Hatuey* in Flames… / Henry Constantín

[Translator’s note: This post apparently got posted in the original missing the beginning… whether it starts in the middle of a sentence, a paragraph, we don’t know, as we haven’t been able to get in touch with Henry. If he adds the rest, we’ll add it here… but given internet access in Cuba… or lack of same… readers are advised not to hold their breath.]

but without the Catholic clergy or the heroism: the town where my father and grandfather were born has been consuming itself for years in that bonfire of miserable and faded Macondos, which for almost a half century have been sizzling and crackling throughout this island.

Alcibiades’ store was the most prosperous in town. Of the three or four there were, it was the best stocked: fine canned fruit-preserves from Europe, wines, spicy sausages and hams, crackers, and soft drinks of the best domestic and international brands… you didn’t even have to go with the exact amount of money: no matter how poor the buyer was, it was enough to be a person of your word to take home all that was necessary, and pay later, with no hurry.

With that method of honest work and duty, which did work back then, my grandfather made up for his almost nonexistent academic education. Long before the era of eternal promises had arrived, Alcibiades Constantín was already a respected member of the Order of Caballero de la Luz and the people of the region, who trusted in then President Grau San Martín’s sense of Cuban identity, had elected him to represent them. His discreet economic prosperity allowed him to help the local 26 of July Movement rebels. While he lived in Hatuey, he never ceased to work as a laborer in the Najasa sugar mill.

A short while ago, I returned to his town, the first one crossed by the central railroad line – to which it owes its existence – that goes from Camagüey to Oriente. Of course, all dust and teetering wooden houses. There’s nothing to eat on the streets, because there’s nothing to buy, except little government sandwiches surrounded by flies. Every night, every evening, every weekend, bored men and the remaining youth get together in any old place, in a doorway or under the trees in the plaza to drink rum, talk about the lives they don’t lead, and drink rum.

An obedient creature showed up that morning in 1968 in my grandfather’s store, with a piece of paper in hand: “Alcibiades, starting today this is owned by the people. Only thus will we all have a better future.”

* Translator’s note: Hatuey was a Taíno chieftain who has attained legendary status for having led an indigenous resistance in Cuba against the invading Spanish colonialists, thus gaining among Cubans the historical distinction of “First Rebel of the Americas”. He was eventually captured by the Spaniards and burned at the stake. There is also the Cuban town of the same name (presumably named after the chieftain) featured in this post, which the author makes use of as a pun.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 28, 2010

Of Flesh and Laws / Henry Constantín

I took a look around that place, because they had already told me about its crowd.  And I saw them.  One of them could not have been more than fifteen years old.  The others, who were not more than 25, gave off subtle signals, between smiles, of having lived much more.  Except for the youngest they all had tattoos, Bucanero beers in their hands and cigarettes.  They looked at the arriving modern cars with ecstasy.  Before dawn, they gradually settled next to the newly arriving, robust gentlemen who would immediately ask for hollywood cigarettes and more beer, or for the chauffeur of one of the three parked cars.  The youngest and a girlfriend got into an Audi with tourist plates heading for Las Tunas.

It’s not pleasant to go to Guáimaro, the town with the most history in the Camagüey region, since the private buses that operate on the route from Camagüey take much more than an hour to arrive, and if one leaves from Las Tunas it’s almost the same.

I always passed through there in a hurry, headed somewhere else.  And that is what this town has always been, a place for passing through. Guáimaro is almost at the border that divides two very discordant regions, culturally and economically: Camagüey and Oriente (the East).

Guáimaro is well-known for the abundant livestock that has always roamed its plains. Although in the newspaper Adelante, the official voice of the Party in the province of Camagüey, it is prohibited to publish how much livestock there was in Camagüey prior to the Revolution, everyone knows that today only a shadow remains.  The milk, the meat and the cheese that comes out of here keeps a good part of the country alive.

What I related in the beginning, I saw on a Sunday, in the rápido that’s in front of the town’s terminal.  A rápido, anywhere in Cuba, is a type of cafeteria that is open 24 hours and is outdoors, with little tables covered by an awning and of course, alcoholic beverages sold in divisas (foreign currency); in other words, it’s not a place for the normal Cuban.  Later, I was told about the long, useless list that the authorities have compiled to track and monitor the teenagers who frequent the place.

The Guáimaro museum also opens at night. It is close to the road. It is the only house in Cuba where two constitutions have been signed, possibly the two most democratic. There were no more visitors. A few pieces of furniture, and graphics with brief information is all the visual tribute to the men who tried to turn a fertile farm into a country with civil liberties.  The cold that comes off the huge house is incapable of reviving the bitter sessions of 1869 and the jubilation of 1940.

Late at night I returned to the terminal, to wait for some type of transportation.  Meanwhile, the couples who had already been formed at el rapido began to slip apart.  Sleepy, I managed to get out of there aboard a truck at three in the morning.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 19, 2010