The Borders of Choco / Miguel Iturria Savón

The Villa Manuela Gallery extended until the end of November the exhibition Beyond the border, of the painter and engraver Eduardo Roca Salazar (Choco), who according to N. Echevarria, “returns to drawing and even makes a foray into three dimensionality through a set of “sculptured” figures, the inclusion of “Choir” (2010), anchored in earlier works, in which collagraphy forms a structural axis.”

Choco, like Fabelo, Medive or Sosabravo is an artist with his own style and identity, indeed quite oversized. He belongs to the generation of the seventies and studied at the School of Art Instructors and the National Art School, which, combined with his talent and hard work opened institutional spaces within and outside the island.

His resume includes prizes, citations and awards for his prints in exhibitions in Bulgaria, Cuba, Spain and Japan; personal and collective exhibitions in and beyond our island, and works in collections of museums and art institutes in Havana, Chicago, Mexico, Palma de Mallorca, Tama, Kochi (Japan) and Germany.

Human representation is at the center of the eleven pieces that Choco displays, which plunges us into the imaginary intimacy of dark syncretic faces, reaffirmed in earth tones, natural sienna, black and white as a contrast. Their faces and asymmetric bodies — male, female or hybrids — seem to say that beauty is in the information and the artistic sense, highlighted by the relationship between figure and background.

Although Choco studied painting and triumphed with his prints, years ago he showed a preference for collagraphy and sculptures of glued paper, which require perseverance, craft, and a love of manual meticulousness, enriched by the composition and the work of color in each offering, whose corporeality and expression infers eroticism and vitality.

His geometric symbolism in “Reflejos” (2004-2010), made up of four medium-sized pieces of mixed media, appears as if looking through glass, not water. In these profiles can be seen traces of African features, palpable in a previous series of great visual intensity, such as the sculptures “Juegos de Cabeza” and “Bemba Colora”, tied to the ethnic origin of the creator.

The sculpture “Abrazos” (glued paper of 158 by 40 and 22 cm), asymmetric and symbolic, demonstrates mastery of the body and offers readings that break from the sensuality and texture of the piece; while in “La Siesta”, a work of background and figure, the color and technique enhance the expression, enriched by stripes, lines and numerical indications that hint at hidden messages.

In mixed-media creations such as “Beyond the Border “, “The Wall That Surrounds Us”, “Silence” and “Torso”, Choco demonstrates his figurative mastery in the exploration of the tactile, addressed in a number of sculptures, prints and collagraphs that travel from lyricism to a subtle everyday intimacy, but evade other realities.


Translated by Rick Schwag

November 28 2010

(No Title) / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Time, love, music and ideas changes. Sex, god, color, borders, changed. But nothing could change itself. The Cuban night creeps as cold as a tracheotomy choking on words or a hole the diameter of a thimble in your temple. You are at risk for tick tock, you are at risk of bang bang, you are at risk of me. Sooner or later we all all have to kill magnificently. It’s like a miracle. We overcame life, but not old age.

Saturdays are blue. Sundays are sad. The heart a rotten orange. The doors are for forever. The songs are not enough. The walls are wastelands. We were not born here. The clocks still strike too loud. If everything was as easy as closing your eyes and waking up, for example, in January 1972. Or in December 3010, for example. Or never, the hardest. Or when you like, but not today, please.

Give me your hand, the shakiest one, the one almost without pulse, the fastest pulse. Fever without faith. The Revolution is an amber dream. Honey of forgetfulness. My eyes can’t reach you now, blurred as you go toward the city. While they they kill their citizens more with machetes (all of winter is criminal by concept). While their mannequin bodies fit less in the beds. While the cheap bedspread of lies of the soul fits less in their bodies. Ah, impossible to sleep with the memory of Cuba in your head. Breath, relax, pray. To help you forget the damage. It’s impossible. To help you forget the urge to destroy. Still at time the nightmares are preferable to ruminating on reality.

And it tried to be free and beautiful and true and good. It tried to live dangerously. Bleeding before weightlessness. Walking the tightrope of unknown abysses and nameless trees, bypassing the tedium of the sun and the mediocre tropical light, skiing in lakes deeper than the candor of its eyes that still don’t reach me while more clearly it becomes this city.

And it tried to be creative and not change time or love or music or ideas. And not change sex or god or color or borders. But all all all is turmoil. The old European night burst words put on images and monstrous black holes that are still the diameter of a thimble drawn on its temple, all all all its childhood terrors fit within, and even room to spare for pleasure, depleted quickly if you look a second time, and then all that is left is blind escape to another nowhere where you encounter this silence called freedom.

November 19 2010

Searching the Air of Cuba / Claudia Cadelo

Text: Boris González Arenas

Photo: Leandro Feal
See, see how from the ground
rising magnificent in flight
searching the air of Cuba.
“One Palm” Luis R. Nogueras

We don’t play with freedom. We spend our whole lives thinking about the danger of losing it, that once it is lost it is impossible to rescue it. Many ideologies come to the aid of the censors. It’s so easy to cover up the crime with the feeling of necessity.

But freedom is like the palm and even tyrants suffocate without air.

My country is a topic of great interest. On one side, us, for whom the interest goes hand in hand with the urgency, and on the other, foreigners, who, for whatever reason, suffer with us.

The analysis of Cuba has sped up in recent years, since the Raul Castro’s leadership has made the central focus — rhetorically — what to do with strategies vital to Cubans: change.

Among recent analyses I came across recently was one written by Guillermo Almeyra. “Cuba: a dangerous and contradictory document” is the title and the document is the third part of a reflection on the “Draft Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy,” recently circulated by the Cuban government without many knowing whether it informs or confuses. But this is already what Mr. Almeyra says when he describes it as contradictory.

With regards to the classification of “dangerous,” Mr. Almeyra devotes his article to describing it. Extremely critical and respectable, the article points out the incomprehensible finding that the structural changes of great importance are those by the State, at the margins of society and the Communist Party, delegating to those who should be the source of social analysis, the diminished role of receptors. The author uses Leninist theory to remind us that the State responds to the class interests of those who overflow the margins of the society it administers. The society administered should be provided, then, with effective mechanisms of control to dampen the enthusiasms which are the province of the State.

The author also points out the shameless attitude of distancing themselves from the social policies that tended to mitigate inequalities among citizens, as if these were errors from the past. An attitude that has contributed to deepening the despair and frustration.

Infamous military privileges, the vile excesses of bureaucrats, the power of a schizoid and good-natured Raul, none of this escapes, with equally harsh words, Almeyra’s critique.

Now, when a bunch of senile leaders must face the consequences of their self-extinction, is when they come forward with the essential strenuous measures for a starving citizenry, without acknowledging, without even a hint of severe criticism of themselves, those who have autocratically and cruelly led a suffering society.

Almeyra says this with the words and theoretical references required, and so earns my complete respect.

My disagreements with him are nothing major, but I want to record them.

In his text the writer ignores that no Communist Party congresses have been held for more than ten years in Cuba, and that in them unanimity is the rule and through them Fidel weaves the cover of many betrayals.

There is a certain attempt to find Cuban authoritarian procedures novel, or at least aggravated, says Almeyra in a circulated document that never mentions the word “worker.” I don’t think the average Cuban would be much affected by this omission, either because he has much more serious things to think about or, and I think this is the real reason, because the word “worker” ceased to have any significance, decades ago, for a citizen used to surviving at the margin on low-paying and discouraging jobs.

There are other points where I disagree with Almeyra, more at the margin of my convergence with this deep critique, which demonstrate that the ideological debate is not a confrontation of conceits. I refer, at the beginning of his article, to “the enemies of the revolutionary process,” an overly confrontational tone what seeks to keep alive the old antagonisms between revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries, in a country where the greatest urgency is life faced with the criminal  irresponsibility of the Castro regime. The alarming rates of population decline, the deterioration of civic dignity, the tendency to emigrate and the lack of commitment, will be the real legacy of Fidel Castro, the principle threat to a Cuban whose extinction is not merely a symbolic issue.

When he says, later, that the Mariel Boatlift was the end of the Cuban bourgeoisie… in reality, here I have no words. To call the tens of thousands of Cubans who left, desperate, in an excruciating and hungry decade (I can’t find many more words for the seventies in Cuba) — accompanied by political activists who were invited to exchange exasperating prison cells for exile, common prisoners who received passes to take advantage of the situation and who were mixed in with psychiatrist patients, gays, and “alternative” Cuban men and women — to call these people “the Cuban bourgeoisie” at a time when we now know that in this same era the elite of the Castro regime enjoyed an army of unsuspected privileges, is simply, in my opinion, irresponsible and unjustifiable.

Nonetheless, this effort by Almeyra is magnificent. With the entire left indisposed to intellectual production in a Cuba faced with the imminent advent of democracy, where the palms of liberty are already more than mere shoots, the ground could be left open to threats of future perversions.

Boris González Arenas
20 December 2010

Note: this article is the first of a three-part series in which Boris opines with regards to three publications that explore the Cuban issue, and the current state of politics on the island.

January 2, 2010

The Empire of Uncertainty / Laritza Diversent

The Cuban landscape remains clouded by uncertainty, principally due to measures undertaken by the government this year, so that their chicks learn to fly and make their own living. Most alarming to the people, is the elimination of ration quota.

The President of the Council of State, in introducing the issue of ration card in his most recent speech, spoke of transforming erroneous and unsustainable conceptions about socialism, consequences of the paternalistic approach which created the revolution.

After nearly half a century, the historic leadership recognizes that the distribution mechanism is an expression of egalitarianism that leads to practices of exchange. Some of the subsidized products, such as powdered milk for children under 7 and coffee, are resold in the “black market.”

The 115 gram coffee packet, which the state sells at a subsidized price of 5 pesos, formerly cost 10 on the black market. Currently it is over 13 pesos. In the foreign currency market, 250 grams of powdered milk costs more than 3.45 convertible pesos, about 86.25 Cuban pesos.

One kilogram of powdered milk in foreign currency stores costs more than 5 convertible pesos (125 Cuban pesos), has a subsidized price of 2 Cuban pesos. In the informal market it was worth 25 pesos, and is now around 40.

Many wonder if the end of the ration book will be the end of shortages and the criminal measures to control the socialist distribution. But the economic scenario says otherwise. The prices of agricultural products soared in the last quarter. A pound of beans, a staple of the population, which used to cost 6 to 12 pesos, is now from 15 to 23.

On the black market there is the same trend. Oil that costs 1.10 in hard currency (27.50 pesos in national money), was 20 pesos on the black market but is now 25. This shows that scarcity has generated speculation, and hoarding — in the words of the person who is also Communist Party Second Secretary — is also increasing. The same thing that forced the State to establish the ration quotas in the first place. As historic as the very existence of the Revolution.

In 1962, the Revolutionary government, led then as it is now by current historical leaders, promulgated Law 1035 which addressed speculative and hoarding activity defined as the acquisition, transport and possession of agricultural products in excess of eleven and a half kilograms (25 pounds) in one week. The law imposed penalties of 180 days imprisonment.

Since then, the purchase of goods for resale and profit is the crime of speculation. Anyone who holds or transports products in excess of those required for their ordinary needs, commits a crime. The offenses regulated in the Penal Code, are aggravated with penalties ranging from 3 months to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 1500 pesos.

Other government regulations took to the extreme the situations in which these crimes are considered to have been committed. Decree 141 of March 24, 1988, establishes as a misdemeanor against the National Economy, punishable by a fine, the acquisition of goods or other articles for the purpose of reselling them for profit, even of low economic significance.

The People’s Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the transportation of tobacco and coffee in any amount can constitute the crime of hoarding. In 1985, it ruled that the acquisition of any class of goods for resale was the crime of speculation.

The Attorney General’s Office of the Republic, in 1993, declared that proceeding with judicial or administrative measures, in cases of possession or transportation of goods, requires an evaluation, taking into account the quantity, the type of product, the situation regarding its supply through normal channels, whether or not there is sufficient justification for possessing it, and the intended destination and personal circumstances of the offender.

None of these laws has caused people to cease engaging in trade and resale. Even the younger Castro spoke of “eliminating the irrational prohibitions that have been in effect for years, which don’t take into account the circumstances and create a breeding ground for multiple actions outside the law.” Time will tell if in the empire of uncertainty, his words become reality.

January 4 2011

Of Che and His “New Man” / Iván García

Photo: Taken from the blog Listen Recovery Crew

The formation of the ‘New Man’ has been a sterile task in Cuba. His precursor, Ernesto Che Guevara, was convinced that in the future society they were creating on the island they had to start by designing a human being from the laboratory.

Che, a Maoist and radical revolutionary, dreamed and thought it possible, that the iron fist was necessary to discipline the Cuban populace; yet he had a reputation for being funny, and a slob with a tendency towards laziness, indiscipline.

According to Guevara, these Creoles given to parties and carnivals, promiscuity and sexism, needed a revolution with a dose of repression and terror which would permit the construction of socialism.

The Argentine tried it. During the little time he was minister and an important man in national politics, besides ordering executions in the full and humid moats in the La Cabaña fortress, he imposed volunteer work, moral stimulation, and other methods he read about in his Marxist essays.

Until he realized that fabricating test tube men who were monogamous and didn’t move their hips to the rhythm of the drums was an impossible mission on an island of sun, liquor, and enjoyment. Che had a bulletproof faith. But his friend Fidel Castro was of another nature.

El comandante was a pragmatist with an inflated ego, a narcissist who saw in guys like Che and the communist ideology the best way to design a lasting and effective power. Guevara then went out on his own. To the guerrilla life and the training of killing machines that would annihilate Americans pitilessly in whatever part of the world.

He put his life on the line and died, trying to prove his truths. That was in 1967 in the Bolivian jungle. After his death, he was turned into a giant worldwide marketing operation.

Cuban through and through, Castro knew that modifying the souls of his countrymen, given to santería and not taking things seriously, was a subject for the naive. To dominate for more than a half century, he has used false moralities, fear, prisons, and a pinch of idealism.

Of the ‘New Man’ that Che Guevara dreamed about not even an atom remains. Almost all Cubans steal something from their workplaces, from a light bulb to a piece of paper. When someone starts a new job, they aren’t interested in what it pays, rather how much they can swipe.

Few followers remain. In historic facts and anniversaries of his death, the masks come out and in the morning meetings at their workplaces or in public acts, their voices catch in their throats and they put themselves on autopilot and even get emotional when they speak of Che.

Since birth, young people live under the sign of perennial crisis and phantom wars against the Yankees. Many devote themselves to prostitution or pimping. Or perhaps they’re gays in search of sex, drugs and with luck, ties with a foreigner. A few are opponents of the regime, independent journalists, or bloggers.

For these tired and discredited Cubans, the true New Men are guys like Aroldis Chapman, Kendry Morales, or Issac Delgado, who knew to take advantage of opportunity and are now making money. Speaking of the ‘New Man’ is a joke of poor taste in Cuba in 2011.

Photo: Taken from the blog Listen Recovery Crew

January 2 2011

The Government Encourages Migration and Xenophobia in the Capital / Laritza Diversent

Forty-three year old Ana Luisa Millares, a native of Holguin province, has been living for less than 8 years in a neighborhood in the capital. No one knows how, in such little time, she was able to get a phone line and a mission in Venezuela. She returned with all sorts of electrical equipment and with sufficient money to construct her house in less than 12 months.

Quite a few neighbors are actually bothered by the increased quality of life of Mrs. Millares. In an entire lifetime, many have not been able to achieve what this woman has. With a very disrespectful tone, and behind her back, they call her “the Palestinian”. This nickname has always been used by those who were born in the capital to refer to people who come from the Eastern region of the country.

Migration, mainly from the countryside to the capital, is determined firstly by difference in economic and social development from different regions of the country. Meanwhile, the government overlooks the Eastern natives, and they undertake the work which people from the capital reject.

Very little is spoken about this, if anything at all. At present day, there exist no sociological analysis which explain the mistrust of Eastern-born Cubans by Havana natives. In fact, legal norms installed by the government put in place to halt immigration to the capital, like the case of Decree 217 from the Executive Committee Ministry, actually promote this apathetic sentiment.

Some explain the situation through historical events. According to what they say, when the guerrilla fighters, who were mostly Easterners, arrived to Havana in January 1959, they destroyed the capital. As they became the dominant group, they took over all the best land and property of the city for themselves and for each of their family members. Since then, the situation is as the song by Los Van Van says, “Havana can’t take it anymore”.

Among Havana residents, there exists another hypothesis to explain this situation. Some suggest that it is an issue of idiosyncrasy. This notion states that Eastern natives are generally staunch supporters of the government, and at the same time the most hypocritical ones. In order to avoid the fury of inspectors from the Department of Confrontation because of her illegal structures under the Municipal Housing Direction, Ana Luisa assumed presidency of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.

To back up such a thesis, they mention that the main government members of the island nominate and choose themselves through Eastern territories. Also, it is a reality that Eastern residents are the ones that mostly make up the repressive force against the people of the capital, the police. Such a job is rejected by capital natives, even before the Revolution triumphed.

This has even been acknowledged by the President of the State Council, Raul Castro, in his speech given during the closing of the first parliamentary session of 2008, when he assured that “if Easterners don’t come to take care of those in Havana, then robbery will thrive.” This phrase has more than just one interpretation.

In truth, it is the government itself that encourages migration from other regions of the country towards the capital. Castro, also the top General of the Military, asked, “Who will construct and build in Havana if people from all over the country don’t come, especially those from the East? Even teachers must be brought from the interior provinces, especially form the East. And I think the capital is the one which harbors most inhabitants.”

This situation has led to the phenomenon that in Havana, the capital of all Cubans, Eastern natives are more vulnerable from a sociological point of view. In fact, some attitudes can be considered as xenophobic. In all of this, the government is the culprit. On one hand, they halt migration by violating fundamental rights of people, while on the other hand they promote it, at their convenience.

Translated by Raul G.

January 2 2011

Fool Me Once… / Laritza Diversent

Raul Castro holds up a rose at the closing ceremony of the National Assembly. AP.

I don’t know if everyone who chanced to hear or read Raul Castro’s latest speech felt as I did, shocked and somewhat confused. I didn’t know if I was hearing a man who is really a reformist, or if it was just more of the same. Perhaps it was all about my desire to hear the word change.

On a first read through, I discovered a man who talked of an inclusive future, “We will proceed, make, grow, continue…” he said. Who confessed to being a fighter against the State secrecy. He even quoted Bible verses, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” and Incan ethical principles, “Do not lie, steal, be lazy.”

The President of the Council of State spoke of equality of all before the law and the responsibility of those who commit “a crime in Cuba without regard to position. Whomever it may be,” he said, “will have to face the consequences of their mistakes and the weight of justice.” He, however, feels he has the right to correct (or not) with impunity the mistakes committed over five decades of the construction of socialism.

The younger Castro brother said he will put an end to failures and excesses. The historic leader will not tolerate justifications, inaccuracies or lies from officials at any level. “The compañeros who give false information will be permanently removed and even tossed out of the Party if they are active in it,” he said.

As an example he offered the dismissals of Jorge Luis Sierra Cruz, Yadira García Vera and Pedro Sáez Montejo who held important posts in the leadership of the Party and the Government, “for assuming powers that did not belong to them and that led to serious errors in leadership.”

I would be interesting to know what he himself was doing when these events occurred, as Second Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and as head of State and of the Government. Maybe it was his own, evaded, fault for not putting these officials before the courts.

The historic leader recognized that freedom to criticize is a right that cannot be denied anyone, but Gag Law 88/99 remains in effect, and severely penalizes the exercise of free speech.

He spoke of open discussions, debates freed from dogma and unworkable schemes, of not excluding divergent views, but conditioned everything to a specific scenario. He will accept differences of opinion, provided they are — “preferably” — expressed at the opportune time, in the correct way, and at the proper place.

He also recognized that the State does not have role in relationships between private individuals, but it does decide what can be bought and sold in society. He affirmed that self-employment will free people to carry out activities relating to the supply of goods and services, but he did not relinquish control over them. And it is the government that decides what and how this sector should operate, and in what way and under what organizational methods it will function.

Raul Castro’s speech seemed to me to be about reform, and at the same time chameleonic and surrealistic. On reading his words a second time, my confusion disappeared, as did my hopes for change. As my analysis progressed and deepened, my subconscious got stuck on an old saying: “Fool me once…”

This article originally appeared in Diaro de Cuba.

January 3, 2011

Postponed Promises / Reinaldo Escobar

Ayestaran Cottages: First stage at the end of November 2007. Second stage, still incomplete, July 2010.

Cuban leaders should have learned the lesson that you can’t commit to dates you don’t have the ability to meet. I will not illustrate this post by referring to the Santiago de Cuba aqueduct, nor to the Ayestarán cottages (see this blog for November 30, 2008), but rather to the expiration of two promises with fixed dates, both having to do with prisoner releases.

Former president Fidel Castro, guided by his eternal triumphalism, announced that the five Ministry of Interior combatants imprisoned in the United States would be back with their families by December 2010. President Raul Castro, for his part, proclaimed in early July 2010 that within three or four months the Black Spring prisoners still incarcerated would be released.

Anyone can understand why the first promise wasn’t kept, among other reasons because in the United States there is that damned thing democracies have called separation of powers, and because a “presidential pardon” is too valuable to waste on something unpopular with American voters. But the second, made by the second, cannot be justified in any way.

I confess to having committed the sin of naiveté because I was among those who believed that it was almost impossible not to keep a promise whose deadline was so close, though I always considered it might be extended.

We all (including Cardinal Jaime Ortega) had the illusion that this Christmas would be the dividing line between two eras. We believed in the sign, but what seemed like a star announcing the birth of new political conduct, generous and tolerant of dissenting voices, was nothing more than a flickering flame of artifice. Leave the country or you will remain in prison! And if this wasn’t finally the glad tidings from the government, may someone clarify it for me and prove me wrong.

January 3, 2011

UNLIMITED READINGS / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

HOWLABANA (Allen Ginsberg howls back in La Habana)

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

[Performed in La Madriguera (Finca de Los Molinos), at 9 PM in Friday 18 September 2009, as a part of the poetry reading of Mundo Beatnik/Hippie.]

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelhead hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of coldwater flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.

He visto las mejores mentes y mierdas de mi generación destruidas por la locura y el lujo de la lujuria, tipos destituidos de un plumazo hipócrita del poder o tatuados para siempre por la pobreza política. Clamando por jama en una internet intervenida, escuadrones de una paz sepulcral que en silencio orgulloso son entrevistados por la policía o con un punzonazo de barrio pobre al Habanecer. Poetas patéticos que se achicharraron las venas con bulbos de agua bendita, intentando en vano reconectarse demoníacamente con la droga patriótica de dios mientras escuchaban un jazz jodido en la escala monocromática del Revolución.

Who bared their brains to Heaven under El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-like tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull, who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their publics beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York.

Universitarios de ideas geniales y ortografía de escuela primaria Nguyen van Troi, fetos paternalizados que se escondieron en los evangelios o se atoraron con la Torah o en una aleya ilegible de un comunismo de Corán, alucinando en un manantial muerto de Matanzas o en una finca cannabis de Baracoa, apendejados en calzoncillos en un baño albañal de tren interprovincial, quemando billetes fotocopiados y, la oreja que no se cortaron, pegada a las paredes para espiar al vecino que los espía al otro lado del telón de azúcar o la muralla del deber, chicos de bien, dejados al margen del Estado (cuando no demasiado reclutados por el Estado), guerreros de chupachups y play-station y móviles de Motorola, expulsados como un esputo de la Facultad de Filología por publicar la parodia obscena de una enseña nacional que se les ensañó: fuera la bandera bucólica del aburrido Byrne o el trapo de trapear del promiscuo Poveda.

Who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams, with drugs, with walking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo, who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge, a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills off Empire State out the moon, yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars, whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement, who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall.

Comiendo cal o bebiendo aguarrás en cucarachentos hoteles de buena muerte, sus torsos de pájaros intelectuales de noche en derroche con sueños de semen y sabiduría, pesadillas de pingas, pastillas de vieja para roncar en el purgatorio social, temblando bajo los relámpagos de la noche migratoria caribe, caníbales en balsa que son castrados por los traficantes cubanoamericanos de Cancún, iluminándose con la ilusión de recobrar un tiempo perversamente perdido, hirviendo la flor de la campana en las vaquerías de hongos y los cementerios donde se cocinó y calcinó el hombre nuevo, borrachos de té en las azoteas, dando sermones anticuados de 70 horas sobre la transición de los semáforos digitales que sustituyeron a los analógicos, sudando su brillantez en un parqueo sin parquímetro o en parques zoológicos de tan fauna fósil como fiel, comando de conversacionalistas comemierdas (del museo al manicomio, siempre sin escaleras de incendio por donde escapar), vomitando sus anécdotas de policlínicos y calabozos y cines republicanos convertidos en dojos de wushu o zazen y sinagogas tan útiles como una visa para fugar a Israel.

Who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts, who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night, who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kaballa because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas, who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstacy, who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup, who reappeared in the West Coast investigating the F.B.I. in beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets.

Vagando entre las líneas férreas nacionalizadas. Fumando cigarros en CUC que aún paga aquel abuelo que fue viceministro de Comercio Interior, rompiendo culos pero no corazones, mirando sin montar una caravana de limosinas Mercedes por el malecón, cogiendo botellas hasta Satán Clara para ponerle un ramito raquítico de nomeolvides al Ché y travestirse en el mejunje de una orgía institucional, leyendo después a Plotino y a Poe y a San Juan y Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz antes de que el G-2 les decomise los libros, con sus barbas y sayas y gafitas y enormes ojos pacifistas al otro lado del vidrio de la patrulla, escribiendo y distribuyendo gratis sus incomprensibles panfletos sobre la poesía performativa y el perdón universal.

Who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism, who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed, who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before the machinery of other skeletons, who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty intoxication, who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts, who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy, who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love.

Mamando y dejando mamar las morrongas de los marinos, a falta de marines, aullando en el metro de la Habana que iban a cavar como una trampa o trinchera en los sótanos de la Plaza de la Revolución. Despavoridos en la noche de las tijeras largas en la heladería Coppelia, donde pedir dos bolas de fresa, imperfectas como testículos, era entonces sinónimo de un acta de advertencia predelincuencial. Tirándose de cabeza de los pasillos aéreos de las becas sin conseguir con ese escándalo ser más ingrávidos, pesar un poco menos, flotar un poco más en la espuma socialipsista de los días, falaces y sin logar ser ni tampoco dejar de ser, como en las consignas de concreto, 100% felices aquí.
Who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music, who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology, who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom, who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, who cut their wrists three time successively unsuccessfully, who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways.

Criaturas nocturnas parametradas bajo el demasiado y desasido sol tropical, poniendo cuñitos en una oficoda o biblioteca de municipio, empujando un carromato de bisuterías minoristas del MINIT o barriendo en el cementerio el más reciente y rebosante panteón militar del MININT, tosiendo bajo los cielos tuberculosos de los setenta, con penicilina inyectada gratis para paliar las gonorreas del proletariado, declarándose vegetarianos en los ochenta después de leer un largo artículo al respecto en Sputnik. Pioneros de la perestroika y giles de la glasnot, les salió el tiro por el ojo de la culata y volvieron a cortarse incesantemente y sin éxito las venas abiertas de América en la tina, antes de saltar del Puente de Bacunayagua dejando sobre el asfalto cincuentenario los once números del apocalipsis de sus carnets de identidad.

Who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity, who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other’s salvation and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a second, who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury, with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy, and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin metrasol electricity hydrotherapy psycotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & amnesia, bickering with the echoes of the soul, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon, with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 AM and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture.

Manejando en las Ocho Vías que son el esófago entubado de este país, sólo para acceder a alguna visión celestial menos materialista, arrodillados en catedrales de la Colonia sin obtener la misericordia de la verdad, una generación de gente genial que a los veinte años ya se sentía geriátrica, arañando la tabla de surf de la salvación en la evasión ya que la invasión les parece demasiado ajetreo para su inercia en fase terminal. Acompañados por sus madres ancianas hasta Mazorra, ellos mismos diagnosticándose la paranoia que termina en paraplejia, con las cabezas afeitadas como bufones votando unánimemente para momificar una constitución que nunca leyeron (o leyeron y olvidaron como una nana infantil) locos por una lobotomía que les acorte el camino al Nirvana, aunque en lugar de esta técnica sólo recibieron hidroterapia, psicoterapia, terapia ocupacional, golpe de insulina, metrasol, electricidad, noticieros y beisbol (la amnesia es la mejor anestesia).

Rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head, the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death, and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

Rechazados y reciclados por el alma con Alzheimer de su noción de nación, marcando los teléfonos y mails y SMS del último emigrado como los del último milagro, tecleando palabras en clave para internarse en la intriga de internet, rasgando las cuerdas sin cuerda de una guitarra sin garganta, filmando videos porno amateur para matar o mutar el justo destiempo humano que les tocó, recordando acordes de piano con los dedos de los pies, hasta soplar un eli eli lamma sabacthani en el saxofón de sus sexos, sobre el paisaje lunar de una ciudad clínicamente cínica que aún se preocupa por ellos como el carnicero cuida de sus cuchillos.

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination? Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

¿Qué esfinge de fibrocemento y bagazo de caña les habrá abierto sus cráneos y les comió los cerebros y la falta de imaginación? ¡Martirologio y elogio de Martí! ¡Suciedad de sociedad! ¡Ceniceros inciviles y dólares de fantasía heroica! ¡Bebés berreando bajo las escaleras de escuela! ¡Muchachos muriendo en los ejercicios de ejército! ¡Ancianos aburridos en los parques del poder!

I’m with you in Rockland where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter.

Estoy con ustedes en La Habana: somos todos grandes estertores de escritores sobre el mismo tétrico teclado.

I’m with you in Rockland where you will split the heavens of Long Island.

Estoy con ustedes en La Habana: donde se raja del velo vil de una larga isla.

The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole is holy!

¡El mundo inmundo es sagrado! ¡El arma del alma es sagrada! ¡La piel de la pinga es sagrada! ¡La nariz y las nalgas son sagradas! ¡La lengua y el lenguaje y nuestras manos y maneras son sagradas!

Everything is holy! Everybody’s holy! Everywhere is holy! Ever day is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!

¡Todo es sagrado! ¡Todos son sagrados! ¡En todas partes lo sagrado! ¡Cada día está en la eternidad! ¡Y cada humano es un ángel!

Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

¡Como sagrada ha de ser la superbrillante y sobrenatural bondad inteligente del alma!

January 3 2011

The Words of a Newcomer / Ernesto Morales Licea

In this moment as I write, sleeping very close to me is my niece Elizabeth. I must be aware of her angelic dream: she is only nine days old. The magical aura of helplessness surrounding her cradle, her woman-in-miniature expression, inspires a protective tenderness that is, I believe, universal.

But I can’t stop thinking of something, in this moment while I type the first of my blog posts from the United States: my niece and I are nothing short of colleagues in this business of the newly born. A sensation strange but true, with my twenty-six years I am very little different from a baby of nine days. We both have little idea of how to face the world from this point forward.

To say my arrival in Miami was risky is true but inexact. Let’s say rather atypical, convoluted. I, confronting the regime of my country, and lover of limited experiences, wish I could relate the Hollywoodesque story of how I managed to escape at night, on a raft, with coyotes guiding me to the border. But luckily I cannot.

I arrived in this country on December 28 aboard an American Airlines plane, with only the shock of the tense months of my recent life. That is: months in which I was misdiagnosed with cancer; months of a burlesque campaign to present me as a sex merchant; the constant danger I faced for refusing to renounce my individual liberties; stories that will keep for the future, when I need to tell my niece — and my own children — how life was lived in that country, with so much hatred and evil embedded under the skin of a nation.

However, truth be told, my departure from Cuba, for legal reasons, and detached from any political situation, did not suffer from a single monkey wrench from the Government of the Island, as it would have been both possible and thinkable in terms of previous experiences. Rather, the opposite: the Exit Permit — which came within a record time of 11 days — is difficult to write about without hanging a much deserved adjective in front of it: aberrant.  I suspect that my native country’s establishment did not want me very much.

Thus, just one day before my visa would irrevocably expire, I stepped on American soil with the only certainty being that from now on nothing would ever be the same. My fellow passengers, two Cuban-Americans who had just visited the island after decades of absence, gave me my first ten dollars as a sign of good hope, nor could they resist the temptation to take a picture of my face during landing: they were present at the opening of my story as a new exile.

Have I had time to think and analyze, to draw sharp conclusions or form categorical judgments? Definitely not. I, an avid sniffer and listener, who always wants to understand and question, have spent too much time training my perception to the new environment and fighting a phlegmatic headache that always threatens to arrive but fails. In short: Only five days after moving out of the country, and almost off the planet, I now dedicate myself to train my brain for what will continue to be my intellectual work.

But I have my suspicions. Many suspicions. And the first one is this: within a very short time I will begin to tolerate even less what is happening in my country. What I have left behind. Very soon, once the initial shock wears off, I will feel even more resentment against those who have deprived my friends, my family, and all humble Cubans of a universe of possibilities like those I am just getting to know.

It is not about shiny material things, which inevitably also arise; it is, rather, about the indescribable pain experienced on seeing proof of everything that millions of Cubans have been denied. It is the feeling of guilt that sticks in your throat when, suddenly, you find yourself enraged in the aisles of the supermarket, as happened to me two nights ago in “Publix” where there is scarcely a basic need that cannot be satisfied. Meanwhile, that memory of yours, doing the best you can year after year to put a lousy plate of food on the table, it hits you without mercy.

I suspect, also, that each day I spend in a place where respect for differences of opinion is the law, I will be further inoculated against intolerance and exclusion; a place where, as happened to me two nights ago at “Casa Cañí” restaurant, I can openly debate politics with no one around me having to whisper lest the machinery of repression — tape recorders, informers — be launched against them.

And at the same time, I suspect that soon I will also come to know the stains present on this new reality: not even in a respectable democracy have we Cubans left off stigmatizing those who think differently from us, and displaying some features we carry as contraband under our skin: verbal aggression, lying as a method of destruction.

Among other reasons, because too many repented and converted, too many victimizers now pass as victims, milling about in this dazzling city that has honorably sheltered the honest and persecuted. And from the wise words of a reader who is now a friend, “Crossing the Straits of Florida does not purify.”

So for all these reasons I will continue this blog. To fairly and objectively dissect this reality that is as Cuban as the Havana Malecón and unmet dreams. Above all, because unlike the environment in which The Little Brother arose, the one from which I am writing today celebrates differences and disagreements as the engine of evolution. A handful of intolerant orthodox can do very little, when “democracy” is perhaps the most used word among those who inhabit this great country.

One of the questions I have had to hear most frequently from the moment I decided to change the context and leave for the United States, is: “What will happen to your blog, now that you won’t be living on the island itself?” My answer is two-fold.

First: The commitment to a personal truth that is restricted only to a particular framework has no validity. I think that while I feel myself part of that blessed Island as did the Apostle, Celia Cruz, the Communist Party militants; while I do not renounce my honorable state as a Cuban who loves his land, and precisely because it is condemned to unhappiness, there is no justification to abandon this intimate project that has already contributed so much to my personal and professional growth.

And second: To those who fear that my distance from the Cuban reality will affect the objectivity of my texts, I would suggest they comb through the sharpest and most worthy books, articles and essays published over the last several years on the subject of my country. Save minor exceptions, they all belong to authors who have not lived in Cuba for some time. If not, ask Eliseo Alberto, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Manuel Díaz Martínez, Raúl Rivero, Jesús Díaz, Amir Valle, among a long list of others.

It is not the absolute proximity to social phenomena which guarantees a work of real value, but perseverance, analytical study, and continuous improvement. As in all fields of human existence.

My commitment to the word is even stronger than to the democratization of the Island: to write, I believe, is the only thing I can never stop doing. Whether from a humble provincial town, with the aroma of coffee and a haggard sun, or from a cosmopolitan city an hour away by plane, it’s the same: I am determined never to shut my mouth.

January 2, 2011