Archive | January, 2010

The Flaming Torch

30 Jan

As did our patriots for independence in front of the Spanish army in the nineteenth century, youths from the east of the island have begun to burn the constitution of the Republic of Cuba in public places.

Some, like Néstor and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Yordi García Fournier and Jorge Corrales Ceballos did so in early January in the central park of Baracoa.  When they were interrogated by the Creole Gestapo they replied that if a document as important as the constitution of a country only serves to protect victimizers and not victims, if it is the shield and refuge for imprisoning citizens without the opportunity of a defense, if it provides cover for the government to decide who enters or leaves the country, when and how it pleases, then it serves no purpose, and must be destroyed, at least physically.

It had already been done in Banes and Palma Soriano, and the flaming torch will continue to appear as one of the methods used here to demonstrate civil resistance and civil disobedience.

Symbolically burning or burying the Constitution of Cuba, destroying it in front of government institutions, is becoming common for public officials, who impassively observe the action.

The moorings are loosening, little by little.

Translated by: Tomás A.

Young People Are Always Liberators

28 Jan

I was impressed with the pictures of the beardless boys throwing stones at the police water-tank vehicles in May 1968, I was full of hope back then, but my hopes were destroyed years later when I saw pictures of the slaughter of students in Tiananmen Square, and I could add many more images to this list.

As always, I will always remember of the pictures of Jose Antonio Echeverria lying in a pool of blood on 27th Street, adjacent to the University of Havana, in March 1957 or the notes heard on foreign radio stations when they spoke, just a few months after the death of te 19-year-old Iranian, Neda Soltani Agha.

Little birds of of the digital age Twittered me 280 characters yesterday where I learned the news of the abuses against students by Chavez’s police for voicing their disagreement about the closure of the television station RCTV* International, one of dissenting voices against the petro-communist kitsch of ALBA** .

The incarceration of young people in Guantanamo, the end of year beating against a group of protestors in Holguin and the daily deportations of anonymous youth from Havana to the east of the country are flames of a bonfire that the old-age-theocracy of the ruling military junta are preparing against them themselves.

A sea of youth always is unstoppable. “Be careful.“***

*RCTV: Radio Caracas Television
**ALBA: The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas
***In English in the original.

Translated by: LJM

Healthy City

23 Jan

There’s a Cuban saying which goes as follows: “A lamp in the street, dark at home.” It comes to mind because some years ago the town where I live was deprived of the cistern-tank which collected human waste which they took to Holguín, the provincial capital.

Three years later we still lack the necessary services for cleaning out the septic tanks, we don’t have a single vehicle to collect the trash, we never had a drainage system, and the local service workers do a bad job cleaning away the dust and grime that overwhelms us a bit more each day.

When it comes to public sanitation, poverty smacks you in the face before you get to the door.

Every day Cuban television bombards us with reports about the work of Cuban epidemiologists elsewhere in Latin America while turning its back on the municipal shit-tips which the small towns in the interior of the country have become.

Without gloves or masks or thigh-length boots the garbage collectors, like the rest of us, confront the most threatening pandemic of all, the one coming from our own homes and which sits there for weeks out in the open.

Television, that box of fantasies, will always come up with something more to offer us than the meagre daily ration. Holguín’s weekly paper is at present bubbling over with optimism about the year that just ended and the litany of success stories prescribed by the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

So as putrid, tatty and filthy as they are… the streets, who can doubt it?  They belong to the revolutionaries.


Translated by RSP

The Haiti I Knew

20 Jan

Licofén, Yeba, Margarito, Ño Antonio and Buba were Haitians who had come to St. Germain, Contramaestre and Marcané to cut cane, harvest coffee and do anything for which they were offered three Cuban pesos so they could eat.

Since then I have known their children and grandchildren, people so good that only think about working, loving life like God commands.  They, the Jamaicans and the Chinese are among the immigrants best known in Cuba for their decision to work in any job; their goal is to arrive at home in the afternoon with a mouthful of food for their families.

Makers of baskets, hats, and the backs of furniture.  Herb cutters, animal breeders and food and vegetable growers; from their hands comes delicious food like small coconuts covered in syrup, the most nutritious broths and a delicious liquor made from bee honey, sugarcane juice and alcohol.

Now the earth has parted like a jam under the life of the Haitians, right now from the east of Cuba, their descendents look with horror towards their unfortunate roots.

In those days, when the drums of the Bembé resonate to sing to Papá Legbá, the engunes (the dead) are crying out for life to return to the earth.

Translated by: BW

The Average Citizen in Cuba

19 Jan

Holguin markets remain without supplies despite announcements made by the government in the last quarter of 2009 about finding alternatives to provide variety of foods to the population. With just two weeks since St. Germain’s opened the new market, “The Ideal” (ironically named), the product shelves are empty.

When the market opened it offered a variety of  foods; the shock in the population was not caused by the variety offered but rather by the limited supply of individual items and the astronomical prices.  Only those individuals with “family support,” that is receiving remittances from abroad, could shop to celebrate Christmas.  The rest returned home with empty hands.

So far this month (January), “The Ideal” only exhibits powdered soft drinks and something that in Cuba is called meat byproducts. Some residents of San Germán feel that this game is more of the same as has happened in other provinces where food has gone from the reserves or the hard currency shops to stock markets, at a time when important dates that require people to be happy are celebrated, but after the passage of a few weeks everything returns to like it was before.

At the well known Garayalde market, located in one of Holguin’s central streets, customers wait several hours for the arrival of goods delivered by the government distribution network and available for sale with local currency (pesos), but not even this system can meet the demand. The tumult of people wanting to buy something is unimaginable, they engage in disputes and at the end only a few get to buy food.

There too the masses return home with slumped shoulders, hoping to arrive early the next day and be among the first in line with the hope of acquiring goods if the government distribution network makes a delivery

If eating is a problem, clothing yourself is another that is even worse. In recent months, the so called TRD and Cubalse shops made a strange fusion by ministerial order, and as might be expected, to support the introduction they made some changes in prices. One observes, however, a stagnation in products, some because the quality and price are not equivalent, others because prices are too expensive for the level of acquisition of the “average Cuban.” Many pull out their money to buy clothing but fail to understand that to both eat and clothe themselves, they must turn into hundreds of “average Cubans” at the same time.

* An average Cuban citizen was for many years in Cuba considered a professional who after graduation worked and earned at least 350 pesos, enough to lead a comfortable life when a loaf of bread cost ten cents and a gallon of milk 25 cents.

Translated by: LJM

What Happens Agrees With Me

16 Jan

Nearly two hours locked in a terminal, then fifteen dollars for illegal Cubataxi service that left me stranded in El Majá, near Taguasco, a kind of labyrinth without exit where I found an escape to the national highway.

Some strangers, polite casual friends, encouraged me in the middle of the nocturnal depression, to get on a container truck that finally took me to Havana, a city I travel to about twice a year when my meager economy permits me.  I imagined the torment of the Mexicans escaping to the U.S., because we almost froze that morning of January 14 with its 44 degrees Fahrenheit pushing us to the city.

Every day I understand more the helplessness with which the government has driven us Cubans.  The extra bus trips of the ASTROS company are now stuffed with the mass transportation of soldiers, students and construction brigades.  A herd of predators cover the provincial terminals and with the complicity of the transport managers, completely exposed, rob the travelers.

I couldn’t be in a workshop on communications and audiovisuals that the Culture sector would give in Holguin, due to the fears of someone, the evil gossip of the same ones who never allow me in the state temples.  But in Havana, Father Joseph Conrado was waiting with open arms in Yoani Sanchez’s house to talk to us, a group of Cubans, about the love of the Virgin of the Charity of Cobre, about her undeniable presence on the edges of the island.

The love of the Virgin of Charity and her infinite goodness is something that can unite us forever, Father J. Conrado said, and I know that it wasn’t an odyssey of over 400 miles in vain.

This was a trip from hell to a sanctuary where I feel I am among friends.  My year starts at full speed.

In Times of Plague the Larger Specimens Will Die

12 Jan

In Holguin the provincial committee of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, also known by its initials UNEAC, decided in December to fire two writers from their jobs, an act followed by the expulsion of one of them from its membership. I heard about it some days later from intellectuals who participated in the “meeting and purge” and who gave me the details.

The writers, Manuel García Verdecia and Rafael Vilches Proenza, according to the censors of UNEAC, “had used Internet accounts” (which are permitted in government cultural centers for the use of artists and specialists who work there) for what the IT security of the place classified as “conduct improper for intellectuals committed to the revolutionary process.”

García Verdecia, poet and novelist, was also vice president of UNEAC in Holguin and was accused of not acting in a manner consisted with this duties as director, and so having ceased to be reliable, according to the opinion of the current president of the Writer’s Union.

Vilches Proenza was intercepted by the same computer security officials and they took his flash memories which contained personal data as well as messages exchanged with Cuban writers living in exile.

In a letter sent to writers and friends that circulated in December by email on the “Cuban Intranet” the Holguin novelist Manuel García denied having violated the rules established by Resolution 127 of 2007 about computer security, dismissed the accusations of the UNEAC president painter Jorge Hidalgo Pimental, and said he’d swiped an intellectual opinion but in order to improve the social process embodied in the Cuban Revolution. For his part, the novelist and poet Rafael Vilches has decided to retreat to his house and make no public declarations.

Four years ago, a group of young people in Holguin including myself, created the literary publication Bifronte, but we were threatened, interrogated, and some of us were expelled from our work in the cultural sector for heading up a cultural project the margin of Cuban officialdom.

Friends from that era who walk the world knew, through messages coming out of Cuba by the same Internet route that no one can control, what happened and asked me to recall at least some of Rafael’s verses. I prefer these.

Do not be surprised.
(To the memory of Albert Camus.)
In the city the rats
have begun to die
That fear
not seize the city
prisoners don’t care
do not be surprised
in these times of plague
the larger specimens
will die.

The Vincench Guillotine

9 Jan

I arrived at his house looking for the keys to his work as a visual artist but I saw an artist on the bottom of a cauldron. I went with the aim to unravel was beating in my brain since the last time I had enjoyed his work exhibited in a gallery in downtown Havana.

But little by little we were tangled up in conversation and I didn’t ask the questions I had on my list. Who cares! José Ángel Vincench appeals to the representation of the image to create a universe filled with signs, signals that cross between the religious practices of Palomonte, daily life, and the systematization of the laboratory that looks after every detail.

The pieces made with paint, blood and excrement that Vincench returns to us penetrate the unnecessary qualifications. Even in his daily seclusion Vincench is committed to be a witness, not a reader in his easy chair, coffee and comfort. Between the ambivalence with which the power (the powers) enthrone his heroes and the supposed legitimacy the media give their subjects, Vincench addresses the peripheries of these events.

Characters of Cuban life, Havana life, from right now, prominent figures in civil society who would not otherwise have entered the official galleries and the excellent symbolic connotation that he himself gives to each material used, turning it to active subject, his work grows towards the cracks that are left of Cuban cultural life, a group of artists committed to the coming market and the view focused directly in this meat slicer of heads that is self-censorship

Vincench is there and has stepped back to tell us something that we definitely need to hear.

End of Year Horrors

5 Jan

When the Cuban Gestapo entered the home of Caridad Caballero Batista in Holguin on December 29th, the repressive nature of the Castro regime was merely confirmed.

I had to confirm with my own eyes what she was telling me over the phone. For 5 days, 10 dissidents were in her house to protest and show solidarity with the hunger strike that Orlando Zapata Tamayo was holding in Kilo 8 Prison in Camaguey. However, it annoyed the Holguin political police that various people, who did not think like they did, met in a private citizen’s home.

With a metal bar the military was able to break down the bars to enter the home, kicked the door down and took the protesters by kicking them in their heads and bodies. When the shock commandos left the house it left the impression of a Dante-like panorama. A score of olive green uniforms trashed the bedrooms, they stole Caridad’s 16-year-old son’s textbooks and now they can’t find the electric chargers, the radio receiver and its batteries, and other things that Caridad and her husband Esteban suppose were misappropriated in the illegal home search.

Arriving at the station, they shoved Caridad into a chair, screaming “FATSO” at her like they scream “WORM” at a dissident in Cuba.

I spoke to two neighbors in the area and they told me what the G-2 was saying around town while they were there, was that there was a black person hidden in that house (they were referring to Jorge Luis García Pérez, Antúnez) who had killed a child; that Caridad and her family tried to leave Cuba in a boat but when they failed they returned with the black guy, again Antúnez.

For four days 15th Street in the town of Hilda Torres was barricaded by troops of the G-2. When they dragged off the peaceful civil rights defenders they brought a tank of beer in bulk, watered it down so it was poor quality, and sold it “only to those who had collaborated in the act of repudiation.” But since they didn’t want to sell to others, a crowd of thirsty drunks fell on them with stones and had to be hauled off drunk to another neighborhood.

When the search ended they put a groups of kids there shouting slogans, the ones it only occurs to Cuban revolutionaries to utter. The babies were babbling about worms, U.S. imperialism, and referring to Fidel.

Carl told me that the officer who interrogated him told him that the only God is Fidel and that Jesus Christ was the first communist. For all he thought, the son of Mary should have been twisting on the cross again.

Now the struggle of the family starts to get his cell phone returned to him. I have gone twice to the military headquarters in Agramante between Maceo Street and Liberty, marking that location, but have been unsuccessful.

This time there will be more of us protesting, I’m sure. With what wonders the year begins!

Translated by Luz Brito

Why Don’t You Blog?

2 Jan

The question is asked by Mr. Sullivan with his goodly toadface and the desire to add me to the online bad boys. Boy, why don’t you blog?  I hear the same from the girl from Factor street, the one with all the prizes.

In my previous and dead blog, “Animal de Alcantarilla” I managed to see once the generous hand of someone who showed sympathy and downloaded some archives for me containing what I had re-sent by pencil, dictated, and all that with the very high rates that ETESCA charges citizens. And going through the intricacies of censorship; that is to say, I was asking my friends to let me send my post through their email.

At the rate we’re going I will come to the Cybercafe in the Santiago Hotel with a drum, a plume of feathers and some herbs to launch a moan or emoticons to see if they reach the blogosphere.

Yet I feel myself to be a postmodern guy.

I can not expound in any peroration to make it true, at least make it my truth. When I say something it’s already a week later and the potential readers were savoring the delicacies of the Island’s restive bloggers. Even when I opine without knowing on many occasions that this comment has already been pasted into diatribes and emails.

My goal was to jump every 15 days the 60 miles between Holguin and Santiago de Cuba to send a post when I had the 10 chavitos (convertible currency) but you can’t use any flash memories there. ETECSA has put a digital lock so that only you can read and write to those computers that Sol Melia rents to Cubans.

At least I will have the pleasure of donating to the Cuban blogosphere the first blog written on stone that ages at the same time it is written.

It closes the circle, my adrenaline level rises and I like to start the year in full swing. Why not blog? says a voice that thunders in my ears. One question that has never been more real.