Who Said All Is Lost? / Ernesto Morales Licea


Anyone seeing all six-feet-eight of him go by, looking like a basketball forward, would never guess his true profession and what he cares about. Unless he puts on, obviously, the huge white coat he wears which marks him as a saver of lives.

His name: Fernando Mederos. For a long time he’s been the top hematologist in my city, devoting his life to treating children with blood cancer. A doctor with a radio-announcer’s voice, careful manners, and a positive energy that gives him a shocking sense of clarity.

In spite of all that, Mederos’ reputation has a sensational and more painful edge to it: he is the longest-living HIV-infected Cuban on the Island who is surviving without medical treatment. He became infected in 1978 in Guinea Bissau while on an internationalist mission.

To summarize his life in a few paragraphs is beyond my abilities. However, to say that this man was among the first diagnosed in Cuba, and that he suffered discrimination from ignorance, was held in HIV wards where, according to his own words, people were brought more to die than to be healed; to say that he was unable to practice the profession for which he had studied, and which he loves madly, for a very long time, perhaps sheds light on his background and history.

No one who passes through the narrow streets of my city imagines the enormity of the affronts, the infinite sadness, that this admirable man has suffered. Much less, those who depend on him for the life of their child, or who experience the sweetness he imparts every day while robbing death of another victim.


Among the tear-filled and desperate stories experienced when Hurricane Dennis hit my area, I heard one directly that I keep in my cache of reasons for, like Marti, having faith in the betterment of mankind and the uses of virtue.

The only brick house in a very poor neighborhood known as Revacadero, in the town of Media Luna, was home to five families who, in a single night, lost their roof and all their belongings.

One family, however, after the tremendous winds had died down, stood in the open without daring to approach a neighbor’s house which was serving as a temporary refuge. The reasons were religion and social distance.

The helpless family was made up of five Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had never made friends with the owners of the privileged house, who were devoted Catholics. I learned later that the antagonism between them had been passed down through generations with a hateful stubbornness.

But no natural phenomenon destroys the humanity and feeling of good men.

The pater familias of the Catholics, a carpenter with the thunderous name Ormán Villalón, refused to be separated from the five Protestants and their wreck of a house until he had convinced them, by sheer force of a will stronger than theirs, that he had blankets for them in his home. I remember the wariness in the eyes of those who entered, for the first time, what until then had been the inner sanctum of their enemies.

Just recently I heard from these two families whose gods have faced off in other times: for the last five years they have been like brothers. Living together in the same tiny town, divided by faith, but with a mutual thankfulness that their wounds have been forever healed.


He passed with unusual speed, from social hero to villain. As things happen in the land of fanatics.

He went from being the most admired and honored teacher at the primary school in my town, with a unique curriculum and the vocation of an evangelical, to being the incarnation of evil to the alleged defenders of truth.

His name: Enrique Martínez Fajardo, a 33 degree Mason, a man idolized by endless generations of Bayamo’s citizens educated under his aegis, who have never understood how “Mr. Martínez” could have been vaporized with such bitterness.

What was his sin? According to the anonymous accusation, a group disaffected with the system met in his lodge and disagreed with national policy. He was accused of founding ghost political parties, and instructing local dissidents. Even today, when he tells of it, Martínez Fajardo displays a bittersweet smile.

The most notorious acts of repudiation in this city were directed against him. The most massive, the most fierce. The end of the paroxysm was huge: leading the mob were his former students, children of eleven, who did not understand why, but they knew they now had to shout at and offend their beloved Mr. Martinez.

I remember this very well. Although by divine fortune I was not among those chosen for those terrible events, when I was still tiny I studied in the same school. The school, incidentally, that changed its anthem because the former one, which had always been sung with pride, had been written by Mr. Martinez.

Now he cannot go anywhere unnoticed. With his decades behind him, he stops at every corner to talk with a friend, a friend of his friends: Martínez Fajardo was the master of an entire city, and not even stigma nor acts of repudiation can erase that fact.

Nor has he abandoned the amusing laugh with which he tells his stories to the children, nor the wonderful smile that mocks the slander of which he was a victim. I, who never let him pass by me without stopping, have failed to notice any speck of hatred among his battered memories.


Alejo Carpentier wrote the most memorable paragraph in a Cuban novel. One paragraph that I have never read without feeling a shudder deep in my skin:

“And understand, now, that man never knows who will suffer and wait. Suffer and wait and work for people he will never know, and who in turn will suffer and wait and work for others who still will not be happy, because a man always craves happiness beyond the portion he has been granted. But the greatness of man is precisely his desire to improve. To impose on himself labor. In the kingdom of heaven there is no greatness to conquer, because there everything is an established hierarchy, with an unknown clarity, there is no end, no need to sacrifice, only rest and delight. Therefore, overwhelmed with grief and labor, beautiful within his misery, able to love in the midst of the plagues, man can only find his greatness, his maximum reach in the Kingdom of this World. ”

Carpentier was devastating.

The more I think, and the more I remember these worthy stories, the testimonies men close to me have presented to me in these days without faith, the more I wonder, with Fito, who said that all is lost while so many are willing to offer their hearts?

November 1, 2010

In Dante’s Ninth Circle / Ernesto Morales Licea

One of the merits which I believe can be attributed to the government of Raul Castro, since he took office on the island in 2008, is his obvious concern for the national economic condition.

Being conservative, I believe that in just two years the Army General has publicly shown far more interest and willingness to change the economic sector, than Fidel did in the entire last decade of his official mandate.

Timid, inadequate, naive measures? Perhaps. But the truth is that anything is preferable to state control.

This presidential concern could be motivated by two specific reasons:

1. The country facing Raúl bears no resemblance to that hotbed of exuberance and revolutionary fervor, to the society bursting with faith ,that his brother presided over for several decades.

The Army General has found a nation with obvious signs of distress, very high rates of illegality, battered productivity, and above all, he has found a nation with a dangerous discontent that can be seen in virtually all areas.

The endless exodus of athletes, doctors, artists; the degrading the cunning tricks by which Cubans are claiming Spanish nationality and a chance to leave the county; along with crime under the guise of common practices, are indisputable signs of this.

2. On the other hand, according to certain secret voices, the General has a pragmatic temperament, alienated from idyllic epics and social fantasies, which has led him try to first stop the unstoppable downfall of the national economy.

Of course, to speak of merit in this sense is too extreme. Or is it perhaps a case deserving of applause that a child respects his mother, or cares for her health. Can we speak of merit in citizen behavior that rejects theft or pedophilia? Are not these essential duties? I think that it is what is required of everyone, and does not merit recognition.

Similarly, I believe that Raúl’s effort to revive the Cuban economy is meritorious, but it is also true that this is a primary function, basic to any ruler. It is his obligation. Especially if we take as a starting point that any form of government in contemporary society should not have functions other than to ensure the proper performance of social processes, and to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizens.

This is not just me speaking. In the eighteenth century Jean Jacques Rousseau said it in a philosophical monument called The Social Contract (it shares with Das Kapital by Karl Marx, the status of the most famous and influential book of political philosophy ever written).

Another element to take into account in fairly assessing the current government’s will to transform the economy, is the responsibility that belongs to the Cuban State in this regard. In my view, it is no different from a surgeon who, after making a mistake in a particular patient’s surgery, decides to take a special interest in that patient’s progress and future treatment.

According to the wise words of a church authority I recently spoke with, “The greater share of power the ruler of a country accumulates, and the less opportunity ordinary citizens are given to decide their own destiny, the more responsibility, in the eyes of society and of history, is laid on he who holds the power.”

Under a system like Cuba’s, where about 95 percent of the jobs are working for the State, where the scope for managing personal finances is exactly zero, who can be held responsible for the chaotic situation presented by the national economy?

However, the main problem, which in my opinion can be seen behind this effort to inject vitality into a quadriplegic economy, is the lack of a clear perspective on the sense of where these measures are going to lead.

In economics there are no miracles. Nothing happens for no reason. All possible progress in a sector is the consequence of the implementation of sound policies in the medium or long-term, policies which translate into development.

In 1923, as a result of hyperinflation, the German mark was valued at 4.2 billion for every dollar. Though we Cubans understand what it means to change 25 Cuban pesos for one Cuban convertible peso (CUC), it is almost impossible to imagine what that 4.2 billion figure represented. Quoting the words of an eminent economist, “The German mark was worthless.”

The rapid revitalization of the country, what some then were calling the “German miracle,” was no miracle at all. It was the result of sound economic policies that led that ruined nation — which still had to go through another World War — to what it is today: an undeniable power.

In our continent, the case of two countries in particular, Brazil and Chile, confirm this principle. It was not divine benevolence, nor work at gunpoint, nor happy accident, which has brought these two nations on a poor continent to excel with their high standards of living.

It was, again, solid decisions in the field of economics, which have propelled Chile to become the only Latin American nation that can be considered to have joined the First World.

Why bring this up? Because at times it is clear that in Cuba the effort is not matched by clarity, and we know that the way to Hell is also paved with good intentions.

First, as a plan to revive productivity, they increased the retirement age by five years for workers across the country. Those who were almost ready to retire had to add years to their working lives. Workers, for the most part, unmotivated and discontented by the impossibility of prospering economically after 25 years of sacrifices.

But the new law was passed. We all knew that the public consultation was another game of democracy, with the same enthusiasm and seriousness of children playing house.

And while we’re talking about laws, we could also mention the “Pre-Criminal Dangerousness Index,” where they levy sanctions — including prison terms — to those who have no verifiable employment.

That is to say: they apply a penalty to people before they have committed a crime; in this case the pre-criminal behavior is not working and, therefore, having the propensity to commit a crime. (I’ve always thought that the plot of the movie Minority Report, by Steven Spielberg, where the Pre-crime Police stopped and arrested people before the crime happened, occurred to the brilliant director after his visit to Havana.)

It so happens that now — according to official reports of the event — President Raul Castro himself admitted, during his closing speech at the Ninth Congress of the Union of Communist Youth, that more than one million workers need to be laid off to increase productivity.

Stated clearly and without qualifications: one million people who do not produce will be put out on the street (in other times we would have said “in the cane fields”). The Cuban Workers Union has announced the cut of half a million jobs before April next year.

Against this background, it is impossible not to think: First, those who don’t work are fined or imprisoned; then those who have accumulated the most working years see the retirement age extended; and now, they throw a half million workers into the street in just a few months! But who is making these decisions for our country?

This revision of strategies is not about the will to change, about what can save us from the ruin we have been immersed in for so long. But it is a good first step. But no more than that. The drug addict who wants to ensure his future detoxification must first acknowledge and accept his addiction. But simply accepting it does not make him a “self-critical” individual. He must make good decisions to free himself from drugs.

I think there has never been a time like now, when the Cuban government has a real chance to change direction, to kick-start the transformation of our economy, to give Cubans the transfusion that is needed. But it would have to be done with real commitment and total precision.

It is worth remembering, as a subtle warning, that the worst place in Hell, the ninth circle, was reserved by Dante Alighieri in his “Divine Comedy” for traitors to the homeland in times of crisis, those who closed their mouths or crossed their arms.

September 16, 2010

Orphaned From Journalism (Part 3, Final) / Ernesto Morales Licea

I do not think there is better way to weigh the worth or the worthlessness of the media in a country, than to carefully analyze what they themselves do.

Like few other jobs in the world, journalism has a peculiarity which at times is its own worst enemy: its raison d’etre is public consumption. No other profession is as visible, as this mass communication, where millions of brains interpret and evaluate the product you have offered for their consideration.

In the case of the Cuban press, the manipulation of information, concealment of events of interest to society, and the total absence of critical views or in-depth analysis of the political and social framework that governs the destiny of the island, represent some of the characteristics that could be seen as increasingly visible endemic ills.

For each of these points, the same newspapers we read every day, the same National Television, offer endless arguments that at times, rise to the level of attacks on the intelligence of the media consumer.

Let’s look at a few examples.


On April 27, 2009, the Holguin newspaper posted an article signed by Petra Silva Cruz, entitled The Two Cuban Cervantes Prizes.

In this article, the author briefly reviews the life and work of two immortals of Cuban literature: Alejo Carpentier and Dulce Maria Loynaz. Both were awarded the highest recognition of Hispanic literature, the Cervantes Prize.

After perusing it, the reader is left stupefied by a brief — brief but of staggering proportions — omission, a paradox worthy of comic theater. It so happens that the Cervantes Prize has been won by not only two, but three Cubans. Three. And the third is a child of the same province as this newspaper, Holguin.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante was born in 1929 in the Holguin village of Gibara, which is also famous for supposedly being the first place that Christopher Columbus set foot in his discovery of the island

Cabrera Infante was awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1997, and his novel Tres tristes tigres (“Three Sad Tigers,” but renamed in translation: Three Trapped Tigers) is generally considered a masterpiece.

So why has this man, considered a master of contemporary Latin American narrative, been so blatantly robbed of his Cervantes Prize, and that by a newspaper which — carrying the absurdity a step further — represents the region of his birth?

It’s very simple. Because to be Cuban, according to the official press, is to support the system and the government. Both have the uncanny ability to strip the citizenship of those who are disaffected, successfully re-baptizing these people as “stateless” and “traitors” for their choice to disagree with the official party line.

As a consequence, therefore, there is no media outlet in this country where one can mention the name Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

But as it would be too much to ask the triumphalist propaganda not to refer to the two Cervantes winner who remained in the Island, the awarded tigers are reduced to two with no concern for the veracity of the information, an insult to journalistic decency.


Baseball World Cup in Havana, 2003. Fighting it out for a place in the semi-final were two opponents who played with real passion: Cuba and Brazil.

The course of the game was worthy of a Hollywood script, with spectacular plays, last-minute photogenic fly balls, and nerves stretched to the point of delirium.

Now Cuba has the opportunity to leave Brazil on the field: it is the 9th inning and the stellar Yulieski Gourriel reaches third on a triple setting off a euphoria from one end of the Island to the other.

But the game is not yet won.

Next up is another prodigious player. His name: Kendry Morales. (Currently he is the star first baseman of the Anaheim Angels in the American major leagues.)

His phenomenal home run stops physical time for Cuba’s fans. The film of his figure rounding the four bases is repeated ad nauseam on national television.

But something unexpected was about to happen: Shortly thereafter, Kendry Morales left the country en route to his dreams of playing in the American majors. His departure from the island took place just before the National TV sports journalist, Julia Osendi, was to present a flowery piece about current events in “revolutionary baseball” on the TV show The Roundtable.

I am sure it could not have been easy for her. She had to talk about the 2003 Baseball World Cup, and its most electrifying game: the one decided by Kendry with his spectacular home run. But in her report, she only mentioned the triple by Gourriel. The home run hit by the former player from Cuba’s Industriales team never happened.

To be allowed to present her work, Osendi had to vaporize the same athlete whom the entire country had loved with a passion, on behalf of a political precept that considered him a deserter and an enemy, and therefore someone who could not be mentioned in the media.

Judging by this story, once Kendry is erased from history, Yulieski Gourriel is still standing at third base, waiting for a cleanup hitter to drive him home. The game is not yet over.


I am sure that future researchers seeking to conduct a sociological assessment of this Caribbean island, through the newspapers preserved in libraries, television news reels recorded on old tapes or digital copies, will be faced with a dilemma: Accept as valid the historiographical material, adulterated, incomplete, and warped to accommodate the political interests of the national press in these times; or resort to the true chronicler of our recent history: Art.

In the History of Cuba that I want to read some day, it will be awarded to art, to the artists of this country, to provide the reference points and social analysis that by definition should have belonged to journalism.

Why? Because it is only through a handful of films and documentaries, reckless songs (which would cause their singers to be banned), irreverent novels (whose authors would be officially banned), that a Cuban can find a representation — good and bad — that he can identify with.

Only through plays which would be quickly be censored, through art exhibitions closed down, has an entire country managed to express itself in a more or less public way without the support of a responsible and incisive press.

What has brought this about? A substitution of identities, where, even though it is art that has been tainted at times with too much social criticism, Cubans have found voices that finally say what the media has been shamefully silent about.

Cubans have had to flock to theaters to hear the incendiary words of a homosexual discriminated against, expelled from his country, for daring to prefer strawberry ice cream over chocolate. They must read the novels of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, the stories of Ángel Santiesteban, the testimonies of Amir Valle, to find a reflection of reality flooded with beggars, prostitutes and rafters, because from national television’s viewpoint there are only permanent headlines of exemplary workers and production plans far exceeded.

The conclusion in this respect was given to me by the singer-songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer in an interview that I conducted just two years ago. To my question about why one finds more information about his rift with the Cuban government than about his musical career, the artist replied:

“I accept it as an inevitable phenomenon: in places where the press doesn’t play its role, and doesn’t say the things that have to be said about politics or the economy, people substitute values, and they approach art to find the news they cannot find in journalism. Consensus sites are created in art, while they should have been created in other areas.

“To change that would require politicians to do what they have to do. And journalists and economists do what they have to do. And then it would not be necessary for Pedro Luis Ferrer to say in his concerts and interviews what, by definition, should have been theirs to say.”


A people orphaned from journalism can not be healthy enough to build a just society. A society which is, as Jose Marti, the Master, said, “With All and For the Good of All.”

A public orphaned from public debate, creates a place where the alternative media (blogs, underground musicians, underground television serials) have gone on to become essential for the information-hungry city, which has no real tools to generate plurality of thought. Much less democracy.

The dull and obedient journalists in Cuba carry on their shoulders the responsibility for what we now, regretfully, see: a society incapable of civilized debate. Those journalists must take the blame for the mental deformation that has made Cubans a people without the will to value even our most elemental human rights.

I believe that within a people so orphaned from journalism, the voices from alternative platforms, with huge dangers and threats, with good decisions and regrettable deviations, have carried the weight of national and international information, and one day could be accepted as the bright spot in the darkness, the Yang within so much Yin.

I refuse to be pessimistic, but around me, for now, I can not see any other examples of real journalism, free and consistent with the social reality.

September 1, 2010

Orphaned From Journalism (Part 2, Almost Final) / Ernesto Morales Licea

If someone were to ask me, what is the principal weakness, the most glaring problem suffered by Cuban journalism today, I believe I could summarize it without hesitation: It doesn’t resemble Cubans.

It doesn’t resemble anyone. Neither the audience to whom it is addressed, which recognizes less and less these triumphalist news items they read and hear everywhere, nor does it resemble even those who fabricate it. I, along with Leonardo Padura, also believe that there are great journalists in this country — as there are great practitioners in nearly all our social spheres — but they lack a medium in which to practice.

Bearers of the word are not lacking. What nobody sees around them is a democratic platform in which the word is free.

A first element to consider is the distance between the reality reflected in the media, and what every Cuban knows from his own experience starting from the time he opens his eyes in the morning.

The newspapers talk about exceeding targets, labor efficiency, clever methods of cultivation in agriculture, and the same reader who follows the news with his eyes, then has to ask himself through what loophole did the food evaporate, that food the media promised would not be missing from his table.

Cuban Television has patented a macabre cliche it repeats every year with manic precision: All the conditions are guaranteed for the start of the new school year.

We’re already coming to the end of August; it’s only a question of days until the phrase is heard on National Television News.

The journalists, adapting their rigorous questions to comply with the directives of whatever sphere, without going into great detail, without conducting an interview, reproduce the complacent (and often false) words of some officials who announce the upcoming opening of Cuban schools will occur without any mishaps.

What then do the hundreds of thousands of students who walk the halls of the high schools, the universities, find on the first day of the school year? They find a desolate landscape lacking chairs, tables and blackboards; unmotivated teachers discouraged by the lack of current literature needed for the curriculum.

The list of similar differences is endless.

But I think there is a central issue that, in my view, is the principal fault of Cuban journalism, and its professionals.

Zero coverage

How many issues vital to the public welfare and national public opinion have been ignored by the journalists in this country? How much information has been withheld from the citizens who consume what the media tells them as their only possible way of understanding the national and international reality? How unprotected have national analysts left a people? People whom they should defend and protect with their questions, faced with their totalitarian leaders entrenched in power for life?

A perfect example of this would be the uncompleted history of an event that is taking place on the Island today, and about which the rest of the world possesses much more information than the people who live where the event is taking place.

This is the release of prisoners of conscience imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. The well-known 75.

What has been the media coverage inside the country of this event which would be socially important in any country in the world? None. Zero. The totality of information available to Cubans from the officially controlled media, has been the trifling note published by the Catholic Church in the Granma newspaper, when the prisoner release was made official. A note, to paraphrase Garcia Marquez, whose wording served not to tell but to hide.

The international media reported extensively today on the release process — and later the exile — of these independent journalist; and in Cuba, the country’s owners continue to speak of apocalyptic nuclear threats, the tension in the conflict with Iran, and books about the guerrilla adventure in the Sierra Maestra.

Stunning, startling disinformation.

Three Examples of the Information of Bewilderment

Taking as a reference point that note published by the Cuban Church on page 2 (inside) of the newspaper Granma, we can deconstruct a trend in the media that has been verifiable for too many years.

Something we could call information about the confusion.

It would be presented something like this: an incident takes place on this Island of Events. The official media (which is all the media there is) look elsewhere, and Cubans, well trained in the exercise, must appoint themselves — it’s never been said better — to clandestinely ferret out the desired information.

However, later, for reasons of political expediency, the establishment decides to respond to some kind of international media pressure. And does so from its media. That is: from ALL its media.

But as connecting to the Internet is an impossibility for the reader, he can only read Granma or Juventud Rebelde (Young Rebel) every morning, sometimes wondering what they’re talking about in these articles which, logically, make no sense.

Here are three recent examples.

1. One day young Eliecer Avila from Las Tunas, from a packed room at the University of Information Sciences (UCI), challenges the president of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada. First the BBC and then the whole world are talking about it: a young computer science student had the unfathomable courage to ask uncomfortable questions, and to publicly demonstrate his disagreement with the head of his parliament.

Who heard about this in Cuba? Only owners of a computer, with a USB port-connected DVD player, the friends of friends who could access the video. The Cuban press remained absolutely mute.

When they wanted to “disprove” before the whole world that there had been any dissent from this young peasant activist, National Television headed off at full speed to his eastern hometown and stood him before the cameras where he confirmed his support for the Revolutionary process.

The problem was, he was providing follow up to an event that had never been reported on national television.

2. In 2007, a prominent intellectual signing himself James Petras published, together with Robin Abaya, an essay entitled Cuba: Continuing Revolution and Contemporary Contradictions, a serious analysis of the Cuban reality.

Both Petras and Abaya are recognized as comitted intellectuals of the Left. But like so many academic progressives, they tried to defend a social model which is impossible to subject to rational thinking.

Ignoring the stagnation of a country that, like the pillar of salt going back to Sodom has not advanced for decades, is something that requires great persistence from mentally handicapped people, but not from men with their own ideas.

But we all know that admitting criticisms, wherever they come from, has not been a tradition in this land of dreams.

A few days later, Fidel Castro reappeared on the front pages of all the newspapers, and made speeches on all the radio and television newscasts, with a Reflection entitled The Super-revolutionaries, which was an apparent reaction to James Petras’ and Robin Abaya’s article.

The huge percentage of Cubans, completely uninformed about what he was talking about, totally unable to access the original article, could not understand what this exposition of the Comandante was all about.

3. Last, but not least: A poor man dies a grisly death in a hospital in my country. He dies of hunger. Having begun his strike from Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey, 86 days later he stops breathing in the General Hospital of this same city. His name is now sadly famous, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Of him, of his martyrdom while he was still alive, very few Cubans knew anything. A few activists from opposition parties knew of him, as did the privileged ones who have access to the Internet. No one else.

The rest of us Cubans living on the island learned of this painful case more than a week after his death, when National Television received the order to counter the huge wave of international protests that were beginning to spread with an awesome force.

I was one more of those taken by surprise, one more of those dismayed with what seemed like something taken from a horror fantasy; and this had just happened right under our noses without a single decent journalist being able to inform his people of the disgrace. A national journalist delivered an embarrassing report on primetime news which simply slandered Zapata Tamayo, manipulated his story and bent the news to the will of the journalist.

The reporter told us that Zapata had been treated at the hospital, never mentioned that he had been on a hunger strike, nor even that he was a prisoner. It was a story that began with the last days of a man whose previous acts we were not given to know.

A journalistic aberration

I cannot describe today the feelings of pain and overwhelming impotence that overcame me after contemplating this material. Minutes after seeing it I wrote an article titled The Death That Never Should Have Been, which is still circulating on the web.

I believe that was the decisive article that led to my expulsion from Cuban institutional journalism.

Orphaned From Journalism (Part 1) / Ernesto Morales Licea

Just recently I discovered with regret that I had only one task pending in my passage through the institution of Cuban journalism. A yearning that had been building since my feverish college days maybe five or six years ago.

That is, to attend as a delegate a National Congress of the Union of Cuban Journalists. A difficult undertaking for someone who was not linked to this organization of the Cuban press, and who was not a member of the Union of Young Communists.

It so happens that these congresses stir in me an irrepressible curiosity which, clearly, I can no longer satisfy first hand. Like secret organizations, like the rituals of mystical sects, this meeting where specialists would gather to discuss or analyze a profession that does not exist in their country, seems to me an exotic thing worthy of having lived through and immortalizing in marble.

It would be the same to me if Cuba decided to hold a National Symposium on Eskimo Culture.

To speak without shame about journalism, in a country that has killed its essence, can only be understood as a cruel irony. In any case, it has not lost its attraction for me, nosy person that I am.

I think had I been able to get myself a seat I would have played an amusing game of suppositions. The game would have been this: guess, behind the poses of the meeting, which of these royal colleagues were the ones who thought of themselves as the paladins of information in Cuba, the ones who slept soundly thinking themselves the defenders of the public truth; and which only played the role to survive, knowing in their heart of hearts that real journalism was much more than obeying directives without any opportunity to ask questions.

Because yes, contextualizing a phrase by Pedro Luis Ferrer, there is a question I haven’t stopped asking myself from the moment I became a communications professional in Cuba: are many of the journalists of this country aware of the past that awaits them?

Are they aware of what it will mean, in the future of conciliation that I want to imagine without bitterness or violence, to read what they wrote, full of lies or hiding the truth, repeating the slogans of the tabloids; hearing themselves on the radio energetically supporting decisions which, in the privacy of their own homes, they criticized just as much as everyone else? Seeing themselves applauding in front of the television cameras while listening to speeches they didn’t even want to attend?

I’m speaking not from the point of view or distance of someone who has long since lost contact with our reality. I speak with the knowledge of someone who knew the circumstances, who until just a few months ago talked ad nauseum with my journalist colleagues, believing in our bonds of friendship and listening to revealing testimonies about the blatant and cruel hypocrisy that surrounds journalism in my country.

Any time you evaluate a phenomenon as complex and diverse as communication, in a country of exceptional conditions, multiple possibilities always present themselves, inviting us to dissect the various parts of Cuban journalism. Looking inside one of the leading causes — I say this without hesitation — of the strictures of thought that the society in which I live suffers today.

Just a starting point

I don’t have to make any special effort to remember the initial event that made me question, honestly, the world I was about to join. It happened in an editing booth at the local television station in my province. The year was 2004. I had just turned twenty.

A well-known colleague was editing some material about the single comparison most recreated and manipulated in our national history: Cuba, gray and weighed down, before 1959, vs. Cuba resplendent after 1959. The voice over emotionally narrated the transition, from darkness to light.

But an unforeseen delay threatened the program: the presumably ancient images of the impoverished nation were nowhere to be found. They had looked through all the files, in vain. The documentary had to air the following day.

That journalist’s solution is something I will never forget. She probably will.

She extracted a cassette from among her things. She mounted it and told the editor to capture what came next. Before us was a succession of images of malnourished children with distended bellies, ruined houses threatening to collapse on the camera itself, mud and misery, hunger in hundreds of faces, people in rags, skeletal dogs eaten by scabies.

I was struck dumb. Not by the gruesome impression of the scenes before me, but by my sense of what the journalist was about to do.

The images had been taken (I believe for internal consumption within certain political circles) a week ago in a rural village called Rio Cauto in the province of Granma. The color of the DVC Pro camera they had been taken with revealed their currency. This was no problem, however, for the cubicle with the latest editing software.

Removing the color was the work of seconds. The editor said nothing. Soon the same hungry faces emerged, the same third world landscape, but now in the black and white of a distant past, to which, according to the material, we should never return.

The voice overs of that journalist, now an icon in the local press, spoke of the misery of living on the island before 1959, while images taken just a few miles from home the week before, flashed on the screen. Minutes later, the montage displayed the rebirth of the country in colorful scenes of smiling healthy children and the openings of new buildings.

I didn’t have the courage to watch the film, the following day, when it aired in primetime.

August 22, 2010

From The Other Side of the Ruins / Ernesto Morales Licea

Every time I’ve heard the stories of prolonged trips and family separations from some foreign friends, I have come, inevitably, to the same question: why does it affect us Cubans so cruelly to be separated from our friends and loved ones?

I know cases of young Europeans who study at universities abroad, or Latin Americans who are working in the United States and stay to live there permanently. I’ve never felt in their testimony the same yearning, heartrending, suffering, the same agony, that the exiles from my country share.

To analyze the causes of this fact takes us along complex routes where the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of our nation’s history played a decisive role.

However, one of the practical reasons that I constantly return to could also explain it: we Cubans have lived so long together, so close to each other, always in the same house, that the concept of family and homeland has a very narrow scope for us.

Cubans in this era, with rare exceptions, are born and live their entire adult lives in the same household. There are two, three, sometimes four generations under one roof.

Moreover, from our earliest consciousness, we take for granted the almost total inability to move within the country or to know other parts of the world. And so part of what we take as “ours” — part of what is restricted in so many cases — is the portion of the universe we see around ourselves every day.

Moving house, separating ourselves from the family we were born into and shared all the years of our lives with, has a devastating impact whose scope would be incomparably more limited if Cuban existence were different.

That is why the phenomenon of housing in this country has a connotation that goes beyond what is normal at times. To talk about a home in Cuba, carries a heavy weight of meanings that make the issue an abyss of possibilities.

It is remarkable, the efforts, submissions, blackmail and suffering that are withstood in this land by those with access to the divine privilege of four walls to sleep within; and even the extent to which there is an absence of furniture has conditioned Cuban society as we know it today.

This, however, is not the particular point that I want to discuss. That is, I will not try to describe the situation of an area that constitutes one of the cornerstones of the misery that has overwhelmed my country. Others, with notable success –filmmakers, writers, photographers, fine artists — have already taken this on.

I prefer, rather, to turn my head in another direction, looking across the ruins and asking myself where have so many resources been spent, the materials, the labor, that could have been used to solve, or at least alleviate, the Dantesque condition of Cuban homes.

In what fantasy world of the absurd, and of government mistakes, are the resources of thousands of families invested? Resources that could be used to build decent housing, or to repair their battered walls?

I wanted to make a “leaflet,” an incomplete and epidermal record of my surrounding reality. Every Cuban, from his environment, could provide their own testimonies of governmental irresponsibility in managing resources, however, those that I refer to highlight, in my city, not only the shocking callousness, but also provide a clear reference for how strong the habit is, on this island, of thinking of anything and everything except the real welfare of the population.


About four years ago an event took place in Bayamo that transcended the boundaries of silence that the State imposes on such happenings: the regular and brutal eviction of “illegal” settlements in semi-rural areas of the city.

It affected hundreds of people who, without the possibility of a dignified life in the country, tried to come nearer to the provincial city in search of better working conditions and livelihoods. They had constructed shacks. They had adapted old walls of warehouses and sheds, as a starting point to began building their houses through shear hard work.

One morning, after stern warnings about the impossibility of remaining there, the authorities woke them up with bulldozers and police cars. They were firmly evicted and their third world homes were torn down.

Then, at just that time, a project had been approved in this province which I believe holds the laurel of being the most disconcerting waste of recent times.

It was to build a replica of the birthplace of our Apostle, in each municipality in Granma province. That’s right: 13 Martí cottages; one within reach of everyone.

The idea, as I heard it, came from the then First Secretary of the Communist Party in the agricultural town of Yara. This innovative manager decided to go down in local history as a contributor to an educated and sensible idea. Unfortunately, the most insane and incomprehensible projects, always arise among the party leaders and their enthusiastic followers.

Some are not even finished. Half were abandoned for various reasons. Others were inaugurated with great fanfare (read: with television cameras and partisan applause), and now nobody knows what to use them for. And others, such as the notorious case of my city, varied from the original idea for the sake of the necessary “savings”: instead of the entire house, only the facade was erected. The door opens inward to a semi-vacant space, where it rarely some cultural event is held; it also serves the neighbors for midnight mating, and for an overnight shelter for drunks.


Bayamo must have, in all of Cuba, more shelters per mile than any other area. It’s a fact about which I would like to sure, but I venture to advance and affirm it.

I greatly doubt that smaller cities can boast a greater number of underground pathways for refugees of war, as are hiding today in this city of three hundred thousand inhabitants.

According to the Chief-of-the-Works of one of the most comprehensive and extensive shelters of this provincial capital (who, of course, requested complete anonymity), investors could not even give me the exact amount of cement, iron rods, wood and aluminum used in construction of these underground passages.

“It turns out that building this whole thing started in the early ’90s – precisely when it was said that during The Special Period, the Yankees were going to attack, and so much time has been invested that the workers and supervisors have changed so we can’t measure the cost in the real sense. ”

Because yes, that’s the point: according to the official talking points our Cuba is the permanent target of a U.S. invasion, ergo we must prepare for a “war of all the people.”

To this end, and under that slogan, million in resources have been devoted to testing military readiness in the famous “Days of Defense.” And millions of pesos in materials are used, in addition, to build these “tropical bunkers” which one day may be photographed or filmed, to reveal the size of the belligerent folly of those who made the decisions.


In 2005 a natural phenomenon known as Hurricane Dennis was merciless, among others, to the poorest inhabitants of the south eastern region of Cuba.

In Granma province, residents of coastal towns as Pilón, Niquero, Media Luna (damp villages where a simple glance reveals the thinness of men and animals) savagely lost their homes at dawn on the day Dennis chewed everything in his path.

It happened in July, a vacation month, and I preferred to spend my days to contribute what I could to the recovery of my fellow countrymen who were living in an inferno of insane proportions. I knocked on the doors of the bishop of my city and introduced myself as a young non-Catholic who, in his life, had entered the parish perhaps twice, but who wanted to join in the Church’s efforts to help the homeless.

Two days later I was in a truck surrounded by young Catholics, armed with tents and clothes collected from everyone, and donated by American churches en route to those villages that nature had destroyed without mercy.

I remember the yellow fields, tree trunks and fences pulled out of the ground. I remember the faces of the dispossessed who were on the road, and looks of sadness that exhibited even by the stray dogs. I remember the despair, the terrible feeling of madness, suicide, starvation, which weighed after each image that we contemplated from the car.

However, something caught our attention in a special way, to the point of asking the driver to stop.

Some of us got out: we wanted to prove that our eyes deceived us. Before us, on one side of the highway to Pilón, surrounded by ruined dwellings and peasants sleeping outdoors, a brigade of builders, obeying orders from above, were using large quantities of cement to re-erect hundreds of plaques with the faces of those who had assaulted the Moncada Barracks.

Before the cyclone, they had “decorated” the road with images of revolutionary heroes, and large billboards with ideological messages. Now that those affected were sinking into depression they had to rapidly erect the fervent propaganda.

I remember asking one of the buildings, containing my outrage under a dismissive tone, why couldn’t that same cement be used to manufacture homes for the homeless who watched them work in silence. His answer made me bow my head:

“I wish I could, muchacho, I would first build a house for me. My wife and my three children are sleeping under the boards that were my ceiling. I also lost my home.”

Even today, five years later, an unknown number of those affected have failed to repair the damage. Some have raised their shacks again, but never managed to get hold of another TV, another refrigerator. Many have not even been able to raise the shack of wood framing, cement and zinc where they spent the nights before the fury of Dennis in 2005.

But the highway to their devastated villages in the eastern Pilón, displays with an embarrassing pride, hundreds of immense billboards, hundreds of rectangles of cement from which the face of a martyr looks into infinity. The face of a man who probably would never have allowed his image to steal the materials from which a worker, a farmer, someone mistreated by life and by their bosses, might manage to find a bit of comfort for his bones.

October 25, 2010

With a Homeland, but Without a Master / Ernesto Morales Licea

On the morning of Wednesday, July 7th of this year 2010, I received a peculiar visitor in my house: actually, I received him on the porch.  I invited him to sit down, next to me, on the small bench that delimits my home’s garden.  The living room in the house, the interior of my living space, is only destined for friends or people I don’t know but whose presence I have solicited.

Since this visitor didn’t meet either of those two conditions, he was kindly received on the porch.

His name is not important right now.  Only, that it was the official from the State Security whose visit I earned on “my own merits” since my first texts appeared on the web (at that time this blog was not thinking about being created).  No rebel, no one who stands up, no honest man, no inquirer stays in my Cuba of today without his own respective official.  It is a right we all have.

Well, my Security official’s visit had a concrete purpose that morning:

–          I’ve come to negotiate with you – he said, with sarcasm.

I want to make something clear: unlike the bird-brains they have assigned to counteract this blog, poor devils with no brain nor meritorious reasoning, the official who “attended” to me was the most decorous they could have assigned me.  Someone with good manners, knowledgeable about his occupation, cordial when the time demanded and energetic when my words offended his institution. He was not stupid, a good debater.  Someone who, if we took  away his occupation of persecutor of political miscreants, and overcame that innate arrogance of those who take advantage of the impunity that the authority grants them, would be one of the people whom I would receive in the living room of my home.  He could have been my friend.

So, we moved on to what he was coming to negotiate.

–          What advantage do I get from your business offer? I asked, in a funny way.

–          A Visa to the United States – he said, proud of his judgment.

I smiled, once again.  It was ten in the morning, and the dark circles under my eyes certified the 500 miles from Havana to Bayamo that I had traveled the night before.  I was coming from my interview at the United States’ Interest Section in Cuba.  They had just granted me, good until this coming December, a Visa in order to be able to reunite with my family members in Miami.  A Visa which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with my political posture, something that my official admitted as if known by all: I would leave Cuba just like another member of a family to reunite.  Just that.

The juicy “business” they proposed was elemental:

–          Behave- he said fluidly – and we won’t put any barriers towards your leaving the country.

You should understand: behave meant, in a more direct language: stop writing.

I can’t hide how enjoyable, grotesquely, that proposition was to me.  Benevolence in exchange for my silence.  The approval of the owners of this beautiful island, in exchange for my “good behavior”.

I don’t remember my exact answer. I think I faked that I would evaluate his proposal, very interesting and beneficial, really.

I had already evaluated it, actually.  Two days later, on July 9th, I posted the “Prologue to the Little Brother”.  I had just founded this space that counts today, after three and a half months, 31 published articles.

Looking back on what my life has been in the past three months, I must admit that it has had more charm and sleepless nights, more stress and delight, than ever before in my 26 years.  And above all, truth be told: more danger than I ever thought possible, like an entirely free man, in this country which I love from one end to the other.

I have experienced the brilliant pleasure of sitting down to write, each day, with the enviable sensation that everything I say is my deepest truth.  A truth crowded with subjectivities, points to analyze, polemic and personal opinions.  But in the end, a truth that, as I said in that Prologue, does not admit blindfolds nor does it tolerate disadvantages.

I have discovered, thanks to my decision to be a journalist as independent from the official press as from the sensational opponents, the real meaning of freedom of speech.  What I have published on this blog has only been approved by my conscience, my aesthetic standards and my ethical perceptions.  I have not asked anyone for accountability, I have not asked anyone for acceptance.

I have learned to value, and to respect, the fear of those who stay quiet out of necessity, from feeling defeated before the immensity of the retaliations: “I have a family, Ernesto; I have a son who I need to support.  I feel an immense envy for what you are doing, I would love to be able to do it also, but if they fire me from work like they did, how would I feed my family?”  I nod, and I give them a hug, even though I can’t defeat my depression all day, and I thank them for sneaking in, in the refuge of their homes, a memory stick that will go from one hand to another, copying and reproducing the texts that I publish here every three days.

And I have also learned, how couldn’t I, the size of hate and of repression in almost all its forms.  And I underline “almost”, because except physical violence and the gray bars of prison, I have already experienced on my own flesh, in my individual essence, the high price implied by being consistent with the Marti perception which prays: “Liberty is the right that each man has to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy” in my totalitarian Cuba.

Many friends have been warned, they have been terrified on account of me: “If you mix with a social scourge like him, you will be treated as such.”  Of course: many have abdicated my friendship.  They have put our links on standby until these times of bad smell and pests pass, even though it is likely that by that time, their friendship will be hollow, unnecessary.

My telephone, tapped with aberrant notoriety, has only remained in the address books of a few suicidal friends.  A virtuous painter, a Buddhist engineer, an Argentinean soccer fan on his wheel chair, and another handful of Bayameses (people from Bayamo) who might even fear for their own existence, but are more fearful of surviving without the irreducible friendship that we have known how to nourish for so many years.

Too many slanders have been raised against me.  Dirty, vile hits, for which I was always ready, but even then they don’t stop surprising me, and lead me to question myself about the limits of human degradation.

The founders of so much barbarity and so much social exclusion should have to answer to their children, to their grandchildren, all their questions.

That is why I, who maintain my friends on the verge of collapse, who have had to make my family lose their sleep, who have gained the disapproval of many for putting my stability, my personal security at risk, I ask them for forgiveness for my acts, but with humbleness I confess: I would not change a single second of these last three months of my life, for all the peace and all the protection of the planet.

I also confess, for whoever takes me as their enemy – they are not my enemies: I don’t have, inside of me, space for enemies; nor would I make any deals with them, nor with them would I ever conduct any business that included a single one of my articles,  one of my words.  I don’t gamble with my truth.  I am neither a blackmailed brain nor pen.

The longing to reunite with my family again, who now live in real freedom, is immense, and for that I have been willing to do almost anything.  Except biting my lips.  If the final punishment for being consistent with myself is imprisonment inside this green Island, I will accept it with the dignity of someone who still has much to do, much to write, much to live in this country that made me, with pride, a Cuban.  I will accept staying on this side of the ocean, with a homeland, but without a master.

Someone who is sheltered by books, by music, by scriptures and the unconditional love of his partner; someone who saves in his chest of relics the friendship of the incorruptible, the sincere; someone to whom God gifted with an immense spirituality to feed him during  harsh times, during sufferings, during the death of loved ones and the betrayal of friends for silver coins; to conclude, someone who deep inside has the antidote against all hate; someone like this cannot be repressed nor frightened.

Liberty is a spiritual state said Mahatma Gandhi, and I do not have words to thank him for the favor of giving me that maxim as a life premise.

At three and some months from writing this kamikaze blog, in which each time I offer the best and worst of me, I do not stutter in thanking all who dedicate 5 minutes of their time on reading it, and whose good energies inevitably come to me; nor do I stutter when thanking myself for taking this, the most assertive and committed decision of my young years of existence.

Translator: Angelica Betancourt

October 16, 2010

Sex, Truths and Video Cameras / Ernesto Morales Licea

Nobody knows her name or the sound of her voice. Except for her family or close friends, her individuality doesn’t matter.

And yet she is a kind of atypical national celebrity. Her image has traveled the island from one end to the other, smuggled, multiplied by infinity in hundreds, thousands of personal computers and storage devices.

Currently she’s not a student: she was expelled from school where she intended to graduate in Computer Science a few years ago. Her body shows the perfection of youth in just over thirty digital photos available to any Cuban who owns a computer.

“I didn’t do it for money,” she explains. The occasion just presented itself, and I thought it was fun.  The person who took them was my boyfriend at the moment. There was no money in it.”

“And what did he tell you he was going to do with the photos?” I ask.

“Nothing. We were playing around and he took the camera out and I started to pose.  But it wasn’t something we planned or prepared, it’s something you can notice in the photos, it was just spur of the moment. When we finished having sex we looked at them and he told me he was going to save them on the computer. Then he gave me a copy of all of them. But he made the copies on a computer at school and that’s where they spread from.

She doesn’t doubt my knowledge of these images. She knows that I, just like a thousand other people – mostly men — have seen them on a personal computer, some have been stored with zeal and have been a secret inspiration for desperate single men.

This girl from Camagüey is twenty-three years old. Her beauty is impressive for a young girl from a working class family, without extremes of skin care or silicon devices. She asks me, though her body is better known than that of the Giraldilla, not to mention her name. I nod. It’s the only privacy she has left.

In 2005 she was another one of those purged from the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) in Havana.

After an explosion of digital pornography spread out from the center to the rest of Cuba, the managers had to invest more time in meetings and disciplinary measures than in teaching classes.

The scandal had gotten out of hand like never before in Cuban society.  Dozens of young men and women from every state of the country had been photographed and filmed in erotic poses, semi-naked, completely naked, or during full sexual acts with endless imagination.

The existence of a national or foreign market for this type of merchandise was proven in some cases.  In others, it was only about pure enjoyment of new ways of sexuality, which extended throughout the population by the negligence of whoever saved the material; simply out of desire.

“When we had taken about twenty photos was when he went and looked for the other girl,” she tells me.

Because in fact, the peculiarity of her images is the bisexual practice displayed.  While in the initial pictures it was only about her in diverse positions, including oral sex with her boyfriend (who never appears), later she surrenders to carnal pleasures with another young girl, a roommate, according to what she tells me.

“Are you resentful?” I ask.

“Listen, I think that the only thing that honestly hurt me was getting expelled from school – she says. “I patched it up fast with my parents, they know that I’m young, but that I am also an adult, and I make my own decisions.”

“Tell me something, how have you been able to handle the publicity that those intimate pictures have attracted?”

Her answer, in this case, seemed to me so sincere it scared me:

“Look, that doesn’t worry me one bit. And you know why? , because what I did on there, and what everyone sees, is what the majority of people, especially young people, are doing when they are intimate. Or what many haven’t done but would love to do. I don’t have to be ashamed for something that doesn’t harm anybody. If I had killed someone, if I had stolen, that would be something else.  But for having sexual relations with a man and a woman before a digital camera, not at all.”

I am from the same generation as she is, and despite it all, I cannot get over being surprised by her shameless declaration. The phenomenon seems a bit striking to me. I think about the sexuality I began to discover during adolescence, and I’m aware of the notable differences that exist with today’s practices.

Not only because ten years ago I had never seen a digital camera, not even up close.  But also because not too long ago, the behavior of the most sexually active people still had an intimacy, hidden from the public, like something sacred and inviolable.


His name represented a watershed for the understanding of the human sexual behavior, early 20th Century.  Alfred Kinsey, a North American biologist and sexologist, was one of the precursors of the so-called Sexual Revolution that came a bit later.

Nobody, before him had spoken with such freedom and naturalness about the phenomena which were perceived by the public as pathological deprivations, or human psyche deviations.  Let’s say masturbation, (feminine especially, a subject which has not yet overcome its taboo) let’s say homosexuals and bisexuals.

“Kinsey’s Scale,” one of his most fundamental contributions, understands all the steps that, according to the scientist, explain human interests in the sexual area, with its nuances and variations.

In his books “Male’s Sexual Behavior” (1948) and “Female’s Sexual Behavior” (1953), affirmations like the following could be read: “Nothing that takes place between two adults, during their intimacy, and with the consent of both parties, can be considered sick or unacceptable. The supposed immorality is another social farce.

Also, provocations as such: “If all human beings would come together at a stadium, for example, and each one confessed aloud their sexual fantasies, they would all discover that what they assumed to be individual barbarities, in reality area the thought of by almost everyone.”

I think about this, now that the sexual map of my country seems to have changed colors. It is notoriously changing. To see it, it is enough to sharpen the senses. It is enough to put together evidence, declarations. To study with a magnifier the reality that surrounds us, to discover that, to the surprise of many, while in the sociopolitical plan the Island is still the same as a few years ago, Cuban sexuality has experienced an evident transformation, especially in its younger population.  Mrs. Karelia Cobas Ordaz, Master in Sexology and author of a soon-to-be published book about new challenges towards sexual education in adolescents, also recognizes the same thing:

“Despite it not being a private phenomenon in Cuba at all,” she tells me, “this type of freedom is very interesting in our country because of the fact that in other aspects, Cuban society has barely changed. For example: In a country as sexual as this one, places to go on a date for occasional relationships are almost nonexistent, nor does pornography sell as a legal product. So it seems very unexpected that, under these conditions, the sexual practices in the young community have experienced such a notable change.”

She also affirms something very important: according to the data included in her Master’s thesis, the occasional lesbian relationships of young girls between the 18 and 27 years of age, in Cuba, surpasses by a few percentages the data retrieved in studies about sexuality in countries like Chile, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.

According to Cobas Ordaz this doesn’t reveal an increase in the young lesbian population, but an openness to practices, especially feminine, where curiosity about of new ways of pleasure, lead to its acting out, for example, sexual threesomes where relations between women are frequent.

About the subject of “advertising” sexual intimacy, the specialist affirms:

“It’s a subject that Sexology in Cuba has pending in a special way.  Is evident that modesty, the fear of exhibiting one’s own body in a public way, has yielded the field to other types of behavior.  It’s true: many young people photograph themselves nowadays without worrying about the spread of those pictures. In many cases, they spread them deliberately.”

For these types of behaviors, which teeter towards the edge of very dangerous terms like pornography or prostitution, the Cuban Penal Code does not recognize sanctions.  According to what Alejandro Mojena Ramirez, a Law School Graduate explains, in this type of material, whether it is pictures or videos, there is no felony as long as the people involved are over age, and no monetary profit is gained by the ones who are involved in such acts.

The truth is that the number of young people, mostly females, whose bodies can be appreciated today in the digital Cuban universe, is not only very large but is also growing.  For some it is about a way of earning easy money.  For others, it’s a way to access new experiences.

While from the beginning connotation of a national scandal that surrounded the case of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) student was extended to the new “models” who appeared everywhere; there is no doubt this vision has started to change.  It no longer sparks extreme surprise.  All that is left is the inevitable disease and the lewdness that attaches to each new girl whose nakedness becomes common property.

How much do the positive and negative of these tendencies weigh on social patterns?  It is something that sociologists and specialists will have to determine. Or how helpful are the practices that don’t allow us to assume that sex is an act only of two, and bring it back to previous centuries, when the term orgy was patented almost exclusively for sexuality?

Meanwhile, I hold in my mind the last words from that exotic girl from Camaguey, whose flesh and attitude are a sample of this new era of Cuban sexuality.  Before saying my goodbyes from that unusual interview, she asks:

“It seems to me that at least in the subject of sex Cubans have stopped being obedient to the norms and have started to do what they really want. I think young people are very free in the sexual field.  Don’t you think that’s a good thing?”

And I, with an amused smirk on my face, say, “Yes.”

Translated by Angelica Betancourt

September 13, 2010

The New National Joke / Ernesto Morales Licea

Big Guy: I was a shoemaker and the Revolution made me an engineer.
Big Guy again: Now I’m a shoemaker again.
1st Little Guy: The retraining model is working!
2nd Little Guy: Long Live the Re-Use-Olution!

For the forward-looking among us, who lost their jobs before the Government announced its layoffs, the social chess game on this Island of the Absurd has a different connotation. Recent events don’t surprise us too much.

I, who was a pioneer in this expendability, will one day claim my diploma and prize.

So I opened the double pages of the newspaper Granma last Friday with a different mood from most people; less biased, perhaps. More “light.” When you’re already unemployed, little that is printed in the official newspaper frightens you.

Howling with laughter cleared my head. Getting to start the morning roaring gave me another lens through which to write the truth.

I’ve gone over and over the list of 178 new occupations that my Government benefactor has created for the support of its citizens, and every time the scene repeats itself: I start with a suppressed smile, and end up laughing my head off.

Someone told me not long ago: “This is a crazy country.” That is, it is not a country of crazy people, but a nation that has lost its sanity. This time even our leaders have contributed to the joke

I look at the list, ordered alphabetically, and I ask myself if any of these great careers would be suited to my talents as an idled scribe. After discarding “Tutor,” thinking myself lacking in pedagogic talent, I start to sort through them.

As a teenager I never got the chance, during my stay at high school, to climb a coconut palm and tear off its fruit. And not because it might have cost my life; my hunger was so fierce I would have climbed Everest. OK, maybe not this one.

I cross off “Palm Tree Harvester.” I imagine the fortune within my reach, but reason helps me to see my way to refusing it. If starving to death and adolescent hunger weren’t enough to get me to the top of a coconut palm…

2. In my house there’s a talking parrot and a dwarf turtle which, although nearly 20 years old, fits in the palm of a hand. With the profession of “renter of animals” now approved, I searched my brain trying to figure out how I could exploit the pets in my home, and in this way reactivate my non-existent economy.

The parrot is such an egomaniac that 99 percent of its entire repertoire starts with it mumbling its own name. It is also surly and phlegmatic, and I’m sure that the instant someone rents her from me to amuse their family, she will shut her beak entirely until the day of her return.

The turtle has the most boring existence any animal could experience. Except for filling the house with luck with its mystical ways, I see no other utility to it through which I might be able to raise some capital.

3. As the list is explicit, although I was trained in the art of weaving I could not exercise the profession. I would not be safe from doubts and malicious eyes. To acquire a license for an activity that says, with no margin for doubt, “Embroiderer-Weaver,” does not make me feel comfortable.

4. One of the options, which they’ve even marked with asterisks, is “Collector-Payer.” I like the idea of responding, when someone asks me my profession, “Well, I work at collecting and paying.” I could pass for an investor or a businessman, even if my pockets haven’t heard about it. Either way, a certain social recognition would attach to me.

5. Quite the opposite of those who announce their official status as, “Hairdresser for domestic animals.” True, it is an honorable profession where it is practiced, frequently in developed nations. But I automatically distrust the home environment of a girl I just met, for example, who confessed to me that her father earned a living cutting the bangs of poodles in his city.

6. There are some professions recently recognized that need a little public clarification in order to address popular misconceptions. Item number 156 says, “Dandy,” and no one has any idea what could be going on in the minds of our leaders. That said, some of my best friends have started to shave their chests, hone their muscles, and even buy themselves hats and canes. Who knows.

7. On the other hand, the newspaper Granma should have provided some kind of key to go with this compilation of legendary trades of the most mysterious and indecipherable; they need an explanation. I have to confess I couldn’t sleep thinking of the devils who devote themselves to the position of “Button coverer,” or “Book possessor.”* I think my optimism will be confirmed if I find that I am able to support my current and future family through the latter line of work. If they are going to pay me for having books… Hallelujah!

8. Not even the astral world has been passed over by our Government in its effort to provide every Cuban with a living and personal well-being. Now the “Fortuneteller” can read in peace, (license in hand), the future of her client in a deck of cards. Even guessing the fate of the inspectors who ask to see the license for their illuminating work.

Also the “Tropical fruit peeler,” could remove the skins of bananas and mangoes without worrying about being caught out; for a small tax the State will authorize him to devote himself to this juicy business.

The only thing not clear to me is when our sardonic newspaper will publish the tag-line that clarifies everything. The text that finishes off this incredibly original joke with which the highest echelons of power wanted to favor us. For a Creole joke it’s not bad, but we have all laughed heartily already, let them start taking us seriously… Deal?

*Translator’s note: The idea of “Book possessor” is funny in two languages/cultures: English/Spanish; Capitalist/Communist. The term is actually the equivalent to the English “bookkeeper”… But what Cuban keeps books? In the socialist paradise where the State owns all…

September 28, 2010

Is Now The Time To Eliminate the Travel Permit? / Ernesto Morales Licea

The question has been going around and around in my mind, with a subtle persistence, since I found our recently that for the eighth time in three years the Cuban government has denied Yoani Sanchez an exit permit.

For those unaware of the Cuban reality, let me clarify: This country of ours demonstrates, today, one of the most backward and arbitrary travel permit systems that can be found anywhere in the world. A system expressly designed, without failures or slip ups, to endlessly impede any personal effort to come to know another country, and, at will and without any effort at all, to impede the travel of an “uncomfortable” citizen.

This is one of those points where my socialist Cuba does not admit moderation, pros or cons, or lukewarm analysis: it is an official aberration, that we deliberately crush point 2 of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Every person has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.”

There are two possibilities: either we Cubans cannot count ourselves as human beings, and if so this prerogative does not apply to us; or, I don’t know how else to say — what other words to use — to stand in any forum, before any international competition, and categorically deny that Cuba violates any human rights.

In the endless arsenal of terminology and “bureaucratese” to leave Cuba, I think there is not other evidence more flagrant in the authoritarian will of the system, than the so-called “white card,” which is popular parlance for the Permission to Leave granted by the Department of Immigration and Foreigners.

A White Card because, apparently, that is a complete description of it: a sheet of paper where the Government concedes the questions and with immense grace allows you to leave the country. Temporarily or permanently — “definitively” as the latter is called.

So great are the obstacles to be overcome, so important the privilege of that card, that more than a few people, after obtaining one, make an offering to the Virgin of Charity of Cobre in Santiago de Cuba, a devout promise for a favor granted. The Patron Saint knows what that fragile sheet represents.

This Permit to Leave is the exclusive patrimony of the Department of Immigration. They grant it, they deny it. There are no ways to access the oracular voice that pronounces the Yes or the No. Although it is an open secret that the institution which, in these matters, gives the last word is: State Security.

The citizen exhausts himself in the hundreds of suffocating procedures, collects such a large number of letters and certificates that, with so much paper, it is an attack on the permanence of the forests; and in the end… he never knows if all his effort and hours of waiting for officials makes any sense, because the white card is never discussed. When it is denied, there is no explanation.

Now, looking at this through the lens of the new reality that, it seems, is starting to spread across the Island, I think my question takes on a different meaning. Is this the precise moment to put out to pasture this monstrosity, this Cuban immigration system?

And I clarify that with this approach, I only pretend to assume for a second the logic of those who erected the white letter as a compulsory procedure. Otherwise, my question would be disingenuous: there should never have existed such a violation of our individualities.

But looking through the lens of power, we can analyze what this prerogative, this faculty that the Government claims for itself to decide who leaves this country, as if it were a private plantation. Why, then? Because, in the nation as we have it today, I don’t believe there is anything they were trying to show the world, by establishing this Exit Permit.

What other purpose can they have to deny a human being the right to travel freely, except to prevent the mass exodus that would lead the world to suspect the truth behind the social paradise?

Or to put it more simply, at some point the white card must have fulfilled an ideological objective: preventing the testimony of those who abandoned the Island from destroying the Revolutionary myth of a united and happy Cuba. It was the same principle of those who strafed the Berliners who chose to tackle the wall and cross into West Germany. But let’s be clear: do we have, today, a mentally challenged world, incapable of reasoning?

After seeing that in 1980 ten thousand people took refuge in the Peruvian embassy; after the Rafter Crisis when young people chose the sea and the jaws of the sharks rather than the reality they suffered at home; after hundreds of thousands of Cubans chose international visa lotteries, Spanish citizenship, and the legal loopholes that let them escape this Caribbean island… In truth, what is the use of the iron Exit Permit? What hidden truth and illusion does it sustain?

None, save to prove clearly the militaristic character of the State that decides who will escape the fence, and how, and who will grow old within it.

However, now our leaders have added and subtracted points, now they have placed in the balance of a benefit-cost ratio, for example, repressing peaceful opponents with prison. Now that they have also launched a cry for help for the rusty national economy, would now not be the perfect time to rid themselves of the political cost involved, nationally and internationally, of not letting Cubans travel freely throughout the world?

I believe letting the white card evaporate, eliminating the steel barriers, and allowing Cubans to have the same opportunities to travel as the rest of the free citizens of the world, would begin to solve a specific problem: permanent — “definitive” — emigration.

Why do Cubans leave their country forever? Why do they “desert” (another aberration of terminology)? Those athletes, doctors, artists, who leave to settle permanently in other countries. Elementary: Because it is so difficult to leave the country, they must seize the opportunity. Now or never.

But the Jurassic apparatus aside, I am convinced that the vast majority of Cubans would choose to travel, to work for a time outside of Cuba, raise capital and, then what? Take advantage of the opportunity to spend that money in their own country, among their family and friends.

Like so many Mexicans do, who cross the border to earn a living however they can; as the South Americans do to find work in Europe, while leaving their family in their birthplace: returning to invest or spending their earnings elsewhere.

We all know that a serious percentage of the national economy is supported by… Whom? The exiles. The emigrants. The just under two million Cubans who have scattered across the world. So what would be the impact if those with capital could enter and leave the country, like other citizens with money, they could get on a plane?

Finally, I believe that there could be no stronger evidence of real change, verifiable, in the way the country is run, no better way to improve national opinion, than to remove these travel barriers. Cubans would start to feel respected by their government. They would start to believe in a will to find solutions beyond permits to run a barber shop, or depriving them of their jobs. And they would start to plan their lives not according to whether or not they will leave the island forever, but how they will come to know other countries, make a living with hard work and honesty, and then return home like the prodigal son.

Putting an end to the virtual prison in which we are forced to survive, would also avoid the rigmarole of the indefensible, the desperate explanations, when an uninhibited Cuban asks them why they can’t travel like so many workers and middle class and lower class people in other countries.

Ricardo Alarcon, the President of our Parliament, would have been saved, for example, from that demeaning argument that still today surprises us, when a Computer Institute student wanted to know why he could not go to Bolivia, to see where his admired Che Guevara died.  (“Imagine if 3 billion people in the world could travel, the congestion there would be on the airlines…”)

But above all, our leaders would stop using the sacred right to travel freely as a means of repression against those who choose to meet their arbitrariness with words and peace.

It is not about Yoani Sanchez, or many artists “who can’t be trusted,” or the peaceful opposition, or the children of “deserters” from a sport or a medical mission. It is about the fact that this is the right time to show, not the world, but Cubans, that our rights are part of the review that a more sensible and humane government wants to undertake in the country today.

If the arrogance didn’t cloud their reason, I think the logic of this thinking would ultimately prevail. By cruel misfortune, our recent history is marked by the disregard of logic.

October 12, 2010

Blockade vs. Embargo: Reason Hijacked / Ernesto Morales Licea

In my judgment, few issues of the Cuban reality are more complex to objectively analyze than the controversial economic, financial and trade blockade-embargo which, since 1962, the United States has maintained against the Island’s government.

While there are topics that we can dissect almost surgically, separating their components with pinpoint precision, on this topic there will never be a last word; there will always be one more argument up someone’s sleeve that merits further discussion.

The conflict is born from the etymology itself: whether someone calls it a blockade or an embargo implies, per se, taking sides. The same thing happens with the name of our former leader: it is enough to call him Fidel or to call him Castro, for an interlocutor to divine the political affiliations of the speaker.

I will take a stab at the definitions: it is not an embargo in the strict sense, nor is it a blockade. A simple embargo, speaking literally, would not include pressure on third countries to prevent trade with Cuba: it would apply exclusively to the transactions with the United States, and it is an open secret that this isn’t the case.

On the other hand, the term “blockade” that the Cuban government uses to define these sanctions, is even less relevant. A true blockade implies military maneuvers so that nothing, by land, sea or air, would be allowed into Cuba from other countries. It might be worth asking the inhabitants of Gaza if they know what a true blockade is.

Despite this double inaccuracy, I see the “embargo” as closer to the truth, although the other term is much preferred by the official sensationalists of my country.

It’s clear: this is not the fundamental issue of a subject that has generated heated debates, by both detractors and defenders of the Cuban Revolution, and even among ourselves those of us who reject the totalitarianism of the system that governs us have not been able to reach a consensus.

Why? Well because to evaluate a measure like this, in my opinion, three fundamental questions would have to be defined, each of which is more complex and subjective than the last. The first: whether its origin, its initial application, was justified or not. The second: its objectives today. The third: the results achieved.

Approaching an analysis with these three premises helps to satisfy a criteria based on a method that separates the issues, which, luckily for us, Aristotle inaugurated many centuries ago.


No one doubts the true origin of this severe measure: the outrageous expropriations by the Revolutionary Government after their triumph in 1959.

Hundreds of American citizens and companies were dispossessed, in a flash, of their investments and properties with this Revolution that wanted to change even the water table of the Island. Capital invested according to the laws in force up to that moment was vaporized by the new leaders.

Small national proprietors suffered the same fate: anyone who owned a pharmacy, a barbershop, a candy store, lost his personal achievement at the hands of a collectivist dream that was, also, barbaric and thoughtless.

For these Cubans, however, there was no option but to adapt to the new rules of the game. They could leave the country, live cursing the bearded ones, grow old filled with an understandable hatred, or get aboard the triumphant train, with faith in the promised future. I prefer not to speak about other cases I know of: those who could not bear their helplessness in the face of such arbitrariness, and who took their own lives.

But the U.S. citizens and investors had a government response that sought to impose pressure in return for justice. The embargo was born. The date of its full implementation takes us to February 1962.

At this point, I can’t but admit the validity of a coercive measure that tried — today we know unsuccessfully — to reverse these angry and capricious interventions, disinterring the hatchet of war from the very beginning of the process.

Revisiting Machiavelli

Starting in 1992, after being in place for thirty years, the embargo against Cuba changed its principles and purposes. It ceased to be, first, an effort to pressure the Cuban authorities by calling on their sanity; it ceased to be, then, a robust vengeance in kid gloves; and it became, at last, a premise to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Island.

As reflected in the “Cuban Democracy Act,” these sanctions would last as long as the Cuban government refused to take steps toward “democratization and showing more respect for human rights.”

And here was born the first hurdle to determining the fairness and legitimacy of the measure.

I don’t believe I need to repeat that, personally, I have few desires more deeply embedded than to help in the real democratization of my country. I do not want to die without evidence that this land will distance itself from the intolerance, the hate and the exclusion, to build a just nation in which all its children can find their place. This blog is my microscopic contribution to that.

But not to know if these new demands to lift the embargo were already approaching interference in the internal affairs of an independent country, would not be honest. All possible arguments to that effect do not change the ultimate truth: the blockade is a clear interference in Cuba’s own affairs.

I think that little could answer those who approve of fire and brimstone, against a fact as against a lie: but in the last decade, there have never been more than seven countries that have supported the blockade at the United Nations (in 2004), and never fewer than 155 that have voted against it. On the last occasion, in 2009, only Israel and Palau joined hands with Uncle Sam.

Not even nations frankly, and justifiably, hostile to the communist system, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, or U.S. Allies in its war efforts like Great Britain and Australia, have accepted the role of explicitly and publicly defending the embargo.

Why, one wonders. Because in no way is the Machiavellian precept that the ends justifies the means acceptable, in democratic and reasonable international politics.

That the Cuban government deserves to be rejected in infinite aspects, especially with regards to the human rights of its citizens, is an almost universal axiom. That it is worth the trouble to exercise pressure — as recently happened with the releases of the prisoners of conscience — to get at least the smallest signs of flexibility: one hundred percent agreement.

But it will never be valid to violate the sovereignty of a state with economic sanctions, in order to achieve such purposes. At the instant in which such crude measures to reclaim the nationalized properties were resorted to, while wielding the precept of democracy, the validity of the embargo cracked.
Especially because, the house itself, at times, was glass.

Would it have been acceptable for countries like China and Russia to approve economic sanctions to force the United States to close the shameful prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo? On the other hand, could anyone explain how the United States government adopted this policy against Cuba for being a communist and totalitarian country, yet is a strong trading partner with China and Vietnam?

Snowball is to blame

With each day that passes, the embargo sets new records for longevity. It has outlasted all known members of its species. It even exceeds the record for the longest stay at the helm of a western country, held by ex-president Fidel Castro.

It has had a few touch-ups. The Helms-Burton Act (1996) which reinforced its punitive character; the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (2000) which turned the United States into the principal supplier of agricultural products to Cuba (6.6% of imports in this sector come from the country of Lincoln). Data that is, of course, deftly hidden from the Cuban people by the official media.

But the question arises, speaking objectively: does anyone get anything from this policy of sanctions?

Of course they do. The Cuban government gets the perfect excuse to whitewash their economic failures and their authoritarian methods. In the book Animal Farm, by George Orwell, when the pig Napoleon wants to justify the excesses and incompetence of his administration, he resorts to the enemy: Snowball. The renegade pig, according to Napoleon’s propaganda, is equally to blame for the crops failing to thrive, as for the water mill that broke for lack of resources.

For the Cuban establishment, the embargo could be renamed “Snowball.”

The “cruel and inhumane blockade” justifies everything from the decrepit economy, to the astronomical debts to foreign firms, to the shortage of drinking water. The “genocidal blockade” guarantees, according to official propaganda, that Cuba cannot allow democratic openings such as a free press, or lifting the restrictions on Cubans traveling freely throughout the world. The blockade carries the melancholy blame for a hurricane that hits us, a drought that makes the earth crack, the pollution in the streets of Havana, and the hunger in the Cuban countryside.

What has been the affect of this policy? On the ordinary Cuban, the dispossessed? The government has used it to justify its excesses and incompetence, and on the other hand, to keep the population from clearly understanding who has been the cause of the ruin that has overtaken the country. It has, also, made the existence of the poor even more difficult, because though the official figures of the losses caused by the blockade are, at times, scandalously hyperbolic, still there is a share of truth in them.

The powerful have never felt its impact. The corrupt have managed to carve out a living standard that sticks out its tongue at the ineffective embargo. But the workers, the lowly ones, they know its consequences.
Has it strangled the government of the Island? No. Has it succeeded in democratizing our battered country? No? Has it achieved international support? No. Has it affected Washington’s credibility with respect to a humanitarian willingness to help Cubans in need? Yes.

Too much time hijacks reason

Even those of us who argue that the centralized economic model, as opposed to the market and foreign investment, cannot achieve the individual prosperity of a man, and that the malformed creature they are presently trying to install can only result in an archaic and dysfunctional economy, even we have to admit something: while the Cuban government continues to be burdened by the embargo, we cannot measure with any exactitude its inefficiency in providing for the welfare of the nation.

When not competing on equal terms, it is unfair to proclaim winners and losers.

To minimize the importance of the embargo, as its partisans tend to do, collecting figures of trade agreements with other countries in the world, traps them between a rock and a hard place: If, then, it is so ineffective, why keep it?

To not admit that it has been a damaging and prejudicial policy for the progress of this country, to not admit that the iron fist of a totalitarian system has found in the embargo a loathsome ally, is to kidnap a reason too obvious in the conflict.

Let me close these particulars and discuss opinions with an anecdote that is strictly true:

When Barack Obama won the election, in November 2008, I had been working for just two months at the radio station in my hometown. I attended, as a curious spectator, an emergency meeting of all the journalists at the station with the top management.

The government concern, this time, was not the ridiculous possibility of an invasion, or a new “destabilization campaign from the Empire.” Now what was keeping the Party up at nights was the possible flexibility on the part of the new president with regards to the antagonism toward Cuba. The bottom line could be summed up very simply: “He is a charismatic and intelligent leader and he might lift the blockade!”

Behind the somber faces of these officials, lay a frank concern: “How can we guarantee the continuity of our Revolution, or our ideology, if Obama allows Americans to travel freely to the Island, and lifts the blockade all at once?”

September 24, 2010

Practical Instructions for Creating an Enemy / Ernesto Morales Licea

At age nine, a fall from a considerable height would give a resounding twist to his life. It would prevent him from ever walking again. He had to endure endless surgeries, which turned his adolescence into a cruel and painful time.

Despite all this, perhaps the God whom he invokes so frequently rewarded him with a spirituality strong enough to prevent his misfortune from ruining his smile. With barely any effort, now forty, he carries an undeniable distinction: enjoying, in his city, a much greater popularity than someone far from power or glory could be expected to achieve.
His name: Carlos Jesús Reyna. His house, located on one of the busiest arterials of eastern Bayamo, is a required meeting place for the most diverse and colorful characters of this city. His circle of friends and acquaintances range from respected doctors and lawyers, to criminals famous for their chronic misdeeds.
He knows that, after many vicissitudes, to be able to count on his legion of friends is an outright defeat for the system he suffered.

Because this man from Bayamos whose image could not pass unnoticed among the loftiest multitudes, with his long hair and his clothes which loudly declare him a fan of Argentine football, has, for almost two decades, suffered the effects of a political marginalization he never deserved.


– What was the origin of your political confrontation in this city?

Look, there’s a history to the fact that marked a before and after in that regard. It was a complaint that I made in 1993 against four police officers for abuse of authority.

Until then, I never had problems with any official body.

However, the nightlife I always had with several friends — we stayed until after midnight in some parks — attracted the arbitrariness of the police who, without any reasons or legal basis, expelled us from public places, supposedly because we were potential criminals.

Why? Because they said that someone who works can’t stay out late in the street. If we were out later than they thought we should be, we were antisocials. All of us were studying or working, but that wasn’t good enough for them. They came to arrest us and other times they fined us.

I denounced this situation, and two of the four that I accused were punished by military tribunals. However, as you will understand, with that I earned myself the eternal hatred of the police of this city. It was really a preamble to what would come some months later.

– The accusation of the crime of “enemy propaganda” …

Exactly. They hung me on the cross of being an antisocial who painted subversive anti-government posters.

– Tell me about that incident in detail.

– That was in the early morning of June 13, 1993.

Four of us friends had just arrived at Cespedes park, I think we had been sitting there some twenty minutes when someone called my attention to the benches, near us, where there were several signs written on the granite benches themselves in green crayon. The signs read “Down with Fidel” and “Down with the dictatorship.”

One of the first who noticed them, out of nervousness I think, started trying to erase them but the crayon wouldn’t come off easily. So we decided to leave, knowing that it could create serious problems for us.

– You went to your homes?

– No. It was Saturday and we went to the party at some other friends, not far from there.

I don’t think we had been there ten minutes when a police operation, with three patrol cars and several cops in uniform stopped the party. They arrested everyone, including those who hadn’t been anywhere near where the signs were painted.

For me, because of my physical condition, they sent for a separate patrol car. They took us to the station and put us in the cells without even asking for an explanation. When we asked them, the only thing they said was, “You know why you are here.”

The next day, Sunday, they took us to another station, highest security, underground, where they investigated all os us and processed us for crimes against State Security.

Because of my condition they locked me in a cell for women, because it was the only one that had a mattress. In the others there were only cement beds. In fact, I had spent the previous night in my wheelchair because where they detained us there were only cement beds and to put me there wold have certainly caused me to have sores.

We were in this other station almost 72 hours. They didn’t give us reasons, we had no lawyers nor laws involved. They kept telling us to confess, that we knew what we had done. They interrogated us about every hour, without letting us sleep or rest. They tested our handwriting; we had to write “Viva Fidel” and “Viva la Revolucion” about 700 or 800 times on pieces of paper.

After the third day they themselves feared for my physical state, because I said I wasn’t going to eat or drink water. By the way, I remember that before that, there was a day I asked for a towel to dry my face, and they gave me, like a joke, a rag for cleaning the floor. Then, because of my strike, they took me home, in a kind of house arrest. The rest had to stay there as prisoners for a week.

In those days no one could visit me, no friend nor family member: only the officials who came to interrogate me almost nonstop.

Until one day they found the real author of those posters who had nothing to do with us and confessed his guilt form the beginning. At that time they decided to release all the detainees and declare us innocent. The same State Security decreed us innocent.

– But what was this “decree”? Was it written?

No, they had meetings in the neighborhoods where each one lived, except in mine, to clarify that they had been processed by mistake and that they were innocent.

– What about you?

I was the only one they didn’t do this “act of reparation” with. They apologized to my parents, and to me, but nothing in public. We thought it was all over, when the truth was the real consequences were yet to come.


– What were the consequences afterward of that incident on you?

Then real police war against me started. There was a hostility that affected me in everything having to do with public life.

As a result of my complaint against the four officers, I became known among them, because it is rare here that anyone would dare to charge them, so they seized the excuse to discredit me socially, and to keep me in a state of unbearable social pressure.

They threatened anyone who came near me. If a girl stopped on the street to talk with me, they came up and in front of me asked her for her identification, and they told her she was having a relationship with someone cursed and she could be judged for that.

To give you an idea: I couldn’t go to the movies, nor the nightclubs, under the ridiculous pretext that I could provoke an attack in these public places. They would come and take me out of the movie theater with this pretext. Also they wouldn’t let me enter some places where food is sold…

– Such as?

A hamburger joint this city had at the time.

As it was in the middle of the Special Period, the lines to buy hamburgers were endless and the police were needed to organize them.

One of those days I was in the line and an official called Adis Zamora, who is still a policeman today, took me out of the line and publicly embarrassed me saying that I had no right so even eat a piece of bread produced by this Revolution.

Another day, in the Sierra Maestra Hotel, another official also still active, named Rafael Varela Luna, told me I could never enter this hotel. That the streets and all the places on them belonged to the revolutionaries.

Any time I left my house, without five minutes there would be a policeman controlling where I went and who I talked to. They publicly humiliated me: they told me I was crippled, they offended me.

– And at some point this situation started to change?

It changed because of a letter I sent to the Council of State in 1994, asking for a writ of protection from the President of the Republic because in my city I had no constitutional guarantees. My life had no sense or protection, because any officer could threaten me with total impunity.

I wrote another letter to the Commission for Human Rights in Cuba. I even remember that the preist who officiated at that time in Bayamo, Father Palma, prayed for me publicly, and let the Cathedral know about my case.

I began to take on the connotation of being a leader which I had never wanted. I was simply a citizen who wanted his constitutional rights to be respected.

– And was there a response from the Council of State?

They sent two colonels sent to my house to talk to me. They investigated, they found that my report was true, and took some measures with those principally responsible. They guaranteed me that this police harassment was going to stop right then and there.

But by then I had expressed my complete distancing from the organizations such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), I had decided not to vote in the elections, because I considered myself betrayed and unjustly punished by all the official bodies around me.

I remember that I was no longer afraid of going to jail for expressing my disagreement publicly, because I was being held prisoner on the street just as if I was in prison.

They forced me to confront the system directly. Before they had built this story I was an ordinary citizen and although I had my own ways of seeing what was going on in this country, I didn’t express them publicly.

But when you see that you are attacked and charged with no justice of any kind, and that all the “factors” of society are against you, it becomes impossible to maintain a position far from complaint and confrontation.


We began our friendship about five years ago. A closeness based on affection, solidarity and mutual interests: music, football. I don’t exaggerate if I say that he is perhaps one of the most original and admirable people I have ever met.

Not only because from his suffering he has built an amazing personality, which appeals to the engineer as much as to the alcoholic, but because he has succeeded, through sheer dignity, in deflating this explosive defamation campaign that had been launched against him.

Most of all, his real merit is shown in that those around him disregard those allegations. Because being true, I must say it: Carlos Jesús Reyna was never able to be the same guy from Bayamo who previously went through the day, in his wheel chair, just like any other regular citizen.

The first time I was investigated myself in the neighborhood where I live, had its origin in my friendship with him. When another friend we have in common was the boyfriend of the girl who is today his wife, they called the mother of the girl to tell her, “Be careful, your daughter is now the girlfriend of someone who goes around with a boy who paints signs against the Government.”

He knows it. We all know it. At this point it is simply material for jokes. Fortunately, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, tyranny and evil never have the last word.

September 20, 2010

The Mea Culpa of the Powerful / Ernesto Morales Licea

What normally happens when a common citizen is at fault for an act of social significance? He is made to pay for his mistake, and in many ways, with a wide range of penalties; depending on the magnitude of his act, it can range from a simple reproach, to deprivation of liberty.

But in certain countries and under certain systems, the events taken as the “errors” or “mistakes” of one individual have a much broader range than under those of others.

In the Kampuchea of Pol Pot, to be an intellectual was an “error” punishable by death, or at least by agricultural work. In Nazi Germany, having too large a nose was an error paid for by having one’s bones made into buttons.

In Cuba, until very recently, to be a homosexual was an unacceptable error that was expiated by expulsion from your job, work as a prisoner in the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) camps, or being held in a cold nocturnal jail cell under the pretext of vulgar or outrageous practices.

But under these semi-divine systems, with justice at all cost and any cost, who punishes the error of the infallible ones when they miraculously recant? Who makes them answer, ever, for their human mistakes?

Homophobia Revisited

A few days ago, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, gave an interesting interview to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada. Faced with the journalist’s questions about Cuban practices with respect to homosexuals and the discrimination they suffered, particularly starting in 1965, el Comandante admitted:

“Yes, there were times of great injustice, whomever might have done it. If we did it, we, we… I am trying to outline my responsibility in all this because, after all, personally, I don’t have these kind of prejudices. If someone is responsible, it is me. It’s true that at that time I wasn’t involved in this… I found myself immersed, principally in the October Crisis, in the war, in political questions… We didn’t know its value. But in the end, someone has to take responsibility, it is mine. I am not going to put the blame on others.”

The topic is too difficult to summarize in a few comforting phrases. There is too much evidence to doubt this recognition of guilt (for example, The October Crisis dates to 1962, when the harshest period of the anti-gay repression had not yet begun).

Among other things, Fidel seems to admit only that he didn’t act against homophobia which arose spontaneously in the society, not that this homophobia was encouraged and guided by all the leaders of the Revolution, including himself.

Here are his words to Lee Lockwood in 1965, published in the book, Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel:

We have never believed that a homosexual could personify the conditions and conduct requirements that would allow us to consider him a true revolutionary. A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what it means to be a militant communist. I think we should carefully consider this problem. But I’ll be honest and say that homosexuals should not be allowed in positions where they can influence young people.”

This was his famous speech in Havana, 1963:

“Many of these vague girlie-boys, sons of the bourgeoisie, who walk around in too-tight trousers (…) have taken their licentiousness to the extreme of wanting to go to places of public assembly to freely organize their drag shows. Do not confuse the peacefulness of the Revolution with the weakness of the Revolution. Because our society cannot accommodate such degeneracies. Youngsters aspiring to that? No! What would our strong, enthusiastic, energetic youth think of all these evils?”

I think it redundant, however, to focus my analysis on the contradictions in Fidel’s speeches from forty years ago with those of today. On this topic — or topics — there are plenty of examples of sheer gibberish: Whatever you said I said what I said isn’t what I said.

More interesting is the attitude of the powerful who, with the passage of time, revisit history and reinterpret their actions based on the needs of the moment.

They Can’t Whitewash the Past

In 2007 an incident took place in Cuba that shook the roots of our society, particularly in the artistic and intellectual worlds.

Two of the most well-known hangmen of the so called Five Grey Years (when the witch hunt against those who didn’t fit with the concept of the “New Man” reached its height), reappeared on National Television.

Luis Pavón Tamayo and José Serguera, former powers of the Cuban Cultural Nomenklatura, censors with sharp teeth and no turning back, were interviewed in two separate programs and treated as dignified officials who had left their happy mark on the national culture.
The event provoked indignation in a number of important intellectuals who, although now bearers of national prizes in literature, fine arts or architecture, seemed not to have forgotten the silent, joyless years of sad parameterization.

The protest was known as “The Little Email War,” but the digital platform was not the only place in which these intellectuals could express their indignation. (Let’s see, for the readers of this blog: Can you guess what the Cuban press has been focusing on these past few days?)

Ultimately the incident sparked a series of talks on that bitter period, and the publication of a book of these talks. Nothing, absolutely nothing changes in the culture nor in the lives of Cubans in the wake of this incident. But, could we say that the intellectuals, with their protest, sent a concrete message to the leaders of the nation?


The message would be this: “Do not touch the wound that has not healed despite the prizes of apology. The wound of memory never heals. We are calm today, but don’t try to whitewash the past.”

Reconciliation With The “Soft Side”

I can not ignore, of course, that the mere fact that Fidel has assumed his share of responsibility in the sexual segregation suffered by gays in Cuba is a positive and unique.

But after talking with some young homosexuals, and asking heterosexual men in their fifties who also wore long hair and tight pants at that time what they think, I want to point out that the reconciliation of this large sector of the population with the historic leaders of the Revolution is more complex than a simple Mea Culpa with shades of justification.

Why? Well because in the field of human experience, as Ludwig von Mises said, you can’t do laboratory experiments. That is fine in the individual sphere, for personal decisions.

But when millions of people, a whole country, depend on the viewpoints and decisions of someone, when the real control of one’s life is not left up to the individual, but to the State, to the Government, and sometimes to a single leader, who decides how each person should behave, and what their share of happiness will be within the society, there is no margin for error.

How does a homosexual who lost their job, who was unable to live a full life in a hostile society, take in, now, that the one who took over the reins of their country admits, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to say so, that at that time he was focused on other things.

How can the one-time prisoners of UMAP, the mistreated, those despised as sick or evil, understand that the person whom an entire people cheered as their savior, now redeems his history with a pair of last-minute arguments.

I know: there are rarely sanctions for the mistakes and lies of the powerful. Sometimes not even in democracies. No one tried George W. Bush for the nonexistent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Nobody imprisoned those responsible for British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon with its insufficient precautionary measures for disaster, which caused ecological chaos of horrific proportions.

But in the case of this island of the former New Men, where the macho revolutionary had to fight fiercely against the weak and degenerate, instead of a justifying Mea Culpa, I think it would be better to keep a respectful silence regarding the past, and to begin to build, but for real this time, a country where gays, blacks, intellectuals, workers, freethinkers and socialists can coexist without the need, for another fifty years, to hear confessions of repentance.

September 5, 2010

20 Reasons to Doubt / Ernesto Morales Licea

My generation grew up listening to the litany. It wasn’t the only one. It was barely a new one. But I can attest to that: along with a motto I never understood “Pioneers for Communism, we shall be like Ché!”, my legs and my conscious grew up hearing that the country my grandparents had, without a Revolution, was far worse.

The country from the past they assembled in my childish brain never had color. Or better yet, it did: the color of blood. It was a barbarian country, with murderers as rulers and children bruised by pain.

It also had a lot of gray. The images from the past are always gray. Especially, if they were previously passed by an editing cubicle.

On the Island prior to 1959 Cubans did not know happiness. They did not heal illnesses; they did not know orgasms, or sunsets, or chocolate ice cream. They never danced deliriously, nor did they raise world trophies or academic titles.

If Cuban culture is a heritage of the revolution; if sports were never a people’s right; if doctors didn’t heal; if nightlife was nothing but crimes and punishments; if the only Cuban History that exists is the one that tells its wars and its hardships, my country owes its essence and reason for being to a process initiated on January, 1959.

That’s how I was taught. I, the diligent pioneer of Communism aspiring to be like Ché, learned it that way.

But somehow I also learned, by intuition or negligence, to suspect that imperfect past. A handful of books started to do its subversive work inside of me. The flyby information I retained as an antidote against a history that, just like the old saying goes, seemed very badly told.

Just like that, by chance or by destiny, I discovered that the past of my Island had a lot of blood and corruption. But it also had an undeniable splendor.

For example, I learned, that:

  1. The first Latin American nation and third in the world, after England and U.S.A, that had the miracle of the railroads was Cuba, in 1837.
  2. Furthermore, the first trolley that toured the streets of Latin America was in Havana, in 1900.
  3. In 1958, Cuba was the Latin American country with the highest automobile ownership rate. 160 thousand cars circled our streets, one for every 38 people.
  4. The first Latin American doctor to use ether as an anesthetic was the surgeon Vicente Antonio de Castro, on March 11, 1847. With that method he started the era of modern anesthesia for all of Latin America, right from this Caribbean Island.
  5. In the XIX century, the genius Carlos J. Finlay discovered the transmitting agent of yellow fever which decimated populations and instructed prevention and treatment. Had the Nobel Prize existed, this Cuban would’ve won it by far.
  6. In 1955, Cuba was the second country in Latin America where the fewest children died at birth. The rate was 33.4 for every one thousand newborns. For the resources at that period in time, it was a real feat.
  7. The U.N. recognized Cuba as the best country of Latin America in regards to the number of doctors per capita in 1957. We had one for every 957 people, a figure applauded by many developed nations at the time.
  8. In 1942, a Cuban became the first Latin American musical director to receive a nomination for an Oscar. His name: Ernesto Lecuona. Along with Kim Gannon, he was nominated for the statuette for his song “Always in my heart”, before any other Spanish-speaking musician.
  9. The first Latin American woman who sang at the exquisite Scala in Milan, was the Cuban singer Zoila Gálvez in 1946. Her Creole voice still resonates on the walls of that magnificent hall.
  10. And in 1950 another Cuban musician marked a world record not even matched by Elvis Presley or The Beatles. Dámaso Pérez Prado, with the piece called “Patricia” was on the American Hit Parade for 15 consecutive weeks.
  11. The first Cuban peso was stamped in 1915, and its value was identical to the dollar. On many occasions, up until 1959, it rose to surpass the value of an American dollar by a penny.
  12. Despite its small size, and that it only had a population of 6 million people, my country occupied the 29th position among the strongest economies in the world in 1958. I haven’t been able to find comparable data for today. I think only a sick keeper of statistics would dare to specify what position we are in now.
  13. In 1940, Cuba approved the most advanced of all Constitutions in the world at the time. It was the first in Latin America to recognize women’s vote, equal rights between sexes and races, and the right of women to work.
  14. In 1956 the U.N. recognized Cuba again, this time as the second country in Latin America with the lowest illiteracy rate (only 23.6%). At the time, countries like Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic had a 50% rate.
  15. In 1954, Cuba had one cow per person. It occupied the third place in Latin America (only outnumbered by Argentina and Uruguay) in the consumption of red meat per capita.
  16. In 1922 Cuba inaugurated the radio station PWX. It became the second nation in the world to do so, and the first nation in the world to broadcast a music concert and present radio news.
  17. Also, the first woman broadcaster in the world was a Cuban: Esther Perea de la Torre.
  18. And if we talk about television, we were the second country in the world to formally broadcast television. The biggest stars in all of America, who didn’t enjoy such progress in their countries, came to Havana to act before the Cuban cameras.
  19. The first Olympic Champion that Latin America had was a Cuban: the fencer Ramón Fonst, in 1900.
  20. The first Latin America who won a world chess championship was the Cuban Jose Raúl Capablanca, who, at the same time, was the first world chess champion born in an under-developed nation. This genius won every world tournament between 1921 and 1927.

So, to recontextualize a poem by León Felipe, I say I don’t know a lot of things, it’s true. I only tell what I have seen.

But when I learned how to read, how to listen to the elderly; when I learned to look behind the blank pages, to doubt the smiles of the powerful, and to think about my Homeland without that gray color many have hung on its past, I also think I started to doubt the colors of the present.

Translator: Angelica Betancourt

September 9, 2010

The Open Veins of a City / Ernesto Morales Licea

Today, when I should be publishing the last part of my articles about Cuban journalism, an emotional inability cut short my intention. Because to speak, at this time, about something else other than the lamentable events happening in the city of the national anthem, the contaminated atmosphere of pain that falls today over Bayamo’s fiery summer, is to be a traitor to what it means to be a chronicler in my blog.

The small town I live in is covered in gray. The iron gray of violence. It is a terrorized city in waiting, one whose nerves have not known peace for a long time.

It all began with a death.

As always, a death impossible to accept. This one, most of all: the death of a child, a 13-year-old girl.

Her little body was found a couple of months ago in the bushes, lacerated, where it lay for days, subject to insects and decomposition. A small prostitute who died in a rented room, victim of an overdose of drugs forced on her by an Italian tourist.

Her story unnerved all the good people of this city. It hurt us, wounded us, we who above all base our lives and behavior on the idea of humanism. Her destination (taken in a car, at midnight, abandoned by the tourist and Cuban accomplices to the mercy of scavenging dogs and vultures in some desolate place), filled us with horror when we learned of it, especially because of her young age.

When she was discovered and photographed by the police team, she was still wearing the yellow skirt of her school uniform.

The authorities took several weeks to find the culprits. The arrests followed, one after another, endlessly. Too many well known names were implicated in one way or another in the homicide. Those who have lived in provincial towns understand how explosive such a case can be in such a confined environment where everything becomes known.

As for the perpetrators, they put them behind bars. Those directly responsible, those indirectly, those suspected, and those presumed to have knowledge of the crime. The squeal of the tires, the wail of the police cars, were repeated in different parts of the city, at any hour, any house.

Then the deadly insecurity struck. Even today.

Because still, at the very moment I write with sincere unease, the arrests have not stopped, the operations, the deployment of soldiers that are obviously intended to extend justice, even beyond the point where I don’t know if I should support it. I am referring to a social lesson.

It happens that a sad reality has been brought to light from the depths of the case. A reality where several children, underage, have sold their prepubescent bodies to depraved tourists who at the very least inspire contempt and disgust. A panorama where it has now been proved that some relatives have been involved, including mothers, who knowing what lucrative merchandise is represented by the waists of their daughters, ironed their clothes and delivered them freshly bathed to the highest bidder.

But there is more filth in this sea.

Because there are so many arrests that we now suspect a social mercilessness, a raging river that at this point doesn’t pretend to punish those guilty of these horrible crimes, but leads us to think of strategies of another kind and another wickedness.

A strategy that takes advantage of favorable public opinion to mercilessly sweep away the few wealthy in a city that is by definition poor, people who have had little or nothing to do with criminal acts of this nature. It is about, obviously, ending the economic prosperity of a few whose guilt cannot be established with any certainty, and may be entirely fabricated.

I am speaking of the owners of Homes for Rent.

The young girl died in one of these central and comfortable houses which tourists often choose over the State-owned hotels. The involvement of the landlord, who allowed an Italian to entertain a Cuban minor, is something we cannot yet know; fortunately, we are only spectators.

But we do know the arguments they have used to justify, for days now, having arrested another four homeowners of Homes for Rent at five in the morning, in an operation that paralyzed, shocked and frightened the city.

The arrested, on this occasion, were men and women (including those of advanced age and with severe illnesses) who, save specific exceptions, have until this very second maintained an immaculate social status.

I cannot judge the depth. I simply immerse myself in the reality that surrounds us, and from which it is impossible to escape. But what took place last Tuesday morning, in this city of history and celebration, I cannot accept as a fate for anyone else. I don’t believe it to be healthy for the social environment that already lacks the oxygen of peace.

Before daybreak the trucks and trailers stopped in unison, in front of five of these private hostels. Hundreds of soldiers blocked off the nearby streets, avenues and parks. The residents of these areas awoke in the middle of disturbing noises about which they had no idea where they were coming from.

In the middle of the day they were still loading a mountain of possessions on the trailers. They seized everything.

Twin beds and refrigerators. Plastic chairs and wooden chairs. Full-length mirrors, dining tables, copies of paintings in wrought iron frames. A sports jeep that they hooked to the back of a trailer. Antiques preserved as ancestral relics, modern air conditioners. Hundreds, thousands of items that they emptied from the interiors of the houses leaving a dizzying silence.

Five families have just lost their patrimony, assembled over decades of inheritance and purchase, sacrifice and privation, legal and illegal business dealings, everything they had managed to collect as their own. And most incredible: all this without yet having gone to trial.

I don’t know the true extent of their responsibility, and I refuse to make too many categorical judgments that may ultimately prove to be unfounded. But I dare to dust off the French Revolution where the “Incorruptible Maximilien Robespierre” established his regime of terror on the pretext of supposed equality and social justice.

I also dare to dust off the words of another Frenchman, the infamous Joseph Fouché, when he affirmed with pleasure in his writings, “Here, to be rich makes one blush,” words that his biographer Stefan Zweig belied saying that, in truth, he should have said, “Here, it terrorizes one to be rich, because of the bloody actions suffered by those who are presumed to have accumulated more than anyone else.”

What are the social consequences of this crusade against crimes that, to naive minds, cross the boundaries of what must be penalized and confuse that with opportunistic strategies of the State? This I cannot know, nor can anyone around me.

This time, I confess, that the analysis required exceeds my intellect, and I declare myself one more spectator without a solid opinion.

But at the same time, I can’t not raise my voice, which is also that of an entire city: a cry that is a white flag for the authorities of this town.

I can’t not say that with this social instability, this perverted atmosphere of fear, of agitation, of not knowing when it will be time to flee from a crime you didn’t commit, but which may arise suddenly; in this atmosphere of a surrealist film where anything is possible, the honest people of Bayamo no longer want to live.

Let me repeat that anything is possible. Yes. It is possible, for example, that traveling from computer to computer, from flash memory to DVD, are the horrific images of the body found in her school uniform skirt, and even more horrible, the video of her autopsy. Both filtered out through the hands of the investigation itself, to the general population.

Too many times I have had to reject, indignantly, the offer from someone to show me this evidence to satisfy an alleged curiosity. Morbid curiosity is one of the human deviations that I have most learned to detest.

I know that in such a climate it is impossible to bear up. I know that the dialectic will be diluted at some point in this nightmare, which, unfortunately, many will continue to suffer for far too long. The guilty along with the innocent. The criminals whose punishment will never be sufficient to pay for this act, as well as those unjustly caught in this web of judicial opportunism.

But from my humble position as a writer who has never ceased to be aware of the danger, and of the excesses of those who enforce the law at their own will, I hope that my beloved Bayamo will wake from this social nightmare in which we have been plunged for several months.

August 28, 2010