Twenty Years / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Penultimos Dias

I’ve made quite an effort not to write about Fidel Castro. First, because I’m not capable of saying anything serious about his persona (sometimes I would like to take him less lightly); second, because reading his “Reflections” has the same affect on me as do some science fiction fanzines (I like the genre), and third, because the Commander-in-Chief is today, despite himself, a ghost from the past of Cuban politics.

But he won’t stop talking! He publishes books, predicts the future of the human race, speaks about himself, confuses José Martí with Lenin, changes the past, annuls the future, and has a temper tantrum in the present because he is running out of time. He continues to appear over and over in scenes more like the theater of the absurd than the desperate politics of a system in ruins. Whether at the aquarium, or at a special session of the National Assembly, the costumes are worn at the seams, but the piece is played as if elegantly staged. Always surrounded by bodyguards (we call them “avatars” for their physical appearance), the old man doesn’t fall down but slips through the recesses of his mind, destroyed by power. After so many years enjoying the life of a Messiah, it is impossible for Fidel Castro to now assume that his death will not change the course of history, that the Year Zero will not be repeated, that Cuba will continue on its path and that his brother will or will not make some changes when he no longer exists (before himself being absorbed by the Change once he’s left alone). He has written his apocalyptic script like a prelude to departure. He will not take us with him because he can’t, but until the last instant of his earthly existence he will assign roles, cut off heads, vilify his enemies and announce — through some kind of amazing theory — the end of the world. He will die, but not before trying to make us believe that all of humanity is going with him into the grave.

Isolated from everything, his reality has become a mirror of a future where his image is not included. It no longer matters that the history of the Cold War is a rotting corpse that will never be revived. His only option is to construct a scene where he is not the premonition of his own illness, but rather the illness of the rest of us: nuclear war as a palliative of the mortality of a single human being. Whether well constructed or not, fear and opportunism will do the dirty work. Each one of the actors in his staged scenes follows his script exactly, from asking the entire Cuban art world to reproduce the Cuban Five, to requesting, tearfully, to be allowed to kiss the Commander.

In the government they’re pulling their hair out trying to prevent the economy from a near-term collapse, the power is rearranging itself, and corruption is becoming the new face of island totalitarianism. Meanwhile, at the University of Havana Fidel Castro, looking for his own eternity on the earth that is going to swallow him, reminds us that “…the hard work of warning humanity of the real danger that it faces falls on Cuba, and in this effort we must not lose heart.” But the stage machinery of his act dissolves on the faces of this audience of bored twenty-somethings; they do not feel beholden, they long to leave the country by any door, and their memory of nuclear confrontation comes down to the movie “Lisanka.” Comrade Fidel faces a public that cares not a whit about his misunderstood mortality and his prediction of nuclear catastrophe, because the only bottomless thing about the University of Havana student body is their twenty years.

September 5, 2010

The Final Earthquake / Henry Constantín

Without wielding any of the thousand of lethal objects that embellish our museums, Gullermo Fariñas finished extinguishing the scent of jail from a hundred or so brothers. And he gave hope to thousands of others. This July 26th, while the country wore a mask of red and black slogans to conceal the national apathy, and in Artemisa, Santa Clara and Havana our rulers and their panegyrists extolled for the umpteenth time the bloody impatience with which they attempted to solve the Cuban problems 57 years ago, Fariñas was resting at the Arnaldo Milián Castro Hospital of Villa Clara, marked by the fate of the new era of nonviolence that he has just consecrated in Cuba´s political history.

I have seen him on three occasions. On the first one, he smiled all the time: already his hunger strike, to demand Internet access for Cubans, had left its mark on his extremely lean body. He was cordial, although we didn’t know each other. A good man.

The second time – October or November 2008 – it was I who carried the load of my sincerity. I arrived at his house, the only one opened to me in Santa Clara, after being expelled with threats and violence from my Journalism studies at the University. A feverish Fariñas received me. “Tell me what we can do for you; we’ll go wherever you want.” The plural implied a courage that, just at that moment when I had been isolated, had the force of multitudes. In the improvised receiving room of his house in Condado, in one of the most modest and dreadful neighborhoods in Santa Clara, I breathed in the same straightforward determination that one senses in history books when reading about the bold men who at some point have wanted to make Cuba a better country.

The news of my preposterous second expulsion, signed by him, a hard-working, decent and respected journalist, resonated in hundreds of webs.

The third encounter was a very short time ago, behind the glass of the intensive care unit. The hunger strike for the political prisoners’ freedom has finished. I didn’t go very close – any germ on my clothes, in which I had just traveled more than three hundred kilometers, could be fatal to him. His gaze is lucid, amidst this era of geriatric dark clouds. He smiles thankfully at the visits of friends and acquaintances. His elderly mother takes care of him as if he had just been born; her alarm carries as much weight as her son’s tremendous decision. Fariñas takes advantage of the meager offerings on national TV; his mind is not that of a man who is ignorant of his environment, and even less of one indifferent about the future. Fariñas is full of ideas regarding what is happening in the country and what must happen so that the island where he insists on living – but living with dignity – will stop being the most incredible people-exporting paradise and the fief of one of the few governments in the western hemisphere – along with the African dictators of Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea, and the sultan of Morocco – obstinately asserting its own infiniteness.

The way out is guarded by copious and optimistic government propaganda.

More than fifty years ago, Che was among those who imposed their ideas amidst rivers of young blood from friends and enemies, of blasts and the smoke of gunpowder. Santa Clara, the city where comandante Guevara achieved his greatest glory, is full of tributes to the military man. But under those colossal monuments to violence, something has failed. An imperceptible crack, a tenuous and deep fissure that no one knows where it ends, goes around these streets: it starts under a hospital bed… and loses itself in the distance.

Translated by: Espirituana

August 14, 2010

Judges / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In my country there is the disastrous custom of different figures appointing themselves as judges of historic facts and personages. These are then analyzed through the political-ideological lens which, according to their point of view, exalts or debases them, ignoring the times and situations that created them and in which they lived.
  2. As a result, the study of our history is a very complicated thing. People once respected and accepted by the majority, are today considered traitors or, what’s worse, collaborators with the established powers. Others, complete unknowns, emerge as saviours of the nation, but without any clear demonstration of any of their supposed virtues.
  3. Everything is reduced to a process of labeling. If someone is labeled a reformist, annexationist*, autonomist, etc., they are marked for life and, from that point, any time their name is pronounced or written it is preceded by their corresponding label.
  4. One of the most notorious cases is that of Narciso López, whose name is always preceded by the word “annexationist,” although no one has ever demonstrated this. So he is left hanging, historically, just like the poet Plácido (Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés) because of the first verse of his well-traveled posthumous poem, Prayer to God.
  5. Perhaps it would be healthy to leave this task in the hands of historians, allowing them, independently and without demands nor pressure of the ideological-political sort, analyze events and people and express their honest opinions which, like everything in life, are not required to be identical or unanimous. So, history would be more interesting and digestible, as contradictory as reality, and precisely, therefore, more useful.

*Translator’s note: An “annexationist” is someone who would like Cuba to become part of the United States.

August 31, 2010

Golf Courses / Regina Coyula

A little less than fifty years ago, it was decided that a splendid school for the arts would be built on the Country Club golf course – why keep such a symbol of the bourgeoisie.

But now I have to let my friend Tony know that, if he waits a bit, he’ll be able to buy a little house for his retirement next to one of the 16 golf courses that are planned and approved to be built here in beautiful little Cuba. Some very nice, and judging from the plans, very expensive condominiums, with which we are betting on the arrival of the longed-for American tourists. They will be part of that Cuba shown on postcards, and will have a perimeter fence and security guards at the entrance.

I learned with amazement that these artificial paradises, so green and harmonious, are the opposite of sustainable development, as they require for their maintenance 800 gallons of water a day per acre – and this water does not come from the idyllic ponds that are so characteristic of such places. Each course would require, on a daily basis, the equivalent of the amount of water as that used by the population of a city like Camagüey.

Why Cuba? Because it doesn’t have the environmental laws that would prohibit this madness.

I don’t understand anything. The nuances of high politics and finance escape me, but the first two things that came to mind were questions of geography: Florida, whose swampy conditions have made it into the world capital of golf, and Santiago de Cuba, awaiting its promised water for fifty years.

September 5, 2010

At the Doors of a New School Year / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

The multi-grade classrooms receive about ten or so students of different ages and from different remote regions where the low population rate does not make the area eligible for the establishment of regular schools. But, at the doors of the new school year, parents of these students from multi-grade classrooms from different regions of San German, in the province of Holguin, are worried because education and governmental officials have announced that they will not be opening these educational centers this year.

Their children are supposed to attend schools which are several kilometers from where they live, in the midst of a terrible transport crisis and with the presence of teachers who lack the appropriate preparation to teach the tens of kids.

For this school year there is talk about other changes in other levels of education. They have mentioned once again opening Schools that Shape Teachers, which had previously disappeared and were later replaced by the schools with “emerging teachers” (that is teenagers with very brief training in education). In addition, they have also already announced the reduction of staff in the municipal offices of education, and many of those professionals must return to the classroom after various years of inactivity in the field.

Just over 20 years ago Fidel Castro predicted that Cuba would become a medical power and also eventually reach an outstanding ranking in educational standards; now a friend of mine who works in the education sector is hesitant about the fact that she must return to the classroom, which she left it behind 20 years ago. She thinks that she has a few days yet to come up with a way to take part in the initiative which the government has proposed to “tackle” the social crisis which plagues us, to which the only response in San German up until now, has been to allow self-employment for barbers and hairdressers.

Translated by Raul G.

September 4, 2010

Gestation / Fernando Dámaso

The tree began to spread its leaves on June 14th. First slowly and then more quickly. In the morning they began to cover the windows and towards noon they already reached the roof and had started to become intertwined. Their first effect was the dim light they let into the room. It seemed as if they took possession of everything and this would make them grow. By nightfall the room was a single entangled vine unable to be penetrated by any human being. On the fifteenth day the leaves began to extend under the door and broke the glass of the window, looking for new space. In three days the house was engulfed in full green leaves.Hundreds of birds came to the vine, filling every day of the week with their songs. As the hours passed, the leaves spread more and more. After the house, they covered the neighborhood and later the whole city. They grew on cars, on posts, illuminated advertisements and over shop windows. Everything went well and was acceptable until the moment in which they started to grow on people. The first one who noticed was García, a mason, when he was on his way to his work: leaves sprouted from his fingers. He ran screaming like a madman until a root set him into the ground next to the bus stop. The same thing happened to others. After one month, in the place where the city would have been there was a beautiful forest. This is how it remained for decades until one day when from a tree, a child was born.

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Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

Four Centimeters of Tolerance / Yoani Sánchez

Yesterday I went to enroll my son in high school and instead of a welcome sign I found a blackboard with the following contents:

Regarding the uniform: Females may not wear more than one pair of earrings. Shirts and blouses will be worn tucked in. They will not be altered by clamps, nor cut to fit to the body, nor allowed to be higher than the waistband of the skirt or pants. Do not remove the pockets. The skirts should be 4 centimeters [1.5 inches] above the knee. Skirts worn on the hips are not allowed, nor may they be discolored or have ironing marks. Pants must extend to the height of the shoes. Pants worn on the hips are not allowed. Females may not wear makeup. Bracelets, necklaces, chains and rings are not allowed. Religious objects may not be visible. Shoes must be close-toed and socks white and long. MP3s, MP4s, and cellphones may not be brought to school. Males may not wear earrings, clips or piercings. Belts should be simple and without eccentric, large or stylish buckles and must be black or tan.

Regarding the hair: Haircuts, hairdos and shaves must be correct, eliminating any eccentricity or styles outside the definition of the uniform. Males may not have: long hair, dyed hair, nor any spikes in the hair, nor designs shaved into the hair. Females may not have any dangling jewelry in their hair. Items used to style the hair must be blue, white or black. These shall be of an appropriate size. Males must not have hair longer than 4 centimeters.

Now I wonder if Teo is enrolled in high school, or in a military unit.

September 4, 2010

A Rebelious Offspring / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Tuesday, June 15th, I ran into Juan Juan Almeida in the International Legal Office on 21 24, El Vedado. As we said goodbye, he told me he was starting a hunger strike on that day demanding the exit permit to continue his medical treatment outside Cuba. I visited him twice at his apartment on 41 and Conill before August 23rd, when he suspended his fast at the request of the Archbishop of Havana, who interceded on his behalf before General Castro’s government.

On Monday, August 23rd, Juan Juan seemed like the shadow of his shadow. In 69 days he went from 230 to 150 pounds. If it were not for his lucidity and good humor, I would have thought I was in the presence of a zombie. We talked for 20 minutes and I left before the arrival of his sister Glenda, who lives three blocks away and was keeping an eye on his hardships.

As I walked along Tulipán looking for the bus that would take me home, I thought again about this striker: extraordinary, cheerful, making jokes, the enemy of any type of inflexibility, able to listen even to the delirious fantasies of the State Security agents who have been breathing down his neck since he lost the protection of his father, a comandante of the revolution with an artistic vocation and a passion for power.

During his hunger strike, Juan Juan made statements to the foreign press accredited in Cuba, spoke with several bloggers and independent journalists, went out with signs to public places two or three times, received friends and people who oppose the regime, was the subject of controversy and attacks and political asylum proposals from governments in Europe and America.

For a great part of the world it is difficult to understand that a man would begin a hunger strike because he is not allowed to leave his country to continue the treatment he was receiving in Europe. It has a certain logic, since adults decide what to do with their lives, except in the case of Cuba and North Korea, where the State attributes to itself the authority to decide who enters or leaves the country.

For a segment of Cubans in exile, Juan Juan Almeida is loathsome due to his paternal origin. He has Castroism’s stamp of origin; he was educated as an officer of the Minister of Internal Security in the former Soviet Union and practiced his profession until he fell into disgrace. Perhaps he´s not forgiven for the publication of a book in which he satirizes his own life and the errors and horrors of the demigods who took hold of power and devour their own children.

I don´t think he worries much about the conflicting opinions of those who judge him through a political lens. Juan did not distance himself from the power circle in order to climb in the opposition. As I listened to him on Monday, August 23rd, I thought that this charismatic and cheerful down-to-earth Cuban believes more in the smile and the handshake of those who greet him than in all the slogans and hallelujahs he heard since he was born.

P.S. Congratulations, Juan Juan! We are all happy for your liberation

Translated by: Espirituana

August 27, 2010

First the Drainage / Miguel Iturria Savón

While Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and other multimillionaires develop a campaign to donate at least 50% of their fortunes to social sectors, the government of General Castro accelerates the end of the benefits granted to the Cuban people during half a century of promises and State domination.

To the extent that the ship of totalitarianism wobbles, the promise of giving is substituted by the one of taking away. In the end, the “gratuidades” (free services), “precios subvencionados”(subsidized prices) and subsidies for the elderly and disabled can be spared. However, the ideological battles, the apocalyptic prophecies of the former ruling chatterbox and the catalog of prohibitions that prevent citizens from unleashing their own initiatives and living from their own efforts without governmental guardianship, remain.

Yes, it is time to put an end to the egalitarian illusion; we have had our fill of utopias, offerings, miseries and disinformation. But it is also time to eliminate the state monopoly over the means of production, commerce, agriculture, transportation, fishing and other areas of the economy and society, which are blocked by the concentration of power in the one party and its chieftains who hold on to power.

Whose idea was it to regulate individual consumption of food, the clothes we wore, the toys that our children could receive, or to let a ministry decide the prices of articles? How is it possible that a network of government officials imposes the will of a uniformed chieftain on millions of people, or that the parliament unanimously approves “the leader’s proposals”?

If the methods of distribution are no longer sustainable and it is necessary to drain the swamp, we have to clear the obstructed flows and normalize relations between those who create wealth and those who administer it. The law that favors one side only will not solve the problems. If the obsolete productive and commercial structures in the hands of Father State are not privatized, we will continue to be bogged down.

Now there is talk of eliminating the subsidized cigarettes we have had since 1971, but let us remember that someone raised prices from 5 and 10 cents per pack to 8 and 10 pesos. Maybe it was the same people who raised the prices of rice, beans, chicken, pork and other staples included in the ridiculous Ration Book, which is in the same process of extinction as the regime that instituted it.

The end of subsidies should not imply an increase in poverty. People work because of their needs, not because of slogans. If the monopolizing state lacks the raw materials to produce and cannot – or doesn’t want to – pay workers what is necessary to live on, it will have to steer the situation through decentralizing changes and maneuvers. To pay with the devalued national currency and sell in foreign currency is equivalent to taking people for fools.

It is not a question of offering people a “Dinner for Idiots” nor of excluding those who need protection. Let the waters flow to drain the swamp. The rest will come little by little.

September 2, 2010

Culture and Power, Together and Restless / Miguel Iturria Savón

As in medieval times, when music, painting and other artistic expressions were under the wing of the Catholic church, in Cuba culture is sponsored by the State. But artists don’t knock on the doors of cathedrals nor present their projects to the despot, since there is a network of institutions that rule and control film, the performing arts, the plastic arts, books and literature, architecture and even the media.

I was thinking of the subjection of culture to the State on Monday, August 23rd, as I enjoyed the concert offered by Zenaida Romeu and her Camerata before the power elite, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women, created by the former First Lady to empower the females of the country.

Zenaida’s words as she presented each piece caught my attention. With delicacy and precision she spoke of music as an expression of liberty. I suppose that General Castro and his entourage did not notice that detail. Enveloped in the interpretive magic of these women, they were not attentive to these subtleties.

Many of our creative people sometimes act on stages that reaffirm the relationship between art and power. The Universal Hall of the Armed Forces, the steps of the University of Havana, the Plaza of the Revolution or the Black Flags Park on the Malecón, in front of the United States’ Interests Office, are only some of the ritual places.

It is almost impossible to control the manifestations of art and literature, since creation is a natural need of man as a social being. The predominance of the State can achieve, at most, that an intellectual elite, docile and well-trained, direct culture toward political ends.

With the revolutionary process started in 1959, culture continued its march, but its rhythm was changed. In half a century of messianic populism, several components of daily life and tangible and spiritual elements of the social dynamic were altered. There are reversible damages and representative faces of “revolutionary art”.

Upon the disruption of the social order, the sociopolitical scheme was changed. The association with the socialist model led by the former Soviet Union made way for the development of official organizations that monopolize each area of artistic creation. The Instituto Cubano del Libro (Cuban Books Institute), the Centro Nacional de la Música (National Music Center), the Instituto de Arte e Industria Cinematográfica (Institute of Film Arts and Industry), the Consejo de las Artes Escénicas (Performing Arts Council), the Instituto de la Radio y la Televisión (Radio and Television Institute), the Centro de Artes Plásticas y Diseño (Plastic Arts and Design Institute) and other groups direct the artistic production according to political and government interests.

The commissaries dictated standards, demanded fidelity, and imposed mass culture through control of the radio, film, education and the media; but the creative universe of the island went into crisis around 1990, with the fall of the socialist allies that provided the resources for the country, accelerating the exodus of artists to other countries. But the bureaucratization of culture was maintained, intent on tying the creators to the network of State centers that instituted censorship and submission through awards, publication, recordings and travel, favoring opportunists and excluding those who defy the doctrine of the power holders.

Many public shows take place in this context of political schemes, as in the times of praising and singing to the Lord, when music and other artistic expressions revolved around the cathedral and the artists were dependent on generous patrons.

Translated by: Espirituana

August 29, 2010

Polish Culture in Cuba / Eugenio Leal

The 58th edition of “Poland Today”, a periodical written and edited by the Polish Embassy in Havana, is already in libraries and national institutions. It is structured in specific sections such as current events, culture, politics, the Man and society, economics, science and Polish cooking. It is published three times a year, the 58th edition is the second of 2010.

In the January-March issue we learned about the celebration for the 200 year anniversary of Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) who is considered one of the greatest creators of music for the piano of all time.

As part of the festivities honoring the musician, the Wielki-Opera Ponznan theater put on a show titled “Waiting for Chopin” at the San Felipe de Neri church. The show is inspired by the desire to visit and present little known works of the composer; his poor state of health prevented him from traveling to many countries.

The performance also welcomed the exhibit titled “Chopin in Cuba” which includes nine portraits of the artist by nine contemporary Cuban painters. The exhibit had already been shown for the first time at the Amadeo Roldan Theater during Frank Fernandez’s concert, which inaugurated the Chopin Year in Cuba.

The Numismatic Museum was able to present the “Numismatic Exhibit” due to a loan from the Polish Mint. The exhibit included the institution’s most interesting coins. One could see coins from Poland, Russia, Armenia and Andorra. The exhibit also included one of the smallest coins in the world, which weights a mere gram and holds a portrait of Frederick Chopin. Other novelties included pieces with encrusted amber and other precious metals and some that depict reproductions of famous paintings from Van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci.

From the April-June edition of the bulletin we also learned about projects for public buildings in Poland, whose advanced technological design will make them paradigms of reference in the cities where they are erected.

In this latest edition, much to the dismay of Caribbean male chauvinism, we found out about an activist for male rights. This person has a unique way of making his claims. With a long beard and a machista attitude, without being a homosexual or a transvestite, he dresses in a petticoat and high heels, even inside his home. And so he makes fun of the stereotypes associated with the male gender in society.

The relationship between Poland and Cuba can be traced back to the 19th century. Let’s remember that Carlos Roloff from Poland participated in our independence struggles and reached the rank of general. Later, when the Republic was formed he was conferred Cuban citizenship.

In keeping with this historical precedent, every year Poland organizes a week of cinema in Cuba which includes exhibits, conferences, theater workshops and other events. Their socio-cultural projects are a valuable contribution to the development and consolidation of civil society in our country.

Translated by: Lita Q.

August 31, 2010

The Unbearable Roundness of A Golf Ball / Yoani Sánchez

As if cutting a cake before it is even baked, our government has extended to 99 years the right of foreign investors to use our land. Pieces of this nation will pass into the hands of those who hold foreign passports; meanwhile local entrepreneurs are granted the use of agricultural land, in usufruct, for a mere ten years. The Official Gazette speaks of the “real estate business” when we all know that land — our land — is not available to Cubans who would like to acquire a small sliver on which to build.

Another recent surprise has been the announcement of the creation of several golf courses throughout the island. With the objective of promoting classy tourism, they will open the greens and manicured lawns, surrounded by luxurious amenities. When I told a friend about the coming of these expanses for entertainment, the first thing she asked me was with what water are they planning to maintain the green freshness of the grass. She lives in a neighborhood where such provisions only come twice a week, and to her, the thought of water pumps spraying the precious liquid between one hole and another is a painful one. You’ll have to get used to it, my friend, because the abyss between the dispossessed citizens and those who come from abroad with bulging wallets…

I can already imagine the rest of the movie: to work on one of those golf courses will be a privilege for the most trustworthy; men in suits and ties, microphones attached, will be stationed all around to keep watch and ensure that locals cannot enter and… live and learn… the most prominent and faithful servants will also have their turn with the stick to complete a round with the ball. Hence, they are in training for that morning they plan to enjoy, when they will be on the golf course in their bermuda shorts while we look on from the other side of the fence.

September 3, 2010

Urban Paranoias / Claudia Cadelo

Image: “Your passport, citizen” by Erick Perez Jorge Mota

Following the universal law of Cuban telephone lines, after the downpour on Wednesday my phone died. “No line,” was the post-mortem note, in English, on the little handset screen. On Thursdays we reported the outage several times because, as the experts say, the more reports that are made about the same break, the faster ETECSA will come.

On Friday I canceled all my plans and prepared to wait for the technician. Hours passed: I read, I wrote, I scrubbed and cleaned, I didn’t talk to anyone all day and had time to speculate. I came to the conclusion that there was a high percentage of probability that the technician who services me also has a small job with the Department of State Security (DSE). At six in the evening my theory became an absolute certainty. I went out and called the users-service-line to ask them to tell me, if not the hour, at least the day my repair is scheduled for: “I’m sorry, we do not have that information, it could be any day between eight in the morning and four in the afternoon.”

Anticipating that the wait could be extended to September, I tried to cover the month of August in morning and afternoon watches with my friends. If I had to leave home for some emergency, I had to call my mother so she could rush over and not leave the house empty. Life is like that, you just have to wait longer than expected and stop looking for the guy to turn up.

My and Ciro’s time was the most affected, of course. I told him about my theory of the technician moonlighting for the DSE, and he looked at me with that face he makes when he thinks I’m being paranoid. There are those in Cuba who think everyone is from State Security, even if it’s proven otherwise.

I was wrong. Saturday at eight-thirty in the morning the man in question showed up. He didn’t give us time to make bets about his Security origins. He looked terrified, poor thing. He came in and before saying “Good morning,” he asked, “Do you have a modem connected?”

The little box for my phone line is in the bedroom, behind the bed. He was tinkering with it under my scrutinizing gaze. It looked like he didn’t put a microphone in it, but one never knows.  Either way, the things I talk about in bed are inconsequential. He said the problem wasn’t in the box and that he would have to make a sketch of all the wiring in the house. I put on my I-don’t-think-so face when Ciro’s voice came from the living room, “It’s already fixed.”

We left the bedroom. I started to feel guilty toward the guy. At the end of the day, he had fixed my problem and my cogitations, I thought, seemed as fantastical as the reflections of comrade Fidel.

“Would you like a coffee?” I asked, with the idea of lowering his guard.

I couldn’t get to the kitchen because he decided to make a call.

Previous position: On guard!

I stood a few inches away with the obvious intention of overhearing what he was saying. I didn’t understand a thing. I think he used slang and hung up quickly. I must have been staring, I was really surprised. How is it possible that one can’t understand someone speaking Spanish less than a yard away in a quiet atmosphere? With the satisfaction of having been proved right, and the discomfort of having a security agent in the room, I went to put the coffee on. He started a conversation.

“Did you see the Roundtable show yesterday?” he asked Ciro.

“Our TV is very bad.”

“A man talked about the global economic collapse.”

But Ciro was not intimidated, “Well, according to Karl Marx, in the future there will be no money, no leaders.”

The guy was a little disconcerted. I put his coffee in front of him and didn’t say a single word.

“There will always be leaders.”

“ Really? What do you call the president of Sweden, or Denmark or Finland?”

That was the last thing I caught. I didn’t want to be a part of it, although it was cracking me up. Suddenly everything had become extremely hilarious. He drank the coffee quickly and left. We made bets later, which are ongoing: State security or not State security?

September 2, 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