Weekend Movies / Regina Coyula

cortesía Orlando LuisThis weekend I saw on TV two very different movies, both very perturbing because of what they show in regards to the relation between reality and fiction. The movies were Agora, on the Friday time slot for movies, and The Experiment on Saturday.

The movie Agora takes place in Alexandria during the final years of the Roman Empire when Christians, after many years of persecution, win the streets and obtain power. We had seen the suffering of Jesus’s followers, the cruelty and spite which they suffered at the hands of the pagans. But, what happens when Christians obtain power? They mimic and even surpass those who had the power before them, they desecrate the symbols of the past: temples, statues, and in what will be a sign of the dark centuries ahead, they destroy the Library of Alexandria.

The other movie, with superb acting by Adrien Brody and Forest Whittaker, tells the story of a group of people who volunteer for an experiment on the conditions experienced on a prison setting, who are surprised to find out that a few of them will act as guards while the rest will be the prisoners. What happens when regular men obtain power? Cruelty, sadism. The experiment ends, predictably, when the prisoners rebel.

So much time has gone by, and things still do not improve when it comes to human relations.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 6, 2010

The Treasure / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo AP

I WAS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD cruising the streets on my scooter like a Caribbean Quixote in the year 1992. One afternoon, I turn the corner of my house and notice a neighbor stopped on his bike, one foot on the curb of the sidewalk, the other in the street, an arm on the handlebars, with his head resting on his forearm which served as his pillow, looking like a rag doll. Something I’d rarely seen in that man who, from the time I was a child, I’d watched go into his house near mine; I turned the wheel of my scooter to go back. As I came up to him I saw that, despite the noise of the scooter’s engine, he didn’t raise his head.

I asked him if I could help. He said something I couldn’t understand, I lowered the throttle on the bike and got closer, he cocked his head and I could see his pale face, “Hold me,” he said. I quickly turned off the scooter and took his arm, “I’m dizzy,” he said again, and I felt his body trembling like the page of a book. I suggested he breathe deeply. He could barely manage it. At times his legs buckled. I discovered that despite his weakness he was protecting something in his other hand, his fist closed against his chest. I offered to hold it and he shook his head. He made an effort to lift his head and look at me. I kept holding him up. He said he knew he shouldn’t have done it but he didn’t have any other choice. For lunch he had just had a little rice, and he went to his sister-in-law’s house to look for something, for his wife, at least, to have to go with it. He no, he’d gone for a week with only rice and he wasn’t complaining; but he knew that she, even though he did everything in his power, wouldn’t be able to eat; then his sister-in-law gave him the last one left, and he looked at his closed fist. With great care he opened his hand, and before my eyes appeared a hen’s egg.

October 7, 2010

Crossing the Barbed Wire with the Blue Bird / Luis Felipe Rojas

I spent the night of September 30th traveling, and part of October 1st on the expressway of Farola in order to get to Baracoa. The 7th session of the committee of the Eastern Democratic Alliance was to be held in Maisi, but the detentions began on Friday and did not cease until Sunday. The grand total of detentions was 19, with 6 deportations to Camaguey, Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, and las Tunas. There weren’t any beatings and there was less confrontation than other times, but it was still a mass operation which included the extensive search of the beaches which they thought we would try to escape by in order to get to Maisi.

In my case, I was detained along with 5 other human rights activists. Amid all of this, I noted something interesting: we spent various hours stationed on the outskirts of the road waiting for a military transport to take us to the police unit in Baracoa. When we got there, a political police officer ordered for us to be removed from the barracks immediately, a much different scenario than the usual, where we are nearly always put in cells instead. While we traveled aboard the olive-green jeep I thought that I was the king of the internet, for I was using Twitter to report the names of those who were detained, in order of the news I was receiving. I could already picture myself turning into a blue bird and flying to the homes of friends outside of Cuba and telling them the news.

But what a fiasco, none of my 140-character messages arrived at their destination, yet each and every one of them was charged to my account. The list of the detainees was the same as always: Rolando and Nestor Lobaina, Idalmis Nunez, Omar Wilson, Jorge Corrales, Belkis Barbara Portal, Virgilio Mantilla — in sum, 19 peaceful dissidents who were impeded from freely walking towards the lighthouse of Maisi, the eastern-most point of the island. There, we were planning to read the calling for the Unity in Diversity document which the Democratic Alliance had launched, but since such acts were impeded two days later, while we had been released we re-grouped in a central area of the city.

Early that day, we silently walked more than ten blocks, all the way to the bust of Marti where we placed a floral gift and sang the anthem before the eyes of hundreds of Baracoa natives. The Cuban G-2 (secret police) watched us during the entire process but did not impede the march. I’m starting to think that they did not want to repeat the macabre spectacle which they carried out last August when they took part in the condemnation mob against the Rodriguez Lobaina family. During those days, I could easily notice the air of disgust towards the political police which permeated among many locals after the beatings and barbaric acts which were carried out in the home of the brothers, where they used rocks to shatter the windows of the apartment where their father lives, and when they beat up some inhabitants.

To top it off, my old Sony digital camera ceased working, and seemingly forever. This is why I haven’t been able to take a single photo as I am used to doing on any of these trips. This time, you will all have to just settle with these bunch of words, believing or disbelieving what I say.

Today, many of us who report from this eastern cave have our cell phones blocked from making calls to places outside of Cuba. Meanwhile, Cubacel still continues charging us their draconian rates. The police continues to restrict our movements, shoving gags in our mouths so we won’t speak up, and strictly spying on us wherever we go. And as if that wasn’t enough, Twitter has just shut off the only ray of light we had left upon their shutting down messaging through the phone. In which direction are we headed? Reporting what really happens in Cuba, which is ignored by the popular media outlets, will become a rare privilege if the Great Blue Bird does not come back.

* Friends who have showed solidarity and who have found out about the difficulty of sending messages through twitter with our cell phones have opened a provisional account, which we dictate through the phone, to cross the barbed wires from Holguin to Guantanamo.

@alambradasCuba @RRLobaina @jccpalenque

Translated by Raul G.

October 6, 2010

Computer Glitch and Missing Translations / Iván García

Note to the readers from the translators:

Please accept our apologies for the gap in English translations!

A few weeks ago some “behind the scenes” technical changes were made in Ivan’s blog in Spanish, which we weren’t aware of on the “English side.” From that time the “automatic post grabber” for the translating site, HemosOido.com, could no longer pick up the posts because it was searching for the “old” computer code, not the new one.

Unfortunately, it took us a little while to realize there was a problem, and then quite a bit longer to fix it because, frankly, our volunteer programmer has been completely swamped with her “regular job.”

It is now fixed and we will, entry by entry, fill in all the missing entries from September, and of course keep the translations coming going forward.

Again, our sincere apologies! And please… those of you who are bilingual… translate Ivan so we can catch up!

October 7, 2010

Custom Filters / Laritza Diversent

Cubans who opine publicly regarding the Government, are condemned to suffer confiscation. The Customs Office for Post and Shipments (APE), an entity which is part of the General Customs Office of the Republic (AGR), has a filter for seizure for shipments abroad, applicable to dissidents.

Within the last 2 months, this agency has confiscated 2 shipments that had been sent to me from the United States. I was advised on the 13th of August about the most recent, via the “Resolution of Forfeiture #1209” dated the 29th of July, 2010, and an Act of Forfeiture and Notification, both documents signed by Danny Samada Rivero, Inspector of Customs Controls.

Had this occurred once, one could consider it an issue of chance. A second occurrence would be a purposeful act of viciousness; but if other people with the same uneasiness regarding the political situation suffered the same indignities, then it’s a matter of a strategy of the State. A subtle form of punishing those who dare question the status quo of the system.

I have no doubts, this administrative act has a political underpinning. Its not a coincidence that it applies since various months to the forfeiture of shipments from abroad to various dissidents against the Government, including Yoani Sanchez, the author of the “Generation Y” blog.

As per Samada Rivero, the contents of the package were contrary to the general interests of the nation. He used Resolution #5-96, from the Manager of AGR, as the basis for the forfeiture. The first was applied by the resolution of forfeiture no. 978, on 8 June. On that occasion Raimundo Pérez García, Inspector Control Customs seized the shipment arguing the same reason and legal basis.

Resolution No. 5 of the AGR, existing since 1996, allows the application within the national territory, of the International Convention on the Suppression of the circulation and traffic in obscene publications.

The rule prohibits the importation by shipments, of “any object whose content is considered contrary to morals and good customs or which go against the “general interest of the nation”. In addition, the seized products are to be delivered to the corresponding body of the Ministry of the Interior.

Under both resolutions customs Control Inspector, Samada Rivero and Pérez García, failed to explain in what way the imported articles affected the general interests of the nation. Most of the products were for personal hygiene, health and for use in an office, of general, every-day use for a household. The same products are for sale in State shops and foreign currency stores, within the national territory.

At the end of July, I lodged an appeal to the head of the customs, requesting cancellation of the first resolution of confiscation. On August 17, I was notified of the resolution of Appeal No. 231 of 2010, denying my claim.

The officer, Raúl Gómez Badía, the ultimate authority of the organ of the State in question, considered the measure applied by the customs inspector, Raimundo García Pérez, as being correct. That decision exhausted the administrative process open to appeal the decision; the next recourse is the judicial path in open court. My next step will be to claim my rights before the revolutionary courts.

Perhaps the new offensive has another goal. Destroy attempts to re-establish communication between Cuba and the United States. The products were imported from that northern country through agency “Universal Postal service” in the Office of international exchange (OIC). Cuban and American representatives initiated talks to standardize the service of mail between the two countries in September 2009.

On the other hand, the filters of the Customs Agencies show that political interests that run the country, supersede the interests of all Cubans. It punishes equally, applying the legislation extraordinarily and arbitrarily to a group of citizens who publicly express their feelings about the Government.

September 11, 2010

Spontaneous / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I’ve been left a little traumatized after the celebrations of the CDR. Between the discussion on the bus, my neighbors’ Sunday volunteer work, and the reggaeton on the 28th until 1:00 in the morning; right now I feel a sense of “been there, done that… and never again would be too soon.”

It turns out that Sunday was a “voluntary workday.” Obviously El Ciro and I weren’t aware of this, so when he went downstairs with the dogs and found an old man weeding the grass, with his last ounce of strength, he said, “Compadre, let me do it, I’m younger.” So as he cleared the block of every weed, “the guy with the list” approached and said, “Hey compadre, leave that, it’s already been checked off.” El Ciro looked up and discovered that in addition to having taken part in voluntary work, he was, in effect, the only one who had actually done any work. As for the others, it was grab a brick, move it from the right to the left, and then look at the guy with the list and say, “check me off.” I remembered the time the mutt broke the light on the stairs and El Ciro (one hundred percent private initiative) changed it without saying anything to anybody. A neighbor told me later that a meeting had been planned to define a repair strategy: “How much money to be collected from each apartment, who would collect it and who would spend it.” We had skipped all the steps.

For the party it was the same. In my building, by ten o’clock at night, the only person awake is me. My poor neighbors closed their eyes four hours later because they “had to celebrate” September 28th, the fiftieth anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).  After midnight I heard an innocent neighbor ask why they hadn’t had the party on Friday or Saturday. Poor thing, she doesn’t know that you dance on the scheduled day, you work on the scheduled day, you sleep on the scheduled day and you live according to the schedule.

October 6, 2010

Possible Utopia (II) / Miriam Celaya

An image that threatens to multiply. Photograph by Orlando Luis

Despite the apparent ease with which life goes on, the magma is rising from the bottom and nobody can predict how events that will put an end to the Cuban dictatorship will unleash. Just in the last few days, events have accrued which, directly or indirectly, have an impact on this country, strongly staking a reality that, until recently, has been characterized by paralysis. Now everything has begun to move in reverse (a good example of that is what is already known as “the medieval list,” the 178 lines that, according to official publication, will receive self-employment licenses, to which we will devote a little more space in another post), but that –paradoxically- could mean a step forward if we take into account the popular ancient principle “the good thing about this is how bad it is getting.” Anyway, it has never before been worse, and there are premonitions in the breeze that things may even get worse.

A very brief overview of the most relevant events is: the upcoming layoffs will leave us half a million unemployed in just six months, a significant increase in the self-employed tax, the piecemeal sale of the country to potential (and real) foreign investors, Decree-Law 273 of August 13th, 2010 (see The Cuban Official Gazette website), and the South American gorilla -Hugo Chávez’s- formidable slap in the face in Venezuela’s recent parliamentary elections and the consequent and immediate increase in oil prices in Cuban sales channels, which, as expected, will mean increased prices in transportation, food and other goods in the very near future.

The social climate is tense and the old socialist ship is listing, threatening to do a 360◦ turn. There is a generalized feeling of worry and uncertainty, and it can be seen in every corner of this city. The new wave of misery that lies ahead is compounded by the growing discontent, the lack of confidence in the future, in the “revolution” and its leaders, as well as the ever increasing prevalent belief about the failure of the system and the uselessness to renew a clearly obsolete model. I do not remember ever before having found as persistent and epidemic social unrest reaching from the highest rated of the intellectual ruling caste to the poorest and most fragile sectors of the population.

Early yesterday morning, a middle-aged and apparently very poor woman was picking up a shopping bag full of plastic bottles lying next to a waste collector in front of my building. “Let me take this before they tax me for it,” she said, with a smile that was part bitter and part accomplice. Because, my friends, the popularly called “deep sea divers”, previously persecuted and heavily fined by the authorities for creating unhealthy conditions in the city causing filth, in addition to offering a lamentable image for foreign visitors, now, by the grace of new official measures of self-employment and of official “euphemistology” will not only receive the new title of “recycling- sellers of raw materials”, but also need licenses to perform the same work for which, until just yesterday, they were being punished. Additionally, they must pay taxes in exchange for being submerged, almost all day, in the filthy detritus of nearly three million people, which confirms that crap is also the property of the state.

Some denominations from the famous medieval list, so-called because it contains related occupations and types of work organization that do not correspond with present times, are truly amazing: water bearers, a joke on the water and sewage system, to the embarrassment Albear and others; lumberjack, in a country where deforestation has been rampant for over 500 years; travel managers, individuals who shout the destination of cars for hire or at fixed taxi line entrances and bus terminals; collectors-sellers of natural resources (¿?) manufacturers-sellers of religious articles, among others. Other occupations hitherto clandestine and not requiring any more than the personal initiative of those performing them, as in the case of those braiding hair, fortune tellers and the so-called “Habaneras” (usually young women who are dressed in colorful costumes, supposedly belonging to the colonial era, who walk through some of the historic places and charge tourists wishing to take their picture), will join the ranks of the self-employed, and will be obligated to also contribute to the Treasury. They seem to have thought of everything, except a line that will soon be greatly increased … the beggars. The lords of power could consider including beggars on the self-employed lists, of course, while they seek a more noble title for the occupation. We know they are talented in this regard.

However, the very government engaged in violating the law that is trying to have so many who go astray “on their own” jump through the hoop of the legalities, faces a difficult challenge. I don’t think that they have sufficient repressive personnel to detect and punish the army of offenders, which will remain the majority, given that the only true act of defiance for this imperiled and fearful people has always been irreverence. The street cries of many of those who have been practicing these arts for years is that they will not request a license because, far from being an advantage, it will impose a heavy tax on their meager personal and family income. The government is fighting a war that it has already lost: it seeks to exploit the working population while preventing the formation of a middle class, able to surpass the official interests and give way to independent citizens. Such efforts, as happened with the system, are doomed to failure. The sad picture of the Havana night of September 27th, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the CDR’s, with a few and isolated campfires, where small, pathetic, hungry groups cooked their traditional watery meals to share in their poverty, should be a clear signal that loyalty and subservience are concepts that are also depleted. There is nothing to celebrate. Not yet.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

October 1, 2010

The Journalist Reinaldo Escobar Enters the Debate / Polemica, The 2007 Intellectual Debate

“The Little Email War,” “Little Glasnost,” “Rebellion of the Intellectuals” or “The Created Situation,” have been some of the names used to baptize this phenomenon which I prefer to call, “words of the intellectuals” (with the “of” in bold and underlined). Evidently a hole has been opened in this Pandora’s box (which was a gift from Zeus himself), where it is not the evils that populate the world that are escaping, but rather the outrages committed against freedom of expression.

I promise not to use this space for personal complaints, in the first place because I feel a profound gratitude to those who, in December 1988, banned me from practicing the profession of journalist. To them I owe my freedom, which I exercise from Cuba, although sadly not in the media permitted in Cuba.

As it is not possible to answer, argue or support each deserving idea, because that would imply writing a book, I will limit myself to giving my opinion about what I believe is fundamental in this issue, which after all is not, not even remotely, the appearance on the small screen of those who once were the obedient adherents of a policy. What seems to be clear to everyone is that there are open wounds, self-criticisms to make and discussions to foment.

I can understand the horror of the newly vindicated, faced with the renewed vindication of their executioners; what I cannot seem to understand at all is the simplicity of confusing the systemic with the causal.

Just like a bus that is already full, those who are already on the first step of the discussion ask to close the door because there isn’t room for anyone else, but those of us who are left behind, those who here are below, we think differently.

I believe that the basis of all the wrongs that have occurred is the intolerance of difference, which is not limited to the nearly defeated intolerance of different religious beliefs, or to the repudiation of different sexual preferences. I am speaking about the unconquered intolerance of diverse political opinions. I would like to know on what general principle we can build tolerance for one particular kind of diversity without applying this to other kinds of diversity.

Since that fateful day in which the cultural politics of the Cuban Revolution was subjugated to a sectarian phrase — Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing — the abyss opened. Because from that moment a group of people were conferred, or conferred upon themselves, the right to define the boundaries of what could be catalogued as revolutionary, meaning what could be published, shown and disseminated. And since the creators of literature, painting, music or cinema usually fulfill themselves when their work becomes something tangible for the public, they begin the create in that direction and there begins the self-censorship; because there is only one way to be sure that what we do cannot be classified as “outside of the Revolution,” and that is to do only that which is clearly for and within the Revolution.

That gray five-year period was only the act of drawing the dividing line a few meters closer to the border. The original sin was to conceive the border.

Some of those who are participating in this discussion are not disputing the right of the government to decide whether to publish a work based on its political affiliation. The only thing they are contending is that they and their work should be considered unwavering supporters of the Revolutionary line. Others want to go further, which is why, in this debate, many things are being discussed at the same time.

Víctor Fowler, with his habitual lucidity, introduces the idea of a “catalog of practices of cultural violence.” All of the anecdotes fit into this catalog: prison for the translator of the prophecies of Nostradamus, the famous Padilla case, the firing of Eduardo Heras, the sanctions against Norberto Fuentes, the ostracism of so many illustrious names: Cintio, Eliseo, Lezama, plus the endless list of the unknowns, as always, who in obscure cities of the country defiantly read a combative poem in a literary workshop session or who, in a provincial radio broadcast, dare to introduce an uncomfortable song by Frank Delgado. The question is how far do we take this list, and if we should pay attention to those already on board, who are shouting to close the door once and for all so the journey can continue, or if we should continue letting more people get on until the bus bursts.

Who gave the order to close the expositions of the group Arte Calle? What should we call the decade in which they banned Pedro Luís Ferrer? What color was the five-year period in which Antonio José Ponte was expelled from UNEAC? Who was the Minister of Culture when the movie “Monte Rouge” was blocked from being shown in the Cinema Festival? What, if not “The Black Spring of 2003,” should we call that moment when the poet Raúl Rivero was imprisoned?

Esteban Morales himself, former dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts, classifies as “Saturn devouring the children of the Revolution” not just subordinates of Luís Pavón, but militants of the Communist Party who, in the seventies, carried out relentless purges in the school of journalism, and who today publish in the daily newspaper, Granma, and no one bothers them.

And all this is being discussed today perhaps because some advisers in the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) who work on the program Impronta [Imprint] are just historians versed in the 19th century and wouldn’t know who directed the National Culture Council 30 years ago. I wonder what would happen if, as a part of “50 Years of Victories,” someone were to recount the exploits of Hubert Matos in taking the city of Santiago de Cuba, or if someone who does not know the secret versions of the story, speaking about the events of Granada, would mention Colonel Tortoló as an emulator of the Bronze Titan. I bet that nobody would ever make the mistake of making a Impronta episode about Doctor Hilda Molina, however much she deserves it.

What really happened is not that one day it was mentioned to someone that it deserved to be buried in silence, but just the opposite; it’s that it has been too quiet for too long, and not only in the area of culture. As the critic Orlando Hernández has bravely pointed out, “It would be very sad if all this fell into the ridiculous Complaints and Suggestions Box at the Ministry of Culture, or if it were converted into a minority’s collective catharsis.” I believe that the criticism or self-criticism remains unresolved not only in the case of the First Culture Congress, which changed its name in its second session to become the Congress of Education and Culture. The Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, the repudiation rallies of the 1980s, the unmet Food Plan of 1990s, the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, and the infinite lists that so many victims could rightfully assemble, are also in need of a self-criticism; to do otherwise would make it very difficult to honor someone on television without running the risk that the person interviewed would have another “imprint” in his illustrious biography.

Not only revolutions, but also history in its entirety, is staged by men who,in carrying out the projects they put forward, experience successes and failures, greatness and baseness, nobility and villainy. Cuba’s is far from a celestial history, though many have insisted on sweetening it. It seems as if once again someone has tried to marry us to a lie and to force us to live with it, but fortunately, someone also has taught us that it is better to let the world collapse than to live a lie.

I don’t want to finish this intervention without referring to the cryptic Declaration of the Secretariat of UNEAC, published on Thursday, January 18.

To say that the cultural politics of the Revolution, established with those Words to the Intellectuals — Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing — is irreversible, is to affirm that Luís Pavón did not manage to reverse it and therefore only was consistent with it to an extreme degree. In that we are in agreement. What I cannot agree with is the element of terror the text introduces with the mention of a supposed annexationist agenda on the part of those who have wanted to take advantage of the situation created. I call on them to show a single paragraph of the debate with the stink of annexationism. Although it is suggested that this is the consensual response of the debate’s initiators, evidently it is a text that Leopoldo Ávila would proudly sign.

I propose a full debate on all these matters. Since UNEAC — the Cuban Writers and Artists Union — has decided not to hold its proposed congress, now that the Communist Party of Cuba has not held its either, we will do it ourselves in a theater, at the ballpark or in the middle of a field, without the rapid response brigades to impede its meeting, and where the entire world can speak, the communist, the social democrat, the Christian democrat and the liberal, and if the annexationists have something to say, we will listen to them also.

Finally it seems healthy to me that those of us who participate in this discussion do not share a common position. We are not going to repeat the model affirming that “this is not the moment to have divergences among ourselves because we should unite against the common enemy.” Much less will we proclaim something like, “Against the reign of Pavón everything, for the reign of Pavón nothing.” Please, let us not start in the same way. Fortunately, like Pandora’s mythical box, the only thing that hasn’t escaped is hope.

Reinaldo Escobar

Translated by Ariana

January 31, 2007

Closed, for Cubans / Henry Constantín

There are regions in my country where I still cannot enter. At least not unless if I am loaded with official documents, authorizations, guarantees, and recommendation letters. An entire list can be made out of these things. I’m used to it: In Cuba, one can write – actually, those in power have already done so – an infinite list of the things that are restricted for Cubans. There is a list of web sites which I cannot enter, a list of magazines and newspapers which are not allowed to be read in libraries (the list includes any which display my rulers committing any errors worth silencing), another list of films, such as “Before Night Falls” and “The Lost City”, which I can’t find in any of the state video stores or movie theatres. As for musicians that are prohibited from receiving any radio or TV play – Alejandro Sanz, Willy Chirino, Porno Para Ricardo, etc. The most outrageous situations is that of the people whom we are not supposed to call by phone or visit in person – but I do it anyway, and that’s why I probably am included in that list, too. There is yet another list which consists of historical people who cannot be mentioned without evoking much offense – commanders Eloy Guiterrez Menoyo and Huber Matos, president Estrada Palma, and so on. There are dozens of lists which are composed of well-off people the same way that there are those made up of everyday people in Cuba. But it is these outlawed regions of our geography which interest me the most on this Travel Report.

The post with which I inaugurated this blog was about how I could not enter the Cape of San Antonio in Guanahacabibes – in the far Western part of Cuba – for the simple reason that I was not a tourist. At that time, the functionaries of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment denied me the entrance, just as the orders mandated they do so to every Cuban resident on the island. While I was getting over that frustrating trip, a few vehicles with tourist license plates swiftly passed by, heading towards the Cape. They braked right by me, asking (in Andalusian and Italian accents) the solicitous guard where their destination lay as he opened the entrance gate.

In the extreme opposite of the country, halfway from between Baracoa and the Yumuri river – on the North coast – there lies another one of those “border” spots. In it, some locally known cavers, carrying all sorts of official authorizations, waited for almost an hour under the mid-day sun until the official decided that they could pass towards the Maisi Point.

The Sabana-Camaguey archipelago, which borders the northern coast of the central provinces, is also prohibited. It’s made up of a strip of hotels from Santa Maria Key to Paredon Grande, with very little terrestrial access – some anti-ecological and enormously steep embankments from Caibarien to Turiguano – where vehicles which transport Cubans are carefully searched by police officers, who check to see how many documents people are carrying, or who make them get out of the car and stay there. And you can’t just go in under the pretext of simple tourism. If you don’t have a hotel reservation, or if you don’t have any credentials such as being an employee or participant in an already registered event, then you can’t go in.

The same thing occurs in Sabinal, which is less exploited touristically, and also in Romano Key, the largest and most conserved of the keys. As if it wasn’t enough, there is at least one of those small islands which requires a double authorization project: Paredon Grande. Any Cuban who gets there must show his/her permits, and since the terrestrial path goes through Coco Key (where in the entrance of Turiguano they already searched through the papers) then it turns out that you would get searched twice.

But on the Isle of Pines, which still has the official name of “Island of Youth”, it is an even more ironic case. Up to well into the 20th century, Cuban sovereignty was not well defined in terms of this rugged area and with regards those supposed North-American colonizers. And now, in the 21st century, for a national resident to access that minor southern island (the most extensive and inhospitable) it requires even more permits and processes, moreso than a European Union citizen trying to pass from one country to another. And let’s not even mention Largo Key, which lies about 100 kilometers to the East: I’ve only been able to see it from an airplane.

But it isn’t just land that is forbidden. There are also bodies of water which surround the island (and which are supposedly considered territorial waters) which the authorities consider to be malignant for Cubans. A couple of youths from Smith Key (or “Granma Key” as it is officially known) who are owners of boats which are used to explore the interior bay of Santiago de Cuba, opened their eyes wide in disbelief when I suggested to take a look into the exterior part of the bay, where the Morro Castle starts to rise. “That’s forbidden”. And this is a national mandate: any Cuban who is riding upon any sort of water vessel must be heavily armed with authorizations, if not he or she runs the risk of spending the night in a prison.

In all of these cases ecological protection, which is the justification for restricting or controlling the access to protected zones in the world, is discarded simply because of the differences which exist for a foreign citizen and a national resident who wants to visit any of these areas. The foreign visitor would be content just to go in and take a quick look, while a Cuban, when he or she has no reservations (if the area is a hotel zone) could wait up to three months while searching for authorizations from up to half a dozen functionaries — and that really is a valid justification! And, mind you, this is always with the risk present of having such access being denied just because of trivial whims.

Where our internal exile is really colossal is in Caimanera, the city closest to the perimeter of the US Naval Base in Guantanamo. We Cubans consider the territory where the Base is located to be part of our country, and we hope that one day it will really be that way. Of course, we can’t enter that place, but in addition, those who run this country have really gone to the extreme, so much so that in Caimanera, a city which is fully national, no Cuban can get in unless they are pre-authorized and justified by an application filled out by any family they have who are residents of that town, and even they, the family, have to inform the authorities first.

The reason for so much discrimination is really shameful: trying to keep Cubans from leaving the country illegally (perhaps our island is a jail, which is supposed to be the only place where anyone can escape illegally from), protecting the environment, (which they protect from us Cubans who go by foot, and not from foreigners who drive down such zones with their polluting automobiles which can easily exterminate any endangered species), and to prevent diversions of naval vessels and any provocations to the Base…

Out of all these excuses, and out of all the flagrant discrimination which they conceal, we can reach some painful conclusions. The most obvious: that Cubans who are residents of their own country are not considered to be citizens who possess inviolable rights before the State (whose sole purpose is to guarantee these rights), and instead, our role is something very different. We’re supposed to be people who live in a place where others rule, and where our value is below that of politics and the interests of our rulers. The colossal fear which these individuals have of losing authority through illegal exits, improbable clandestine disembarkations, or through the psychological pressure of a conflict with the Naval Base, can never make sense in the 21st century to continue discriminating against its own citizens. This only accelerates the need to get the leaders out of the way, for they have already lost the opportunity to fix things. Today, the goal is very clear: tear down all the silent walls and discrimination which the fears of an older generation erected, be at peace with our own people, and reconstruct our pride.

When any Cuban can stare out to the sea from the Cape of San Antonio, without blushes or permits, then that will be a good sign.

Translated by Raul G.

September 25, 2010

Autonomous Luggage / Yoani Sánchez

Under the seat one could see a patched grab bag, like those given to people who went on missions in the 1980s. Every time the bus jerked over a pothole, many eyes fixed on it to see if its contents had come spilling out through the broken zipper. Nearby, on the road to the town of Candelaria, a police patrol stopped the trip and ordered everyone out with their belongings. At the end of the aisle, along with others equally orphaned, was the mended valise of a one-time State security officer who had been in Europe or some country in Africa. No one made the least move to pick it up.

Two officers searched each row and piled the packages no traveler had claimed on the steps. They opened them with great care, cutting the corners, pulling out the staples, to expose contraband more pursued than arms and drugs: milk,.cheese, lobster, shrimp and fish. A sheep dog, trained to detect seafood, milk products and beef, searched among the packages people had consigned to the ditch, under the sun. “Everyone will be detained until the owners of these packages come forward,” shouted one of the higher-ups as he starts to fill the trunk of the police car with the confiscated goods.

Although they questioned and threatened the travelers at the station, they could not impute any crimes to them as there was no way to prove who owned the pounds of food surely intended for the black market. It was impossible to connect the suitcases “traveling alone” with any individual. Oddly, the buses that cross the country are loaded with these possessions no one wants to claim as their own. Autonomous bags, sacks and boxes who will only find an owner if they make it to their destinations, if they manage to make it safely through the check points, the searches and dogs’ noses.

October 4, 2010

Mothers of the Plaza of August (2) / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo: Karel Poort

THE FAMILIES, after several days of walking along the beach, assured the mothers there was nothing more they could do to find their children, the sea would not give them back, and they managed to convince them to leave the coast and return home, but not before carrying out the final ritual: with their swollen feet and their hair disheveled by their restless hands because they had no other way to vent their anger, they knelt to watch the sea with resentment for having stolen their children.

While they prayed, the flowers thrown by the families were carried away by the waves. The godparents, for the protection of their godchildren, were gathering snails and throwing them in the sand, sprinkling them with tobacco smoke, honey and brandy; then they deciphered the writing and in full communication with the gods, broke a coconut hoping that this act would melt away the curses and frighten the bad spirits that might surround them. Then they cast into the sea the white mass that, contrasting with the blue of the water, attracted the fish who rushed to probe it. All to the desperate prayers and promises of the mourners.

The padrino said that in return for his care the saints asked for food to take with the blood of rooster and goat. Finally, they ended the ceremony, offering Yemayá a live duck which, frightened, rose over the waves, beating its wings in a desperate attempt to escape or to celebrate its freedom. The children, meanwhile, crouched in the water until the families were out of sight, to trap it and hide it in a sack along with the others, with the intention of re-selling it or taking it home for the family meal.

In the sand, meanwhile, the footprints of the children before they climbed aboard the rafts, still remained.

October 4, 2010

Bitter Cakes / Regina Coyula

This evening, I wanted to buy cakes from the man who hawks his goods in front of my house. I can’t remember the conversation verbatim, but this is the essence of it.

He built a house of masonry with a roof of light materials in Marianao, behind the Military Technical Institute. In 2004, coming back from the hospital together with his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son, he found his house had been demolished while their belongings where still inside. Some neighbours protested and tried to stop the abusive measure, considering the residents of the house were not home, and according to my pastry man, they were beaten and arrested. Since then they have appealed to the Popular Power, the Party and the Police, the latter being the one who demolished the house, without having received from them any document justifying the arbitrary measure taken against him and his family. The only explanation received – verbally – after his protests is that “it was illegal.” Astonished, I asked what they had done with the lot where his house used to be; I was flabbergasted when I heard it was now a garbage dump. Since he is accusing the three big aforementioned institutions of being responsible, no lawyers from the Legal Cooperative dare to bring the lawsuit, so I suggested he to turn to the Asociación Jurídica Cubana for help with his case. He thanked me, but he wants to wait and see if the process he is undertaking with a “pincho” will work for him.

Whatever the results, he is not going to get his house back, nor his baby’s crib, nor his cabinet, nor his kerosene kitchen, nor the years he’s been laboring trying to get an answer.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 2, 2010

The Male / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

I don’t consider myself a feminist because I try to avoid reactionary attitudes. That is to say, feminism in opposition to machismo seems too easy to me when in really my rights as a human being go far beyond my gender. Among some of my acquaintances, however, the issue is less complex: I am a feminist. We have a natural tendency to throw into the sack of the known anything that we do not understand, the extreme generalization of the exceptions that don’t fit the statistics.

In Cuba machismo works like racism, for the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party it simply “doesn’t exist.” In her book, The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir studied the points of convergence between the segregation suffered by black people and women; half a century later my country is living proof of her thesis. Among the “not racists” are those who assert that “not all blacks are the same” or this aberration, “this black man has a white soul.” Among the “no machismos” we find another version of the same phenomenon, “the woman is like us.” In other words, “men” are the species, and “we women” resemble them.

The other day I went to a party far from Central Havana and got lost on the way, one of the guests recognized me on the street and as he was in a taxi, he picked me up. When I got in he was in a lively conversation with the driver that I didn’t want to interrupt. The dialog went more or less like this:

“But man, I don’t let her go out alone. Why does she need to be running around out there by herself?”

“I agree.”

“Sometimes when I get home from work, I knock her around a little, just in case.” I suppose this comment was a joke, but I can’t prove it. And then he added, “Later she stands in front of the mirror and I tell her, ‘You see? I’m better looking than you.’”

It hit me like a brick, not only because of the bad taste of what appeared to be a joke, but for the fact that they both ignored my presence in the back of the car, big time. When we got to the house where the party was, the guy who had recognized me turned to me and asked, “Claudia, do you happen to have any money? You pay, I don’t have the exact change.”

October 3, 2010

Mothers of the Plaza of August (1) / Ángel Santiesteban

WHEN, IN AUGUST OF 1994, the generation of the children whom no one  wants was preparing their rafts along the Cuban coast, you could hear  the cries of the mothers who searched for their children over several  nights, and the sea, cloudy, let out a long roar, breaking against the  reefs.

Dawn broke and still they searched with the headlights on in the full  light of day. The sea only returned the empty boats to them and they  wanted the bodies so that they could bury them. I wonder what the use is of  burying someone after death and what the difference is between being  under the earth or under the water.

The truth is that some mothers had given up hope and looked nervously at their grandchildren they held by the hand, without knowing what to do. I refused to look at them so as not to fix in my mind the harrowing images that destroy optimism in even the most optimistic: to see the beach with these haggard women, dragging those barefoot and hungry children here and there without rest, their clothes wet from the fog and mist, watching the water as if they expected a miraculous moment when their children’s bodies would appear, floating; and at the same time seeing reflected in their eyes the fear of what was really happening, when they were confused by some log, or a piece of a sail, thrown back by the tide. Every time the sea threw back some object, they approached, desperate, fearing that the bad omen has come true, and their frightened cries of horror reached us.

Their eyes moved quickly, searching for a recognized detail and they passed the object from hand to hand, trembling, and digging their nails in, trying to disinter a moan or a breath. They tried to question an oar, a candle, a jar, sometimes a nylon, to discover what had happened to their children. “The mothers are still looking in the shade of a smile for their children,” José Martí had written on the first anniversary of the execution of the medical students in Havana, “even reaching out their arms to press them to their breasts, from their eyes torrents of bitter tears still falling.”

And these mothers, on the shores of the beaches, also cried for their innocent children.

October 2, 2010

Stories of My Neighbors (IV) / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo: Rómulo Sánz

HE WILL BE LOOKING FOR “residence” in the Czech Republic to achieve the dreams of a better life. She will travel, for “family reunification” to Miami. They have been a couple for four years. And in love. Their eyes shine just looking at each other. They have seen reflected in others so many who have left and know the dirty tricks that fate plays. But now they intend to cheat it. She needs, she pleads, that when she arrives at the airport he will no longer be on the island: she doesn’t have the strength to go first and leave him behind. He wants — he needs — to please her, so he took passage a day before her trip.

When they have managed to get out, then they will re-unite.

She will join her mother and sister waiting for her in Florida. He has two sons in Italy. Who denies that a man with money can not but love! His ex-wife broke off their marriage and dragged the children along on her adventure. Now he looks at photos while they play on the playground in Milan. He says he will not continue to collect photos as if his chest was an album. His sister is in Slovenia. His niece in Madrid. Friends everywhere.

Now he’s tired, and those who are abroad have joined together to pay for a marriage with an ancient Czech woman who has no money to pay for heating. The old woman has a son in Argentina and a grandson in Turkey. She wonders where her great-grandson will live.

The old woman is unaware that her great-grandson is already growing in the womb of a Kazakh raised in Russia, where she doesn’t want to return, where her parents would continue to mistreat her. Nor does she have the money to go anywhere. She doesn’t remember whom she slept with the night she got pregnant, but she suspects she will have a child who will never know. An old Icelandic has offered the Kazakh and her son a peaceful life on his island of ice.

This child who carries Kazakh and Czech blood will meet, in Sydney, the granddaughter of the man who lives in the Czech Republic. The dream of these two young people will be to go to live on an island in the Caribbean, called Cuba. To elope with his fiancée, the old woman’s great-grandson will need to steal a car to get to the port from where a boat will sail to Europe, and later another one to the Caribbean.

The two young people, a little stoned behind the wheel of the fleeing car, will not see the man from the Czech republic, now living in Sydney, crossing the street to get to the store. When the old woman’s great-grandson notices his silhouette it will be too late, the crash will throw him to the asphalt, his last thoughts will be of that girl with the sparkle in her eyes whom he lost touch with, shortly after arriving in Europe.

Meanwhile, those young people try to reach a port to get to the island of their dreams.

October 1, 2010