Archive | June, 2010

The Objective Now is Reina OZT

28 Jun

Reina Luisa was once again beaten and assaulted by the political police this past Saturday, June 26, in Banes. This occurred about 100 yards from the house of the Cuban martyr Orlando Zapata Tamayo when two Ladies of Support were trying to visit her and the local authorities rushed up against them to arrest them. When Reina Luisa heard about this, she and her kids went over to the scene to aid them and to impede the brutal police action.

Caridad Caballero Batista, one of the women who was hurt, told me that no local residents joined the mob and that it was carried out entirely by officials.  She added that despite the fact that Mariblanca Avila was the skinniest woman among the group, she received the harshest of the blows. About 24 hours after of the beatings she felt very bad and was taken to the Velazco hospital, located in her native municipality.  She still remained in the hospital receiving medical treatment on Monday, June 28.

Reina Luisa, still suffering from the physical trauma associated with the physical blows she received, explained to me over the phone that, “The incidents occurred out in the open street before the eyes of all the neighbors which shockingly expressed their disapproval of such events.  They dragged one of my youngest granddaughters, my other son fractured his finger, they hit me and broke one of my fingers, and Cari Caballero was mistreated and Mariblanca Avila received the worst of it.”

“In addition”, she explained, “They were so violent, and they know what that they did got out of hand, that they actually allowed me to go to mass the next day without any sort of mob commanded from I don’t even know where to scream obscenities and offenses at me.  In fact, one of those head political policemen, major Roilan of the G-2, went to my house to tell me that what had occurred the day before was being analyzed and would be taken care of with those who took part in it”.

“They are so wicked that they let me go to church to try to cover up what they had done to me on Saturday afternoon so I would not denounce the events.  But I blame all those policemen if Mariblanca experiences any sorts of complications.  I blame them and all of their superiors because they command and allow such acts, just the same way they commanded and allowed the assassination of my son Orlando Zapata.”

Translated by Raul G.

The Lion’s Den

26 Jun

In each province there is a building guarded by soldiers standing at attention who say they are defending the security of the Cuban state, but by force of clubs, laying traps, and other kinds of blackmail.

In Holguin it is located on Agramonte Street between Maceo and Libertad.

The images you see today are the Lily Fashion building, a popular store. The shop is on the ground floor but on the upper floors is housed the dark offices where orders are issued to torture freely in prisons, arrest protesters in the city and other places, confiscate mobile phones and computers and deny exit permits to doctors, teachers, or opponents who want to freely travel the world.

These offices are under lock and key, and are accessed only with an ID card or a damn password, testimony to the oppression and humiliation the people have suffered for fifty years.

Material Cuba

22 Jun

Today my neighbors sacrificed a pig. They have a son who graduated from the University of Information Sciences and with the money from the sale of the meat they’re going to buy him a DVD player as a reward for finishing his course.

As there is nothing favorable in the economic predictions, some prefer to go ahead and acquire something because… later it would disappear from the stores, from the reach of those who are further down on the social scale.

For today, the parents of future college graduates remember the disaster of 1989, when they woke up one morning to find the stored empty everything upon us. Days in which the shadow hanging over the nation forced us to incorporate into our lexicon the phrase, “we are in a Special Period” and forced us to prepare ourselves for “option zero” if necessary.

Thanks to this collective memory of resistance and survival, there are those who have a very fine nose to warn them of certain tremors that are not exactly earthshaking.

Some residents of Playa Guardalavaca (the country’s third most popular tourist destination), move in with family or friends in Holguin during the summer so they can rent out their home. There are eight weeks in which they can earn enough money to make some minor home repairs, but some jeans or name-brand sneakers, and spend a few days drinking a bit and eating meat. In Cuba this gives the appearance that life goes on.

Months earlier some of my wife’s friends went to Havana to buy recycled clothes, second hand. Some time ago they lost interest. Now it doesn’t work out, many capital residents who work in this business change their own, already used clothes for those they take from the import stores and sell them outside the formal channels. So when you go to these “shopirags” as it’s popularly called, you might find clothes of different colors all cobbled together… a real mess. As it’s something you can’t sell, there’s not much interest in traveling over 400 miles for pleasure.

News of human survival… it’s hard to live fast in country where the hands of the clock run backwards.

First Twitter Stop

18 Jun

With the advice-suggestion two days earlier from our friend Yoani Sánchez, we put out a call. A week before we had found ourselves in Holguin to talk about the Cuban blogosphere, how to post in the very abnormal conditions in which we live in eastern Cuba, and how and when to use the tool Twitter.

Then the idea came to us of a meet-up or a Twit-up. And here we were on June 9 at 3:00 pm. What you see in the background in the photos is a grove of trees which, at any hour, is full of drinkers, dealers and hustlers.

Let me explain. Of the nine of us who went to “Feliú Leyva” (the brewing of beer in bulk, where half of Holguin goes) only two of us have Twitter accounts, but the rest don’t have the four convertible pesos to open their accounts in the magic machine of 140 characters, but they intended to learn every detail so they could open them later. We wanted to exchange opinions. To dream that we would do it.

A brief introduction, the example of the Iranian bloggers, their Chinese counterparts, of Barheim, Somalia and Venezuela, and with this it was enough to light the fuse, to ignite the flame of excitement and enthusiasm toward freedom.

This is one of the clearest examples of wanting and not being able to. Those you see in these photos would give anything to have a few free minutes on the Internet and an occasional recharge on their cellphones to “illuminate” with their news such dark areas as Baracoa, Buenaventura, Antilla or Manatí.

In any event, we were convinced that it was worth it to meet, to dream that one day everyone will Twitter all at once furiously on a channel that crosses the corroded walls, behind which are hiding the olive-green attired higher-ups.

And it could happen any day. Maybe tomorrow.

This is Your House!

15 Jun

Photos: Luis Felipe Rojas

Fidel, This is your house! So read a flattering note from those in love with the olive-green crowd of 1959. I remember that little sign on the door to my aunt and uncle’s house in Pilón de Manzanillo. A house with a two-gabled roof supported by five columns, three blue and two white, forming the Cuban flag.

The woman in the photo lives in a bus stop in Guantánamo. She took over the public premises, lacking housing after Hurricane Lily, and since then she lives where she can, with the tropical storms, the heat of eastern Cuba, the mosquitoes, rodents, and all the other vermin I won’t mention as they are very well known by the majority of Cubans.

The eyes of this woman don’t say something else: “Come and stay here while you convalesce, Comandante!”

Translator’s note: Hurricane Lily struck in 2002.

A Trickle

12 Jun

In the midst of a natural resource crisis, other resources, those which must provide mobility and efficiency in Cuba, have become quite scarce.

Less than fifteen miles from the Caugo, the largest river in Cuba, three water carriers, Monguito, Jerónimo and Rafael, who bring water to their carts to their neighbors, live in the most absurd bureaucracy.

A water supply that should be collectively owned is watched over by an inspector who charges them a peso every time they fill their tanks. A control office demands various property titles from them and maintains that they must show, renew and recertify every time, in addition to taxes invented on the road.

For these water carriers, shown in this video, the punishment never ends. With each drop in the national economy the tax bureaucrats squeeze them a little harder.

For those of us who need water, every day the dream of an aqueduct system recedes like a shadow; the possibility of not having to carry water in a jar, or having to get water every morning by pulling on a rope, of opening the cistern and hearing our cries echo in the depths like a lament.

Sanitation: Crowding or Torture?

9 Jun

Rafael Jiménez, a guy who has traveled the country buying bicycle tires, selling popcorn, and asking “water for signs,” told me.

In “Yerba de Guinea”, “Buenaventura”, “Céspedes”, Jatibonico and Jagüey Grande and the bridge of Nueva Paz, they took him off the truck or the Yutong bus and fumigated the interior and the luggage. They fumigate because it’s a campaign, says my friend the traveler, and when it’s over we can eat the mosquitoes and it won’t matter to anyone.

On leaving Santi Spiritus almost a month ago they got us off, but before fumigating a military jeep with the police Guard Oeprations came, reviewed the packages of the passengers, took two bags that didn’t apepar to have owners, and also a man carrying frozen fish and a boy with two hundred tablets of Baracoa chocolate. They took the accused and the fumigator started to hum with its vomit of smoke.

The kids of the anti-vector campaign adjust their masks and point the smoker toward the link of vehicles that has formed within minutes.

Rafael says that for the last month he’s been thinking it might be better to leave on a round-the-world trip.

Daily Engineering

5 Jun

Popular inventiveness is limitless. It has to do with the crisis and I don’t think we’re the inventors of this idea, but we have to recognize that Cubans, if we don’t set the record, at least maintain a good average in making do with substitutions for what we’re looking for but cannot find.

In the crafts stalls we’ve seen parts for Soviet washing machines (which haven’t been imported for more than 20 years) and pieces of mixers cast in alloys no longer in use.  In Mayari, for the modest price of ten Cuban pesos, I bought a dozen clothespins three years ago, and they’re still intact.

The first toys I bought my son Malcolm were from traveling salespeople, and are copied made from twisted and melted plastic, but thanks to them my son has played with his crane and ladder, a game of soldiers and an Excalibur style sword.

A disabled young man selling trinkets and crafts in the doorway of his house sold me the electrical switch that appears in the photos: it is made with a piece of wood and the cap from a Perla toothpaste tube of the kind they sell us in the ration market.  The most-used switches are made with plastic deodorant tubes and work in the same way: you screw and unscrew them to turn the lights on and off.

Lacking adhesive tape, we use strips of nylon bags, in the same way we use jars, chamber pots, vases, spoons, plates and plastic trays, homemade in a foundry to alleviate the shortages that have lasted half a century.

Still, I think every Creole solution is a cry of protest against those who plugged the hole in the wall through which you can see the civilized world.

Belling the Cat

1 Jun

I asked some economist friends of mine the same question I asked others who are engulfed in the hurricane of the economic downturn: How do we mesh the aspirations of ordinary people with the complete lack of production in the country?

I notice that my question leaves them stunned. They do not ‘plan’ the economy, they do not decide. They make up part of the whole that has to await the decisions of the leaders of a country at war.

For some days the Cuban newspapers publish readers’ views on the future cooperativization of food and minor services.

They are letters sent to the press organ of a single party, which only publishes the opinions of those who would arrange socialism at their whim, but under the hawk-like gaze of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

I am interested in these kinds of comments, they are the best metaphors that can be found: everyone wants change, but in the stale world of totalitarian control, they want to improve their quality of life, but by means of the solidarity imposed on Cubans, at the cost of leaving us with no medical services, now exported to Venezuela and other consorts of ALBA.

I will not resort to the trite argument of saying that Granma seems to me to be from another planet because I live in the same country where people use as toilet paper the only document in which they publish their achievements and accomplishments as if they were not a little lie more.

Holguín, the province where I live, has tried a thousand times to restore the plans of tubers and vegetables, but again and again, when they accomplish something, it is taken to another province or stealthily enters the black market, where we inevitably suck the last drop of blood in the month.