Arturo Sandoval: I Have Fulfilled My Dreams / Ivan Garcia

Arturo-SandovalTo speak about music in Cuba is an analogy. Cuba is the music. There are nice people, splendid weather, the smell of salty residue, and there’s always a reason to party. Other things, like the shrimp, tropical fruits, or beef are a luxury after 54 years of misrule. Cuba lacks essential liberties, but the music goes on.

Fidel Castro tried to scrap the Sunday calls to retreat and replace them with arrhythmic marches calling for combat. The olive-green regime planned to transform music. To bury guaguancó, toque de santo, and jazz.

But he couldn’t. In addition to inventing parameters to measure the quality of a music, in the medias sent to censure the greats like Mario Bauzá, Celia Cruz, or such a Lupe, only because they chose to observe from the distance the ideological folly established in the island.

And the music, like poetry, doesn’t let you break. The trumpeter, pianist, and composer Arturo Sandoval (Artemeisa, 1949), knows this very well. In the flesh has lived the holy war that political and cultural commissioners, scribes and historians, unleashed in 1990 when he decided to move away from the Communist madhouse. According to official decree, Sandoval was to die.

It’s rained a lot since then. The times are different. It’s been 24 years, indignant Berliners in the night demolished the wall that divided a same nation. Castro had to change politically. He spoke of socialism or death on a Havana platform, but from the sewers of power, sent especially trying to make negotiations with magnates of capitalism. He had to make accords. With the Catholic Church, the Afro-Cuban religion and with the selfsame devil. He cracked the social discipline and the fear was lost.

And in full view you could find blacks on a Cayo Hueso lot, in downtown Havana, between rounds of rum and dominos, daring to listen, at full volume, to Celia Cruz, Willy Chirino, Paquito D’Rivera. or A Time for Love, disco from 2010 by Arturo Sandoval. I was a witness.

On November 6th the Cuban trumpeter turned 64. On the 21st of this month his name may be announced in Las Vegas as the winner of a Grammy, the tenth in his career, to go along with 6 Billboard Awards and an Emmy. Although the most moving of all will be the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which will be presented to him in December by Barack Obama, along with fifteen other figures, including former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Mexican scientist and Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Mario Molina. Despite his busy schedule, Arturo Sandoval graciously answered a questionnaire from Diario de Cuba.

Arturo, I was a boy when your name rang out with force on the island. I remember you taking complete notes on the trumpet while Irakere was making Bacalao with bread. Would you be able to summarize your artistic trajectory?

“I have to give thanks to God every day because in my career I’ve been able to accomplish my dreams. Look, coming from a dirt-poor family, where nobody was linked to art, and me having been able to be in the best situations and share with the musical greats. I think that sums up my trajectory: a dream come true.”

He doesn’t say it out of modesty, but another dream come true is the Arturo Sandoval Institute, proud institution of Cuban music on two shores.

Looking back, Arturo, what did Irakere mean to you?

“Before belonging to Irakere I was a member of the famous Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music. When I joined the orchestra, I was 16. I started at the bottom, being the sixth trumpet, until I made first. Without a doubt, the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music has been one of or the best ever formed in Cuba, with musicians of great magnitude, like Luis Escalante, El Guajiro Mirabal, Paquito D’Rivera, Chucho Valdés, Guillermo Barreto and Juan Pablo Torres, among others. I and some of these latter would form the group Irakere. To me, Irakere was a source of inspiration. The combination of rhythms that we could make gave new sounds to Cuban music. Through Irakere we had the chance to make ourselves known throughout the entire world, including winning a Grammy.”

Was Dizzy Gillespie the musician that influenced you most?

“Definitely. Dizzy has influenced me the most, and not just as a musician, also as a person and friend. We struck up a great friendship, we got to be like father and child. His teachings have been and continue being standards to follow in my life. I’ve had other musicians who’ve influenced my professional life such as Duke Ellington, Clark Terry and Clifford Brown, among others. The list would be unending, for I’ve also had classical influences like Rachmaninov, Ravel and many more.”

Your records arrive on the island on flash memory or pirated CDs. I know a DJ in Carraguao who, for 10 CUC, will copy your discography. How do you feel, knowing that despite censorship, Arturo Sandoval stays alive in the memories of many compatriots?

“It’s very sad to think that somebody has to sneak around to buy a record by an artist from his own country, that my music is forbidden and that in the land where I was born and continue to love, nobody can hear it. I feel proud that my compatriots want to hear my music, but at the same time I’m saddened that they have to hide out to do so. It’s sad that the music of a lady like Celia Cruz or a Willy Chirino and many more have to be listened to in the shadows, as if it were a crime. This shows not only political ineptitude, but also social and cultural incapacities of this regime.”

In Cuba, some criticized your opposition at the performance of Juanes in the Plaza of the Revolution in 2009. Do you still maintain that while democracy does not exist in Cuba, all cultural interchange is propaganda for the communist autocracy?

“I continue to hold the same opinion. I believe that cultural exchange cannot be one-sided. If Juanes could play in the Plaza of the Revolution and was received with fanfare, why can’t Gloria Estefan, Willy Chirino, Andy García and others — including myself — do the same? Stopping off in the Plaza of the Revolution and freely expressing our feelings through music. The obsolete regime of the Castros is afraid, and by that I don’t mean of cultural exchange. They’re afraid we’ll speak before the people and might say that which Juanes and others did not say when they had that opportunity: the truth of what this communist regime represents and has represented for 54 years.”

Would you support an authentic cultural exchange, political or sporting where the Cubans from both shores might be able to offer concerts, games, or debates in their country without permission from the regime? With the Castros in power, do you see yourself giving a concert in the Karl Marx theater or in a plaza in your native Artemisa, now a province?

“Without the Castros and with a democratic government, I suppose so. With the Castros and without democracy, NO.”

Do you believe the shipwreck of the national economy has reduced the quality of Cuban music?

“There is a lot of talent in Cuba. Cuba has always been an inexhaustible source of musical talent, with and without communism. But look, since the triumph of the Revolution there aren’t specialized houses where a musician might go to buy an instrument or a music book. Nothing. Luckily, in Cuba music grows wild, but it’s sad that a person who wants to study music should have these kinds of limitations, not a single place to go and buy a book with staves.”

When you lived in Cuba, the people spoke against Fidel Castro, muttering in their living rooms. Now no. In many places they carry on about the malfunctioning of the government. There are those who continue seeing the game from the bleachers, but cases like Robertico Carcassés’ happen. What kind of value do you place on the controversies and public criticisms against the regime that take place today among the intellectuals and also the everyday Cubans?

“I am proud of all of them and believe that it’s going to be the only form the world will come to know; that Cuba does not assent to continue being dominated by a group of inept opportunists and crazy people.”

Your opinion about the intention of Chucho Valdés to regroup the musicians of Irakere and offer a nostalgic concert.

“Chucho supports the communist regime in Cuba. I am a US citizen and I defend the liberty and democracy. Irakere is not just him, to be the authentic Irakere, he’d have to count on all the musicians who are alive. Speaking for myself, they won’t count on me.”

How do you see this post-mortem homage that they want to give to Bebo Valdés in the next Havana Jazz Festival?

“Bebo deserves all kinds of recognition, but in this case it’s a flagrant act of demagoguery and hypocrisy. Bebo was a bitter enemy of this system and never came back to Cuba because he did not agree with the regime. They had to have recognized this while he was alive, for this they’ve had enough time.”

What have you got new for the next few months?

“I just finished the score for three movies, in one of them with Andy García and Vera Farmiga in the protagonist’s role, and in another the actor Beau Bridges is appearing. I finished producing the last record of the great Peruvian singer and composer Gianmarco, it’s a jewel and it’s nominated for the 2013 Grammy as Best Album of the Year. I finalized another record, “A Century of Passion”, that I dedicated to the Fuente family, famous Cuban-American tobacconists, nominated at the Latin Grammys as the Best Tropical Album. I recently concluded a tribute to Armando Manzanero and now I’m starting two more projects for film scores, but I still can’t say their names while we’re in the midst of contract negotiations.”

Arturo, with your hand over your heart, are you coming back to a democratic Cuba one day, or do you believe it will continue being a utopia to whomever it’s worth the trouble of continuing to struggle?

“Hope is never lost, our country deserves something better. I believe it is not a utopia. It’s worth the trouble to keep struggling, I know that Cuba will shake off the dead weight of the Castros and their henchmen.”

Iván García

Video: Havana, 1985. Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval in Night in Tunisia, composed by Gillespie en 1942.

Translated by Boston College Cuban American Student Association – Carlos Fernandez

16 November 2013

“Prince of Peace” Around My Neck / Mario Lleonart

Preaching the Gospel: Prince of Peace Lutheran Church

When I was just a kid, discriminated against in Cuba for attending the Baptist Church of my town, I could not imagine that one day I would receive the special Prince of Peace honor that is granted by the Lutheran Church on 6375 West Flager in Miami.

Every Sunday before going to Sunday school, I would listen to the program “Ayer, hoy y siempre” (Yesterday, today and forever) on radio WQBA “La Cubanísima” on 1140 AM. And Good Friday was not truly Good Friday if I did not listen to the “Sermon of the Seven Words” presented by the pastor, Reverend Lenier Gallardo, on the same radio frequency.

Receiving the medal from the hands of Rev. Lenier Gallardo

I had the blessing of being present when the same medal was conferred to Reverend Marcos Antonio Ramos who honors the name of the Baptists among the Cubans in exile. He gave an extraordinary sermon about the “Day of the Protestant Reformation” and later the Reverend Lenier Gallardo put the meaningful medal on his neck. What I didn’t imagine was that the next Sunday the same scene was repeated for me. It had been years since the church had given its symbolic award.

With Rev. Lenier Gallardo after ceremony

To be so close to and shake hands with two men of God as the Rev. Lenier Gallardo and Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos are for Cuba was already enough. But being feted with the Prince of Peace medal at the hands of the saint that is the Rev. Lenier Gallardo was more than I could dream of. Receiving the blessing and the affection from these spiritual leaders of the exile strengthens my commitment and responsibility to the Gospel of Christ for Cuba. Hopefully I can reach the level of the ministries that they have achieved.

The award to Dr. Marcos Antonio Ramos a week before, celebrating the Day of the Protestant Reformation

Translated by Boston College CASA (Cuban American Association) Member: Elio Andres Oliva

14 November 2013

The Truth in the Gaze / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Poster: Rolando Pulido

Luis Leonel León: The Black Eyes of Rosa María Payá

From El Nuevo Herald

The magazine “People en Español” chose her as one of the 25 most powerful Latin women. On a list that includes Jennifer López, Sofía Vergara, Kate del Castillo, Lupita Jones, Paulina Rubio, Doctor Polo and other celebrities across the entertainment industry, this young woman stands out. She doesn’t design jewelry, isn’t a business woman,  doesn’t star in reality television, nor does she scream or cry in soap operas. On the contrary, she contains her immense tears that television would love to scoop up. Many have tried, from Bayly to María Elvira, but she keeps her black eyes still, shaking from within. They only cry in private. And that may be their greatest power.

Paradox of fate, her image became popular for a terrible event that marked her life and her gaze, perhaps forever: on July 22nd her father, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, and his colleague Harold Cepero, lost their lives on a lonely rural road.

The Cuban authorities say that it was a “traffic accident,” where these two Cubans died and the two foreigners that accompanied them were saved: Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig (who was asleep at the time of impact and then lived eight days of Kafkaesque prison in Havana) and the Spaniard Angel Carromero (who in Cuba was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and who in his own country demanded an international inquiry into what her considers a State crime).

The two foreigners were isolated and coerced by the State Security. There are witnesses who saw these four people enter the hospital alive, but the only “investigations” permitted are those of the same dictatorship that more than once threatened to kill Payá, whose version is validated by the Spanish government. Rosa María, like many others, we are convinced that it was a shadowy operation still pending, like so many other manufactured horrors, for the Castro government will never admit the answer.

For many, Payá was a prominent international figure of dissent on the island. Founder of the Varela Project, he is to date the only man who has gathered thousands of signatures from Cubans (with names and identity numbers) requesting an opposition to the dictatorship.

Never in 54 years, has anyone gone so far in a peaceful confrontation to totalitarianism, to the point that the island autocracy was forced to change its constitution, to contain the purpose of the signatures with not only manipulations and state terror, but also with chains legislated to force people to vote for the irony of a single party, damaging free elections, Payá and his followers still claim, risking everything, even death.

No wonder he won the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Human Rights Prize in 2002 and was an official candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. The official version crumbles before the darkness of the facts and background, as an answer blowing in the wind: it was eliminated because it would not agree with the false reforms that the Cuban government sells the world and its own citizens, cementing the power of new leaders with consumer checkbooks fattened on behalf of that hypocritical melodrama called socialism.

Despite daily violations of the most elementary freedoms, Cuba has once again joined the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Rosa Maria Payá has not stopped speaking before this or other international forums to denounce the reality, to ask for help to speed up democracy and to ask for a serious investigation that would show the true reason for the death of her father and her friend Harold.

Also under death threat by the agents of the regime,  for some months she has lived in Florida with her mother.  As a good daughter and tenacious disciple, she continues fighting for the holding of a plebiscite that would provide the basis for authentic democracy in Cuba.

Opposing the great hoax called “cosmetic change” which will make the leaders of the Communist Party (or whatever they come up with) legally richer, while making  poorer those who asphyxiate every day and that luckily are losing their fear of protesting publicly in the streets.  For many this is a chimera.  For her it is a desire. Her faith. Another inheritance from her father.

Thanks to People the image of this 24-year-old Cuban (the youngest on the list) is repeated in news and signs, newspapers and social media along with other popular Latinas, powerful (even millionaires), talented and beautiful.  Her message, unknown to millions, will be transmitted through other channels a lot more popular to keep attempting to break the blindfold that has covered the eyes of a people for more than half of century, and also the eyes of a good portion of the world.

Neither sad, nor happy, it is Rosa Maria who looks at us from this snapshot by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, taken in Lawton, Havana, a few months after her father’s death.  The collapsing building where she appears, between reality and a metaphor: the wall of Cuba.

And her black eyes, deep and sincere, through which we can see the horror and the hope, the persistence and the tenderness, and that reward with another nuance, this kind of almanac of successful women. Vagaries of fate. From there, again overcoming again the invading eye of the press, she sustains her fixed look at the kidnapped island.

Translated by: Boston College Cuban American Student Association (CASA) and LYD

15 November 2013

A Hospital Under Repair / Rebeca Monzo

In “my planet” when a hospital goes under repair, it stops being a health center and it becomes a construction zone.  It has been approximately three years that the Hospital Docente Gral. Calixto Garcia has been under repair.  Some of the hospital’s pavilions have already been restored, but the work has been very slow and there are also many uncontrollable diversions of resources.  So much so that when they finish the last pavilion, they should start all over again with the first pavilions.

I have a friend who after negotiating and waiting, was finally admitted to the hospital.  He told me that when he arrived at his room with his assigned bed number, they told him that the bed was already occupied. Fortunately, the doctor that had attended him was still with him and explained that was not possible, that the bed had been reserved in advance.  They then apologized and the health workers themselves explained that the men with the stretchers were too tired to take the other patient to another floor so they decided to put the patient in that bed.

Last night, visiting my friend, he told me that he found out that when the hospital director was inspecting the floor above hours before the ceremony, there were very surprised when they checked the bathrooms to realize that the plumbing had disappeared.

During the investigations, they confirmed that their own employees, who had participated in the remodeling, had stolen the plumbing.  They stole the water faucets, the flushing systems, as well as other pieces of plumbing which they tied to a rope and dropped down through the back windows of the building, where an accomplice picked them up and took them away.

However, this was not the only incident that had occurred in his first day of hospitalization.  He told me that after settling in his bed, the nurses passed by to ask those who accompanies him and some patients who were in a condition to do so to come out to the entrance because the new director was going to visit and they needed to clean the room. After, my friend, looking into this with one of the employees, was told that “cleanings” were only done on very special occasions like that day, because they were paid a pittance and they didn’t even have adequate tools to clean, so “they didn’t stress about” hygiene.

Translated by Lourdes Talavera, Boston College Cuban American Student Association (CASA)

18 November 2013

The Longest Roadway / Fernando Damaso

Calzada 10 de Octubre
Calzada 10 de Octubre, Havana

The Calzada de Jesús del Monte (Jesus of the Mountain Roadway), now known as the Calzada de Diez de Octubre (Tenth of October Roadway), begins at Esquina de Tejas (Texas Corner) as an extension of Calzada de Infanta (Princess Roadway). It extends to Entroque de La Palma (La Palma Link), where it splits into Calzada de Managua and Calzada de Bejucal, crossing, connecting or bordering in its path the neighborhoods or districts of Cerro, Santos Suárez, La Víbora, Luyanó, Lawton, Sevillano, Santa Amalia, Apolo, Víbora Park and Barrio Azul.

Immortalized by the poet Eliseo Diego, it is still one of the most extensive roadways in the city. In the 1950s numerous bus routes ran along it and it saw a great deal of vehicular traffic, though by then the streetcars were already gone as were their tracks and overhead electrical lines.

It was adorned with movie theaters, stores of all kind, bakeries, pastry shops, bookstores, pubs, restaurants, coffee houses, pharmacies, jewelry stores, a major hospital (Purísima Concepción, more commonly known as Quinta de Dependientes), police stations and the constant hustle and bustle through its doorways and over its sidewalks of students from numerous schools located nearby, who visited its bookstores in search of school supplies and classical textbooks published by Editorial Thor, which were offered for sale at low prices.

The cinemas Florida, Moderno (side-by-side with Police Station no. 11), Apolo, Tosca, Gran Cinema and Marta (which faced Station no. 14) satisfied the needs of several generations of movie-goers.

The Toyo bakery and pastry shop, as well as a pub with the same name — located on the lower floors of the Civil Registry building — became synonymous with one of the busiest and noisiest street corners in Havana. It served as the crossroad for those buses that changed course, heading in the direction of Calzada de Luyanó, and those that continued, one way or another, along Calzada de Jesús del Monte.

The ever-present aroma of freshly baked bread left its distinctive imprint on the site, as did the  desserts and pastries from from shop next door and the magnificent sandwiches from the pub. At the entryway there was a newsstand. Hidden behind the authorized newspapers and magazines, as though they were winking, one could see portions of the covers of small notebooks and erotic or pornographic photos, which were printed on low-quality paper by unidentified publishers. This is also where the shoeshine stand was located.

Several blocks away, near calle Tamarindo (Tamarind Street), the characteristic aroma from the coffee roaster permeated the surrounding area, reaching as far away as the pharmacy, as well as the small shoe store and its workshop across the street, beyond calle Municipal (Municipal Street).

Further along, from left to right, there was a series of stores until you got to Loma de la Luz, which everyone associated with the roadway of the same name. After that there was the parish church Jesús del Monte (Jesus of the Mountain) and the high, thick wall that still obscures it, leading to the multiple commerce established in the space between the Loma de Chaple (Hillock of Chaple), at the end of the Lacret Street and beginning of the Avenida de Dolores (Avenue of Pains). Hundreds of meters away, the Avenue de Santa Catalian has taverns, coffee shops and a bakery. In between other types of bread served at the bakery, they offer a Galician bread known as “bonete”, as well as cookies, breadsticks, pork crackling and pastries of cheese, ham, or meat.

On the opposite side of the street was the Tosca movie theater, where we children over twelve years old would go, motivated by the French and Italian movies, which showed light nudity, something unusual in the United States at the time.

Then appeared the residences of the middle-class, more rich and progressive, that had large portals with columns and were always uphill. The “Paradero de La Vibora”was where the tramcars ended their travels and entered the maintenance area in order to start their routes again.

Then, with the disappearance of tramcars,the maintenance area became the modern bus stop, which were called “nurses” due to their white and blue color. This place was suitable for trade since it was the beginning of Route 38 that led to Batabano. Batabano and had a conglomerate of restaurants, inns, cafes, french fry stands and shops. It also had a beautiful house with the figure of a “black boy with the lantern”, dressed with blue pants and a red shirt, in the large front garden. Opposite the house was the Tropicream, the house of one of the first settlers in the city, and the square of the Church of the Passionists.

Next to this this was the street that led to the Institutes of the La Vibora and Edison.

Beyond this there was a train station, which was home to the legendary Cafe Colon and across the street was the Cheesemonger Santa Beatriz, a modern milk pasteurization plant. Then there were scattered homes, some with patios, fruit trees and gardens, which marked the end of the cramped city with the houses up against each other and the beginning of the country environment, which extended to the “La Palma” Crossroads, which had a famous ice factory, and continued to Bejucal and Managua Roadways. At that time, after the Avenida de Acosta, the paved road was narrow with large flowerbeds and trees on both sides.

Today, unfortunately, all the cinemas have disappeared with the exception of the “Marta”, renamed Joy and turned into a party room, as have the bread shops, bakeries, restaurants, taverns, inns, bookstores, shops, stands, shoeshine chairs, and many other shops. They converted these premises into housing, with horrendous architectural adaptations or low cost. They also transformed the former “Calzada de Jesus del Monte” into a sad Museum of buildings in decline, totally damaged or collapsed by cave-ins.

One could offer many reasons to try to explain the inexplicable, even dip into the broken argument of the U.S. “blockade” or embargo, but the only real cause of what happened is the incompetence of the authorities and the tax system, both with regards to protecting what was created by previous generations of Cubans, and creating something new and valuable.

The street “Calzada de Jesus del Monte” or “Tenth of October”, as it is called, has had the same terrible fate of other roads, avenues, and streets of the city of Havana.

But in recent months, with the increase in self-employment, some of its sections are home to small private businesses. They even used local buildings, which were previously establishments that became precarious dwellings. Even still, the vast majority of major facilities are in the hands of the unproductive State-owned enterprises, with demonstrated inability to offer quality services to the citizens.

Perhaps these facilities, if they are privately rented or sold, will serve as a real spur for the rapid revival of the once important road, which will never be achieved with the stunted measures adopted so far. For instance, the government only authorised to revive these facilities with a few services where there are fewer than five employees. This means, ultimately, they continue betting on the “bonsai” or “pinching” commercial activity, which actually solves very little.

Anyway, the “Calzada de Jesus del Monte”, due to its importance as a means of communication towards the southeast of the city, should truly liberate the productive forces and the Cuban people can develop their initiative, returning to be what it was was, and then become modernized and in keeping with the time.

Fernando Damaso | Havana

Diario de Cuba | 10 November 2013

Translated by: Carolina Rojas, Boston College, Cuban American Student Association (C.A.S.A.)

Antonio Castro, or the Diplomacy of Baseball / Ivan Garcia

Antonio Castro, son of the bearded man who governed Cuba for 47 years and nephew of the president hand chosen by his brother, told U.S. channel ESPN, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing that our baseball players leave the country to go play in the best league in the world.”

Tony Castro, of course, isn’t a dissident or dumb. He’s trained to be an orthopedist and is a lover of beautiful women, the good life and baseball. He grew up without a ration book in Zone Zero (the residential complex where his father lives, in the Jaimanitas neighborhood west of Havana), with a cow in the yard where each child of the commander could drink fresh milk. He got first-class medical attention and had the possibility to go see the World Series, while the rest of Cuba’s baseball fans were forbidden to do so.

“He’s a good guy,” his party-going friends assure. He likes to play golf, a sport that his father and the Argentinian Ernesto Guevara banned, ostensibly because it was bourgeois and racist: they said that the caddies were always black.

The talk of Cuban autocrats is a complex exercise of deciphering messages. To those who look at the Revolution with nostalgia, the only things that remain are the sporadic Reflections (as Fidel’s articles in the newspaper are titled), where the leader announces atomic disasters, the end of capitalism or that the moringa tree would be the food of the future.

If you aren’t an ideological fanatic and interpret daily life in Cuba in a reasonable way, we reach the conclusion that each step in the timid reforms of Raúl Castro or pronouncements of his relatives, the real mandarins, have buried Fidel Castro’s wilfulness a hundred meters under the ground.

Maintaining the bored phraseology and ideological symbols has been a masterpiece of political witchcraft by Castro II. Without celebrating a Stalinist opinion, he has shifted all of the ruses enacted by his brother.

The furniture changed drastically. Fidel’s confidantes are either prisoners or have easy jobs. Or, like Felipe Pérez Roque and Carlos Lage, they’re working in a factory, the biggest punishment for any ex-minister.

For some time now, homosexuals are revolutionaries. The boarding schools in the countryside were suppressed, because they intended to supplant the family. The security guards at the borders opened the gate and allow us to travel abroad.

We also stay in hotels, buy American cars from the ’50s or old Russian Ladas. We sell the house and legally engage all of those businesses that previously we engaged in on the side, yes we have money, of course.

They have told us why all of this was forbidden for so many years. It’s nobody’s fault. But the specialists in dissecting the magic realism inside the power in Cuba know that the mud continues flooding Fidel Castro, the promoter of this political jargon.

Even his son jumps at his precepts. And he announces that the old “traitors, deserters, and stateless people of the Cuban exodus” are now welcome. Surely they could be enlisted in future national teams and begin businesses, while they pay the tax collector, of course.

The olive branch, in any light, is a capitalism of the family. A technocracy. Now the problems of government can be spoken about in a taxi or bar in the neighborhood. But you go to jail if you evade taxes.

Tony doesn’t want to get left behind when the cake gets divided up. The ex son-in-law of Raul Castro and his generals control 80% of the actual economy, not the one of bread and croquettes, that never will ruin the country, but rather the one of oil and of the port of Mariel, tourism, exporting of medical services, and other tax collecting and hard money businesses.

Behind Tony Castro’s words there is no light or rebuff. The leaders are sending a message: we want to negotiate with the United States. Taking as a model Nixon’s ping pong diplomacy of the 70s with China, Tony intends to seduce the market of the Big Leagues. He has the cards in his favor.

In 2013, the Cuban baseball players have left as a group. They have had their best season. If we add up their salaries, we see that it adds up to about $600 million. And the smart ones back in Havana send in their bills.

If one day the embargo disappears, around 300 Cuban baseball players, who learned in academies patronized by the MLB, can nurture baseball organizations. For all of them, the economic blade will tax them with high fees. And the zeros in the banks of relatives and friends will grow.

Of course, to reach that dance of the millions and sell the loot of a nation, you need the obstinate gringos to lift the embargo. Therefore, it’s time to pull levers.

Diplomats wear out the soles of their shoes in Florida to convince Cuban-American business owners of the favorability of a new investment law. For the fifteenth time, the chancellor of the ONU has said that the bad guys of this movie are the Yankees, who don’t want to get rid of the “criminal blockade” and refuse to sit down and civilly chat about business like a good capitalist.

In this piñata that Cuba has turned into, Antonio Castro pretends to be the boss of professional baseball’s future on the island. Well, that’s the way it is now.

Iván Garciá

Video: Interview from October 27, 2013 with journalist Paula Lavigne and Antonio Castro in Havana for the show Outside the Lines of ESPN.

Translated by: Boston College Cuban American Student Association 

11 November 2013

Ode to the Bag / Regina Coyula

(Facebook picture from my friend Elena Madan that I love and posted without authorization, but with confidence)

There are decisions that for some may be insignificant but this one that I finally got to make today, was pivotal.

Years, many years, I don’t know how many or I do. I think since the shortage began and notice how old the shortage is. Can you imagine that I am 61 years, 2 months, and 6 days old (I owe you the hours), and since my adolescence, the shortage has followed me, well…there!

Well yes, and returning to my main topic…

They were all there (those here, because those I have there is a lot), serene, like every day, some enjoying the nice air conditioner in the room; others in the hallway closet, comfortable, stretched, well bended, sharp (like my wise great-grandmother would say), not without being a little hot since the air conditioner didn’t reach them there. Others in the kitchen suffering the different dashing aromas that are emitted from my culinary aptitudes and the most blessed, those that would spend all day with me, trailing me economically from here to there and from there to here (and yes because I always return when I leave)…

All of them and each of them with their size, their colors, their personality…some elegant, fine, austere; others colorful, with shine, personalities, how I love those with personality; others very small, precious, those drive me crazy, I have found those everywhere. In the end there were so many, always attractive, a show of authentic goodness because: what would our lives be without them but…

I needed to follow through with this decision, I had taken too much time pondering it and I knew that sooner or later I would do it.

My psychologist told me once that the brain is like a library and that psychological disorders in general have a lot to do with the manner you order them and that topic has always impassioned me but…

How difficult it was for me to let go of all the nylon bags I collected from different parts of the world. To know that the last time I was in Miami was in the year 1998 and that I had kept examples from that trip…let’s not speak of the others…

It has not been easy. I would put them back, take them out, I would put them back again and I would take them out again (I’m referring to the bags). What a guilty feeling, what nonsense, what responsibility after so much time, but I had no other alternative, until finally!

I finished getting rid of that monstrosity, that sickly and intolerable amount of examples that I had selfishly kept, after so many, many years.

To those I give this small homage and I hope all goes well!

And to you all.

Translated by Brenda Rojas, Boston College Cuban-American Student Association (CASA)

21 October 2013

A Teacher Rapist in a System of Ostriches / Juan Juan Almeida

This past October 21st, Dario Alejandro Escobar, a cuban resident on the island and graduate student in journalism recently published an article on his blog “Un Guajiro Ilustrado“, controversial rebuttal post titled “Metafora del modo subjuntivo.” (Metaphor in the Subjunctive tense).

In the post, the author, in addition to captivating the audience with his interesting and entertaining writing style, gave shocking insights to a hypothetical group of students and their professor. This hypothetical situation embodies the typical teaching method of using videos and images, although those images in my opinion are more pornography than worth anything for sexual education.

I’m no expert, and I’m not going to question if the act is a product of a photo montage, or a real life case, but the evidence points towards something strange, novel or civilized project organized by CENESEX (Cuban National Center for Sex Education). It’s difficult to judge something only from looking at a couple of photos; but just by imagining the reaction that authorities would have in response to this publication, it is clear that the chain will break based at the weakest link.

This case reminds me of someone, who is known for their “proclivity to certain upreaching habits,” very well-known in the media, and even as of recently as the director of a news outlet. I won’t give more details out of respect for his children, especially his daughter, who was raped a few years ago by an “emerging teacher*” teacher while in the 8th grade in a Havana school, in the residential area of Nuevo Vedado.

In that case, the teacher and abused student were put at the mercy of the principal, who in following protocol, began to investigate although it became chaotic.

By the time the father, someone of high esteem and composure, arrived at the school, in his Lada car with a palpable rage and intent to strangle the teacher at fault, he was ready with cell phone lines open to the Central Committee, and he was focused more on prosecuting than on his own daughter who had been scarred by the ordeal itself.

Phones rang all morning, and the world was seemingly going to crash down, educational system and all, as clear as plain sight. From the secondary school emerged the victim, the accused, and accusers. They marched out in that same order, and made their way to the Municipal office of MINED, the headquarters of the Ministry of Education.

When they arrived MININT Building A, the sun had set, and the moon was watching over them, begging for justice. Meeting after meeting, the uncomfortable delegation argued back and forth through the Malecon. Then they crossed in front of the Spanish embassy, and ended their energetic march at the well-located office of the National Youth Union of Communists. That was the end of the story.

There was a big deal made about the situation, yet little was done after all. After a long-awaited a call from the President the injured father, in a very Freudian version of the destruction of the social order, was transformed into a motivational speaker. The daughter remained raped. And the teacher, being an actor in one of the Commander-in-Chief’s plans, that of “Emerging Teachers*,” wasn’t even tossed out.

Fortunately, many people in Cuba know that “When a motivated and strong people cry out, injustice trembles before them”. Trembling with laughter waiting for a foreigner, Cuba Libre in hand, ready to get drunk.

*Translator’s note: “Emerging teachers” was a program developed in response to a teacher shortage in Cuba, which quickly trained high school students to take over classrooms. Incidents such as this one (and including the death of a child at the hands of one of the teachers) led to the program being reconsidered.

Translated by: Boston College Cuban American Student Association (CASA).

30 October 2013

Recycling Language / Rosa Maria Rodriguez Torrado #Cuba

Vendedora de maní

In the decades of the ’60s and in the ’70s, leaving the country was a journey with no return, which for many represented losing one’s family forever. Therefore, the goodbyes were more traumatic, overwhelmed with more grief, and fertilized with more tears than they are today. Only the hope of reunification in democratic countries kept the family together despite the distance, the repeated scorn, the correspondence examined by police microscopes, the packages opened, broken, confiscated or lost — as it still happens — and the sporadic, torturous phone calls via third countries.

The emotional breakup that the Cuban government produced in the early years, is far from the solidarity in misfortune that is established today between those who leave and those who stay. Migrants of the early days were despotically abused, and they included political and wealthy capitalists from the previous regime who created, using mass media, statements of opinion in the migrant communities where they settled. Those who have left in recent decades do not have the same influence nor the same wealth, but they have a more constructive vision, and they maintain a more or less regular exchange with their friends and family who stayed here.

Along with the change in language, public announcements in the form of cries were also recycled. Hearing them in the hustle of daily chores, it is inevitable to see how previous offerings of fruit and services have been traded for announcements such as “I buy gold eyeglass frames, old gold watch cases, any little pieces of gooooold” etc. There are also those who even buy old irons, clothes, and empty bottles of rum and beer. They voice with their needs, the general impoverishment of the society, since they seem more like cries for help or a shameful promotion of our miseries.

Translated by: BC CASA

January 20 2013

Test and Menta / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Testament of a Figurehead

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Standing, naked, with eyes burned by the tears and the Cuban nights passed without blinking a damn eye. Or blinking, but jumping from nightmare to nightmare, possessed by a Havana without Castro or Marx.

Standing, decrepit, with bony phalanges, and a barbaric beard. With an ache and a void in the soul of three sets of balls. With my cock brushing the keyboard of my mercenary laptop, mercenárida, exquisite corpse that announces briefly the whole of my corpse.

And so I write this. And so I want to be remembered. And so I was a thousand nine hundred and fifty times more free than you.

When I was a child of the seventies I hated my happy childhood. I always knew more than the adults around me, who were poor and fearful but with enormous hearts. I thought that when I grew up, the eighties would find me out of that house forever. I would be free of the drowsy uniformity of this country, and of the good sun that turned my poor neighborhood into a local paradise.

I thought that Cuba would not resist the date changes. That Havana would be filled with colors and unrecognizable people before the year 2000. That was the future life. I was wrong.

All the parents and neighbors died, and all the ministers, and even the premier himself rotted inside and out while still alive, without the decency of a farewell or even an apology. They left us alone in the zoo, among beasts in uniforms of an olive-green color, green like a lie, green like silence, the green of the universal death of our nation. The future was today: futile, fossil, funeral.

It died, of course, any stupid attempt to find among so much shit the infinitesimal and infinite miracle of love.

Our hearts grew old, our bodies trapped in a childhood of penance for being such hypocrites, but not enough to smile over.

We gave in. We didn’t find our neighbor We don’t have a single motherfucking contemporary Cuban. We are extinct. Our hands only serve to wiggle our fingers in panic, telling our own biography: No, no, no…

We deserve an Absolute Revolution in perpetuity. We are the Absolute Revolution in perpetuity. Hallelujah, human time has stopped and we unknowingly lived in a state of grace.

Thank you.

I look at my books. There are thousands and thousands. I’m going to trade them to the old man who sells hookers on the corner. Except for two or a dozen, I’m still not sure. They are books that cause instability, illusions of movement, desires in mutation. They are treacherous books, like one of those most musical themes of three sad decades ago.

I look at the internet censored for Cubans in Cuba. It has been an imbecility to partake of the forbidden. The moral attitude was disgusting. Disgusting having to pirate what belongs to me by my own right. Disgusting to have entertained everyone, with a vaudevillian theater that breathed hope to the patients of a totalitarianism without a terminal phase. They should not believe me. not a single syllable of saliva. Disgusting to survive death successfully in the desert, rather than focus on the source of my insatiable thirst. Disgusting to have been so traitorous and not knowing to dwell in posthumous peace my failure. Disgusting of not having met you before, love.

And still I type standing naked, my stomach making me crick-crack like a psycho-rigid insect. They don’t invent with me. They don’t project now. Nobody is going to die. That is our gloomy phobia. Getting to an end without end.

I will not move a finger. Traveling is embarrassing if you are Cuban. To be free, inside or outside, is infamous if you’re Cuban. Individual creativity is a stigma while reality coagulates around us.

The circle of murderers approaches, shark without a country, from the absolute power of an unknown and ubiquitous government. Name three ministers if you have balls. Go ahead, name them, and you will see that you do not know who they are. Are pseudonyms, pseudopods. Name three thousand dead people and see if you remember their false features. You do not know dick, bro. You are exceptionally ignorant. Your tongue chirps like the insects of my stomach emptied of hunger and meaning. And just for that I still love you, in spite of myself.

Cuba has finally become pure action.

Things happen, but now nothing takes place.

Do you see? Do yo not see?


Translated by BC CASA

November 3 2012

Stigmatized Youth / Amado Calixto Gammalame #Cuba

Atty. Amado Calixto Gammalame


One of the problems that often confronts young people, although not exclusive to this segment of the population, is the social rejection to which men and women who have been sentenced for some crime are subjected.

It becomes evident in different ways, more commonly in the absence of job opportunities, a current problem for young people on a global scale. A requirement of the employment application is a certificate from the Central Registrar of Sentencing, which contains the criminal record of each individual, along with the police profile that Cuba keeps for every individual in the system, regardless of the resolution of a case. If it indicates that the applicant has been tried or sentenced for anything illicit, no matter how minor the crime, he is denied the job and forced to apply for “another job.” The economic crisis and the current social climate make this already critical problem worse.

I am of the opinion that, while the profiles used by authorities are necessary from a legal standpoint — as in criminal profiling, when even honesty forces one to acknowledge the technical and scientific backwardness from which we suffer in this area — “profiling” with respect to employment is an unacceptable practice, an affront and a lifelong label.

A letter sent to AJC by Maria Emilia provides an example. In it she asks for assistance to help her son re-enter society since, as she says in her own words, he has been subject to detentions and citations to explain his conduct in being involved with other delinquent youths, and I quote … “My son is 28 years old and went to prison when he was 17, not knowing other people I turn to young people who went through the long stay in prison with him, which I suppose are seen in the communal services where he worked when he got out of prison, there are no doctors working there or others of that type, if my son at only 17 was given such a severe sentence, it’s impossible that he would know other people without the Cuban state itself enabling him.”

A separate item requires the social recognition or lack of recognition young offenders coming out of prison receive when they arrive in the neighborhood, referring to the stigma they face, a product of the devaluation of the social aspects with which they are not welcomed and recognized with such defects or social attitudes.

These efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of isolation are laudable, but the remedy is always in our hands, mainly in the hands of young people themselves. Nobody will do for them what they do not want or can not do for themselves.

There are young people eager to move forward. Children and young people are the most precious treasure of our society. You have to give them a great deal of credit, whether they have been prosecuted, punished or not. The day the country eliminates this type of injustice, so bravely, creating, proposing and doing, the harmful consequences that this type of iniquity to this important sector of society will be eliminated

 Boston College CASA and RST

September 16 2012

Believe it or Not / Esperanza Rodriguez Bernal #Cuba

Esperanza Rodríguez Bernal

As mentioned in previous works, the most common cases that come to the Law Association for help relate to the subject of housing.

It is interesting to note that most of the people that come to us for advice have already exhausted all other resources in search of a solution to their problem, and bring in documents with numerous letters addressed to different entities.

Thus, Ramon showed up at our headquarters very distressed because for approximately nine years he has been waiting for people who are living illegally in his house to leave.

To its credit, the resolution of the Municipal Housing Office for the municipality of Playa where in its First Resolve accedes to Roman’s interests and in consequence urges the occupants of said residence to abandon the property in 72 hours after the date of notification, otherwise they will be evicted with the help of the Revolutionary National Police (RNP).

In its own resolution, which notifies both parties, it is made known to them that against what the resolution itself provides, reclamation proceeds before the Chamber of the Civil and Administrative Popular Provincial Tribunal of the City of Havana (TPP).

Here is where the absurdity of absurdities begins for Ramon.  As expected the counterpart appealed to the TPP and as a result, it declared the counterpart’s pretext baseless.

Unhappy with the ruling of the TPP, the counterparty filed an Annulment Resource before the People’s Supreme Court, which upheld the TPP ruling.

Although Ramon has the judgment dated October 31, 2002 the TPP, which grants the right to occupy the property that is the subject of this litigation, the agency responsible for executing the same has ignored the ruling of the court of justice.

It is necessary here to clarify that all cases that come to our office with housing problems of this nature do not always have the same treatment: some, like the present case, can delay indefinitely eviction of the illegal occupants made, others however, at 72 hours, are unceremoniously evicted.

The obvious question then is, why in some cases are the resolutions quickly enforced in other cases with the same resolution it “sleeps the eternal sleeps”?

I tend to think that there is an “unknown” element involving either result in compliance with the judgments of the courts…although we find it hard to believe.

Translated by: Boston College CASA and RST

January 5 2013

2012-2013 School Year: Student Dead, Assasinated and Judgment Escaped / Dora Leonor Mesa #Cuba

Someday the sun will shine
In my backyard…
The Shining by Stephen King

In the clear air it seems that imagination comes alive, leaving the reins of reason. Every day, Raisa Medina sees her son return from school to go out play again, while sky and vegetation lazily spin with a slow roll, an idle globe.

The words, the sounds are dispersed in a buzz. Since any court, with shouts of annoyance will respond:

– The sentence isn’t!

With a shudder, Raisa regains sanity and looks away from the precipice.

Son Alain Izquierdo Medina: 14 years old. Dead on the afternoon of July 15, 2011

Place: Mamocillo arbor, Havana.

Cause of death: anemia

Other aggravating factors: Climbing a fruit tree on a farm accompanied by two minors who were unharmed.

Guilty: Amado Interian, retired police officer.

Facts: Shot at the teenagers. Amado Interian had time to hide and tried to evade justice for the second time.

The act of valor shown from the mother of Alain Izquierdo, Mrs. Raisa Medina, the intervention ofDr. Laritza Diversent ( and other efforts carried out by civil society, including the complaint to the Committee of Experts UNICEF, managed to transfer him to jail.

However, with the boy Alain Izquierdo dead, the mother gets bad news.

– Your boy didn’t die from the bullets, but from anemia.

– Problems in holding the trial.

– Information unconfirmed: the guilty escape. Unknown prison.

Other than these facts, the woman is hindered. She wants the copy of the judicial sentence to be the victim of her son.

It is unnecessary to explain what the death of a child means to any progenitor. But day after day, this mother feels like they’re opening her in pieces. She suffers deadly hits, burying her son in an uncertain justice, for being a black woman she receives stabbings disguised as generous offers. Additional hits because of poverty. Like a colophon: NO JUDICIAL SENTENCE

The comments abound.

God allow the rumor of the murderer’s flight to be false. Hopefully God will intercede for that mother and at least give her the consolation of having a copy of the sentence of the crime. Otherwise, it’s a question of time. Other Raisas will suffer.

Sons and phantom daughters, wandering without hope since the beginning until the end of every school year. Death and the Ungovernability, parties through the streets of Havana, saying hello to other boys and girls.

– Will we get time to pray?

– Blessed Virgin, pray for the death of this boy. Make us feel better. Do not allow more terrible news.

“Retaliate against mothers”

“Cuban infants, better victims”

“They assassinate another black boy”

“Cuba: dead justice”

Translator’s note: This post refers to a child who was shot dead by a former police officer when he climbed the officer’s fruit tree. His death was ruled to have been caused by anemia — that is the loss of blood from his bullet wound — rather than from the bullet itself. Posts from the attorney Laritza Diversent with more information about the case are here and here.

Translated by: BC CASA

September 15 2012

Our Great Challenge / Antonio Rodiles #Cuba

The arbitrary arrest of the lawyer Yaremis Flores on November 7 was followed by two waves, one repressive, taken to the extreme by the regime against numerous activists of civil society, and the other, impressive and appreciated by us, of solidarity with the victims. Personally, what happened reaffirmed my vision of the fundamental challenge that we face as a country: the articulation of all of its parts in order to transition into a democracy in which the entire nation participates.

Visualizing and working in support of a transition towards democracy in the convoluted scenario in which we live is a process that implies, above all, political and intellectual maturity, honesty, and a high level of civic awareness. We need to understand that such dynamics would not involve just one axis, just one angle. It is impossible to imagine a transition that does not take into account Cubans in Cuba today who hold different points of view. And a transition without full participation of those Cubans outside the Island, who constitute an essential part of our nation, is also inconceivable. It is not possible to outline a transition without the workers, intellectuals, professionals and entrepreneurs both inside and outside the country.

To think that change in our country will happen magically, that in the blink of an eye we will generate a modern society, a state of rights, is too simple and deceitful a fantasy. We, the  totalitarian regime’s opposition, have the duty and responsibility to show all segments of society the nature of the plural and inclusive country we are advocating and what we expect of democracy.

The strategy of the regime has always been the same. It has systematically tried to prevent by all possible means the growth of a civil society. Intimidation, repression, imprisonment, bleeding the country, generating mistrust within the opposition, creating internal conflict to undermine our work, “distracting” us so as to leave us little time to effectively advocate in society, is a strategy that has always borne fruit and should be dismantled now. We have to fix our ethics, our suppositions, our rhythm.

To responsibly work on a transition implies a true knowledge of the scenario confronting us in which are manifested the particularities of groups and individuals from a global perspective. To guarantee this range of interests and visions it is necessary they every Cuban enjoy his or her fundamental rights, thus the importance of the campaign “For Another Cuba” and our request for support from all Cubans and international public opinion.

Facing this peaceful citizen initiative, the government has responded by intensifying the repression and  excessive use of violence, slamming the door on yet another civic proposal. Nevertheless, this violent scenario begins to profile factions in society; on the one hand there are those who, although inside the system, believe a prosperous nation is possible, one where political and ideological differences are part of everyday life, where respect and decency are paramount; on the other there is a rarefied segment, formed by mixed interests, cynicism, and low ethical morals, which tries, with its irresponsible and arrogant acts, to lead us down a bruised path at the hands of violence and brutality. It is time for Cubans to decide which side we are on, from which perspective we wish to advocate and act.

Translated by: Boston College CASA

December 5 2012

Your Beer Here! / Rosa Maria Rodriguez Torrado

It seems like a silent cry, a clandestine invitation to beer drinking amid signs of drunkenness, not of admiration. The thirsty passer-by—child or adult—cannot easily sample a soft drink or a little bottle of mineral water in Havana when he wants, since in many public businesses that sell cold drinks in convertible currency, they tend to pack their refrigeration equipment mainly with beer. They hardly leaves room for anything else to drink, and it tells everyone that the alcoholic beverages are the only ones they care to refrigerate. The employees on every crew put a few waters and sodas in the coolers to “cover their backs” or keep up appearances.

It is often that, upon going to one of these businesses a little after the beginning of one or another shift, you’ll get responses like, “They’re hot” or “There aren’t any,” and you must move on. The so-called “Quickies” are the places where I most observe this problem. They remind me of those bars that were around in the capital a few decades ago that they called pilots because, just like them, the tables are often full of happy people with a significant number of empty bottles or cans of the amber liquid atop them. Likewise, in other places not suited for drinking, like some shops, kiosks and other businesses, there is again the same lack of refrigeration which endangers customers.

I ask myself why and I conclude that it appears that they get their rewards in the form of the frothy drink. The bonus is that for years the state expropriated these people and denied them a decent wage. Around here everyone “struggles” to make a decent salary that can provide enough money so that they can have a half-way decent lifestyle and can satisfy their basic needs and those of their families. The state has forced most citizens to resort to daily acts of illegality in order to be able to survive. In their long and disastrous exercise of power we have been the victims of their arbitrary decisions, which have turned virtually all of us into a prison population.

I do not fall into the trap set by officials when they uncover these kinds of things—the rustic private stills installed in homes or inadequate, dirty, illegal locations. I don’t believe it. The clandestine breweries are in state factories and use government vehicles to transport the merchandise. They are controlled by the military’s own men, who divide the output between the exploitative, multi-millionaire State and the impoverished workers.

A self-adjusted salary from which many benefit and no one sees, because the alcoholics of corruption look the other way, so as not to harm this balanced and equitable Robin Hood business, with beer belly and Party card. So as we walk around we must go along to quench our thirst and the tropical heat with some hot soft drink, while others “fill their plates and pockets” with the cold beer “fruits of their sins.”

In our country the most massive drunken binge historically has been that of the strong-man rule. The leader and his group are entrenched, at the cost of appropriating the country, they led us to this crisis of values and the socioeconomic and political ruin that oppresses us. Reasons abound for us to worry about Cuba, because when it appears to be falling, because mutated by inefficiency and immorality it wobbles, which doesn’t mean it’s drunk, but rather rotten.

Translated by Boston College Cuban-American Student Association
First paragraph by russell conner, New Orleans, LA

October 22 2012