Chaplinesque / Yoani Sánchez

The Water Seller of Seville: Diego Velázquez

The man in the threadbare suit, bowler hat and huge shoes carried pieces of glass on his back. His sidekick, a boy of about five, tossed stones through the windows of shops and houses so the glazier could sell his services to desperate clients. Together they formed a duo of survival, an “emergent” work team, that still yielded barely enough to keep the fire burning in their home. The story, described in the 1921 Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid, has returned to pass in front of my eyes as I read the list of self-employment activities published in the newspaper Granma. Like a repertoire of destitution and dependency, this enumeration of private work seems more in tune with a feudal village than a 21st century country.

Reading through it in one sitting — containing my disgust — it is obvious that there are hardly any occupations directly linked to production. Entrepreneurs would need to be able count on a wholesale supplier to provide raw materials, and the possibility of access to bank loans has barely been mentioned, and without any details about what interest rates would be. Nor is there any talk of the self-employed being able to import merchandise directly from outside our borders, as this continues to be an absolute monopoly of the State. Of the 178 eligible activities, many are already carried out without a license, so being included in this list changes only one thing, being required to pay taxes. Hence the skepticism that accompanies the announcement of these “flexibilities” to let private ingenuity contribute to solving the serious problems of our economy.

What will come as a consequence of this slowness in applying the necessary changes? Citizens will continue to swell the long lines in front of consulates so they can leave the country, or they will fully immerse themselves in illegality and the diversion of resources. If our authorities believe that this trickle of transformations will keep the system from falling apart in their hands while they try to update it, they are underestimating the sense of urgency that runs through the Island. Such a half-hearted approach to applying long-delayed openings weakens the social situation and no one can predict how the frustrated “kids” — those disadvantaged by the massive layoffs and lack of expectations — will react. Hopefully they won’t end up breaking out all the windows.

September 29, 2010

Enriquito, a Good Man, Much Loved, and a Dreamer / Juan Juan Almeida

My name is Ramón Enrique Ferrer Yero, son of Enrique Ferrer (an electrical engineer) and Elisa Yero (a homemaker), I was born on 6 September 1941 in Cuba’s Oriente province, in my dear Palma Soriano, in a home located on Cisneros Street, number 4, top floor, between Martí and Maceo Streets. You can imagine that, with that kind of address, I was born a patriot.

I went to a Catholic school of the Claretian Brothers, then studied at the Sanderson Institute, and later, in the Sinai Baptist school. I didn’t make it to college, due to my views, openly contrary to the evil Revolution, the government didn’t allow me to continue exercising my right to study and chose to cut short my professional life.

In 1962, they started to make my life impossible. They summoned me to the offices of State Security, they pressured me, they tried to blackmail me, they surveilled those who visited my house. All of these things I’m telling you would provoke a discontent in me that I shared with many people.

I’m a practicing Catholic, and I used to attend the church of the late Father Cayo Simón, the parish priest of Palma Soriano. One June day of 1964 or 1966, during a celebration of Saints Peter and Paul, after so much pressure, several of my friends and I agreed to meet in the church to go out and protest, with pots and pans. State Security found out, and together with the Communist Party, brought out many people armed with planks with nails to repress our march. The echo of their cries of “To the firing wall! To the firing wall! Down with the gusanos*!” still sound in my ears… all of a sudden a mob removed me from the church, dragging me before a rudimentary tribunal that they had organized for such needs. I don’t know how I got out of there. The mob that chased me took it upon themselves to stone my house, yelling those stupid chants that struck with the same force as rain against sheets of zinc. Someone I knew well, whose identity I don’t wish to reveal, got me out of that severe nightmare through the patio of my house, put me in a car, took me to the province of Holguín, and, from there to Havana. After some time in the capital, I decided to return to Palma. Immediately after, I was called up to conscripted military service, which wasn’t even military service at that time, but rather the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs, by their Spanish initials). There, there were students, doctors, engineers, lawyers… it didn’t matter if they were for or against the Revolution.

They cut the lights off on the town, put us on trucks, and took us, after stopping along the way and picking up youths in Contramaestre, Baire, Jiguaní, Bayamo, Holguín, Tunas… to the stadium in Camagüey, where it rained unceasingly. After registering us, they put me on a cart and sent me, together with a group of lads, to these camps bordered by barbed-wire, in the town of Vertientes, that looked rather like the concentration camps of Hitler’s Europe. Trenches, mud, beatings, torn Bibles, mistreatment, drowning victims, suicides, long walks, early mornings, bad nights, rotten food, thirst, fasting, heat, cold, sickness, skin infections, shivers, rain, sun, forced labor, sugarcane fields, beatings, lost teeth, bayonet-stabbings… Who could forgive such an atrocious thing?

When all of that ended I started looking for work, but I was now labeled and no one wanted to hire me. I got caught by the Slacker Law and they took me to work at a stone quarry, breaking up gravel. On returning to my town, they put me to work sweeping all the parks of Palma Soriano, from where I kept conspiring in activities against the evil Revolution.

The constant threats, disrespect, and summons were my inseparable companions. In 1995, I was taken in by the refugee program offered by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

A long while later, and after offering various bribes, they finally allowed me to travel. Upon reaching my destination, I was received with an admirable and emotional welcome that left me speechless. But, to tell you the truth now, in that precise moment, my body was here in the U.S. and my mind over there in Palma, from where I never departed. I want to be among Cubans, so I came to Miami. I could not, nor can I, abandon the cause of Cuba. Here, I signed up with all the different organizations to which I belong to today.

I’m an only child, and my mom wanted to see me after such a long absence. I attempted to go back to Cuba to give her my last farewell, but they denied my entry. That has been the worst punishment. My mother died of sadness; you can imagine how much family separation can hurt. Today I live here with my Virgin of La Caridad del Cobre, with my St. Jude, and with my little dog, Niña. What I most wish for, when that horrific tyranny falls, is to fly off to Palma even if I have to live on the banks of the River Cauto in a house built of palm fronds and timber. I want freedom and democracy in my country; maybe that’s why, each time I lay down in my bed, I can’t fall asleep without first going for a stroll, in my mind, all over my Palma Soriano.

* Translator’s note: although less in use today, gusano, literally “worm”, has been the political epithet historically used by the state, its media, and its supporters in post-1959 Cuba to denounce counter-revolutionaries and citizens who wish to leave the country.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

Subtleties of the Jaw / Claudia Cadelo

 Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

The line for the bus at Coppelia is a special place, one of the corners so eloquent that if it disappeared one day Havana wouldn’t be the same. Yesterday at ten at night I was waiting for my P4 bus when a woman standing next to me with her daughter commented how “alive” the city was for the anniversary party for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). “Is that a joke, ma’am?” I asked, and she gave me a serial killer look.

The driver swore that not one more person could fit on the P4, so I got on through the back door. A drunk behind me was pushing to cut the line, but he was staggering around and trying to hold onto his bottle of alcohol at all costs and he lost his balance and fell. The driver started while the man was still trying to get on and he was almost killed in the attempt.

The woman of the “lively party,” at my side started screaming, and me, I answered, “He’s so plastered he won’t even make it to the corner!” She added, “He had to be black, all blacks are the same,” and started a lecture all about “those blacks” which if Martin Luther King had heard he would have died a second time. I looked around embarrassed. Everybody nearby was white. No one opened their mouths and I realized that they would all remain mute rather than defend the blacks. I got hysterical, I regretted it later, but at the time I wanted to strangle her, especially since her ranting was quietly being listened to by her young daughter, what a great example!

“Madam,” I said to her, “if I scream ‘Down with Fidel!’ you would be the first to jump on it. May I ask, then, why I have to put up with you talking like you’re the president of the Ku Klux Klan? And if I scream, ‘Down with Estaban Lazo!’ are you going to jump on that too or is it not the same?” The phrase came out rather awkwardly. She said nothing. People were staring at me and soon I felt like I’d stepped out of a tomb at the Colón cemetery, with worms crawling out of my half-gone skull.

I knew I couldn’t stop myself. That should not be the approach to dialog but sometimes dialog is simply beyond my capacity for tolerance. I got off at the stop at 23rd and A and walked the half mile home, talking to myself.

September 29, 2010

Who Will Bell The Cat? / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Exhausted from accessing power through armed struggle, a typical method in the ’60s and ’70s of the last century, the Latin American left reorganized itself and adopted a new tactic: using the institutions and instruments of democracy. Consistent with that, populist leaders outlined politically attractive programs, offered solutions to accumulated social problems, and launched mass media campaigns to capture power in elections.
  2. The new tactic yielded good results and leaders on the left, both democratic and totalitarian, adopted the same. The first, once in power, respected the democratic institutions they used to get there and ruled their countries without political or social trauma. The latter, once in power, have taken on the task of dismantling democracy with the objective of keeping themselves in power, considering themselves chosen by history as the only capable leaders of their nations.
  3. This reality has been ignored by regional and global institutions, based on the criteria that they are democratically elected governments who came to power through elections.
  4. It is generally assumed that these governments were elected by the people. In reality, no government is elected by all the people: it is chosen by a portion of them (fifty percent plus one, or sixty percent, or sixty-five percent of those who voted; there is another forty-nine percent, or forty-five percent, or thirty percent who did not vote for it). It should also be taken into account that a certain percent abstained from voting, usually quite a high number, between forty or fifty percent. All of these taken together would really constitute the people.
  5. It seems that the fact of being elected gives them carte blanche to do and undo whatever they like, forgetting that they should govern for the whole nation, and not only for a part of it, with a cooperative attitude, or at least taking the world into account.
  6. Before the new tactics of the totalitarian left, the democrats, always ready to confront the totalitarian right, have not known how they should react, and have allowed the expansion of evil to become a real epidemic. What can be done with a democratically elected government that, once in power, dismantles democracy? Should one respect their anti-democratic actions. Should one stand by with folded arms because they emerged from the ballot boxes? The answers to these questions either don’t exist, or there is no consensus on them.
  7. It is time to adopt a tactic of confronting these totalitarian leftists governments in power, and not allowing them to go on forever. Not to do so, out of respect for established democratic principles, is to defeat democracy.

September 25, 2010

A Visit to Hard-Core Socialism / Regina Coyula

The day classes started, my son came up with the bomb that he did not want to continue going to his sports school. This is his last year of high school, so I advised him not to make any move and spend six months of classes taught in grade 12 and then start preparing for entrance exams to college. As my son stood by his decision, on Friday, I had to go find his file at the school, and do the paperwork to move him to a school newly opened near the house. Back, and with the record, my son suggested we go for the P-3, the bus route that leaves us closer to home, the first stop, for which we came to a place called Alberro. Alberro is a horrible accumulation of buildings and dusty microbrigades. Unlike Alamar, it has no consolation of being on the coast. I was impressed by the number of stray dogs, so in tune with the place. While my son took several glasses of strawberry soda in a seedy beach bar, I was looking across the balcony railings, each according to its possibilities, and a spot of color in the grayness without form, of a family that decided to brighten up their own facade. On their own, I also saw several signs of a locksmith, an electrician, and Mavys, a hairdresser, but even those signs were as ugly as the environment.

And at the bus stop, of a very good concrete, large, with benches and urine smell, a man with four 40-watt fluorescent bulbs piqued my curiosity. I’ve searched these bulbs for months, they are the same that the workroom of my husband uses, so loudly, and with astonishment, I asked the man where he got them. The man approached with a smile: “Madam, that question should not be said aloud.”

So with the right tone, close now, the man was standing beside us, I repeated the question.

Are you interested?

Sure, I am interested!

40 each and they are yours.

But I am not going to buy them without testing them first.

Do you live far?

Too far. Almost at the end of the bus route.

Oh, that looks good. I have a meeting in Vedado, and if you want, you can give me your address and I will come to your home, you test them so you can see they are fine.

I gave the address rushing because the bus was approaching. I was glad to get away from that place with the firm intention of not returning. It is not contempt for the people living there, many have worked very hard in the construction of their apartments. But why so ugly and badly made? The movement called microbrigades did nothing salvageable. This is socialism, I thought.

I lingered with the procedures of the school and when I got home, my husband had installed not one but two lamp bulbs and I did not remember since when it had operated with more than one. This is socialism, I said.

Translator: Luis Rodriguez

September 26, 2010

The Good Optimist / Fernando Dámaso

“Ole,” they said in my childhood, is a word that has no explanation. With NO, it is the same. You go walking through the streets of God in this atheist city, at least officially, thirst grabs you and tightens your throat, and all you find, written with various materials in different ways, an infinity of little notices: There is no water. Then you wonder: Is it that it hasn’t rained all year? Have all the rivers dried up? Are the aqueducts extinct and the did the pipes explode? No one gives you a logical explanation. You only hear about rescuing the culinary honor, etc. etc. etc.

You are optimistic. You keep walking. And continue to find little signs: Keep Out. No Visits Allowed. No Unauthorized Entry. Don’t Touch. Do Not Disturb. Don’t Talk. And much more. You, continuing to be optimistic, sit on a bench (after looking everywhere to see if there is a No Sitting sign) and ponder longingly some little signs that for many many years made you happy. No Illiteracy. No Bureaucracy. No Slums. And then you wonder: What became of them? Where are they? And you get up and keep walking (I already said it, you are a magnificent optimist!).

You come to your workplace (because you’re going to work, you just have to walk there because there’s not enough transport!), greet everyone you meet (some respond, most don’t), go into your office and sit at your desk. Your secretary, helpful as always, comes and says, “We haven’t received authorization to do what you want to do, there is no possibility you can resolve it.” With a slight headache you ask her to please leave you alone for a moment and then she continues her report. The secretary, half puzzled half hurt, leaves, looking at you with incredulous eyes. “Today the boss is a jerk!’ she thinks.

You — of course! — remain optimistic. You decide to draft a waiting document and ask, through the intercom, for some bond paper. You receive the following response, “There is no bond paper, only bad newsprint.” You accept it. Sit down to write. Finish. Ask for an envelope. There aren’t any, she answers. You, who continues being optimistic, decide to take a break and leave to walk walk walk, to clear your head.

You visit a few local currency stores, which is what you receive your salary in: There is no deodorant, no razor blades, no toilet paper, no soap, etc. etc. etc. You go to the milk store: There is no milk. You go to the bakery: There is no bread until further notice. You think: man does not live by bread alone. You go to the market where you are supposed to buy the things on your ration card. There is no detergent. There is no chicken and no fish for those on a medical diet (mackerel — the only fish in the entire sea — or at least the only one that allows itself to be caught).

You remain optimistic, a great optimist, the greatest of all optimists. You think all these things are trifles, articles of consumer society, simple, shoddy, material. You think of spiritual values: There is no begging (in the newspaper); There is no prostitution (in the newspaper); There is no gambling (officially); There are no drugs (or are there?). You keep thinking. You start to get annoyed by some fastidious gremlins whispering in your ear, so no one else can hear it: it’s not good to say these things, it is not a principled position to do it, it’s not good for you, who is an Optimist, the scare of a slap.

You get home. You climb the seven flights of stairs since the elevator doesn’t work because it broke yesterday morning. Finally you put the key in the lock and turn it. You’re covered in sweat. You crave a cool bath and sleep. There’s no water, your neighbor tells you from the hallway. The motor couldn’t pump it because there’s no electricity. Then you start to scream and run headlong into the walls. The neighbor calls the other neighbors. José has gone crazy, she says. The neighbors gather and grab you. Try to hold you. You keep screaming and wanting to get away from them. You do. You run down the stairs. You go out. The neighbors are behind you. Other passersby join them. Some people scream, not knowing what’s going on.

“Stop the thief!” A cop crosses your path and stops you with a karate chop. Then comes then ambulance (with the letters in reverse) and they take you away. You go to the hospital. They inject you and when you are sedated a doctor comes and asks you strange questions. You realize he is a psychiatrist. They think I’m crazy, you think. You answer some and others not. He writes and writes and writes. In the end he says, “You have nothing, you may go. It’s all been a nervous shock. Your nerves betrayed you, friend!”

You leave the hospital and look for a taxi. There are none. You try to catch the bus. It’s late. You decide to walk, and certainly walking is healthy. Don’t step on the grass — Decree 80. You pass a collective dumpster. Close me, I am your friend — you read. You’re not sure whether to shake its hand or hug it. You control yourself.

You just got out of the hospital. You have absolutely nothing. You keep walking. Return to your normal life. Try not to read the little signs, to forget the No’s. You, in spite of everything, continue being an optimistic man. You manage in the daytime but at night the dreams come. It’s as if you continually read a grammar book with only two little letters on each of its pages: no no no no no no no. Tenaciously. You can’t. And then you decide to go to the psychiatric hospital and ask for admission. How? Why can’t you let me come in? Because I didn’t come through the established channels?

September 22, 2010

Happenings on My Planet / Rebeca Monzo

Not all things on my “planet” are bad. It’s true that almost nothing works properly and the dilapidation is very noticeable, but, in spite all of these years of frustrations, sacrifices, losses, and painful goodbyes, there’s also something that keeps going: friendship and the warmth among some friends.

A couple of nights ago we had the immense pleasure and privilege of being invited to a cordial evening at the home of a friend. The main attraction consisted of a mini violin concerto, with which Maestro Evelio Tieles congratulated the host.

It was marvelous to hear that beautiful, impeccably performed medley by the famous violinist. Beginning with Manuel de Falla’s Nana, he went on to present, note by note, a review of the most beautiful Cuban music of all time: Veinte Años, Quiéreme Mucho, La Bayamesa, La Tarde, and, as a finale, El Mambí.

As marvelous as the interpretations of such precisely chosen pieces were, equally good were the conversations after, spanning the most varied topics. We left feeling more than grateful for such an unexpected invitation, like one who emerges from a radiant shower of light.

This undeserved privilege was complimented by another invitation, last Sunday, this time extended personally by the Maestro: a piano and violin recital at the Basilica of San Francisco, in the heart of Old Havana. The chosen setting couldn’t have been better.

On this occasion, the strings and bow plucked by Tieles brought us the whims of Paganini, those nocturnes by Chopin, and crowned the majesty of the repertoire with Schumann’s Sonata in A Minor, Opus 105.

It seemed as if sparks flew off the strings of the violin, to say nothing of the trial faced by Yamilé Cruz, the young accompanying pianist, who soared before the challenge imposed by the mastery of the multi-award winning Evelio Tieles. It was a magical evening, wherein the absence of figures from the nomenklatura and propagandistic introductions was noted with pleasure.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

September 21, 2010

Rejected Invitation / Fernando Dámaso

  1. The ambiguous Silvio Rodríguez, good at music, doesn’t rise to the political rumor. His written invitation, reproduced in the today’s edition of Granma, to his personal blog, Second City, is an unoriginal repeat of the official black history coined over the republican years. There’s a reason Granma published it.
  2. Accepting that Havana wasn’t the ruins it has turned into today, and even daring to share responsibility, to immediately tell us the sad story of the poor boy who was, having no money for a toy, one of the black beggars beaten by the police and urinated on by a drunk sailor (he used another word) against the statue of José Martí in Central Park.
  3. Silvio takes isolated incidents, that happened or could have happened, and magnifies them, generalizes them, as if they were the norm, as if this Havana lost in time existed only for the bourgeois and the powerful. However, it also existed for those of us who lived in neighborhoods like Mantilla, Párraga, La Víbora, Los Pinos, El Cerro, Luyanó, El Diezmero, etc. It existed for everyone, only our parents worked and this allowed them to put a roof over our heads, feed us, clothe us, educate us, and even buy us a toy at the Galiano Ten Cent Store, which had them costing ten cents.
  4. It would be desirable if the singer-songwriter worried a little more about knowing the true history of his country and was able to tell the difference between light and shadow. In fifty-six years of the Republic, despite the problems and unresolved tasks, a country was built that came to be among the first in the Americas and other parts of the world in education, public health, constitutional and workers’ rights, infrastructure and development. In our archives and libraries there are documents attesting to this. One only has to consult them.
  5. Regarding his criticism of the changes in political positions and people, I consider it nonsense. The only Cuban thing that doesn’t change is the baseball team. If humans can change their religion, why not their politics? What’s more, as the years go by we acquire new knowledge and experiences, discard what doesn’t work and look for the new. This has always been the path to development. No one tries to return to the past, which is impossible because it doesn’t exist. What is needed is to incorporate the present and advance with it. It should not be allowed that, once again, we step aside and end up tossed out on the San Antonio de los Baños train platform, as happened to Silvio.

September 14, 2010

Amanda / Fernando Dámaso

Amanda was a nightingale. Every morning, with the first rays of the sun, she flapped her wings and started to warble. From her prodigious throat came, one after another, the most dissimilar and original musical notes: now a fortissimo treble, now a deep note that penetrated the soul. All the songs of the birds were contained in her and acquired a level magisterial execution. She reveled in them, absorbed in her own song, without paying the least bit of attention to what was happening around her. All who passed near Amanda’s window stopped to listen. Sometimes she caused traffic jams, and the police had to intervene to get things moving. Amanda’s song was the most famous in the city and there were those who rose at daybreak to listen, in the stillness of the dawn, before the noise, her first trills. Connoisseurs comments that they were the most beautiful, always new.

The months and years passed and Amanda’s singing became an important part of the city. All the tourists who came demanded that their schedule include a visit to hear her. The same thing happened with official delegations. People gossiped for days about the visiting president who rescheduled his flight, breaking all protocol and ruining the official welcoming ceremony to listen to Amanda at dawn. Given the number of people who gathered in front of Amanda’s house every day, the authorities decided to connect microphones to the radio network, so that everyone could listen to Amanda singing from home. From that time on she was a part of breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was present when people were talking, making love, being born and dying. And her singing was always new. She sang without pause from morning to night, as long as the sun shone. On cloudy and rainy days she remained silent and only sang when a rainbow appeared. Then she sang with the same force as at dawn.

On day Amanda stopped singing, and the city, little by little, began to die.

September 28, 2010

11 September 2001, A Despicable Crime / Rebeca Monzo

View of the model that was inside one of the twin towers.

I took this photo when I visited the towers in January 2001. I found myself in that city, a guest of a friend from my adolescence, who, on hearing I was in the United States for a personal exposition, wanted me to visit.

A few months later, back in my planet, I received an urgent call to turn on the TV. At first I thought it was a run-through for a movie. My brain couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. What horror! What helplessness! What sick minds could have been capable of carrying out such a crime. Later we knew. Almost three thousand innocent people died, many of them of Hispanic origin, as well as other nationalities. No strangers to a generous country which has always welcomed immigrants of every ethnicity. No one deserves to be the target of terrorism, the United States didn’t deserve such horror. Crimes such as these must never be repeated.

My respects to those strong men and women who have made that Nation great.

September 11, 2010

REINALDO ESCOBAR UNEDITED IN VOICES 2 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo / Reinaldo Escobar

The image of the forest, the identity of the tree

Reinaldo Escobar

LITTLE has been revealed of the controversial life of Juan Bautista Spotorno, a commander of the Spanish militia and led an insurrection and became acting president of the Republic in Arms. He issued a famous decree that bears his name, that provided that any person bearing a proposal for peace without independence would be shot. Three years later he joined the committee that negotiated the peace with the Spanish and that led to the Pact of Zanjón. He ended up being an autonomist.

I can imagine that in the ranks of the Liberation Army there must have been numerous people like Spotorno, about whom it is difficult to be sure they were wrong when they thought they were right, or that they were right at times when they thought they were wrong. Men full of contradictions, passions, virtues, personal defects and that ingredient that makes a human being normal and mortal. However, the veil of glory that covers all the mambises with the same dignity, because the heroes, the martyrs, are the what keeps the story alive in the memory of a people. They stained with their blood the timeless colors of the flags, and with their war cries and screams of pain they filled the high notes of the national anthem.

Every era has its paladins. The struggle against Machado had Julio Antonio Mello, later expelled for indiscipline from the party he himself had founded, but finally sheltered in his last words, “I die for the Revolution.” The fights against Batista had José Antonio Echevarría, a fervent Catholic who had never accepted the imposition of communist atheism but who could not be exiled from the revolutionary pantheon because he died riddled with bullets with a pistol in his hand.

I once heard a decorated veteran of the Bay of Pigs say he had witnessed that not all the dead had fallen in combat at the front and I heard the same from a veteran from Angola, where almost more were killed by accidents, murders and executions, than in combat actions. But the glory, even if not eternal, is generous and it is enough to have died in the right place at the right time to be blessed by it. The living are the ones who then have problems.

Most of the senior offices of the Liberation Army who survived the war ended up, with few exceptions, disillusioned or corrupted by the Republic. This scenario is repeated over and over. I often wonder what we wold be saying now about Camilo Cienfuegos if he had kept repeating, for fifty years, his, “You’re doing well, Fidel.” The tourists would not be buying shirts with photos of Che Guevara if he were still heading up some ministry which I suspect still wouldn’t work. The epithet that encompasses a host of heroes almost always makes each one a great figure, but the fault is not theirs but that of the propagandists of one kind or another, who strive to come up with angelic characterizations, almost always far from human miseries, the appetites, vices and bad habits that make us unworthy of and aura.

Right now, overdue government sanity is about to dismantle the episode of the 75 imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. Before too long they will cease to be “the defenders of civil rights, victims of the cruel repression of the dictatorship,” to be, to become again, themselves.

The time is coming when we will discover among them one who doesn’t know which letter gets the accent in the word política, or others who never want to hear the name of Cuba again, and no doubt there will be one who wants to divorce his Lady in White, the same one who Sunday after Sunday, over seven long years, was at Santa Rita church praying and shouting for his freedom. Some will say some stupid thing in their first interview, or sign the first thing put in front of them to get ahead.

There will be something of everything, because everything is there. But I want one thing known: for me, who is not perfect either, you will continue to the “The 75,” that group that never went anywhere together and among whom there are probably not three of you who can agree on two points. Whatever happens with the trees, the forest will be in my heart.

September 28, 2010

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