Rejected Invitation / Fernando Dámaso

  1. The ambiguous Silvio Rodríguez, good at music, doesn’t rise to the political rumor. His written invitation, reproduced in the today’s edition of Granma, to his personal blog, Second City, is an unoriginal repeat of the official black history coined over the republican years. There’s a reason Granma published it.
  2. Accepting that Havana wasn’t the ruins it has turned into today, and even daring to share responsibility, to immediately tell us the sad story of the poor boy who was, having no money for a toy, one of the black beggars beaten by the police and urinated on by a drunk sailor (he used another word) against the statue of José Martí in Central Park.
  3. Silvio takes isolated incidents, that happened or could have happened, and magnifies them, generalizes them, as if they were the norm, as if this Havana lost in time existed only for the bourgeois and the powerful. However, it also existed for those of us who lived in neighborhoods like Mantilla, Párraga, La Víbora, Los Pinos, El Cerro, Luyanó, El Diezmero, etc. It existed for everyone, only our parents worked and this allowed them to put a roof over our heads, feed us, clothe us, educate us, and even buy us a toy at the Galiano Ten Cent Store, which had them costing ten cents.
  4. It would be desirable if the singer-songwriter worried a little more about knowing the true history of his country and was able to tell the difference between light and shadow. In fifty-six years of the Republic, despite the problems and unresolved tasks, a country was built that came to be among the first in the Americas and other parts of the world in education, public health, constitutional and workers’ rights, infrastructure and development. In our archives and libraries there are documents attesting to this. One only has to consult them.
  5. Regarding his criticism of the changes in political positions and people, I consider it nonsense. The only Cuban thing that doesn’t change is the baseball team. If humans can change their religion, why not their politics? What’s more, as the years go by we acquire new knowledge and experiences, discard what doesn’t work and look for the new. This has always been the path to development. No one tries to return to the past, which is impossible because it doesn’t exist. What is needed is to incorporate the present and advance with it. It should not be allowed that, once again, we step aside and end up tossed out on the San Antonio de los Baños train platform, as happened to Silvio.

September 14, 2010

Amanda / Fernando Dámaso

Amanda was a nightingale. Every morning, with the first rays of the sun, she flapped her wings and started to warble. From her prodigious throat came, one after another, the most dissimilar and original musical notes: now a fortissimo treble, now a deep note that penetrated the soul. All the songs of the birds were contained in her and acquired a level magisterial execution. She reveled in them, absorbed in her own song, without paying the least bit of attention to what was happening around her. All who passed near Amanda’s window stopped to listen. Sometimes she caused traffic jams, and the police had to intervene to get things moving. Amanda’s song was the most famous in the city and there were those who rose at daybreak to listen, in the stillness of the dawn, before the noise, her first trills. Connoisseurs comments that they were the most beautiful, always new.

The months and years passed and Amanda’s singing became an important part of the city. All the tourists who came demanded that their schedule include a visit to hear her. The same thing happened with official delegations. People gossiped for days about the visiting president who rescheduled his flight, breaking all protocol and ruining the official welcoming ceremony to listen to Amanda at dawn. Given the number of people who gathered in front of Amanda’s house every day, the authorities decided to connect microphones to the radio network, so that everyone could listen to Amanda singing from home. From that time on she was a part of breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was present when people were talking, making love, being born and dying. And her singing was always new. She sang without pause from morning to night, as long as the sun shone. On cloudy and rainy days she remained silent and only sang when a rainbow appeared. Then she sang with the same force as at dawn.

On day Amanda stopped singing, and the city, little by little, began to die.

September 28, 2010

11 September 2001, A Despicable Crime / Rebeca Monzo

View of the model that was inside one of the twin towers.

I took this photo when I visited the towers in January 2001. I found myself in that city, a guest of a friend from my adolescence, who, on hearing I was in the United States for a personal exposition, wanted me to visit.

A few months later, back in my planet, I received an urgent call to turn on the TV. At first I thought it was a run-through for a movie. My brain couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. What horror! What helplessness! What sick minds could have been capable of carrying out such a crime. Later we knew. Almost three thousand innocent people died, many of them of Hispanic origin, as well as other nationalities. No strangers to a generous country which has always welcomed immigrants of every ethnicity. No one deserves to be the target of terrorism, the United States didn’t deserve such horror. Crimes such as these must never be repeated.

My respects to those strong men and women who have made that Nation great.

September 11, 2010

REINALDO ESCOBAR UNEDITED IN VOICES 2 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo / Reinaldo Escobar

The image of the forest, the identity of the tree

Reinaldo Escobar

LITTLE has been revealed of the controversial life of Juan Bautista Spotorno, a commander of the Spanish militia and led an insurrection and became acting president of the Republic in Arms. He issued a famous decree that bears his name, that provided that any person bearing a proposal for peace without independence would be shot. Three years later he joined the committee that negotiated the peace with the Spanish and that led to the Pact of Zanjón. He ended up being an autonomist.

I can imagine that in the ranks of the Liberation Army there must have been numerous people like Spotorno, about whom it is difficult to be sure they were wrong when they thought they were right, or that they were right at times when they thought they were wrong. Men full of contradictions, passions, virtues, personal defects and that ingredient that makes a human being normal and mortal. However, the veil of glory that covers all the mambises with the same dignity, because the heroes, the martyrs, are the what keeps the story alive in the memory of a people. They stained with their blood the timeless colors of the flags, and with their war cries and screams of pain they filled the high notes of the national anthem.

Every era has its paladins. The struggle against Machado had Julio Antonio Mello, later expelled for indiscipline from the party he himself had founded, but finally sheltered in his last words, “I die for the Revolution.” The fights against Batista had José Antonio Echevarría, a fervent Catholic who had never accepted the imposition of communist atheism but who could not be exiled from the revolutionary pantheon because he died riddled with bullets with a pistol in his hand.

I once heard a decorated veteran of the Bay of Pigs say he had witnessed that not all the dead had fallen in combat at the front and I heard the same from a veteran from Angola, where almost more were killed by accidents, murders and executions, than in combat actions. But the glory, even if not eternal, is generous and it is enough to have died in the right place at the right time to be blessed by it. The living are the ones who then have problems.

Most of the senior offices of the Liberation Army who survived the war ended up, with few exceptions, disillusioned or corrupted by the Republic. This scenario is repeated over and over. I often wonder what we wold be saying now about Camilo Cienfuegos if he had kept repeating, for fifty years, his, “You’re doing well, Fidel.” The tourists would not be buying shirts with photos of Che Guevara if he were still heading up some ministry which I suspect still wouldn’t work. The epithet that encompasses a host of heroes almost always makes each one a great figure, but the fault is not theirs but that of the propagandists of one kind or another, who strive to come up with angelic characterizations, almost always far from human miseries, the appetites, vices and bad habits that make us unworthy of and aura.

Right now, overdue government sanity is about to dismantle the episode of the 75 imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. Before too long they will cease to be “the defenders of civil rights, victims of the cruel repression of the dictatorship,” to be, to become again, themselves.

The time is coming when we will discover among them one who doesn’t know which letter gets the accent in the word política, or others who never want to hear the name of Cuba again, and no doubt there will be one who wants to divorce his Lady in White, the same one who Sunday after Sunday, over seven long years, was at Santa Rita church praying and shouting for his freedom. Some will say some stupid thing in their first interview, or sign the first thing put in front of them to get ahead.

There will be something of everything, because everything is there. But I want one thing known: for me, who is not perfect either, you will continue to the “The 75,” that group that never went anywhere together and among whom there are probably not three of you who can agree on two points. Whatever happens with the trees, the forest will be in my heart.

September 28, 2010

Involution / Fernando Dámaso

As he was growing, all around him long shoots were developing that bit by bit enveloped him. First they sprouted next to the soles of his feet. They were like bamboo shoots. Then they grew long and joined together across the time, until they formed an enormous oval cage that followed him everywhere. At first he tried to break them, but they were very flexible and wouldn’t break. Every day they became more dense and blocked the rays of the sun. It was true that he could walk and move in any direction, he could even float on the water of the ocean, but always within this strange plant container. Little by little he adapted to the situation and stopped fighting it. Then the shoots settled into the earth and he couldn’t move any more. With each day that passed they became more dense. To look out he had to push through the tiny open spaces that remained. One day the shoots formed a trunk and he disappeared.

September 4, 2010

A Pending Subject / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In my school years I studied a subject call Morals and Civics. In it, step by step, they inculcated principles in us to conduct ourselves in life as citizens. Ethical norms, morals and civics that, without realizing it, complement and deepen the teachings of our parents in the heart of the family.
  2. We learned to love our country, respect the flag and shield, and to sing with great excitement the national anthem. We also felt proud of our history. We learned, also, to respect, study and work, to deal with our fellow men, to be supportive and polite, to keep our word, and to be loyal friends and to live in society.
  3. Thus, our nation was formed and developed, becoming, in different spheres, ahead of many countries in the first half of the 20th century.
  4. After a patriotic climax in the early years of the sixties, perhaps driven by the rapidity of the events that were talking place, we forgot, above all, the primary responsibility of educating our children, and for the omissions of that time, today we are paying handsomely.
  5. There is too much talk of recovery, but lost generations are as irrecoverable as time. They constitute our moral and civic collapse.

September 13, 2010

The Return / Fernando Dámaso

The old Mambí, on his stool, raised his saber, and with a perfect slash cut the large table where his twelve family members were fighting over the spoils in two. The radio stopped playing Michael Jackson singing “I’m Bad,” while from the window came the deafening noise of a the microbrigade’s concrete mixer. Daniel pulled on the tablecloth and some of the fine Italian dishes fell to the floor with a clatter. Then Maria, completely nude, doing ballet, went over to the old Mambí and standing before him on point, gave the diners an eyeful of her buttocks. In her right hand a red flag flapped incessantly, back and forth in front of the old Mambí‘s face.  When the chandelier hanging over the table was lit, everyone stood up, rattling their hardwood and embossed leather chairs. Daniel gave a great leap and ended up hanging from a nail on the wall, next to the painting of his grandfather in his Spanish uniform. Maria started to twirl continuously before the old Mambí and the red flag floated in the air. From the kitchen Joaquina emerged, clad in her white coat, carrying a tray of steaming chicken and rice. At her side was a Santa Barbara escorted by a hundred lit candles and a black and white goat, which filled the dining room with a strong smell of urine. The old Mambí kept his saber unsheathed. He raised his head and looked at the ceiling. Four bats hanging there let go and began to flutter, soaring at high speed over the heads of the diners. Daniel pressed against the wall and Maria stopped dancing. The song ended and only the noise of the concrete mixer continued. The old Mambí slid off his stool, put his saber in its sheath, mounted his horse and rode at a gallop over the entire family.

August 20, 2010

A Different Solution / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Reading the newspaper Granma, I find that in the last coffee harvest we only collected 6,000 tons of beans, a long way from the 60,000 the country achieved in the past. Also the production of cacao suffers the same situation as coffee. On another page I read that 94.3% of 1,497 miles of mainline and branch railways are in a bad state of repair. There is other data but that sample is sufficient.
  2. To this is added the loss of good manners, treating people well, ethical and moral values, work and social discipline, work productivity, the quality of products, citizen education, etc.
  3. In this situation, the verb of the hour is recuperate. I remember that, some years ago, we used: reverse, overcome, turn the setback into a victory, corral the problems, etc.
  4. It’s important to differentiate between material and spiritual losses. The first, with an efficient economic model, resources, responsible and intelligent work, in places large and small, can resolve themselves. I use the verb resolve in its correct meaning.
  5. The second are a bit more complex. They need time, education and demand, starting in the family, continuing at school and ending in society. I doubt that at the present time some of these areas are addressing this. Therefore, the solution has nothing to do with voluntarism, and could be a question of two or three generations.

September 21, 2010

Like Baseball / Fernando Dámaso

  1. In Tulipán where it runs through the Plaza municipality, around the tiny April 19 railroad station, there is a long established series of private timbiriches (precarious tiny kiosks) that, with their principally artisanal products, support people who are not served by state markets.
  2. On day, a few months back, they were dismantled by the order of someone, and they disappeared. Now some State timbiriches have sprung up, mainly offering fast food and alcohol.
  3. I don’t know which of our brainy economists came up with this original timberiche economy idea. It’s possible it was the same one who thought up State parking lot attendants. Perhaps with that one he or she might be nominated for the Nobel in economics.
  4. On the one hand, the press publishes studies about expanding self-employment, and on the other, they are closed down. If this happens in a baseball game, we say that the manager and the players have gotten their signals crossed: you bat in batting order and vice versa. So no one wins even a crappy game. Let’s agree, those who are paying the fees for these endless studies are we citizens.
  5. A few days ago, in a small park at the corner of Tulipán and Loma, there were some nomadic self-employed, offering their wares. I hope they are allowed to stay, at least until the much-announced nuclear winner is upon on.

September 23, 2010

A Tepid “Change” / Fernando Dámaso

  1. I have carefully read the List of Self Employment Jobs, that the government authorizes citizens to undertake (something unlikely in the 21st Century), as well as the clarifications of various officials, particularly in the newspaper Granma of September 23.
  2. Mentally I’ve traveled to the feudal period when the master of the castle authorized his servants to engage in commerce on their land, but with one difference: he never established any list that limited their development of initiatives.
  3. None of the authorized jobs have anything to do with production or with substituting local products for imported ones, two slogans much repeated lately. They only have to do, for the most part, with offering services, most of them pretty basic.
  4. The reason for their limited reach, is based on the patch added, under pressure, to the Constitution some years ago, declaring that our political and social system is irrevocable. Our Mambises, who were pretty smart, when they edited the Constitution of the Republic-in-Arms, always made it clear it was temporary and could be changed. This is provided for in the Guáimaros (10.4.l869) in the Jimaguayú (l6.9.1985) and in the La Yaya (29.10.l897) versions. In the constitutions during the Republic they respected this principle. The Constitution of 1940, considered the most complete and best, was substituted for what they called the Fundamental Law at the triumph of the insurrection and then replaced by the Socialist Constitution, which was later amended as well. As we can see, nothing is irrevocable. Trying to put a straitjacket on current and future generations is naive as well as unjust.
  5. I have belabored the previous point, because this is the main argument not to make the changes truly necessary, and to put makeup on a corpse to make it look as if it is alive and kicking, by freezing, for some time longer its natural process of decomposition.

September 26, 2010

From Rafaeil Alcide to Pablo Milanés / Regina Coyula

Dear Pablo you are in my heart even if I never see you:

They tell me (I do not read the press) that you made some statements days ago, where you admitted the need to straighten out some things in  Cuban socialism, you ended up urging Fidel and Raul, almost forbidding them, they  said, to commit the imprudence of dying without leaving a  successor.

Caramba, Pablo, you don’t say, if in that respect these people have left us, not just one successor, they have left us a ton, six at least. Count them and  write a song.

When Fidel and Raul die, then we have Machado  Ventura, and when Machado Ventura dies the following week, we will have Ramiro, and when Ramiro dies the following week, we will have the Army  Corps General and Hero of the Republic Julio Casas  Regueiro, and when Casas Requeiro dies the following week, we will have Lazo, and when Lazo dies the following week, we will have the successors  to the Honorable Lazo who, perpetuating the tradition established by the  historic leadership, would have named a series of successors to the task following the number and formalities of the original scheme, and so, dear Pablo,  while the Cuban Communist Party has elders, there will be no lack of successors in  the Cuba of your dreams.

Or what is the basis of those statements you made  without it seems, for us to decipher it, dear Pablo Milanés, that you are not satisfied with the successors in view today, those appointed by Fidel  and Raul? If so, I will still not agree with you. But do not lose  sleep, poet, put aside those little things, and continue to make songs that the  world will remember, songs that honor your Bayamo, songs that bring with them all the honors which for once and for all accompanied Perucho Figueredo. The successor is not a package that is left at the doorstep, Pablo, the successor is someone who  gives himself supremely to the people.


Rafael Alcides

Translated by: Julio de la Yncera

September 27, 2010

Present, Past, Future / Fernando Dámaso

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 24, 2010

Phone Companies’ Request To Obama Is A Ray Of Hope For Cubans / Yoani Sánchez

A long line of people waits in the sun outside the telephone office on Obispo Street in Old Havana. Some passersby ask about the latest news for those hoping to open a cellphone contract.

Many of them carry some old device with a monochrome screen, bought in the black market or sent by relatives abroad. But there are others with a sophisticated iPhone, Blackberry, or the latest model Motorola. Such modern phones and all their features can barely be used on the island, because of the technical limitations of the country’s only telecommunications company, ETECSA. But this doesn’t paralyze us, as we Cubans have a marked predilection for circuits and little flashing lights even if we can’t use their full capabilities.

The appetite for electronic gadgets feeds off precisely material shortages and the control maintained by the State over their distribution. What’s remarkable is that even with rudimentary technology we have been able to do so much. Imagine what we could do if Cuba’s isolated citizens had access to the technology and innovation that spawned the Internet revolution across the Florida Straits.

We have always been able to turn to illegal market networks, which offer everything from computers and all their accessories to electronic messaging. It is in this underground market — persecuted but essential — where every type and model of cellphone is offered today. Phones are the most common product on the censored webpage, a sort of Cuban Craigslist where the ads are free.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Havana, it is rare to walk a hundred yards and not see someone texting. According to official statistics, the number of mobile phone users nationwide is exceeds one million. Considering the growth in cellphone use in other Latin American countries, it is a low figure, only about one Cuban in twelve. Nevertheless, one could say that no element of our economy has grown as fast, in recent months, as mobile phone use. Moreover, despite the technical limitations and the difficulties in purchasing modern and inexpensive phones, the symbol of modernity represented by this little gadget has begun to change our lives.

When, Raul Castro allowed us to contract for prepaid mobile phone service in 2008, no one would have imagined that two years later these devices would be used to broadcast news censored by the official press. Through text-only messages we inform ourselves and send news out to the world. Since August 2009, some in Cuba have begun to use Twitter for small alerts, or S.O.S. calls sent from cellphones.

And independent journalism and the alternative blogosphere have realized an old dream, long deferred: immediacy. Once the Cuban networks were ready to transmit multimedia messages, the vast World Wide Web welcomed the first videos, audio and photos able to travel from the “Island of the Disconnected” to the world at large. This, despite the fact that none of the people sending these dispatches had a cellphone connected to the Internet, not to mention that the cost of sending a text message abroad exceeds the salary a professional earns for four days work.

An added difficulty is that this explosion in cellphone use is not matched by a corresponding development in ETECSA’s infrastructure. The number of clients grows, but the number of antennas and the satellite capacity does not keep up. Thus, we get frequent messages telling us “there is congestion on the lines,” and on holidays it becomes impossible to send or receive messages. Trapped between excessive costs and poor services, users cannot choose to switch to a more efficient company, because the state monopoly does not allow other companies to compete.

Thus, the request to President Obama from the firms Nokia, AT&T and Verizon, asking for an easing of the embargo and trade with Cuba, is a ray of hope for us. If we have managed to do so much with so little, what will happen when having a cellphone, sending a text, connecting to the Internet, all become as easy as talking, walking, shouting a slogan?

Note: This article originally appeared as an op-ed in the The Miami Herald on Sept. 21, 2010.

Possible Utopia (I) / Miriam Celaya

Photography by Orlando Luis

In the last few weeks, one topic has become the focus of comments and expectations: the announced increase in self-employed persons, mainly from the massive layoffs that will literally leave half a million state employees out on the street in just one quarter. Speculation grows, while the case is being cooked -as always- behind the curtains of the Palace, with no clear information on the magnitude and pace of applications for licenses for those who will begin to operate outside the “protection” of the state.

There are many edges from which a question, at once complex and controversial, can be addressed, especially if we underline some of the unpublished touches contained in its embossed printing: never, since 1959, had the government prepared a similar wave of layoffs, not even in the critical conditions of the 1990’s. The Cuban Workers Union had not previously displayed, so publicly and openly, its complete submission to the State. On the other hand, it is totally absurd that the loss of half a million members might lead to the “strengthening the organization of the working class”, as its Secretary General recently stated, unless the government intends to recognize the right of unionization of the self-employed in different branches, which, of course, is unlikely.

For now I’ll just refer to one issue that seems to have been forgotten amid the comments, especially by the foreign press, which seems to overestimate the provisions of the government. A list of about 124 professions, trades and other occupations that will be licensed has been unofficially released, which has unleashed a wave of speculation even among ordinary Cuban citizens, who have not been formally apprised of the news. A foreign journalist just mentioned to me, with almost jubilant optimism: “finally, the Cuban government is implementing innovative changes.” Of course, I am also in favor of the changes and of the abolition of the dependency of individuals on the State, I just do not believe in half measures because they do not resolve the root of the evil, especially if these provisions are forced. We can’t lose sight that the government is applying them because it has no other alternative. Somehow, it will continue to try to exercise a strong hold on the new “independent” workers. It remains to be seen if the measurements become “improvements” or not, and that won’t depend on the government alone.

Another detail: none of the occupations approved so far are new, but they have all been practiced illegally for decades. Who in Cuba has not retained the services of a carpenter, a mason, a welder or a plumber? Let’s be clear, if anyone here needs to buy or repair furniture, he goes directly to the nearest state carpentry and negotiates the terms and the price of labor with a carpenter. The raw materials and machine tools belong to the state; the benefit is private, in a process that my friend and colleague Dimas Castellanos has named “staticular work.” The same applies to the blacksmith or welder. Where do they get the oxygen, acetylene and metals for jobs in a city that, because of the increase in theft and violence, has bars on all its windows? In the workshops and state warehouses. Widespread illegal work is such that the authorities have chosen to look the other way, and today it enjoys almost total impunity.

So, these occupations have been carried out on their own and without any licenses because, in 1968, the State canceled all small family businesses or cooperatives offering such services, but it failed -both because of its inefficiency and the impossibility of such an endeavor by any State- to create the infrastructure necessary to offset people’s demand. As a corollary, an underground service market supplied with state resources to cover basic need requirements for the population was established. Revolutionary or not, every Cuban has had to resort to these illegal actions, aware that he is committing a crime and “resolving” the problem by their thievery against the State; in this scenario are included numerous individuals whom we know, responsible for monitoring for the CDR. At the end of the day, as the saying goes, “The thief who steals from a thief…”

And so it was that, in trying to eliminate all vestiges of individuals’ property in order to cause economic independence to adhere, and with it, their freedom, the government only managed to encourage crime and corruption. The new government measures of today are merely legalizing what until now was illegal and uncontrollable. After more than 40 years of the Revolutionary Offensive, we return to the starting point: the restoration of what should have never been abolished, the small private property.

But now, the other aspect of the matter is just how the self-employed will ensure, henceforth, the raw materials, which thus far have come out of state warehouses. Or, for example, how does the government plan for household appliance, bicycles or automobile repairmen to work without commercializing spare parts, as dictated by the business? Will there be warehouses that will sell parts and accessories at reasonable prices? Will the state be able to keep those stores stocked? Probably not. And, as for taxes, will they be fair and beneficial to workers? Because existing taxes are really abusive and arbitrary, which implies that most of the self-employed who have survived prefer to buy their products and raw materials on the black market and pay bribes to tax inspectors, to make their activity less burdensome. The pseudo-socialist self-employment, as a genuine product of this system, thus becomes a generator of corruption.

In the current climate, compromises are not worth it. The liberalization of so high a portion of the labor force and its insertion in the private production of goods and services will have to be sufficiently profitable to become effective and stimulate the domestic economy. In that case, the worker who is able to fend for himself will be able to overcome the current survival conditions and will attain the material well-being he wishes and deserves. We must also note that, by being outside the official trade union organization -as logic would indicate- these workers should have the right to organize according to their own interests in order to demand the enforcement of contracts and commitments they might establish with the State. The self-employed would then cease to be “mass” to become citizens and strengthen civil society: the first step towards a possible utopia.

This time, the government must consider the fact that, with these layoffs and with the new legalization of the old self-employment, it will lose a great deal of the control (including ideological blackmail) that it exercised, at least over this half a million Cubans. There will probably be 500,000 less marching each May 1st to contribute their annual “labor day” to the Territorial Militia Troops, to pay its union dues to the State or to clamor for the release of these or the other heroes of the day… Unless licenses, like streets and universities, turn out to be for “self-employed revolutionaries”.

September 24, 2010

DIRUBE’S DRAWINGS…? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo


Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

In a cultural magazine of the Catholic Church, I read the tiniest notice, published maybe a couple of months ago. It spoke of a chapel abandoned for many years and of a mural by Dirube that survived in its interior decor.

This past weekend I went up the Santa María del Mar hill, crossed a small, grassy park full of prisoners or crazies with gray uniforms (they performed labor-therapy), and I found the chapel at the end, with its cross raised towards the sky between a telecommunications tower and hard-currency hostel.

The place was beaten by neglect. Palsied fences, planks, bricks. A family inhabited a part of the building, as worse they could. And, in fact, I saw master strokes on the wall, adjacent to what may have been an altar.

It was a virgin. A Picasso virgin, chopped. Ruled, with baby God and little boat of charity with its three rafters included. Thin and thick lines, straight and curved, interwoven, illegible, perhaps a dystrophic flower, a goatish eye, everything holding glimmers of light that may well have been just remains of another painting that eventually faded.

There was an atrocious silence. A resonant vacuum perfect for Dirube, who was deaf from infancy, as well as unknown on the island during his biography. I put my ear to the mural. On the other side one could hear the voice-over bustle of a black Cuban family at the margins of a worldwide 21st century. It smelled of cockroaches and fresh cement.

I felt an inconsolable sadness. Fifty years ago, that division was being built to populate the future. People came and climbed these same hills and put their money to work as a function for creating an architecture of rupture against the patriotic Provincialism of our city concept.

Then they had to immediately flee from the overwhelming justice of the Revolution and they lost forever the epiphanic vision of a cyan sea. The vision that I now had for free, ignorant witness but susceptible to pain.

I took pictures. I breathed. I looked at the concave and claustrophobic line of Playas del Este. It was Saturday afternoon. It seemed to be the last weekend of the nation.

I do not know if, as he died in the nineties, Dirube remembered this mural. I don’t even know if he finished it or if I marveled at a mere sketch at the hands of a magician. Nonetheless, it was a miracle that his work still remained standing, fading without an audience in the face of ministerial indolence, waiting for me to pass serendipitously though here and kneel before the gods gone to pray.

I wanted to be humbled, sink before the splendor in ruins of a dead countryman, ask for forgiveness for so many kicks and coffins in exchange for nothing. I wanted to rebuild the imminent Cuba parting from a Dirube that may well have been a fake or by another painter (I do not trust the cultural magazines of any church).

Cuban culture is somewhat like that smudge, that scribbling of papers and walls, that despotic disregard against those who do not commune with the official faith, that masterpiece for nobody, that apocryphal elite that the people employ as latrine or guest house.

I left. I don’t know if I’ll return to the little chapel. Maybe I should organize a camping trip or hold a mass there in the name of all of you. That super modern temple, that the sloth of the religious institution did not know how to conserve, would be an excellent niche to begin repainting with the colors of change in Cuba.

Translated by: Joanne Gómez

September 21, 2010