Cuba: Not Everyone Sympathizes with Trump / Iván García

Cartoon published in Did Donald Trump's Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo? Bloomberg, July 28, 2016.
Cartoon published in Did Donald Trump’s Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo? Bloomberg, July 28, 2016.

Iván García, 25 November 2016 — After sweeping a park that spans entire block in the Vibora neighborhood of Havana, Silvio sits on a wooden bench and, in the shade of a carob tree and a fresh autumn breeze, guzzles a liter of cold water.

As for many Cubans, politics aren’t his forte. He’s serving a year of detention for hitting his ex-wife, and sweeping parks or weeding flower beds is part of his punishment.

“Things in Cuba are really bad. There’s no money, and it’s very hard to buy food. At the rate we’re going, we’ll soon be starving even more than during the Special Period. I don’t know how Trump could help make things better for Cubans. These scoundrels (of the Cuban regime) are the ones that have to do that. And they don’t. They steal all the money and then entertain us with their long speeches. Trump seems like an S.O.B., but the sitution in Cuba isn’t his fault. The solution is to sell the country in an auction. Can’t that be done?” asks Silvio in the warm, morning sun. continue reading

Cubans don’t really like to make predictions. They don’t do them any good.

“They’ve deceived us so many times that people prefer to live day to day. The future seems like a fairy tale. From Fidel Castro’s unfulfilled promises to produce as much milk or meat as Holland, to a quality of life comparable to that of New York.They’ve always sold us the theory that the U.S. blockade (embargo) is responsible for Cuba’s misfortunes. Then a guy like Obama arrives at the White House, who wants to change strategies and whom Cubans on the island love, and they keep blaming their problems on the Americans. That’s why a lot of people don’t care who’s governing in Washington. The solution to our problems depends on Cuban leaders,” says Carlos, a sociologist.

Cuba is hurting. The streets are destroyed, the people are tired of speeches and slogans, low salaries and decades of shortages. To escape the daily drama, people cope by settling into a recliner or an arm chair in front of the TV for hours, watching Mexican soap operas or game shows and reality shows made in Miami.

Orlando earns a living stuffing matchboxes on 10 de Octubre Avenue. He would have liked Hillary Clinton to win the election. “Forget the story that she would have continued the Cuba policies put forth by Obama. I wanted her to win because she would have become the first woman president of the United States. I think the world is lacking in female governance.”

Although polls seem unreliable after the resounding failure of Brexit in Great Britain, peace talks in Colombia, or Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States—where citizens hid their intentions in the voting booth—in Cuba an overwhelming majority preferred Hillary in the White House.

Influenced by Trump’s bad press on the island, the continuation of Obama’s legacy, and other diverse reasons—from our mixed races to empathizing with a black head of state—the average Cuban was for Clinton.

Cubans didn’t really care about Hillary’s email scandals or the accusations made against her husband by a campaign volunteer. Nor did they care about news reports accusing the Clinton family and their political dynasty of corruption.

For Delio Benítez, who has a degree in Political Science, there’s a strange phenomenon in Cuba. “In general, when Cubans are on the island, they lean toward Democrats in the U.S. elections; but once they’re living in North America, a large portion of them vote for Republicans.”

Benítez doesn’t know why. “I can’t prove it with scientific studies. Maybe it’s the prevailing anti-imperialism in Latin America, or the aggressive discourse of the Cuban regime. But in the Cuban subconscious, Democrats are, politically speaking, more reasonable than Republicans, with their tendencies toward war and their anti-immigration stance.”

For Josuán, a vegetable and fruit seller in an open-air market in Havana, Hillary was a better option because “she may not have abolished the Cuban Adjustment Act. For me, and for many who plan to emigrate, Clinton was our candidate. Trump is going to repeal that law. And those of us who planned to leave will have to speed up our trip.”

The majority of citizens that have coffee without cream for breakfast also don’t expect a disaster from the Trump administration. “He’s a businessman.  Maybe he’ll fit in better with Castro than Obama. Hillary would have been perfect, but (Cuba-U.S.) relations won’t be broken with Trump. One thing for sure, things are going to be bad for us Cubans regardless of who wins in the United States. The blame for our misfortunes lies here at home,” claims Emilio, a personal barber, in a soft voice.

If you want to meet a sector of Cubans that applaud the election of Donald Trump, please visit the dissident, Antonio Rodiles, in the Miramar neighborhood in east Havana, or Berta Soler at the Damas de Blanco headquarters in Lawton on the south end of the capital.

That branch of the opposition, under the umbrella “Forum on Rights and Freedoms,” practically held a party over Trump’s victory. According to their statements, they believe that as repressed dissidents they will get more backing and financial assistance from the White House.

But it just so happens that, in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, anyone who has survived eleven U.S. administrations had an equal chance of being imprisoned or executed during a democratic era as they did a republican era.

Autocracies thrive and survive regardless of any major or minor international condemnation. Ending autocracy is Cuba’s business. No one else’s.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

Making Love the Way God Intended Is a Luxury in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

Photo caption is at end of post

Ivan Garcia, 25 June 2015 — Alberto works at a fresh produce market. On weekends he makes an advanced reservation for a room with a big soft bed surrounded by mirrors and a refrigerator stocked with beer.

“The deal costs me 10 ’fulas’ (convertible pesos) per night, but it’s the only way to have an intimate moment with my girlfriend. Luckily I have my own business. Otherwise, we’d have to do it (make love) in a park like the majority of young people of my generation,” he says while weighing two pounds of beans.

In Cuba, anything can be a problem. It’s common to wait an hour for a city bus that’s not too full to board. A lot of people cannot afford to eat two meals a day, and having coffee with cream is somewhat exotic. continue reading

Having sex in private can become a luxury, too. Ask Yasmani, a university student who has to improvise wherever he is in order to have intimate relations with his girlfriend.

“My parents aren’t able to give me the five CUC that it costs to rent a room for three hours in a private residence*. At home, I share a bedroom with my sister and my grandmother. To have sex with my girlfriend, we have to be creative and find a place in the park or the stair well of the building where I live, or in a schoolyard. I don’t recommend dark parks. In addition to the regular masturbators, they are teeming with gangs that assault you to steal the clothes off your back or your cell phone. Once a custodian caught us in the classroom of a school and we ended up at the police station. We’ve discovered a ’love nest’ in an abandoned neighborhood building. Let’s see how long our good luck lasts,” confesses Yasmani.

“The lack of housing on the island is the primary cause of four different generations living under the same roof. “This itself is a problem. Sharing a bedroom with other relatives also makes it complicated to have a space for intimacy,” notes Carlos, a sociologist.

“On Saturdays, when I have enough money, I give my brother 50 national pesos (two dollars) so he he’ll rent me his room for a couple of hours, and I can have some privacy with my girlfriend,” explains Jorge, a construction worker.

Even married couples have to be creative if they want to have an intimate space. “There are eight of us living in my house: my in-laws, my wife and I, and our four sons. We’ve had to share our bedroom with the kids. I sleep on the living room sofa. When my wife and I want to have sex, we have to wait until my in-laws go to bed, which they tend to do after one o’clock in the morning. It’s an odyssey,” says Erasmo.

In Havana, the hundreds of comfortable residences that rent out rooms are multiplying rapidly. Yusmila is the owner of a mansion that she’s converted into short-term, rentable rooms for couples. “The place is always full. I charge seven CUC per hour and twenty for the whole night. I offer food and drinks and the rooms have a jacuzzi.”  In the lobby, there’s a bar with an assortment of alcohol and a pool table.

But not everyone can afford places like this. Twenty five years ago in Cuba, there was a network of inexpensive inns run by the state.

“It’s true that they were dilapidated with walls full of obnoxious graffiti and holes that delighted voyeurs, but anyone could afford to stay in one for three to four hours. Outside of Havana, there were high quality inns, but you had to have your own car or go in taxi,” recalls Gustavo.

Nowadays for a night of privacy you need enough money to buy food and drink in addition to the minimum ten CUC, which is half of the average monthly salary.

“A good time with your ’jevita’ (girlfriend) easily costs you thirty or forty ’chavitos’ (thirty-five or forty dollars). Nobody’s budget can endure that, but it’s fun: hot and cold water, a movie star bed, and a TV with pornographic videos. But it’s a luxury. Normally, couples make love in a corner or in the brush like animals,” stresses Osvaldo, a technician in a factory.

Amid the tentative economic reforms of General Raúl Castro, there’s no mention of opening affordable lodging for students and laborers. His master plan doesn’t even consider a solution to the urgent housing deficit across the country.

Therefore, couples of little means will keep having sex wherever they can. Hooking up isn’t what’s hard in Cuba, it’s paying for a decent bed and three hours of privacy.

Iván García

Photo: Some Cubans turn their home into a business by renting a bedroom to couples seeking a private space to be intimate. This photo is one of the many rooms for Cuban couples that are found on Revolico, a website for announcements, rentals, services, and ads to buy or sell items, houses, and cars. In this case, a room with a private entrance, air conditioning, bathroom with hot and cold water, and a place to park. Located across from the Capri Hotel on 21st Street between N and O Streets in the Vedado area of Havana. Prices: 5 CUC for 3 hours (one CUC per additional hour); 10 CUC for the entire night, 8:00 pm to 8:00 am; and 15 CUC for the entire day.

 Translated by: Kathy Fox

Everyone Bears Your Name, Fidel / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, 10 April 2015

We Cubans are going to miss Fidel a lot.

Fidel was a spontaneous, almost infantile, assassin with an irresistible charisma that eroticized even his bodyguards. Meanwhile, he could kill just out of a curiosity to see his victims’ last expression of panic or rage. Like someone who naively opens up a lizard from Birán* or the virginal vagina of an adulterous woman from Havana.

With Fidel deceased–in one of those fecal spectacles of running around between stretchers and Mercedes Benzes–today, we as a people have ended up alone with a one-eyed psychopath* and the pathetic pedophile, Eusebio Leal. continue reading

Fidel was always covered in mud. He got in and out of military jeeps and helicopters whose blades decapitated the rest of the leaders of the Revolution. He cut sugar cane with gusto. He drank water from wooden cups containing the saliva of peasants. He shot three-point baskets. And thirteen-point baskets. He expelled priests and sent gays to concentration camps. Or both.

He caught marlins like Hemingway and he was an ace at cross-breeding cattle. He smoked and smoked and dodged cancer cells. He planted everything and had a talent for reaping nothing; that cycle of sterile stubbornness toward the Cuban people was a symptom of closeness. Fidel was a loser that never lost, a Cuban from the ’hood.

Fidel was me. A guy that diverted hurricanes and brought AIDS to Cuba from the African bush, in the white blood cells of his little hetero, ebony-colored soldiers. He cloned interferon and solidified the amorphous formula of Spirulina. He deported half the country and put it to work for him in malls from Miami to Melbourne. And that’s not counting that he sent the first black man into orbit. Fidel, my friends, was fearless.

Now in 2015, Cuba is on its way to democracy. The government in Havana is saturated in rich white people who have made pacts with the rich whites of the Cuban-American ex-exile community. The commanders of the Revolution are being cremated on a regular basis and the holocaust archives have not only disappeared, they’ve been quickly rewritten. The future belongs entirely to that past that never made its debut.

The only thing we can hope for from the grim, one-eyed Alejandro Castro Espín** and his Zionist zetas is massacre, but those thousands of dead matter less than Eusebio Leal’s robes. The grand nineteenth-century gentleman, the despicable thief who made off with the property of Dulce María Loynaz, Lage’s pal and other so-called reformers who ended up in pajamas*** and powerless even to give interviews, the historian who was punished for being corrupt and for making an embassy joke about taking Old Havana to the “Granma Yacht mausoleum,” in short, the parish priest who shoves his pedigreed dollars up the asses of Lolitas… he judges the Cuban people in public–a people whose mass stampede abroad has been our only revenge against the tyrant–barely equal to a speck of dirt on his Lord Spengler rain coat.

As a result, the neo-marketization between Brickell’s*** totalitarian tycoons and the corporate mafia bosses of Siboney****, must imply recycling the best minds of my generation in the laundry room of a high security prison. Nothing that happens in Cuba is believable. The first democrats to reach democracy on the Island will simply be the fast food items that Fidelism currently teaches at its world summits.

As a Cuban, I miss Fidel a lot. I miss his cadavers, who are my last contemporaries. The maximum leader of the Third World calls us “lumpen,” “scum,” “worms.” Yet he never stopped covering himself in our excrement, the excrement of a prostituted nation during half a millenium of despotism without government and without God.

It also makes me sad that, in his death, Fidel is going to really miss us, his Cubans.

Translator’s notes:
*Birán is the place in eastern Cuba where the Castro brothers were born and raised.
**Refers to Raúl Castro’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, who lost an eye during military training in Algeria and is currently a colonel in Cuba’s interior ministry.
*** In Cuba when someone in power is ousted (but not imprisoned) their “retirement” is colloquially referred to as “the pajama plan.”
****Brickell is a street in Miami where the superrich live, and Siboney is a neighborhood in Havana where the elites live and ordinary Cubans are not allowed.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

Personal Epitaph to Fidel Castro / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

“Here rests a man who died millions of times” should be the epitaph engraved on the marble that finally covers him. By then, some will feel despondent, as if the earth were caving in on them; while others, no doubt, will receive the news with terrestrial joy. But absolutely everyone will be in agreement about something: that on that day the most loved and most hated man of the last two centuries in Cuba will have ceased to exist.

But Fidel Castro will not have died that day, because before then, little by little, he will have suffered millions of prior deaths. For some, for example, he has been dead since that first morning when he “couldn’t find” the way from Moncada while another group of reliable men were being sacrificed in the assault; and for others, he died when he legalized the death penalty at the beginning of 1959, every time echoes of gunfire from La Cabaña were heard; or perhaps a few months after that, when amid all the mystery the sea swallowed Camilo’s hat–and he was pronounced dead after just three days of dubious “searching.”

continue reading

But later, thousands of Cubans buried Fidel Castro when, after having denied it many times, he suddenly announced out of nowhere that he was communist–even after having accused “traitor,” Huberto Matos, in a brief trial, of being the very same thing–and declaring without apology the socialist character of a Revolution that didn’t belong to him, but rather to the people listening to him with surprise.

Some days later, he would die again for other thousands of Cubans when they learned about the day Che Guevara died, abandoned by Manila [his code word for Havana], in the desolation of the Bolivian highlands.

Certainly for hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Fidel Castro died once and for all that fateful day in March of ’68, when the “Revolutionary Offensive” usurped every family-owned business without the slightest compensation—an act of vulgar and unpunished looting that betrayed those who, just 15 years earlier, he had called “the people” in his self-defense during the Moncada trial.

Also for millions of people in the Third World, he must have died in ’79, when as president of the Non-Aligned Movement, he preferred to be a chameleon and said nothing while Afghanistan, a member state of that world organization, endured an insidious attack by insurgent troops of the Soviet army, the unconditional ally of the incorrigible bearded one. Or perhaps, for those same millions, he already had died slightly more than a decade earlier, when he applauded the emergence of those same Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia there to extinguish fervor for the Prague Spring.

But not all of his deaths were so grandiloquent and transcendental, because Fidel Castro also suffered many routine deaths during those dark decades: he died every time a Cuban was humiliated at the door of an off-limits hotel or of one of those elitist stores open only to tourists; each time family members were separated or a life was lost at sea because there was no legal way to emigrate from their prison; each time sincerity was punished and, under his personal aegis, hypocrisy and duplicity were praised; every time a defenseless Cuban was beaten while trying to exercise rights that had been taken away, each time a repudiation rally was carried out; he died every time a father was imprisoned or one of his sons was robbed of his future; the great dictator also died with each truncated dream and with each empty plate.

Nonetheless, it’s certain that when the death of Fidel Castro is finally announced–the death of his physical waste, I mean–the news will make headlines everywhere. Then every editorial board or columnist should take some time for reflection, because beyond all the love or hate generated by the eternal bearded one, it is imperative that we learn once and for all the lesson, so that no other people, ever, under no circumstance or latitude whatsoever, once again deposits the same power in the hands of a single man, regardless of how beautiful, just or sublime the cause he proposes appears to be.

But when Fidel Castro suffers his definitive death, it will inevitably be the day when Cuba wakes up with the sun of truth and, with its light, opens Pandora’s box: only then will we be able to know the exact magnitude of his megalomania, re-examine his true face, the mask hidden beneath so many decades of false rhetoric and unmeasured devotion to a personality with sick ways resulting in a pathology of character that extended across an entire society for more than half a century.

He whose dream was to pass for a genius will have left in his barren path nothing less than a country in the most absurd financial ruin and, what’s worse, buried in an abyss of moral ruins. And, if the gospel promises, “by their fruit you will recognize them,” then for that day, on which he will definitively die, my people will finally calibrate in all its magnitude the reach of his betrayal and his proverbial demagoguery.

Precisely now, when all around him there is a ridiculous pact to be silent about facts of indisputable transcendence, while many are making jokes about the idea of his death or his tacitly accepted decrepitude, I raise my prayer to heaven: may God offer him many more years of life, enough so that any day in our near future he shall be granted, in the midst of his well deserved mental fog, intermittent lapses of absolute lucidity.

I would ask God for those days, or minutes, of total lucidity for the tyrant, but it’s important that there be enough of them so that he who caused us so much harm has crystal clear awareness of how my country and my people raised themselves up from the ruins as soon as they could break free; as it will be in the future, the homeland was truly better once emancipated from his despotism.

I would ask God for those few days of lucidity, before returning to ash what was ash, so He may again submerge him in darkness to dodder without glory, ruminating on his permanent defeat. Then, yes, Fidel Castro will depart for the eternal misery that he deserves, as a tenuous and embarrassing memory…and not exactly absolved by History.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

15 January 2015


Macho Che / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Che’s Beatle Girlfriend

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

No doubt her name was Una. Or Agatha. Or Lil. Or Ide. O Brighid. Or Sinead. Or Nora. Or Tilde. Or perhaps Alaidh or Hilde. Any one of those Irish names reminiscent of other names whose etymology is tirelessly, anxiously, apocryphally Anglo.

For a native of civilized America—meaning, uncultured—her name, her names, is, are no more than hieroglyphics without an etymology, all just sounds twisted up in Barbie’s chin and the proper palate of the Irish girl named: Una, Agatha, Lil, Ide, Brighid, Sinead, Nora, Tilde or perhaps Alaidh or Hilde or all of them in one.

In any case, she’s always wearing that inert object over her head, which on camera rivaled a wet beret like his, like Che’s, in 1964. And since Ernesto Guevara is missing his emblematic beret during an interview translated by an interpreter—she literally interpreted, as in performed, his role—we can assume that Che had just placed his beret on her, like a bonnet on her hair, a colonel’s crown, the aura of a magical capture in order to allure her with his New Man smile, his big Cantinflas*-style mustache, the comically tender answers of a magnanimous conquistador. Such is the complicit tenderness of assassins and suicide victims. continue reading

Una, Agatha, Lil, Ide, Brighid, Sinead, Nora, Tilde or perhaps Alaidhilde, sometimes looks like a pioneer. If Che laughs, she is happy and confuses that laughter with her own. The professional journalist that hired her is suddenly a nuisance in this scene of seduction.  That’s why the introverted Irishman is, in fact, treated like an idiot by Che and the girl: both answer his professional questions with mutual, intimate irony; they elude high politics and exchange practically pornographic codes on the fringes of power.

The UN, for example, is much less important here than Una, Agatha, Lil, Ide, Brighid, Sinead, Nora, Tilde or perhaps Alaidhilde. The girl addresses Che with feminine adjectives: she plays with tongue twisters perhaps to provoke him in his manliness. She pretends that she doesn’t know how to pronounce properly, that she will need to be punished in private for having behaved so badly in public.  And who better to castigate her than a castigator. And who better to violate her golden vagina than an executioner dressed in olive green.

It’s obvious that the end of this interview will be an irresistible, ridiculous, anti-biographical and extra-diegetic scene like all fornication between strangers, where Ernesto Guevara (the lighthouse of America back then), wielding his phallus of dubious hygiene in the warm air of the furnace; and in his English (which is better than he lets on), he invites Una, Agatha, Lil, Ide, Brighid, Sinead, Nora, Tilde or perhaps Alaidhilde to do the splits in a hotel room paid for by some Cuban administration in Revolution.

It’s also obvious that Una, Agatha, Lil, Ide, Brighid, Sinead, Nora, Tilde or perhaps Alaidhilde will go and she will open her pelvis and, without removing her clothes, sit atop the hero of horror. She’s not even 20 years old. She is—was—a virgin, although during her nights of childish terrorism she dreamed about being a guerrilla fighter, a decade before this phase of guerrillas and electric guitars. Now she prefers to dance to the Beatles, in spite of herself.  And that music inspires this adventure of bleeding to the point of concern between her first world thighs; and, of course, that female smell of iron is the only thing that actually excites the star commander with asthma: the blood inspires and saves this executioner, who in turn will be executed almost as young as he was in that 1964 interview in an Ireland that is unrecognizable and irreconcilable from an Irish woman’s crotch.

There’s a word she’s trying to say, but it trips on her tongue. The “twist and shout” rich girl shakes while straddling and scratches her vocal chords between her paycheck and her illusion of freedom slogans. Then Che corrects her. It’s one of those words that, from being repeated so many times, have not one but infinite etymologies: and one absolute, totalitarian meaning. The interviewer says, “government.” The interpreter stutters: “govermiento.” The interviewed censures: “gobierno.”

It’s a kind of tournament trio of word-zap, of war-zap. And the video is cut off immediately after.

Today there is no other visible trace of this interview anywhere on the Internet. It’s possible that it was never published in any newspaper or on T.V. It’s even possible that the whole thing is a montage from before or after the digital age. There was no dialogue, but rather delirium: desire that always tidies up. There is also no historical evidence that Ernesto Guevara ever loved another human being the same way—and one can tell from his homicidal, homagno** eyes on camera (more than in bed)—that he loved his Beatles maniac interpreter.

So this unmarred image must have been the only one presentable not long after that, in Che’s interview with God.

Translator’s notes:
*Cantinflas (1911-1993) was a comedic film actor (writer and producer) from Mexico who usually sported a unique mustache.
 **Homagno, a neologism, is the name of a poem and a “character” representing “man’s greatness” (homo/man + magno/magnitude) in this and at least two other poems by José Martí.

 Translated by: Kathy Fox 

Without Cuba / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

mi amor

When did we disappear while a nation? When did Cuba stop being one? Or perhaps it never fully was one?

Nations are human inventions, impulses of our historical imagination. Cuba was the story that we told ourselves. A chronic story and, therefore, unbelievably believable.

We never had any democrats. The Republic’s great milestones are nothing more than frauds, ruses of worldwide communism in order to gain time and corrupt the remains of the social fabric in our country.

Bullets, bills, the opportunist who lives off of the fool, anything is worth more in Cuba than ballots. We are compulsive demagogues, even if we’ve had saints and sages and virtue. But we were lacking fascism, that experience which Cuba might have joined in on if it hadn’t been aborted by the leftist Revolution of 1933. Then it was necessary to wait until 1959 to be able to consummate our congenital totalitarian defect: a fascism from the right with a popular narrative. continue reading

Now Fidel Castro has died. His remains have been cremated before being presented in public. And his ashes will be dispersed from the Rio Bravo to Patagonia, assuring along the way that they are not vandalized out of revenge or as a malicious amulet. Writing without Fidel in the world and knowing this is, for me, a defining, prophetic experience, something millions of Cubans no longer planned to live to tell.

January 28th or February 24th or April 17th: the liberating announcement that we Cubans will never again hear the soap opera-like voice of Fidel Castro has the regime of his illegitimate brother, Raul, terrified. Like all assassins, Castroism is a state of cowardice in the midst of his insulting impunity. Families readjust. They know blood is the way out. And they are making sure it will not be theirs that flows. In this sense, they have promoted a modest pacifism of opposition that will keep them in power.

They will probably never announce that the Commander in Chief is a cadaver. This insolent silence will probably be stretched out to the end of time by Island authorities as the only source of governance. North American newspapers are also updating their obituary notes from 10 and 15 years ago. But it will be the least read text in the world, the least current. Because we Cubans are ahead of the world in the craft of leaving Fidel Castro’s imprint behind, just as in the heart of each of us a decrepit dictator has evolved, amounting to millions of miniature fidelcastros no less lethal than the original.

When did the nation disappear? When did Cuba stop being Cuba? Or perhaps it never completely stopped being Cuba?

We only know that, while we are Cubans, we have to distance ourselves from Cubans to the maximum. We are a universe in expansion, we repulse one another. The proximity to ourselves brings out the worst in the populace. The island can’t be reforested. The desert of the soul made a desert of the landscape. I come from there: I can swear to you that today none of you will survive even half a day of “Havanity” [Havana reality]. And tomorrow will be much worse.

Getting lost is beautiful. The amnesic memory is beautiful. What we loved and what loved us emigrated with us. Let’s be worthy of that love that will not be repeated. Let’s be different in the lives of other nations. And, in some of the early hours of the universal moon, let’s allow that love or sorrow to assassinate us completely, hopefully before the state assassin on duty does so.

Cuba will never be free. Maybe Cubans still can be.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

5 January 2015

Capitalism Straight Away, or the Chinese Method First? / Rafael Alcides

By Rafael Alcides — It’s December 17th. The majority (and right now there are about 30 of us in line at the pharmacy) is celebrating the agreements between Raul and Obama; if there had been firecrackers, they would have lit them. Anyway, implicating everyone with her finger, a woman with a child in tow and a voice choked by emotion was saying: “Saint Lazarus has made this happen!”

As I was saying, the majority, because among the old guys (there were eleven, counting me, and I’m not from that neighborhood; I’m just in line there because my pharmacy didn’t have my medicine), there are three in opposition: one who says that, without the mediation of dissidents, the agreement constitutes a betrayal by Obama, a betrayal that will be recorded in history with words of mourning.

The others shoot back with what about the Human Rights people* in this long-awaited moment, they’re thinking about their piece of the pie; and the man, a chubby guy who looks like a lawyer, noting the lack of a quorum and all the unfriendly faces, leaves without offering anyone his place in line. continue reading

Another one is a dentist, who later they will tell me is not one of those Human Rights people, but while his cohorts debate the future of Cuban socialism, he’ll continue saying that without an elimination of the Embargo on the horizon, the agreements between Raul and Obama have been nonsense and it’s obvious that Raul is not Fidel.

And the other old guy who opposes is wearing dark glasses, is very respected by the group, and totally rejects the agreements. That’s why, in order to debate things fully, and because these guys are old, we follow Jose Marti’s old men in “Los zapaticos de Rosa**” and distance ourselves; meanwhile, there in the entrance to the pharmacy the majority continues, with the Saint Lazarus devotee as their leader, believing capitalism is already here.

“No sir, as a former military man,” some cross-eyed guy assures the man with the dark glasses, “I can tell you that the Army general has not handed the keys of the city over to the enemy. You are right when you say Fidel himself has said one thing one day and the complete opposite the next, but that’s politics. It’s the political chess game. With each new power play the scene changes. It can’t be any other way.”

“For that very reason,” insists the man with the dark glasses, “I don’t believe Raul when he says that this has been done without sacrificing our principles, and tomorrow I’m turning in my Party I.D.; I don’t want to have it on me when they let the businessman off the plane who will take charge of cleaning up the garbage, and the one who will take on the issue of transportation, and the one who’s already budgeting for the construction of two hundred thousand houses in six months, for starters, and I won’t go on because the rest you can figure out on your own.”

“Stop posing as a national oracle,” admonishes the military guy, losing his temper. And in an even worse mood, the man with dark glasses replies:

“The oracle here is still Fidel, and with his flaws, Raul.  I abide by the law of physics. If you remove a brick from a dam, just one brick, you’re bringing about the end of the dam. Look at the Chinese, look at the Vietnamese. Tons of Chinese millionaires today. Tons, thousands. And leading the Party. The only thing missing now is what the bourgeoisie and the lackeys of imperialism call ‘democracy.’”

“In any case,” says the man dressed in bermudas and an Industriales baseball cap, “is that good or bad?  Because what I want are busses that transport me, trucks that pick up my garbage, and for my family to not have to live in barbacoas [jerry-built tenements], cramped quarters.”

“But not by those means, because that would be the end of socialism,” objects the military guy, agreeing with the man in dark glasses.

“But what’s more important: the means or the end result?”

That came from one of the old guys who hadn’t spoken yet, apparently someone of authority in the group and who addressed the crossed-eye guy and the soldier as “my brother.”  His summons surprised the one with the dark glasses:

“So then, for you principles don’t matter. Very strange considering your history. A guy like you.”

“I trust Raul,” says the historical one. “You were talking about the Chinese, but we aren’t Chinese here. And if it’s necessary to be Chinese, we’ll become Chinese. And if we have to do what the Chinese haven’t done yet, we’ll do that, too. Socialism hasn’t worked at all anywhere in the world, and Raul, who’s in touch with the world, has seen this. That’s why he’s done this, so get ready for what’s coming.”

Since the historical one seemed to know a lot about what was coming, the group got quiet, willing to listen. The quietest one was the man with dark glasses; but, suddenly, as if coming to his senses and more interested in his present than in the future, he unexpectedly asked:

“And what about me? You know me; the sixty-four awards, seals and medals I have at home say something, the son of mine who died in an internationalist war, and everything else you know. Outside of Cuba, I could live like a king. So tell me, can he who has suddenly made it all clear, at the end of his life, stand to see us back where we were when we started this thing?”

Except for the man with the dark glasses, everyone sided with the man in bermudas and baseball cap. Rectifying things is the work of wise men, he was saying. There was no agreement, however, on whether or not Raul would take the necessary steps to dismantle the system, whatever those were, without causing damage, doing it without seeming to, one step here, another there, taking his time.

“But, what about me?”

“Raul doesn’t have time to do things slowly,” said a fragile but energetic-for-his age doctor who had intervened twice before.

“And what about me?”

Nobody paid attention to the one in dark glasses, he kept repeating his “what about me’s” but the people ignored him. Their attention was on the argument between the doctor and the military guy.

“The Army general has all the time in the world,” the military guy insisted angrily. The one in bermudas and baseball cap backed him up:

“These people last a thousand years. Gallego Fernandez is 100 and look at him still standing stronger than a light post.”

“No sir, Gallego isn’t 100 yet,” specified the historical one.

The doctor explained himself, appealing to their common sense:

“I’m saying that Raul doesn’t have time to waste making changes one baby step at a time; not in the crushing conditions the country finds itself now; whatever he is going to do, he has to do it quickly, he’s opened the gates and that’s very delicate, he no longer has the outside enemy as the excuse that allowed him to keep the non-conformists here on the inside in their place, and they will become more courageous.  Without stopping to think about whether he hurts one or one million, he has to do it like Fidel did when, suddenly, at a burial he said that when I said digo [I say] it was really Diego, and in the process turned us into socialists. In fact, that was also on a 16th day of the month.  Just like that, the way you rip off a Band-Aid. That’s the kind of time he doesn’t have.”

The historical one didn’t understand the objection. He spoke for everyone:

“Everyone has their methods, and in the one I’m talking about, Raul would avoid responsibility and end up as the one who corrected Fidel’s mistakes. For starters, this is about Cuba, not the conceited fame of anyone. Do you remember the last interactions between the Godfather and his son, Mike Corleone? Imagine Diaz Canel acting like he’s talking and, behind him is Raul—who has resigned, alleging that he was really really sick but in reality he’s healthier than all of us—speaking for comrade Diaz Canel. We are, as my pal and neighbor used to say” — then he signals for the man with dark glasses — “in the very moment when the Chinese, after wasting thirty years making cement in the back yard with a cauldron and wood fire as if they were frying pork rinds, enter history. Talk to the Chinese about those lost years. In the same way, anyone here today who has felt deceived, will applaud later.”

It wasn’t a finished debate. There was still hardly any blood.  Someone was saying that maybe a Chinese method was coming that didn’t use Cuban capital, recalling the economic philosophy of the bonsai*** set forth by Murillo; for his part, the dentist continued to repeat like someone obsessed, that without an elimination of the embargo, Obama and Raul’s agreements were nonsense, even more so considering that not so long ago Raul had claimed that we could withstand the embargo 55 more years.

Then the doctor, perhaps fed up with that guy’s lamenting, raising his voice and confronting him, said that the plural in Raul’s “we could” was an exaggeration, that Raul hadn’t experienced one second of the embargo, that during 55 years Raul had woken up in air conditioning, that he had sat in an air-conditioned car, walked into an air-conditioned office, gone to bed with air conditioning and had only gotten sweat on his shirt when he went out to review a military unit, catching some sun on the way in order to synthesize his vitamins, or when he went hunting.

And that’s when it started. The military guy demanded the take back his words; audacious, the doctor refused; and while those two old men were being subdued by the group, I heard a woman who had been cleaning her upper dentures with a nail file say to an old man who had just arrived, as she put her teeth back in, energetic and ready to interject:

“With these changes that are coming, I would like them to do what the Chinese still haven’t done; if for no other reason than for the people here to be able to say what they think without things like this happening.”

This post by Rafael Alcides was hosted on Regina Coyula’s blog.

Translator’s notes:

*This phrase does not refer to any specific organization; the expression “human rights person/people” is widely used by Cubans to refer to anyone engaged in any way in working for democracy and human rights in Cuba.

**”The Little Pink Shoes” is a very famous poem in Cuba by José Martí. It tells the story of Pilar, a privileged little girl, who while playing on the beach sees a poor little sick girl with cold feet and no shoes. Pilar gives the girl her shoes, telling her, ‘Oh, take mine, I have more at home.

***Marino Murillo is Cuba’s Minister of Planning and Economy. The late Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a regime opponent, coined the term “bonsai businesses” to refer to the types of small private businesses now allowed by the regime: bonsai, of course, are very small, and are subject to constant “trimming” to make sure they are not allowed to grow to any significant size.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

10 January 2015

Message from Maritza Corrales / Polemica, The 2007 Debate

It isn’t possible to accept this kind of “indiscretion and naiveté,” to name it euphemistically, in times like the ones we are living in now. I know, as always, you will be profound, accurate, destructive and–as Marti was–with deaf ears. Count me as one more crusader.

The patient and very painful reconstruction of cultural ruins, but above all human ruins, that we found ourselves forced to live through and try to overcome, cannot have been in vain.

Backwards, brother, as one of our revolutionary slogans reads, not even to regain momentum. Accepting that would mean, as Mayito says, regressing and this, to which we have given the best of each one of us, is a Revolution based and conceived on two simple and profound words: dignity and justice; and we must continue fighting for them.

Maritza Corrales

Translated by: Kathy Fox

Chiquita: A Brilliant Novel / Angel Santiesteban

by Antonio Orlando Rodriguez   Winner of 2008 Alfaguara Award

The last time State Security allowed me to leave the country was in 2008, to a Book Fair in the Dominican Republic, which I attended as a judge for a literary prize; and from where I returned with my blog “The Children Nobody Wanted.”

But that’s not what I want to talk about in this post, but rather about a novel I discovered on that trip, the winner of the Alfaguara Prize, by Cuban author, Antonio Orlando Rodríguez: Little One (Chiquita); although the magnitude of the novel should indicate that it’s not (so little) since the author tells the story of the immense life of Espiridiona Cenda del Castillo, a Lilliputian who was born in the city of Matanzas one 14th of December, 1869. continue reading

This miniature-sized human being achieved fame once she decided to travel—with her brother and a pianist cousin—in order to triumph in the artistic world and capitalize on her voice lessons and 26-inch size.

Her ups and downs began after June 30, 1896, when she left Cuba for New York with a vaudeville show. In New York she performed on the best vaudeville stages and became one of the genre’s most successful artists. She traveled the world.

Oddly, she had a charisma that made people want to enlist her in the important causes of the time. The most righteous of these was the cause for Cuban independence, and she was visited by no less than a group of Cubans led by Tomás Estrada Palma, who had the dual charge of delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party and ambassador-at-large of the Republic of Cuba in Arms against the United States, and who would eventually become the first President of Cuba.

She was also welcomed by, among many other celebrities, millionaires and people of influence, U.S. President William McKinley, who was later assassinated while in office.

In a rewarding, literary subplot—from the moment she meets Alejo Romanov, third son of Alexander the Second of Russia, on his visit to the city of Matanzas, during which he gives her a gold chain with a tiny watch face as a good luck charm—an intriguing story begins in which the author himself acknowledges at the end of the novel he has “unscrupulously interwoven historical truth and fantasy,” license that adds intriguing turns of events and raises readers’ interest as well as the literary level of the author, who hails from Ciego de Ávila, Cuba.

The author’s humor and trickery, which interfere in the novel with mastery and achievement, provide a fresh, very Cuban flavor to the reader.

My first reading of this novel was ruined, as I told you in the beginning, at that Book Fair in the D.R., while reading in sessions at the same booth where it was for sale and, consequently, once I finished, I promised myself to come back to it and give it a more thorough and uninterrupted reading.

Thanks to life’s lovely coincidences, oppositional and independent journalist Lilianne Ruiz handed me a copy of the book, which life long journalist, Reinaldo Escobar, had sent her from his personal library and for which I will be forever grateful to them both; because I enjoyed this reading more than the first—so much so, that I re-read it in three days.

My pretense for sharing these brief comments is to invite Cubans who have not already done so to find this book and have the pleasure of reading it, enrich their personal library and, best of all, add culture and historical knowledge to their mental archives.

For my part—even though I’m a colleague of the author, who claims that being a writer is synonymous with being a “professional liar”—I only have tried to tell you the truth.

December, 2014. Jaimanitas Border Control Unit Prison, Havana.

Translated by: Kathy Fox