Brief comparisons

If there is anything worse than the bad press in general, it’s the official press.

If there is anything worse than the official press, it’s the official press in the provinces.

If there is anything worse than bad blogs in general, it’s the bad blogs of the official journalists.

If there is anything worse than the blogs of the official journalists, it’s the blogs of the official journalists of the provinces.

The dumpster and me

(Text written on June 7, and for reasons you can imagine published today. This clarification is to connect it chronologically with respect to the news published in the newspaper Granma on June 10 about sanctions for illegal solid waste collectors, that is so-called “divers”.)

Slowly, imperceptibly, the dumpster has become part of my life.

(Before continuing, a clarification.  For the purposes of this post I intend “dumpster” to mean a place where the neighbors in a neighborhood throw their trash, but not the trash itself.*  The primary objective of this is to avoid ambiguity.  I could have used other words, resulting in titles such as: “The deposit and me,” or “The container and me,” which turn away from the central idea which is the garbage.  Obviously I could be more explicit and use the title, “The garbage container and me,” but aside from being obvious and facile, it’s a demonstrated fact that long titles do not attract.  In addition, I thought about the polysemic and intertextual possibilities of said title.  I think it’s better to stop talking so much trash and continue with the commentary.)

It’s said that the dumpster has been increasing its influence, coming to be noticed more and more.  Let me tell you.  I’m woken early by the noise of the coachman-garbageman, who transfers the garbage to his wagon, armed with a large hoe and a shovel.  Although he is rarely accompanied, I listen to him comment on the things that go into the trash, singing tenths, or talking to his horse.  Despite his efforts, there are always some bits of trash spread around.  Others will fall off during the trip, because of cracks in the old wagon and the rhythm of potholes in the road.   During the night the neighborhood dogs fight over some leftovers, disturbing the peace with their furious barking.   On occasion they manage to turn over the containers and spread their contents everywhere, leading to curses and cries from the garbageman the next morning.  The cats, however, like good survivors, do their part without calling attention to themselves.

When the collection is delayed, the dumpster reminds me of the Nile from ancient history class, because it overflows and fertilizes its “river basin,” opportunity that the young boys take advantage of to practice their trash-basketball, and the veterans to remember how to step—in flip flops—through a minefield.  Its lid-less deposit serves as shelter for flies and cockroaches and with its odor it helps us to know when the wind is blowing in our direction.  And, no less than the dumpsters of the great cities, it has its regular divers. And when there’s no garbage, how we miss it! One time it was incinerated by some potential terrorist or a neighborhood arsonist, who knows, and in its place there flourished, free, a dump without borders, open to the sky, that gave the neighborhood the look of town from the old west in a black and white movie, with the trash coming and going on the wind.  What a beauty.  Of course if we could count on the old metal containers none of this would happen, but these plastics, they’re so fragile…

Unlike on the periphery, in the center of the city there are fewer dump sites and the garbage is collected in trucks.  But when these are uncovered, the garbage spills out of them just like out of the wagons.  And when you drive to a dump on the outskirts you increase your speed and so the spills are greater.  A few of these improvised garbage trucks belonging to the communal services company and others are borrowed from different places.  I’ve heard it said that if they fail to stop at the passenger collection points* they punish the company responsible by taking the truck for a few days or weeks and using it to collect garbage. The old trash-compacting truck, previously imported from some former socialist country, has virtually disappeared.  This makes me think that their technology was much more advanced than that of the Lada cars, Ural motorcycles, and UAZ jeeps,* which are still circulating on our streets and highways.

But who said all is lost.  Periodically, and in accordance with some garbage plan or emergency preparedness exercise, a deafening huge front loader (popularly known as scoop) and an even larger tumbling truck, take the garbage, and grass and part of the earth of the dumpster.  Sometimes they also destroy the sidewalks, which were built for the circulation of pedestrians and not for this enormous noisy equipment used in construction.  In addition, they are always accompanied by six fat mustachioed conversationalists, beautifully dressed and equipped with cellular phones and “trunkins,”  who meet under the tree nearest the dumpster, and who travel in Ladas and jeeps.  This whole scene—something surreal, I confess—provokes complaints from the neighbor below who is a retired engineer, who comments painfully on the barbarians and their waste of fuel.

Translator’s notes:

In Spanish, “basura” can mean both garbage and garbage can, and “basurero” can mean dump, dumpster, or garbage collector (along with all the variations using “trash” and so on).  The potential confusion El Guajiro Azul is addressing here does not arise in English because the there is no linguistic similarity between ‘garbage’ and ‘dumpster’.

Passenger collection points:  Private vehicles are required to stop at designated collection points and pick up passengers.  Many trucks can be seen driving along the highways filled with people standing in the back.

Lada, URL and UAZ are all vehicle makes from Soviet Russia.

Transparency or nudity

They say it’s not important to know, but to know someone who knows.  I know another variant that recommends having the telephone number of an expert on hand.  This variant isn’t very appropriate here, because, despite the thousands of new mobile phone lines with new contracts recently, only one out of ten Cubans owns a telephone.  I have no way to prove it -and much less to call the expert, because I am one of the nine unfortunate ones-, but it must be one of the lowest densities on the continent.  And, speaking of mobile phones, the fees are quite high and… But, what am I doing talking about phones, if I was thinking about something else?

I happened to go to make a phone call at the home of a neighbor who always has the television on and saw fragments of The Round Table program.  It caught my attention the fact that they were commenting on the content of e-mail messages sent and received by a group of citizens who are, I suppose, very important to the government, given the special attention that is devoted to them.
They say that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. In Czechoslovakia, after the Prague Spring and Russian occupation, secretly recorded conversations among opposition intellectuals were broadcast on the radio.  The same thing happened in the GDR [German Democratic Republic], and it’s assumed that it happened in the rest of the countries that made up the socialist bloc.   It was laughable to me to see these journalists reading such brash phrases as: “the trip from Santa Clara to Havana cost so many CUC’s” or “I need so many CUC’s to complete the swap.”

My neighbor thought it outrageous that one of them said that the bit about the ticket prices was a lie.   And she even started to tell me the story of how much her last trip to the capital cost.  And while she told me, I started to mentally review how low the theme about the revelations or uncoverings has degenerated.
In the beginning, it was about heroic socialist versions of James Bond, revealing important enemy plans, thwarting attempted attacks and flaunting gold watches given to him by his bosses on the other side as a sign of confidence.  With time and repetition they ceased to amaze us, as television serials inspired by his exploits lost luster, or as screenwriters’ talents faded, or as the audience’s boredom increased, or all at once.  In 1989 there was surprise.*  Huge “revelation”.  For a change, this time the agents weren’t infiltrated into the ranks of the enemy, rather into their own.   And their concern was not to obtain information, but ivory, drugs and other little things.  This story—televised in chapters like a soap opera—needless to say, did not have a happy ending.

Then, sometime in the nineties, in keeping with the “Mine first” slogan printed on store bags, the Tabos and Suchels, backed by men in black shirts, submerge themselves into the world of national organized crime.  And it ends in the “revealing” of the Black Spring of 2003.  Quantitatively, the decrease is obvious.  From facing off the greatest empire in the history of mankind to keeping under control a minuscule group of people who do not practice or preach violence.  And if we remember that in some cases the agents turned out to be the leaders of their respective organizations, let’s not even go there.

And bordering on farce—how could it be otherwise—I vaguely remember a certain exchange, old refrigerator for new, a “double agent” with a woman’s alias and an invitation to eat goat and to get back, which ended in –coincidentally- the revelation of recordings.

In keeping with the original idea, I’ve sought out an expert, someone who knows.  In this excerpt appears what I need to complete the post, and it’s much better written.  I transcribe here a section of the ninth part of “Testaments Betrayed” by Milan Kundera:

I am looking at a window across the way.  Toward evening the light goes on.  A man enters the room.  Head lowered, he paces back and forth: from time to time he runs his hand through his hair.  Then, suddenly, he realized that the lights are on and he can be seen.  Abruptly, he pulls the curtain.  Yet he wasn’t counterfeiting money in there; he had nothing to hide but himself, the way he walked around the room, the sloppy way he was dressed, the way he strokes his hair.  His well-being depended on the freedom of being seen.

Shame is one of the key notions of the Modern Era, the individualistic period that is imperceptibly receding from us these days; shame: an epidermal instinct to defend one’s personal life; to require a curtain over the window; to insist that a letter addressed to A not be read by B.  One of the elementary situations in the passage to adulthood, one of the prime conflicts with parents, is the claim to a drawer for letters and notebooks, the claim to a drawer with a key; we enter adulthood through the rebellion of shame.

An old revolutionary utopia, whether fascists of communist: a life without secrets, where public life and private life are one and the same.  The surrealist dream André Breton loved: the glass house, a house without curtains where man lives in full view of the world.  Ah, the beauty of transparency!  The only successful realization of this dream: a society totally monitored by the police.

I wrote about this in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Jan Prochazka, an important figure of the Prague Spring, came under heavy surveillance after the Russian invasion of 1968.  At the time, he saw a good deal of another opposition figure, Professor Vaclav Gerny, with whom he liked to drink and talk.  All their conversations were secretly recorded, and I suspect the two friends knew it and didn’t give a damn.  But one day in 1970 or 1971, wit the intent to discredit Prochazka, the police began to broadcast these conversations as a radio serial.  For the police it was an audacious, unprecedented act.  And, surprisingly, it nearly succeeded; instantly Prochazka was discredited; because in private, a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language, acts silly, tells dirty jokes, repeats himself, makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public, and so forth.  Of course, we all act like Prochazka, in private we bad-mouth our friends and use coarse language; that we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual; curiously, this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged, forever obscured by lyrical dreams of the transparent glass house, it is rarely understood to be the value on must defend beyond all others.  This only gradually did people realize (though their rage was al the greater) that the real scandal was not Prochazka’s daring talk abut he rape of his life; they realized (as if by electric shock) that private and public are two essentially different worlds and that respect for that difference is the indispensable condition, the sine que non, for a man to live free; that the curtain separating these two worlds is not to be tampered with, and that curtain-rippers are criminals.  And because the curtain-rippers were serving a hated regime, they were unanimously helped to be particularly contemptible criminals.

When I arrived in France from that Czechoslovakia bristling with microphones, I saw on a magazine cover a large photo of Jacques Brel hiding his face from the photographers who had tracked him down in front of the hospital where he was being treated for his already advanced cancer.  And suddenly I felt I was encountering the very same evil that had made me flee my country; broadcasting Prochazka’s conversations and photographing a dying singer hiding his face seemed to belong to the same world; I said to myself that when it becomes the custom and the rule to divulge another person’s private life, we are entering a time when the highest stake is the survival or the disappearance of the individual.

Translator’s notes:

The excerpt from Milan Kundera was taken from the orginal English translation published as: Testaments Betrayed, An Essay in Nine Parts.  It is from Part 9, section 8.

Frank Delgado: Rebel or insubordinate?

By: The Cousin of Guajiro Frank Delgado was in Cienfuegos on April 11.  He arrived that same afternoon at the Bus Terminal.  I saw him coming out with his backpack and two guitars on his back.  I expected Antonio Enrique, the president of the AHS.*   And I was glad to see him with his hat, his glasses, laughing his head off and in flip flops.  And I went to the Sculpture Park to hear him that night.  But I also wanted the concert to end… Because it hurt to hear the audio equipment they gave him.  But I never expected that Frank Delgado, who travels by bus in flip-flops, carrying his own backpack and guitars, is capable of starting a song twice because the audio is a piece of sh… seriously, offering apologies to everyone listening, he’s sincere and I tell him, “I was never so eager to see a concert end!”; but then I never expected that the same Frank would dedicate two texts, varying titles and alternating synonyms, the journalist Zulariam Perez Marti in the digital and print editions of the “Fifth of September,” the Organ of the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party in Cienfuegos.  In both articles the journalist hopes that when he returns to sing in the Terry theater, as the troubadour promised to do, “he wouldn’t come as ‘famous’ Frank but as the troubadour of the people.”  And you know why?  Ah!  Because the “rebel” Frank, according to the digital edition, “did live up to his fame as an insubordinate,” and, according to the print edition, “preferred to turn his back on the press.”  And the press, neither short nor idle, passed the bill to him!

So there you have it, the two editions, digital and print.  Don’t believe everything you read!  I will continue preferring Frank and lamenting articles like this (these), signed by a young journalist for the only local weekly and using the language that begs for a response, perhaps in the next concert the “rebel” will be even more “insubordinate”… and continue offering his words in spite of the audio and other ills.  That would be the best response of all.

Translator’s note:
AHS = Asociacion Hermanos Saiz/Saiz Brothers Association: A group funded by the Cuban government to promote Hip Hop.

10 citations and a verse for Yoani

The verse, from my admired Abilio Estevez:

– Heaven is in hell and both are on the Island.

Everything seems to indicate that Yoani cannot collect her prize tonight.  I am not going to say that I expected it or that it surprises me, I don’t want to pass myself off as a guru or as naïve.  I have no time for gloating.  I only want to point out that life will give you your revenge and, I quote Ernesto Hernández Busto, that night that one day will dismiss the Night, I am sure will be much better.

10 citations from Ortega y Gasset in tribute to Yoani, our Voice:

1 – To be bewildered, to be surprised, is to begin to understand.

2 – The beauty that attracts rarely coincides with the beauty that you will love.

3 – A man is bettered by his capacity for dissatisfaction.

4 – Youth needs to believe itself, a priori, to be superior.  Of course it is wrong but this is precisely the great right of youth.

5 – Knowing what you don’t know is perhaps the most difficult and subtle knowledge.

6 – I can commit myself to being sincere, but do not expect of me that I commit to being impartial.

7 – It is not easy to deal with the stubborn. There is no argument that convinces.  Rule for dealing with them: “No oak collapses at the first blow of the ax; a drip cracks the hardest rock.

8 – Not what we did yesterday, but what we are going to do together tomorrow, joins us together in state.

9 – To live is to constantly decide what we are going to be.

10 – I am myself and my circumstance, and if I do not save it I cannot save myself.

Diccionario de Citas [Dictionary of Quotations], Luis Señor, Espasa Calpe, S.A. © 1997.

The goat or the five pesos?

My grandmother used to say that one can catch a liar faster than a lame man.

When I started this blog I had many doubts and a few certainties.  Among these, to avoid comments about or analysis of published materials and, particularly, references to their authors.  I wanted—I do want—to share what comes to mind, exposing what I feel, without it appearing that I am responding to something or someone.  Nor are the personal attack, the put down, the condemnation, options either.  And definitely, go for originality.  Zero “copy and paste,’ with the exception of quotations from literary works.  The appreciation, criticism or ignorance will be my own.  And so these will be the assumptions.

That is why I say that in this post I am going to violate these standards a little.  But I think the case deserves it.  A little over a year ago, when I read the first of the texts cited below, I thought that at some point I would have the opportunity to show it to be false.  As we say in “good Cuban,” this wasn’t going to be and so, as a consequence, I have saved it until now.  And as everything comes to those who wait, and there is no worse wedge than one of the same wood, the denial comes from the author’s own words.

Here is the Spanish journalist Pascual Serrano, speaking about access to hotels for Cubans—in Cuba, of course—in two stages.  And, of course, say no more, that the character doesn’t deserve it.

March 2007:

“In El País Semanal of January 7 a long interview appears with the rocker Fito & Fitipaldis.  He scarcely speaks of politics and less of international matters, except for a moment when he cites Cuba for criticism because a Cuban woman friend was not allowed up to his room in his hotel.  Something that, of course, does not happen today.”  [1]

April 2008:

“The media have reported with delight the news that Cubans will be “free” to buy household appliances and to stay in hotels in the country, something that until now was not allowed. Of course some critics of the Cuban revolution have reminded them that prices are prohibitive. “[2]

Ref: 1 – Perlas informativas del mes de enero de 2007. 1 de Marzo de 2007.

2 – The supposed liberalization of Cuba. April 10, 2008.

‘I Have’ on television

Pleasant surprise.  Last Monday March 31, I could listen on national television to the poem “I have” [Tengo] in the voice of its author.  By chance I tuned into the channel just as the program was about to end, so I could not get an idea of him.   From what I could tell they didn’t use the whole poem, but perhaps my memory betrays me, but that is irrelevant.  The fact is that they put him on, after a period of absence, that might well benefit from a small investigation.  Lucky chance, because if someone had told me I wouldn’t have believed it.

I, who grew up listening to Alden Knight declaim this poem, now can’t take it seriously.  How many smiles tinged with irony, half smiles and complete grimaces are provoked in us by “I have what I had to have”?  Someone said to me, inspired by the end of “apartheid” tourism: “At last we can teach “I have” to our children without having to offer explanations.”  I believe our children will ask us for explanations about things more important than those Guillén addressed in his poem.

Translator’s notes:

The words to the poem, “Tengo” by Nicolas Guillén can be found easily through an on-line search.  The last line of the poem is: “tengo lo que tenía que tener” — I have what I had to have.  El Guajiro Azul posted his on version of “Tengo” in this blog in February, and it can be read here.

Alden Knight is a Cuban actor.

“Apartheid” tourism refers to the laws in effect up until this year which did not permit Cubans to enter, as patrons, many of the hotels, resorts and facilities reserved for foreign tourists.

Zombie’s toaster

From my student days I maintain several friendships, which support the passage of time like the pyramids.  The protagonist of this story is a friend from high school, which by his great ability to sleep in the classroom with his eyes open and an expression of profound interest on his face, managed to avoid being called on by the teachers.  He therefore received, in a student baptism, the nickname Zombie, in spite of Ferdinando’s* being ”pegged” the same.  I will talk about his other characteristics.  Zombie is the persistent type.  And he’s also the lucky type.  He’s an excellent musician in academia, who prepares arrangements, composes, and plays three instruments.  He has the tremendous luck to have been permitted to travel (abroad, you understand) more than four times since 2001.  And that, for a “musician from the provinces,” is a great success.

Returning to his persistence, it turns out that Zombie is infatuated with the idea of toast for breakfast, like the English, he says.  Because of this, on his last three trips he brought back a toaster, which was invariably confiscated at customs.  He has no complaints and even considers that he has voluntarily donated them to tourism or to some official guest residence, and we must acknowledge this, no?  Many believe that he’s nuts or half comem…*  But he insists, and persists, and says he’s not going to get tired of trying, until one day he’ll manage to get the desired toaster. The recent rumors about the sale of household appliances* and a post from Yoani* made me remember the story of Zombie who must be off with his music to Turkey or Japan by this time, perhaps with the toaster already packed in his luggage.  How many more will he “donate” before realizing his dream of an English breakfast?

(* Ferdinand was a clown, a protagonist in a TV show from the defunct German Democratic Republic who, in each episode, used to sleep in the most incredible positions and situations.)

Translator’s notes:

comem…” is the beginning of an “unprintable” word.  This translator cannot think of a comparable word in English that has more than one or two letters before it gets to the point… so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Sale of household appliances: The government recently announced that Cubans will be allowed to buy previously unavailable household appliances.

Yoani: Yoani Sánchez, author of the blog Generación Y, which is also on the DesdeCuba website, along with this blog.

Guardian Angels

I want to bring to this blog my guardian angels, poets and writers whom I wanted to know or to thank but various combinations of time and space didn’t allow it. They also have in common the fact that today they are not with us. Some, life distanced them and, as the saying goes, while there’s life there’s hope. Others, inevitably, death took them. And perhaps there is something comparable to the death of a poet?

This death is the only frontier that I recognize for them, the unique taxonomy, because it establishes the impossibility of communication. Where a Cuban poet is born, writes or dies is material for bibliographies, data for the bureaucracy, mere circumstance. Whim, be it human or of destiny. As the order in which I will present them to the reader is also capricious, as are the introductory words I will dedicate to them, which will not be literary reviews—more and better have been written everywhere—nor a judgment on their life’s path, but rather a light rendering of feelings which, like poetry, should not be over rationalized. Simply one fixed idea: I do not encourage second guessing nor manipulative zeal. I reject that I might be considered capable of reducing works and lives so dear to the simple category of projectile instruments. Before I’d do this, I would prefer—like a good peasant—to be struck by lightening, whether real or of shame. For this battle, numerous other arguments wait their turn. I approach with respect the works I wish to share and offer apologies in advance for any misunderstanding, always possible in these turbulent times.

Each one of them, at some point, was very important to me. Some left memories of people, places and dates; others aroused emotions through readings, learning, discoveries. All contributed to assuaging another hunger that is not only for guavas; they helped to expand my horizons beyond the limits of a farm and everyday life, and made me feel a part—a particle of the smallest cosmic dust—of this cluster of stars and universes that is culture. All left their mark on me, unique, for which I will always be grateful. But, if possible, I would prefer to have them as friends rather than to count them as influences.

My ‘new’ rights…

The signing of the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights is a done deal.  I saw it on the news with the oaf and the slogans, so there can be no doubt.  There are two aspects that draw my attention: The first is the disappointing pronunciation of Chancellor Pérez Roque.  It could be a protocol requirement of the United Nations, the truth is I don’t recall previously having seen their making their declarations in English.  And what English!  I do not recommend it.  The second, which shouldn’t surprise me so much, is that he continues throwing the blame for everything on the blockade.   It’s tough for me to decipher the relationship, to give just one example, between the blockade and a swap at Varadero.

I think the most significant thing for us is yet to happen.  It will be to check the limits that are imposed on the realization of these aforementioned rights.  I am taking this opportunity to record what I consider indicators of a complete intention for full recognition by my government and, in my view, the expectations of many Cubans.

  • That they free our fellow countrymen imprisoned for having made anticipatory use of freedom of expression.
  • The ability to visit a friend who lives in Germany and return to Cuba without asking permission of my government.  Alternatively, that my friend—who is Cuban—can return to Cuba when he desires.
  • To choose a better education for my children, with experienced teachers and no improvisations that depend on a remote control.
  • To rely on trade unions that are independent of civil and political organizations, and which respond to the interests of the workers who elect them.
  • To pass a short holiday in any hotel in the capital or the keys.  In reality this possibility is foreseen in the Cuban Constitution, but since in practice you can’t do it, I am recording it here just in case…

Tengo / I have

Cuando me veo y toco
yo, Juan sin Nada no más ayer,
y hoy Juan con Menos,
y hoy con menos,
vuelvo los ojos, miro,
me veo y toco
y me pregunto cómo ha podido ser.

When I see and touch myself,
I, Juan with Nothing only yesterday,
and today Juan with Less,
and today with less,
I turn my eyes, I look,
I see and touch myself
and ask myself how could it be.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que ya no puedo andar por mi país,
y ver lo poco que hay en él,
importar de bien lejos lo que antes
hice o podía hacer.

I have, let’s see,
that now I cannot travel in my country,
and see what little there is in it,
imported from far away which before it
made or could have made.

De zafra, qué decir?
de monte, qué decir?
de ciudad, qué decir?
ejército -mejor no decir,
ya ajenos para siempre y suyos, de ellos,
y un eterno dolor
de humo, estela, loor.

Of sugarcane, what to say?
of mountain, what to say?
of city, what to say?
army – better not say,
now alien forever and theirs, of them,
and an eternal grief
of smoke, steel, praise.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que siendo un negro
siempre me pueden detener
y pedirme el carné de identidá.
O bien en la carpeta de un hotel
decirme que no hay pieza,
todas las piezas para el turismo internacional,
mi pieza está en la base de campismo popular.

I have, let’s see,
that being black
they always stop me
and ask for my identity card.
Or at the desk of a hotel
tell me that there is no room,
all the rooms are for international tourists,
my room is at the people’s campground.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que la guardia de la capital
me agarra y me encierra en un cuartel,
y me sube a una rastra de regreso
a mi provincia oriental.

I have, let’s see,
that the capital police
grab me and lock me in a cell,
and put me on a transport back
to my eastern province.

Tengo que como tengo la tierra tengo el mar,
con griffin,
con coastgar,
y escualos cantidá,
vamos de balsa en balsa y ola en ola,
gigante azul abierto democrático:
en fin, el mar.

I have that as I have the land I have the sea,
with griffin,
with coastguard,
and lots of sharks,
we go from raft to raft and wave to wave
gigantic blue open democratic:
in the end, the sea.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que ya aprendí a leer,
a contar,
tengo que ya aprendí a escribir
y a pensar
y a callar
y a mentir.

I have, let’s see,
that now I’ve learned to read,
to figure,
that now I’ve learned to write
and to think
and to shut up
and to lie.

Tengo que ya tengo
donde trabajar
y luchar
lo que me tengo que comer.

I have what I now have
a place to work
and fight
for what I have to eat.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
tengo lo que no quería tener.

I have, let’s see,
I have what I didn’t want to have.

Nicolas OnTheCage

Translator’s note:

Tengo [I have] is a poem by Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989), an Afro-Cuban poet who was a communist from before the Revolution.  The original poem is a paean to the successes of the Cuban Revolution.

A note on the alternate stanza presentation:  The blog software makes it difficult to present the poem in two neat columns side-by-side, so I have chosen this format to allow readers who read both languages to more easily follow from the original to the translation.


On February 14, 1898 in Sagua la Grande, a former province of Las Villas, Jorge Mañach y Robato was born.

Philosopher, essayist, journalist, prolific and controversial intellectual, his vast work covers philosophy, academics, essays, and critiques of art and local customs.  Concerned about national culture, its state and destiny, he prepared himself through studies at universities in the United States, France and Cuba; and he does not hesitate to investigate both the deep waters of philosophy and culture as well as the tiny and seemingly insignificant aspects.  And all of this is presented in careful and harmonic prose, free of banalities, in a unique style that earns it the right to be considered one of the great literary achievements of the Spanish tongue.

Conscious of not having managed to outline even the figure of Mañach, to close this brief reminder of his 110th anniversary, I want to  provoke the reader with these questions that often plague me.

What would our Jorge write on observing the current horse carts we use for transport?  Would he continue calling the old Ford autos “insolent and barbaric”?  What would he say of the new Mitsubishis and Hyundais?

What essay would he dedicate, not to the state of our high culture, nor even to the average or mass culture, but to our lack of education, the most basic, the formal one, moral and civic?

What would he conclude on discovering that many Cubans, most of them young, have, for decades, followed a path means they will die outside their country, albeit only a few miles offshore?

Where are we going, Eliécer?

One day in January, the young man Eliécer Ávila, a student at the University of Computer Science, attends a meeting to present a set of questions to Señor Ricardo Alarcon, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the National Assembly of People’s Power.  A little nervous and with a bullet-proof honesty—according to my intuition as a peasant—he asked for reasons that he didn’t have, “to reject certain claims, to defend certain ideas” and “to have a perspective on the immediate future of what will happen with that which one is defending.”  Questions that, with few variations, many Cubans have been asking and are asking while I write these lines.  Questions that, so I inferred, were responded to briefly in some instances, and in others avoided, and in general in a way that gave little satisfaction.

And I say I infer because I haven’t seen the recording by anonymous hands that made it to the BBC and that since then has spread across the internet.  Fifty-two minutes long, it has been the source from which the answers of the President of the National Assembly are quoted.  Quotes that speak of his perfect ignorance about the dual monetary system and the ban on Yahoo, that don’t speak to the ban on citizens staying in hotels, and that offer numbers showing that many more Cubans stay in hotels than in 1959.  And finally, it’s very significant that in response to the question about why the people of Cuba can’t travel to certain places in the world, Alarcón argued that travel cannot be seen as a right, that if all the world, all the inhabitants on the planet wanted to travel, there would be tremendous aerial congestion.  If the quotes are true, it would be good if Alarcón would move the chronological surveyor’s pole a few years ahead–I’d be happy with the ’70s, let’s goand the geographical one down a little, nearer Cuba.

Saving the necessary distance, this mess of materials leaked to the press reminds me of the mysterious “Deep Throat” who informed the journalists during the investigations of President Richard Nixon.  Our own “deep throat” has managed to start the year off in a lively way, a point of overlap with what happened at the beginning of 2007, which was dubbed, among other things, with the name Pavongate.

And while the video broadcast by the BBC to the world and various media has echoed in the news, inside the country another, briefer, recording is beginning to circulate (one of 16 minutes and 44 seconds to be exact), with the curious overprint saying “Live,” as if it were a television broadcast, that contains only Eliécer’s side of the discussion without the answers from Ricardo Alarcón.

On February 8th, our well-known Yohandry Fontana Guethón published an article on the site KAOSENLARED.NET, with the unmistakable haphazard and incoherent prose to which we’ve become accustomed.  He assures us that there is a “media show” mounted behind the video of the University, brings to light new conclusions that are reaffirmed in the material, in spite of which he repeatedly doubts their authenticity, and says that one could draw a thousand more.  And one can also draw several commas, superlatives and adjectives left over, I say.  And his idea that the video is manipulated, to appear incomplete, confirms the existence of a longer version with answers: “because until they put him in [the Spanish newspaper] El País, Alarcón does not finish expounding on his ideas.”

As a national accompaniment, two days later an article by Pablo Valiente appeared in [the Cuban newspaper] “Rebel Youth” where, as is also the custom, he refers to the misrepresentation of the debate about the Cuban reality on the part of various world media, without mentioning the word “video,” “UCI,” or the names of Eliécer and Alarcón, much less the questions from the former and the answers from the latter.

And, as expected, they started rumors about the possible detention of Eliécer Ávila and  spread unconfirmed news in which they mixed up the families of Eliécer, human rights activists, Counsel of State agents (this is new, but those of State Security are permanent and no longer impress), and even a son of Carlos Lage.  I confess I was beginning to be a little worried about the fate of the young man but, for my peace of mind, he has already appeared on the national news, alive and kicking.  A few dark circles, it’s true, but that’s not abnormal for a student.

Eliécer, who seems to have read Yohandry, assures us that it’s all been a media campaign, pure opportunism to sow chaos and disunity.   He tells us that they neither burned the mattress nor made an act of repudiation and that he was working in order “to contribute in a conscious way to the project.”  The same project that “we are sure it exists, we would like to know what it is.”  I’m happy for him, because I feel that he has managed to overcome his doubts and to continue defending the ideas he’s ready to kill or die for.  Or it could be that they have already explained to him what the project consists of.  If so, please, tell me, where are we going, Eliécer?