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Alcohol, Sledge Hammer and Literature

4 Feb

We live in the forgotten little town of San German, in the Eastern Cuban province of Holguín, and it seems that “nobody is going to notice”.

Suppose that’s what the executives at CIMEX SA, a Cuban corporation that sells cigarettes, alcohol and sundry items to Cubans throughout all of the Cuban archipelago, must have been thinking.

It happens that a synthetically constructed kiosk was installed at the site where before there had been the only bookstore in town, which was moved to a cramped space of 5 meters long by 3 wide, with books stacked and getting wet when it rains, with the threat of a permanent shut-down.

At this kiosk, where they sell domestic beer at a prohibitive one CUC or US $1.20 and the deliciously unique Sabrosuras Bim Bom ice cream (at equally prohibitive prices)  editions of “Cecilia Valdés” or “The Brothers Karamazov ” were once sold for the ridiculous price of half a peso in national currency (the only one in circulation then).

Almost a block ahead in my tiny San  German stands a shiny, glass-enclosed coffee shop selling exclusively in foreign currencies (Carpentier, excuse the superfluous language). Three years ago, they sold an almost impossible to swallow coffee at twenty Cuban cents for an espresso-size cup, but comforting nevertheless to those without class. That was the “deceit” of a hundred or so workers at the sugar cane factory, early rising travelers and sleepless people without dreams of any kind.

One day they came, hammer, cement and tiles in hand and set up a business selling pizza and ready-made, microwavable spaghetti, malts, candy, and condensed milk.

For the last two decades, the executives at CIMEX, SA have been the fortunate vanguard of “Cuba”, the scramble that is poking its head into the houses of all Cubans.

Mid-night motels, boutiques, luxury watch stores and disco nightclubs on the cliffs at the beaches have already been taken over (for now) by this successful construction and investment commercial enterprise.

Like fifty years ago, when they tried to turn the army barracks into schools, today, the advanced totalitarian machine has come, seizing every space to get in tune with the times.

Instead of the old habit of buying a book and going home, the thinking brains of the new, mixed-purpose ventures have imposed this half-metal half-plastic structure where before there was a library, which they erected before the eyes of the citizens like a public offense.

Translated by: Norma