The Intellectual, a Ruminant in the Castro Zoo / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

Miguel Diaz-Canel, First Vice President of Cuba's Council of State (Facebook)
Miguel Diaz-Canel, First Vice President of Cuba’s Council of State (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 22 June 2015 – Why don’t our intellectuals act like so many foreign observers expect? Why don’t they try to intervene in the debate about the future of the country now that there is ever more open access to the Internet, whether directly or through the exchange of USB memories, and ideas have started to move with greater ease? Why don’t they move, why don’t they stir, now that in Cuba the days of the reign of Castro II are coming to an end and everything becomes so soft, so malleable that it powerfully inspires one to get to work?

In part it is a problem of legitimacy. When in the last congress of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), Miguel Diaz-Canel insisted that they prioritize the works and talents of the State, through its cultural institutions, he wasn’t talking of something minor and secondary but of an essential aspect of politics thanks to which the regime ensures its stability and its permanence ad aeternum. continue reading

Since about 1976, a pact has been articulated in Cuba between the Castros and the Cuban intelligentsia. A tacit agreement, which largely has built itself on the fly, and above all, in a not completely premeditated way (otherwise it would accept a higher intelligence in the leaders of the regime, or some intellectuals, where none of them seems to have had so rare a gift). In it the Castro State guaranteed the monopoly of a space for the intelligentsia, provided it does not attack, and also as long as it fulfilled any mission assigned to it directed toward the inside or outside of the country.

That space, guaranteed to the already renowned intellectuals, the same ones who during the first 16 years of revolution had been so severely beaten by the regime that they had ended up “learning a lesson,” implied something else. Someone had to define who could legitimately enjoy the space among the newly arrived: that is, who was an intellectual and who was not in the Cuba of Fidel Castro.

It is still the State that legitimizes the Cuban intellectual. Or at least that legitimized that generation already established

Although the mechanism has become more sophisticated with the passing of years, in essence it is still the State that legitimizes the Cuban intellectual. Or at least that legitimized that generation already established, and that comes to mind to the uninformed (or rather to those informed by the regime) when it comes to Cuban intellectuals.

Some are fully aware that they are only intellectuals within this small enclosure in which the Castro regime has allowed them to graze. However the rest, the majority, although they don’t understand it differently cling to this question: What will happen when others, who don’t have pacts with the regime, try to raise their tents in these small paradises? Bearing in mind that this pretend intelligentsia only serves to be exhibited, that it could never justify itself through its sales, much less live off of them. A publisher like Capiro, for example, taking into account an extended system of promotion, and a dozen and a half employees, never sells more than 25% of its runs, no more than 500 copies.

Lobotomized, the pact-holding intelligentsia knows what is best for it is that characters like Diaz-Canel are responsible for “establishing artistic and literary hierarchies.” What to do when being an intellectual implies being truthful? Many are fearful of mentioning that possibility, and therefore also of the possible demise of the Castro regime.

Do not expect much from them. And is it this that ultimately deserves the name of intelligentsia? If anything, it has been nothing more than a useful but misleading label of another “conquest of the Revolution,” through which it tries to romantically justify its perpetuation within the power of the Castros.

The spiritual life of the country, gentlemen, is elsewhere, never through the bars of a zoo. But then, why do we persist in expecting gestures from these poor fairground attractions? Vast are the fields of Cuba…

Anti-U.S. References Erased From a Santa Clara Mural / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea

One section of the mural
One section of the mural

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 9 June 2015 — After months of work, the new cartoon mural in the City of Santa Clara’s Intercity Bus Terminal has been completed. This painting replaces an earlier one, but with two significant elements missing. It does not include any component from the hand of Pedro Méndez, the renown cartoonist from the comics supplement Melaíto*, and all references to the United States – which were abundant in the previous painting – are gone.

Méndez was not able to contribute due to health issues, while the absence of negative references about our neighbor to the North seems to be related to the new era that began last December 17th with the announcement of reestablishment of relations between the White House and the Plaza of the Revolution. Both circumstances have combined and noticeably influenced the final results. continue reading

No one would ever dream that Méndez, an avowed enemy of the yanquis and the artist behind the anti-U.S. images on the painting that was replaced, would now be willing to work on a mural whose artists were clearly prohibited from making even a veiled criticism of the neighbor to the North. “There better not be any flags on the military uniforms!” was the order of the cultural authorities to the artists and sign makers who undertook the project.

The reasons behind replacing the old mural are not clear either. It is true that the wall on which the mural hung was in a deplorable state. Rumor had it that intelligence agent Gerardo Hernández Nordelo would surely display his own drawings on that wall, but that has not happened. Still, it may. In the next few months they may decide to fill the space they left blank, before graffiti artists get to it first.

*Translator’s Note: Part of Vanguardia, the Communist Party newspaper of Villa Clara Province.

Translated by José Badué

— Supplement to 14ymedio article: Photos of sections of the old mural —

What's that? Collateral damage. (Source:
What’s that? Collateral damage. (Source:


Russia and Raúl Castro’s Mediating Role / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Raúl Castro and Vladimir Putin in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution in July 2014. (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)
Raúl Castro and Vladimir Putin in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution in July 2014. (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 5 May 2014 — Russia is not the West’s Enemy, with a capital “E.” And even if it were, it would not be taken seriously. Russia is no longer the industrial superpower of the ’70’s and ’80’s, nor is it a leader in innovation. Its population is dwindling to catastrophic levels, as its share of GDP in comparison to those of other countries. It is indeed true its army is still the only one that can face the American army in all-out symmetrical war, but for how much longer?

In fact, Russia is not the enemy because it shares real enemies with the West, the enemies we really should fear. And we share them because Russia is part of the West. continue reading

The proof of this not only lies in Russia’s Christian tradition, but more importantly, it is one of the countries that has influenced Western culture the most. If you make a list of the ten most important figures in any scientific field, technology, the arts, music, philosophical inquiry, or of the literature of our Western civilization that have paved innovative and unforeseen paths, said list would invariably include at least one Russian surname.

Russia’s problem has been, as compared, for example, to France or Spain, that the segment of its society that has supported rationalism (and I mean rationalism as defined by Karl Popper) has not been able to replace the traditional and instinctively Russian characteristics of its society. As a matter of fact, Russian rationalism, which peaked at the end of the 19th century until approximately 1925, has been repeatedly purged by a pseudo-rationalistic survival method derived from tradition and national instincts. This pseudo-rationalism, a form of modernized half-baked Asiatic culture, started winning the race once the Bolshevik counterrevolution dissolved the constitutional convention of 1917, culminating with Stalin’s rise to power.

Needles to say, the continuing success of “Asiatic culture” in Russia has had a lot to do with mistaken impression the rest of the West has of it. This was understandable when the West indisputably ruled the world, and every nation fought for its piece of the pie. But now that is not the case at all. It is very clear that in this moment in time our civilization and its values are beginning to lose the unrestricted worldwide supremacy they once enjoyed.

Western civilization should try to do away with the anachronistic last vestiges of bloody civil wars, and what we call world wars, all waged for the sake of global domination. The West should attempt to lure Russia into joining the consensus building and security structures that have been gradually established since 1945. For this to work we should bear in mind that Russia is not a second or third-rate country. Russia has a genuine imperial tradition. In other words, Russia is not Poland, Czechoslovakia, nor even Turkey. Russia cannot be asked to just fall in line. It should be given its rightful place among the great nations.

Around 1920, José Ortega y Gasset said that Europe would unite only when it saw the enemy coming over the horizon. That danger exists today, and not only for Europe, but also for the whole West, and it comes from authoritarian China, and particularly, the Islamic world. China is a traditional empire with incredible rates of economic expansion. The Islamic world is experiencing an explosive demographic growth. While in the West, the United States is the only country whose population is increasing.

Jihadism threatens Russia’s entire southern flank, and after the disastrous Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, many Islamists perceive Moscow as the perfect personification of the enemy, more than they even do Washington. Or at least Moscow is the enemy they can hurt with greater ease. As far as China is concerned, not only does it threaten Russia’s Far East, it has now started expanding into it. It should be noted that the population density on the border between the two countries is 62 percent higher on the Chinese side than on the Russian. The Russian Far East is full of natural resources that the country cannot exploit in the face of an expanding China that needs them more and more.

In the next few years, when the Arctic Ocean is opened for navigation, Moscow will not benefit if it does not by that time exercise total control over its Far East, and especially its Pacific coast. Russia will need to maintain a naval force in that ocean, which in itself clashes with the Chinese strategic interest of controlling all its adjacent seas, and what they call “the first island chain” that surround them: Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Australia.

Therefore both nations are already clashing on the continental mainland and on the ocean, and in the future they will do so with even more force.

In the face of all the jingoism of recent years, the first step should be changing the way the average Westerner sees Russia. The cultural achievements of the rational segment of Russian society should be disseminated throughout the whole West. The rediscovery of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Mendeleev, Lobachevsky, Chekhov, Eisenstein, Shostakovich, Tarkovsky… could help change the perception that the average Westerner has of Russia. Meanwhile, Western admiration for Russian rationalism might motivate the Russians to rediscover it for themselves.

Saving Russia is of vital importance. In the first place, it is part of our civilization, and secondly, because the West finds itself under threat. Only an alliance between the Russian bear and the American bald eagle could perhaps save them from being subordinated by other civilizations that are on the rise.

Cuba can play a significant role in the rapprochement between these two giants that Alejo Carpentier described as being situated at the two extremes of the West. It would be a very, very positive step if Raúl Castro were to realize this before embarking on his next visit to Russia to attend the festivities of the victory over Nazi Germany. If this were the case, and Castro were to indeed try to do something to secure a rapprochement, he could secure a legacy for himself and significantly bolster Cuba’s prestige as well.

Translated by José Badué

Terrorism and the Revolution of 1959 / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 21 April 2015 – Recently we have been hearing the official spokesmen of Castro’s submissive society accusing everybody of being terrorists. However, did you know that the Castro Revolution came to power on a wave of urban terrorism, which left in its wake a quite significant sum of “collateral damage?”

The Revolution that triumphed in Cuba on January 1, 1959 is often very misunderstood, and what is understood, is often biased. For example, did you know that on July 26, 1953 Fidel and Raúl Castro (who was not a teenager back then, he was 22) used a hospital full of patients as a firing position to attack the Moncada Barracks, in flagrant violation of every international convention then in effect regarding warfare? A hospital serving servicemen and their families, veterans of the Cuban War of Independence, as well as ordinary citizens, suddenly became the spot from where one of the Castros’ lieutenants held the Moncada garrison under gunfire. continue reading

It is hard to believe that a lawyer as brilliant as Fidel Castro would have been unfamiliar with these international conventions. Unless, of course, we wish to believe those dubious sources claiming Fidel Castro’s schooling left much to be desired, and that he earned his grades only thanks to the help of his trusted friend, a Colt .45 pistol.

The following are eleven cases I have chosen from the extensive list of victims published in the back pages of the Cuban weekly magazine Bohemia in its first three issues of January 1959: the misnamed (only time would teach us how misnamed) “Special Liberty Editions.” Among the murders, battles, and executions listed, I have selected only a few of the Revolutionary attacks that left innocent victims.

I should make it clear that my source is incomplete: it references the list of the Bohemia journalists, who compiled it hastily during the first few days of January 1959, based almost exclusively on press releases of the time. It should also be noted that the Cuban press was subject to censorship by the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista for virtually the entire time between 1956 until December 31, 1958. Consequently, many events went unrecorded.

February 22, 1955

Antonio Goulet, sixty years old, father of Corporal Dionisio Goulet, an army barber, was killed, mangled by a bomb at his home on 112 Cuartel de Pardos Street, Santiago de Cuba. The elder Goulet’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter Emilia Iris Tabares was also injured in the attack.

January 1, 1957

Magaly Martínez Arredondo, 17, residing at 12021 69th Avenue in Marianao, was injured when a bomb exploded at Havana’s Tropicana Nightclub, resulting in one of her arms having to be amputated. Marta Pino Donosos, 18 years old, living at 12209 69th Avenue, Marianao, was also injured in the attack.

January 15, 1957

An emergency judiciary investigation was launched into a bombing on 21st Street, between 14th and 16th Street in Vedado, which injured Amada Apezteguía Armenteros and Nilda Llorente Carrascal.

Juan Pío Manresa, residing at 323 Virtudes Street in the city of Santa Clara, was injured when an explosive device went off at the corner of Virtudes and Lucena Streets in that same city.

Victoria Rodríguez, 33, residing at 256 Arrellano Street, and a seventy-year-old senior citizen, Tito Mayea Villalobos, residing at 318 Enma Street, were critically injured when a bomb exploded next to them at the corner of Fábrica and Concha Streets in Havana.

January 23, 1957

Oliverio González Mesa, 35, was killed, mangled by a bomb placed in front of the mansion owned by his employer Luciano Sampedro, located between 6th and 7th Avenue in Miramar. González Mesa had worked at the mansion as a cook for two years.

March 9, 1957

Luís González García, a twelve-year-old boy residing at 108 Jenaro Sánchez Street, suffered critical wounds when sticks of dynamite he found at the beach exploded in his hands.

April 27, 1957

Havana was rocked by eight separate bombings in eight separate businesses in a single day. The following were injured as a result: Carolina Torrente Fernández, 27, residing at 64 Tenerife Street; Ramón Fernández, 28, a resident of Rosalía District; and Faustino Cancedo, 61, residing at 66 Bejucal Avenue.

August 3, 1957

Mrs. Lidya Dorado was killed by a powerful bomb explosion on Trocha Street in Santiago de Cuba. Police Officer Arvelio Martín Céspedes was also critically injured.

August 5, 1957

Mercedes Díaz Sánchez del Águila, a resident of Milagros Street, was killed when a bomb exploded at the Ten Cents Department Store on the corner of Galiano and San Rafael Streets in Downtown Havana. Seriously injured were Lidia González Rebull, from Fontanar District; Etelvina Arencibia Gil, residing at 358 Franklin Street; Lidia Bular Barquet, 19 years old, resident of Vedado; Gladys Valdivieso, residing at 532 Parque Street; and Nelson Huerta Truichet, 72 years, and resident of the city of Marianao.

August 12, 1957

Alfonso Vivero, 43, from the beach town of Santa Fe, was rushed to an emergency room in critical condition after a bomb exploded at the dry cleaners on Luz Street, between Habana and Compostela Streets in Old Havana.

August 14, 1957

A bomb exploded at Havana’s Manzana de Gómez retail and office complex, killing José Martínez, 65, who resided at 4 Cuarteles Street.

September 3, 1957

Eusebia Díaz Páez, a young lady of 19, who resided at 3 Ángeles Street in the city of Guanabacoa was killed, mutilated when a bomb exploded in the ladies’ room of the América movie theater in Havana.

And now for some final thoughts.

In his book, Descamisados (“The Shirtless Ones”), Brigadier General Enrique Acevedo tells us that shortly after he began to publicly stand out as the most active revolutionaries in his town, a military official loyal to the Batista régime waited for him in a secluded place and threatened to kill him if something were to happen to the official’s family. As I cited earlier, the terrorist killings of people such as Antonio Goulet did not come without a price. We should not be surprised if we found Corporal Goulet’s name among those who were executed in the early months of 1959 for having “gotten even” with one or several revolutionaries.

Still today the death of Agustín “Chiqui” Gómez Lubián is officially commemorated in Santa Clara. There are even schools named after him. In other words, these schools carry the name of a terrorist who together with a partner was killed when a bomb they planned to throw through a window of the Provincial Government headquarters fell a few yards short of its objective, in Buen Viaje Street. The victims of this heroic act would have surely been the secretaries and archivists working in the building, or some of the readers in the public library located on the ground floor. Neither the Provincial Governor nor any other figure associated with the Batista régime would have been injured or killed since their offices were on the second floor, or in windowless offices in the back of the first floor.

The commemoration of this event enjoys ample coverage in Vanguardia, the puny Official Communist Party newspaper of Villa Clara Province, as does the death of Sergio González, alias “Curita,” material and intellectual author of many of the attacks mentioned above. This demonstrates that the Castro régime still exalts its terrorist roots, regardless of what it wants to make us believe when it wraps itself in the lily white tunics of its historic discourse.

Terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles* do not graduate from some sinister, clandestine CIA academy. Perhaps the CIA did indeed ultimately shape him into the coldblooded murderer he became, but people such as he grew up admiring individuals like “Curita” and “Chiqui” Gómez. Posada Carriles, no matter hos much the regime’s intellectual spokesmen, such Abel Prieto, Miguel Barnet, Fernando Martínez Heredia, or Esteban Morales want to deny it, is a more legitmate heir of the Revolution of 1959 than they themselves are.

* Translator’s note: Accused by the régime of being the mastermind behind the 1976 terrorist bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 near Barbados, killing 73 passengers, and several other terrorist attacks. Posada Carriles currently lives in Miami.

Translated by José Badué

The Immense Distortion of Martí / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)
José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 28 January 2015 — It is true that in the writings of José Martí one can apparently find the justification for political aberrations like those we suffer since Fidel Castro took off his democratic and legalistic mask in mid-1959. And I highlight here the word “apparently.”

To achieve a sufficient understanding of the thinking of any intellectual or political figure, it is imperative to search for his or her life’s purpose. That of José Martí’s was none other than the constitution of an independent and sovereign Cuban Republic continue reading

that, through the exercise of its civil virtues, would propel a hemispheric, or even global, renewal of the republican-democratic forms. The man we call the “apostle” of our independence was able to rid himself of all dimensions of human life not having to do directly with the labor of that self-imposed apostolate.

Now, like any other thinker in the mise-en-scène of his life’s purpose, José Martí understood he was obligated to respond to minor problems. Responses that were almost always rushed and that, with the passing of years, would lend themselves to be used by others to justify their aberrations, like in the abovementioned instance. Only through this magnification of what is secondary in José Martí’s thinking could a democrat of his caliber be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the profoundly antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by the despot Fidel Castro.

Only through this magnification of what is secondary in his thinking could Martí be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by Fidel Castro.

An example of this error can be found in a well-known series of Latin American essays published by Martí between 1889 and 1890. A hurried researcher will only see the obvious. Martí, disabused, distances himself for a moment from Cuban affairs to focus on others within closer reach: the OurAmericans, or los Nuestroaméricanos (title of the most important work of those in question). The reality is, nevertheless, another.

These essays were written with no other objective than to manipulate the fears of certain political elites within Latin American republics in an attempt to win them over for the cause of Cuba’s independence. Those days, Martí, a man not inclined to such behavior, did not dedicate his time to mourning bitter disillusionments. And so his life’s purpose develops fully and fruitfully like few times before or after. During those days, in the Pan-American Conference which he attends as representative of various Latin American republics, he insists on one of the most important and least known battles of his life: the fight to prevent the sale of Cuba to the United States that several Our American foreign ministries supported.

Taking these essays as a base, without considering the vital circumstance under which they were written, it has been attempted to change his arguments in order to convert Martí, the Latin American that best understood and admired the United States in his time, into an anti-American who took after an Italian conspirator of the romanticist style. This restructuring of his line of argument, by the way, serves to make us swallow the absurdity of presenting him to us as the great intellectual justifier for the return to the political forms he fought against: those of the besieged fortress, of thuggery, in other words, those that, under its firm boot, Spain subjected us to from 1837 until the end of the Great War (1868-1878).

In essence, it’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters, for whom the scope of the greatest Cuban of all time was so superior to their limited senses that they have restricted themselves to reducing him to a managable virtuous caricature. Martí was not a fanaticized follower of some inflexible principles that prevented him from compromising to achieve his objectives. On the contrary, Martí the politician understands that it is essential to give way in order to attain what is hoped for.

It’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters

The art of politics should not reside in absolute imposition or in relinquishing the least possible, rather, in the long term, whatever is relinquished can be used to achieve the original plans, or at least what doesn’t hinder them. If one tries to diminish the support of Latin American republics for the aforementioned plans of cession to the United States, one must incite their fears of a possible European re-colonization, which was not such a far-fetched idea at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

A culture is a weight that can’t be cast aside with such ease, or without harmless effects. In the case of Martí, what we should in fact do is study his work, paying close attention to his vital circumstance, until we can organize his thoughts hierarchically and clear up Martí’s argument without any preconceived notion other than that that we are not dealing with a saint, only with a human being of unusual intelligence who was able to subordinate his life to a task that he imposed on himself. A task of which we are to a considerable extent the result.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

The beginning of the end of the Castro regime / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Anti-imperialist black flags in front of the United States Interest Sections in Havana
Anti-imperialist black flags in front of the United States Interest Sections in Havana

14ymedio, JOSÉ GABRIEL BARRENECHEA, Havana, 20 December 2014 – We Cubans continue to be as impressionable as ever. Thus, on the island, the masses seem to see the release of the three spies who were still in US prisons, and nothing else. Many opponents and exiles, for their part, only seem to see this bias among the great majority within Cuba. As a consequence, they immediately assume that Obama’s decision will only serve to strengthen the Castro regime.

What will remain three months from this melodrama that Cuban media officials have emphasized as focused on the three spies? Nothing, because among other things it has unfortunately revealed that los muchachones – the “big boys” – who some thought could become a part of the elite to replace the historic leaders, have no expressiveness, no people skills. They lack charisma to the point that the colorless Miguel Diaz-Canel – First Vice President of the Council of State – gives the impression of being a total politician along with the rest of them. continue reading

On the other hand, we must not overestimate the reaction of the masses. There was no more than an apathetic joy after the General President’s speech. Not even a spontaneous conga line, nor demonstrations like those of prior years when American monopolies were nationalized.

Only a few isolated acts whose protagonists have never made into to the core of public officials, members of the Party or the Communist Youth, or the usual snitches who we know flood the spaces where people tend to congregate.

Personally, at that moment I was in Santa Clara’s Vidal Park. I noted the disinterest, and the only concern on the faces of some young people appeared when they heard me predict that the Cuban Adjustment Act wasn’t long for this world.

Within three months, if in fact diplomatic relations are reestablished with the United States, there will be a functioning embassy, and most of all, every presidential measure from Obama to facilitate the flow of people, finances, goods and information. The Castro regime is one of confrontation, of segregated sterility. They only have three options: change the world, isolate themselves from it, or inexorably disappear. Their end will be:

1 – The hundreds of thousands of American tourists who can’t handle the hotels operated by the warlords and who, unlike the Canadians or Europeans, don’t mince words and don’t accept any restrictions on their basic freedoms to go where they want and meet with anyone they want.

2 – The money will rain down, and not to the dissidents but to the most effective sector of democratization: the thousands of small and minuscule businesses that will spring up left and right and that, ultimately, can’t help but clash with the “Raul stuff.”

3 – The unstoppable jet of information that will stream toward the opposition to an element much less suspicious of other spurious interests, and at the same time more educated and flexible, ideal for the times to come when, what we need will not heroes of the resistance but politicians.

4 – The almost certain abandonment of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which will deprive the regime of a convenient escape valve to lower the internal pressure at the difficult moment of the transfer of power from Raul to the colorless man he chose to replace him.

5 – The moral strengthening of the Church for having played a key role in this process, in the person of Pope Francis, who hopefully will not delay in visiting Cuba. An institution that has been upright against the dictatorship, even though some who never have been don’t find it convenient to admit it.

Although almost nobody wants to, or can, see it, in the midst of the current turmoil, the long night of the Castro regime is coming to an end. That is why Fidel Castro, to whom the details do not lie and indeed, he sees the essential, has remained, or they have made him remain, silent.

As in April of 1898, or in March of 1958*, the Americans have returned to do their part. Something that, unfortunately, they have almost never done, engaged in village style and prepotent foreign policies.

Perhaps thanks to this gesture, our two peoples, separated by barely 90 miles, are finally beginning to behave no longer like adolescent brothers, full of jealousy and small family resentments. And I speak now of a time beyond the Castro regime in retreat, when Cuba can join as one in the battles that loom over our –western – civilization.

*Translator’s note: In March 1958 the United States stopped shipping arms to Batista’s government, after Batista refused to end his suspension of constitutional guarantees and censorship of the press.

The Spell of Havana / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

The Historic Spanish Dance Society in Havana (BDG)
The Historic Spanish Dance Society in Havana (BDG)

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 9 December 2014 – One of my earliest memories is of my young self, singing, Set fire, set fire to the lock [of hair], while riding in a bus operated by Havana’s public transportation system. The other passengers around me laugh and a lady with sweet and mirthful eyes exclaims again and again, “That little blonde boy is a hellion!”

Havana at that time to me was that marvelous city which I would enter at dawn, riding through the tunnel, staying alert so as not to miss the fire station on Prado Street. Or it was that city which I would exit generally by train, at night, but not before stopping at la Casita de Martí [José Martí’s Little House]. All of this was in spite of the fact that my parents and I would go to Havana twice a year, in January and June.

Our agenda for our visits was always the same: the Aquarium and the 26th Avenue Zoo, with its little lead soldiers at the entrance, its bold squirrels that seemed not so much wild creatures as denizens of some tenement on Colón Street, the shit-flinging monkeys, the little train…and another day, to Lenin Park and the Botanical Garden. We would cover Old Havana by a route that invariably ended up in The Fort and its armories – at least until the day I stopped throwing tantrums to avoid embarking on the little Regla ferry, and then the tour would end with a slow cruise to park in that so-called “ultramarine town.” Then it was off to the Coppelia ice cream stand on any given day and later, in the afternoon, a stroll up and down the Malecón, re-enacting in the capital that small-town custom of zigzagging along the main street of Encrucijada. Such was the only way to pass the evenings in some innocent little town of the interior in those marvelous ‘70s.

Sometimes, in January, there might also be a visit to El Cerro Stadium, as our friend Ñico Rutina insisted on calling the Latin American Stadium, for my father and me to watch a baseball game. It didn’t matter who was playing whom, what my old man cared about (and still does, at 83) was enjoying the game, not being fanatical about a particular team. Our day trip would then conclude with the aforementioned visits to about a hundred of my parents’ relatives and close friends. All this to say – considering that we would alternate our stays among my Aunt Leopoldina’s house in Párraga; my Aunt Emilia’s house in the Little Cave of San Miguel de Padrón; or that of my Great Aunt Victoria in La Víbora – it can be seen that, at least on the east side of the Almendares River, very little of Havana escaped our routine itineraries for visits and outings.

Already by then, I could not escape the spell of Havana. Where people talked, walked, looked, breathed, and loved with ease, and “right” was “rye” [Translator’s Note: Habaneros are known among Cubans elsewhere on the Island for their rapid speech and lazy pronunciation of consonants]. Where defiant mulattos grew their sideburns long and dressed in the manner of their great-great-grandfathers, flashy black men in the days of the fleets. When from time to time could be heard, along some parallel street, the slow-moving cassock of one of the few remaining priests on the Island. When the stray cats were fat, not like those puny ones on Encrucijada Street, and actors in the latest adventure films might surprise you on any street corner.

“Where will all these memories go when I die?” I ask myself at times, like the android in Blade Runner. “Will that moment disappear with me when, for the first time, I watched a ship enter Havana Bay from the Point, while two other vessels lying at anchor waited their turn?” Or, fast-forwarding almost 40 years, there is an eternity in which I will always live in the entire night I spent with Her in a room on L Street, almost touching the sea, and at times would be surprised by the murmurs of another woman: Sleeping Havana?

I cannot answer these questions. I only know that upon learning of Havana having been selected as one of the Seven Wonders Cities of the World, all those memories have rushed to my throat. In any case something will remain, as today persists in our culture that spirit of the Athens of 500 BC, when a boy hand-in-hand with his father, regarded on a certain clear morning of the splendorous Mediterranean summer the road to Piraeus.

Because Havana, more than an obvious ruin, is a spirit, a soul, a mature woman with miles on her but still more beautiful than any 20-year-old. A certain something will persist when the tyrants and their henchmen no longer occupy more than a couple lines in the annals of history. A certain something to which all of us Cubans are joined in greater or lesser measure, and which provides the measure to explain why we love to exaggerate, to say that we Cubans “We Cubans are the greatest thing God ever conceived in this great wide world.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison