Of “Patriots” and Citizens / Fernando Dámaso

In my childhood and adolescence, personalities from the war of independence were the ones they called patriots and, in its most general sense, all those who took part in it in one way or another. With the passing of years, the word fell into disuse, and was sometimes applied, rather ironically, to some politician at election time.
<li>From the beginning of the sixties it was taken up again, and started to be used with athletes, artists, professionals, et cetera, who experiencing some success abroad, chose not to stay there and returned to their homeland.</li>
<li>Recently, different authorities in the field of education are proposing once again that the first job of education is to form ever more prepared patriots.</li>
<li>I beg to differ: I believe that the principle job of the family, of education, and of society, is to form citizens. When I write citizens, I am referring to people with moral principles, ethics and civics, capable of fulfilling their duties and exercising their rights. These people, unfortunately, are now in the minority, an important cause of the deterioration of our social existence.</li>
<li>In place of a country of patriots and heroes, I prefer one of citizens.</li>

August 13, 2010

VOICES / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

VOCES, originally uploaded by orlandoluispardolazo.


A document circulates Havana, it surrounds it.

It’s VOCES 1.

A dossier of dissimilar discourse, in and out of Cuba.

A score of writers, and a window for looking in and out of Cuba.

Voices of change and continuity, swift to the point of the implausible.

Unedited and recycled, unheard on paper as well as on screen.

East of Eden. More loquacious than leaders of nothing, marathon runners of the

rhetorical resistance. Facing the crude body, without political

fibbing, pedaling between the spiritual and the stupid, reporting at the

foot of the horde, fictioning the black holes of a sinking vessel

in its nonsensical notion of nation.

Ways of narrating our unideological idleness at the height of the 21st century.

Ways of reformulating everything for the thousandth time. Endemic

enthusiasm of those of us who want to gain if not a voice, at least a


Future acknowledgment. Meetings of post-Cuban cultures. More a collage

than a choir. Binnacle of bits. Next to last papers. More art of hope

than of expectancy. Bullet-in of blogiterature.

Welcome to VOICES as a lucid reader. We also await you inasmuch

author at the edge of all authority.

Translated by: Joanne Gómez

August 5, 2010

THE IMMIGRANT / Fernando Dámaso

The cubicle was permeated with a strong odor of antibiotics. On the pole hung two hundred and fifty grams of blood plasma and two vials of serum, attached by thin plastic hoses that ended in his chest and arms. The oxygen cylinder was connected to his nose through a tube, trying to east his strangled breathing. His nose also had a drain hose discharging into a bottle hanging on the left-hand bar of the bed. Another hose coming from his abdomen drained urine into a bottle on the floor.

Every so often nurses checked on the jars and hoses and took his pulse, measuring his heart rate. In the next bed, an elderly man operated on for ulcers, emitted rhythmic moans from a state of drowsiness. The guy opened his glazed eyes and looked, lost in the morning of the accident between the crash and the screeching of brakes, searching the Asturian mountains for the wolves who preyed on the unsuspecting sheep. From time to time he raised his left arm, looking for his hand, and tried to scare away the hawk that, flying high, also searched for easy prey. The sheep pushed in around him, one against another, and he, the child-shepherd, stroked their woolly backs, giving them confidence.

The first heart attack surprised him in the morning. It was a hot blow tearing into his chest. He pressed against the sheep and merged with them. He wanted to avoid the wolves’ bites and raised his left arm again, fending off the sharp teeth. He felt the wolf move off, after biting him. The sheep stopped their bleating. The nearby olive grove wafted well-known odors his way, and the cold mountain wind ruffled his hair. He pressed the blanket against his chest. The nurse came and moved his arm.

“Careful,” she said, “you’ll disconnect the transfusion.”

Again the sheep surrounded him. He started to remember that old melody that, at night, when he returned home, he used to sing to scare the wolves away. From the church came the procession, carrying the virgin dressed all in white. María Isabel carried the ring and sat on the garden bench, stretching her legs. He looked at her and smiled. She hid her face.

The nurse felt his chest and again adjusted the drops falling from the bottles of serum.

In the distance was the roar of the guns. The sheep became frightened and ran from side to side. He tried to stop them. Then the second heart attack came. He felt his chest was on fire. He saw the doctor’s face bending over him. The boat rocked him on the waves and he was dizzy, feeling like he wanted to vomit. He clung to the railing. The doctor beat on his chest. The hawk launched itself at its prey. He raised his arm once more, trying to scare it, but he couldn’t. Then he began to feel like a speck of earth floating on the mountain air.

August 11, 2010

TAKEN FROM VOCES 1 / Yoani Sánchez / Posted by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

That one will not return

Yoani Sánchez

I CAN STILL remember my mother’s sighs in front of the television, during those boring eighties, while Fidel Castro gave one of his marathonian speeches. He was the dreamy stud of many Cuban women who—from seeing him so much—could anticipate what he would say, they knew each of his gestures, even the new wrinkles that appeared on his face.

The attraction which that peculiar countryman of more that six feet, Grecian profile, and surprising oratory generated, took my mother and her friends into a prolonged paroxysm. It was like that until, in 1989, Arnaldo Ochoa’s trial was televised. He was accused of being involved with drug trafficking. My mother sighed once again, but this time opposite the face of the one who would be executed in a few days.

Something was broken within the “fan-club of the beloved and invincible Commander-in-Chief,” because in my house, nobody again listened stupefied to his speeches.

The age marked by Fidel Castro’s personal tantrums seemed to end. His absence in the media made us begin to forget him. Like every sorcerer, he needed to perform his magical moves for us, leaving us widemouthed and contented. He had to take the rabbit out of the hat and the scarf out of the sleeve in order to keep our attention.

Without his demiurgic image many of us ended up leaving our chairs and looking around. How little remained of “Him” in those four years during which we did not hear his speeches, when we didn’t have his punches on the table and his explanations of how the economic plan would bring the “solution” to all problems. Of the man who imposed himself with the strength of his presence, of the lulling us with his long diatribes, some unconnected reflections barely remained, published on the front pages of newspapers.

Suddenly, Pedro Luis Ferrer’s tune, warning us that “If grandpa does not agree, nobody paints the building” began to go out of style, to lose part of its meaning.

For starters, there were dozens of flu outbreaks going around Havana, and nobody thought of calling them by his name. During his long convalescence, practically no new nickname was added to the list of the ones He already held. And Pepito, the eternal rascal of our jokes, stopped mentioning him in his funny stories. Little by little, we had begun to forget Fidel Castro, even while he was still alive.

Homemakers were calm because the Brazilian soap opera kept its stellar nighttime time slot, without the delays that the Great Orator caused. The sports coaches felt lighter since they didn’t have to listen and follow his advice; meanwhile the meteorologists got startled, in the middle of a hurricane, when remembering the precise and irrefutable forecasts of the Expert in Chief.

The ministers, on their part, began to wonder if they had to make decisions for themselves, of if Raul Castro would inherit all the cabinet positions that his brother held. All of them, to some large or small degree, had stopped feeling the huge olive-green weight on his shoulders.

That sensation of lightness came about because since July, 2006, the Commander had not shown himself alive in front of them. All that time he did not give a speech or attend a public event. Neither did he approve a new law nor champion the sports delegations that traveled to international competitions nor sponsor the formal decorations to the presidents that visited the country. He was conspicuous by his absence in the numerous congresses celebrated and in the inaugurations of the new health centers. He practically did not utter any political opinion over how things had to be done in the country. Ultimately, he did not act like Fidel Castro.

And then he returned, like a blabbering elder with shaky hands that had nothing to do with that once well-built military man of Grecian profile, who from a plaza, where a million voices chanted his name, proclaimed laws that hadn’t been consulted with anyone, pardoned death penalties, announced executions or proclaimed the right of revolutionaries to make revolution. Little is left of the man who for hours took over television programming and kept an entire nation on the edge of their seats.

The great improviser of other times assembles now in a little theatre with an audience of young people, to read the summary of his last reflections—already published in the press—and instead of inducing that old dread that made the bravest tremble, he provokes, at best, a tender compassion. A young journalist asks an indulgent question and publicly bids him for a wish: Would you let me give you a kiss? What of that abyss that no audacity dared jump?

We had begun to remember him like something of the past, it was even a noble way of forgetting him. Many were willing to forgive his mistakes and failures in order to place him in some cindered pedestal of 20th century history, where his face—photographed in his last best moment—already appeared next to the illustrious dead. Suddenly he has come out to lewdly exhibit his ailments and announce the end of the world, as if he wanted to convince us that life after him will lose all meaning.

During recent weeks, he who once was called the One, the Highest Leader, the Horse, or with the simple personal pronoun HIM, has presented himself to us stripped of his former charisma, to confirm that the other Fidel Castro—fortunately—will not return again, even if this time, he makes the news again.

Translated by: Joanne Gomez

August 9, 2010

Other Steps / Fernando Dámaso

1. When we speak of solving the economic problems that overwhelm us, the road ahead appears complex and intricate. It has grown too much invasive marabou weed over the years and clearing it is no easy task. The solution is not to open narrow paths that, ultimately, are difficult to navigate and close up again with the first rains.

2. The solution is to open wide avenues where initiatives and work that will produce wealth for all Cubans can take hold, freed from the bureaucratic patronage that has produced nothing.

3. Public ownership in some key spheres, cooperative ownership, and small- and medium-sized individual ownership, without limitations, must become real factors in our development. The balance of each one will be determined over time.

4. It is time to abandon old and obsolete formulas that have failed everywhere, and face reality with ways and methods that correspond to the integrated and globalized world. It means taking no steps backward, only moving forward.

August 10, 2010

Taking Note / Regina Coyula

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

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

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

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 31, 2010

Cuba’s Theatrical Metaphors / Miguel Iturria Savón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 16, 2010

The Same Old Story Again / Antunez

Here comes the same old story again, the elimination of restrictions on commerce with the Havana dictatorship.  Once again the same voices, influenced by powerful interests, continue talking about the same thing.  Sometimes, it’s as if we lose faith in our own efforts as Cubans.

Not long ago, I read and heard about an important shipment of I-don’t-know-what kind of ham that arrived from the United States for none other than the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  This is a crude insult to the people who suffer, not only from those who eat it, but also on behalf of those who promote politics that allow this to happen.

Enough of double standards, enough of feeding those who spill the blood of and oppress our people!  Enough of the dictatorship eating quality ham while the everyday Cuban feeds himself with whatever he is able to fish, if he is even allowed to do so.

Could it be that if we promote tourism, and if we fill up homes and the hotels that belong to the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), and the oligarchy while our children go to bed hungry and go to school nearly barefoot and in rags;  is that how we promote democracy?

Oh, Barack Obama!  Oh, all those letters to  Congress asking for more trips, increased remittances and cultural exchanges only with artists approved by the dictatorship!  Oh, Cuba, how you suffer and how they toy with your pain!  Oh, Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo!  If only you could see what they have done with your country.  If only you could see how our Church, from Rome all the way to Holguin, allies itself with our oppressors, lending itself to an operation to clean out and exile the best sons of the Nation.

If only Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata Tamayo were alive and could see how the message of reconciliation, understanding, and flexibility was being appealed to in order to not to bother those who murdered them by starvation  during their hunger strikes.  But at times when some seemed to doubt and to resort to an alternative without independence, the Bronze Titan* said:  “I don’t want even freedom, if with it comes dishonor.”

And that is the watchword of those who struggle for Change in and out of Cuba, a maxim which strengthens and encourages us.

*Translator’s note: Bronze Titan was the alias of Antonio Maceo, historic Cuban freedom fighter for independence from Spain.

Translated by Raul G.

August 20, 2010

Inside the Neighborhood, Outside the Heart / Yoani Sánchez

Barrio Adentro Clinic in Venezuela -- Image taken from: http://paulagiraud.blogspot.com/

“You must turn in your passport!” So they told him on arriving in Caracas, to prevent him from making it to the border and deserting. In the same airport they read him the rules: “You cannot say that you are Cuban, you can’t walk down the street in your medical clothes, and it’s best to avoid interacting with Venezuelans.” Days later he understood that his mission was a political one, because more than curing some heart problem or lung infection, he was supposed to examine consciences, probe voting intentions.

In Venezuela he also came across the corruption of some of those leading the Barrio Adentro Project. The “shrewd ones” here become the “scoundrels” there, grabbing power, influence, money, and even pressuring the female doctors and nurses who travel alone to become their concubines. They placed him together with six colleagues in a cramped room and warned them that if they were to die — victims of all the violence out there — they would be listed as deserters. But it didn’t depress him. At the end of the day he was only 28 and this was his first time escaping from parental protection, the extreme apathy of his neighborhood, and the shortages in the hospital where he worked.

A month after arriving, they gave him an identity card, telling him that with it he could vote in the upcoming elections. At a quick meeting someone spoke about the hard blow it would be to Cuba to lose such an important ally in Latin America. “You are soldiers of the fatherland,” they shouted at them, and as such, “you must guarantee that the red tide prevails at the polls.”

The days when he thought he would save lives or relieve suffering are long gone. He just wants to go home, return to the protection of his family, tell his friends the truth, but for now he can’t. Beforehand, he must stand in line at the polls, show his support for the Venezuelan Socialist Party, hit the screen with his thumb as a sign of agreement. He counts the days until the last Sunday in September, thinking that after that he can go home.

August 31, 2010

Havana Reinvents Itself / Iván García

The family of Hector Iznaga lives hand to mouth. His daughter, 18-years-old, was going to have a baby, and they realized that their house was very small. They got to work. Without permission from any state body, they quickly turned the balcony of their small two-bedroom apartment into a new bedroom.

Many families in this country are like the Iznaga family. There are areas of Havana geography that have been turned into veritable architectural Frankensteins. Very different from their original design.

In Cuba, the respect for rules and directives of the Housing Institute and for the municipal architects do not exist. In general, people wipe their rear ends with the norms of urban order.

It’s like we live in an African jungle. The disregard for the laws of coexistence is typical on the island. People like Hector Iznaga show why. His family has lived for 20 years in an dreadful building of five floors in the Alamar neighborhood, one of the largest and worst slums in Havana.

its upkeep, supposedly, falls to the State, but only in theory. No official organ cares that the inhabitants of the property have carried their water for months, because the water pumps don’t function.

When it rains, the roofs leak to even the lowest floors. The situation is the same with the sanitary services. The stairways are dark and without handrails. The building speaks for itself. Filthy and dilapidated, crying out for a even a little paint.

The neighbors have complained to their local delegation of the Popular Power in their area, but nothing. Life continues the same. So, the inhabitants, in the face of such state slacking, do as they please.

At a glance, you can see that numerous families make adaptations without legal permission. They change the facade. They take collective areas for themselves. And without any knowledge of construction or engineering, they tear down load-bearing walls, putting themselves and the rest of the residents in danger.

I’ll offer you a figure. Sixty percent of the housing in the city of Havana is in fair to poor shape. In general, up to four generations live in one house.

In the middle of the capital, or in other overpopulated areas like Luyano, Lawton, or Vibora, it has been decades since many buildings have seen repairs. They have not even been painted.

People who live in larger houses or chalets renovate them based on their economic situation. It’s “save yourself if you can.” Although the State offers very little, it severely punishes urban violations.

According to the official press, just in Havana, in the first six months of the year, more than 3,500 fines have been imposed for illegal construction projects in private homes. The fines range from 200 pesos (10 dollars) to 1,500 pesos (60 dollars). In the case of about 500 families, newly finished construction projects have been torn down.

The issue of housing is one of the unresolved problems of the government of the Castro brothers. The deficit of housing is enormous. They have tried to patch this enormous gap with small patches, like allowing organizations or individuals to construct their own homes, but the supply of materials is precarious, and of poor quality.

Throughout the city, one can see buildings that have been under construction for ten years or more. And they threaten to take longer. In the face of such a necessity, families patch them together the best they can.

The same families construct “barbacoas,” a 100% Cuban invention. It consists of a wooden or concrete porch inside their own house. If later, they want to add on to the house, if they have an empty lot next door, they will take it over and expand their dwelling with no consent from the authorities.

This all serves to give a little more capacity for a relative from the country, or for a baby on the way. Like the Iznaga family, who got rid of their balcony in favor of a new room for their future grandchild. And they have been lucky, not having been caught by the state inspectors. For now.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by: Gregorio

August 29, 2010

Epilogue of the JJ Saga / Miriam Celaya

JJ during his hunger strike in which he lost over 40 pounds

This past August 24th, 2010, on his return from the Archdiocese of Havana, where he had been summoned, Juan Juan Almeida settled his hunger strike: his departure from Cuba was being discussed. He eventually left by way of Mexico on the afternoon of the following day (August 25th). This ends another one of the personal dramas that the absurd Cuban emigration procedures provoke, in which every Cuban must go through the odious and humiliating process of soliciting an exit permit from the authorities. This time, another Cuban who stands up for his rights just won over the opportunity to exercise them, I rejoice.

Due to the extent and complexity of the subject, I would like to put aside, until another occasion, the proposal for a debate on the fickle and secretive institution that answers to the name “Directorate of Emigration and Foreign Affairs”, where certain uniformed officers –who misleadingly appear humanoid- dictate whether or not to authorize the release from this country-prison any ill-fated person who has committed the unlucky mistake of having been born into it. If the insect in question (a category that I state while taking into account what the circumstances suggest and not meaning to offend any of my countrymen who, like myself, are subject to the same disgraceful tourniquet), that is, if a Cuban who asks permission has the additional aggravating circumstance of belonging to the black list previously composed from on high, names and inventory numbers (i.e., Identity papers) those highly toxic individuals who are absolutely banned from leaving the country, must say goodbye even to the simple idea that there is a world beyond the geographical boundaries of Cuba, and can only hope for a miracle … or make the miracle happen. We all know that.

For now, I will just refer to the comments that my post (Breaking the Stigma) from August 17th provoked and thank the readers who participated in it for their sincerity. At the suggestion of some readers, I have posted a picture of JJ during the strike, which I found on the Internet, you can appreciate the difference between the pictures when compared with the one I previously posted.

I think that you and I have found in that debate -which was colored by the most diverse criteria around, contrasting and even sharply polarized- how much hatred has been sown among us in these 50 years of dictatorship and how much there is still left to argue and cast out of our souls so we can find reconciliation, the necessary foundation for the Cuba who so many of us dream of.

I am also thankful that all points of views, whether in favor of solidarity with another Cuban, (not “somebody’s son”) as those who chose moral condemnation, helped me to hold on even with more conviction to the principle of harmony that eggs me on: every Cuban who peacefully defends his freedom and his rights against this regime may count on my respect, solidarity and sympathy, independent of his origin, creed and ideology. Nothing is going to make me seem like those who have sown intolerance and mistrust among us.

Nor is remaining in Cuba patriotism. In my case, I have never wanted to leave my country permanently -I assume it would be more convenient for those who have ruined my country to leave- but I have never felt that such a decision makes me a patriot nor a better or worse person than others. “Patriot” is a title that, besides, produces in me certain uneasiness: here and there are terms that have been widely manipulated. Maybe, in order to recoup the true meaning of the word, it would be interesting to also define some day what we are calling “Motherland.”

For now, I will avoid the peculiar word “patriot” while I take back having used the term “idiots” if its use brings unnecessary trouble. Pretend I never wrote it, however, I will leave it in the original post to have it remain a witness, lest some suspicious person suggest that I cheat or that I delete my mistakes so I can deny them. Just know that I defend my stumbles as much as my successes: they make me more human. I don’t write to please, but it is not my intent to offend anyone.

I congratulate Juan Juan right now for having achieved his goal (personal or otherwise) and I offer my best wishes to regain his health. In addition, to all my readers, including some that from time to time carry the suspicious aroma of a camouflaged troll: remain in the ring. Thank you.

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 27, 2010

Hatuey* in Flames… / Henry Constantín

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 28, 2010

Sacrifice / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

She grabbed the mission for several reasons: they would put 50 Cuban convertible pesos (cuc) in a bank in Cuba every month, she could acquire the home appliances that she’d needed her whole life, she could buy her children clothes, and what’s more, she could leave the damn polyclinic that was ruining her life.

She knew Venezuela was pretty violent and politically unstable, but the Cuban delegation would surely be well protected, supposedly they were a priority. They were located on the outskirts in a poor, high crime area. No one warned her that after she got there they would take her passport and she would be undocumented. She worked hard, discovered that most Venezuelans felt like Cubans: politics had split the society in two.

She suffered the hatred of a people who, like hers, had lost control of their future. She discovered that paranoia knows no borders and that fear also travels on airplanes. A colleague of hers was killed in a brawl between gangs in the neighborhood. She asked to return to Cuba, but the commitment was unbreakable — like the Communist Party — and being depressed is not consistent with solidarity among peoples.  She still can’t return and to console herself she gives herself therapy in front of the mirror every morning: 50 cuc, 50 cuc, 50 cuc.

August 30, 2010

From Revolutionary Friend to Foe / Laritza Diversent

If Chilean businessman Joel Max Marambio Rodríguez does not appear before the Inspector from the Ministry of Interior, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Miguel Estrada Portales, this 23rd of August (the deadline specified in an indictment), the criminal proceedings initiated against him could proceed to a final judgment of guilt.

Max Marambio was summoned and interrogated on July 10 and August 3, by Officer Estrada Portales, who is in charge of investigating the case, according to two notices published by the Interior Ministry in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba. According to the published documents, the businessman lives in the “Las Condes” Commune in Santiago de Chile, where his business offices are also located.

Marambio, known in Cuba as “El Guatón” (the fat man), arrived on the island in the mid ’60s, when he made personal contact with then-President Fidel Castro. On the island he began his training as a guerrilla, under the direction of the legendary Manuel Piñeiro, known as Barbarossa.

At the end of that decade he returned to Chile and joined the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and then led the Group of Personal Friends (GAP), the non-military cohort of President Allende. He took refuge in Cuba after the 1973 coup.

He also worked with Patricio and Tony Laguardia, in the Special Troops of the Ministry of Interior, and survived the political scandal that resulted in the firing-squad executions of Antonio Laguardia and General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989. Then he was one of the founders of CIMEX, among the largest Cuban state-owned corporations, with annual revenues of more than one billion dollars.

During the decade of the nineties, under the protective wing of Fidel, he went from guerrilla to successful businessman, to the point that today he owns a holding company that does more than a hundred million dollars of business per year. His memoir, “The Weapons of Yesterday”, was presented a couple of years ago in the Havana Book Fair.

There is speculation about what caused his status to change from revolutionary friend to adversary. Some say it was for financially backing the campaign of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, who was dismissed from the center-left coalition that governed Chile for 20 years, and whose candidate lost to the rightist billionaire Sebastian Pinera.

Others believe that it was for indelicately demanding his capital, when a year ago Cuban authorities froze the funds deposited in Cuban banks, and the transfers of all foreign businessmen, because of the serious lack of liquidity in the country.

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 29, 2010

His Own War / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Saturday, August 7, Cuban television aired another chapter in the media tragicomedy of Fidel Castro Ruz, who chaired the special session of the so-called People’s Power National Assembly, to which he spoke about the disaster that will be triggered in the Persian Gulf if the U.S. government dares to underestimate the threats of Iran, whose government is developing a plan of nuclear weapons, destabilizing the region.

The parliamentary track became a pre-scripted session of claiming the limelight. Castro resumed his role of universal guru and the deputies confirmed their loyalty to the tyrant, interrupting him with applause, complacent questions, and congratulations on his 84th birthday. Without moving from his chair, the former leader showed off his dramatic poses, enhanced by his raving verbal and mental excesses; meanwhile, the entourage of fawningly servile adulators, avidly listened to the Caudillo’s prophecies.

More than a conclave of national interest, the Saturday assembly between the despot and his legislators, became a meeting of shadow plays that accentuated the desperation. Neither the yawns of the Caudillo’s brother, multiplied by zero among so many blunders, nor Alarcon’s caution in conducting the “debates,” justified the irresponsible diatribe of the aged commander, sick from power and prominence.

In this role play of Fidel Castro he fired his last cartridges against the people of Cuba, suffocated by half a century of totalitarianism. Castro, like Stalin, Mao and Franco, intends to rule until the end of his days, with the the reins of power in the hands of his worshipers, whose veneration and servility are beyond doubt.

Castro fought his own war against our island, though disguised his legacy of deaths, mass exoduses, economic devastation, collective misery, generalized corruption and external dependency; camouflaged in speeches from his own barricades of the Cold War, when he was exporting the Socialist Utopia and destabilizing the countries in the region.

The cynicism of the cacique and his vassals elicits guffaws more than sympathy. His recent public interventions, the “reflections” that his amanuenses write in his name, and the 800-page tome on the strategy of his victory, represent his closing mutterings.

In reviewing the Parliament session of August 7, the foreign correspondents accredited in Havana will be respectful and circumspect. Perhaps Patricia Grog, Andrea Rodríguez and Fernando Ravsberg will show their admiration for the island patriarch and describe the warnings against the United States, which now “seeks to humiliate the people of Iran,” whose ayatollahs are Castro’s allies.

Cubans, weary of tragicomedies and verbal bombast, know that Castro’s prophecies of war and the applause of his legislators, are one more branch on the tree of cynicism. More of the same from the pit of inertia.

August 13, 2010