En Route to Alamar / Rebeca Monzo

It was an afternoon like any other. The bus was full of passengers, with their tired faces and lost stares, going back home, after a day of hard work, or just working hard trying to finish the day.

Everything was normal: occasionally slamming on the breaks, loud conversations, deafening music coming from the last rows, the same as every day. This bus doesn’t go through the tunnel, it goes along a highway bordering the town called The Ring. Some people had already gotten off the bus, others took a seat. Almost everyone left was going to the neighborhoods of Bahía or Alamar.

Suddenly, in one of the darkest and most deserted stretches of road, two men get in the bus, they take out knives, one starts threatening the driver, while the other threatens the passengers. Soon, they go from passenger to passenger demanding their watches, gold chains, cell phones, money and anything of value. A lady who seemed reluctant was treated especially harshly. One of the robbers told her: Now, since you were such a pest, you have to give me your clothes too: the poor lady arrived home in her underwear. This happened just two weeks ago.

I remembered what the police officer told my friend, the doctor, when she was robbed. It’s your fault too, because you were wearing nice clothes and a gold chain.

I hope those unlucky folks, who were robbed and degraded, will not file a report at the same police station where the police officer mentioned in my previous post (see “The Victim’s Fault”) works.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

November 6, 2010

Always Too Much or Too Little / Rebeca Monzo

That’s what General Máximo Gómez said about us Cubans, around the year 1890.

It’s true, it happens to us all the time. It must be something about the weather, the geography or the racial melting pot.

A few years ago (more than a few), I can’t remember when exactly, the Meteorology Institute missed a Hurricane and we were caught by surprise. Then we were in bad shape, but not as bad as with the storm we just had. This time, unlike others, when the risk of a hurricane has been exaggerated and the now famous cone became so big on the map that it covered the whole island, they played down the risk from the atmospheric phenomenon so much, that everyone went out on the streets as usual. Some went to work, others to school, and yet others did their daily pilgrimage in search of food. All were surprised by the storm, while they were on the street.

Big tree branches were blown down by the wind, broken glass was flying through the air, as dangerous as that is. Flooding forced all public transport, as bad as it already is, to stop, and many people including school children had to go back to their homes on foot and soaking wet. The daily journal Juventud Rebelde (from 16 Oct 2010) published an article saying that due to the intense rains, together with the wind and the accumulated damage suffered by the electrical network, some areas of the capital were severely affected. Many electrical poles fell down, which made the system collapse and provoked a 24-hour blackout affecting most homes. Also, don’t you think that, in the published article, changing the order of the factors does change the product ?

I believe that once again the saying that I have used as the title to this post became true.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 19, 2010

Rumblings / Rebeca Monzo

It’s sad when motivations fail. What a music or painter would call a muse.

I’m a person who doesn’t give up easily, but these days, I’m very conscious of my state of mind, since I’ve taken some distance from my computer and when I open Word, nothing comes to my mind. It must be because I have some fixed ideas which have stuck to my head, preventing new ones from getting in. Something like the famous lyrics to the Sánchez de Fuentes song: the sorrows that kill me, they are so many that they run over each other, they crowd each other, and that’s why they don’t kill me.

Actually, I have a lot of reasons to thank God, and believe me, I do it every day. Some people close to me call me privileged, because I live in a nice apartment, well decorated and with nice furniture (furniture left by friends and family), which I keep in good condition at all costs. Also, I’ve traveled and had the fortune of meeting interesting people, have good and loyal friends, and above all, I possess the gift of creating beautiful things with my own hands. But all of that, which I truly treasure, can’t be compared with what I’ve lost: freedom.

Today is Domingo (Sunday), we had invited a friend for lunch, but he couldn’t come. This means this gray day will not get brighter. Later we’ll go visit the poet and his wife, ending on a high note this dullest day of the week. I used to tell my friends – lucky me, I never fell in love with a man named Domingo!

That’s why Letting time do its work, which is the best remedy for this and other diseases (Sancho Panza to Don Quijote), I say farewell, and hope you all have a nice Sunday.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Moa, The Promise And The Deception / Luis Felipe Rojas


The eastern half of the country has seen the ghost of development go by in official speeches and in the trains and planes going to Havana or overseas. When a high government official tediously insisted on making promises of economic development, immediately the political machine would start a “shock public works project.” Who doesn’t remember the power plant of Nuevitas, the Nickel factory in Moa, the cement factory in Santiago de Cuba, or the expansion of the hotel capacity in the Guardalavaca zone, in Holguín ?

Not so long ago I went back the Nickel producing region in search of a half-buried story which started there and which is being continued in the Che Guevara plant in Moa, where an unforgiving wind took more prisoners to Villa Marista — the notorious State Security prison in Havana — without any explanations.

Several questions kept going around my head. I knew that I could share all of them with my readers, but I hurried on to those related to the prisoners in February. I delayed the one related to the environmental pollution and respiratory diseases suffered by many over there, but the note about an arrested and jailed manager who was transferred to the oncology ward of the provincial hospital led me to an article written by the exiled journalist Juan Carlos Garcell. It says: “Medical sources reported on a study made in 2002 regarding respiratory diseases in workers exposed to the lateritic mineral dust in the Che Guevara factory (Moa) during a five-month period, and which covered the 926 workers belonging to the seven departments where exposure was the greatest. The study noted that the most prevalent pathology was chronic obstructive lung disease; 83.42% had a normal hematocrit; altered respiratory functional tests were found in a 42.33% of subjects; and 66.33% had acute pulmonary lung disease as a radiological sign.”

I thought about the former manager who had a marginally better life than a common worker, I thought also of the others. The air they breathe over there doesn’t have the name of the one who will breathe it, it’s always polluted.The dust rises and goes along the streets and highways destroying promises without discriminating based on age or hierarchy. Where did they go, the dreams of thousands of young men who moved from Havana and Matanzas to Moa to build a new country?

When some of these megaprojects stopped working as propaganda, the dreams went bust. The ramshackle buildings, increasing cost of food, and deficient local management transformed these so-called “industrial cities” into abandoned cemeteries.

History’s paradox, government’s lies, deceit and false promise, become reality, now raised as a flag by the humblest of citizens.

* The article was published in the illegal monthly journal El cubano libre (The Free Cuban) in 2006, and several of its authors received threats for their part in exposing it.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 28, 2010

Ivan The Terrible / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

I met Ivan de la Nuez one day in February of 1998. It was in Holguin, and he wasn’t present but someone gave us a catalogue of an exposition which he had displayed over at Barcelona. I had quickly read it on the Cuba Gazette multiple times. But now, I’ve received three of his colorful books wrapped in nylon: “Three Messages, Three Suggestions, Three Literary Cartographies to live without Fear, or to at least hold hands with someone who will guide you through the anxieties we live with today”, “Where do we live?”, and “Who brought us to this catastrophe known as post-communist Cuba”. They are answers that are found attached to the pages of these books. Out of all them, the one which most interests me is the boldest of publications, the book called “The Map of Salt”, now nearly ten years after its publication in Periferica. After a decade of circulating through the hands of readers all over the world, it has arrived in a dark provincial corner of this island. And that’s how the paradoxes are, the pretexts, the destinies. Since Ivan has proposed to dismantle the myth of insularity and the supposed national identity, to dismount them in the sense of discovering them, removing the veil, the sequin, and the false hieratic pose, he has then attempted to build over the very salt and ruins of what we are today.

They are a set of magnificent essays. Matias Perez, the legendary character from Havana, the National Anthem mixed with individualistic insinuations (not as a warlike march), and an imported reference to Che Guevara, all parade before the cynical and sarcastic prose of Ivan. The expressions of those identities, in the words of Hanna Arendt, go beyond any physical marks — I’ll remember that always.

The Map of Salt which De la Nuez would return to the world a decade ago was intended to continue showing us the path of new discoveries of disillusion, apathy, and the rejection of a unitarian national mark of being Cuban, and has returned today, with much more strength. This is the map of an observer who has been left awestruck before all the events of the last 20 years, and has changed the iconic Korda photo with a hairy Che amidst the breezes of Havana in the 1960’s with a dead guerrillero in a laundry room of La Higuera. The socialist world, eaten up by its own rodents, the New Man that Guevara himself wanted, forced to fill out immigration papers which deny a world open to everyone, and a socialist youth, supposedly limpid, forced to eat at McDonald’s (symbol of “wild capitalism”) because of the rationing.

It’s a good attempt by Ivan, trying to recover his life right at the point where his dream was crushed. It’s the best possible reason to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of a book we could barely find in Cuba, that Map of Salt that we couldn’t taste back then, but which is given context by the deficiencies of our nation. For now it’s enough to be able to read his Red Fantasy (published by Debolsillo, 2010) and Floods (Debate, 2010), with the certainty that one is attending a first act. Half a year is nothing compared to five centuries of delay.

I invite my readers to reach out to Ivan (who isn’t so terrible). To read his books, which are a reconstruction of that traveler we all are, carrying the island on our backs… or maybe to just ignore him. Who knows.

Translated by: Raul G. and Xavier Noguer

September 7, 2010

Julito’s Dream / Rebeca Monzo

My friend tells me that he arrived late and tired to his house, and he leaned back on the living room sofa.

Then his usual friends started arriving. He led them to the basement, where his cellar was. Three spotless rustic tables and benches were all the furniture of the room, which had a very pleasant ambiance thanks to the Spanish bodegón decor.

Soon the three tables were taken. On the tables were various kinds of tapas, full of ham slices, cuts of Galician chorizo, anchovies, eel al ajillo, and delicious Spanish tortilla. All of these were paired to the excellent wines.

Cachita, a regular at the place, possessed maybe by the spirit of a Spanish dancer, left the bench and started dancing and applauding between the tables. Soon everyone was singing in unison. As the bottles emptied, the heat went up. Everyone laughed, singed, and partied, expressing all the joy that a Rioja wine can give. Suddenly, two police vehicles arrived, called maybe, by a resentful neighbour who wasn’t invited. When the police officers opened the vehicles’ doors to push the cheerful guests in, Julito, shaking his head and leaping off the sofa, woke up: Everything had been a dream.

“Only in dreams,” he told me. “How could I have a small business at home, even if I were authorized? Where was I going to get the hams, the wines, and everything else ? Maybe I could have the tortilla, but sometimes you can walk the whole city and not find potatoes. If they liberalized private businesses for real, I could import the wines and the charcuterie. But they will never do that, at least not during this regency. Anyway, for as long as I dreamt, I had fun. Dreaming doesn’t cost a thing!”

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 28, 2010

Delayed Tender Offer / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I’m astonished by the pretentious ordinances of those who have power. In a country like this one, where every five years, coinciding with the congresses of the holy Cuban Communist Party, people were encouraged to be efficient and to cooperate in order to make this a better nation, any attempt at economic independence was viewed as a sign of witchcraft. Every peanut vendor, weed clearer, piñata and birthday party supplies maker was watched closely by those who would rather suffer the punishment of an eight-hour work day in an inefficient workplace and looked on with envy to those who dared to break the chains of government control.

Now that they’re about to put out tenders for activities that were once not supervised, I laugh just thinking about how will they supervise the poor eastern Guajira who goes to Havana to take care of an old couple with sons or nephews in Miami: will that have to pay her in dollars? And Mr. Palacios, who cleans the house of a hotel manager on the outskirts of Holguín? How much will they have to pay him for each cubic meter of pruned branches from the gardens of the mansion?

I can’t imagine how my aunt Eloína (may she rest in peace) would have managed, with a room full of women who came to have their clothes sewn. She would mend, embroider, and even make shopping bags. This crazy new Stalinist attempt at supervising seems doomed before it even starts.

Roads and fences repairman, restorer of puppets and other toys, coffee roaster, hairdresser for pets, and many others, summing up 178 jobs that Cubans have been doing openly and unmolested, which now, with thousands of workers being fired from rundown factories and undersupplied workshops, the all-powerful state thinks it can control.

To put out a tender for economic initiatives in order to let society’s efforts flow towards employment and the common good, is fine. But the attempt at protectionism, with the intent to put locks and bars behind the door, when the dam that contains society threatens to break, is an act of hypocrisy that only sullies the face of the Inquisitor.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 22, 2010

The Story of the Aboriginals / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Over the last years, “Indigenism” has taken center stage in Latin America. Indigenous leaders, whether real or virtual, demand the re-establishment of ancestral rights. They consider themselves, by right of seniority, as owners of the lands and bodies of water, and all the riches that these may have. Also, they’ve become defenders of the flora and fauna and, in tune with the times, ecological crusaders. Everything would be fine, and it would even merit applause, if it weren’t for the immobility it represents, and the obscurity to which they relegate the various protagonists of the growth of the nations they live in.
  2. Taking for granted they really were the original people of the various regions they inhabit (which is very questionable, given that we could ask, since when?, as before them there were others, and others, and others, until the time of the dinosaurs and stone age men, the only ones who are truly original), the current nations didn’t just come to be as a result of their pure and unique way of life and worldview, but of the mix of diverse peoples and races, who have, through time, contributed their virtues and defects, and also different levels of social and technological progress.
  3. To accept that indigenous peoples should govern the nations, just because they are the original inhabitants, excluding all the other citizens of such nations, is as racist and prejudiced as the historical injustice that is supposed to be healed. It’s an outdated remake of the old theory of the noble savage, which has been firmly discredited. Following that road will lead to societies fragmented by absurd rights, moving away from unity, inside the individual diversity that we need so much.
  4. It should be a well established fact that the wealth of the nation is not the property of any original group or people, but of all the citizens of each nation, and what is decided about it and its exploitation involves the representatives of the whole society (indigenous and non-indigenous). To try adopting extreme and violent positions to obtain some gain, is a stance that shouldn’t be supported by anyone on his right mind, nor allowed, nor permitted, by any responsible government.
  5. The immobility that some indigenous groups support, with respect to the natural resources found in their so-called original settlements, ties the hands of the nation to the interests of a minority which, during the course of history has not shown, for one reason or another, their capacity to grow, remaining in a primitive state and blaming everyone else for their situation.
  6. It’s OK to support the aboriginals, but not so they can become independent entities, but to integrate into the citizenry of their nations with all the rights, but also with all the duties, that entails. That is the only way to achieve growth and prosperity.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 3, 2010

Work / Regina Coyula

Photograph by L. Diversent

If you did the homework I gave you months ago (Noisy Bell, Elusive Cat…), the new labor market situation can’t have taken you by surprise. The concern of state employees about the “reduction of inflated payrolls” hasn’t diminished, and rightly so.

At school they taught me that economic crises were a feature of the capitalist mode of production because, unlike socialist planning, its way of producing is anarchic. In the socialist economic order, it was unthinkable to have excess workers because there would always be jobs satisfying the necessary and growing demands of society.

Here, where an economic crisis is called “Special Period in Time of Peace,” where workers will not be unemployed but “available,” it is no surprise that it was the Union, and not the Labor and Social Security Ministry, that was charged with divulging the bad news, in the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee’s official journal no less!

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 18, 2010

An Odd Anniversary / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Yesterday, October 10, was the 142nd anniversary of the Cry of Yara. The Cuban flags, so plentiful in government buildings, and also in the facades of some slogan followers’ houses, during days of celebration of the Socialist Calendar, were conspicuous by their absence. It seems this date, just like February 24, fundamental in defining our national identity, has lost its relevance, ceding its place to more important ones.
  2. It was a day like any other, only highlighted on the official media with a few news-flashes and some images, while most time and space was dedicated to other matters.
  3. It is true that, in the face of predicted ecological and political cataclysms, historical reenactments, necrophilic remakes, announcements of massive layoffs, increases in the price of products and services, and other misfortunes, there’s not much to celebrate.
  4. I remember my mother, on a day like this, trying to coordinate the colours of the flag in her clothes, and pinning a flag-coloured badge to the collar of her blouse. Those were different times, when civic pride was a fundamental part of life, without the need for decrees, instructions or slogans to honor the nation, its founders and its acts.
  5. Maybe a few years from now, when the 150th anniversary of the Cry of Yara comes and some things might have changed, we’ll adorn our houses with the national flag again, feel proud to be Cubans and celebrate this holiday, the most important, along with February 24, for the Cuban Nation.

Translator’s note: This date marks the beginning of the Ten Year’s War.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 11, 2010

Weekend Movies / Regina Coyula

cortesía Orlando LuisThis weekend I saw on TV two very different movies, both very perturbing because of what they show in regards to the relation between reality and fiction. The movies were Agora, on the Friday time slot for movies, and The Experiment on Saturday.

The movie Agora takes place in Alexandria during the final years of the Roman Empire when Christians, after many years of persecution, win the streets and obtain power. We had seen the suffering of Jesus’s followers, the cruelty and spite which they suffered at the hands of the pagans. But, what happens when Christians obtain power? They mimic and even surpass those who had the power before them, they desecrate the symbols of the past: temples, statues, and in what will be a sign of the dark centuries ahead, they destroy the Library of Alexandria.

The other movie, with superb acting by Adrien Brody and Forest Whittaker, tells the story of a group of people who volunteer for an experiment on the conditions experienced on a prison setting, who are surprised to find out that a few of them will act as guards while the rest will be the prisoners. What happens when regular men obtain power? Cruelty, sadism. The experiment ends, predictably, when the prisoners rebel.

So much time has gone by, and things still do not improve when it comes to human relations.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 6, 2010

Salve Regina / Luis Felipe Rojas

Picture/Luis Felipe Rojas

The chapel of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre in Antilla, Holguín looks like this, out in the open and vulnerable to the harsh weather. Facing the bay of the same name, and next to the waters where many years ago the mother of so many Cubans appeared, stands this wooden post fixed to the cement base that’s been rebuilt a few times. The lack of public concern has become general apathy: those who want to fix it have not been authorized to do so; those who have the power don’t want another place of pilgrimage on Cuban soil; others, tired of so many obstacles, do not feel like fighting against the bureaucracy and the grim looks of the official who should authorize the above mentioned reconstruction.

Now that Our Lady of Charity of Cobre travels around the country, the people of Antilla go to a run-down church, which still lacks the reconstruction permits it needs. The human hurricanes and natural disasters. There is no doubt that the salt of time and the hand that sweeps everything away have passed through these little towns of God.

Picture/Luis Felipe Rojas

I am 20 kilometers away from Barajagua, the place where the Lady of Charity first stayed, but it’s hard for me to get there, because on the way to Cueto, if you get down to that parking lot it’s difficult to get a truck back up, I have tried it a few times. I promise to take a picture of the place where the first chapel once was, when Juan Hoyos and his namesakes returned with her after going looking for salt for the miners of the copper mines in Santiago de Cuba. This month I’m planning to visit Barajagua… God and bad weather, you already know, permitting.

Translator: Xavier Noguer

September 29, 2010

Rolando Against the Impunity in Guantanamo / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a few months. I was afraid I might not be objective enough, being close to Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, to sound the alert to the world. Even so, my duty towards justice and truth is more important.

This young man, a computer engineer who graduated from Havana’s university system in the nineties, is being publicly hunted down by the political police, from the headquarters of the G2. His propensity to civil disobedience, his capacity to lead some thirty activists from every corner of eastern Cuba (Banes, San Germán, Contramaestre, Songo-La Maya, Baracoa, Manatí, Moa, Velazco, Antilla) and to take them to Camagüey where Orlando Zapata Tamayo agonized, proved his worth, but has made him a target. None of the more than a hundred transitory detentions of the last couple of years has been an accident.

The repressive system of my country doesn’t need any pretexts to jail anyone. They just apply the judicial puzzle. In the last few months Rolando suffered one attack after another, from the extreme-left web site Rebelión as much as from Military Counterintelligence high officials sent from Havana to eastern Cuba, on the pretext of “stopping subversion in eastern Cuba”. From his humble cabin in Baracoa to the many places where he has had to live, everywhere he’s been trying to avoid being arrested so that his peaceful activities won’t be disturbed. He’s been leading the highest profile public protests of the last 10 months in six eastern provinces, but his philosophy has always been “More united, being united is key”.

The decision by my country’s authorities to put a police poster in every town so that if he shows up he’s to be deported to Guantanamo, proves the absolute arbitrariness of the state towards its citizens. Even so Rolando doesn’t stop. Bravery and fearlessness are the flags he raises in order to gain liberty for Cuba. He directs the underground bulletin Porvenir and is a co-author of the collective blog Cuban Palenque. From Cuban Palenque he tries to draw attention to the use of torture and arbitrary acts of the state in the eastern part of the island. Punishments and convictions for trying to leave the country, social dangerousness and contempt for authority are the legal charges which are lodged against thousands of youths from eastern Cuba, and which Rolando has denounced on countless occasions. This enrages those who hold power. His last term in jail, 24 days, was a play to punish and frighten the latest generation of Cuban freedom fighters.

Meanwhile Rolando, an incurable rebel, starts the little engines of civil disobedience, a laxative the gorillas in military garb don’t swallow easily.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 16, 2010

A Certain Bolaño / Luis Felipe Rojas

It often happens to me with good books the same thing that happens with the best dreams: when they come to me, they are here to stay.

Ernesto, a friend of a couple of friends, came from the warm city of Barcelona and brought this gift to my hands. It’s called The Unknown University, it’s the complete poetry of a complete novelist, the Chilean Roberto Bolaño, the one who surprised us all with the novel The Savage Detectives when we were just waiting for the death of a genre that deteriorated during the nineties to the point of stagnating as of late.

What happens with simple poetry is that it becomes a compass to find the right words. Bolaño’s poetry is exactly that: Ariadne’s thread in the middle of his life. The peculiarity of these almost 500 pages lies in the lack of a visible effort on the part of the author to find himself. Bolaño had a predestined route which was prose, as much in his plentiful novels (almost ten) as in his numerous short stories, and at the same time as a silent yet very visible scaffolding was erected for the seekers of novelty in new literature, he let his thoughts and the search for that other identity which is the human language, fall in poetry.

Poetry served Bolaño to cross the bridge between what is public and what is intimate. Even though some of his poems slipped into magazines and anthologies, at the end of his life, afraid it would get lost in the way, he put together, edited and corrected every page of his whole work, sometimes in prose, sometimes in the most pristine verses one could find. Here it is now, at least for us, readers from these parts of the hemisphere where books arrive several years after publication, the complete works of poetry of Roberto Bolaño, compiled in just one volume by Anagrama in 2007 and which today starts its voyage through the hands, the offices, and the benches where the readers of this island sit, to taste that unknown university that may be life or poetry

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 22, 2010

Queenside Castling / Regina Coyula

I have a friend, who is an International Chess Master with the title of Grandmaster, whom we consider almost as part of the family, but I hadn’t heard from her since she got a contract to work in Costa Rica last year. Last May I went to the Capablanca in memoriam tournament and, being in the right place, I asked about her. I was surprised by the fact that everyone I asked grinned, looked at each other if they were a group of people, but no one dared to tell me anything about the whereabouts of my friend Tania Hernández. One thing did seem clear among all the evasive responses: Tania was not coming back to Havana.

There was no self-censorship or questioning from the part of those I asked, since Tania is a very lovable person. Despite her career in the sport of Chess, after twelve years as part of the National Chess Team, Tania still lived with her parents and grandmother in the same block in Central Havana where she was born, a home to which improvements were made thanks to the travel stipends she saved from each trip. When her results left her out of the team, they “turned off her lights”, and Tania had to leave her sporting career, give lessons, sell her Chess books, all of which I know was very hard for her.

I suppose she used the contacts she had made while participating in international events to obtain the contract to work in Central America. In this new chapter in her life, Tania will work as a coach or teacher, activities for which she has as much talent as she had for playing; her work will allow her to pay the rent for a cozy little apartment, and also to help her family in Cuba. Now that everyone knows her decision, the Sports Institute (INDER) will not forgive her. Branded as a deserter, she will be forbidden to re-enter Cuba for at least the next five years. Of course we are talking about five years counting from 2010, so I expect to be able to hug my friend in Havana before the sentence, sanctioned by public officials who know nothing about what it’s like to live in a small overcrowded room, expires.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 15, 2010