Stark Naked… / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

Here in Cuba we have the habit of calling small state businesses puestos — places — those businesses that, up until recently, sold agricultural products through the poorly-named “supplies book” (seldom did it supply us), for prices subsidized by the state.

Their prices were similar to those set for currently for the diminished medical diets, which minimized the impact of the high prices of “liberalized” products (products not subsidized by the State). These shops exist today exclusively to dispatch produce that has been advised by the such medical diets—prescribed by a physician for specific aliments—and, every now and then, a few other agricultural products.

In the absence of any armed conflict in the past fifty years—but also in spite of the continued and systemic crisis in which the nation has been immersed—nobody understands why the said “supplies book” is still in place; though given the lack of supplies and the helplessness into which the Cuban people are sunk, most people vote for its continuation, based on the logic that it’s better to have something, even if it’s little and bad.

Nowadays, some products have been liberalized — that is taken off the rationing system — and there are fewer and fewer priced under government subsidies. Salaries continue to be symbolic in today’s Cuba, so the prices of products in stores selling in “hard currency” or that sell “released” products (that is those no longer rationed) are prohibitively unaffordable for the majority of the population.

Such establishments often find themselves in the nude when it comes to merchandise, and even when they do have merchandise, the seller has managed to build on a clientele that has more economic solvency, and to whom the products are sold in bulk, for a better price, and more quickly, leaving them with more time for other activities; we all know that when these businesses lack merchandise, they simply close down until the next delivery is made.

The one at the corner where I live (Freyre de Andrade and Juan Delgado, at La Víbora) is yet another example of the deterioration Cuba has undergone since 1959. The corner that like a coquettish, tidy, well-made-up and proud girl (like a permanent Sunday), used to distinguish its surroundings, is today—like almost anything around us which is not a propagandist display window that the State presents to the world—a depressing and ruinous eruptive engraving that has soiled our urban landscape, and become a synonym of abandon and lack of hygiene. The worst of it all is that we have become accustomed to it.

In regard to such establishment, which—as shown in the image—is closed to the public during working hours and days, some people from the neighborhood jokingly put forward that it is “un puesto que no tiene nada puesto” (or, less cleverly in English, “a naked place”) which would actually make it a “porno store…” Nothing like popular irony. But if it weren’t for such an attitude in the middle of adversity…

Translated by T

January 31 2011

The Effect of Punishment To Make An Example of Someone / Laritza Diversent

Rafael Felipe Martínez Irizar, a Cuban citizen of mixed race from Cienfuegos, and the son of Alfredo and Gregoria, will turn 44 this coming May 26. A few days later, he will have served 2 of the 5 years imposed on him as a sanction for the crime of illegally leaving Cuban territory.

I do not know him personally. I read his file, Case #420 of November 26, 2009, filed by the Office of the Popular Provincial Justice Court of Cienfuegos. I also learned about some of his life story, or, better said, his criminal history.

He committed his first offense when he was 20 years old. He had not yet served the term of one year, as imposed by the courts while he was in a correctional detention center, when his term was increased to three years, on the basis of contempt of court.

In 1993 he once again committed an offense. He was first sentenced to pay a fine of 3,600 pesos (national currency) for attempting to flee the country illegally. Afterwards, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for money counterfeiting and fraud. In 1995, he unsuccessfully attempted an escape from prison and the sentence was increased to 7 years.

Rafael Felipe, despite not being a man who follows a behavioral model worth imitating, is nevertheless someone with a work relationship with the Cuban State. “He talks badly about the Revolution,” the court concluded. “Yet he participates in all activities of mass organization.”

The judicial organ of Cienfuegos referred to his behavior as “dreadful.” “He gets involved with all sorts of people, drinks excessively, and disturbed the peace constantly, for which misdemeanors he has been fined several times between 1998 and 2008,” reads the appraisal. A repeating felon who is well aware of the consequences of his acts and of directing his behavior.

In his story, I see so many Cubans who, daily, at street corners or in parks, drink to vent their sorrows and frustrations. Those who seek, in the deliriums of alcohol, the strength to scream what they would never be able to talk about in sobriety.

Could it be that, in this country, only alcoholics are brave enough to say what they think out loud? Will we need to be entirely hopeless to let go of our fears? Or that good sense simply alienates?

Beyond what his penal antecedents are, Rafael’s life illustrates something else. It is the example that thousands of Cubans witness every day and that convinces them their opinions should remain hushed. His story makes one feel the effects of punishment-to-set-an-example and reaffirms the thesis that ‘”only delinquents are against the Revolution.”

Martínez Irizar is serving his new sentence. This time, because he tried to escape his context. A friend “told him about the possibility“of taking a vessel to flee the country. He accepted, and the Cienfuegos courts sentenced him, despite the fact he never executed the plan.

Translated by T

February 3 2011

The Old Man and the Bus Trip / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

ASHITTEDOrlando Luis Pardo Lazo

It was on a P-10 road from La Víbora to Paradero de Playa. With the night falling over Cuba, one broken under that indecisive weight of violets and depressions that remind us that there is a sky over Havana. That the world is also here and now. To add to it all, with such freezing cold, one capable of piercing bones, one that is not commonplace in Cuban literature. At the stop on Perla Street, almost at the edge of the suburban rural chord that threatens to devour our capital city block by block.

He boarded without paying. Old. Very old. An elderly man of venerable age, who should have been having dinner with his family in front of the innocuous news at this time of the night. Wearing a suit that had surely been worn for the first time way before the Revolution. He had shat on himself. The old man and his suit. Shat and scared shitless.

The stench gave him away before any glance could. I was busy writing my “Lezama Lima Explained to Children” in the Notes section of my cellphone. A very basic Nokia that works better than a machine gun (Twitter, Twitpics, Chirps, YouTube, Vimeo: the whole of the Internet almost advertises itself from my SIM card). If I didn’t go into too much of a delirium, I could surely publish the text in the Diario de Cuba web portal, now that we all have an opinion about the Fat Man from Trocadero, so pestered at the later stages of his life by the envious, the cowards and, of course, even by Security specialists (their arguments, in view of the future, are more than valid: “We were only doing our job.”).

The stench stabbed me. Damn, I thought. I stepped on shit. Or some kids threw a pile of shit through the bus window, as to appease their neighborhood boredom slightly: it is not the first time it happens to me, although, luckily, they have never managed to hit me with the dog, cow or even human shit. If it’s me, I thought, I will be dead in minutes, without time to warn anyone (Who could I ring at this hour? My mother: my last relative? A lover, second to last impossibility?) If it is I who smells like this and I have still not realized that, then it must mean my intestines have hemorrhaged. I thought of Fidel. But that didn’t make me laugh. Life is such a fragile gift. I had a sort of panic attack. But then laughter relaxed me. The coarse laughter of the Cuban people. Vulgar.

“Get off the bus, pig.” “Blow away, stinker.” “Driver, open the back door so we can throw out the old man right here.” And the P-10 route passengers began to open up a circle around the back door. They were backing up towards me. I stopped typing about Lezama Lima (in his work, curiously, there are exquisite scenes that take place inside Cuban buses, with such formidable phrases as “I am like Martí dreamed about, the succulent poetry…”) and I tried to get close to him, in my ever curious solidarity with the fallen from grace—be it the grace of the State or the grace of our own sphincter. But it was impossible. The crowd and the stench forced me to retreat into the accordion of the articulated bus. Shit had built, by simple osmosis, a material wall amid the compacted air.

The old man began to defend himself with words he could hardly enunciate and to throw out punches, like a braggart. He had probably been a fighter all his life. And now he could not even hold back his feces, voluntarily, not even for a few bus stops. Oh, but anyone who dared to come close would come out of it all messed up. Even if it was the last thing he did in his life, after such a Pantagruelian and uncivil crap.

The passengers never left him alone. Especially the male students, who kept making a racket and mocking him with cheap cabaret-like jokes to impress the girls, who laughed in their un-erotic uniforms with a terrifying lack of intelligence.

The old man resisted as much as he could until he finally jumped out from the bus, three or four stops later, still on Perla Street approaching the William Soler Children’s Hospital. I doubt that was his destination (I doubt he even had one on that late night). But he got off and started limping away. I think the shit was dripping out of his pants.

The stench stayed in the bus all the way down to La Ceguera, where I got off, now really smelling of his ancestral shit myself. More than shit, it was the postmortem molecules of biological decomposition (I witnessed such kinds of fermentation at the Faculty of Biological Science). Cadaverinas, phosphorescent gases and other such exquisite particles. I hate the scientific reproduct-ability of death (necrochemistry more than biochemistry). I hate anything that happens around my Nokia and me.

The old man lost himself into the vilified and aged Cuban night. We continued our journey between the little pale headlights of an imported bus, or those forensic light posts of a sick and tired, embarrassed Havana.

I took a deep breath of freedom. I sniffed my skin. I probed my underarms and private parts. Several times. The accumulated sweat of an insular winter. A deliciously young and human smell. Appetizing. I felt like going out hunting. I was alive. I felt like Twitting it to the world from my cellphone. Damn, what joy, what an urge to burst into tears! To be alive over the yellow line ignored by both students and buses. You get it? Alive!

Translated by T

December 22 2010



Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The eyes, curved, the orbits exorbitant.

The image of the world becomes amorphous and much more brimming over.

A film should be shot entirely like this, from the vision of the

illuminated. For instance, from the perspective of a child that suffers from


When I discovered the moon, well focused in my retina, I was disappointed. So

small, so round, so framed inside my first spectacles. A

toy moon. The moon of the myopic is an explosion that

illuminates much more. A waste.

The street lights are also spectacular without glasses. The circles of

light almost always overlap.

No placard will ever have power over you if you cannot focus it in your eye.

You make your eyes small, the muscles make an extra effort to bend

the cornea, but the optical error remains.

With myopia, objects are closer than they seem, as in

those labels on rear-view mirrors.

One must bring things and faces closer to recognize them.

With myopia one is lonelier, but also capable of more solidarity.

And horror does not escalate so sharply over the optical nerve as to steam the brain.

Translated by T

December 30 2010