What are you waiting for? Who are you waiting for? Alone and solaced, I patiently saw you yesterday as the city was falling on top of me. While life was rushing towards me you were heading towards that meadow where everything is further and clearer.
Cuba is a country which has been narrated to the maximum. The poems, the essays, and the narratives have rummaged down to the core to bring out the best and worst of a nation, which in the process of trying to see itself has tried to be the belly of the world. Javier Negrin, a thirty year old who now lives in Isle of Pines has just awarded us with one of those rare jewels, a proposition so we do not lose ourselves. It is a book with five short stories, narrated at the velocity in which the youth lives, without make-up and without pretensions.
Even more, however, it is a book which is full of crude realism, the adoptive child of Charles Bukovsky and Pedro Juan Gutierrez. It is admired as a fiction, armed such as this one, which does not intend to go beyond its literary ancestors. YOTUEL, as a semantic game in the desperation of individuality, takes a chance on a documentary. It is the imagination which is seen as part of sub-world by any adolescent with a scholarship for second level grade school in any part of Cuba.
The five stories are threaded together through the incentive of some students who are careless, and abandoned by their parents in the midst of a socialist inferno which is the reality of the rural scholarships, where each individual, under the supposed Marti-idea of complementing Study-Work, cease being innocent when they discover a world of gangs, sexual and physical abuse, and psychological pressure in which they must establish themselves as people. But I swear that neither Negrin nor his characters say any of this.
This only appears in my grateful reader mind. A violation, or nearly- a group of hungry people- Tom Sawyer style or very near the story of “No Rest During That Summer” by Jose Manuel Prieto, who were surprised when they were stealing food which the granters of the scholarships were hiding from them. A fictional incest between the overprotective brother and his sister, an accident under the appearance of negligence, a love story- because if a book does not have a good love story then “it is crap”, as The Intellectual says about life, one of the characters of that book which has only 500 copies printed, which will get lost in the run down libraries of the province, despite the efforts of Ancoras Editions, or of the “Saiz Brothers” Association in Isle of Pines.
Assisting the presentation of YOTUEL was one of the best things that happened to me during the past Festivities of May. To relive the scholarships without the mandate of the literary generation of the 80’s, which the functionary-writer Abel Prieto is part of, as is the star-writer Senel Paz or the writer-writer Abilio Estevez, under the hand of the Placetas native Javier Negrin Ruiz, is quite a luck. This is a book which is very similar to the Testimony, that orphaned son of Cuban literature. The subject of scholarships in Cuba, which swarmed in areas like Jaguey Grande, Isle of Pines, and Zola, Matanzas, as well as Camaguey or San Andres in Holguin is something which History, Testimony, or Journalism should owe us for the future, when we become an adult nation. The children who traveled from Guantanamo to pick up their grapefruits in Gerona, or to prune oranges in the center of the country, were not better or worse. They were the youths who went off to kill and die in Africa, who left their bodies down in the Florida Straits or that awoke one day without the Berlin Wall. More than an idyllic encounter between little pioneers who loved their country, the “rural schools” were one of those infernos which many try to bury, and YOTUEL by Nergrin Ruiz revives it in halves, and that’s something to be grateful for. Everyone is invited to read.
This post was originally published on “Diario de Cuba” on April 30th, 2012. Here is the translation:
One can already hear the beating drum of the proletariat. Just a few work days away from the International Day of the Worker, the red machine of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) has spent various weeks moving around its chains.
This time, the confirmation came from the voice and presence of Salvador Valdes Mesa, as the czar of the one and only official Union. The first vice president- Estaban Lazo- has accompanied him in his adventures through factories and institutions. But, who and what will they celebrate?
The indication of this year is that the state recruits and those who have wandered into the private sector will march “in a tight and uniformed block”. The support that the latter will give to the economic model of the island confirms that the wave of lay-offs, which the State decided to interrupt last minute, was worth it. In the blocks, we will see the unemployed, those who are nearly at that point, and those who see them like a mirror of what their lives could be in just a few months if the sacred economic lineaments go through.
The leading elite and the followers which will be in charge of carrying the country on their shoulders have received high level reprimands, under accusations of sparking re-unionism, idleness, and administrative corruption as an ill that is worse than even that of “counter-revolution”. At the same time, they are blamed for the economic inefficiency which Cuba suffers from, they are accused of not being at the high level of the working people. And that’s to everyone: victims and offenders. The slipping of the frontiers between the culprits has been and continues being the axis of revolutionary rhetoric- saying a lot without saying anything.
Ever since Monday, April 23rd, when the convocation occurred, the same actors as always have propped up throughout Cuban television screens: secretaries from the nucleus of the single Party in the national corporations, undaunted unionists, exemplary workers, and the general public which indefectibly support the massive parade in unconditional solidarity with the Marxist-Leninst postulates.
What has been left out of this performative act- pronouncements and promotions aside- have been the authors of the thousands of complaints which are being sent every single week to newspapers, radio stations, and other public spaces. It is difficult to believe (a show, after all) that Cuban workers march “in solidarity with millions of workers and citizens of countless countries who also march today demanding their fundamental rights to life and work with dignity”, without even blinking before the violations committed against them.
What is true is that no-one is awaiting spontaneous reactions against the rulers, but the operation of the restructuring of the labor force, the expulsions of those who have been deemed ‘non-suitable’, and the hundreds of workers from the tourism sector who have seen their months of labor being reduced due to the international economic crisis, among others, without a doubt conforms a good breeding ground.
Popular non-conformity towards the high taxes on the self-employment sector, the disorder of clients amid the elevated prices of agricultural products and other fundamental services, as well as the complaints of the incessant bustle of inspectors and bureaucrats in search of commissions or with absurd refusals amid any single process are all significant evaluators that May 1st will be a sincere and cynical act consisting of parts that are still unknown.
If, in reality, the thousands of unionists from the non-state sector, convoked now by the State, march in support of those who have closed the doors on them during half a century, they would be forging a new elite similar to that which sustains the nomenclature and it would be yet another act of apartheid against the attempts of independent unions- that black hole when it comes to citizen participation in contemporary Cuba.
More than five years ago, the Festivities of May stopped being my festivities. A political accident excluded me from a celebration which I ingeniously believed to be mine. Today I once again was able to take a peek at that gift which is to look at Cuba, and nearly touch her, with the lens.
It was Spring of 2005 when I read “The Others: Challenges of Reconciliation“, written by Juan Antonio Blanco. I remember having experimented with the sensation of having relocated myself once more. I felt that I was once again setting off my prow in regards to the hate and fears of the Cuba in which I live.
Seven years later, I am “the other one” in my neighborhood, in my local sugar-producing area, in this Eastern region.
I am looked upon as someone who wants to open the door to a Miami that wants to take everything away from Cubans. To “them”, I am helping to hand the country over to the Americans (schools, homes, children’s day cares, etc). That is how the propaganda machine of the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba paints us- yesterday under the direction of the ousted Carlos Aldana and today under former colonel Rolando Alfonso Borges. Under the most accomplice of silences, “they” have seen how they apply the Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness Law, how they beat us, arbitrarily arrest us, surround our homes for various days and how we have to deal with rations of hate such as the “acts of repudiation”, public mockery, and absolute scorn for being “different”.
But “they” also suffer from the lack of information. They subject themselves to the abusive and humiliating migratory process known as the Exit Permit to be able to leave the country (or the one of being able to come in). They suffer hunger, lack of resources to live a “normal” life, and they have also lost hope. They have hit rock bottom just like “us”.
However, among “them” there are those who support us in silence. They print out copies of clandestine magazines for us, they lend us internet service, they bring us messages from the exterior and they risk their safety by keeping us in their homes…until they blow the whistle on them. “They” wait until tomorrow, “to see if this changes. It can’t be like this forever, brother…“
The most common arguments are that among “us” there is no leader, or that we are under the wing of Washington (Miami) and not of Moscow, Pekin, or Caracas. To “them” we are few, we do not have the support of the majority of the population, and our goals, in addition to being unfeasible, are annexationist, a sacrilegious voice in the centennial history of our coarse nationalism.
Without even noticing that we are like “them”, they accuse of being less intelligent, and “we” are the ones that have ideological (or political) problems and we are the ones that are crazy.
One question comes up in my mind often: Who has suffered more from fear of repression- “them” or “us”? However, it is not the monosyllable for an answer what is most enriching, but instead: What did each and every one of us do after the fist 10 seconds of terror?
My conclusion is that not even under magic spells would I prefer returning to be like “them”, to lower my head, to seal my lips, to remain silent, lower my hands, stop walking, and sell my future to “them”.
PS: Thanks to Particia, from Berlis, for her questions, tantrums and arguments about a week ago inspired me to write this post.
Very few people appreciate the electrical blackouts today the way those of us who live in “deep” Cuba do. From 9:30 PM to 11PM, Radio Marti drops their Nightly Show with the hoarse voice of Margarita Rojo. It is a true exercise of proper fluency, immediacy, and information. It’s a collection of subjects which develop as the island falls further into deep sleep. In the majority of cases, Omar Lopez Montenegro and Fausto Canel accompany her as a form of diachronic support- helping her on one occasion and pricking her on the other. What is certain is that Margarita moves forward while being herself and, through this, one can notice that her conversations can be a script, an engine, a set of notes, while a whole other thing is the intuition of grabbing the attention of the listener through the proper use of grammar by a person who feels that they own the airwaves, transmitting that magic message through radio.
I believe that very few people have had the luck of being children (natural or adopted) of three Caribbean islands at the same time: Cuba, Perto Rico, and Miami. Margarita Rojo has become the owner of a specific way of mixing up radio in terms of entertainment, sincerity, and insularity. Miami deserves it, as do Margarita and Cuba. Her Nightly Show is not a tribunal nor is it a trench, a fact that is proven considering that time and time again we can enjoy the company of an author, a filmmaker, or an independent journalist. Never is that living encyclopedia known as Rafael Garcia ‘Toledo so enjoyable as it is when the microphones are offered to different subjects than sports. Margarita Rojo puts people on their feet, for she can chat with a political analyst, calm down a controversial guest, or turn against all other guests.
Tendencies as diverse as those assumed by the wide range of guests from Emilio Ichikawa, Roberto Bermudez or Idolidia Darias have proven to us that in order to be serious, we do not have to be hierarchical and everything is worth it in that Tower of Babel known as “radio”. The singularity of an incidental song, the spontaneous shorts, and the obedience to her listeners constitute the perfect trinomial which allows us to keep listening to her.
As of 2009, Radio Marti changed its programming. It started to mold it, amid absences and new acquisitions for contemporary listeners, and it was for the good. But Margarita Rojo is still there, and in what a way, when she says: “Good evening my friends, here again…”
Through a method of stupidity and propaganda, Cuban television usually goes beyond us. What to do about it, though? We are not perfect. However, this past Saturday April 21st, during the morning cartoons, many of us were shocked at what we saw. It was a short cartoon for kids, with the same title as this post, and it’s origin was unknown (most likely Mexican or Spanish).
Since they did not put the initial nor the ending credits on the screen, it left it up to us to investigate where the cartoon was coming from and how it was made. The synopsis is as follows: a little girl, who speaks her mind without anyone asking her to, is the headache of the family. In fact, whenever she does something which she considers could cause problems, she blames it on others.
Anything that goes missing at home. What has been said or done in front of her, the mischievousness of her fellow students, and a rosary of denunciations which, if they do not imply any sort of penal punishment for its accusations, then they advance its precociousness as a gossip-monger snitch.
What is surprising is that the armies of former colonel Rolando Alfonso Borges, under the ideological executive of the Community Party of Cuba, missed the error. In Cuba, any citizen can suffer a beating, an arrest, a fine, or can even be penalized for the crime of “disobedience of authority” for using the word “snitch” when referring to an informer, in other words, a civilian whose purpose is to make the job of the police and other officials from the repressive Ministry of the Interior. easy In its different variations, snitches, informants, confidants and informers are scattered all over the place: in the factories, schools, neighborhoods, the market, the baseball stadium. What do they denounce? Anything. The information which they provide ranges from what is being sold to who is selling it in which neighborhood, with who the young neighbors meet up with, what is the subject spoken about during the line to buy bread, from where does the flour used to make clandestine pizza come from, which citizens do not live according to what their work should provide, and so on, and so on.
During the Republican era in Cuba, in the first half of the XX century, that is how one referred to people who denounced the actions against the two consecutive dictatorships: that of Machado and Batista. But what popular language institutes cannot be abolished by any decree. After the rise to power of FC (I swear that I do not even want to type his name), those who assumed the dishonorable work of informing about the steps of their compatriots were still referred to as Snitches. And even when police coercion has had countless victims, the term grew popular among people, and today it is one of the worst offenses that can ever be told to a Cuban. The behavioral neighborhood code (even when it is homophobic) dictates to men from the moment they are just children: “neither a snitch, nor a coward”.
The popular denomination has set various meanings: drunkard, rat, trumpet, ‘guari-guari’, goat, and much more. On the other hand, the graphic, radial, and television (in other words, institutionalized) media is not even brushed by the petal of a joke, due to severe censorship as well as through similar methods under self-censorship.
Ever since the 70’s of the past century, the cartoon image of an elderly lady- the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution- sneaked into our homes. Her name is Chuncha and, in reality, just as much as because of her design than by her meaning for each Cuban who feels as if they are being watched, this character is one of the most repulsive ones ever seen on national television.
Even then, the popular orchestra- Dan Den- dedicated a song with which time has passed through without shame or glory (it’s already known: there is always a route for a stranger), while on the other hand the native troubador Frank Delgado composed a ‘guaracha’ which served as the base for the short fiction video made by Eduardo del Llano- “Monte Rouge”. The chorus and one of the lines goes like this: “Turn off the microphone and quit being mysterious…despite how much you struggle, you are not the Ministry. You are an assemblage, an amateur, and mediocre snitch. Turn off the microphone and quite being mysterious”.
Amnesty International published the following report regarding the situation of Luis Felipe Rojas, author of this blog, and other independent journalists who face persecution and countless obstacles for wanting reporting the reality of an island under a dictadorship. Visit the original report here.
Cuba: “The authorities attack us because we talk about the issues people face”
For Cuban journalist and blogger Luis Felipe Rojas, posting an entry on his blog Crossing the Wire Fences or even sending an email is a daunting task.
Every time he wants to access the internet, he has to leave his house in the early hours of the morning and travel 200 kilometres from his hometown of Holguín, in eastern Cuba, to the closest cybercafé. If he is lucky, and he is not stopped at a police checkpoint on the way, he will get to a computer in about three hours.
Once there, Luis Felipe has to show ID to buy an access card and pay six US dollars to use the internet for sixty minutes – that is almost a third of a monthly local salary.
Some days he finds websites containing information considered critical of the government are blocked or messages have disappeared from his inbox.
Internet access is so highly controlled in Cuba that critics of the government have come up with creative ways to ensure their stories get out.
Sometimes that involves converting articles into digital images and sending them via SMS to a contact outside of Cuba, to type and post on Luis Felipe’s blog. He also uses text messages for posting on Twitter but the lack of internet access means that he cannot see what others say to (or about) him.
Luis Felipe is part of a growing group of journalists and government critics who are finding new ways to by-pass state control in order to disseminate information about human rights abuses taking place in Cuba.
According to a recent report by Amnesty International, independent journalists and bloggers have faced increased threats and intimidation when publishing information critical to the authorities.
The ‘Hablemos Press’ Information Centre, an unofficial news agency monitoring human rights abuses across Cuba, recently reported that from March 2011 to March 2012 inclusively, more than 75 independent journalists have been detained, some, like Caridad Caballero Batista up to 20 times.
“After the mass release of prisoners of conscience in 2011, we have seen authorities sharpening their strategy to silence dissent by harassing government critics and independent journalists with short term detentions and public acts of repudiation,” said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba expert with Amnesty International.
On 25 March, Luis Felipe was detained in a local police station for five days in order to prevent him from travelling to attend an open-air mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.
“The authorities attack us because we talk about the issues people face – that not everybody has enough food, that public services do not always work, that there are problems with the health service,” Luis Felipe said to Amesty International.
“I have been scared many times. Scared of going to the street, of being beaten up, of being locked up for a long time and not seeing my children. But fear does not stop me. I do not think a tweet from me is going to save anybody from prison but it does save them from impunity.”