Archive | July, 2012

Oswaldo Payá: The Act of Serving

26 Jul

Still dazed and in shock I compose these words to Oswaldo. When I started to get the first messages about Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas’s death they were showing the film “War Horse,” and in one of the scenes a soldier leaves his foxhole to save his charger and before the imminence of his death he is praying parts of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” as if nothing should be lacking now to someone who is and well be a man-bridge, man-dialog, man-country.

The messages clogged my phone with the hashtag #OswaldoPayá and the mention ©OswaldoPaya. The questions of friends from every corner of the island and of the world. The police cordon at the hospital in Bayama, the details of the fatal incident, the doubts of a witness about a supposed police chase, the construction crews in the middle of the road on the El Naranjo curve. The questions. The answers. The words. The damn words.

It’s difficult to think of Payá and not go back to the now well-known EFE Agency photo where he, Antonio Díaz Sánchez and Regis Iglesia, on that 10th of May 2012, are approaching the site of the National Assembly of People’s Power to deliver the 11,025 signatures of citizens who supported the Varela Project.

There was the map of tomorrow’s Cuba. I say that because now the faces of the three blend together for me with those of hundreds of anonymous opponents, without a visible mark for the “mass media” merrymaking, those who gave birth to and collected these desires.

The most insignificant of the Cuban dissidents saw pass through their hands a form, a copy, or a summary of the range of strategies that Payá wanted to tune into so that Cuba would be different. Along with virtues, defects and contradictions, there was his greatness. The Cuban regime had to move, in an acrobatic high-wire act to the people to amend those articles that gave a glimpse of freedom and that were a dead letter in the Constitution until Oswaldo Payá grabbed hold of them.

The Varela Project was a lever that moved the country.

I think of Payá, but also of Osmel Rodríguez (The Chinaman Manicaragua), of Ezequiel Morales and Juan Carlos Reyes Ocaña, of the Ferrer-García brothers and of the hundreds of Cubans who armed with courage went out through our dark country to seek signatures for the Varela Project, to spark the desire to be free or to dream with this treasure that is freedom.

I didn’t support all of Payá’s initiatives, and for this I won his friendship. The first time we met he listened to my arguments without interruption. In 2007 he invited me to review the draft of something he’d been “cooking up” for months and I still appreciate that gesture, that cunning to get me to participate. From that time he called me and I him.

The first close people who talked to me about him were Father Olbier Hernández and Deacon Andrés Tejeda who described him as a contradictory being, helpful, a rebuilding. They and the way in which the former American president Jimmy Carter in some way presented him on that day in 2002* in the Great Hall of the University of Havana depicted the face of Payá Sardiñas in the tapestry of an inclusive Cuba for everyone. It will come, we will have to find it together.

*Translator’s note: Jimmy Carter was allowed to address the Cuban people on live TV and took the opportunity to praise Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project.

July 23 2012

Harassed Humorist

22 Jul

Once again, I must turn to the only possible method I have from San German, Holguin to publish my post.  Like so many other times, I send my post from my cellphone to someone’s email, who later re-sends it to my friends, who then publish it on my blog, which is not called “Crossing the Barbed Wires” for no reason:

Gabriel as “Mongo Sierra”, together with one of the actresses from the show “Let me Tell You”

Harassed Humorist

Censorship and fear of freedom has once again knocked on the door of Cuban art.  The logic of governmental repression aims its weapons at those who, in an either restrained or open manner, use their artistic manifestations to criticize and shed light upon the things which those in power try to hide from  eyes of citizens.  Now, it’s the turn of the university professor and comedian Gabriel Dario Guerra Gonzalez, who claimed to feel harassed and bothered by the national police in the municipality of Pilon, in Granma province.  Guerra Gonzalez assured to “Crossing the Barbed Wires” that during the months of January and July he has had two searches of his home without any charges against him, and he added that on July 12th, after the latest search, the officials forced him to sign an Official Warning Notice, after telling him that the objective of the search was to see if he had clandestinely obtained beef in his home.

“On the first occasion”, he pointed out, “my son’s laptop was searched and taken to a technology expert, supposedly because of using it to falsify money.  They returned it and apologized, but the damage to my personal image is already done”.  Dario Guerra is also a specialist in recreation in the “Marea de Portillo” Tourist Spot, located in the mentioned mountainous locality of the Cuban East.  In addition to being an Assistant Professor of Cuban Theater, he also has a work contract with the Provincial Music Center of Bayamo.  He has written scripts for Cuban television and he has participated in the comedy show “Let me Tell You”, where he has interpreted both feminine and masculine characters such as the peasant, Mongo Sierra.  His uni-personal works deal with themes as incandescent as the economic situation of the country and the bravery of Cubans who manage to surpass everyday obstacles, said some sources who were interviewed, and that could very well be the origin of the current issues being placed before him by the authorities.  Two other humorists interviewed, who have asked to not be named, assured that Gabriel Guerra fills up all the local venues where he presents himself with his comedy and ideas, under the rural Mongo Sierra character and that he had never been bothered before.

Gabriel Guerra Gonzalez has a book of rhymes published under “Bayamo Editions”, he is author of various stories, and is a renowned writer of poems and children’s books.

“The Colossus” from the Roof of my House

15 Jul

I owe this vignette to my friends Agnes and Cecile, in Toulouse.  They came to San German a couple of years ago, right when Hurricane Ike had ravaged a good part of the north-eastern geography of Cuba.  The strong winds had left the entire area on end, all over the place.  They climbed up on the roof and stared at the scenery.  Today it’s no better, but the chimneys of the sugar production factory had been threatened with completely vanishing.  Around that time they were conjectures and today, amid the other disaster (the economic one), there are only three towers left to expel the smoke.

In the past sugar production period, the prognostics of the national economy assured that it would be a historic sugar harvest because of its results (we did not know if they were negative or positive) while the workers complained about the lack of attention, low salaries, and long labor days, in addition to the unreachable quotas, where they would obtain a handful of convertible pesos as a bonus on top of their salaries (the majority weren’t paid this time because they allege that the company did not comply with the plan).

They are even talking about a possible foreign investment (China, Belarus, or Venezuela, perhaps) but the four towers will never identify the town as it formerly did: “The Sugar-Bowl Colossus”.  However, the national media said that the sugar harvest from 2011- 2012 reached “modest” and “insufficient” results after a campaign full of deficiencies and non-compliance, ending in April with only 94 percent of what was expected.

This photo is also for “Rosi-de-Cuba” and Mario Jacas, who are very attentive with the San German natives who go to Miami; and for “La Piñareña” and for Lori, who both pay attention to every detail that could be known for those of us within the cordon.

It is also for the San German Club on Facebook (perhaps this is not an idyllic photo, but I owe it to those who asked me for it).  This is the photo for Norman Trento and O.E, who with their professionalism ask me, nearly demand me, that I write about my nearest surroundings.  For them, this kind of journalism is worth as much as the Other.  For everyone, a photo, a couple of words, and good luck!

Counter-Development: A Disoriented Work Force

8 Jul

Recently, certain news from Guantanamo managed to stun me once more, because of its cruelty and because of the dark future stains which it presents for its actors. The note was signed by the Human Rights activist Yordis Garcia Fournier and it assures that more than twenty youths from that area were officially warned and cast aside by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) due to their labor detachment or that their conducts are classified as improper by uniformed officials.

During the last few months of 2008, as supported by an investigative report carried out by Jorge Corrales Ceballos, I informed through this blog about the pressures exercised in that same center against more than 80 youths for the same causes. On that occasion, a number of them ended up in prison under charges of Pre-Criminal Social Dangerousness. Human Rights Watch mentioned the incident in its reports and I was arrested various times, my phone was blocked for a couple of days, and the political police of Guantanamo directly threatened me because, according to them, I had been “talking about things which did not pertain to my neighborhood”. However, the violations against youths, not only from there, but from all over the nation, continued.

Now, as they are lashing out against these beardless southeastern Cubans, it would be good to return the ball to the court of the governmental culprits. When, in a matter of less than 5 years, the possibilities of access for graduates into Superior Education has diminished, what can we expect for that floating citizenship? The overpopulation in the registration lists for the Polytechnic Majors had shown us a qualified work force which would have boosted the economy of the country, but now our leaders have appeared with a “work force reduction” which they euphemistically refer to as “re-structuring of the labor force” or the politics of availability.

Back to the subject of the threatened youths, it’s worth asking: If they are available, then why threaten them? How can a young lathe operator, who has been condemned to fill up matches or to sell unnecessary products in state dependencies, be socially dangerous? The official statistics of youths who are unemployed due to lack of real work placement will never be published. Because of this, having such information in one’s hands to carry out a logical analysis is not very likely.

Right now, the educational politics is to graduate more “medical technicians” all the way from the secondary level and to return to the educational plan of four years, but where can thousands of qualified graduates of various professions who sleep on the eternal floor be employed?

More than half a hundred polytechnic institutes throughout the country graduated youths who majored in specialties such as Construction and Sugar Production, but those who assumed their professions for a while have been forced to dedicate themselves more to cultivating and cleaning the grass than to actually building, without detailing the depression of the sugar sector within the last decade. There is a skilled labor force which is qualified and which exceeds the possibilities of employment. After this, if they do not desire to work in sectors which are unrelated to their studies, then why classify them as social misfits or as prone to crime?

The logic of the polytechnic and technological enrollments in Cuba have been historically as follows: the students with little possibilities of entering universities opted for an average education. With the worsening of the economic crisis in the ’90s, the balance inclined towards commodity and calm: studying for half a day and a semi-internship for students, which translated into less effort for parents as the direct responsible ones. When the enrollments for urban and rural pre-university students were reduced, the amount of middle-technicians and qualified workers increased. A floating population, which is now difficult to chain down when they decide not to live off their parents anymore, goes out to fight with life and does not always win, but they dodge now, and hold it in tomorrow. And that’s how they mortgage the future- to whom? One day we’ll know. For a crook — another one — some would say.

Two Griefs, Two Citizens, Two Countries

8 Jul

From time to time, in the middle of conversations between Cubans, a couple of unanswered questions spring up: when did we become two countries, two citizens, two forms of enjoying ourselves, of suffering or of living, simply?  There are those who say that it happened around 1989, when the utopias and the innocence vainly fell to the ground from a wall which stopped existing a long time before.

In Cuba, the neighborhood know-it-alls assured that it happened around 1992.  The discussions begin and, with them, so do the adapted maps in which individual calamity comes together with collective calamity without any visible seams.  If there really was a Special Period…what was the previous one called?

Two ways of doing tourism: the beaches prohibited to Cubans and a couple of stick huts within the “popular camping” scene for the socialist  and proletariat vanguard; a bunch of channels on the satellite television service of luxury hotels and that televisual insult, adapted to four missiles which repeat the same thing every day and which no one can stand; comfortable and safe airplanes, cars, and buses against vehicles which are re-built and re-nailed onto the nostalgia of the 40’s; two kinds of diets: the one which every human being should consume, which no one should ever prostitute themselves for, and the other, the one they sold us wrapped in the most criminal of collective rations (a smelly oil to lubricate our stomachs, some grains and a bit of brownish-gray sugar) and which we accepted as an act of state subordination without any historical antecedents.  A parliament, a Single Party which aims to govern, which dreams of popular respect and acknowledgement and which drowns in the anonymous massacre which bleeds us dry through the worst style of corruption, while the citizen-ants lift the foundations of a civil society which, more sooner than later, will  imposing itself…if it manages to escape the beatings, imprisonments, and the public scandals.

Two ways of clapping:  accepting everything with resignation, tightening our  teeth and closing ones eyes and ears before the puppets, saying yes, but no, saying no, but saying yes.  We scream loudly in the plaza, at the top of our lungs, up to the point that we skin our hands of hating and envying our neighbors so much, and yet we mumble our failure on the oven, in silence, so that we do not lose our last rations of respiration, like he who’s life is full of pain, like he who is to blame.

Juani, the Marvels of Having a Blog

1 Jul

More than 10 years must have passed since I met Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero.  During those years, I participated in the cinema critique sessions which, along with Luciano Castillo, would take place in his native Camaguey.  A swarm of youths would move from diverse universities throughout the country to see some good cinema and to presume that they spoke better or worse than a critic.  The working days were just excuses to make ourselves believe that there was a second cinematographic chance, beyond the Havana hustle and bustle and it’s Film Festival each December.  But one good day, Juani- as his friends call him- opened the blog “The Insomniac Pupil” (absolutely nothing to do with the fundamentalist blog of the former regent of the Cuban Book Institute, Iroel Sanchez), and his followers from national newspapers and other spaces would delight ourselves down paths which were less worn than those which some specialists of the dark camera have us accustomed to.

A few days ago, I was at the presentation of a new entry, an edition of Cuban Letters for the disconnected (which are the majority) of his posts from “The Insomniac Pupile…”.  It was in the city of Holguin, in the 10th edition of the Documentary Festival.  “For the First Time”, there was only ten exhibits for those who were sitting and another set of pestles which were taken down immediately, without explanations.  There will eventually be an opportunity to take it all in with less heat and prohibitions in the libraries.  In sum, any book sold for twenty Cuban pesos is condemned to eternal sleep on a bookshelf.  The best part of the gathering occurred during the presentation and debate which was carried out by the words and provocations of Gustavo Arcos when he challenged Garcia Borrero to share what were his scarce possibilities of connectivity as a member of the UNEAC, or honorable member of the AHS from Camaguey, respectively.  Tell them, said Acros, how much and who pays you to write your blog.  The interesting thing is that from the intelligence which accompanied him,  as well as his prowl amongst state circles which have tolerated or authorized his “bloggeries”, Juani suffers from the same technological orphanhood as any independent blogger. Although he mostly writes about film, he also takes on aspects of everyday life which shoot out at any writer.  For me, in particular, I really enjoy this fragment of “Surgeons and Forensics”:  “I haven’t written in so many days that now my words are heavy, as if they were sacks of concrete, or perhaps it’s that the tiredness of the previous week has started to kick in”.

“In the end, lots of pulp for the urgent forgetfulness, due to the lack of having an independent voice”.

But the mistake enjoys lots of popularity, so much so that one can have the luxury of continuing to demand to be called “writer”, without it having to imply an abuse of confidence towards our friends.  On “This day”, a reflection about a television space by the same name, Juani says: “On today’s Cuban television there are nightly brief sections where we remember the most important happenings of the day.  It has always awoken curiosity in me to know exactly what are the parameters taken into consideration to determine the importance of these events. Who decides what deserves to rank among the most important books of history?  Based on which elements do we establish this valuation?”

I always am assaulted by similar doubts- who decides who is a blogger and who is not?  Citizen, intellectual, Cuban, without being weighed down by such useless epithets and out of style like deserters, mercenaries, or sell-outs?

A writer at last, Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero is an intellectual who thinks and lightens our minds up with incomparable effectiveness, with a tendency for tolerance which makes you want to embrace him.  Something which many autocrats must see as a crystalline map of the Cuba with which most of us dream of.