Cuban Dissidents: Looking Inward / Iván García

The WikiLeaks revelations have shown the Cuban opposition in a bad light. What a sector of U.S. diplomacy thinks about the poor performance of traditional dissent is the same thing that independent journalists and foreign correspondents talk about.

If a series of shameful acts of corruption, nepotism and caudillismo committed by the leaders of opposition groups haven’t been brought to light, it’s because of that old straitjacket that makes alternative journalists think that making such issues public is a favor to the island’s secret services.

I don’t share that opinion. It’s time for the local opposition groups to change their tune. If they don’t turn 180 degrees and plot their strategies looking inward, they will remain simply a movement of courageous people who openly challenged the Castro brothers’ regime.

To their credit, many opponents must have passed through the harsh island prisons without breaking. It’s admirable that Cubans who could have been peaceful parents or grandparents had the courage to establish political parties and organizations that the government considers illegal and that Cuban laws punish by several years in prison.

But being brave is not everything. Inside the traditional dissent there are quite a few autocrats who pretend to be civil. They are intolerant and dishonest gossip mongers. They have become accustomed to living off U.S. government agency aid or groups and people of different political leanings in Europe.

I am one of those who thinks it’s not healthy to accept money from any government. I could be wrong. Years ago, in a public and transparent manner, the opposition had to tackle that uncomplicated issue.

It’s true: when they take the path of dissent against Castro, as a rule, dissidents lose their jobs and stop collecting a paycheck. It’s also true that they need money to do any political work.

Hiding the issue of money has led to the unfortunate rise of corruption. By not having effective controls, internal democracy and transparency at the heart of many dissident organizations, certain group leaders have shamelessly appropriated money and material assistance.

The list is long of heavyweights inside the dissident movement who steal hand over fist. Out of decency I will not reveal their names. In addition to being corrupt, with some exceptions, the Cuban opposition is mediocre and ineffective. A banana dissidence. You can count on one hand their political projects that try to involve citizens.

The local opposition is directed toward the Exterior. From their living rooms, small groups of people write a document, quote the foreign press, read it on Radio Marti and then feel they’ve accomplished something.

Ordinary people in Cuba don’t even hear about it. It’s painful. The number of people upset by what the government does, I assure you, is broad. If the opposition parties started proselytizing, they would be known in their own country.

There is unexplored territory for the dissident movement. The lack of materials and services in Cuba affects everyone, loyal to the regime or not. Both sides want to repair their children’s schools, the hospitals and streets of the neighborhood. Both sides want to have clean water every day, and not lose 60% due to leaks.

Regardless of ideology, every one suffers from having to travel like sardines in a can on the crowded buses of chaotic urban transportation. Think like they think. Cubans want more and better food. Decent wages. Clean cities. A single currency. To be able to travel without state permission. To have Internet access and satellite dishes for reasonable sums.

In 52 years, the Castros have failed to solve these problems. If the dissidents would do community work in the neighborhoods, they could inspire a number of small and modest projects that would involve and benefit the people. You hardly ever meet activists like Sonia Garro, a black woman living in a slum in Mariano, who helps children living in homes that are small hells.

It’s good to demand democracy and freedom from the regime. But it’s also good to look for options – and solutions – for the women and men deep inside Cuba.

Of course, the secret services do everything in their power to make sure the dissent doesn’t forge a real social base. It’s also true that the traditional opposition has adapted to living from unrealistic projects, better known in Miami than in Havana.

It’s healthy to have different political tendencies and discrepancies inside the dissent. But there are four or five points of agreement between the opponents that would allow them to design joint projects.

Disagreements do not mean the opposition groups are enemies. It’s what happens. But so many quarrels and hatreds have diminished coherent and serious political work.

The current opposition, if it’s not recycled and doesn’t democratize the rules of the game, will be a political corpse. But it’s never too late to change.

Photo: EFE. Press conference of the Agenda for the Transition, Havana, April 2010.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 23 2011

Cuban Baseball Defections Could Increase / Iván García

Photo: Aroldis Chapman, Cuban pitcher who has already broken records in the Cincinnati Reds.

A storm is coming to the national sport in Cuba. In the last session of the monotone parliament in December, against all odds, the government maintained its strategy of not allowing ball players and other athletes to compete in foreign leagues.

Since 1991, more than 350 ball players have fled the island. By maintaining the absurd policy of not allowing baseball players to contract with foreign clubs, in a few years the figures could double.

Not only would ball players jump at the chance to sign contracts. Boxers would bet on winning money on professional tours in the U.S. or Europe. Volleyball players would look greedily at the prestigious Italian league.

Track and field athletes would try to become Spanish citizens, Czechs or even Sudanese (no wonder: the Cuban triple jumper, Yamilé Aldama, competes for Sudan), to be able to enjoy the money they earn in athletic clubs.

Even players of handball or basketball, not big sports in Cuba, would give a sideways glance at the market for these disciplines in the Greek and Iberian circuits, and, of course, the fabulous NBA.

The sports myopia of the Cuban leaders is colossal. Their position is childish and capricious. In a country where you need state permission to travel, there are institutions like the Ministry of Culture, which for over a decade has freely permitted intellectuals and artists to contract for work in other nations.

This has not stopped the exodus from this sector, but it turns out to be an option for talented artists, who can sign contracts and earn enough hard currency to permit them to live comfortably on an island of extreme poverty. An example is the actor Jorge Perogurría.

However, in sports, they don’t want the latch to be opened. So the athletes, especially baseball players, jump the pond and enter the Major Leagues by the back door.

Cuban baseball, moreover, is in its lowest hour. Quality has taken a dive. Everyone realizes this. Official journalists and retired stars agree that the baseball that is played now in Cuba is that of the “jungle” (low quality).

The journalist Gilberto Dihigo, living in Florida, son of the illustrious Martin Dihigo, the first Cuban player who entered the Hall of Fame in New York, is convinced that Cuban baseball is in crisis.

The repercussions from these bad moments in baseball are reflected in newspapers and blogs published in Miami, home to around 800,000 Cubans, who follow this sport in “the green crocodile” with interest. And the specialists don’t exaggerate. It’s true: the march of stars and young talent has diminished the quality of Cuban baseball.

The tactical and technical ideas of the current pitching and batting coaches are also outdated. The strategies of the managers show shocking gaps in the subject of baseball. Nor do referees escape from this decline. Their reduced zone of calling strikes is one of the factors in a brutal batter clobbering a defenseless pitcher without pity. Seventy percent of National League pitchers are on the verge of tears.

It’s terribly out of control, with an average number of bases walked that is childish, an average speed no greater than 84 miles per hour – in a baseball that deserves respect, pitchers should reach 90 miles per hour – and a reduced repertoire that includes only two pitches, fast and curve balls.

Bad things follow. The swing technique of many hitters is from the middle of the twentieth century. The players’ gloves are ripped. And the numbers don’t lie. The defense in the current season is 967. In a decent league, fielding is around 980.

Despite the shortages that hinder the main pastime of Cubans, baseball is still the biggest show in the country. And its players, with their natural talent, are candy for the scouts.

It’s true that to reach the highest level they have to overcome the deficiencies. But the promising young on the playground are losing the dream of the million-dollar salaries they pay in the U.S. Major Leagues. They know that the sooner they leave, the better the chances of someday playing the best baseball in the world.

In contrast to expectations – it was rumored that the government would make changes in its sports policy – General Raul Castro dropped the ball, and the illusion that Cuba would allow the free recruitment of athletes went up in smoke. A response to the unrest prevailing in Creole baseball could be the increased exodus of ball players. From time to time.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Messages from Belkis Vega / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

Belkis Vega, a Cuban filmmaker

Hi, Gustavo,

I am grateful that you sent me the debate. I don’t know how to get involved in the analysis but I think that I need to.

If you can, send this opinion to whoever you want.

Although I have to confess that I find it difficult to express myself and to organise my thoughts in this form, I don’t want to not do it as I think that the TV’s resurrection of those ideas that we thought were dead demands a reaction of repulsion. I want to add my thoughts to those who have offered their analysis so far. There have been some profound and well-argued reflections, and it’s important that they don’t end here.

I was studying design when Pavón was president of the CNC and Armando Quesada was head of Teatro y Danza, and I remember perfectly well the tragedy of the “misfits” and the almost total destruction of some theatre groups, just like the censorship in the field of literature. I lived the period up close, involved as I was in university TV, as one of the screenwriters and assistants for the TV program,”6:30 pm”…These “orientations” had a cultural character with relation to the treatment of art and literature on TV, with personal comments added by Papito Serguera.

I will never forget the impression almost of conspiracy that one felt when reading Lezama or Dulce Maria, the sad memory of meeting Cintio Vitier and Fina García Marruz spending hours in a cubicle of the National Library explaining to you that they would consider you as ideologically divergent because you liked the Beatles and not Casino or Mozambique, the possibility that your friends would snub you in the street or that they would make you lengthen the hem of your skirt to attend school.

Someone told me that some months ago Armando Quesada was working in television, and I didn’t want to believe it. Now he is resuscitated as a main character on programs along with Serguera and Pavón. I didn’t see the programs, but what I have heard here is enough for me.

I think that it’s really unfortunate, and more than unfortunate, worrisome.

I think we are in an internal ideological confrontation between Marxist and revolutionary thought versus thinking lacking any intellectual interest, demagogic. So I also believe that the debate should not remain only in this exchange of mail. As Zenaida says, it’s time to raise our voices so they hear us.

Belkis Vega

Another message from Belkis Vega

Looking at the past from the present. I think this has been a first for the greater part of us Cubans who have been participating in this debate.

For as long as I can remember I have been hearing the same paralyzing phrase repeated over and over: “This is not the time, this is not the place.”

How many of us say in our defense that to be revolutionary is to be someone who transforms, someone nonconformist and critical. We have also allowed ourselves to abandon the hope of this time and place that never arrive. And always for the supposedly noble and unifying but also paralyzing end of not giving arms to the enemy; without taking into account the fact that the paralyzing status quo is a very efficient arm.

It occurred to me again last week when I tried — naively? — to bring up some of the worries that we are exchanging about the theoretical debate that was developing in the Festival of Television.

It happened that it was neither the time nor the place.

I now think that many of us are not prepared to hope for more. I think we’ve lost many things in this waiting, our life has been in this waiting.

I remember that during the most critical years of the Special Period, a friend told me that they would have to ask every Cuban, man and woman, if they wanted to continue living in Cuba, and if the answer was affirmative, to give them the Party card directly. It seemed to me a very sensible idea.

I think the majority of us who continue here have proved over and over that we are interested in the social project of the Revolution; in its most ample meaning, as a humanist project that tries to recover and defend human dignity and develop a society that satisfies the growing needs of its men and women. This appears elementary, but many have forgotten it. Our society is not perfect; none of us are either. It’s essential to speak of errors, to assume them, reflect on them and try not to repeat them.

I’ve always questioned who has the right to decide who are the guarantors, the censors or the classifiers of what is or what is not revolutionary.

It’s very simple to look in a dictionary and remember the definition of “revolutionary.” Sheep are not revolutionary. Men and women who act like sheep would never have assaulted the Moncada Barracks. To propose this, you have to want to transform the world. It was necessary to dream big to assault the sky.

I read the writing of Colina and reviewed the list of Cuban films that were not shown on TV. I remembered also how many of the film-makers who started to direct in the workshops of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz in the ’80s are not here. And I remember my recent sleepless nights when I tried to find out why the analytical, reflective and critical works of some of the young Cuban film-makers wouldn’t remain in a show, so that those young people would find their space in our Cuba — the one for all Cubans — and they wouldn’t have to search in other latitudes like so many do.

It hurts me, it lacerates me. I don’t understand the politics of exclusion.

Knowing errors, analyzing them, learning from them. To be nonconformist, to want to be better, to criticize the bad in order to amend it, to respect and take into account differences. Is this “not revolutionary”?

A few months ago a Miami TV channel showed part of the documentary, “Divers, Lions and Tankers” by young Cuban filmmakers who attend the ISA. This documentary had been recognized in some festivals in our country and selected by critics as being among the most significant films made in 2005. Channel 41 TV in Miami had a manipulated discussion of the content. The film’s director wrote to the station saying that he considered this manipulation a violation of his rights. Many people in Cuba learned from the comments about this show in Miami that this documentary existed, and they have tried to see it, but the documentary is not displayed publicly. It circulates underground. Something similar happened with the fictional short by Eduardo del Llano, “Monte Rouge.” And with other works; these are just two examples.

And I always wonder if it is not much more beneficial to bring these works to a public debate. Display them on TV, have a panel where the creators of the works can discuss views with journalists and others. In short, are we going to continue postponing the controversy over our reality, which we live every day, until we get a right time and right place that never appears?

There are many works made within the revolution by Cuban artists and writers who are HERE and who have every right to have their own voice and to call attention to aspects of our reality to those who SHOULD find a solution for themselves.

Criticism, self-criticism, jumps from the quantitative to the qualitative, unity and the struggle of opposites, these words and phrases now sound like Martian to many in our country.

Where have the principles of dialectical materialism gone? Which now our young people aren’t even studying.

Nor has the fall of socialism in Europe made me think that Marx was wrong in his formulations. History has proven that it is much more complex to apply Marxism to everyday life than to theorize about it. But out of curiosity I would like to know how many people in our country today know what characterizes a society as socialist. Any of us at any time can be exposed to questioning by some officials who flaunt the right to classify what is revolutionary or not, and who confuse dogma with being revolutionary.

It is no secret that all this generates self-censorship, and I think we all have self-censored a lot. There are battles we’ve won when we’ve defended our work and our positions in a brave, energetic manner, with solid arguments. The examples Colina gives, referring to the film Alice in Wondertown or the refusal of the directors of ICAIC to be unified with the ICRT, are proof of that.

The polemics should come out of our emails. I think it’s fundamental to find a way to publicize these debates and open up participation. I think the analysis of the Five Gray Years that has begun here and that will be deepened with the Ambrosio Fornet conference and the subsequent exchange should serve as a starting point for taking back our own history, moving forward and finding many ways here and now where we Cubans can reflect on our reality in order to transform it.

Belkis Vega

Reflections provoked by the “affectionate” letter written by Paquito de Rivera for Fefé Diego.

Some people would be better off shutting up…

And I’m not saying that because of intolerance, much less because I don’t respect differences in thinking.

I say it simply because I think it’s better to be quiet when you don’t know how to express your thoughts coherently and with respect for others.

It really hurts to confirm such a great contradiction between musical talent and the ability to express ideas with a minimum of argument and depth.

Some years ago I was at the International Film Festival of Miami, exactly the year in which the festival bravely decided to show Fernando Pérez’ film, Life is to Whistle, with the possible punishment of losing part of its funding for showing the work of a Cuban “over there.”

After the films you could attend a jazz concert at a hotel, I think it was the Sheraton. So there I was, ready to enjoy the musical talent of Paquito de Rivera and imagine my surprise to hear him tell distasteful and vulgar jokes about the situation of the child Elián González, whose family in Miami did not want to send back to his father.

Never in Cuba did I hear Paquito oppose UMAP or criticize Marx or question the socialist definition of the Cuban revolution.

As much as I’ve tried, I cannot remember any “brave” position Paquito de Rivera took against the terrible things that according to his list have occurred in our country.

I don’t even remember if he tried to criticize the Stalinst stage of the USSR, nor if he dared to criticize the terrible things that happened around it.

It seems in that epoch he assumed the same attitude as the rest of the Cuban artists and writers “who so irresponsibly have supported such a bloody regime,” according to him.

I don’t know, then, what bravery he’s talking about. Or his bravery is to insult in a public letter an exceptional musician like Carlos Santana for deciding to wear a t-shirt with a picture of Che Guevara.

I also never knew that a guy as brave as Paquito de Rivera opposed the invasion of Iraq or protested the lack of attention given to the victims of Katrina. Or perhaps he felt worried about Africa. It’s more probable that all that seems okay to him.

I agree with Boris Iván that it would be better if he used his head for musical scores since it would appear that language is not his strong point. Perhaps if he had remained in Cuba he would be capable of reasoning and writing in a more consistent and less vulgar manner.

However I do remember other voices that raised questions in the time of that stage of Cuban culture that has been the object of debate these days with the participation of many Cubans from here and there.

Some voices are more timid, others stronger. There were not many, there were not enough. But there were voices.

As there also have been voices at other times that, for example, supported the performance artists of Street Art, the filmmakers of Alice in Wondertown or Guantanamera, and the actors of Manteca, when these artists and their works were questioned.

Luckily there are more voices participating in this analysis of part of our recent history, which is so necessary. And by luck this debate has motivated the participation of people with different positions and opinions.

Of course something very important is missing, and it’s the opening up of the debate outside the circle of writers and artists who have email.

Now I know, Paquito, that you don’t know who I am nor what I do.

I also know that with this letter I’m exposing myself to your insults.

It doesn’t matter to me. I believe that now the only important thing is to tell you that, luckily for both of us, I’m not interested in being your buddy.

Belkis Vega

January 25, 2007

Translated by Regina Anavy

NOTE: Belkis Vega is a Cuban filmmaker.

Waiting Room / Iván García

[Note: This post is from 2009 — see note below]

Around midnight I arrived at the bus terminal in Havana, a three-story building, painted blue and white. It was built in the late 40’s and inaugurated in 1951.

It takes up a block, and more than 100 buses a day leave for the 14 Cuban provinces and major cities across the country. Before 1959, the average for these bus trips, coming and going, was 1,500 every 24 hours.

As I was taking only a backpack and a briefcase, the luggage department told me I could take them on board. They checked my ticket and I went to a circular room with air conditioning and plenty of seating in black plastic.

It’s the waiting room. Two hours later my bus leaves for Ciego de Avila, a province located some 400 kilometers east of the capital.

The independent journalist Pablo Pacheco was born there. He’s now in the Canaleta prison. I am bringing him some gifts that my mother sent from Switzerland to his wife, Oleyvis, and his son Jimmy.

Pacheco is one of the 75 arrested during the Black Spring, in March 2003. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and he has served 6. Of the 75, 57 still remain behind bars.

All are in prison for thinking, writing and saying aloud that their country urgently needs political and economic changes.

Note: In a 24-hour trip in April 2009 that I took to Ciego de Avila, I wrote 10 articles. The Waiting Room is the first. The others are: Obama at Dawn, For a Fried Chicken, A Natural Guajiro, Highway Police, A Cuban Sunrise, Blind on Sight, The Pimp of Venezuela, Dr. Oleyvis, and From a Pedicab. All the posts published in 2009 on the blog From Havana were accidentally deleted. Since we have the originals, we are going to post them again here, or on Tania Quintero’s blog.

Pablo Pacheco and his son Jimmy discover snow from their exile in Spain.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Either Work it Out or Give it Up / Iván García

Roger thought he was a respected delinquent. A sharp guy who at the first slight would exchange blows with anyone. He always hung with a group of buddies who looked like gangsters.

They dressed like the blacks in the Bronx. And they didn’t think twice before assailing a tourist, snatching gold chains from the necks of naive women, or picking a door lock and running off with the valuables.

He was sure he was a tough, successful guy in the marginal world. But everything changed when Roger fell into the tank (prison). At 19 years old, he had his first and only prison experience.

And it went badly. One rainy morning, while he was being transferred to a maximum security prison in eastern Cuba, he swore he would cut open like a cow any prisoner who tried to mess with him.

A tall, good-looking mulatto, he aroused lust among the sodomites who had been behind bars for two decades without women. He knew no one. In his cell block, three robust blacks were the cell leaders.

There everything was a matter of business. From the brown sugar, the food, cigarettes, pornographic magazines, even bathing water. In the first week he had a couple of brawls which didn’t end well for him.

At meal time, the rations were minimal. One of the cell block chiefs undressed him with his eyes. One night after the recount, without knowing why, some convicts gave him a fierce beating. An animal fear took hold of Roger.

He wanted to form a truce with the chief. “I can protect you, my beauty, I can get you good grub and take care of you as if you were my son, but I ask that you give me something in return,” said the chief, lasciviously.

“I’m not a queer. And I’ll split open anyone who tries anything with me,” he bluffed, without much conviction. The old prisoner kept looking at him and said, “We’ll see about that, kid.”

Without a weapon or a friend to help him confront the crooks who ran the cell block, Roger spoke with a prison guard to ask that his cell be changed.

But it went nowhere. “You’re not brave, so settle things as well as you can. The prison is packed. So either work it out or give up your ass,” was the guard’s answer.

The sexual harassment increased for Roger. On certain days he woke up with his body full of semen. When it was time to bathe or when he was in his bunk, the sodomites masturbated openly.

Desperate, Roger opted to mutilate himself. He injected oil into one leg and was sent to the hospital prison. When they tried to send him back to his cell block, he again tried to injure himself or tried to take his own life.

Between the sexual harassment of some prisoners, the panic, the physical and verbal mistreatment of the guards and the small quantity of bad food, Roger decided to put an end to his personal tragedy. One summer dawn he hung himself from the bars with a cord made out of bedsheets. He had escaped from the siege.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 16 2011

A Stroke of Luck / Iván García

It was a lucky day for Ernesto. After 10:00 last night, a neighbor told him that the number he had bet 250 pesos (10 dollars) on had come out first in the local (illegal) lottery.

He won 24,000 pesos (1,000 dollars). The money arrived just when he needed it most. His daughter, Yenima, was turning 15. And his mother, bedridden, suffering from terminal cancer, was waiting to die.

Ernesto is a self-employed craftsman, mediocre and unlucky. Every day, he spends 12 hours trying to sell a collection of leather shoes with gaudy decoration. It wasn’t going well. He barely earned enough money to feed his four children and buy milk and juice for his sick mother.

He had a bag of debts with the worst sort of troublemakers. He had pawned the few valuable jewels of his family, a Chinese Panda television, a refrigerator from when Russia was communist, and some silverware that came from his grandmother.

The way to win a few thousand dollars and stay afloat was by venturing to bet every day on the illegal lottery known as the bolita. In Cuba, gambling is prohibited.

But for years, the police have looked the other way when it comes to gambling. The bolita or lottery is the hope of the poor. In Cuba there are illegal banks, which move large amounts of Cuban pesos. Arnoldo, 59, is one of them. He has always lived off the lottery.

After 20 years in business, he is considered a guy who is solvent. He has a couple of comfortable houses and two 1950s American cars, which are gems. He has more than enough money and influence. He almost always get what he wants.

He is used to slipping a fat packet of money under the to one or another difficult policeman. On any day, Arnoldo earns 3 thousand pesos (125 dollars). Every day, more than 600 people are betting money in his bank.

Ernesto is among them. The night when he learned he had been favored by luck, he borrowed 100 convertible pesos and went to the corner bar. He bought three cases of Bucanero beer and six bottles of aged Caney rum.

He invited all his friends to drink with him. In the morning he paid his debts. He bought beef and powdered milk for his mother. He gave 300 convertible pesos to his wife for the quinceañera party for his daughter. He went with the kids to have dinner at a paladar, and with the rest of the money he bought glasses, towels and sheets that were so badly needed at home.

Two days after winning the award he was penniless. But without debt. He still had problems to solve. The stroke of luck in the lottery was only temporary relief.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 16 2011

Luciano’s Bad Luck / Iván García

Before Raúl Castro approved of laying off 1,300,000 workers in two years, things were already going badly for Luciano, age 39.

He worked in an office of bureaucratic procedures in the southeastern part of Havana. He earned 290 pesos (around 12 dollars) a month, and in compensation for such low pay, he worked Monday through Friday for only four hours, despite a sign making clear that the schedule was from 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon.

In a makeshift local workshop, Luciano took advantage of the mornings to prepare flour empanadas stuffed with guayaba. After being on his feet until exhaustion, he produced 800 empanadillas. Then he would shake off the flour, sleek down his hair with water, change his clothes, and around noon attend to his legal work.

He always arranged things so he could leave before 4:00 in the afternoon, at which time he’d wait for a friend to begin preparing, in a decrepit still, a hundred liters of distilled alcohol with refined honey, which they sold for 7 pesos (40 cents) a bottle. A “Cossack” rum, intolerable, which made you sick, but which was already traditional in the marginal Havana neighborhoods, where quality drink is a big-time luxury.

With his two extra jobs, Luciano was pocketing around 90 dollars a month, almost nine times more than his state salary. So when his boss told him he was “disposable” — official jargon for those who were being laid off — Luciano took the news calmly.

Starting now, he thought, he’d have more time for his illegal jobs. But in December the police decommissioned the clandestine empanada factory and dealt him a heavy blow. As if it weren’t enough, they broke up the still where the bitter drink of the forgotten was prepared.

An old Cuban saying goes “when you have trouble shitting, green guayabas aren’t worth anything.” Faced with the perspective of a year-end without black beans or roast pork, his wife packed her things and left with their three kids for her mother’s house. At a party, between liquor and erotic dances, she hooked up with an old man with a fat wallet.

Luciano doesn’t want to blame anyone for his bad luck. It’s what happened to him. For his salvation a friend came along, who had an illegal store in her home, dedicated to the sale of shoddy goods brought in from Ecuador, Caracas, and Miami. She gave him a quantity of clothes to sell, so he could make some money and try to get his wife back.

When it already seemed that his bad luck had hit bottom, he was caught by the police with a briefcase full of articles without the receipts that would justify their origin. They took the goods from him and stuck him with a fine of 1,500 pesos (70 dollars). He now owes his friend about 200 dollars for the confiscated merchandise.

Without a job or a family and with debts, Luciano welcomed in 2011. Despite everything, he considers himself a man of spirit. He trusts that over the course of the year his luck will change for the better. For the moment, it can’t get any worse.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 15 2011

Staged Photos / Iván García

It all started at age 14 when his father gave him an old Russian camera with a fixed 35 mm lens. Before he got passionate about photography, Roldán, 42, was the guy in the neighborhood who played baseball in the mornings and went up to the roof in the evenings, to quietly watch some naked neighbor.

He took photography seriously. He dreamed that he would be like Robert Capa, Richard Avedon, the Catalan Joan Fontcuberta, or at least surpass the Cuban Alberto Korda. Roldán always carried his camera and loads of lenses.

He worked part-time for a travel agency. He took photos for unofficial foreign journalists passing through the island. He refused to work on a boring and uncreative local newspaper.

His pictures didn’t please the censors and bosses of the official press. They were good and even artistic, but they starkly showed the dirty, ugly face of Havana.

Beggars and prostitutes. Drunk and gays. Sad, fat old types who spend time sitting on wooden stools at the entrance to dilapidated housing.

He could never exhibit in galleries and museums. He was never praised or rewarded. He was not a complacent photographer. But upon the death of his parents, who always supported him, he was forced to make a living. He stopped doing underground art and devoted himself to commercial photography. A friend with enough money and a gift for business set him up in a studio with a showy, brightly-colored decor.

Roldán began to take photos of girls who turned 15. He was successful. Now he earns a lot of money. A photo album can cost more than 100 Cuban convertible pesos (120 dollars). Today he is one of the photographers who is most requested by the parents of quinceañeras.

Roldán did not achieve his dream of being like Capa, Avedon, Fontcuberta or Korda. But he lives well. He was able to furnish his apartment, and he has an old Dodge that looks like a jewel. Although he continues making quality photos, he feels that he has prostituted his profession with these staged images.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 13 2011

“In the Underworld, being abakuá means being a tough guy” / Iván García

Benito is 85 years old. Every morning, outside a butcher shop in the Havana neighborhood of Vibora, he sits down with one of his ekobios (sect members) to chat about baseball, religion and politics.

He’s a tall black man, stern and full of infirmities. For 63 years he has been part of a abakuá sect called Enmaranñuao. He is the Plaza and Mokongo of his “game,” which means he is the person in charge of preserving and following the rituals and principles of the religion. As in any abakuá sect, only men are accepted.

“To be a worthy individual you don’t have to become abakuá, but to be abakuá, it’s essential to be an honest man. It’s the golden rule of the sect, whatever the label or ritual,” he says on a cold, gray afternoon while smoking a brand-name cigar.

The abakuá sect was born at the end of the 19th century in Havana. Its antecedents go back to secret societies in the Nigerian region of Calabar. There are 43 sects. Only in the capital and the province of Matanzas is the cult practiced.

Each sect has its seal, which is the representation or “game” of the cult. There are over 120 games. In the beginning, they were created by black African slaves or their descendants who had been freed beginning in 1886, when slavery was abolished in Cuba.

Later, things changed. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first abakuá society of white men was founded. Alberto Yarini, the famous Havana pimp from San Isidro, was white and a respected abakuá.

Yarini, a legend made into a film, was stabbed over an issue of women at the hands of a French pimp. Then, and in tune with the multicolor Cuban society, abakuá fanned out.

Although other sects sporadically accept white people, until 1959 its members were black and mestizos, simple people who worked as stevedores in the port of Havana or in other tough jobs. There were also abakuás among artists and musicians, like the percussionist Chano Pozo, who used to play abakuá and Yoruba rhythms. Chano was found dead on a street in New York in 1948.

Benito’s father was an important abakuá. He taught respect for others, family and women. “In these stormy times, part of the Secret Abakuá Society has been distorted.”

“Money is also an element of weight. Guys with a lot of money pay to enter a sect. In the underworld of Havana, to be abakuá has become synonymous with being tough. There are a legion of dangerous criminals who are abakuás. In my time this was not so.”

The old ñañigo, as a sect member is called, stretches on his oak stool and recalls the past. “Good conduct of the Society was the norm. Only if a crime was committed for reasons of honor would we accept people who had been in jail. This is a cult of values, virile, but not at war, nor does it conflict with respect for the law and for those who have any.”

Now everything is different, he says. “Even the prisons have sects. The temples seem to be public fiestas. Anyone can attend. It’s horrible. Guys who have stabbed an old lady, robbed a house or beaten women feel entitled to become abakuá.”

In the first years of revolution, the police looked at the abakuá sects with fear and respect. “It was their stumbling block. But the authorities did not try to obstruct our meetings. It’s been a distant but correct relationship,” adds this man with 63 years of belonging to an abakuá sect.

Other followers of Afro-Cuban religions agree with him. If honest, honorable men don’t try to turn things around, abakuá tradition, so deeply rooted in Cuban society, could become a racket for the worst kind of criminals. “In fact, it already is,” confesses Benito.

Photo: Chano Pozo

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 8 2011

Brand-Name Dressing / Iván García

In Cuba there are two types of citizens. Those who can enter the elegant boutiques and buy brand-name clothing and those who have to content themselves with pressing their noses against the window panes.

In many cities of the world, December is the month for reductions. In Havana it’s not. In 2010, in a circular to the managers of the hard-currency stores, the articles to be discounted are enumerated for the year-end.

It’s not a cause for fireworks, but it’s something. Waiting for this day, Yuliet, 25 years old, a hotel employee, goes to the Comodoro complex of shops, located in the west of Havana, to look at the price of a pair of dresses with the Mango label.

“If I don’t find what I’m looking for, I’ll go to Zara, to see what they are selling,” she says while she checks the merchandise, all very expensive.

The prices are abusive. A pair of good tennis shoes for a little girl can easily cost 50 dollars. And if they are Adidas, Nike, Puma, Levi’s or Guess, they can be close to or more than 100 dollars.

Obispo Street, in old Havana, is full of hard-currency shops. Román, 43 years old, a teacher, shakes his head when he sees the prices in a leather store.

“This is the last straw. I need a pair of shoes to be a witness at a friend’s wedding, and I have only 40 dollars. I’ve spent 7 hours going to all the shops. I liked the ones made of Italian leather, but they cost 120 dollars,” he said, disillusioned.

To buy something good in Cuba is a mission impossible. Nothing is cheap when you have to pay in a type of money that you don’t receive when you get paid (the average salary on the island is 12 dollars per month).

In addition to clothing and shoes, in order to buy certain articles of food and cleaning products, you have to pay in Cuban convertible pesos or CUCs, the Cuban hard currency.

And everyone knows that hard currency comes from the USA, the “enemy” territory of Fidel Castro. Also from Europe and Latin America. There are Cubans sprinkled in half the world.

Although dollars and euros are a rare commodity for 40 percent of Cubans who don’t have access to hard currency, the prices for clothing and shoes have gone up by 30 percent in the last five years.

Add to this that the Castro government taxes hard currency between 12 and 18 percent, a casino for the State. Without counting investments, this “revolutionary tax” (instituted by Castro in October 2004), brings in about 600 million dollars annually.

This isn’t the only one. There’s a tax on products in the “shoppings,” the hard-currency stores, that sometimes exceeds 240 percent. This doesn’t prevent artists, intellectuals, musicians and high-class prostitutes from buying brand-name clothing and shoes without looking at the prices. They don’t even blink when it comes time to pay.

They are in the minority. The majority have to write down the telephone number of their families in Miami, Madrid or Rome. Or risk their hides in some black-market negotiation that will give them a good profit.

Since 1959, Cubans have had the custom of wearing something brand new to welcome in the new year. During this time, the shops make money, in spite of the questionable quality of what they offer. And the fact that Havana is as expensive as New York.

Photo: Fashion show on the Malecón of Havana.

Translated by Regina Anavy

December 30 2010

Getting Married in Havana / Iván García

Diana, 25, has seen the same video hundreds of times on her Chinese television. And she still gets excited about the time when, dressed in white at the side of her future husband, she drove through the streets of Havana in a 1957 Cadillac convertible.

“It was the happiest moment of my life. Entering the matrimonial palace, the notary declaring us married, and those present asking us to kiss,” remembers Diana.

The modest hotel where they spent their honeymoon did not prevent them from having sex at all hours. Some months later, the marriage became a nightmare. Money was tight, and her husband suggested that she prostitute herself, discretely. “Darling,” he told me, “we cannot live in a virtual reality.”

Diana was very much in love. And she went to war. Her battle was to sleep with her husband’s friends, who lusted after her and were ready to pay 50 convertible pesos for one night. Later came foreigners who paid better.

As for material things, they went forward like the wind, but her love went out the window. “I had enough when a Russian offered me 120 dollars to screw me in front of my husband. The worst is that he accepted,” she said, indignant. Diana continued to prostitute herself, now on her own account.

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that one of the greatest harms caused by five decades of revolution has been the loss of traditional concepts about family and marriage, and the absence of ethical and moral codes.

“In the first years, the revolutionary discourse was very anti-Catholic. And the effort to give women more space in society brought promiscuity, with dorms in the country and the boarding schools, far from their families from a very young age. That created a frivolous feeling toward the institution of marriage,” pointed out the sociologist.

Ricardo, a notary, agrees with the sociologist. “In the Special Period, the number of marriages in Havana was spectacular. The reasons were simple. People got married because they had the right to buy three cases of beer and spend three days in a hotel where the lights didn’t go off and they could have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most of the unions lasted two years on average. Others separated and didn’t even go to court,” affirmed the notary.

Then there are the cases of girls who get married for the extravagance. “I got married in church. To dress in white, with a tiara and veil, to take photos and make a video has become the fashion,” says Delia, a sculptor.

Others do it to imitate their parents. “I don’t understand how the old people have been able to last 45 years together. I tried it. But it was a fiasco,” confesses Rolando, a university student.

A female writer who asked to remain anonymous admits that “among my friends it’s normal that we sleep with the other’s spouse, with his consent. We even make love among ourselves. At times I tell my husband to go away, that tonight I need someone different in my bedroom.”

Carlos the sociologist wonders, So why get married? The answer can be what Ana, a primary school teacher, says. “To escape from your family and be independent.”

Couples have their reasons when they decide to go to the altar. The reality is that there’s an alarming tendency in Havana to get married. And later come the horrors, like the young writer who asks her husband to take a walk while she enjoys an orgy with friends.

Photo: Google images

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 13 2011

The English Take Havana / Iván García

The news spread like wildfire in the old part of Havana. A black rapper drained his beer while he spoke rapidly into his cell phone. “Buddy, a big ship of foreigners just arrived. They speak English, they seem to be gringos. Let them know about the girls, I think it will work,” noted the pimp.

From the other side of the avenue, in stalls and outdoor cafes located along the coast, ordinary people watched the huge tourist vessel docked in Havana Bay with open mouths.

While the visitors wandered around town or ate a sandwich, the prostitutes, private tourist guides, illegal sellers of cigars, crafts and disks, and the musicians who sing boleros for small change immediately went on the march to see how they could gain something by offering their varied merchandise during the three-day stay in the city.

What the Thomson Dream cruise ship brought was a load of 1,500 British tourists. They disembarked with summer clothes and beer in hand, and without wasting time began to tour the historic sites of Old Havana. They went on foot, took rickety pedicabs or rode in horse-drawn carriages.

A television journalist, soberly dressed, interviewed some of the English, who were surprised by the unexpected welcome and at the same time half-frightened, when they noticed the legions of Cubans who were accosting them with all kinds of offerings. Mulattos and blondes dressed in miniscule attire, flirted shamelessly with a group of young men wearing Liverpool shirts.

Since 2004, cruise ships stopped coming to ports on the island. The drought ended on 12 November, when the Spanish ship Gemini, with more than 200 passengers from 11 countries, was in Havana. But its presence didn’t cause as much stir among the people of the capitol as this floating English hotel.

Strict control by the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets against the embargo had unleashed a witch hunt, sending notice in strong terms to the companies that own cruise ships from Spain, Germany and other countries. If they stopped in Cuba, then they could not dock in U.S. ports. Those were the days of George W. Bush.

The Tourism Ministry had already created an infrastructure in the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, specialized in serving the unique guests. Foreign companies hired staff to work on Caribbean cruises. Everything was left hanging when the U.S. threatened the shipping companies that visited the island of the Castros.

The blow made Fidel Castro angry, and in 2005 he complained about having to receive rude tourists, who threw cans and garbage into the sea and didn’t care about the environment.

But enough water has passed under the bridge. Now, a relaxed Barack Obama is in charge of the White House. And since February 2008, Raul Castro, brother of the historic leader of the revolution, is leading the country’s destiny. And he is engaged in the implementation of a series of reforms to rescue the fragile economy of Cuba.

In addition to hard measures of cuts and layoffs of 1,300,000 workers, Castro II urgently needs dollars, euros or pounds, equally. Therefore, since 2010, he returned to a number of projects abandoned or left half-finished by his brother’s administration.

Among them, the construction of buildings for foreigners and the opening of golf courses for high-class tourist segments. The reopening to European cruise companies also is part of the package of measures whose main objective is to collect hard currency.

In a few months, the arrival in Havana of thousands of tourists by sea could become routine. To the delight of the prostitutes and hustlers.

Photo: EFE

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 8 2011

False Unanimity / Iván García

Either President Raul Castro is deluding himself or he is trying to deceive Cubans. One of the two. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

If Castro the Second is pretending to be sincere when he speaks with severe disgust about the artificial unanimity and complacency practiced at all official levels in the country, then he should implement, once and for all, the long-heralded “revolutionary democracy.”

It’s a contradiction. The General shakes with rage before the final vote, which is feigned and compliant, both in the Parliament and the Council of State. But then, when the time comes to raise a hand, everyone, absolutely everyone, votes in favor of the proposals put forth by the government.

I don’t know of any deputy to the National Assembly who has suggested a single project agreed to by the citizens he represents. In no session of the boring and monotonous national parliament does anyone dare to propose economic methods that are different from those offered by the chiefs in olive green.

In Cuba, the opposition departs from the government line. It is the only one qualified to offer and provide solutions. The Communist Party and other social organizations are merely bystanders, a well-tuned chorus.

It’s amazing that the 611 deputies agree on the shape and design with which they intend to revive the depressed national economy. Not one single deputy disagrees or has doubts. At least publicly.

It can’t be said that Cuba is the most democratic country in the world when everyone in the government accepts any law or project with his head down, applauding. The executive branch is the one that curtails discussion of differences, by permitting only “constructive criticism.”

Of course, the deputies and party members are afraid to come out against any proposal that has the approval of the Castro brothers. Non-acceptance of the laws and wishes of the hierarchy can mark them as undesirables. Or worse, as counter-revolutionaries, a sure passage to hell in the revolutionary island paradise.

The only ones who openly criticize and put forth different proposals are the opposition and independent journalists. Some might be unrealistic. But if the government at least would hear or analyze them, you might have more elements on hand when making laws that affect all of society.

It’s easier to disparage the dissident movement. The big problem with Cuba is to break in a real way, not in words, the false unanimity of the state representatives. Discrepancies enrich dialogue, according to Raul Castro.

But in practice, they prefer to listen to the instrumental music, without fanfare and pleasing to their ears, played by their followers in the forums.

If they really want to stir up the system and hear truly critical voices, they will have to acknowledge the dissidence, which exists in spite of everything. And it’s not unanimous within itself; on the contrary. Therein lies a healthy difference.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 10 2011

A Hope that Doesn’t Fade in Cuba / Iván García

On the eve of Three Kings Day, Melanie Garcia, 7 years old, feels that the hours take years. At 5 pm she wants to go to bed, to shorten the time. Intensely she lives the hope of getting up before dawn and discovering what new toys the Three Wise Men from the East brought her.

In spite of everything, the tradition has been maintained for centuries. It’s been a dangerous crossing. Families wanting to keep the custom have fought against an atheistic state that decided to bury it five decades ago.

Fidel Castro struck the first blow to the magic world of children in the ’60s, when he distributed three toys per child by state decree. He decided to become the only Wise Man.

He even changed the months. He exchanged January for July, a month where they sold toys by the ration card. Just five days after coming down from the Sierra Maestra, he sent a message round to all segments of society.

From a war plane he dropped thousands of toys to children living on the hillsides of the eastern provinces. The idea wasn’t bad. They were kids who were dirty and full of parasites, whose only toys were chickens and pigs.

But after the altruistic gesture he sent a coded message in red: from now on, the State would appropriate tasks hitherto performed by Catholic and social institutions. Then you know what happened.

January 6 disappeared as a holiday. In his 52-year-long journey through the honey of power, Castro sought to undermine the religiosity of the population. Temples were closed. Some priests were expelled and others disparaged.

In pursuit of building the first communist society in America, many things had to be changed. And Three Kings Day was one of them: they considered it a petty bourgeois backwardness. More important than the toys, U.S. imperialism was to be buried in the dustbin of history.

Boarding schools prepared children and young people to be future soldiers of the country. The theme was “study, work and rifle.” Five decades later, the same government decided to sweep under the carpet part of its original sins.

Long ago, toys were removed from the ration card. Now they sell for hard currency, available only to families that receive remittances. These days, shopping at the Commodore Center, west of Havana, is a madhouse of parents buying toys.

The offers vary, but the prices go through the roof. A game is over $100. A bike, the same. A doll with a battery that says three sentences costs more than $60. Barbies, which you can have for $50, are piled on one part of the counter. The cheapest toy is equivalent to two months’ salary for a worker.

January 6 is just one more date to the Cuban authorities. There are no parades through the streets of the city. But if you wake up early that day, in the neighborhood you will hear the din of the little ones, finding a toy in some corner of the house

There are other happy moments for children on the island. But the Day of the Kings is the icing on the cake. If you have any doubts, just ask Melany Garcia.

Photo: Havana.

From Tania Quintero: “My granddaughter Melany with the toys that the Kings brought her on January 6, 2009. See, on the left, the cradle of wood, there are still carpenters in Cuba who make them, just like 60 years ago, when I was a child. I am glad that this tradition has not been lost in a world of increasingly sophisticated electronic toys.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

Originally posted: January 7 2011

Letter from the New Man in Defense of the Gang of Three / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

For more information about this series of posts, please click here.

From “The New Man”

Dear comrades, close comrades,

Those who now warn us, memorializing the life and work of Papito, Pavón and Quesada, instead of ridiculing them as flunkies, or treating them as model sacrificial snitches from a gray period of our history, should raise a monument to them, the highest.

Because those who vent against them today, in the name of our moral purity that, don’t forget, is also unreal, also epic, if they have any glory, that which they say fits into a grain of sand, they owe it to them.

Neither the most vigorous combatant nor the most ferocious adversary has contributed so exactly disproportionately to my creation than Papito, Pavón and Quesada, who, with their dauntless imprint, converted me into the most perfect historical construction of the people.

I am the most exact result of this now excessive dialectic process of the middle century. And when I say “dialectic,” I’m referring to the custom derived from the contradiction, the struggle of opposites, antagonistic or not, although preferably of the first, the most drastic conservatives, because with their defeat they make irreversible the evolutionary, historic processes, creating the collective conscience that sweeps them away from the future, to not be negative examples, unrepeatable, although irreversible,

Papito, Pavón and Quesada are, without a doubt, part of this pattern. But also those who inject a memory of the institutionalized terrorism, at the state level, the mistrust (mutual and self), the paranoia, the fear of the Other (whether it’s myself, my tortured conscience), that which is not (in so far as being ontological, that’s good, but fundamentally ideological) the same as I, someone similar. The fear of otherness (Jiminy Cricket, leading you on the right road) was not aroused or undone with/by the dirty work (hidden, secret, clandestine) of Papito, Pavón and Quesada, but above and beyond their “Five-Year Gray Period” it extends, was extended and – if we don’t do something today – will be extended, as it menaced with all awareness and allusive capacity, poetic, let’s say, from the “small screen”, the administrators of our power.

Yes, Gray Period paranoia aside, it’s frightening to see that, when they were buried they managed to (dis)simulate themselves in the tomb, where some of us go to lie, to create unarmed defenseless, specimens that appear (we might wish) extinct, they emerge from the silent obscurity of forgetfulness, upon emerging from the back of the small screen (that’s to say from banality, nothingness or The Difference, which is the summit), as a sample demonstration of media proof. Papito, Pavón and Quesada have complied with the cause to which one day they swore to dedicate themselves, subordinate their lives for, at all cost, repressing them, extolling values, contrasting them, excluding them. Omission doesn’t work, not even with them.

Those who saw them on TV comment that, simply seen and not doubting it, I add, they didn’t seem repentant, one of them even said that nothing tortured his conscience. They gave no indication of reviewing their bad steps, those who from their intrepid trenches of mistaken ideas, intolerance and premeditated errors, some treacherous or coldly calculated (while drinking cold beer, on the Patio of the Cathedral, according to what they tell me), working overtime into the wee hours with the delight of a goldsmith, gave me the master touch, the finish.

It’s not paradoxical to say that with their excesses Papito, Pavón and Quesdad stopped delineating at least my contours, extracting me from the utopia of that time, up to achieving what I am now, or we are. In their eagerness, in order to accomplish unthinkable renovations, in a process of reaching the high dream of being a different human, united in solidarity, utilizing the method of standardizing society, they contrasted it so much that they opposed me, at least like a paradigm, trying to institutionalize in place of man until then sacrificed, worker, conscious of his revolutionary role, that I was blindly obedient, which formerly giving one’s all for an ideal accepts as good constitutional violations, the alienation, disposal of human rights and the installation of dogmas and prejudices, the most diverse exclusions like rational, honorable, and valid social behaviors.

So that I, the idealized, monotonous, intangible new man, after passing through the filters of the numerous Papitos, Pavones and Quesadas, generalized in every social sphere of the “Five-Year Gray Period,” have materialized into the youth and adults of today: writers of merit (whether they’re gay or not, who cares anymore), obscure musicians of the music stand, or precious stones in tune with April, modern dancers or not so much, Moorish boleristas or Mountain-man soneros, half sorghum or full sorghum, drunken or blurred jugglers, broke or with cash, with trim haircuts with little lines shaved into the sides, mop-hairs initiated into Santeria, protestant christians, salty, with too much on their plate or salty, with no plate at all, plumbers, bricklayers, shoemakers working (for themselves or on the black market), painters of little boats, escapees on a raft, bakers without oil, deserters of salsa, those of the rains-on-roofs or even though you know that later you’ll be going, improvisational singers of desperate rural music, ex-cane cutters, we give them posts and we relieve posts, the thieves on the bus, the transvestites of Reina and other artists, because we are all them, we have to make art or crafts under certain circumstances called “special,” which during that “Five-Year Gray Period” – which has not died out, like a good fire provoked – converted them into their appeasing victims or systematic opposition, many of them equally broken and not claimed…

In the end, at the vertical level of our society, all owe it, we all owe who we are to the “Five-Year Gray Period”, when by virtue of the laws like those of vagrancy, the centers of work converted themselves, instead of centers of material production with the goal of benefiting the people, into centers of inflated production, subjective, abstract, of rehabilitation.

Yes, we, the new or repaired men of today, if we apply to everyone the double standard that we owe to the Papitos, Pavones and Quesadas and company (they weren’t working alone, of course, they had lackeys and even figureheads, so as not to say hit men), all the dignity that now they proclaim, we proclaim, a proclamation coming from the e-mails that we interchange, with no little hope of victory, which we are owed, in place of ridiculing them (inquisitorial manner of saying “skinning” them) or putting them again on the public pillory or pouring on them so much earth that they appear dead, to show them our most profound recognition, and raise them to the highest peak of Mt. Turquino, of The Havana Libre Hotel, an unforgettable monument to tedium, with one entry per turn and for heterosexual couples, of course, as God ordered in the ’70s, but paying the hardy cover in Convertible Cuban Pesos, the same as now, in these years of 2000, just as God has decreed that we all pay.

Sincere greetings from

The New Man

Translated by Regina Anavy and Los Iguanitos

January 31, 2007