A Flower / Fernando Dámaso

The flower, which last night was just a pregnant button, opened its petals at dawn and flooded the room with its fragrance. The dim light of the rising sun began to illuminate it. A stillness encompassed all the space and objects around it: the armchair upholstered in blue, the round table of red wood and white marble, two wicker chairs, the old sofa, a bookshelf with glass doors. The girl who slept on the sofa, covered with a golden blanket, breathing so faintly that she seemed to form a part of the inert objects. So thought the flower! It felt the two leaves that adorned its stem stretch and, looking down, watched them briefly. They stared back with a tinge of sadness. Flower and leaves longed for dewdrops and wind. An unnerving thirst began to torment it. The girl moved and stretched her arms. The movement drew the bedspread that covered her and revealed one of her shoulders as golden as the gold of the quilt. Then she opened her eyes and a blue light, as strong as the sun, lit up the flower, making it look metallic. It looked with her new color and a sense of vanity seized it. It was a different flower.

December 31 2010

About the Civic Manifesto / Miriam Celaya

Since the publication of the Civic Manifesto addressed to Cuban communists, reproduced in this blog after it first saw the light of day on December 13, 2010 in the new digital site “We Ask to Speak” to which I created a link, many regular readers and other friends inside and outside Cuba have expressed their interest in signing the document. Originally, said Manifesto was not designed to collect signatures, so it shows only the eight signers who participated in its first debate and composition. However, due to the reception it has had among many readers, it has been replicated in several other digital sites as you have requested, and this January, the option for anyone wishing to sign it, independent of their nationality, ideology or political affiliations,will be added. This is a civic message, not of a partisan stance.

You can also contribute to the dissemination of the ideas presented in the referenced document by e-mailing it to friends and relatives within and outside Cuba. I will inform you as soon as possible when it is available for signing on the website cited above, where it was published initially. As co-author of the Manifesto, I appreciate the support you have given it, and I encourage whoever shares the proposals and ideas it contains to sign it. Thank you for your invaluable solidarity and support. A hug to everyone. Miriam.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 28, 2010

Welcome, Mules / Iván García

Eliseo, 39, is considered a public benefactor. A guy who is always welcome. For a decade, this Cuban American has been a ‘mule’. He resides in Miami and makes some fifteen trips to the island every year. Sometimes more. Right now, from his mobile phone, he calls his usual driver to pick him up at the entrance to the Jose Marti International Airport, south of Havana. He loads a bunch of bags and briefcases. He will be in Havana for one day. His mission is to unload the 150 pounds of food, medicine, electronics, clothing, shoes and toys, among other things, in a house that he trusts, where later they will take charge of delivering them to their destinations.

Eliseo has set up a small business operating at full throttle, especially in the month of December. He charges $5 per pound of food or medicines, and $10 per pound of other items. To move certain goods controlled in Cuba, he discretely slips a hundred-dollar bill in the pockets of the customs authorities. In Miami he also greases the palms of air terminal officials. When George W. Bush turned the screws on the embargo against Castro, Eliseo always wrangled it to bring products and sums of money that violated U.S. laws.

“Now with Obama everything is easier.” The current occupant of the White House has taken steps to facilitate family relationships. Since December 20, you can send up to 10 thousand dollars via Western Union. On top of that, residents of the island can collect it in convertible pesos. Facing the urgent need of the “imperialist enemy’s” greenback, the Cuban government eliminated the 10% duty on the dollar.

On October 25, 2004, an angered Fidel Castro, supposedly caught laundering 3.9 billion old dollars in the Swiss UBS bank — something prohibited by the embargo — he announced a 10% tax on the dollar during a television appearance. Starting on November 8 of that year, the only currency that circulated in Cuba was the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).

Remittances from family members and the sending of goods by “mules,” in large part brace up the fragile and inefficient island economy. According to international organizations, through remittances alone the government allows some billions of dollars to enter the country every year. Darío, a 52-year-old economist, thinks it could be double that. “There is a lot of money that isn’t accounted for. It’s a source that permits the investment of money free of the State’s nets. The government knows it and won’t lose sight of it. It’s probable that in months to come they’ll stimulate it even more.”

In Miami, dozens of agencies are dedicated to the shipment of packages and money to Cuba. Meanwhile, Cubans on the island ceaselessly ask their relatives for things from disposable toilet wipes and tennis shoes to laptops and plasma televisions. If the embargo were to end, the interchange of merchandise and capital could exceed 5 billion dollars annually. And if the Havana regime would repeal absurd laws that prevent Cuban-Americans from investing in the country of their birth, the numbers could triple.

What’s certain is that the embargo hasn’t prevented families on the island from receiving money, by one means or another. Neither foodstuffs, medicines, nor other articles. Eliseo assures us that he earns almost 2,000 dollars in profit each month. “If it’s the end of the year, a little more. In whatever way, despite the fact that I live off of this ‘business’, it satisfies me to see the people’s joy when they receive their packages, or while you count out a bundle of bills for them.

But above all what sticks with me are the hopeful faces of children when you see them unpack toys and sweets.” Moments like those make Eliseo feel like a tropical version of Santa Claus. The families on both shores appreciate him.

Translated by Rick Schwag with a little help from JT

December 30 2010

Mental Lapse / Rebeca Monzo

Once again, my friend Maricarme gave me a reason to write a post.

She was very tired, for she has spent her time, much like the majority of the women in my planet, cleaning the house, organizing wardrobes and sideboards, dusting off decorations, and stretching out the little bit of cash she has just to be able to greet the new year the way it should be.

She wanted to make a good cold salad for the 31st. Worn out from so much end-of-year cleaning, she went out on a search and capture for food. As she did so, she passed by a place where they sell pork meat (the only one that does) and out of the corner of her eye she saw the pork chunks, and this image stayed in her brain. When she arrived at the hard currency kiosk, without realizing her mistake she asked the attendant, “Do you have meat?”

The dispatcher was astounded and responded, “No ma’am, nothing like that”.

So she asked, “By any chance do you have a can of fruit”?

“No ma’am, not that either,” and he continued, “but look you should go home, take a good shower, go to sleep for a while, and later, when you’re more refreshed, you can come back here and I’ll be glad to help you.”

My friend tells me that, upon returning to her house, she could not control her laughter for the scene she had just created.

Translated by Raul G.

December 30 2010

Year 52 of Fidel Castro’s Revolution / Iván García

The Cuban revolution is a historic event. One cannot deny this fact. Its roots hail from this very country. It did not arrive as an import from the Kremlin. However, after perpetrating itself, in certain periods, it imitated the style found in Moscow.

The July 26th movement, headed by a young lawyer called Fidel Castro Ruz, the son of a Spanish soldier who fought in Cuba to stifle the independence movements of 1895, was not created in the disciplined ranks of the local communist party.

At first, he was a follower of Eduardo Chibas, a politician in the Orthodox Party, honorable, and honest. Castro was not a military or political genius. He was a Cuban who was, like many others, offended by the coup of Fulgencio Batista — a former shorthand sergeant who in the ’30’s was involved in the island’s politics and later in the ’40’s was president.

Fulgencio was from the same area as Fidel. Both were born in the province that is now known as Holguin, 800 kilometers from Havana. One was from Banes, and the other from Biran. After the hostility of 1952, Batista became the second dictator, after Gerardo Machado, to plague Cuba during the first 50 years of independence and republicanism.

What happened next we already know. A nearly suicidal assault on a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba (strongly criticized by the hierarchy of the national communist party, as they dubbed it a mini-bourgeois “putsch”); the guerrilla in the mountains, and the triumphant entrance of Castro and his rebel army to the Eastern city on January 1st, 1959.

At the moment, nothing indicated that Fidel Castro was a communist. You could tell Raul was, however. As well as his friend, the Argentine doctor Che Guevara. According to the guerrilla leader, his intention was to create a democratic government that would benefit all Cubans.

While in power, the revolution started radicalizing itself. Sometimes, in response to aggressive politics from Washington, and other times to consolidate its leadership. After two years of them declaring that it would be a “revolution greener than the palm trees”, we found out that it was more of an ideological red.

He started molding a Marxist country, designed similar to the vassal systems of Eastern Europe. Scholars of this subject nearly go mad and have written tons of articles trying to find out if Castro was always an all out communist or if he just used Marxism to rise to unlimited power.

I’m one of those who think the latter. Castro became an ally of Russia in order to keep himself at the head of the government. Fidel is Fidel. People with egos like his don’t follow a single ideology. They consider themselves to be above all those insignificances of thought.

He is an outstanding student of Machiavelli. His heroes are conquerors of the likes of Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar, and Napoleon. I’m one of those who believe that deep inside, Castro thinks that Cuba was too small for him. He wanted more. He would have wanted to be the leader of a world power. For the best, or for the worst, Fidel Castro was an important statesman of the XX century.

He was at the verge of provoking a nuclear massacre, and in addition, he had the carelessness to ask Khrushchev to fire the first atomic missile. Afterwards, he supported guerrilla movements throughout the entire planet.

One day, in the history books of the world, it will be written that a small, poor, and backwards country carried out military adventures in Angola and Ethiopia, nearly 10 thousand kilometers from its own coasts, moving over 300 thousand soldiers during 15 years of interventions in African civil wars.

Castro always loved conducting the theatre of military operations. In the decade of the ’80’s, from a mansion in the neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, he frequently moved soldiers and tanks on a gigantic scale. He barked orders to his generals who sat in comfortable chairs in Havana.

He knew, inside out, the exact quantity of candies, chocolates, ice cream, and cans of sweets that the troops consumed. The One and Only Commander was never happier!

The old guerrilla fighter feels nostalgia over his command in La Plata and his marches through the Pico Turquino, in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Now, in the 21st century, while he waits for God to take him, his delirium has not ceased in the least bit.

All of his reflections have to do with international themes. What he’d give to be Obama, Ahmadinejad, Mahmud Abbas, Ehud Olmert, or Kim Jong II. He sees himself provoking and winning wars.

Only bureaucrats and functionaries can lead an economy or a state budget in an orderly way. The laws and the respect of norms of a party or institution are put in place so that common managers can fulfill them. Not for Fidel Castro.

Those banalities are handed over to his brother, Raul. The general is a practical guy. His dream is simple. That people be guaranteed their beans. And that the Cuban revolution last 100 years. It only lacks the second half.

Photo: Grey Villet

Translated by Raul G.

December 31 2010

Basic Means and Human Rights / Miriam Celaya

Perogrullo is right in that we Cubans are basic means for the government; we are used or ignored, according to how useful we may turn out. As if this alone were not enough, we have an “inventory number” inscribed on our identity card which we are required to carry around, and, more important even than your face or name, is that pretty long number including your birth date, followed by another sequence indicating even your gender. I, for example, am not Miriam, but 59100900595. The identity card in question also has one’s fingerprints. Just by looking at that small card encased in plastic, the message is loud and clear: “I’m watching you”, which, of course, is one of its main purposes.

While it’s true that in other parts of the world people tend to have a document that identifies them, from a driver’s license to a dry cleaners card, no written gadget replaces the human person as in Cuba. Unless we are talking about a criminal, who, nevertheless, also has his rights. And this is the word around this issue: rights. Because in these last few days the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was celebrated, and the press in my (my?) country, with the touching modesty that they have us so accustomed to, once again harped on the extraordinary achievements on such rights that the revolution has introduced for us – the native basic means — and for tens of thousands of people around the entire world. They harp, above all, on health issues.

Just my bad luck that around that same time I had visited an old relative at the Altos clinic at the Calixto Gracía Hospital, and I was able to evidence, alive and directly [in the flesh], as we say in Cuba, the conditions in which basic means are warehoused in such as a place. A ward where, in unabashed promiscuity, patients of both sexes share their stay, even the same cubicle, so that if they need to use a bedpan or a urinal, or if a patient (yes, you have to be patient) has to be catheterized, or if someone who is not ambulatory has to be given a sponge bath, it has to be done in the presence of others, because the ward does not even have devices that allow curtains to be drawn discretely to isolate patients from each other when it is necessary or desirable. The highest aspiration of the poor flesh and bone pieces of furniture, “cared for” in this manner, is for the roommate and his visitors, and even the patient’s own visitors, to discretely look away while they the patient uses the bed pan, while he gets washed, or simply while the doctors’ or the nurses’ treatment requires that their bodies be exposed.

It is a very bleak spectacle indeed. It is overwhelming to just think that a human being might stumble into a situation in which dignity and respect are stepped on like this and, to top it all off, that they have to be grateful that “at least we have free and guaranteed medical attention”.

In the midst of all this, I am wondering if the embargo is responsible for an individual who is ill to be subjected to expose his intimacies and his miseries in such as crude manner. I wonder if, at any time, someone had the rare privilege of sharing his in-patient cubicle with any of our olive-green dinosaurs or with any other member of the upper caste, or if any one of the executives or other foreign visitors that are always bragging about the Cuban health system has ever seen these hospital wards, or if they would like to be cared for with these “attentions”. I wonder, above all, how we can cure someone while at the same time lacerating his sense of personal dignity. Definitively, this December 10th I have discovered another one of the dirty corners of Castro-style Human Rights.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 14, 2010

Alcoholism, an Escape from Reality / Laritza Diversent

It is the third night that Roger Martinez, a young man of 35, comes home drunk. His wife cannot handle this situation any longer. She had to ask her neighbor for two eggs to accompany the white rice she made for her children’s dinner. Meanwhile, she wonders how her husband manages to get money to intoxicate himself nearly every single day.

Daily, Roger goes out to search for a job, but a self-employed job. He’ll clean a backyard, he’ll do some construction in certain homes, etc. He does not have a specific occupation, but he does anything in order to live day to day. For him, working in the street means more income than he would make with a monthly salary. All in all, however, it is still not enough to get by.

Before, when he would lay his head on his pillow, he would think of the different ways he could resolve the economic difficulties that awaited him the following day. He had to figure out a way to pay for all the electrical appliances given to him during the “Energy Revolution,” to continue supporting his children, to get food, to repair the house, etc.

Now, his situation has only worsened. To work for himself and at his own risk he needs a government license. The Tax Administration Office of his municipality has required him the guarantee to be a grocer, dependent of the centers which deliver the subsidy quota, that way he will be accredited that he is not a “debtor of the nation.” On the contrary, they will not let him operate as a self-employed citizen.

Martinez now finds himself in a dilemma — in order to work legally, he has to settle his debts with the State. The problem lies in the fact that he does not know how he will get more than 10 thousand pesos to pay for all the appliances given to him by the benevolent Battle of Ideas. He can barely even guarantee food for his children.

He has no other option but to work illegally and to incur one of the legal violations that come along with self-employment. Infringement is punished by a fine of 1,200 pesos, and that’s just for taking part in activities that are “legally authorized” without presenting the proper documentation which certifies him as a self-employed worker.

Roger wonders where he will get the money from if this happens. His problems do not diminish, instead they grow. The only solution for the time being is to not think. Either way, the only alternative to survive is to run the risk and work “on the left”*, as they say out on the streets.

His day starts at 6 AM in the bar at the corner of the street. At that time, he gulps down his first drink of the day. He ends up stumbling and talking to himself on the way back home. Drinking alcoholic beverages has become his main attraction, as a way to not face his frustrations and weakness. An escape from the harsh reality, a remedy to not have to think.

Translated by Raul G.

A Christmas Spent in Freedom / Pablo Pacheco

After eight long years, my family can once again smile during Christmas. The hate and intolerance of the regime in Havana kept 75 Cuban families from being able to celebrate Christmas together.

A couple of friends invited me to spend Christmas Eve with them in the town of Marbella. As a result, a well-nourished group of Cubans, some Spaniards, and Hanna, a native of Lebanon who cooks exquisitely, all shared this holiday, which is the day that all Christians await, with my family.

Thanks to Odalys, Borredo, Lola, Dupon, and Miguel, along with other relatives and friends, I felt as if I was at home. My only son managed to display a smile on his lips which I had not seen occur for quite some time now. Oleivys and I danced the night away to Caribbean rhythms- something I missed very much and that 6 months ago I thought would be impossible to repeat, thanks to the 20 year sentence I was serving.

During these days of universal festivities I have received displays of warmth and love from all sorts of places. I have received Christmas cards, e-mails, and telephone calls. I truly appreciate all these things with all of my heart. They really reach me deep inside and help me to continue.

But I cannot deny, however, that my happiness is not complete, for 11 of my brothers in cause remain behind the bars. 11 families were not able to sing, laugh, or dance, just because those who are in power exercise a brutal intolerance.

One day, my country will once again be able to see the light which brightens our paths to freedom. And when that day comes, we will all celebrate Christmas together. And on that day, absolutely no one will languish away in prison just for their thoughts. That day is near, and just like the famous singer says, “All the world is waiting for it”.

Translated by Raul G.

December 30, 2010

Note: Pablo Pacheco formerly blogged in “Voices Behind the Bars” when he was a political prisoner in Cuba. He has now been released and forcibly exiled to Spain, and has a new blog, “Cuban Voices from Exile.” We will continue to post him here, for a time, until his faithful readers have found their way to his new home.

Polemical Anthology / Luis Felipe Rojas

My wife, Exilda, gave me this post from her collection of unpublished articles to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of my blog.

I have just finished savoring pleasure and, at the same time, bitterness upon witnessing the presentation of the series, “Anthology of Paths”. This time, the theme was “Race and Racism”. It’s a compilation put together by the editors of the magazine known as ‘Caminos’ (Paths) and dedicated to the Martin Luther King Jr Center. This was prepared with the intent of trying to understand the current racial problem in Cuba — that trend which we do not know when it will vanish.

The anthology has appeared in Cuba at the same time that the century-long anniversary celebration of the Independent Party of Color, founded by Evaristo Estenoz and Pedro Ivonet during the first decade of XX century was going underway. In this deficient anthology I have found a text which I have found to be tendentious, and I would like to point out some issues.

In the essay, “Racial Identity of People without History” by Yesenia Selier and Penelope Hernandez, it is stated that we, whether we are blacks or mestizos from Cuba, have a negative and conflicted view about ourselves. Historically, according to the work, we have always been marginalized and forgotten, but “thanks to the Revolution of 1959” we managed to integrate socially and politically.

In the same vein, a center such as the Martin Luther King one is in charge of promoting the messianic pro-Castro program in the Cuban nation, which states that, supposedly, Fidel Castro and his bearded men came down from the Sierra Maestra mountains to save us from the ignominy of racism. This supports that plan and image which theorists of tropical socialism subdue for the sake of posterity and to seek other followers.

From my own personal experience, I can testify that my grandparents, Oscar and Iris, were immigrants from Antigua-Barbuda and Jamaica, respectively. She was a mulata and he was a black man, and both were searching for fortune and prosperity. They found love, and they made a family composed of 5 sons, and they also helped to establish this small town lost somewhere in the Eastern Cuban geography — San German.

Their love of work, their being of a race with patterns of dress, dance, and other unique ways of behaving, made them respectable people. In addition, they also always respected others, despite how Cuban society functioned at the time. As their descendants, we learned that being black was not a burden or an error, but that it is a source of pride. Being black means that you have rhythm when you walk or make gestures, that you have a particular way of cooking foods, and that you have a distinct way of representing the history of your predecessors — those who lived through humanity’s worst crime, which was slavery. But this does not make us better than anyone else, but it does make us different. And as a black woman in the XXI century, I have accepted this responsibility with much dignity.

The references used by some critics of racism in current times sometimes places them in the same group as that of the most frantic racists.

Anthologies such as the one made by the Caminos Editorial, which respond to the good relations between Christianity and the Latin-American left with the Cuban state are also a form of induced false memory. The phenomenon of racial integration should not be passed through the sieve of false celebrations or underpinnings of past errors.

The essence of the “black problem” in Cuba will be to shed light on all the torpor, while being able to count on the support of all so that we can start referring to both things as one: nation and race.

Translated by Raul G.

December 30, 2010

Commandment / Regina Coyula

Nobody’s getting upset, but my blog is already a year old and since I opened it I have an extensive list of links that have only grown. As I have only minimal internet access, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit those sites. And oh, surprise, many with more technological capabilities break the commandment to link to me as I link to you. That is the reason they no longer appear on my blogroll.

Translated by: JT

December 31 2010

Message with Promise / Reinaldo Escobar

Twenty-ten, this year of three hundred and sixty-plus days that many of us thought would be new, is ending. But 2011 begins and once again the battery of optimism is recharged.

Like every Cuban from the generation of the ’50’s, I started my adolescence with the illusion of a better country. The deadlines for meeting the promises passed, were renewed, and passed again, over and over. I came to maturity with no regrets or frustrations but with the overwhelming joy of having awakened from the hypnotic state into which I’d been plunged by the slander of false prophets and my pardonable innocence. Instead of becoming the guy who “no longer believes in anything,” I decided to become a part of the colossal task of awakening those who were still prisoners of the spell. For this I had to believe in two things: the value of truth and the intelligence of Cubans.

A commonly quoted phrase from José Martí says, more or less, that “an idea from the depths of the cave is more powerful than an army.” With no desire to correct the apostle, I dare to comment that just putting this idea on the internet will surely make it very powerful, but the presumed audience is those locked in the cave of disinformation and lacking connectivity.

I know I’ve abandoned this space “Desde aquí / From Here” a bit, and I would like to promise my three or four readers that as the year begins I will do my best to have at least a weekly presence. If by January 10 there is no new post on this blog, it will be because I have failed in my promise.

May 2011 be the year we have all been waiting for! Let more Cubans do everything within our power to make it happen!

December 31, 2010

In 2010, Bad News Abounded in Cuba / Iván García

When the high creole hierarchy enjoyed the arrival of the 51st anniversary of the insurrection which elevated them to power on 1 January 1959, a violent cold front was ravaging the west of the country.

In Mazorra, a psychiatric hospital located on the highway that leads to the principal airport, a major scandal was uncorking itself.

The pathetic photos that circulated by the Internet and the reports of bloggers and independent journalists obligated the regime to publish a little note. Weeks later, noiselessly, those words got the Minister of Health, José Ramón Balaguer, fired.

It was the start in a chain of bad news that marked 2010 in Cuba. In February, the political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo heated up the path. After 86 days on a hunger strike claiming a handful of rights, he died in a hospital in the capital. His death provoked an avalanche of criticism towards the Castro brothers across the entire planet.

The death of Zapata launched a series of widely publicised marches by the Ladies in White, a group of women, wives, mothers, and daughters of opposition members condemned to long sentences in March 2003.

The government didn’t take the blow well. Little accustomed to those who annoy, concealed violence was used against the Ladies, by means of supposedly spontaneous mobs who were admirers of the Revolution. Aggressions against these women, who carried gladioli in their hands through Havana streets demanding freedom for their family members, threw more wood on the fire in the agitated Spring of 2010.

Civilized nations hit the roof and a series of economic restrictions were brought down to pressure the government of Raúl Castro. The General took note. This oven wasn’t for baking cakes.

Cuba lives on the edge of bankruptcy. The economy is shipwrecked. The country is taking on water on all sides. For the first time in 51 years, the government threw in the towel before the street marches of the Ladies in White and a new hunger strike, started in Villa Clara by the opposition member Guillermo Fariñas, who was demanding the release of 26 dissidents.

In a rare diplomatic pirouette, the regime obtained the help of the forgotten Catholic Church. In a hurry, Raúl Castro asked Cardinal Jaime Ortega to intercede with the bothersome women. He designed a three-phase plan. From Madrid, the ex-chancellor Miguel Ángel Moratinos dressed it up well. The agreement was made public on June 8, and it was made known that 52 political prisoners would be liberated.

The governors’ strategy was to build a gold-plated bridge for the freed opposition members so they’d fly to Madrid. They thought that a friendly telephone call from the Cardinal to each prisoner, inviting him to leave headed for exile, would be accepted by all the prisoners. It didn’t work out that way. As a weapon of coercion, the regime still has not freed 11 dissidents who refuse exile.

While the news of liberation of political prisoners made a trip around the world, Fidel Castro, historic leader of the Revolution, rose from his sickbed. A recuperated Castro. With a distinct look, with Adidas or Nike sporting overalls. Or a collection of shirts. He did what he knew best: Spoke and predicted. He unleashed on the world a red alert; a nuclear war was just around the corner.

Besides prophesying chaos, the ancient guerrilla is one of those convinced that capitalism’s days are numbered. He chatted about everything happening on the Earth. But he did not delve into local issues; that was a matter for his brother.

They started to play in different leagues. Raúl, hand to the grindstone, seeing exactly how 12 million Cubans bring their meals to the table. And the visionary Fidel, in charge of international affairs. One suspects disagreements, but in 2010 each stuck to his own area. For the time being.

In July, summer arrived. School vacations, beach, and fans celebrating the victory of Spain in the World Cup in South Africa. Earlier, Habeneros had celebrated that their team, the Industriales, was crowned champions in the national baseball series.

In the offices, in full heat, the technocrats worked at full throttle on a unique, new, dedicated plan to reform the disastrous economic situation. Recipes with a raft of shock therapies, similar to those applied by countries in bankruptcy.

When their vacations ended, Cubans were awaiting the news that 1.3 million people would be laid off in three phases. The first one already started in October. It was not the only one. State subsidies have to be cut back. Open the tap for self-employment. And apply a tax rate that sometimes reaches 40% of income to alleviate the terrible State budget deficit.

People aren’t expecting miracles with the opening-up of private initiative. It smells bad. The elevated taxes are disheartening. The insufficient guarantees offered by a government that openly rejects people who succeed in making money are strong elements that generate mistrust.

In different provinces there were attempted protests and the streets have become dangerous. as if the police didn’t have enough to do going after crimes and drugs. Urban transport — like housing — gets worse as time goes on. The ration book stays the same and the scarcity of products — in pesos or in cash — continues to be a source of alarm. When rice isn’t lacking, there are no beans. If there is salt, there is no sugar.

In the year that just ended, we see more beggars, drunks, prostitutes and thieves in the streets. Domestic and school violence just skyrocketed. And courtesy has continued to be something from another planet.

Despite the black panorama with its grey backstitches, Cubans continue to dance, sing, make fun of the governors and make love wherever. Television viewers were still hooked on Brazilian soap operas and little girls were dazzled by Hannah Montana.

In 2010, among others, there were three “round” anniversaries: the centennial of the birth of the actress and singer Rita Montaner, and of the writer José Lezama Lima, the 90th of the ballerina Alicia Alonzo, and the 80th of the singer Omara Portuondo. Four compatriots were honored with Grammy Latino prizes: Chucho Valdéz and Leo Brower — residents of the island — and Arturo Sandoval and Alex Cuba, settled in the United States and Canada.

The good news was that we weren’t lashed by any tropical storm or hurricane of great power. And one bit of bad news, that the hoped-for increase in tourists from the United States didn’t materialize. A consolation prize was that friends and family from the United States, once again and despite the crisis, haven’t stopped helping their families on the other side of the puddle. With money or with packages of food, clothing, medicines, and toys.

Cubans are wishing that 2011 might bring good omens. They think things probably can’t get any worse. Things have been scraping bottom for too long. Living at the edge of the abyss.

December 30 2010