Raul Prepares His Retirement / Juan Juan Almeida

We are living in a world where, dangerously, what’s important for the work of many is just to show results. Perhaps for that reason, for nostalgia, convenience, desire, hope, belief, deception or passion; we make the mistake of looking to Havana and distorting the reality, imagining the Cuban government as a bankrupt controlling consortium.

Sorry, but much to my regret, impartially, things don’t appear the same. The government was reorganized, continuing to take well-aimed steps toward their new legitimacy, and the ruling elite gathers strength obscuring people who have proven to be loyal and capable of obeying every order, including confessing to homicides not committed.

So things go. Last May, by presidential decision, the first secretaries of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in the provinces of Matanzas and Artemisa were relieved of their posts, curiously both provinces located in the west of the country. Then, as recently as last week, the same changes were made against the party bosses in Guantánamo and Holguín, located in the south and north.

It’s reasonable to think that because the circus elite is aging and with the intent to make their mark on eternity, they seek certain changes to show a much more heterogeneous composition of the deputies who have the opportunity to approach with a much more integrated focus the search for solutions to the current problems in different sectors of our national life.

I think not, and I feel disillusioned, their only goal is to reconquer spaces, regions and areas. The General, corresponding to his background, applies military strategy. It was no accident that the National Defense Commission of the Cuban Parliament (led by its president Brigadier General Juan Rafael Ruiz Pérez) in session this July 5, ordered the participants to immediately execute a new set of measures to strengthen and expand the power, already excessive, possessed by State Security and the National Police. It’s the same as imposing citizen peace at the stroke of a major, the whip and the barracks.

And to round it off, the recently concluded seventh plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, trumpeted the appointment of 11 new members, while removing from its ranks leaders who, although it seemed new to many, had already been removed from office in September 2012.

It’s worth noting the case of Misael Enamorado who, being “enamored,” had his head in the clouds and not recognizing the laws of gravity instead of falling, rose, taking on new functions putting him closer to the euro, the dollar and the sun.

Different but at the same time similar, he succeeds the former president of the National Assembly, Dr. Ricardo Alarcón; who instead of being awarded a well-earned place as an air traffic controller, is reassigned as adviser to the President to deal with — in what appears to be a parallel government — everything concerning relations between Cuba and the United States.

I don’t know about you, but to me all this, more than any commentary coming from the other side, forces me to think that the Commander-in-Chief is paving the way he announced last February, in a very hurried way, to allow him to exercise his “right” to retire from the Government, completely monopolize power, and dictate the decisions of the State from behind the scenes.

15 July 2013

From La Finca, the Spy Asks for More / Juan Juan Almeida

Rene Gonzalez, a member of the "Cuban Five" or "Five Heroes" now back in Cuba. From http://lagartoverde.com
Rene Gonzalez, a member of the “Cuban Five” aka the “Five Heroes” now back in Cuba. From http://lagartoverde.com

News on Mondays tends to be unflattering, and that is why, instead of writing a story, I would rather share a gossip, which if it doesn’t get you informed will entertain you. So I risk it.

You may surely remember the spell of that magician who at the Pioneer parties, amid the heat of a bonfire, before reaching into his hat, from which he then would pull out a small replica of the national insignia, would cross himself and say: “What until now was a handkerchief is turned into a flag.”

Well, it turns out that a few days ago–while Havana continues to face its unfortunate struggle of worn out prostitutes, criminals with decorum, the intellectualized poor, deranged leaders, entrepreneurs who have managed to triumph selling stolen little mirrors, and leftists who defend worn out images under the uproar of Chivas Regals–a friend called me to tell me in a conspiratorial tone that René González Sehewert, the well-known ex-convict, member of the gang “The Wasps 5 or 4,” had the indiscretion to express his discomfort, because in his view, he has not been treated in Cuba as he deserves.

What to believe? -I wonder- It is true that, from habitually lying, someone who practices espionage develops a constant conflict with the word loyalty; but it is also true that on December 29, 2001, Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power granted, in a special session, the honorary title of Hero of the Republic of Cuba to Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González.

I listened to the story, and so my friend told me that super-wasp René González, in an act of utter incoherence, because of his known legal status, wrote to General Raúl Castro who in response, instead of sending him to a psychiatrist, sent him an officer (nearsighted, shy and unpopular) as emissary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a state body known for spending its time and money on Origami, in addition to press releases.

The whistleblower and the envoy, forgetting the old saying: “Anything you try to hide is always visible to others,” went out for dinner and ended up at La Finca (The Ranch), a super exclusive restaurant, located in the old Biltmore neighborhood, today Siboney in the Playa municipality.

As entrée, they ordered avocado cream; and the main course was grilled goose liver in a fig-raspberry sauce.

This gastronomic refuge, certainly very inordinate, does not include in its structure a menu with the prices; I owe you that one. But it is logical to believe that people with foreign–and so un-proletarian–tastes may get their ideals spoiled due to emotional problems.

That said, it seems that, somewhat saturated with the national situation, even the spy wants God to send a beam of light over the island, capable of breaking the spell of the old and monotone cycle: “Wake up, sleep, die”; or in its failure, it could reward the island getting it out of simplicity toward eccentric and palatial luxury. Is it possible that every spy ends up somewhat perturbed?

This is quite a fable, hard to digest, but somebody assured me that through this emissary, René asked the General about the possibility of a job in any of the Cuban embassies in Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela or Ecuador, countries to which he offered to travel incognito, armed with his principles and taking his questionable ethics as luggage.

After the dessert, but before the coffee, making a funny face and showing a very flattering look in his eyes, René alleged that just like astronauts and emergency doctors, “agents” also need decompression time.

I have not been able to confirm yet the veracity of this story, but it reminded me of something that was once written to satirize the manual of the now extinct KGB: “Spies and criminals share that cold principle of being able to sell their mothers just to get rewarded.”

Translated by Chabeli

29 June 2013

Forgiveness or Justice / Juan Juan Almeida

The Ladies in White under attack by State Security and their mob

The dictators and their henchmen, as a rule, are extravagant, autocratic, narcissistic, hypochondriac, provocative, enigmatic and disturbing individuals. Because of this, and more, anyone who grew up in any of the links in the chain of a dictatorial regime, shares a psychosocial trauma that is difficult to cure.

Government violence starts to weaken the welfare state with the constant exercise of its own virtuosity to impose terror and creates uncertainty under the umbrella of authority. This validates the power and leaves citizens without any real possibility of using an internal or external entity to defend their rights. It is called — according to some scholars – legal helplessness.

Scientifically it has been shown that this damage affects all people regardless of social class to which each individual belongs. And it affects not only the psychological and family level, but also damnifies cultural and educational development.

I do not believe in left nor right; but that all dictatorships possess as their only ideology the practice of supremacy, and imposition of their rule to the extent that society ends up adopting passivity, submission and resignation as a natural phenomenon.

Totalitarianism, with absolute certainty is sexist, the  rules legally and reigns over the woman by whatever means.

I think many know the repeated humiliation of Cuba’s Ladies in White. But there is so much more; for example, Cuba’s psychiatric hospitals are stuffed with very descriptive records of horrific sexual assault by the authority, which not confronted legally, damages not only the body memory of each female victim, but also the shock becomes irreparable, and is extended to the children.

Countless women who have been affected in their individuality, in their environment, in their family, social and ethical surroundings. Hate, in these cases (without referring to the many mothers who have lost children in the sea), is a sensible and even necessary emotion.

Compelling reason forces me to believe that in order to discuss the future of Cuba and its transition, we should first be self-sufficient and unburden ourselves of the disguise, and with it, the desire to please.

I don’t know about others, but to me, I respect the view of those who are anxious to figure out how to outline a common moral discourse that encourages citizen exaltation; it sounds naive, false, ridiculous and even childish tome to hear them speak of Forgiveness as if this were an elegant, civilized and pragmatic response to State violence.

I wonder how could Forgiveness, by itself — if it could — not be the starting point for another period of violence, or how this same absolution could achieve the reconciliation of a society that for years seen their children confronted like bands of enemies.

I have read, and lately I hear with reiterated frequency, several formulas and examples, but I only trust two old tools that have historically proven to be more reliable than revenge, and more effective than tolerance: The law and justice.

1 June 2013

Raul Castro’s Government: A Crime Against Public Health / Juan Juan Almeida #Cuba

AguaWithout being very skilled in medical matters, and with onlyslight knowledge, I read that cholera is a very infectious disease, sometimes serious, produced by bacteria of the genus Vibrio. Itmanifestsas an epidemic where deficient sanitary conditions, overcrowding,war and starvationexist. And, its high mortality because ofdehydration is due fundamentally to the delay of patients in going to hospitalor to the lack of access to health services.

It was a sickness eradicated on our island, and according to information extracted by the Medical Sciences Information Center of the Matanzas Province, before this reappearance, the last cholera patient in Cuba was Manuel Jimenez Fuentes, who died of this illness August 3, 1882, when the island was still a colony of Spain.

Nevertheless, the number of people afflicted with this gastrointestinal infection exceeds four figures; and a well-informed friend from theMinistry of Health assures me that the institution expects this epidemic to affect more than 15 thousand people across the national territory because already the illness hascrossed the borders of the eastern provinces; today cases are reported in Camaguey, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Havana and Pinar del Rio.

The health authorities are urgently developing measures and, it is believed, a system of epidemiological vigilance over acute diarrheal illnesses. The international doctors arrived from Haiti have experience in treating patients with this disease. But this is not a task onlyfor the Ministry of Health; it should also include each and every one of the areas of government. They are all responsible.

It is true that with the absence of cholera cases on the island for more than a century, they managed to maintain in the population a low perception of risk; aside from the terrible conditions of national unhealthiness.

The fault, the abundant rains and high temperatures. In Cuba it has always rained cats and dogs, and the heat is geographic; the true cause is the lack of cleanliness, the lack of social awareness, and the inaccessibility of the population to information and themeans of prevention and keeping good hygiene. The epidemics are inextricably linked to — among other factors — the consumption of poor quality water, contamination, and thecrowding of the population in slums that lack basic infrastructure.

What is unfortunate and brazen is that Raul Castro’s government opts again for silence, complicity and deceit.

Why manipulate opinion and lie? Why say that they are working on the creation of a vaccine capable of fighting the epidemic if the available vaccines against cholera in the world only offer partial protection, 50% or less, and for a limited period (from three to six months at the maximum)? That is exactly the reason why immunization is not recommended, because it offers a false sense of security to the people vaccinated and, also, to the health authorities.

The most effective prevention in the face of an epidemic is personal and collective hygiene. Even so, this government applies taxes to imported hygiene and cleaning products, which makes them scarce, and basically they can only be acquired with convertible currency. For me, that is profiting from the health of the country; and in the penal code those are wellestablished as CRIMES AGAINST THE PUBLIC HEALTH.

I remind the General; for he who does not know how to lead, resigning is an excellent option.

Translated by mlk

January 19 2013

Of Euphoria in the Streets and the Cuban Reality / Juan Juan Almeida #Cuba

This Monday, January 14, many news agencies paid special attention to the implementation of the anticipated migratory relaxation that eliminates restrictions for Cubans to take trips abroad.

And it was logical, although I doubt that “the exit prohibition” will stop being applied by the Cuban government as a control, sanction or coercive measure to those citizens whom I will not mention now because you are quite familiar; it is interesting to know that Cubans may (at least according to the law), travel abroad with only their passport and, if appropriate, the visa that the destination country may demand.

But look, let’s put everything where it goes, we must not confuse this euphoria in the streets with the Cuban reality. The Government, using this measure as an anti-depressant for desolate times, is returning to its owners what it should never have stolen from them: the basic right to emigrate and to travel abroad. It is not a change of policy, it is a Kafkaesque metamorphosis.

Charity is good business. It is true that this measure seems an act of generosity, but it is purely economic. We are only witnessing another usual uproar of marketing and deception, organized by the same people who spent years trafficking mercilessly in the illusion of the Cuban people.

Let’s look at a little history. A while back the low demand of passengers and the worse direction of the country caused a big impact on the operational costs of Cuban Aviation. The country’s air transport was completely broke. Cuba was without airplanes and had to sell its sky, its transoceanic and domestic routes.

It was then that foreign businesses (and exiled Cubans) helped resuscitate a dead man who did not want to close his eyes. The matrimonial well-being of these foreign companies lasted a short while with the olive-green monarchy, on feeling itself reanimated but very pressured by international companies, and intense and voracious in their ambitions, remembered that its “business” was not in the price of the letter of invitation, the white card or the exit permit, but in the juicy earnings that the sale of passages in a monopolistic regime could bring in.

The refrain says it well, “The rooster never remembers when it was a chicken.” It is because of that that today, with the obscene quantity of millions of dollars annually that come from Venezuela, Cuba restores its air park and stimulates, through “the approval of this migratory maneuver publicized as human decency,” an urgent flow of desperate travellers obliged to buy round-trip passage.

And, being poorly planned, maybe that is why last November they withdrew the travel permits of the Airline Brokers agencies, whose company operated seven weekly flights from airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to Havana and Cienfuegos; and of C&T Charters.

Does it seem a coincidence that, after thousands of Cubans have become nationalized Spaniards, Friday, December 7, the giant Iberia would announce the cancellation of its flights to Cuba because of poor passenger traffic heading to Spain?

No, it is all a question of money. I do not need to go to Africa to recognize these vultures who from the cross prefer the nails.

Translated by mlk

January 15 2013

Patient No. 1 in Object 20 of CIMEQ Hospital / Juan Juan Almeida #Cuba

From: http://www.lanacion.com.ve
From: www.lanacion.com.ve

Since the Venezuelan president remains admitted in Havana, conjecture about his health seems to revert against the most conservative sectors, and to undermine the credibility of the serious enterprises dedicated to communication.  It is no coincidence, it is a very well laid out plan; because as my grandmother used to say, “In a game of patience, you have to think like a man who acts, and act like a man who thinks; when your exits are exhausted, the best thing is a strategy.”

About President Hugo Chavez’s state of health, we believe that we know a lot, but we do not know everything.  It is pure and simple manipulation; from one side, we have this reduced group with access to the commander that ably has decided to dispense the truth in order to gain time and legislate; and from the other, those that, consciously or unconsciously speculate with the information.

The Cuban government is expert in managing secrecy in order to boost with it the media roar and profitable mystery that death and immortality always create.  Its bunker par excellence is the quasi-inaccessible, impenetrable and murky “Object 20,” nestled in the labyrinthine CIMEQ Hospital, built in the style of Stalinist gigantism.

With audacious engineering and appalling decoration, since 1986 Object 20 has been a temple to the Egyptian belief in life after death.  A construction attached to CIMEQ Hospital but with its own autonomy, built for the purpose of satisfying the ego and paranoia of power and security.  My experience with that place is stormy; therefore, in my personal opinion, it represents a threat more than a seduction.

Object 20 is a kind of sanctuary. When we enter through the basement, we go directly to a spa designed in accord with the ludicrous taste of whoever still longs for the nights of the erstwhile Communist Moscow. Thick walls, soundproofed and fortified by immense slabs of Jaimanita stone darken the Olympic-sized pool, which the sun never touches; on the side a darkened and unused gymnasium fitted out as an Italian fashion statement follows a musical therapy space, two steam rooms, a sauna, two pools for contrast baths, a jacuzzi, equipment for hydromassage, an area to soothe stress, and a well-stocked pantry. All this is watched by four guards who stay on alert, in front of closed circuit cameras.

Exiting through the rear one finds a squash court and a running track. As the spa is built with very high ceilings, this place has no first floor; on the second are situated the intermediate and intensive therapy rooms.  And on the third and last level, after a room for bodyguards, an infirmary and a pantry, there are five patient rooms from which and through a wide, one-way window (of high impact and German fabrication) that they always keep spotless, one can see a pretty countryside with yagruma trees.

The strategical fort turned into a center of international political relations can only be accessed by obtaining authorization from the office of General Raul Castro. And to top it off, when there is a High class or VIP patient, as is the case, neither doctors nor nurses, service personnel, bodyguards, telephone operators – absolutely no one is permitted contact with friends or relatives, let alone with the outside. The comments that come out, either the Cuban government releases them in order to control opinion, or they are scurrilous inventions.

Of one thing you can be sure, the Venezuelan president is the best attended patient on the planet, with products ranging even beyond the world of medicine and pharmacopoeia. A competent team works unceasingly for his improvement. They know that if the Bolivarian leader were to die in Havana, the cause of death would be questioned immediately, divisions within the ranks of ALBA would be created and the little reliability that remains in the Cuban health system would be destroyed.

Translated by mlk

January 14 2013

The General’s Speech – An Odd Catharsis / Juan Juan Almeida

The speech by General Raul Castro Ruz at the regular meeting of the National Assembly was opportunistic and authoritarian. To denationalize Cuban society, as a decision of the State, does not mean much, especially when political discourse doesn’t reflect the real need for a non-state sphere, or limit the unlimited powers of the Party and State. On the contrary, it mitigates and releases the State from an obstacle that consumes it.To pretend and gain time is an interplay to recover and strengthen the State. He made it very clear by saying “We are not abandoning, even for a moment, the unity of the majority of Cubans around the Party and the Revolution, that unity that has helped us get here and continue to move forward in building our Socialism.”

Why is Raul blaming the endemic corruption on Cuban leaders, and not putting his brother Fidel at the top the list? What is the meaning of the letter he read before the beginning of the long-awaited regular session of the assembly? It says, “You brought us freedom, gave us land and labor.” Manipulation is the word, a direct way to monopolize opinion. Conditioning the audience is the same as censoring it.

The parliamentary bacchanal only reports. There was no confrontation of ideas nor a free and plural debate. As always it was a poor simulation, a cathartic adulation among people who share the same ideological position, similar ethical principles, a single party and the same aspirations. What else could we expect?

Mr. President, no doubt you need to restore lost confidence to the people. The measures or maneuvers, however you call them, to reshape immigration policy, subsidize the sale of some building materials, make housing policy more flexible, authorize the purchase and transfer of cell phones, cars and houses,rearrange the sugarcane zones, sell agricultural products to tourist-industry complexes, and expand the area of land in usufruct serve only to give credit and acknowledge a young, new social class, so it will give you support and backing.

Talking about the future of Cuban socialism as something new, forgetting the present, creates a laughable disappointment. It crosses the line in its disrespect of the Cuban people.

The President-General, Machiavellian and hypocritical, made a show of a benevolence that he doesn’t profess and needs to represent. He announces as a commendable decision that he is pardoning over 2,900 prisoners. He says further that he took into account the announced visit to Cuba of Pope Benedict XVI, and the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity del Cobre.

He should be ashamed; at the least he should be scolded. The release of those prisoners, among so many other interventions and pressures, national and international, is the essential result of the unequaled prowess of the LADIES IN WHITE. Raul Castro is too dishonest, and too insignificant for my taste.

Translated by Regina Anavy

December 28 2011

Silito Tabernilla, A General / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ: There are men who unwittingly become part of history. That is the case with General Tabernilla.

Where were you born?

ST: I was born in beautiful Guanabacoa, son. I lived there a year and a half, then we moved to La Cabaña where my father belonged. I kept living in Guanabacoa, I never left. My uncle Marcelo, my father’s brother lived there. There were three brothers: Francisco, Carlos and Marcelo.

JJ: When did you join the military?

ST: I told you that when I was a year old or so we moved to La Cabaña from Guanabacoa. From early childhood I lived among soldiers. I am a soldier by birth and by calling, but I officially entered military life in 1937, the same year my wife was born.

My brothers became pilots, but aviation didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t like taking a plane to go from here to there. If they gave me an order I’d do it, but I don’t like to fly. Even here, every time they invite me I say no ….

JJ: What do you remember about that last flight,when you left Cuba?

ST: Well, it was a long process. The American ambassador told Fulgencio Batista that he should leave Cuba and that the United States would not recognize the government of Rivero Agüero.

Batista accepted, but if he had acted like a President, people would have supported him, and the military also, although many soldiers were disgusted because every time they presented well-thought-out plans to finish off Fidel, Batista rejected them. It was unbelievable how he defended Fidel. Of course, Batista was not a soldier, neither by career nor mind-set.He was in the army as a sergeant stenographer.

On December 2, 1956,the telegram came about the landing of Fidel Castro and a group of around 100 men. We found out even before the landing, and we could have acted. By then I was head of the infantry division in the military town. At 11:00 I asked the CIM for Batista, and they informed me that he was eating at the home of Dr. Garcia Monte. I went there, and when I arrived they were playing canasta –the Admiral, Rivero Aguero, Garcia Monte, some others and Batista. He stared at me. I talked to him about the landing and our lack of reaction. He asked me for discretion, he said: “Silito, let’s talk about this later, I don’t want Martica (his wife) getting nervous.” After a while he got up and asked for a map. They brought him one from the Esso gas station. He opened it and immediately asked where the landing had been. He knew nothing about it. He proposed sending 40 men.It was totally crazy, but he believed he was invincible.

JJ: Invincible, like any dictator….

ST: Yes, invincible. Batista under-estimated Fidel Castro, or maybe he wanted to help him. With respect I suggested to him that he send 2,000 men to put a quick end to the incipient insurrection, but Batista answered: “Listen, Silito, you’re crazy, don’t you know that no one lives in the Sierra Maestra?”

Look, he had no idea about what it means to be a soldier. Then they sent a battalion under the command of Juan Gonzalez. In Alegria de Pio Captain Morelos Bravo had made contact with those we called “the rebels” in a sugarcane field that was on fire. I’ve never seen a cane field burning, it must be horrible.

JJ: And hot.

ST: Impressive. There were casualties on both sides. Our troops regrouped to organize the final offensive, but General Robaina arrived with instructions from the President and ordered a return to Havana. Leaving that situation in the hands of the rural guard was another tremendous insanity. Commander Juan Gonzalez was insubordinate and was punished for it. One can say that Fidel Castro arrived in the Sierra Maestra because Batista let him win. And there were many times that Batista spared Fidel’s life; all those decisions were taken in my office at Columbia, in the military town. Any effective action would have ended that war, but this one extended it, it finished nothing, and the troops were eager to stop and return. Batista had delusions of being democratic, pretending to be something he wasn’t, and because of that he was never photographed with any solider.

Then came the campaign of Herbert Matthews. First he interviewed Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra and then Batista in the palace. The publicity from that meeting, a little manipulated,had a significant effect, especially on the businessmen. General Cantillo was named chief of operations and prepared a perfect plan to kill Fidel, but the same problems that set Batista against his own military led him to conspire. That was a process which,in private, ended with the Americans taking part in the affair. On November 1958 Mr. Powell met with Batista. After that meeting Batista himself told me “Listen, Silito, when that guy called me, I wanted to give them a kick.” Things were getting complicated,the elections were approaching, and the Americans began to intervene openly in favor of Fidel Castro. This was something incredible that we could talk about for hours. They even took away our weapons, and we had to buy them in the Dominican Republic. When the American ambassador told Batista that he must leave Cuba and that they would not recognize the government of Rivero Agüero, Batista agreed.

I was in the military town, it was about 5:30 in the evening, calm, when my phone rang and it was Fulgencio Batista asking for Cantillo. I called the Air Force and they answered that Cantillo was flying from Santiago de Cuba and would land in Columbia in about an hour. I told Batista, and he said that when the plane landed, to order Cantillo to meet him at his house at 8:30 pm. It was Cantillo’s wedding anniversary, so they met at 10:30,not at 8:30 as previously ordered. When I got to Kuquine,there were several people. Cantillo arrived at 10:30, and they enclosed themselves in the office for 10 or 15 minutes.

When I returned to Columbia, I went with the order to deliver the division under my command to General Cantillo (he who has the division has control of Columbia). I had sent for the top officers. We did the transfer of power.Here I have it saved as a historical document of my immediate resignation. There Cantillo informs us that the president has decided to resign to avoid bloodshed. Some were happy thinking about the end of the war.Others were sad, envisioning perhaps that there would be a much longer and worse war.

I returned to the residence and Batista was eating. When he finished, he told the duty officer to let us come in. We generals entered, and Captain Martinez picked up the charts and the operations dispatches in the room. The planes were ready; our route was to fly to Daytona Beach. Batista’s fate would be decided during the flight itself. The last thing I remember about Cuba is that I got on a plane, and with the same gun I had when I rode into Columbia, I landed in Jacksonville.

JJ: And tell me, General, have you thought about returning?

ST: Yes, absolutely yes, I’ve thought about returning. It’s what every Cuban yearns for.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Concave and Convex / Juan Juan Almeida

The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly are just points of view. The legal or illegal is something different altogether. I don’t believe in the truthfulness of any political discourse, at least not until someone begins by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, what I’m about to say is false and manipulative.”

I’m all for theappearance of Pablo Milanes in the city of Miami. Look, that doesn’t make me an enemy of those who rightly protest the presence of the singer in the capital ofCuban exile.

For me, the controversial concert and the performance of a bulldozer breaking Pablo’s CDs are acts with the same cultural value. I like both; they inflame and fascinate me. Antagonistic positions always create diversity, and they generate freedoms. But it’s sad to see that even today, Cuba and Miami continue to show the sad pride of being fiefdoms dominated by the same dictator.

If there is anything that accompanies me since I started thinking, it has been my doubts. Free will is a gift for which you have to fight.

Translated by Regina Anavy

August 27 2011

Noble as a Farmer, Wise as a Priest / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ.- Hector, whether some like it or not, your name is relevant when we speak of the internal opposition in Cuba. How do you see Hector Palacios?

HP.- Well, first I want to introduce myself because you already know me, but many readers do not. I am a farmer who was born in the Escambray. I am also one of the revolutionaries who since 1980, exactly during the Mariel crisis, stopped being on the side of this thing they call Revolution. Because of that I spent time in prison; I have been a prisoner of conscience three times. And between short and long detentions, I have been detained dozens and dozens of times that add up total many years. Solely and exclusively for the crime of thinking or suggesting, many times, that things have to be different.

In 1989, I was the founder of the first liberal movement of this last period in Cuba.

JJ. What kind of “Liberal”?

The type of liberal that the leaders of this country’s independence were.

I currently lead “The Liberal Unity” of the Republic of Cuba and…

JJ.-Yes, but I prefer not to get into party politics yet. Héctor, as you said a moment ago, your life began in the countryside. There is even, at least in my view, a strong rural influence in your way of speaking, of looking at things, of saying and expressing your ideas. Tell me about these beginnings, your childhood, family environment, friends.

HP.- Look, I was born in a pretty inhospitable area in the middle of the Escambray…

JJ.-What is its name?

H.-Pico Blanco. That is where my family settled, and then people came who rose up against the dictator Fulgencio Batista, the people of the Revolutionary Directorate, the Second Front of the Escambray, Che when he came from Oriente… That is, I lived in the middle of that place. But we lived peacefully, in bateyes (outbuildings), each family with a group of houses built around the head patriarch’s house.

JJ.- And what was life like in that environment?

HP.- There were teachers and priests who baptized you. I was baptized. At that time there were not the number of schools that were built later. At that time, I mean in nineteen fifty-something, where I was born there were only three schools. And it is true that in those schools all the grades were taught together, but when you finished a grade, you really finished it.

There was a lot more discipline. And, besides, you had to work in addition to going to school. That was the farming custom and that is why, among other reasons, that there was food in Cuba. Because people worked.

If you go there today, you will see that where we produced hundreds of hundred-pound sacks of coffee, thousands of tons of sugar, I don’t know how much cheese, milk, etc., today they don’t produce anything. The Escambray is without its people.

I grew up like that. The farming environment is supportive, solid, religious, and has very sincere principles. At home you couldn’t tell a lie, you ate on time.

My family wasn’t rich. My father was a mule driver and he worked from sun to sun with his team of mules.

JJ.- Was your family strict?

HP.-Some were stricter than others. I think that is a problem with farming customs. But in general they were all strict. In my home there was a lot of discipline at meal time, with personal hygiene, study time… I remember that I learned the multiplication tables at my grandmother’s house. I had to do it in a few weeks because on my left was the book but on my right was the ruler. Yes, there was strictness, there certainly was, but we lived with a lot of affection and love. It was something else.

Then it all fell apart and, just as my family was destroyed–and it was a big family–all the rest of the families of Cuba were destroyed, and those of the countryside and the nation.

And I want to confess something to you that I have never told anybody but I have thought a lot about this campaign of Raúl Castro’s that–according to him–proposes to give land to farmers for their use as if land could be given for its use. Look, you have to give land or not give it. He knows very well that it is harder to create a farmer than a doctor. At 24 years of age, a doctor is a doctor, but a 50-year-old farmer is still not a farmer.

I don’t know how Raúl Castro is going to solve the problem of a countryside without farmers. In Cuba, 80% of the people used to live in the countryside; and it was the countryside, it had a tradition of over two hundred years. So I don’t see how it is possible to solve the problem of the countryside as it is being done now.

It might be possible to solve the administrative/bureaucratic obstacles, but you need generations for the farmer to learn again how to look at the sky, because that true man, who smells it when it is going to rain, who doesn’t go to the hospital because he has a sick ox, a hurt animal or because his cow is going to give birth; that man is very difficult to make in days like these when farmers only get sunburns, lots of insecurity and pretty bad pay for their work.

JJ.- By the way, Héctor, there is a myth or a reality, I don’t know, that says that country boys have their first sexual experiences with animals. Did you have that experience along with others?

HP.- I’ll tell you. In the country there was not the “sexual spirit” that there is today. That is, you did each thing in its time. The farmer, generally, got married very young when he was just carrying his first or second girlfriend on the back of his horse. That was the custom. Not like now, when there is a very strong sexual appetite because there is nothing like what there used to be.

I really don’t remember that that was my life or that of other farmers. I don’t mean it wasn’t done, or that it isn’t still done; but you really started your family very young.

JJ.- Let’s talk about your youth. There is no doubt that the Revolution, more than a dream, was a radical process that many fell in love with. How did you see that process? Why and to what degree did you get involved?

HP.- Look, son, I didn’t go out to look for revolution; the Revolution came looking for me. I lived in the Escambray and nothing there interested me. The first town I visited was in the area of Güinía de Miranda, just at the time El Che took Güinía, about twenty kilometers from Manicaragua. That’s why I tell you that the Revolution came looking for us. And it came with an important program that they read to us, “History Will Absolve Me”, that spoke of reestablishing the constitutional order lost in 1952 after the coup; of giving land to the farmers; of paying fair salaries; of having several political parties; of not having leaders who would deceive the people; and of the need to construct roads, highways, etc…

JJ.-You fell in love, like others, with the “Moncada Program.”

HP.-Yes, I fell in love with the Moncada Program.

We really were not needy; we had our own revolution, our own land, we ate well… And not only our family, but dozens of families that lived together there and didn’t have many problems. But the best thing we had then was, in that area, no darned politicians or communists.

Later yes, later it filled up with that.

I joined the Revolution, rose up very young, only thirteen years old. I fought passionately for that Revolution until the 1980’s. Yes, I fought passionately for the Revolution until the ’80’s and I was deceived by it. Not now; now I fight for myself, for that Revolution I founded in my head.

JJ.-But today the story is different. I understand that “The Revolution” didn’t change; its leaders changed.

HP.-The Revolution changed, it is still to be made. Incredibly, now we are much worse off than under Batista. Now the land doesn’t belong to the farmers, as it did before; the store doesn’t belong to the storekeeper, as it used to, etc., etc.

Batista was a tyrant who did not monopolize property. I think that the most difficult period, as far as citizens’ problems go, began in the ’80’s.

JJ.- And what was your metamorphosis like? How did you become part of the opposition after having believed so passionately in the Revolution?

HP.- I have been surprised to hear many people say, “Suddenly, I changed.”

That’s a lie, nobody changes that quickly; it’s a process.

JJ.- Well sure, that’s why I said “metamorphosis”.

HP.- In the sugarcane harvest of ’70 I felt deceived, one could smell the lies. And with “The ten million are going” campaign the country was ruined. No factory worked or anything.

JJ.- Yes, many Cubans felt deceived; but not all of them became dissidents.

HP.- Because that isn’t easy, son. When a political process hooks you, it isn’t easy to unhook yourself. You have to have experience. I had the luck of having experience because in the middle of all this I made myself into a psychologist, a sociologist, learned to read and write… And it isn’t that I didn’t know how to read and write; I know how. But I learned well, as I learned how to relate to people. I left the Escambray and learned about the other world.

For me the final blow began in ’79 when they let the famous “counterrevolutionaries” who lived in Miami enter Cuba. It was a campaign of Fidel’s, “The Country Has Grown”, in which it was understood that the problems between Miami and Havana had been resolved. Then I, who had family outside with whom I couldn’t correspond, had to deal with those families who put their JEANS in front of me. I asked myself a thousand times, why?

It was like the one who had been showered with rotten eggs when he left had come back to give you a box of eggs. Something like that.

That was my first shock, and I didn’t pay attention to them and so got warnings.

The following year came “El Mariel” and how was I to imagine that this country was prepared to even kill or run over and beat people… “El Mariel” was the decisive point for many people. But don’t forget that the people of this country were terrified. Because this Revolution sowed terror. People were indiscriminately executed by firing squad, etc.

JJ.- With no trial?

HP.- Well, there were summary trials with no serious appeals allowed. Then terror began to be sowed. And the worst thing is, the worst thing that can happen to a human being is to be terrified because no one can think or reason if he is terrified.

It happened to me; I also lived terrified. The first time the State Security came to visit me, I almost died. Because I thought that was how…well, how it is: true power. But it is a malevolent power that I didn’t know existed. The top leaders knew this, the ones who had created the problem. We intermediate-level soldiers did not know about this.

When I saw that in the street was when I definitely broke with this totalitarian, unscrupulous dictatorship.

JJ.- And doesn’t it seem to you that, speaking of that very fear, is what is happening now?

HP.- No, I am talking about terror, and what there is now is fear. People think with fear. There is an enormous difference between fear and terror. As I said, people cannot think when they are terrorized; with fear, they can. That is why what they call Revolution has reached a critical stage, because the terror is passing.

JJ.- Now then, you are a definite member of the opposition.

HP.- Yes, sure.

JJ… and there is a theory that the members of the opposition are people who marginalize themselves, who isolate themselves from society… How much truth is there is this? Where does this theory come from? Do you hide, stay away from movie theaters, or…?

HP.- Those are theories invented by totalitarian parties and governments. Don’t forget that the easiest thing for a totalitarian party or government (with all the power in the world) to do is to denigrate others.

And one way to denigrate a human being is to marginalize him or accuse him of not having contact with reality, or with the people, or with his family, etc.

There is no more balanced person than a dissident. Because he thinks about tomorrow, about his family, he thinks about remaking what has been taken from us, thinks about not having again the bad things we had or that we have today. And, even more, we think about not killing, about love and, of course, about others’ rights.

JJ.- Do you have friends who are active in the Communist Party?

Of course; some are good people. It is just that they are terrorized like the senior government appointees are terrified because they know they are being watched. I told you a while ago, in a private conversation, that I have a brother who is a high official in the army, whom I haven’t seen for 20 years. He lives there at Matanza, has two or three cars; for him it is easy to come but he is still living in a state of terror. The poor guy doesn’t visit our mother either. They could take away his stripes and even certain benefits.

Look, right now, after the transfer of power–because here there have been no elections and Raúl has not been elected President but rather there has been a transfer within the monarchy (because here there is a type of monarchy), 25 senior leaders have been replaced. Who would have thought that Carlos Lage could have been replaced, or Felipe Pérez Roque?

Translated by S.Solá

2 June 2011

From San Antonio To Maisí, All Cuba Awaits / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ – Willy, like I told you a few days ago, it was a pleasure to meet you and an honor to see you sing. Tell me something, brother, what is your divine formula — or secret — to sound the same in a theater as on a CD?

W – If you’re asking me which is the biggest blessing God has given me in professional matters, I would answer you that more than singing, playing an instrument, writing a song and even entertaining a public, I think that I know how to make an orchestra sound good, or maybe it’s being able to ask each musician that the result be harmonious and with swing. Besides rehearsing frequently and always demonstrating to my musicians that the first one ready to give it his all is me.

JJ – I like your music, that fusion that you succeed in mixing rock & roll with sound in a masterful way fascinates me. Thought and heart, you’re all alchemist. Why does an artist of your stature, a local idol with an impressive musical presence, stay local and go out so little to explore? Do you do it for comfort, love of your native land, lack of time, or is it a question of opportunity?

W – That isn’t so, this past year we gave concerts in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Tenerife, Belgium, Milan, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mexico City, Guanajuato, Los Angeles, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and it’s possible I’ve forgotten some other place. Traveling more isn’t what interests me. I like dedicating time to my family, too, to my home and my studio.

JJ – “Ya viene llegando” (“Our Day Is Coming”) is an anthem to nostalgia, a song that makes you dance, cry, think. What happens today with that day you dreamt about in the 90s, that you sing about in 2011, that doesn’t stop coming?

W – That question has different answers.

I prefer to think that we still haven’t stopped burning the karma produced by the crimes committed by our forebears since 1492. But today I feel more optimistic than ever that we see the light at the other end of the tunnel.

JJ – A friend we have in common told me that the present Cuban government (and I say “present” to not speak badly of it) won’t let you enter Cuba. Tell me something, Chirino, with so many people who follow you, you singing from your stage and with many who listen to you, why don’t you raise your voice and help me fight against that violation that the same “present” government uses to be able to dominate, punish, and divide the Cuban family and its own citizens?

W – I have not stopped, nor will I stop raising my voice through my music to denounce the horrors committed by this line of thugs who misgovern my country and demand justice for my people.

JJ – I don’t consider myself a politician; but I have political opinions as I have them about art, religion, sociology or sports. What do you think of those artists who use as a leitmotiv the phrase “I am an artist, and do not politically opine”? Do they say that out of fear, opportunism, or because they know the proverb “There is no more politician than the seeming politician””?

W – I believe that every Cuban has the responsibility to denounce the reality of our people, no matter where or how he lives.

Words from our Apostle (José Martí): “When we’re dealing with freedom, everything into the fire … even art, to feed the bonfire.”

JJ – A guajiro in Vuelta Abajo came up to me and said to me one day “If the breeze in Pinar makes a sound, it’s from Willy Chirino.”

W – That guajiro went over the top with his commentary. There is no pay nor applause that might be equal to words like those. What a good phrase for my tombstone.

Translated by: JT

January 13, 2011

…they will see me fight again in the Sala Kid Chocolate, in the Sports City or in whatever other place… / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ Odlanier Solis Fonte, you are a glory of sport and the pride of Cuba. Three-time world champion, Olympic champion in Athens 2004, a personality in professional boxing. Why do you think that the Cuban government – violating its own laws – forbids you to enter your own country?

OS Look, I ask myself that but I can’t find an answer. There is no reason to put up with this exit permit, nor an entry visa. That affects us all, but soon, someday it will have to change…. These people are not going to be in power forever. We’re Cuban, Cuba is our country. We have to protest, it is not fair, or decent to bear this injustice.

JJ Yes, we have to protest, but meanwhile, those people who followed you and still follow you from Cuba, and especially from Havana, can’t see you fight.

OS See, that’s something that hurts. To them I dedicate this fight and victory. But sooner or later they’ll see me fight again in the Sala Kid Chocolate*, in the Sports City* or elsewhere. I’m Cuban and proud of it.

*Translator’s note:
Sala Kid Chocolate is an indoor stadium in the center of Havana, near the Capitoilio. Sport City is an athletic complex a few miles out of town, where promising young athletes are sent to live and train, sometimes from childhood, and which houses various sporting venues, and the headquarters of the Cuban Government Sporting Association.

Translated by ricote

December 21, 2010

My Heart and My Soul are in Santiago de Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

My name is Rick Schwag. I live in Vermont. And for people who doubt that, my telephone number is 802-626-5578

Three years ago, I was put in a Cuban detention center for 8 days, in the tourist prison behind the place where tourists renew their visas, at the corner of Factor y Final, in Havana. I have renewed many visas there, and I never knew that this complex also includes a prison until I was imprisoned myself.

My crime was wanting to know what happened to the very valuable anesthesiology machines that we donated to the William Soler Clinic in Havana.  At first, they told me that the machines had not been accepted, and in a normal way, I went from one office to another trying to find out what happened to them. I went to MINVEC, (The Ministry of Foreign Investment) MINSAP, (Ministry of Public Health), ICAP( Institute of Friendship with the Peoples), and other organizations and Ministries, until perhaps for asking too many questions, I was detained.  I say detained because that is what they told me, but where there are bars and cells, I prefer to say “imprisoned.”

After that, after being freed, the person in charge of receiving donations from North America, Raciel Proenza said that I was a trouble maker and that he would ensure that I would never again be permitted to enter Cuba. It seemed like a threat, but when I tried to return to the island, it turned out to be true. I had to sleep on the floor of the Jose Marti airport in Havana, and I was forced to return to the United States the next day.  At least that was much better than returning to jail!

Think about it. Lots of people work in Cuba for political reasons; but in my case my reason was entirely humanitarian, and for the real love that connects me to many Cubans. I thought that I could be useful, and in retrospect, not having any political motivation was a little unusual. I started off with a few boxes of Tylenol, because many Cubans told me how difficult it was to obtain medicines. I remember that in 1997, I purchased ten huge sacks that could carry 120 pounds of medicine, which I thought was a huge amount.  But a year after that I was sending the first container of dental chairs and hospital beds.  All with the collaboration of the  people at the General Hospital of Santiago de Cuba. One thing leads to the next and I created a non-profit, Caribbean Medical Transport, and over the next 10 years I sent about 20 containers of medical equipment to Cuba, each container 40 feet long, with about 20,000 pounds of donations inside, usually partnering with other non-profits. I know many of the people who send humanitarian aid to Cuba and I am happy to work with them.

The second and third containers were loaded with 7,200 gallons of paint that we received from a recycling plant in Oregon. That was something wonderful! The paint was for hospitals.

From the beginning I saw the enormous difference between working with people in Santiago de Cuba — the hospital directors, the municipal and provincial officials of the Ministry of Health — and the bureaucrats in Havana.

I remember meeting with the director of donations of the Ministry of Health in Havana, concerning the paint.  He wanted all the paint to go to Havana. My point was that Havana is about 20% of the population and receives more than 90% of the donations that come to the country.  But in the end, we agreed to send 3,600 gallons to Havana and 3,600 to Santiago.

This is what happened. In Santiago, everyone was honest.  They told me that unfortunately, 3 five gallon drums had broken in transit, so 15 gallons of paint were lost. We had a great partnership, honest, and respectful. But in Havana, everything was different. For a year, no one would tell me what happened to the paint.

The donors wanted to travel to Cuba to see the hospitals that they had painted, which is normal and logical. I spoke to MINSAP, ICAP, all the people I worked with in Havana, and I explained, “These are donors! If they have a good experience they will want to donate more paint, so please, tell me which building got painted and let‘s arrange a nice tour for the donors.”  I was told that the donors would not be permitted to visit the hospitals unless they got a special visa of collaboration and there wasn’t any time for that. I could give more examples of bureacratic incompetence and laziness.

In 2006 we sent two anesthesiology machines to the William Soler Clinic. These machines are worth about $40,000 each, but they are worth much more than that in human lives. It was a favor to Wayne Smith, who obtained these machines from Johns Hopkins University.  Everything was done with the necessary license from the Commerce Department of the United States. A year later the problems began: I got an email from MINVEC, with the headline in capitals, DENIED. The donation of anesthesilogy  machines has been denied entry into the country for lack of completing the proper procedures. I wrote back immediately, stating that all the procedures were completed by Wayne Smith and the directors of the William Soler Clinic, and that all I had done was write the necessary permit so the machines could leave the US.

Not very happy, I went to Havana, to see if I could find them; if these machines are not permitted to enter Cuba, they should be brought to the Dominican Republic or any other country that needed them.  I was told that this was impossible and that the machines had been burned.

Of course that is a big lie. Nobody in this world burns anesthesiology machines. These machines were not mine.  There are standards of transparency and accountability in the world of humanitarian donations that Cuba, apparently, does not respect. I needed to know and give an account of what had happened, in order not to create fantasies. This was not the first time that things had disappeared in Cuba. It was my obligation to investigate, with the sole purpose of helping the people of Cuba, I could not ignore those international standards of conduct. And for that, I was threatened, then imprisoned, and finally, prohibited from returning to Cuba.

A few months ago I received a new license from the United States Department of Commerce. I am allowed to send any type of medical equipment, medicine, hospital supplies, food, clothing, sporting equipment, pots and pans and household items, millions of dollars of supplies and donations.  But MINVEC has told me that they will not permit me to send anything, and has told some partners of mine in Europe that no NGO is permitted to work with me, even though I can find the supplies and even find the money to pay the shipping.

And so, I ask myself, where is the blockade?

I can tell other stories about the apathy and incompetence and corruption of the system. For questioning the system and insisting on the necessary accountability, I became Rick, ” the bad guy.” Unfortunately in Cuba, for some people, there are things that are more important than receiving medical equipment donated to meet the needs of the Cuban people.

I know many people who have had similar experiences: architects, health providers, city planners, sister city groups, journalists.  The sad thing is that most of my colleagues are afraid to talk about the bureaucracy and the corruption, because they know that if they talk, their projects will be terminated.

We Americans live in an open society where we can criticize everyone who deserves criticism. But the sad truth is that instead of exporting our openness and honesty over to Cuba, we import the fear of those in Cuba back to the United States, fear of telling the truth, and we join in the complicity of silence. I am talking because I prefer to leave without fear, even if it brings more punishment. I prefer to cry for what I have lost, but not for cowardice.

Like I said, my name is Rick Schwag, of Caribbean Medical Transport, and I live in Vermont.  I have many friends in Cuba, including many people in the municipal governments, where some officials do care about the people that they are supposed to serve. They are my friends, but they have to keep quiet.  I am still the director of Caribbean Medical Transport, and I continue to send donated medical equipment to Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Brazil and other places where our work is appreciated.

I would love to continue to help Cubans also. My heart and soul are in Santiago de Cuba.

Translated by ricote

December 13, 2010

Brother, you only have one life, to live it with fear, what sense is there in that? – Rafter. Amaury Gutierrez / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ You are a well-known singer, graduate of the National School of Art Instructors in Cuba. Nominated for and winner of several major awards, without a doubt you have achieved something enviable. Tell me about your home, in Santa Clara.

AG I am what you see, I was born in a small village on the outskirts of Santa Clara, which is called Vueltas. There I grew up, studied, was raised. I feel an immense love for my province. There I learned what I am today. My province, the great Villa Clara, has an impressive movement of poetry, music, dance, and although you are from Havana, and therefore a fan of the Industriales, Las Villas is the capital of baseball in Cuba.

JJ It’s true, you’re right, Santa Clara has the best baseball team of Cuba … after the Industriales.

AG Let me tell you something, I’m a fan of the Industriales, to me, the best amateur baseball club of the world and the best club in Cuba. Villa Clara has a tremendous sporting movement, always. It is a major city, and being in the center of our island, there is a continuous coming and going of learning.

JJ Perhaps that is why even the son of Santa Clara is different.

AG No, that’s another thing. No one can speak of a son of Santa Clara. The son of Santa Clara does not exist. Son, like almost all Cuban music is from the East, although in other regions of the country it is named differently and expresses itself differently.

I told you that Santa Clara is a city with a strong cultural heritage, with a constantly changing social life. The people in my province have swing, it is the city in Cuba where FM radio is most heard. People are well-informed about what happens here in the United States and the rest of the planet. It is a population with a hunger for knowledge and improvement.

Santa Clara is par excellence the land of resistance against the current regime, since the uprising in the Escambray in the early 60’s, and most of the protagonists were from Villa Clara, farmers in the area, who helped the rebels.

JJ I think that the group Afrocuba marked a before and after in your career; does it mean something in your life that you are also Afro-Cuban?

AG Absolutely. Afrocuba was the band that I wanted to sing with, the best band in Cuba in the 80’s, it was like the Irakere of its time. No doubt this dream was possible thanks to Arturo Sandoval. In a Jazz festival where I had the opportunity to be the opening act for him, and the luck that he listened to what I did. Then the business was completed with the help of a musicologist friend, Elsa, who brought a cassette with my songs and told the band director, Oriente Lopez, about me.

Afrocuba was one of the most beautiful artistic enriching experiences of my life. But to be Afro-Cuban … let’s see, to be Afro-Cuban is a very difficult thing because the country is racist. If you tell a white man about the racism that exists in Cuba, they always deny it. It’s logical. I know well what I’m talking about, I am the son of a white man and a black woman. I’m black. I realized early on that it was harder for blacks to achieve our goals. I became aware of race at the home of Pablo Milanés. I was then 27, had just arrived from another province and 6 years working in the Escambray, I was still a virgin.

It is very hard to be black; to me it is an honor. Cuba is more than that, it is mixed, white, black, mulatto.

JJ You were a virgin at 27?

AG Yes, virgin of thought, candor, innocence. Music has been one of the fundamental contributions of our island to world culture. I am very proud to be a Cuban musician, of being part of this beautiful phenomenon that is contemporary Cuban popular music. I like my black look. I once had an exchange of ideas with Alvarez Guedes, a guy whom I adore. He asked why not change my image, my braids, my rings. He told me that like this, he saw me as more black. I remember that I answered, “that’s just what I want, to be black, to be myself. I’m not going to dress in costume or stretch out my hair. I don’t want to be like that, I want to be like Bob Marley. I am, like Cuba, a mixture of Africa and Spain, but I am more African.” Africa is within us. If you listen to Cuban music you will find the African presence, the same goes for dancing, painting, cooking, how to talk, body language, cadence of walking… Many talk about the white Spain and seem to want to ignore the years of North African domination. Flamenco music itself has a very strong Arabic influence. But Africa is not only present in our country or in Spain, the popular music we hear today has roots and is basically African. Rock and roll has its African origin, also country music, Caribbean music, tango, candombé… everything.

JJ Is it not a bit ironic that a romantic like you went into exile precisely on February 14, Valentine’s Day?

AG Well, we can consider it as an act of romanticism that was not premeditated.

The reality was that the flight was scheduled for the thirteenth, but because of one of those rare things that only happen in Cuba, we could not travel that day. I was telling you last time that we recorded this same interview – because you should publish it and you lost this interview that you already did — that they were throwing a tremendous amount of witchcraft at us, and so we decided, instead of returning home, to sleep in the José Martí airport in Havana.

JJ Do you consider yourself to be romantic?

AG Yes, I consider myself a romantic in thinking, my way of being, talking about what is romantic in its pure concept. My music is romantic and has to do with who I am, with Matamoros, José Antonio Méndez, with Bola de Nieve, Cesar Portillo de la Luz, Armando Manzanero. My music is romantic, and so are my songs although sometimes there are others that are not so much because they talk about other issues like rafters, the country, etc. I am a romantic, I like utopia, I love it. I am a dreamer.

JJ That’s nice, but sometimes we have dreams that create enemies.

AG Imagine that! The best dreams always have enemies. Ask yourself why, ask Gandhi, Nelson Mandela.

JJ It is pleasant to note that there still exist dreamers, that is comforting.

They say the Cuban government will not allow you to travel to your country. What explanation can prevent you from visiting your family, hugging your friends or giving a concert anywhere in Cuba?

AG That’s a good question. Look, I do not know if the Cuban government would give me the ability to enter my country or my home, or not; I haven’t given them that opportunity, because I have not asked nor will I ask for a visa to go to my country. And, believe me – I’m doing poorly with that because my mother is 84-years-old and it is a fact that it keeps me from sleeping. I miss sitting in a chair and playing for my mom. I’m dying to do that, and to show my records to my mother. Why did Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot die without being able to come and sing in Cuba?

The other day I heard a statement from the Cuban Minister of Culture who said that Cuban culture was in a healthy state because there had been no major figure who had left Cuba since 1959. That is amazing, an unrepeatable joke.

JJ Well, in a certain way Minister Abel Prieto is right. He knows very well that neither Celia, nor Olga, neither you, or any of the so many artists, have left the country, the people love them, listen to them, enjoy them and worship them.

AG You think? I’m a dreamer, a kamikazi, and I don’t consider it decent or just that Cubans have to apply for a visa to enter our country, and ask permission to leave. That is something medieval in the style of the Spanish dictatorship in the time of José Martí. It is inconceivable that in these days there is a government that will do that to their citizens, and citizens who comply without protest. I am not going to accept that, never. It is an outrage.

For me, one of the most beautiful things that could happen to me would be to have the opportunity to travel freely to Cuba, and do a concert in Santa Clara, in Havana, Pinar del Río, Santiago de Cuba, or in whatever other place. That would be awesome, something as beautiful as winning a Grammy. Or more, because sooner or later I’m going to win the Grammy, I’ve been nominated three times, but I don’t know when I will go to Cuba, but it will happen. Any artist in the world can go to sing in Cuba, except us. This reflects the contempt that this government has for its citizens. I plan to travel to Cuba, when you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.

JJ And what dreams do you have of your first concert in Cuba?

AG I want to arrive unannounced, accompanied by one or two cameramen, sit in any corner of Central Havana, pull out the guitar and start singing. Filming it all, capture the moment in which people keep coming, regardless of the different emotions that could be triggered there. To make a concert at the Karl Marx theater, the Sauto, the National, or in some open space where everyone who wants to can go.

JJ I once read this sentence of yours, “I learned to appreciate a lot the things I’ve gained, because they cost me and they made me more humble.” I find that charming, but knowing now, what you have learned from the things that you gained, tell me what have you learned from the many other things that you’ve certainly lost?

AG I learned a lot more from the things that I’ve lost. I lost the chance to see my mom getting older, to enjoy my nephew, my sister, to see my dad, the opportunity to interact with those friends that I grew up with. I also lost my home, well, not my country, I lost my piece of land because my country is me, my guitar, my songs, the food I eat, my people, my friends, my book of Martí. The country is a state of consciousness, culture, my identity. The fact that I could not live with dignity in my country, the fact that I had to leave Cuba to develop as an artist, and as a human being, is a terrible thing, losses that have hit me hard and made me grow suddenly. It’s all in my work, a constant sadness, longing. We who live outside the island are prisoners as much as those inside. This is evident in the work of Pedro Luis Ferrer, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Lezama, there is a lot of sadness in all of them.

It is incredible that they put a guy in there who does not like dancing, does not like jokes, does not like Cubans, I imagine that your dad has suffered from that also. Because your father was a musician, and black.

JJ Cuba’s next president has to pass the test. If you can not dance, dedicate yourself to something else. The president of Cuba has to know how to dance.

Translated by Ricote

December 4 2010

The Histories of the US and Cuba Both Have Two Versions – Gina Sosa, Daughter of a Colonel / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ In school, they taught me that “the order of the factors rarely alters the product”. Today I’d like to start where I should have stopped. How and where did you find out that the Cuban authorities wouldn’t permit your entry to Cuba, your country?

GS It was strange. About a couple of years back, a good Cuban friend who came over in 1992 had a sick aunt in Cuba and her parents didn’t want to return to the island. My friend was very worried about her aunt’s health, and asked me to go with her to the Cuban consulate in Washington to complete the process for her trip. There I found out that only Cubans who left Cuba before 1971 could travel to the country without a Cuban passport. If you came after 1971, a current and authorized passport is needed, even having another citizenship. “How?” I asked her, “I don’t understand this”. But I went with her just the same — she is a magnificent friend, and Washington DC is a fascinating city.

The consulate is a horrible place, plastered with pictures of Fidel and “El Che” Guevara. It seemed unbelievable, shameful and shocking, to beg permission to enter your own country and to be treated like a dog. It was mindblowing that my friend should have the inescapable obligation to explain the motives for a trip as private as these were.

In such a strange surrounding, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to know the requirements to be met to visit Havana. I left Cuba in 1959, and so I told the man. He looked me up and down like he was looking at a Martian, and after asking a mountain of strange questions, went into a small office, came back with various papers, and putting on a face from a horror film, said, “Georgina Isis Sosa, I need the passport with which you entered this country”.

Imagine. In 1959, I was two years old. How am I supposed to know where this passport is? I couldn’t answer him, I looked at him as if to say “but you’re nuts”. The man seemed to have thought it over and wanted to straighten out his nonsense, then he took a breath and told me “Your last name is known in our homeland. I can find out who your father was, and you probably already know that with that last name, we aren’t going to let you enter. If you want to take the risk of entering Cuba, it’s your problem, I won’t guarantee your safety.”

This effusive explanation left me somewhat surprised, and more, when the man directed himself to my friend saying, “And you, Miss, running around with these worms**, came to this country. Imagine had you stayed in your country, now you’d be a doctor”.

JJ There is no return without a departure. You left that island barely a baby, tell me about your family, tell me about that Havana that reigned in your fantasy and perhaps today at night appears in your dreams.

GS That Havana lives in my heart, it has always been there. My parents taught me love for my country. I remember how determined my father was, showing me every nook and cranny on the map of the Cuban island. The story of José Martí. The description of the carnivals. The countrysides. He did it with an immense passion … you saw it in his eyes. I remember standing in front of the United Nations building, being maybe four years old, carrying with tremendous honor the American and Cuban flags.

My father was a member of La Rosa Blanca**. With them, I learned to feel and respect the love for a country that, although mine, also belongs to all Cubans. For me, the biggest thing would be to be able to stand on the land that my parents taught me to love; feel the breeze my mother told me about, know Varadero Beach, smell the humidity of Pinar del Río. See, feel, and touch that which I saw, felt, and touched in the stories my mother told me.

I grew up in the United States, in New Jersey, the Cuban who lives or grew up in Miami is different. And I say it with a lot of respect because if something unites us all, it’s that we feel the same for that corner of the planet that we wear on our skin as if it were a wound.

Many times I wonder, my God, is this normal? I don’t know for what reason our land has suffered so much hate and so much bloodshed. I think we have to cure that.

JJ You came to the United States. You studied, you worked, and you found a version of history that in its books sanctions your father. Tell me a little about that, how did you learn to live between the sympathetic gazes and the opinions of rejection?

GS Like I told you a little bit ago, I grew up in New Jersey, and I spent my summers in Miami, Key Biscayne. In fact, one of the best lessons that my parents left me was speaking Spanish in the house, and I learned English in school. The house was a piece of Cuba, and school was a slice of the USA. So I learned that the history of the United States, like that of Cuba, both have two versions.

With my oldest niece, who today is a lawyer, it was different for in her first year of college at New Orleans. She had to do a project about some other country and, so her parents and grandparents would be proud of her, chose to do her work about the Enchanted Isle, the dreamt-about country of her parents. She went to the library at Tulane University, checked out a book about the history of Cuba, looked in the back, began to read the names and found the name of Merob Sosa García. “Damn, that’s my grandfather!”, she said very emotionally and looked up the page directly … look, to keep this story short, she called her mother crying and the revolution started in our house. She learned that her dear grandfather had been a thug, a murderer who killed peasants and ate babies. It was a very painful trauma. For as much as was explained, everything was the result of a dirty propaganda, which meant an enormous suffering.

I began to tour bookstores. One day, I passed in front of a little bookstore in Key Largo, alongside St. Peter’s Church. I went in, it was impossible there would be a single book about Cuba there. I looked, and I found a very interesting book by Paul Bethal, chapter 13, “The Great Blackmail”. It was terrifying what I read about my father, Lt. Colonel Merob Sosa García.

That day I started the project I promised to my mother. IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR. That’s what my father told me, that’s what I proposed to myself: clear the name of my father, and those of many other men punished by a manipulated history. Time will tell the truth, putting everything in its place.

JJ I was looking at pictures a good friend brought to me, of your father’s funeral. Impressive images; they reveal exactly the opposite of what those books say. Without doubt, the burial of a loved man.

GS You saw that? I’ll explain it to you. My father died in 1975, I was 17 years old. He and I used to talk a lot, the only thing he asked of me was always “study and education”. A suspicious and sudden death. The funeral was impressive. I couldn’t believe it — flowers came from Cuba, from Spain, from a mountain of places. The line of cars for the funeral procession looked like that for a President. They gave me the American and Cuban flags, and a very beautiful letter that a man wrote from Cuba, ending with UNTIL THEN, COLONEL. I fell over in shock, it was unforgettable.

I can confess to you that I never felt rejection. All through my life I’ve met people who have recognized my last name, and they say with respect “you have to be the daughter of Colonel Merob Sosa, it’s an honor to speak with you”. I like that, I respect it, because I know perfectly well that they’re not saying it for my benefit, rather they’re referring to my father.

My father was a loved man.

JJ Gina, I’m saddened for all those people who for, whatever reason, have to hide their religion, their way of thinking or sexual preference; but I am more upset for those who have to deny or hide their origin. I loved, I still love, and will love my father forever like I imagine you love yours; but they were enemies. How would you think our progenitors would judge today our excellent friendship?

GS I like that question a lot, and it’s important. I had the opportunity of being educated in the United States, and I’m very spiritual. I believe in the power of God, I believe that everything is written. My father’s birthday was December 1st, yours the next day. Do you think that’s coincidence? I could never have imagined that the son of Juan Almeida Bosque would interview me. Never. For me, it’s all pride. Your father and mine were on opposite sides of the same civil war. Because in Cuba there was a sad civil war, although many deny it. But now they aren’t here, they were our fathers, they are now in another dimension, protecting you and me — the both of us. I am sure that a divine force is uniting the Cubans to be able to make a change that might not be only human. Yes, our fathers are dead, and they were enemies, but today you and I are friends and we have to be an example to the many who even today — being brothers — consider each other enemies. I don’t know why we met, but it is destiny, the circle of life. We have that mission, our fathers are drawing the future of our homeland, definitely the message is Democracy and Union.

Someday I’ll open my father’s mausoleum in New Jersey and I’ll take him to Havana and place his remains at Colón Cemetery.

JJ How about if, on a day not far off, we were to leave “without having to ask for permission,” and we took a ride around Havana?

GS Wow! Let me tell you something, it’s a risk I don’t know if I would take; but believe me, I’d love to go to Cuba and walk around Havana — with you as my tour guide.

JJ Let’s make a deal then. You show me New York, and I’ll show you our Havana.

**Translator’s notes:

The word gusano, or worm, is a pejorative term used by supporters of the dictatorship to refer to those who oppose the Cuban government.

La Rosa Blanca — literally, the White Rose — was the first organized Cuban resistance group.

Translated by: JT

November 20, 2010