Present, Past, Future / Fernando Dámaso

1.  The only thing that a human being truly possesses is his present.  The past is something that already occurred, for better or worse, and the present itself, with the passing of seconds, continually becomes the past.  The future is what might or might not be, in whose roots the present is found.  Seen this way, in all of its simplicity and objectivity, the present is to live, the past that which was lived, and the future that which is to be lived.  The future, upon becoming the present, also starts to turn into the past.

2.  The majority of politicians on the left consolidate their programmatic platforms by questioning the past and proposing a future, skillfully evading the present, be they communists or recalcitrant socialists, moderate or recycled, populists, nationalists, nativists and even Islamists, that new category so in vogue these days.

3.  Once power is taken, be it through violence or peacefully, their first and greatest task is to painstakingly revise the past: land has been ill-distributed, economic development has been unfair, signed treaties have undermined sovereignty, foreign policy has been wrong-headed, school curriculae programs have been ill-conceived, the health system has been badly organized, public transit has been ineffective, and so on, covering the entire political, economic, and social spectrum.  They dedicate time and effort not to the present, but rather to criticize and readjust the past, categorizing the previous presidents as bad or moderate, according to political convenience.

Usually, they start with the redistribution of land: it must be distributed among the farmers and poor, as if it were a dogma, even if it brings as consequences chaos in the agriculture sector and lack of productivity.  It doesn’t matter, for this comprises the first obligatory step in obtaining massive popular support, before proceeding to nationalize large farms and cooperatives, which are also unproductive.  The following measure is for financial reform: the state must monopolize and control all capital in order to squander it and plan a future.  Other reforms follow:  education reforms, healthcare reforms, urban reforms, justice reforms, etc…

5.  The center of attention, as is easy to observe, is concentrated on changing the past, but in reality, the past is impossible to change, unless it’s in the rhetoric of speeches and history books, by new writers, which exist independently of our present.  These changes and attempted changes are carried out against all logic, they are carried out to insure the future.  As we can see, the present is again excluded, for these leaders live distantly from it.

6.  In revising the past, the scalpel is applied deeply and an attempt even made to remove traditions and customs: a people without a past or with a mutilated past are easily manipulated.  The future is offered up as a panacea, whose cost is defrayed by today’s sacrifices.  Except the future has no palpable limits or measurable time: everything is placed in the limbo of things to come, which with every passing day moves further away, as unreachable as the horizon.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 24, 2010

The Cuban Judicial Puzzle / Luis Felipe Rojas

photo/Luis Felipe Rojas

Using the defence of national sovereignty as a refuge, the secret police in Cuba are utilizing methods of repression against internal dissension that aren’t dictated by the courts, nor is their implementation in that fashion even considered in the Constitution or the Penal Code.

House arrest, detentions, and the ban on leaving or entering certain provinces are part of the low intensity repression that is practiced silently and to the beat of a policy of tyranny. With the offices of Attention to Citizen Grievances and military district attorneys at their feet, the so-called Seguridad del Estado (State Security) applies the tourniquet of improvised jurisprudence that squashes the weakest.

Ex-political prisoners like Abel López Pérez and Anderlay Guerra Blanco of Guantanamo, immediately upon their release, have been banned by Counterintelligence from leaving the first and second peripheries, respectively, of the city. Did a judge order this? Is it on their release forms? Is it a special regulation decreed only against social nonconformists? No one knows.

Two friends of mine, jurists of officialdom, who went to school with me back at the University of Oriente in Santiago de Cuba say yes, that it’s a violation, but “the powers acquiesce to manu militari“. I’ve asked many dissidents across the island up until now if they’ve ever been presented with an order of detention signed by a judge and they’ve said no. Never. The same goes for the issued extent of the official summons, which is applied verbally or on some little scrap of paper that won’t appear in any file. If the summoned refuses, then he or she is automatically detained, but his or her name will never appear in the police station’s registry as a detained person. To the eyes of the statistics that could serve as a report, that person was never there. That’s just how complicated the Cuban judicial system is.

The provincial-level military district attorneys receive the complaints against their colleagues with reluctance, and even more when they’re on behalf of peaceful dissidents. The offices of “Attention to The Populace” have a wretched mechanism for the receipt of the grievance, notice of investigation, and results thereof, that makes even the greatest optimist give up on the complaint process.

Before such judicial neglect, few dare to play that diabolical game of chess where the secret police fancies itself a supreme God in order to move white and black pieces alike on the same turn.

And that’s how checkmate is declared upon the Constitution.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo
September 10, 2010

The Novel That Leonardo Padura Wrote for Me / Regina Coyula


Many years ago – I’m talking about the ’70s – I worked for the MININT (Ministry of the Interior), but my military unit’s official cover was MINFAR (Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces), and therefore to all outward appearances I worked in the military. A minibus would pick me up in the morning and drop me off in the afternoon in Playa de Marianao, and next to the Mare Aperto pizzeria I’d get in line for the 79 and the 179 to return home. Since, for as long as I could remember, public transportation had been in a critical state, I’d steel myself with patience and a book for waiting. One afternoon while waiting in that line I was reading a biography of Trotsky, and I was approached by an officer (they hadn’t yet changed the ranks to the equivalents of those of our late sister [the USSR], so I’m talking about what was then a captain), and in a tone between authoritarian and condescending, he asked me how I could be reading that book. I had heard in my study-circles about this revisionist traitor and I wanted to know more. That’s the reason I gave the captain, who waited for my response with a penetrating stare. Through him I learned that Trotsky was forbidden reading for members of the Armed Forces; as far as I knew, this measure was not applied at the MININT. Some time later I got seriously scared while reading “China, The Other Communism”, when another officer (or maybe the same one, I don’t know) asked me the number of my military unit, concerned, no doubt, about the ideological purity of soldiers, there, where subordinates were so ill-informed of the Index. After that second incident I started making my own book covers.

There’s more.  Around that time and up until 1979, the buses passed 5th Avenue, and many times, from on board the bus, I’d become ecstatic on seeing the royal bearing of those Russian greyhounds being walked along the segment between 42nd and 70th Streets, along 5th Avenue’s wide central promenade, sometimes by a woman who undoubtedly walked the dogs as an obligation; sometimes by a tall man who could have walked right passed me unnoticed if it hadn’t been for the hounds.  It wasn’t until recently that I came to know that those dogs were Ix and Dax, the same ones in my novel, of the novel that Leonardo Padura wrote for me.

Love of Dogs

The Man Who Loved Dogs, like his earlier The Novel of My Life, is narrated in different time periods and with different characters that the narrator conjures with one common denominator: the love of dogs. The choice of historical figures couldn’t have been stronger: Trotsky, — a name spoken in whispers when talking about his writing and out loud when slandering him — seen in the novel as a man beaten but not defeated, who somewhat reminded me of Hemingway’s Santiago, the fisherman.

Mercader, the assassin, a man given unconditionally to the service of a cause, the plaything of an incomprehensible force, but one to which he submits, postponing (or nullifying) all doubts.  An awkward creature who must have left behind unfinished secret inspections, not as a super agent, but rather as a working goal for those who came after. Moscow trusts, but verifies… However, I ended up feeling sympathy for that solitary and undesirable man, quite a potent character; and even more potent, and for sale, his mother.  The mother, from a certain species that, since I don’t understand, I fear: those mothers who, far from protecting their children, expose them, with a peculiar sense of duty.  I’m thankful to the hand that wrote these splendid portraits for me.

The lives of these two men remind me, as only art can, how from such a premature date the Russian Revolution and the communist movement in general became contaminated by human miseries, and the revolutionary concept extends right up to us, falsified and degraded, shackled by immobility, complacency and the cult of personality.  We already know what the disillusion of reason can give rise to.

As if my unease wasn’t enough, light gets shed upon a chapter hitherto unknown to me about the relationship between the secret services of the Soviet Union and the Spanish Republic, one more infamous page which Cuba prefers to keep silent about, under the comfortable philosophy of avoiding the destruction of history.

The third character is Ivan: ahistorical, anti-hero, fearful, fainthearted.  Maybe it’s too many setbacks for just one man, but Ivan is an era, a generation, a country.  His personal story is the history of a collective failure.  He may seem excessive in his disgrace, but so real! With an economy of characters, the necessary brushstrokes are there for an unsuspecting reader, or a prospective reader, to glimpse the shadows of the Cuban Revolution.  Ivan started becoming intimate, familiar, until he became one with me.  I carry Ivan in my DNA.  In an intense symbiosis, Padura put into words all of my disenchantment, the feeling of having been swindled, the sensation of the loss of purity, that emptiness left by the confirmation that there is no Santa Claus.

The plot reaches a crescendo in the style of tragedies, the characters’ fates sealed, condemned to disaster, and doomed and called towards that disaster.

It had been years since I’d sped through a book with that eagerness that in my youth was motivated by (or obligated to) those best sellers, the first I’d known: Papillon, Chacal.  The book that now kept me sailing — and assailed me — I don’t know if I’d categorize it as a best seller, but it’s a book that all of us Cubans who straddle two centuries should read.

And it’s not a perfect book, the Cuban character’s story, the one that most impressed me due to its familiarity, even though to me it’s the least realized, left me with an uncontrollable anguish.  But when one dedicates even one’s sleeping hours to a book, to reach its end, the imperfections don’t matter.  I said it before: I read my book.  For that very reason I can’t avoid my disappointment with Padura when he deceives me with a line that’s only acceptable from Félix B. Caignet: “I felt as if I’d burst if I didn’t wring out once and for all the pus that had become a cyst in the seed of my fear.”  It’s a sentence imposed upon the character and unusual in a narrator who has become known for his clean prose, which he owes so much to his occupation as a journalist.

The edition, borrowed and returned with great heavy-heartedness, is from Tusquets.  I think Leonardo Pardura’s Spanish books have always been available in their Cuban edition.  With this novel, I don’t know, many readers over here are going to gaze over the tops of the pages and ask themselves if it was worth the pain, as did I, who couldn’t avoid, as in the classic tragedies, the catharsis, as these words I write become blurred to me.

Nuevo Vedado-Mantilla, summer of 2010

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 30, 2010

Congratulations, Poet! / Regina Coyula

Manuel Díaz Martínez turns 74 today, one of the most important Cuban poets of his generation. If Manolo wasn’t my friend, he’d still be one of my favorite poets. As if that weren’t enough, conversations with him are full of anecdotes and humor; and when he turns serious, he’s of a great clarity and erudition, with that virtue of knowing much without being pedantic. As an homage on his birthday, I’ve posted one of his poems and I invite you all to leave him birthday wishes on his blog:


For Fabio and Grace

An expanse of land,

An arch of coast, a sea,

Some houses, some streets

Three or four rivers,

A pattern of rainfall,

A garden, some mountains,

Some frustrations,

And perhaps a utopia,

A stew, a song, a tree,

A somewhat moving history,

A way of saying things,

The aging parents

In a provincial patio,

Perhaps some siblings too

That complete the family saga

And some friends…

That and something more is homeland

If there is space for liberty there.

If there is no space, I prefer

to die from a distance.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

September 13, 2010

Brain Drains? / Rebeca Monzo

"Now We Are Going to Construct Socialism!"

I still haven’t gotten over my amazement upon hearing, on the short-wave radio, of course, the unbelievable declarations that would be made by the Guru of my little planet to a North American journalist: “The Cuban model can’t be exported, because it hasn’t worked even in Cuba.”

Of course, whoever doesn’t have a short-wave radio here, has neither heard nor possibly will hear about this, since the daily papers haven’t published such statements up until now. These took me back to those statements of December 27, 1986, when this very same figure said: “Now we’re really going to build socialism!”

At that moment, many well-intentioned citizens asked themselves: ‘So, what were we doing until now?’

I think that it shows a great lack of respect, or sensitivity, to make such assertions. If something isn’t working and is detrimental to no more and no less than 11 million people, not counting the almost 3 million in the diaspora, how is it possible that it’s insisted upon? What consolation can be given to those millions who’ve lost relatives, because they’ve died trying to cross the sea, or who’ve been forced by these very measures (which don’t work) to leave the country, leaving behind elderly parents and even children, in search of freedom and better opportunities? And what can be said of those of us who, for a wide range of reasons, haven’t wanted to leave the country and have lost our youth waiting for change? I believe they’ve had 51 years to prove that the model wasn’t working, so, why insist on keeping it going at all costs?

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

September 10, 2010

The Association of Ideas / Regina Coyula

One of the best things I’ve gotten out of my blog is a renewed interest in my surroundings and a bit beyond, and that’s come with a need for me to study up. First, all the mysteries of WordPress, my blog’s support platform, as well as, and still, a lot of reading about the Internet. I think this collaboration among advanced users to create such helpful programs for which you don’t have to pay is fantastic! Free software, the response of Internet users to the Microsoft monopoly (I don’t know about the other giants). And one thing led me to another: I’d like a government for my country like those online collaborations in which all interested parties improve the functionality of the programs, that marvel of transparency that is open source code. I’m tired of hearing so much, “no, you can’t”, “no, you shouldn’t”, “it’s not the right moment”… secrets, secrets, and more secrets, a mountain of secrets under which we’re entombed.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

September 8, 2010

What Does Martí Have to Do with a Single Party? / Dimas Castellanos

un-solo-partido1The official Cuban press insists on justifying a single-party system. Some of the arguments are based on the fact that Martí created a single party, how lack of unity led to revolutionary failures, how the very existence of the nation depends on preserving unity, and how a multiparty system would be co-opted by imperialism. The last time these arguments were presented, they were published in the Tribuna de la Habana newspaper on Sunday, August 15, under the headline “What is the Role of the PCC in Maintaining Revolutionary Unity?”

To expose this mishmash of half truths and absurdities, I will quote six paragraphs written by José Martí containing the core ideas that led him to found the Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC, by its Spanish acronym).

  1. In January of 1880, in New York, Martí presented a critical study on the mistakes of the Ten Year’s War which concluded with the Pact of Zanjón. In it he said: “Those who try to solve a problem can’t ignore any of its antecedents…”, and then proceeded to enumerate multiple causes, among them the negative consequences of the lack of unity.
  2. In July of 1882, in a letter to Máximo Gómez about past wars, he outlined the objectives of the Party thusly: “…My sole aspiration is that by forming a visible and tightly-knit body, bound by a shared solemn and judicious desire to give Cuba true and lasting liberty, all of those selfless and strong men will appear united, capable of repressing their impatience in the absence of a means to remedy all ills in Cuba with a probable victory in one quick, unanimous, and grandiose war…”
  3. In the Resolutions of November of 1891, considered to be the prologue of the PRC’s platform, he proposed: “The revolutionary organization should not be unaware of the practical necessities derived from the makeup and history of the country, nor should it actively work towards present or future control by any particular class; but rather towards the association, conforming to democratic methods, of all the living forces of the homeland; towards brotherhood and common action by Cubans residing abroad; towards the respect and aid of all the republics of the world, and towards the creation of a just and open republic… elevated with all and for the good of all.”
  4. In April of 1893, he stated: “That is the greatness of the Revolutionary Party: that in order to found a republic, it has begun with the republic. That is its strength: that by the labor of all, it confers rights to all. It is an idea, not a person, that must be introduced to Cuba.”
  5. In April of 1894, on the anniversary of the founding of the PRC, he said: “A people is not the will of one man alone, no matter how pure that will… A people is the composition of many wills, vile or pure, natural or grim, impeded by timidity or hastened by ignorance.”
  6. In the Montecristi Manifesto, signed jointly Máximo Gómez on March 25, 1895, before committing himself to the armed struggle, Martí proposes that war is not “the unhealthy triumph of one Cuban party over another, or even the humiliation of a mistaken group of Cubans; but rather it is the solemn demonstration of the will of a nation exasperated, as proven in the previous war, and disposed to hurl itself lightly into a conflict ending only in victory or burial.”

The contents of the six quoted paragraphs demonstrate: that there were multiple causes of the revolutionaries’ failures, not just the divisions among them; that the function of the Party consists of leading the war out of which the Republic should be founded, with true and lasting liberty; that the Party should not work towards the present or future predominance of any particular class; that its strength is rooted in that the labor of all, bestows rights upon all; that a people is not the will of a single man, no matter how pure his will, but rather the composition of many wills; and that the end of war does not signify the triumph of one Cuban side against another.

The PRC was founded as an intermediate link between planting the seed of the Homeland and molding the Republic, not to dominate and prohibit the existence of different parties after victory was achieved, not to annul popular participation, not to declare that the streets and university campuses belong to revolutionaries, not to imprison those who think differently, all of which demonstrate that Martí’s democratic and humanist ideas have been ignored and distorted to confer upon them an ill-fitting mantle: the genesis of the Cuban single-party system.

Additionally, it should be said that politics are founded on the fact that men are social and diverse beings. In that sense, parties, as the etymology of the word indicates, are a part of a whole that by its diverse and plural nature consists of other parts, wherein each represents the interests or tendencies of a sector of society. This reason explains why, when the ideas of independence were not represented among the existing parties, José Martí founded the PRC. Diego Vicente Tejera created the Cuban Socialist Party in 1899, because the interests of workers were not championed by the liberal and conservative parties. The Communist Association of Havana in 1923, the Communist Party in 1925, and the Orthodox Party in 1947 all arose for similar reasons: because the Authentic Party did not satisfy a segment of its constituency.

The single-party system is unnatural. The best proof of this is that, in order to establish a single-party system, totalitarian regimes must destroy all other political parties or subordinate them and their interests, allowing for the most perfect and complete model of totalitarian regime, and along with it, stagnation and failure. In Cuba, the existence of one sole party was the result of a reverse process initiated during the era of insurrectionist struggle in the Sierra Maestra mountain range that culminated in 1965 with the founding of the Communist Party as the sole political force, subsequently ratified into the Constitution; a process foreign to the ideas and work of José Martí.

From this, the necessary restoration of the right of assembly and decriminalization of political differences are inferred, so that Cubans can play the active and determinant role that they are entitled to in the destiny of the nation. The irreducible diversity and exhaustion of the current model have created the need for a multiparty system as the order of the day.

1 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VI, p.216

2 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VI, p.235

3 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Resolutions Recorded by the Cuban Communities of Tampa and Key West in November of 1891. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.23

4 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.192

5 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.359

6 MARTÍ, JOSÉ. Selected Works in Three Volumes. VIII, p.511

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 27, 2010

“Papá” Takes Care of Us / Regina Coyula

“Our daily bread”, as they call it, will no longer be on the ration booklet, nor will it cost the current five centavos; as the cause of hypertension and weight gain, those who want to — and can, will have to buy it for 80 centavos.  Whereas before you’d spend one peso and 50 centavos monthly per person on bread, now you’ll spend 24 pesos for the same amount.  Cigarettes, those survivors of an era when smoking was a pleasure, were only alloted to those born before 1958, and since they cause cancer, they’ll also be withdrawn from the rationing system.  Even coffee, where blended coffee for 10 centavos per four-ounce pack was switched out on us for a supposedly purer coffee at five pesos for the same pack, now it’s also rumored that it will be decreased in the libreta de abastecimientos (national ration booklet of supplies), due to its effects on insomnia and gastritis.

There is a manifest concern on the part of Papá State for the health of us all.  If you doubt it, just keep going and check these facts:

At three years of age they take away baby food, whose sugar content predisposes you to diabetes.  At age seven they substitute soy yogurt for milk, the cause of excess calcification.  At age 13, the monthly quota of picadillo (ground beef), which was instituted some two years ago as a result of a national study on the size and weight of our children, but it turns out it could lead to gout, so, along with the soy yogurt, it is also taken away.

Now they have decreased the allocations of sugar and salt, poisons, as we all know.  They don’t offer red meat on the ration booklet; only soy and dark meat picadillo, and you can find chicken and sometimes mackerel.

All of that and more can be found in the foreign currency stores, but the government is interested in the health of the people, not the health of sturdy tycoons bursting with CUCs (the acronym for convertible pesos).  We’ll all die healthy.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

September 2, 2010

The United States: A Necessary Enemy / Iván García

Fidel Castro loves to make references to the numerous economic, paramilitary, and political aggressions of the 11 administrations that have been through the White House throughout these 51 years the strong-man of Cuba has been in power.

The United States is far from being the ideal neighbor. In the first 40 years of the revolution, it unleashed a ferocious campaign of assaults on Castro. It was an all out fight with all the ingredients. Dirty war, economic pressure, and anti-government propaganda.

But Castro is no saint either. Strengthened by more then 20 million rubles that Moscow granted him, he served as the Russian’s aircraft carrier in the Caribbean. In October of 1962, he made the unfortunate decision of accepting 42 intermediate- and medium-range nuclear missiles equipped with nuclear warheads, strategic bomber aircraft, and 43,000 Russian soldiers on Cuban territory.

He financed numerous guerrilla groups in Latin America and Africa, including some that, years later, have degenerated into terrorist gangs such as the FARC in Colombia and Shining Path in Peru.

On top of provoking the thunderous collapse of the Cuban economy, with his absurd plans and his method of managing the country as if it were his own private estate, the extraordinary comandante maintained military troops thousands of miles away from this island.

He acted as if possessed by a tropical Napoleon complex. Cuba got involved in the civil wars of Angola, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The consequences of our participation in those conflicts have yet to be written about.

During the Cold War, Cuba and the United States maintained a mutually irritating political rivalry. As a center of global power, Washington didn’t want to allow an openly Soviet military presence and, on the part of the government in Havana, support for insurgencies around half of the planet .

After Khrushchev withdrew the missiles, the now vanished USSR maintained troops on the island and a base for electronic spying on North America.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Cuba lost its steam. Once the pipeline of Russian rubles was sealed up, we entered into a period of economic poverty. The Americans plopped down on a recliner to await the fall. But against all winds and tides, Castro resisted.

Now, the world isn’t the same. Even Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales reached power through votes, not through bullets. Ernesto Guevara’s theory of “Revolutionary Focalism” has been tossed into the sack of obscurity. The theater of action presents a new design.

The elderly warrior that miraculously escaped death in July of 2006, has reemerged, transformed into a kind of international guru, predicting catastrophes and lending credence to any old incendiary conspiracy theory.

Only on the immigration issue is Cuba a national security problem for the United States. A hypothetical internal crisis could unravel whereupon thousands of people would hurl themselves into the sea on any floating object to escape the island. The White House is the most interested party in the Cuba situation not getting out of its government’s control.

In spite of Castro’s anti-yankee discourse, today the United States is the island’s fifth trading partner and first in foodstuff sales. We hear talk of the ban on travel from the United States to Cuba being lifted. The embargo is an absurdity. In the foreign currency stores they sell Coca-Cola and Dell computers, among other products.

The biggest of Cubans’ problems don’t come from the North. The enemy sleeps among us at home. Rampant corruption and economic inefficiency are, among others, the causes the nation is treading water neck-deep. Fidel Castro attempts to blame the gringos for many of our calamities, but sensible people here believe that bad governance and the system’s inoperability are the most responsible.

On top of being a current minor evil, the United States contributes financial liquidity to Cuba: 100 million dollars annually by way of family remittances and 50,000 Cuban-Americans who travel to the island every year and spend dollars at full throttle.

But it’s always easier to pin the blame on the same old lifelong villain. If the United States hadn’t existed, Fidel Castro would have invented it.

Iván García

Photo: Ralph Crane, Life Magazine, October of 1962. In a store in Los Angeles, people follow the news of the naval blockade against Cuba authorized by Pres. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 31, 2010

When A Friend Leaves / Rebeca Monzo

Painting on silk, by Rebeca

It’s very sad, indeed it is! They leave you a tremendous emptiness and you feel as if something broke inside of you.

In all parts of the world friends come and go, because they travel. They’re lost for a time and then reappear, they call you on the cell phone, you send them messages, they reply. But, here “on my planet,” when a friend leaves, it’s as if something died inside you. You know you won’t see them again in many years, maybe ever. You also don’t have a cell phone to call him or her, never mind the Internet, facebook, and all those marvelous things not at the disposal of the immense majority of us.

In my case, in particular, almost all my friends have gone away on me, but since I’m so stubborn, I make new ones. It’s not an easy thing. Above all, they have to speak your language (as you know), otherwise it’s very difficult to converse.

A few years ago one of my most beloved friends left me. We wrote letters to each other for a while, we dreamed of sitting down together over a cafecito to chat here at home, or at the Versailles*, it didn’t matter to us. My friend died and we never got to fulfill that dream.

Now, a great friend of ours has just left. We’re happy for him, but he’s left behind a tremendous emptiness.

This situation has been going on continuously now for half a century. Too much time! When they say goodbye, because they’re going to travel, it’s about time for families and friends not to have to leave us with that bitter taste in our mouths and that terrible sensation in the pit of our stomachs.

*Translator’s note: Rebeca is referring to the Versailles Restaurant, a now legendary and iconic dining institution among Southern Florida’s Cuban community; located on Calle Ocho (8th Street) in Little Havana.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 30, 2010

Taking Note / Regina Coyula

A few days ago Fidel met with the panelists of the television program Mesa Redonda (Round Table)* and he encouraged them to pose more difficult questions to him, as if he were a student well-prepared for an exam. The week ended, and a printed version of the encounter ran in the newspaper Granma, but I was left waiting for the broadcast of Mesa Redonda in its normal television time slot. There are various speculations: it has called the attention of those who notice these kinds of things, that they haven’t televised the meeting; there are even those who think that censorship has been imposed upon “Him.”

In his latest writings, customarily titled Reflections, Fidel offers his opinions on a book about world governance, and with his habitual process of copying and pasting, he gives us some very long quotes from the book in question by an author named Daniel Estulin, which leads me to ask myself, wouldn’t it just be simpler to have the book published in Cuba so that no one has to read it to us? This could be arranged if Fidel, who has even invited the writer to Cuba already, were to divert a portion of the 500,000 copies of La victoria estratégica (The Strategic Victory), the first of his books dedicated to the struggle against Batista, to make a modest print run of this other book that has inspired so much enthusiasm in him!

*Translator’s note: Mesa Redonda is a weekly current events/debate roundtable discussion program. Before taking ill, Fidel Castro was an almost permanent fixture, along with other rotating guest panelists (depending on the week’s topic) and the program’s regular panelists and moderator.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 31, 2010

Cuba’s Theatrical Metaphors / Miguel Iturria Savón

A friend from Miami told me over the internet last Friday, that in July he saw two theatrical works representing the island in festivals in the United States, “where there is a real invasion of Cuban artists, including orchestras, troubadours, reggaetoneros, and dance and theater groups, almost all very good, although some are irritating due to the ambivalence of their music or the statements they make, not thinking that here there are no issues of ‘enemy propaganda’ or ‘ideological diversionism’.”

The theater groups representing Cuba in the United States were El Público and Buendía, both revitalizing collectives due to their way of making and conceiving of theater. The former performed The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, shown as part of GLBT Performing Arts Theater’s “Out in the Tropics,” at the Colony Theater of Miami Beach. The latter performed their versions of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, premiered in Havana and seen now at the Latino Festival of Theater, organized each year by the Goodman Theater of Chicago, from where they went on to perform at the Manuel Artime Miami stage.

I won’t tackle the three proposals, whose focuses, montages, and spell-casting strategies reveal the plurality of Cuban theater, marked by universal and local themes, austere stage settings, and dialogue that implicates the audience, whose eagerness is visible in Havana’s halls.

I’ll focus on The Visit of the Old Dame, a cruel and stark comedy rewritten by Flora Lauten (director) and Raquel Carrió (adviser) based upon the original by the German author, Friedrich Durrenmatt. The original plotline is preserved, but with a smaller cast that condenses characters and changes some details of language and narrative style, which suits its proximity to our Cuban reality.

With The Visit of the Old Dame, Buendía offered a theatrical metaphor of Cuban daily life, marked by confinement, misery, and intolerance. After decades of exile, now wealthy Clara Zajanin returns to the impoverished town of Gula, where she’s received as a prodigy child and future omen. She evokes her shadowy and frustrated past, the betrayal of a young-lover-turned-town-mayor, who will be the target of her vengeance, while the townspeople who once detested her now flatter her in hopes of loans and other favors.

Such an expansive scenic view would seem a pretext to create a dialogue with the public about the problems that erode human existence, recreated by the magic of theater, with excellent performances, live music that enhances the nostalgia in Martha Strada’s mythical voice, and illuminating references to the island’s context. For Buendía‘s cast, it’s as if foreign plays serve to support our imaginariums and utopias, the way to deal with that which is mythic and ordinary and to polemicize the present and future.

There’s an overflow of charm and splendid performances upon that altarpiece of scenic passions, where comedy wins the bout over tragedy and the masks reveal something of the mythic and the ordinary, without evading the problems of the present and future.

Those of us who follow the island’s theater scene know that Buendía Theater, founded in 1986 by the actor and professor Flora Lauten, is grounded in an intelligent selection of works, whose versions reach the public and speak to them of the issues, challenges, and circumstances that can move their lives.
The favorable reception by the public and critics in Chicago and Miami of The Visit of the Old Dame and Charenton, Buendía‘s recent works, will likely stimulate the further creative research of this drama collective, with their headquarters in the Coptic church on Loma and 39th Streets, in Havana’s Plaza municipality, where their sessions are held, along with their Research Workshop and Center for the Education of Actors, Directors, and Technicians.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 16, 2010

Hatuey* in Flames… / Henry Constantín

[Translator’s note: This post apparently got posted in the original missing the beginning… whether it starts in the middle of a sentence, a paragraph, we don’t know, as we haven’t been able to get in touch with Henry. If he adds the rest, we’ll add it here… but given internet access in Cuba… or lack of same… readers are advised not to hold their breath.]

but without the Catholic clergy or the heroism: the town where my father and grandfather were born has been consuming itself for years in that bonfire of miserable and faded Macondos, which for almost a half century have been sizzling and crackling throughout this island.

Alcibiades’ store was the most prosperous in town. Of the three or four there were, it was the best stocked: fine canned fruit-preserves from Europe, wines, spicy sausages and hams, crackers, and soft drinks of the best domestic and international brands… you didn’t even have to go with the exact amount of money: no matter how poor the buyer was, it was enough to be a person of your word to take home all that was necessary, and pay later, with no hurry.

With that method of honest work and duty, which did work back then, my grandfather made up for his almost nonexistent academic education. Long before the era of eternal promises had arrived, Alcibiades Constantín was already a respected member of the Order of Caballero de la Luz and the people of the region, who trusted in then President Grau San Martín’s sense of Cuban identity, had elected him to represent them. His discreet economic prosperity allowed him to help the local 26 of July Movement rebels. While he lived in Hatuey, he never ceased to work as a laborer in the Najasa sugar mill.

A short while ago, I returned to his town, the first one crossed by the central railroad line – to which it owes its existence – that goes from Camagüey to Oriente. Of course, all dust and teetering wooden houses. There’s nothing to eat on the streets, because there’s nothing to buy, except little government sandwiches surrounded by flies. Every night, every evening, every weekend, bored men and the remaining youth get together in any old place, in a doorway or under the trees in the plaza to drink rum, talk about the lives they don’t lead, and drink rum.

An obedient creature showed up that morning in 1968 in my grandfather’s store, with a piece of paper in hand: “Alcibiades, starting today this is owned by the people. Only thus will we all have a better future.”

* Translator’s note: Hatuey was a Taíno chieftain who has attained legendary status for having led an indigenous resistance in Cuba against the invading Spanish colonialists, thus gaining among Cubans the historical distinction of “First Rebel of the Americas”. He was eventually captured by the Spaniards and burned at the stake. There is also the Cuban town of the same name (presumably named after the chieftain) featured in this post, which the author makes use of as a pun.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 28, 2010

In Cuba, Many Don’t Share the Attitude of Some Ex-prisoners in Spain / Iván García

The initial joy over the release and flight to Spain of some 20 prisoners and a substantial number of their relatives, has given way to a certain malaise over the news that’s reached the island from different sources on the Iberian peninsula.

It hasn’t gone over well, not within the dissident community, nor among those with the highest access to information in Havana, that many of those former political prisoners, in less than 48 hours after their arrival in Madrid, began to complain publicly.

First, it was over the accommodations, then they started demanding to be granted political asylum status, because they rejected the “assisted international protection” status, proposed by Spanish authorities.

Moreover, one group refuses to be sent to other cities, as almost a dozen already have done. To be sure, almost all of those who accepted a move to Andalusia, Valencia, and La Rioja are professionals: doctors, dentists, nurses, art teachers…

The Madrid group has dug in its heels and, with the advice of an attorney, not only have they questioned the Spanish Constitution, they consider themselves within their rights to submit their protest to the Public Defender.

“What upsets me most is that they’re giving the impression that all of us Cubans are ungrateful, and it’s not true. Because if there’s a people with which we’ve always sympathized with, it’s with the people of Spain”, said an indignant

María Rosa, age 56, home-maker, who stays in the know through foreign radio stations.

A dissident who preferred to remain anonymous, thinks that these prisoners and their families, on top of giving the Cuban dissidents’ and political prisoners’ movement a bad image, are being manipulated. “According to what I’ve read, the Partido Popular (Spain’s leading right-wing party), as well as long-established Cuban exiles, has been using them. And it’s a shame, because these men have just been freed after seven years of being locked up and they find themselves misinformed. And that misinformation has been taken advantage of for [the Partido Popular’s and Cuba exiles’] political interests,” he stated.

Lorenzo, age 23, university student, had the opportunity to browse the Internet and was able to read commentaries left by readers of Spanish online news media. “I felt ashamed, because you don’t spit on the hand that offers you food. More so, when you come from a prison and a country with so much hardship. And over there, they’re making demands, as if here they’d been living in mansions in Miramar or Nuevo Vedado.”

There are all kinds of opinions. Yarisleidys, age 20, street-hustler, lamented not having been able to get with a political prisoner in jail, since maybe now she would’ve been able to leave with him for Spain.

When I tell her that if they release the 52 the Cuban government promised, there’d still be nearly 100 political prisoners in jail, she responds: “Oh, yeah? Well, look here, I’m gonna get on these guys’ side, I don’t care if they’re old and sick. What I want is to get the hell outta this country.”

In politics, as with sports, one has to wait til the game ends before chanting victory. Those who protest today in Spain, not only should have shown themselves to be more grateful, they should’ve hung in there until the rest of the prisoners were out from behind bars, either on the island or en route to exile.

At any moment the Castro brothers may decide to blow the whistle, and declare the game ended before the clock’s time.

Iván García

Photo: EPA. Meeting held by ex-President José María Aznar with the group of former political prisoners and their relatives on July 28, 2010, in Madrid.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 20, 2010

Live Culture at Casa Gaia / Miguel Iturría Savón

There’s a discrepancy between the sign board and program schedule at the Casa Gaia, located in Teniente Rey, between Águila and Cuba Streets in the historic quarter of Havana. That’s where art and thought now come together, but the sign board at the entrance announces the staging of Flechas del Ángel del Olvido (The Angel of Oblivion’s Arrows), scheduled to run Friday through Sunday until 29 November, under the direction of Esther Cardoso Villanueva, the director of the center.

Maybe it’s hard to take down the sign board. Perhaps the play continues to be on the sign board with sporadic interruptions and new options for patrons. Maybe it’s a strategy to avoid chaos on the premise, the top floor of which holds hundreds of people.

I myself am happy, since from Friday, July 23, to Sunday, July 25, I was invited by phone to the series of activities that the “dialogue among friends” disseminates under the title Estado de Sats (The State of Sats), which signifies “being attentive, awake and conscious of real transformation” in order to expand “open exchange and diversity as principal resources.”

There were three days of open discussions and lectures. Cuba and the future as the central theme. There were visual arts presentations, conferences, audiovisual projections, and concerts. A large crowd, in spite of the outdated sign board.

A collective exhibit of visual arts was launched on Friday at 8:00pm in the Vivarta Studio-theater, located in the Plaza de Carlos III shopping mall, under the title Recargable (Rechargable), with works by 15 young artists, one from Spain and another from Taiwan. The works alone are worthy of appreciation and deserve exhaustive commentary.

From the cinema, on Saturday at 8:00pm, Sats screened the documentary Memorias del Desarrollo (Memories of Development) by Miguel Coyula, who, through analysis and manipulation of images conveys the alienation of the individual and reflects upon how art reflects reality. The film was described by Sundance Film Festival as a “subliminal and cinematic collage that forges new cinematographic dimensions by way of multiple expository levels that intercept one another in a sort of picaresque saga about desire and decadence.”

The open discussions, conferences and presentations regarding cultural projects merit a special mention. On Friday morning Prof. Carlos Simón Forcade presented “Imagination and Growth within the Cuban Social Project”; following him was Antonio Correa Iglesias, PhD, and undergrad Ana María Socarrás Piñón with the topics, “Epistemology, Cognitive Sciences and Neural Networks: towards a Plural Zone in the Building of Knowledge” and “Contemporary Cuban Art or The 70s Generation?: Alternative Projects vs. the Visual Arts in Offcial Media”. In the evening, the AISHA Company project was held, as was the Art and Society Open Discussion with writer Víctor Fowler as moderator, and performances by Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico, Luis Eligio Pérez, Maylin Machado, and Glenda Salazar.

On Saturday morning Dr. Antonio G. Rodiles presented “Complexity and Society”, while Carmelo Mesa-Lago by way of video projection, dealt with “The Economy of Cuba at the Crossroads: External and Internal Crisis”. In the evening, the “Raise the Voices” project and the Economy and Society open discussions occurred, with Hiram Hernández, Jorge Calaforra, Ramón García, and the quoted A.G. Rodiles.

On Sunday morning, the engineer Jorge Calaforra explained the “Cuban and Global Perspective for 2030” and Dr. Alexis Jardines presented “Cuba: Premodernity and Thinktanks”, referring to Western liberal democracies, ethical schisms in the national project, and factors such as the island’s intellectual potential and a thesis on the hollowness of “capitalism” and “socialism” as concepts. The evening session belonged to the “OMNI-FREE TRADE ZONE” and an open discussion about “Futures and Visions of Cuba”, lead by Castor Álvarez, Dimitri Prieto, Gabriel Calahorra, and Romina Ruiz.

The Casa Gaia sessions on Art and Thought culminated on Sunday night with the “A Good Thing Jam Session”, described by organizers as a “spectacle of textures and fragments as vehicles of national history and identity”, with rotating, projected images and rhythmic counterpoint music (jazz, hip-hop), all falling somewhere along the spectrum of blunt emotionalism (Raudel Eskuadrón Patriótico) and sensible civility (trova and danceable elements).

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 3, 2010