Archive | April, 2010

Hell on the Highway

28 Apr

From time to time, I get on a truck that takes me to the eastern most of Cuban provinces, Guantanamo.  I always go wondering if I’ve gotten used to the stink of backpacks with packed lunches, live animals and the smelly shoes and clothing of the passengers that compose the group of travelers.  It is the least expensive truck on that route, for three Cuban dollars, you can go from one province to another.

Between the exhaust that gets inside the truck from the engine and the people who smoke, each trip is hell.  Every five kilometers there’s an inspector, a policeman or some functionary who stops the driver to let him know they will conduct a search.  Later on, they board the truck to look at the packages of each one of the passengers.  The metal seats, the exhaust fumes, my blackened face, and the haggard looks on the faces of the women beside me – the Cuban geography goes by us at about 70 kilometers per hour.  Sometimes I look out and see cars going by, Ladas and the latest model Toyotas driven by people who look like managers.  And I think to myself about my patience and the patience of all Cubans.

I read the official press out of respect for Sonia who, before she got off told me “Don’t ever stop reading the lies they tell, because that’s the code to understanding everything.”  But I cannot decipher those codes which are wrapped up in the excuses of the “American blockade, imperialist invasion or climate change.”

Translated by: Hank

Human Solidarity

23 Apr

The first photo shows what human solidarity is all about.  At the home of Caridad Caballero Batista, in 2008.  That night we slept in an overcrowded space waiting for the next day to demonstrate our support for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, at the doors of Holguin Prison where we learned that he was firmly demanding respect for human dignity.  But, at dawn of that day the prison guards yielded to the demands of the “Negro”* Zapata, Alfredo Dominguez Batista, Pavel Mansfarrol, and Juan C. Herrera Acosta.

There we stayed with Reina Luisa, Zapata’s mother.

The second photo we spent the night the best we could at the home of Reina Maria Ortiz Tamayo, daughter of Reina Luisa.  This time was in Camaguey province, February 2010.  We waited until dawn to go to the Hospital Amalia Simoni where Orlando Zapata was already admitted and in serious condition.  Zapata had started a hunger strike two months earlier asking to be respected in his status of political prisoner

The third photo shows when we got out in the streets in Camaguey. We marched as a protest.  We told everyone that “Negro” Zapata could die if he did not get immediate medical attention.  The political prisoners were beaten, lock-ups, threats, insults.  There we stayed with Reina Luisa. But this time the regime’s goons of the G-2, the political repressive police, in Camaguey did not yield.  They did not alert the medical personal that Zapata’s hope for living was about to end.  They took him to Havana in an ambulance surrounded by military personnel.  Next day, Reina left for Havana once she was able to get a ride in a car.

In Havana, at the prisoners’ ward in the Hospital Ameijeiras at the Combinado del Este Prison, Zapata died few days later.  This time we could not be with Reina Luisa , nor with our brother Orlando Zapata Tamayo, OZT.

Translator’s notes:
El Negro Zapata: This term is used as a friendly word towards a person of color, in Cuba, with the same meaning as “pal.”

Translated by Len

Daily Investigation

20 Apr

I suppose it must happen in all the places God spread across the land. Watching, to intimidate the peace of the world with surveillance. It must be so, more or less so. In the four corners of the world there must be these little men born to annoy some and make others happy.

My genetic attitude to the police comes from the interminable minutes that they detained us along the highway that runs from Sierra Cristal to Holguin, where without any sniffer dogs other than themselves, they stripped every student traveling to the School in the Countryside, of two or three pounds of coffee each. (The more adventurous always carried 10 or 15 pounds.)

They almost never stripped the loads of the teachers because they were the ones who gave a cut to the cops.

The method, at least in those years, was to leave a package of about 20 pounds in the doorway of the bus or truck. The guards were searching, we were outside, they took a slipper full of coffee here and a doll stuffed with granules there, until they picked up a good load, and they’d toss us a reprimand and send us on our way without bothering to detain us.  This happened year after year.

One day, when I was finishing high school, I heard the confession of a teacher friend of ours. Since then I thought it must happen in other aspects of daily life. So no one can convince me otherwise. A police officer should always be where something happens, on the contrary, they are sent there to make it happen.  Certain influences on innocence start to work for a lifetime.

Twenty years later life is the same, and on a trip from Holguin to Havana the searches, seizures and fines form part of the daily life on the highways of the country.

Low Cost

17 Apr

Before it was so… and now as well. I was born in a house of earth and stones, sheltered under a roof of cane, but as I always heard in the official speeches it was said that we would be the privileged of 2000, I thought that on reaching the age to look for a roof for my own family, these huts we so much adore in Cuba would no longer exist.

In the Gutiérrez neighborhood, District Cauto 3, La Cuchilla, Pedregaló, and many more in this eastern Cuba geography that supports my footsteps, these “Low Cost” houses abound, say the new generation of popular architects, makers of communities of contemporary misery.

They are so inexpensive that it costs the same to put them up as it does to tear them down.

What you see in the photo has been standing for two or three years, the harsh weather with the rain washes the walls away and leaves them on the bare ground. The cane for the roof, that is to say the leaf of the sugar cane, has to be cut green and put to dry for a few days to dry and then interlaced along the roof beam. Inside, the dirt floor is swept with a caserita broom. The bushes outside are the place to have a bowel movement, a few yards south of the water well.

Even living in these conditions there are those who have to face the Housing Lending Unit and their lapdogs and other state bloodsuckers who come to collect on the loan that the Revolution gave them for “The Low Cost” or to ask them for their papers to the property.

Act of Seizure/Return

14 Apr

On March 24, when I was taken to Pedernales, the “Villa Marista” of Holguin, I thought I might have to stay just a few days, listening to the barks and threats of the young Confrontation Boss of Bayamo, which is where  they deported me from.

But the strange thing was that I wasn’t interrogated as usual or pre-judged.  This time around, a Guard from the Official Operatives, who had no desire to talk, and did not care if I was a dissident or a common criminal, emptied my backpack on the table in front of me and started to inventory my stuff.  He wrote it all down on two pieces of paper which he later asked me to sign.  There was:

A girl’s pink doll with a yellow dress, hair clips, blue hair bands (pellizcos), colored pencils, a family photo album, a pocket calendar, light brown pantyhose, two gray underpants, three pens, a tricolored towel, a striped shirt, a black pullover with words written in English (he asked me if I knew what they meant), a photographic camera (I had to correct him, it was a video camera and he did not like that), an MP3 player (I had to spell that for him)…and a few other things.

After all that, he asked me about the doll and the hair bands (pellizcos) with a tremendous look on his face of an S.O.B., but I responded and told him that it all belonged to my daughter, to which he said, Yes, but with even more of the face of an SOB, he kept on asking me, “Are you sure this is for your daughter?” To which I responded by asking if I, too, could ask a question, and he said yes, so I asked him, “C’mon boy, why of all the things in this backpack did you start to inventory them precisely because of the doll and the things for styling one’s hair?”

He got serious for a minute, so I asked him before he had a chance to think, “Do you know who Sigmund Freud was?”

But he looked away at the sheet that listed the last items: a small Bible, two letters, a cell phone, a spray bottle of perfume, a razor…

* “pellizcos” is the popular name for the clasps people use in their hair to keep it in place.

Translated by Hank

Girls at Terence’s House

10 Apr

They are tropical Barbies half hoping to saddle up. They have the illusion of climbing on to forge themselves a future of first world fantasy, leaving behind the provincial backwater and the label of being the reserve team of the Cuban Revolution.

The girls I’m talking about go to Terence’s house, the Haitian who owns the snails, the voodoo shrines and is in complete communication with the enggún (the dead).

They go to the home of Luisitio, a neighborhood fortune-teller who takes them through every turn of the deck of cards, the drawing speaks of the European or Canadian prince who will take them on Iberia, Air France or Air Canada on the far side of the hell-fire invented by the fifty-year-old Cuban bureaucracy.

At the spiritual consultations sometimes they bring a bunch of hens, a sheep, honey from the bees, sugar cane brandy and sugar cane, pesos, dollars, magua (hard cash), for those who send and receive the messages from the superior beings to put them at their ease and so nothing goes wrong with this coming and going through the fate that only the gods have the right to reveal.

In the long line one morning at the house of the black man, Terence, you meet those who come first, to be invisible to the anti-prostitution police of the tourist resorts; others, already in business looking for their Romeo return at the promised time and before they have enough to fix the kitchen table, the bath, and boy a plastic water tank for the roof.

Purely out of curiosity I inquired and for me, I have to work hard, I’m told, looking for what Terence will ask me for: I must bring from grounds of the hospital, the prison, the police station, cuttings of the shrubs and herbs “Amansa Guapo,” “Rompesaragüey,” “Rompecamisa” and “Yo puedo más que tú,” as well as güira tree honey, brandy and a clay pot to put it all in for Terence, in case he decides to consult with me.

I knew Milenis, who had been to Italy twice but for a year and a half had a huge problem: his son had been postponing his return and the promise of bringing him again, and it has worried him greatly. He confessed he hadn’t stopped receiving the five hundred Euros bi-monthly, but he’d had to reduce consumption for fear that things might get worse, and one day the blessed support would be cut off and everything would vanish in the air. He’s holding a cloth bag with a “delivery” for “the priest,” but couldn’t tell me what it was: “It’s not done, son. You can lose everything.”

It’s eleven in the morning, the sun is gleaming on all the galvanized zinc roofs, and shines on the faces, the uncovered shoulders, the elongated figures of these provincial princesses. They wait with all the patience they can. I am allergic to lines and I walk on. Inside Terence intones a prayer and the house fills with the scents of basil, melted wax and perfumed salves.

Stranded in No Man’s Land

6 Apr

There is no ideological gibberish that can convince a people who are fed up with lies. The provincial concocters of discourse and the daily grind achieve nothing against the litany of citizen complaints

Since late January the city of Holguin has been without rail service to Havana.  But since 2006 people have been transported not by train, but by Chinese (Yutong) buses which charged the modest price of 26 pesos.

Then the Ministry of Transport decided to cancel these trips for meeting their earnings estimates.  In their place they have scheduled two trips a day to the old bus station at a price of 144 pesos in national currency, but since then a long line on the waiting list frightens those who arrive.  Black market tickets have risen from 10 to 15  convertible pesos (CUC), as the crowd of travelers has risen to the levels of peak travel (New Year, start of the school year, beginning of a holiday or Mother’s Day, when a significant number of Cubans decide to travel to or from their hometowns).

The same sort of thing occurs with the policing of the Holguin Terminal, where around-the-clock patrols harass the horse cart drivers, cart pullers, bicycle taxis, drivers of rental cars (clandestine or licensed) and other kinds of private carriers.

Holguin is crossed by the main road, but the bypass built in the 1980s detours away from the city most of the transportation going to and from other parts of eastern Cuba, which makes it a dead end on the rail network or by road in Cuba.

The latest evasions of the provincial government and their transport managers were published in the local press last February, but nothing resolves the obstruction or the interference with daily life.

Inventing an alternative title to a song attacking racism by the troubadour Frank Delgado serves me as a palliative against such an absurd measure: “How to get to Havana and not die in the attempt.”

Translator’s note: Frank Delgado (born October 19, 1960 in Pinar del Rio) is member of the novisima trova, heir to the nueva trova movement. The writer is referencing the popular song from 2002, “Como ser negro y no morir en el intento.” (How to be black and not die in the attempt.)

Translated by ricote