Dark Expressions, or Justice In Black and White

A few days ago, in the hairdresser’s, the woman who went ahead of me started to chat with me while she waited for them to finish cutting the person’s hair ahead of her. In the conversation she told me about her daughter who “was advanced enough”; she said that while she softly brushed her fingers on her other forearm to refer to the color of her skin. “Why ‘advanced’, señora?”, I interrupted. “Do you consider that being black or belonging to your race is a setback?”

I couldn’t help but butt in with a constructive and educational criticism because I was surprised that such a comment could come from a person of the black race. These were questions that just sprung out of me unexpectedly because I am sick of hearing expressions of this kind, as well as that many black and mestizo people should think that all white people are racists without giving any thought to whether we are doing everything possible to eliminate the traces of this scourge from today’s Cuban society.

Because the shop is little, in one form or another everybody there was involved somehow: with an assertive gesture, an interested look, or simply with silence, but this too could become an opinion when not refuted with a different point of view.

I analyzed with her and the rest of those present why we were repeating prejudices that were instilled in us down the years. If we want to really fight racism, we should erase those forms of expression from our speech. I pointed out how, for example, we sometimes hear references to children as a “negrito“* to emphasize the difference. Are we talking about children or colors? Why describe skin color when nobody has asked? Why do the police chase a “black man” and not a man? Why, when a white man commits a misdeed, does nobody comment on the color of his skin? Why are 7 or 8 out of ten detained by the National Police for lack of ID cards black? Why do they prevail in the Cuban penal population despite that one of the banners carried by today’s political model is the struggle against racism?

After these and other reasonings, we could only propose among ourselves to erase color from our sense of justice so that fairness improves. We should eliminate expressions that are obviously discriminatory and shed light on our actions and on our words; we should not shrink from obscurity and segregation, nor should we leave this for tomorrow, we should begin right now!

* Translator’s note: ‘negrito’ = “little black boy”

Translated by: JT

January 17 2011

Alienating Myself from Pigeons

I am going to start raising carrier pigeons. Perhaps the color doesn’t matter to me as much as the animal. They must be pigeons! It has occurred to me that this bird, the one of peace, could also help me combat censorship and publish my ideas on the web. I have thought about my best strategy: Hang the post on the foot of one of these and a link to another through which I can “load it” on WordPress.  My friends laugh and I’m exasperated.

Why not? Look? Why not?

December 20 2010

The Three Kings Behind the Glass

Mariela is a good-natured and cheerful easterner in her thirties, living in the capital for years, to whom God has not given children, but “the devil gave her nephews,” and every time there’s an opportunity not to skimp on gestures to show her affection to the cherubs and to see, according to her own words, “how their faces light up,” when she gives them a present although they must share it between them. Last January 5, with the little bits of money she found “on the side,” she went early to one of the shopping centers in the municipality of 10 de Octubre selling in hard currency, to entertain them with something for all three, as once again there was not enough money to get something for each of them.

As a part of the population is returning to the tradition — although modestly on the most part — of celebrating Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, in Cuba, the number of people flocking to buy toys at the beginning of the year makes for long lines.

With the despair of those who wait, the protagonist of this story got in line at one of the stores that seemed better stocked, but as always happens there are people who get impatient and walk away to give time for the line to advance and attend to other matters in the interim, and the crafty devils who arrive recently who spread confusion about the order of the line* with the intent to “fish in troubled waters.” There was even a big woman of seven feet who threatened, “So! As the last one doesn’t appear, I am the first!”

The disorder was gaining in temperature and voices were rising in anger. But the line breakers didn’t make a clean getaway this day and the police showed up. The tough guys stayed to play the role of “red hot” offended ones with the intention of cutting the line, while the cops, batons on hand, got out of their cars ready to “convince” those present to be orderly and disciplines.

As Mariela grew up with the “sticks” of her parents and the police state, she wasn’t intimidates and stood there, impassive, waiting for a clobbering that wasn’t necessary, because everyone rapidly took their places. Easy job for the repressors that left an atmosphere with the subtext that, once again, their presence was sufficient. It could be argued that even the Magi, the Three Kings, were “threatened” and intimidated that day.

After the vicissitudes that confronted the star of our story, and after spending an hour on her feet, she managed to enter the establishment and select various options for her nephews that she had seen through the shop window. She liked them all and decided that the money she had been planning to spend on a pair of sneakers that same day, would be used to acquire at least one extra toy and so, for the first time, surprise the little boys with more than one toy on this significant date. She didn’t give much thought to the decision. It was fast because her feet were tired from so much walking and waiting, they were swelling up as a sign of protest.

But there was still one more line, the one where you go to hand over your cash to a person who, with the calm and superiority of someone who by necessity, but unwillingly, and in a bad mood and as if doing you a favor, attends to each customer in slow motion. Standing in that line she noticed the face of a little girl, maybe 6 or 7, stuck to the window, looking in with melancholy innocent eyes at the display of toys inside the store and beyond her reach. Her nose flattened and both little hands on each side of her face presented a bleak picture, her large eyes focusing so much sadness, like a chiaroscuro of Rembrandt portraying the face of poverty. And in the sensitivity of our heroine, the sun began to shine that morning.

Inquiring among those present who she was, one of the shopkeepers said was the little girl who came with her physically disabled mother to ask for “financial aid” from the people as they left the store. “It’s because the money she gets from social security isn’t enough,” added someone who paid and left. Mariela’s turn to leave also arrived (at last!), and she had to pass right by the girl, who was still looking through a little piece of the shop window she could reach that was not blocked by people. Without any hesitancy she addressed her:

“What are you doing, sweetheart?”

“Watching my toys.”

“Which ones are yours?”

“All of these…” she said, describing with her index finger an arch that covered the width of the place.

“What did you ask the Three Kings to bring you?” asked our protagonist while hiding the hand that was carrying her bag.

“Nothing, because my mother says they don’t come to Cuba, but I know they don’t exist, that the toys come from the stores. I have playmates who get gifts on the Day of the Three Kings. Do you think that if I were disabled, like my mamá, people would give me money to buy myself some?”

*Translator’s note: In Cuba people don’t necessarily stand neatly in line; each new arrival asks “who’s last” and so the order of the line is known, even as people come and go, sit down nearby to wait, chat with their friends elsewhere in the line, and so on.

How You Can Sign the Civic Manifesto

Since The Civic Manifesto to Cuban Communists was made public in this space, we have received, by different routes, requests to join in on this document. Although the initial intention of the promoters was not to collect signatures of support, the opportunity for people to sign it electronically has been created through the following email: manifiestoaloscomunistas@yahoo.com , or by personally contacting any of the original signers.

January 10 2011

Civic Manifesto to Cuban Communists

The informal announcement of the VI Congress of the PCC, to be held in April, 2011, has been accompanied by the publication of the Draft Guidelines which summarize the topics to be covered at the most important meeting of the only party in Cuba. This document contains some positive aspects, especially those showing a clear understanding of the deep structural crisis that the country is experiencing and others, showing the direction the proposed solutions are headed. But its limitations, its unilateral and sectarian character, and the unjustifiable omission of matters of dire importance to the present and the future of the nation, have motivated us to comment on basic elements not considered by the top leadership of the PCC, without the inclusion of which it won’t be possible to make strides of any depth or speed.

Some of these fundamentals are:

* The project is a straitjacket made without consultation, designed to truncate debate about issues that affect all Cubans and cover all spheres of national life. It is the outline of an agenda that, in the absence of essential rights and freedoms of democracy, rules out the participation of citizens in its proposals.

* It is inconceivable for a political party to avoid political debate and at the same time to try to keep the economy subject to ideology, a method that has already demonstrated its unviability for over half a century.

* The current situation clearly reflects two possibilities: either the Cuban model is unachievable, or the government has failed in its application. Therefore, essential self-criticism must be imposed wherever failure of the model that the government has followed to date is officially recognized, and the governing body’s responsibility in its implementation.

* If the model failed, it is not wise to update it, but to change it, which would also imply a referendum to change the players.

* The measures the government has been proposing in recent years in order to reverse the critical national socio-economic plight are transitory, outdated and clearly inadequate, because they suffer from a lack of realism. The Cuban crisis will not be reversed as long as the effect that the applied conceptions regarding property issues have had on the failure of the model are not recognized, and until they are fundamentally changed. This should be coupled with the necessary inclusion of nationals in the proposed investment processes. Maintaining the system of excluding Cubans — far from enhancing productivity and economic progress — establishes an obstacle to productive development.

* Any attempt to improve the situation in Cuba goes through the full implementation of human rights in its indivisible nature, whose Covenants, signed in February of 2008, have not yet been ratified by the Government. The consummation of this achievement not only implies the unconditional release of all political prisoners, but in-depth legal modifications that tolerate the legalization of political dissent.

* We have already exceeded the time limit for the implementation of partial reforms. No reform in Cuba can be confined to the domestic economy sphere, since the crisis spans the whole system. It requires, therefore, proposals of a systemic nature that cannot derive exclusively from the ruling party that has not even proposed a new program to replace the previous one — fruit of the Third Congress of 1986 — failed and forgotten.

* Cuba is urged to overcome the philosophy of survival. People aspire to live and prosper, not to resist. Cubans have a right to prosper from the proceeds of their efforts. A ban on the demonization of prosperity must be imposed.

* Any new model that is proposed should emphatically proclaim the end of the so-called Special Period and the beginning of a period of normality, based on agreed-upon principles which can be relied on, as part of a new social pact.

* The Cuban government has implicitly acknowledged that the country is economically dependent on foreign capital. However, external assistance should only be subject to compliance with internationally recognized principles with respect to rights, and full people-participation, which, up to now, Cubans lack. Investors may not become rich as a result of the absence of rights in Cuba. Paradoxically, the violation of these principles obliterates the intentions to establish social justice stemming from the socialist system.

* The updated model proposed by the Government is not “a model for man” but calls, instead for “Man for a model.” Man is subordinated to the economic and ideological interests of the ruling party. By keeping the sacrificial status of individuals in this system it is clear that this is not a humanistic model.

* Economic advances are not possible if they are separate from exchange and free access to information. The government monopoly on information networks denies the potential of a people who achieved high levels of education and constitutes a violation of their rights.

* The absence of alternation, nepotism, and the lack of limits on the terms in public office become a brake on development. The responsibility in the face of failures, linked to the accumulation of interests on the part of a group established in power in perpetuity, also tends to perpetuate the Cuban crisis and makes the collapse of the system irreversible. Reality demands a reform in this plane so that the existence of other policy options will force the government to successfully fulfill its mission at the head of the nation’s destiny.

This manifesto is signed on December 1st, 2010 by:

  1. Dimas Castellanos
  2. Miriam Celaya
  3. Reinaldo Escobar
  4. Rogelio Fabio Hurtado
  5. Eugenio Leal
  6. Rafael León
  7. Rosa María Rodríguez
  8. Wilfredo Vallín