majority of those who accomplished it had family or friends abroad.

To establish a decent restaurant that will give a return on the investment requires no less than $8,000 dollars. Do the math. Buying the utensils, stoves, refrigerators, food and paying two or three employees. If, as Castro II said, one can hire workers, then it follows that one could establish small or medium-sized businesses. What worries a certain segment of the population is whether there will be a hook at the end of the line, as has happened at other times.

In any event, the good news from Raul’s speech was the reference to self-employment. The negatives were the threats to the opposition. His message was clear. If you believe the government will compromise on political questions, you’re mistaken. The jails will remain open and the laws allow the imprisonment of a dissident or journalist for 20 years or more remain in effect in the Republic.

It remains to be seen if they were empty words and typical bravado to pacify the Taliban frightened of change. Otherwise, it has been demonstrated that closed system need prisoners as a currency of exchange for any situation that arises. Now the prisons may be emptied. Will they be filled again?

Iván García

Photo: AFP

August 8, 2010

Thanks For Your Comments / Iván García

Once or twice a week, I connect to the internet from a hotel in Havana. Connections from Cuba tend to be very slow, and the time gets used up trying to send in my work. When I have a few minutes, I go to the blog, but I can hardly ever read and respond to comments.

Thank you for being regular readers of the blog and for leaving your opinions.


Iván García Quintero

Translated by: CIMF

Beyond the Horizon / Laritza Diversent

The comment by a reader of mine, Sergio, attracted my attention. He asked: what is the reason that keeps preventing the opposition in Cuba from growing strong?

According to his writing, Sergio left the island a short while ago and still has fresh memories of the disagreements and fears here. He thinks that the people are still being paralysed despite recognising that the political and the economic systems are failing, because they dread something worse. Just like the popular sayings: “To jump from the frying pan into the fire” or “Better the Devil you know than the one you don’t.”

The commentator asserts that the historical leadership is still in power, firstly because the opposition cannot offer a model for the future development of Cuba, and secondly, because the malicious propaganda machinery, the indoctrination and the disinformation have demonised the concept of capitalism to the point that it is perceived as the apocalypse, exemplified by the social model of North America: “TOTAL liberty, the State is not responsible for exercising control… and things work if they are private.”

He suggests to the dissidents that if they propose “the American way” they will find it hard to convince the rest of the Cubans, “who don’t want to shift constantly from the extreme Stalinist left to the far ‘Republican’ and neoliberal right… Cubans want the best of capitalism and the best of socialism.”

To illustrate his thoughts he presents two proposals and economic models for the opposition groups:

His first proposal: “We are THIS group, here is my programme: Once democracy is achieved we want a liberal Cuba where the free enterprise and market forces set the guidelines of the society, the government lets the market operate on by its own rules, everyone has a health insurance if he or she wants medical care, and everything or almost everything is private property, because the State is not competent.”

Later he asks: “What do you do if you don’t have enough to pay for your father’s cancer treatment?” “We know that health is the one most precious things and therefore it is what concerns people most,” he argues. On this point I agree with Sergio, in a future full of changes not all of us are going to be prosperous entrepreneurs.

I agree once again when he claims that “the opposition has to focus, and each group, independent of the common goal (the end of the dictatorship and establishment of democracy) has to present its own detailed plan.

Unfortunately, the majority of the opposition groups within the Island do not seem to grasp the idea of a political programme, occasionally they don’t understand what this is. It is also hard to know for sure what is the ideology they profess. Sometimes I have the impression that they associate the term liberal with liberation, hence it is difficult to know what is the model or alternative for the government that they offer to the Cuban public.

Second proposal: “We are THAT OTHER group and this is my programme: When Cuba is to be free we want full liberty and support for the free enterprise, but subject to economic, financial and fiscal regulations that prevent those unbalances in the system that end up with the taxpayers footing the bill. There will be a serious fiscal system in order to create a social security covering the basic needs: labour rights, free and universal medical care, education facilities. The State will cease determining the degree entrepreneurial activity…, but it will never let the course of the country’s economic development to be set by the market alone. We’ll have a sober economic planning based on industrialisation and R&D (Research and Development) as a guarantee for sound and sustained economic growth… and independent of cyclical activities like the real estate business or tourism that are a feast today but famine tomorrow.

Sergio insists on the need to explain that “there is a form of capitalism that respects the right of the people to have their business, from a cafeteria to a designer company and even a multinational metallurgical enterprise… to earn millions of euros and to be millionaires…, and all of this being Cubans in Cuba, achieved with their ingenuity and work, at the same time enjoying guaranteed free and universal medical care and education for their whole family… and everyone pays into social security… and moreover, a right to attend colleges and universities and private health care for those who wish it.”

The commentator does not believe that wrongs in Cuba are due to socialism, but rather to FIDELISM. “Our problem is Fidel and his dictatorship, the dictators are neither communists nor capitalists,” he argues. He doesn’t like the American model either and thinks that it is time for the Cubans to “look closely at well developed models that are socially fair if not egalitarian.”

He advises the dissidents to “PULL THEIR HEADS OUT OF MAIMI and take a look at Germany and the rest of Europe (excluding Spain, Portugal and Italy), it does not matter whether the government is left or right, it still makes some difference, but to a great extent they have reconciled very well liberty and economic development with a high standard of welfare and social justice.”

“If there is a group out there that has a programme with these ideas… I’ll sign up together with my family, otherwise I support them regarding the common goal to get rid of the Castros… but I will give them my neither my vote nor my confidence… and I think that the majority of the Cubans in Cuba will feel this way,” he finishes.

I also think that from now on it is necessary to explain WHAT DOES THE OPPOSITION OFFER TO CUBANS. The economic model ought to be chosen by all in free elections and will be put in place by the political group that manages to see BEYOND THE HORIZON.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: undef

August 15, 2010

Earning a Living / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

He arrived at G on Friday to join the crowd of other young people watching the wee hours of the night pass waiting for better times. For some inexplicable reason the police would only allow them “to be” on one of the two sidewalks of 23rd and having made an appointment earlier to meet a girl in the “prohibited zone,” decided to run the risk rather than lose his chance of the night.

The risk turned out to be higher than he’d calculated – naïve and crazy kid: an official welcomed him with a shove and asked for his ID card.  Not producing it fast enough, they handcuffed him and before he could ask why he was already in the back of the patrol car.

He was thrown in a dungeon at 21 C. He thought he had forgotten to let go of the wrists. However, a look around allowed to check two things:
– All the detainees were handcuffed.
– There were many detainees.

They threw him in a dungeaon at 21st and C. He thought they’d forgotton to free his wrists. But a look around informed him of two things:

— All the detainees were handcuffed.
— There were a lot of detainees.

As he wasn’t even twenty yet, he was terrified. He didn’t know anything about his rights nor was he going to risk the night by defending them. Then again there is always a third option.  He managed to whisper the magic words to an officer:

“Hey pal, I have fifty pesos. My mother is sick and I can’t get home too late.”

Half an hour later he was home. He summarized the story for me with a moral: “They made a lot of money Friday, we were a ton of people. Next time I’ll give them the money in the patrol car.”

August 14, 2010

Customs Back in Action / Laritza Diversent

Postal and Shipping Customs, part of General Customs of the Republic (AGR), imposed an administrative penalty against me, through Confiscation Order No. 978, issued on June 8, 2010, for a shipment sent from the United States of America.

On July 13, I received an envelope sent by the Customs authority through the Cuban Postal Service, which contained the order and four Records of Retention and Notification. The documents included a list of the items seized.

In the order, Raimundo Pérez García, Customs Enforcement Inspector, confiscated the items – mostly cleaning, toiletry, and office supplies – claiming that upon physically inspecting the shipment, he found that they offended the general interests of the nation, constituting a violation of the provisions of Resolution No. 5-96 of the Chief of the General Customs of the Republic.

Among the products mentioned were an MP3, a camera, water purifiers, a pencil sharpener, balloons, pens, pencils, markers, several note pads, crayolas, laundry soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, towelettes, antiseptic and sanitary pads, elastic bandages, and rolls of tape.

These are widely-used, everyday domestic products, and are on sale in state-owned commercial establishments and hard-currency stores within the country.

The customs order issued by Pérez García, Customs Enforcement Inspector, is arbitrary. This official did not explain what criteria he took into account to determine that the items seized offended the general interests of the nation.

Resolution No. 5 of the AGR, in force since 1996, allows the application, within the national territory, of the International Convention on the Suppression of the Circulation and Trafficking of Obscene Publications and traffic.

It prohibits the importation by shipment of “any object whose content is considered contrary to morals and good customs or that goes against the general interests of the nation.” It further provides that the seized products be delivered to the appropriate agency of the Ministry of Interior.

The government regulation was used in previous months in the seizure of shipments from abroad to various dissidents, including Aini Martin, the independent press correspondent, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, the wife of the physician and prisoner of conscience Darcy Ferrer Dominguez, and Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog “Generation Y”.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 14, 2010

Fidel Castro Threatens with “The Strategic Victory” / Katia Sonia

Like a birthday present to himself, the Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro launched a book in which he narrates as episodes his experiences in the Sierra Maestra during the fight against Fulgencio Batista.

In this memoir narrated in epic tones, he deletes all those who then didn’t see clearly the destiny they’d been fighting for and separates them from the so-called Revolution Triumphant: we do not find anecdotes of Huber Matos, nor of Mario Chanes de Armas and many others whom, for more than fifty years, he has tried to silence with his twisted arguments.

After four years out of the game and his role in the leadership of the Revolution, a little more incoherent, Fidel Reappears to minimize once again the figure of his brother who, by his order, replaced him as dictatorial ruler; he called a special session of the “Cuban Parliament,” no, that is not a typo, it is how to recognize the Cubans of the National Assembly of People’s Power; everything’s OK, you have to keep fighting…

There will be twenty-five chapters numbered after the fashion of Castro, who will torture the nationals with the endless round tables, headlines and a great reduction in the insufficient production of books and school supplies for the school year 2010-2011, because all the printers are working overtime to guarantee the release of “Strategic Victory.”

These 84 threaten more of the same, fifty years of badly told stories that express the extreme will of the author; so come on down, here comes the cake.

August 12 2010

Fidel Castro, Present and Past / Yoani Sánchez

Fidel Castro’s return to public life after a four-year absence provokes conflicting emotions here. His reappearance surprised a people awaiting, with growing despair, the reforms announced by his brother Raúl. While some weave fantasies around his return, others are anxious about what will happen next.

The return of a famous figure is a familiar theme in life as in fiction — think Don Quixote, Casanova or Juan Domingo Perón. But another familiar theme is disappointment — of those who find that the person who returns is no longer the person who left, or at least not as we remember him. There is often a sense of despair surrounding those who insist on coming back. Fidel Castro is no exception to this flaw inherent in remakes.

The man who appeared on the anniversary of “Revolution Day” last week bore no resemblance to the sturdy soldier who handed over his office to his brother in July 2006. The stuttering old man with quivering hands was a shadow of the Greek-profiled military leader who, while a million voices chanted his name in the plaza, pardoned lives, announced executions, proclaimed laws that no one had been consulted on and declared the right of revolutionaries to make revolution. Although he has once again donned his olive-green military shirt, little is left of the man who used to dominate television programming for endless hours, keeping people in suspense from the other side of the screen.

The great orator of times long past now meets with an audience of young people in a tiny theater and reads them a summary of his latest reflections, already published in the press. Instead of arousing the fear that makes even the bravest tremble, he calls forth, at best, a tender compassion. After a young reporter calmly asked a question, she followed up with her greatest wish: “May I give you a kiss?” Where is the abyss that for so many years not even the most courageous dared to jump?

A significant sign that Fidel Castro’s return to the microphones has not being going over well is that even his brother refused to echo, in his most recent speech to parliament, the former leader’s gloomy prognostication of a nuclear armageddon that will start when the United States launches a military attack against North Korea or Iran. Many analysts have pointed out that the man who was known as the Maximum Leader is hardly qualified to assess the innumerable problems in his own country, yet he turns his gaze to the mote in another’s eye. This pattern is familiar, with his discussions of the world’s environmental problems, the exhaustion of capitalism as a system and, most recently, predictions of nuclear war. Others see a veiled discontent in his apparent indifference toward events in Cuba. Yet this thinking forgets the maxim: Even if he doesn’t censure, if Caesar does not applaud, things go badly. It is unthinkable that Fidel Castro is unaware of the appetite for change that is devouring the Cuban political class; it would be naive to believe that he approves.

For years, so many lives and livelihoods have hung on the gestures of his hands, the way he raises his eyebrows or the twitch of his ears. Fidel watchers now see him as unpredictable, and many fear that the worst may happen if it occurs to him to rail against the reformers in front of the television cameras.

Perhaps this is why the impatient breed of new wolves do not want to stoke the anger of the old commander, who is about to turn 84. Some who intended to introduce more radical changes are now crouching in their spheres of power, waiting for his next relapse.

Meanwhile, those who are worried about the survival of “the process” are alarmed by the danger his obvious decline poses to the myth of the Cuban revolution personified, for 50 years, in this one man. Why doesn’t he stay quietly at home and let us work, some think, though they dare not even whisper it.

We had already started to remember him as something from the past, which was a noble way to forget him. Many were disposed to forgive his mistakes and failures. They had put him on some gray pedestal of the history of the 20th century, capturing his face at its best moment, along with the illustrious dead. But his sudden reappearance upended those efforts. He has come forward again to shamelessly display his infirmities and announce the end of the world, as if to convince us that life after him would be lacking in purpose.

In recent weeks, he who was once called The One, the Horse or simply He, has been presented to us stripped of his captivating charisma. Although he is once again in the news, it has been confirmed: Fidel Castro, fortunately, will never return.

Originally published in the Washington Post, August 5, 2010.

August 13, 2010

A Caribbean Tunisia / Miriam Celaya

For a few moments, while looking in astonishment at my television screen, I assumed that some paramedics would show up and, straitjacket in hand, definitively remove the decrepit orator from the scene, as happened years ago with Habib Bourguiba in faraway Tunisia. It was Saturday, August 7, and I could not believe that Mr. F, in a public speech broadcast live and addressed to the full Cuban Parliament, unleashed the greatest avalanche of nonsense that has ever been spewed, with complete self-confidence and without a single one of those present daring even to cough. After half a century of an absurd and vivid unreality, I haven’t lost the ability to be amazed. I confess that, much to my regret, I felt badly, a kind of guilt by association simply from watching the magnified ridicule of others. I also imagined the discomfort of the most clearheaded of those spectators (deputies, they say) pretending to take seriously the embarrassing errors flowing from an already too deteriorated brain. But many of them were shameless enough to applaud, ask questions and even flatter the orator. It was the biggest farce I have ever seen. However, despite the exaggerated shows of submissive support (or perhaps because of them), never did F seem to me so lonely and helpless.

Only in the opening minutes did the loquacious octogenarian manage to refer to “the Soviets” (who “are working” to avoid the nuclear conflagration that is coming) and the “Soviet Union” (which currently has serious problems with forest fires), with a present conviction as if twenty long years had not passed since the total collapse of that socialist monstrosity known as the USSR. The blunders of the old man followed one after another with complete impunity. Thus, F included new scientific evidence such as “Evolution began about 4,000 years ago…” or “18,000 years ago there was only fire on Earth…” and even some otherwise sage advice, “We already know that the sun will go out one day…” My anxiety grew as time passed and I started to bite my fingernails, but no paramedics appeared with a rescuing straitjacket. This time, definitely, it was not only F who was the victim of his proverbial arrogance… it was obvious that some elements of the higher-ups had a particular interest in publicly exposing this speaker’s remains.

I couldn’t stand the pain and turned off my TV, convinced that this country is sick. Since then I’ve been overwhelmed by a strange feeling encompassing shame, helplessness and anger. For the first time I excuse (partly) F for what is happening now; he is nothing more than an old man who suffers from the mental incapacity to critically distinguish reality from his own delusions. Perhaps he no longer has the lucidity to pay for his numerous crimes. But that huge hall was packed with other culprits; there was the president of this country and the president of the parliament, there were the more than 300 deputies and guests of the occasion, a whole herd of rip-off artists who continue to thrive in the shadow of the benefits they receive for their symbolic jobs and for their merits as active participants in the collapse of Cuba, while society is increasingly submerged in the worst of its permanent crises. They are also responsible for what happens in the future.

What interests are in motion through this lamentable theater and what perverse strategy is capable of supporting a farce like that orchestrated on Saturday the 7th, even at the risk of provoking greater instability than that in which we already live? Only THEY know, but I suspect that today we have more reasons for alarm than for laughter. If the factions vying for power in Cuba are divided between a deceitful and slow reformer and a deranged druid with messianic manias, we’re in real trouble. In the meantime, this Island has neither helmsman nor leader. How much would I have given that Saturday morning so that we Cubans, who do not have a real parliament, would at least have had some paramedics as timely and efficient as those in Tunisia!

Luis Orlando Photography

August 12, 2010

Inconceivable / Claudia Cadelo

Reina Luisa Tamayo and her daughter. Photo by: Claudio Fuentes Madan

There are things I’ve thrown in the trunk of the “incomprehensible.” I would say I won, they defeated me, I couldn’t bear it, they beat me. I refuse to exhaust my brain one more instant in trying to find some logic, some, even minimal, sense. In the package – I confess that there are several, too many – is the return of Fidel Castro, the “measures” of Raul Castro, the signers of the open letters from UNEAC – the Cuban Artists and Writers Union – the special session of the National Assembly, the gossip with Elian Gonzalez, the mind of Randy Alonso, the dead of Mazorra, the permission to leave or travel permit, the ideological “utility” of the Roundtable  TV show, the ethics of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s doctor, the shame of those who today wear the olive-green uniform, or the morality of the Party militants. The list, I swear to you, could become extremely long.

There are, however, other kinds of rebel events that also fall into the sack, that I can’t understand either – including some I understand even less – but I can’t stop coming back to them over and over, analyzing them, dismembering them. They haunt me, they rob me of my sleep. I feel that they shouldn’t exist, or more to the point, that they CAN’T exist. My rationality tells me that they are impossible, my brain screams at me with desperation that people who are paid to beat a mother, to prevent her from visiting her son’s grave at the cemetery, or putting flowers on it to pay tribute to her dead son, these people can’t exist.

I fall back on science, I want to analyze it like a reality show: I want to know what each one of the repressors (actors and directors) of Reina Luisa Tamayo do when they get home. Put a pot of beans on the stove? Open the windows as night falls? Hug and kiss their children before bedtime? Sleep the sleep of the innocent or do nightmares haunt their dawns? Laugh out loud? Look in the mirror and see… what? Enjoy the rain? Chat with their neighbors? I can’t help it, my mind makes its calculations and finds them to be unreasonable: At best, they don’t breath oxygen, or perhaps they are not mammals, it declares. Then I protest: NO! I already told you, they are human, human like everyone else! But the other me, impartial, is unmoved: They must be another species, they must be another species.

August 11, 2010

Free From Fear / Miguel Iturría Savón

During May, a Spanish friend of mine brought me three books.  One was from Xavier Rubert de Ventos about the book of Aung Suu Kyi (leader of the Burmese opposition), and two others were published by Cubanet in 2006; the first was about the essay The Power of the Powerless from the Czech writer and politician Vaclav Havel, and the second was How The Night Came, written by the ex-commander Huber Matos who tells about the Cuban revolutionary process and about the installation of the Castro dictatorship.

They are three different works that differ and converge in regards to the subject of totalitarianism, and which offer some key suggestions on how to confront fear and repression.  Since they are books that are banned in Cuba, I will briefly comment about the one least smuggled throughout our island, the one written by Aung Suu Kyi entitled Free from Fear, edited in Barcelona in 1995 by Galaxia Gutenberg.

Aung Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.  The previous year she had won the elections in Burma, while heading the National Democratic League, but the military prevented her from taking power.  Despite the deprivation and confinement she still is under, she analyzes the essential problems of her country.  They are general reflections that reach out to readers of various interests, and they do not harm the sensibility of those whose opinions differ.

In Free from Fear, which contains a prologue by Vaclav Havel and Maria Luisa Penela, the leader of the opposition movement of the Asian archipelago describes the corruption in her country, the most intimate of mechanisms used by those who hold on to despotic power, and the need to overcoming fear- that emotion which deforms the soul and bends willpower, gives way to oportunism and other attitudes that favor domination over the masses, which we can relate to here on this end.

She highlights that “Fear turns us into complices of oppression, just like bravery makes us allies of the truth” She then warns that, “In order to reach that truth we should free ourselves from the debilitating virus known as fear, which erodes our reason and conscience, eclipses us, hurts us, and humiliates us.”

The vital experience of the author allows her to appreciate the fact that “Servitude is not only a condition, but also a passion,” a passion previously described by Hegel and Goblot, and later analyzed by Canetti and H. Arendt, according to X.R. Ventos, who assures that Suu Kyi, like Havel, “inverts the logic of distinction between a deprived morale that refers to sentiments or convictions, and a supposed public morality, that should be a secretive, astute, Machiavellian, and full of historic Missions or of Universal Destinies, or Utopian revolutions.  This mix of cynicism constitutes the current political “common sense” that Suu Kyi denounces as a variant of fear itself.”

The Burmese fighter is demanding an intimate moral compromise before prudence or political knowledge:  “Less ideals and more principals, less ideology and more integrity.”

In closing, we must point out that: “One of the most harmful forms of fear is the one that masquerades as common sense or prudence, and rejects as thoughtless or frivolous small acts of courage that maintain the sense of dignity and respect for oneself. ”

She appeals for a “heroism without illusions” recalling that “saints are sinners who continue on with the struggle.”  A struggle… more heroic when conscience holds that its objectives are as unreachable as they are unrenounceable.

Aung Suu Kyi’s book, like the generalizations made by Vaclav Havel in The Power of the Powerless, acquires a value thanks to its universality, its accurate perceptions about totalitarianism, and because it differs from traditional politics and the electoral discourses offered by Justice, Freedom, or Abundance, but without freeing us from the fear that keeps us from reaching those goals.

Translated by Raul G.

August 8, 2010

Retiring the Demons / Miguel Iturría Savón

I heard an old joke the other day while I waited at the bus terminal in Havana. It was about the ex-president Fidel Castro Ruz, who returned to the media during the last weeks of July, despite his deteriorated state of health. Such an appearance was subject of much irreverence. However, the official press of the island only pointed out the tragic, yet comical, declarations made by the veteran commander.

In the joke, Fidel comes out of hell and explores the island, where he confirms that nobody remembers him. He also notices that there are no statues, monuments, plazas, or institutions that evoke his name or his work. Finally, he arrives at the National Library and after he searches around for a while he finds an encyclopedia that includes this in the index card: “Fidel Castro Ruz, Cuban dictator who reigned during the era of “Los Van Van.”*

I only hear Fidel Castro’s (and his brother Raul’s) names every once in a while in jokes. Up to now, there are certain comparative relations between taunts and the supporting media of the mandarins, whose figures surpass the popular imagination, especially Fidel, who is bent on giving off the notion that he is healthy and well, while warning about international catastrophes as if he did not live on the island, or as if it were impossible for him to get out of his state of limbo.

Such jokes prove that not even excessive power can free a man from being made fun of. At the bus stop and in the buses, their names are barely ever mentioned. In public areas like parks, waiting rooms, and in long lines outside stores, there are more than enough allusions made to unleash the criticisms, especially among young people, whose irreverence shatters the limits of respect.

Trapped in the time of the Castros, with so much propaganda about heroes, wars, blockades, productive methods, historic anniversaries, and social promises, people who lack agendas express their opinions with jokes and brief phrases that demystify the rhetoric and confirm the hopelessness; as if all the scarcities and tensions of immediacy bring to the forefront the narrow interests and petty passions of official discourse.

The more Fidel Castro tries to confuse or misinform Cubans (like a gas lamp in the middle of a dark cave), the more their indifference grows in regards to his “historical legacy.” The jokes replace the “veneration” that the people show him. For many, he is no longer the Commander, but instead he is the Mummy, the Ghost, the Deceased One, the Prophet of War, the Risen Devil, or the Old Hag.

Raul Casto, who is less historic and less popular cannot avoid the list of retired demons, which includes Ramiro Valdes Menendez, the triad of Jose Ramon (Balaguer, Machado Ventura and the Spaniard Fernandez), Ricardo Alarcon (spokesperson for the heroes), and semi-gods like Abelardo Colome Ibarra (aka Furry), Casas Regueiro, Ulises del Toro (General Marabu), and other uniformed figures who head all sorts of ministries and make up the Political Bureau of the Communist Party.

*Los Van Van — a popular Cuban musical group

Translated by Raul G.

August 11, 2010

Between Two Walls / Yoani Sánchez

Finally, I sit down in the chair of a hotel, open my laptop, and look from side to side. Seeing me, the security guard mutters a brief “she came” into the microphone pinned to his lapel. Afterwards some tourists appear, while my index finger works the mouse as fast as it can to optimize the few minutes of Internet access. It’s the first time in ten days that I’ve managed to submerge myself into the great world wide web. A list of proxies helps me with the censured pages and I will see the Generation Y portal from an anonymous server, the bridge to banned sites. In three years I’ve become a specialist in slow connections and badly performing public cybercafés under surveillance. Feeling my way, I administer a blog, send tweets that I can’t read the responses to, and manage a nearly collapsed email account.

After bypassing the limitations to reach cyberspace, we Cubans see the censorship that grips us from two different sides. One comes from the lack of political will on the part of our government to allow this Island mass access to the web of networks. It shows itself in blogs and filtered portals and in the prohibitive prices for an hour of surfing the WWW. The other – also painful – is that of services that exclude residents in our country under the justification of the anachronistic blockade/embargo. Those who think limiting the functionality of sites like Jaiku, Google Gears, and Appstore for my compatriots will have any effect on the authorities of my country are naïve. They know that those who govern us have satellite antennas in their homes, broadband, open Internet, iPhones full of applications, while we – the citizens – trip over screens that say “this service is not available in your country.”

Just as we get around the internal restrictions here, we also sneak through the closed gates of those who exclude us from abroad. For every lock they put on us there is a trick to picking it open. But it still frustrates me that after avoiding the State Security agents below my apartment, paying a third of a monthly salary for an hour of internet time, seeing the animosity in the faces of the guards at the hotels, seeing that Revolico, Cubaencuentro, Cubanet and DesdeCuba continue in the long night of the censored sites, I go and type – like a conjurer of relief – a URL and instead of opening it seems to me that a wall has been raised on the other side.

August 11, 2010

Impunity, an Order from the General / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photos:  Luis Felipe Rojas

Before General Raul Castro had even finished giving his discourse before Cuban legislators on August 1st, his armies had already rushed on more than twenty human rights activists in the Eastern region of the country.  The indiscriminate hunt had arrived.  The purpose was so that these activists would not reach Holguin, get close to Banes to the house of Reina Tamayo, and to prevent them from leaving their homes.

The phone did not stop ringing with people calling us to inform us about the detentions.  Some even thought of it as a Black Summer.

There were some house arrests.  Anni Sarrion, Aurelio Morales Ayala, Martha Diaz Rondon, and Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez were all beaten when they tried to get to the house of the independent journalist Caridad Caballero Batista in Holguin.  Caridad, her husband, and her son were all dragged on the floor and the officials tried snatching their photo camera.

Omar Wilson, from Moa, was trying to get to the house of a friend in Holguin when he came under attack from the military operation.  He felt it so intensely that he experienced tremors from a disease he suffers from.  He went from the street to detainment in a hospital and he spent more than 48 hours there in a very delicate state of health.  Francisco Luis Manzanet and Carlos Manuel Hernandez, both of whom were trying to help, ended up spending two nights in the cold jails cells of the G2 (Secret Police) of Holguin.

In some of these cases, the arrests lasted until the afternoon of August 5th.  And, on that same day, 5 activists were detained in Santiago de Cuba after they commemorated the tragic events of the Maleconazo in 1994.

The Cuban president has incited a tainted war among Cubans.  He has returned to the rhetoric of not allowing impunity.  The ones who act unjustly are the political police and their civilian helpers, those dressed in olive-green, or that very police unit which claims to call itself National and Revolutionary.  It is to the point that all streets are just being watched.  They are just waiting for a protest or any display of nonconformity, waiting for the whistle that will go off in the headquarters of the G2.

Translated by Raul G.

August 10, 2010

Old Wineskins / Regina Coyula

Most people I know didn’t sit in front of the TV to watch the special session of the National Assembly called by Fidel Castro in order to analyze current international events; it seems they didn’t care about it. But it was interesting. It allowed me to see Fidel almost live. Almost, because the broadcast must have been delayed by a few minutes to fix any unexpected blunders. Nevertheless some gaffes couldn’t be edited out; always a risk when broadcasting live.

We have heard very often about the subject of this session, even before the caller’s reappearance, but always under his aegis. The subject was that war that Obama has delayed just to make Fidel look bad. But our fiery ex-president doesn’t give up: If the war doesn’t begin, it will be thanks to the immense, international and intense campaign started by him with his historical letter last week to the American president.

After Fidel read his message, some of those present “spontaneously” intervened to read prepared written statements, always starting with a compliment to the top leader. Then, as if they were in school, deputies were given three questions as homework. Questions they will have to answer using a new angle defined by the former president. I couldn’t help thinking of storing new wine in old wineskins.

War and the environment are his concerns. (In his crusade for the environment, he always references the French documentary Home, which is good, but very inferior to An Inconvenient Truth, the overwhelming documentary presented by Al Gore.)

After seeing what I have seen since his resurrection, I have no doubt that Fidel’s race for the Nobel Peace Prize should be taken seriously.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

August 11, 2010