The Wait / Yoani Sánchez

My mother shifts from side to side. She stands first on one leg and then the other, while I wrap my skinny 7-year-old arms around her hips. What is the line for? I don’t know, perhaps we’re at the bus stop, or outside a shop where they had plates, or in front of the drugstore to buy some aspirin. It’s a long line in the sun and it seems that our turn never comes.

She fans herself. Keeps shifting from right to left. With this movement my mother – almost oblivious – is teaching me the art of waiting, the exercise of patience to deal with the long lines that are waiting for me.

August 7, 2010

In the Voice of the Victims / Luis Felipe Rojas

Thanks to friends of mine, I leave you with this:

The voices of Caridad Caballero Batista, Marta Diaz Rondon, and Mariblanca Avila. The three women have been victims of police brutality in Holguin and Banes. In the cases of Cari and Marta, what they are narrating in this clip occurred on August 3rd.

Mariblanca, in just one month, was victim of police beatings three times. Here she recounts the worst of the three times.

Here is the text:

Voice of Caridad Caballero Batista: Marta Diaz Rondon from Banes, and Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez, also from Banes, were walking towards my house when State Security officials impeded them from entering and dragged them on the street and threw them in a car. When I tried to intercede for them, my husband and I were then also dragged and beat. My husband, Esteban Sandes (?), and my son Eric Esteban (?), 17 years of age, and I, all tried to intercede for Marta and the agents of State Security dragged us all, beat us, and they threw me to the ground and they brutally continued to beat me and drag me. The same thing happened to my son who is full of scratches and bruises because he was shoved up against a fence. And well, they took Marta with them, and we were further victims of offensive words shouted at us by the agents of State Security.

Voice of Marta Diaz Rondon:
Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez and I were on our way to the house of Caridad Caballero and there were some cars parked nearby, there were a few, I don’t remember how many. In those cars was Commando 21, whose members looked like giants. When we arrived right outside Cari’s house, they rushed up towards us and began to brutally push us and dragged us to the car. I’m full of bruises everywhere on my thighs and my legs, as is Gertrudis. Cari rushed out of her house in defense of us, when she saw us she began screaming anti-governmental slogans and they also dragged her on the ground, while some of the agents jumped on her and covered her mouth. We screamed “assassins”, and “down with the dictatorship” when we saw this, and they locked the doors of the car to prevent us from running out and defending Cari, for they were now beating her. They took us to a penitentiary (?) center and kept us in a cell from 6 pm to the next day at 2 pm. We protested, we didn’t eat anything, and we continued protesting. They accused us of public disorder. Public disorder is what they did because they were the ones who attacked us.

Voice of Mariblanca Avila: I think they are like an army (?). The dirtiest man in the world that any mother could have given birth to was that man. While we were driving towards Guardalavaca, that man took advantage that I was hand-cuffed, harassed me, and told me, “I am going to kiss you”, and then he kissed me on the neck, and the more I screamed the more he took advantage. He squeezed hard down on my left arm. I now have an incision there, my arm is swollen. The dirty things he told me scared me. There were 3 others in the car with us, but that man put the cuffs on me and went in the back with me as if I was an assassin. 3 others were in the car with me, and 2 others behind in a desolate road, there were woods everywhere. I was very afraid because I know that they are capable of anything. And because of that man I have not been able to sleep again.

Translator’s note: If anyone wishes to fix the ‘?’ which I could not hear too well, please add it in the comments, below. Thank you!)

Translated by Raul G

August 5, 2010

Mommy, what is “good”? / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

With a rope and a piece of wood, three children were preparing a torture trap for a lizard. One of them held onto the victim which, with eyes wide and body rigid, awaited his martyrdom without much hope of survival. At that moment I passed by and intervened, as is normal, in defense of the poor animal: I explained to them about caring for living beings and grabbed the creature in my hands. Fortunately for my good deed there was a tree suitable for its welfare and I let it go among the branches. Up to that point, everything was typical, children experiment with birds and small animals and adults try to inculcate a love of nature.

The unusual came minutes later when the mother of one of the kids knocked on my door to demand an explanation. I decided, then, to use the same arguments with the mother that I had with her son, and she seemed to understand me though she didn’t say a word, but grabbed her son by the hair and dragged him away. I felt a little guilty, not expecting such a punishment for a lizard, but to intervene again in the moral issues of this family would have been excessive.

The incident puzzled me, not because the boys were playing at martyrdom with a reptile, but because they were so unaware of how bad this was; judging it “right,” they went to their parents for support. When I was little the kids in my neighborhood surreptitiously killed sparrows, knowing that what they did was wrong. What has happened that, fifteen years later, the simple notion of good and evil has disappeared?

August 7, 2010

The Power of a Symbol

Fidel Castro could convert his name into a registered brand like Adidas, Nike, or Coca-Cola. After death, perhaps his image will have more appeal than the Argentinian soldier Che Guevara. The anti-globalization advocates will repeat his phrases with his image tattooed on their biceps, while they launch criticisms towards some capitalist bank.

Specialists in advertising and marketing are already rubbing their hands together just thinking up all of this. They calculate how many millions of books, shirts, posters, watches, and other pieces of merchandise they could sell with the image of the bearded face.

Castro is for Cuba what Mao was for China, or what Kim II Sung was in North Korea. Not even Robespierre and Danton, key figures of the French uprising in 1789, could overcome the mythical and fascinating depiction that the Cuban revolutionary will reach when he dies.

Forget about Lenin or Rosa Luxemburg. The One and Only Commander will go down in history for being the leader of a skirmish army in the mountains in the Eastern part of the island.

Born on August 13, 1926 in the village of Biran, current province of Holguin, he was a professional lawyer. Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz will become a legend. Whether we like it or not. For the simple reason that we humans have the tendency of wanting to point out people who are different.

They will ignore the coarse errors he committed as a statesman. As time passes, few will remember that in October of 1962, he wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev in which he told the politician to fire a nuclear missile towards the United States.

Perhaps collective memory will forget about the names of all the thousands of people who were executed by firing squad at the beginning of the revolution. Or maybe they will leave out the part about the more than 20 thousand political prisoners that have existed during 50 years of government. Or his failures in the area of economics.

The grandchildren of the political prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003, wherever it is they reside, Miami, Madrid, Malaga, or Havana, will let their beards grow after many years have passed and they will read his extensive and apocalyptic discourses.

Life is a handful of contradictions. That same old man who, on a hot July morning in 2010, warned us that the nuclear war between the US and Iran was just a few hours away, while writing ridiculous comments, will become a registered brand after he is deceased.

Perhaps a good psychologist could explain the reasons why we humans end up glorifying people who, in life, had a high dose of evil in them.

For some, their idols are Gods. For others, warriors like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or Napoleon. Or soldiers from small, less developed countries that challenged the big empires. There are those who prefer frivolous fetishes. Movie stars, musicians, athletes.

The human being needs heroes and mascots as if they were emotional gasoline. Certain dictators were forgotten after their death. I don’t know why I have the feeling that Fidel Castro will not be one of those. I hope I am wrong.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by Raul G.

August 5 2010

Coffee or Coffu?

The famous black nectar that once categorized us as one the countries with the highest production and consumption levels has, bit by bit, been converted into other various inventions that have nothing to do with all those marvelous kinds of coffee that historically were produced here on my planet.

“Untenable”, that’s how the members of the Agrofood Commission referred to the descent of coffee production.

The current harvest only reached the level of 6,000 tons, very far off from the 60,000 tons produced in years past.  (Granma Newspaper, Thursday July 29th 2010.)

The little bag (one per person monthly at the cost of 5.00 pesos), reads “Coffee 100%.”  The population of my planet has still not been able to figure out what it’s made up of, for it doesn’t have a scent and it tastes like tree bark or medicine.

Then the words rescue, recuperation, and revert, come up again.  It’d be very beneficial to see the documentary The Abandoned” made by the Serrana tv station, which clandestinely circulates on my planet.

People, we have spent more than half a century with the same system; which previous government are we going to blame now for this, and many other, failures?

Meanwhile, we survivors continue taking in this black nectar that is nothing like the previous one.  It doesn’t even look like coffee, everyone calls it coffu.

Translated by Raul G.

August 5 2010

The Return to Origins / Rebeca Monzo

Several years ago my downstairs neighbor called and told me he had received a surprise visit, from the daughter of the former owner of the building where we live. She showed great interest in visiting only my apartment, so he had given her my phone number.

The next day I got the call, and we arranged to meet. Still a young woman, she was very excited when I gladly received her. She was apprehensive because of the stories they told her that everyone here is afraid that those who left will come again to take away what had belonged to them. She realized immediately that I had no such fear, and immediately there was a surge of empathy. Of course I showed her the whole apartment and the garden we had built on the roof. She was very emotional and told me that her father had designed the building with three apartments, one on each floor, for the enjoyment of the family. The building was finished in 1958 and two years later they were already in exile, which was very hard for the family. This floor was of particular interest because it was where she lived since birth. Her grandparents lived on the first floor and her uncles on the second.

It was I who really felt excited, and at the same time embarrassed, at seeing with what sacrifice and love a family had saved money and built something so they could always be together; suddenly, by the circumstance of a social phenomenon, they were forced to abandon everything.

Today I heard from her and this time I owe it to my blog. She has become my reader, and I hope, with time, my friend. In short, she and I have been puppets of destiny.

Translated by Tomás A.

August 2, 2010

Governmental Glaucoma / Miguel Iturría Savón

A Spanish friend of mine who has come twice to Cuba told me that she read the official press while in the airport, and according to that paper it makes it seem as if, despite all the problems, deficiencies, and tensions she witnessed when she met with a wide range of people, there are no problems in the island.

“It’s as if there was no dirty laundry, or as if there were laws against washing it in public. The newspapers I read did not mention anything about the crisis, the lack of material things, or about all the collapses in Havana. Instead, they all pointed out success stories from the country and all the disasters that have occurred, and are occurring, in the rest of the world, which seems very exaggerated, just like the talk about victories against the enemy. Which enemy are they referring to?”

Upon finding it impossible to avoid the subject, I told my friend that this was all part of the vertical structure imposed by the single Party which carries out orders from a department that monopolizes the control over the media, while saying that they speak the truth, from a headquarters in the capital which lashes out orders from top to bottom. In addition, there are also radio stations that do the same thing.

“But it is the final straw in censorship.”

Yes, the media is gagged in favor of a propaganda plan that emphasizes historic celebrations, political indoctrination of the personnel who write for the media and who are required to be loyal party members and to fabricate a social mirage of an attainable utopia.

“But then it is a planned fraud…”

Yes, but masked by columns of smoke. In other words, they over-value the importance of pre-determined productive results, they present what is theoretically possible as something imminent, and to top it off they shuffle around the desired values as if they were facts…

“Truly Machiavellian.”

Machiavellian and authentic, for the information data, like testimonies by heroes and functionaries, outweigh what people actually should hear. And in that manner, everything we lack is attributed to the hostility of the enemy and to the foreign problems that affect our state.

“In a way where public expression in regards to the problem belongs to the discourse from those in power.”

Of course. The rest is done by the auto-censorship practiced by communicators, who praise the success of health, education, and economic sectors, even though these same sectors reflect the crisis of the system and of the style of rule and law practiced by the Maximum Leader for a very long time now.

For decades now, the government has suffered from loss of vision — which can’t be cured — towards the reality that the Cuban people face. In medical terms, this is known as glaucoma, a disease which can end in blindness. The rulers of this nation can be diagnosed with such a sickness.

“But aren’t there worthy reporters?”

Yes, the most worthy or ingenious ones “criticize” from their positions of political militancy, while they lose credibility and join forces with the simulators who comply with orders coming from the apparatus, and they do not defy the higher-ups.

“Can one speak of alternatives?”

The alternative lies in the independent press and in the civic journalism carried out by blogs and Twitterers. They are the ones who write without censorship, they denounce the crimes of the regime, and they debunk myths about the supposed social homogeneity mentioned by the ideologists of an apparatus that perceives sees the country through the dark lens of the government.

Translated by Raul G.

August 5, 2010

Here I Am / Voices Behind The Bars, Pedro Argüelles Morán

Photo: Pedro Arguelles Moran

This past July 10 I chose not to travel to Spain because I do not wish to abandon my country — I am Cuban, and very proud of it. I was born here, as were my sisters, relatives, parents, and my paternal grandparents. My maternal grandparents were not born here, they were Spanish, however, they are buried here, as are all my other loved ones, and I shall also be buried here one day.

I could have accepted to depart to the Iberian peninsula after that option was presented to me on the telephone by Cardinal Ortega, but due to the love that I have for my country, my history, my culture, my individual character, and my traditions, I have decided to stay and continue with this peaceful struggle for freedoms and rights that are inherent to the dignity of human beings, as long as I have the strengths to continue the noble and dignified civil struggle, or until that long awaited democratic transition occurs in Cuba. Perhaps, upon not accepting the offer of exile, I will be kept as a hostage of the totalitarian Castro regime as a form of punishment for not fleeing from my own country. Back in mid-1992 I joined the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Committee, and I was well aware of all the risks and sacrifices I would have to face, for I knew I was going to more than likely be a victim of all sorts of beatings, whether physical or spiritual. I could, and would, be treated as something other than a human by those who perpetuate themselves in power through terror and strength.

Here I am, and I will continue being here because this is where I belong. This is my totally sovereign decision and comes from my personal desire, which through wind or rain, will continue moving towards promoting the ideal shared by Marti, “Freedom is very expensive, and it is precise — either give in and live without it, or make up your mind and pay the price for it.”

Pedro Argüelles Morán
Grupo de los 75
Prisión Provincial de Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila

Translated by: Raul G.

August 4, 2010

To My Compatriots in the Diaspora and Friends of Promoters of Democracy and to the Emergent Civil Society in our Country / Eugenio Leal

Jehova is among those who help me. – Psalm 118:7

On Saturday, July 24, I received a letter from the Postal and Shipping Customs Center, belonging to the General Customs of the Cuban Republic. With that letter, I was notified that a process was underway to confiscate a package from the US that had been shipped to me.

The documents that I received were not the original ones, they are copies on carbon paper. Apparently, the objects which were confiscated are divided into three groups: 1) Digital equipment and media, 2) Office materials, and 3) Hygiene and Medicinal products.

In the section titled “Report”, they specified the causes for the confiscations on behalf of the Customs Department: “Upon carrying out the physical inspection, we found certain articles that go against the general interests of the nation, which is taken care of through confiscation according to the established and current law”. The Resolution of the confiscation is number 1130. The number is written with dark ink so that it can be legible. The Cuban system guides itself by resolutions that leave individuals defenseless.

The Resolution number 1187 also arrived written for Maida Martinez Perez, a resident of April 9th Street and Calzada de Luyano and Agramonte, of the 10th of October Municipality in the city of Havana. This lady is the mother of Joisy Garcia Martinez, a member of the Liberal Party of Cuba, who usually receives her mail in that address. The confiscation of the package under the name of the mother suggests that it seems as if they are doing so because of the data from the issuer in the US.

The government has found itself forced to release the last 53 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience of the Black Spring of 2003. It was made possible thanks to the internal and external demands made. Such experience should serve to unite us in a coordinated fashion, both those of us in the island and in the diaspora, together with international support, to shift our efforts to repealing the laws that make our nation an island prison. In that same manner, we must demand that they sign and abide by the Covenants of the United Nations.

With much gratitude for those who support us, these suggestions are for you:

On our part, we request that Dr. Wilfredo Vallin, president of the Independent Judiciary Association of Cuba, effect this demand with his organization.

Translated by Raul G.

August 3, 2010

Summer Vacations, Always Looking to the Sea / Iván García

Gerardo, a 52-year-old economist, does not think himself as either a bore or a zombie. However, his wife thinks he is a first-class lunatic. “He has spent his vacation months with a pair of binoculars looking out to Havana bay while taking note of all the ships that enter through this area on his notebook,” his wife says in a very calm voice.

The economist has his reasons for spending his summer vacations this way. “People can’t imagine how difficult our economic situation is. Fidel with his head stuck on the war in Iran keeps the news about the released prisoners behind the scenes, he forms a smoke screen, more oxygen for the regime. The reality is that the country is nearly in ruins, an example of this is the lack of merchant ships that enter the island. Between June 22 and July 22 I have only counted one,” the economist underlines in his notebook.

Of course, this is an unorthodox way of spending his vacation. Near the green building in which he lives, right in the center of the Havana malecon (seawall), dozens of kids, mostly black or mulatto, bathe in the blue and still waters without any shoes and behind their parents backs.

Despite the fact that the authorities prohibit people from bathing in the waters of the malecon, kids and adults do not pay attention to such a law. Adrian, 13 years of age, spends all day in the water. His parents have no money to take him to the beach or to a recreational center.

“It’s always the same, I spend my vacations swimming along the malecon and playing baseball on the street”, the kid says. Besides bathing in the sea, he also asks for money and gum from tourists.

Many kids play in dangerous areas of Havana without any parental care. In the old part of the city, a group of kids pass the time by swimming in the contaminated waters of an abandoned (due to threat of collapse) building’s tank.

People here seem to not care about the risks they are taking. Near to this scene, a police guard with a black hat and a German Shepard seems oblivious to any dangers that may threaten the youths.

During these vacations the ones who are most bored are young people. Not all, though. Some parents who are able to obtain hard currency can provide other sorts of entertainment for their kids. Rogelio, a 42-year-old gastronomist, takes his kids to theme parks or pools of hotels on the weekends.

“This is very expensive. To go in to a hotel’s pool it costs 5 pesos and 10 convertible pesos (7 & 12 dollars). Theme parks are just a little bit less expensive, yet, during these vacations my wife and I have already spent more than 160 convertible pesos (200 dollars)”, Rogelio explains.

Summer months are a headache for many families with kids. They have to make lunch and snacks. And if something is scarce in Cuba, it is food, which equals the price of gold.

It is normal to just give them powdered kool-aid-type drinks and a tortilla sandwich with mayonnaise for lunch, while they watch children’s shows on tv. It’s the cheapest activity. However, a nutritionist states that the powdered drinks prove to be harmful for the health of young ones due to its high amount of carcinogenic sodium.

Nearly always illegally, some bus drivers from state companies rent out their cars to groups of people who wish to travel to the beaches East of Havana on the weekends for 30 pesos (a little more than a dollar) per capita. They leave at 8 in the morning and come back at 5 in the afternoon.

For the parents with fewer resources there are other options. There are also buses for 10 convertible pesos per traveler to go to Varadero or to some tourist center in nearby provinces.

Those who have higher incomes, or hold government positions, have the luxury of being able to spend a few summer days in a 5 star hotel. But those are rare.

The majority of Cuban families spend their vacations in front of their tv screens. Or they go out to the movies, the beach, or the theatre. Perhaps one day or another they drink from a rum bottle or from cold beer cans, while they chop off slices of smoked pork.

People are fixated on the idea of enjoying their vacation in the best possible way. They spend their mornings fishing along the malecon, or like Adrian, throwing themselves head first from the seawall towards the deep coastal waters.

We can say that Gerardo holds the most boring title in all of the city. To be seated on a chair for one straight month, looking out for ships with binoculars, seems like something someone who is nuts would do. Despite whatever their reason is for doing it.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: surfcrest, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.

August 2, 2010

Cell Phones in Cuba, on the Crest of the Wave / Iván García

Anabel, 23, unemployed, with the roof of her house full of holes through which water pours on days of heavy rain, eats hot food once a day, and ‘the future’ is a bad word.

She is short of many things. But she has a brand new phone. Cell phones are fashionable on the island. Especially among young people. Take note: The country recently surpassed one million active cell phone users.

There are even more cell phones in Cuba than fixed phones. The official newspaper Juventud Rebelde announced the news. According to Max La Fuente, vice president of mobile services, there are currently 1,007,000 cellphone users, while fixed phone customers have reached 1,004,000.

However, the manager said that 67% of call traffic comes from the landlines.

Of course, it’s much cheaper to talk on a landline. On average, people who have landlines in their households pay between 30 and 50 pesos (not more than $2.50) per month.

A cell phone is a luxury in Cuba. It is true that costs have come down. Prior to 2008, to own a mobile phone bordered on illegality and people only had them thanks to a relative or friend abroad.

So Cubans had no right to own a mobile phone line. When allowed, in March 2008, prices were exorbitant. A phone line cost 120 convertible pesos ($140).

The per minute cost was 0.60 cents in convertible pesos. However, the queues at the business offices of ETECSA, the only telecommunications company in Cuba, were gigantic.

Right now, the costs have fallen by 70%. Mobile lines cost 40 convertible pesos ($50) and there are numerous offers for 20 convertible pesos.

Calls cost 0.45 cents per minute and after 11 pm the price drops to 0.10 cents. Calls are still charged on receipt of the call and the services offered through mobile telephony are far from the quality and variety of their counterparts in Third World countries.

To have an iPhone or a Black Berry is more ostentation than anything else: half of the services that are touted by their manufacturers do not work on the island. Mobile phone users still cannot connect to the internet or to GPS. Nor access Google.

ETECSA executives have hinted that this could happen in the near future. What is announced for the second half of 2010 is the availability of prepaid cards for 5 convertible pesos and the gradual reduction of call costs, according to the available technology.

Two years after the Castro II regime allowed any Cuban to have a mobile if so desired, the cell is on the crest of the wave.

They are least used to make calls. Young people use them as MP3 players and send videos and photos via Bluetooth. Those most hungry for information use a clandestine service based in Madrid that sends free news updates about the worlds of sports, politics and entertainment.

Opponents, independent journalists and bloggers get information through the mobile phone chip. Most of the news, such as the release of 52 political prisoners or a momentous event, is spread by SMS at unheard of speeds.

And there are not a few who access social networks like Twitter or Facebook through their mobile. Although most people on the island, like Anabel, use the mobile more as a garment than as a necessity.

She always carries her modern phone stuck to her tight skirt with her headphones on, listening to hip-hop. Occasionally she sends messages. The call cost is still prohibitive for her. And though the house is in ruins, there is little food and not much money, young people like Anabel feel that the mobile is a new toy.

Iván García

Translated by: CIMF

August 3 2010

A Day in Santa Clara / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

There is another Cuba glued to the asphalt, anonymous, dynamic, talkative and entrepreneurial. Three hours in a botero — an informal private car for hire — on the highway from Havana to Santa Clara can transmit more information than a whole year of watching the national news on TV: prices in the black market, the private opinions of former party members who turned in their cards, Cuban-American tourists sharing their anecdotes, and traveling vendors. I could stay on that other island which is hotter but more real, harder but more sincere than Cuban television.

Santa Clara, however, seems like a city under siege, not a city of carnivals. Like a diabolical colorless Christmas, in every door, wall and window there is the same sign with the same inscription: We are in 26. The city was drowning in a number, in the same number, to the ends of the province. One has the sensation of having arrived in a country of figures, the domain of “King 26.” With less sun and more air it could be the lead-in for a great horror film.

Coco would be an Alice in the country of the Red Queen, his door the only one free from the curse of two plus six, our conversation constantly interrupted because someone looks into the room to wish him good luck, health and all the best. Alicia, his mom, is desperate to stem the rush of solidarity that interrupts the rest and discipline her child should be subjected to. Fariñas, however, is an exceptional human being: his body is field of marks and scars, bruises and holes, his neck is marked by the blood clot, and his swollen feet retain too much fluid. He doesn’t walk but when he talks from his wheel chair it’s like he’s flying. I felt pain for this body, helpless to follow the steps of such a great soul.

Leaving his house is almost like leaving paradise, without any transition from hours of levitating on his words to then falling into a puddle of tar in the middle of the provincial bus station: A 15-inch TV on mute invariably presents a close-up of Raul Castro, signs and banners of the damned 26 stretching as far as the eye can see, (there comes a moment when everything becomes abstract and you forget that this number is a date, just a date), and a temperature impossible for human life that forces you to sit on the floor to be able to breathe. Four hours later we managed to catch a transport to Havana.

August 3, 2010

Forbidden, But Possible / Yoani Sanchez

The smoke gets in my hair, my clothes, and overnight I take on the smell of tobacco although I am one of those Cuban adults who has never smoked. The man at the next table has consumed a pack and a half of Hollywoods in the short time he’s been here, using an empty beer bottle as an ashtray. On the wall there is a sign showing a cigarette with a red line through it; the white background of the poster is stained with nicotine. There is no remedy, I’m a passive smoker even though my country adopted a decree in 2005 that should protect my lungs in.

I passed unscathed through that first “drag” — shared while sitting in a circle — that kids try to prove how grown up they are. Thirty-two percent of my compatriots, however, ended up hooked from this youthful prank, and today spend a good part of their personal resources on Criollos, Populares, or H. Upmanns. This is one of the highest smoking rates in the region, perhaps comparable to the high levels of alcoholism, although the latter is not officially declared. Though half the homes on the Island are exposed to smoke, in our house we have an ex-smoker, a teenager who doesn’t seem interested yet, and this humble servant who used to dunk the packets in water to discourage her father from the vice.

The resolution to protect those who don’t smoke is strict and very modern, but in practice it only worked for a couple of weeks. I don’t know anyone who has been fined for violating the rule against smoking in public places or on public transport, and you can still see people selling different brands of cigarettes close to elementary and secondary schools. Notwithstanding my abstinence, a couple months ago I was diagnosed with emphysema and the doctor gave me a wink while saying, “You smoke, right?” I feel like buying myself a dozen of the strongest cigars, taking long drags, and blowing the smoke on the damp paper of a law that is not complied with, or on those who have ensured that these regulations aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. But I don’t know, I suspect that if I did I would received one of the few fines imposed in the last five years.

August 3, 2010