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Archive for September, 2009

Notice to readers

September 26, 2009 at 11:41 · Classifieds in Without Evasion

Due to a personal situation of extreme emergency, I will keep away from the blog for a couple of weeks. Given that readers have expressed concern for me whenever I miss our online forum, I am letting you know that, due to a close relative’s health issues –which I’m sure will soon be resolved- I will be prevented from writing for several days. For this same reason, I have not been able to cover the much-publicized Juanes concert in Havana or other topics of interest, as I would have liked and had committed to some readers who wrote to me about it.

As soon as my full-time presence is no longer required for this essential family matter, I will be back in the ring (of this cyber-family). Meanwhile, I very much appreciate the comments and participation of all in our blog; you have succeeded in mostly turning it into a space of civilized beings, capable of respecting diverse opinions, a modest and small but really select venue. There are always some who raise their tone of voice, but, overall, I perceive a tendency to seek understanding, this is the readers’ achievement. I’m going to miss you in my absence. A hug,

Miriam Celaya

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Septiembre 18, 2009 at 14:24 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

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On Wednesday, September 9th, I learned that, while a group of Island bloggers and other friends were getting ready to celebrate the simple awards ceremony for our first contest (A Virtual Island), another, even larger group of Cubans was being evicted from a warehouse that served as a makeshift shelter.

The incident took place Centro Habana, in a large space belonging to Cubatabaco, located at Barcelona and Industria streets, behind the solid, underutilized, and imposing Capitol building. The players were several neighborhood families whose homes are located in an extremely deteriorating building that a few days ago started to worsen, in imminent danger of collapse, a scene that has become commonplace in our shattered city. What was not usual was the reaction the authorities had when they showed up, ready to evict the daring invaders of the sacred property of the state. Faced with a dozen or more troops, police officers, communist party officials and -of course- the Municipal Housing Division, evacuees orchestrated an angry protest by refusing to stay at the substitute premises, elsewhere in the municipality itself, assigned to them to induce them to abandon the mentioned warehouse. The abysmal conditions of the assigned quarters and the lack of minimal hygiene requirements and bathrooms were unacceptable to those families that included the elderly and young children.


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The indignation rose pointedly, as they felt mocked in their misfortune, and it resulted in a kind of protest rally in reverse: it happened that, this time, the (true) people repudiated (get this, “spontaneously”) the representatives of the government. The harshest recriminations came from some of the women, who branded the officials as disrespectful, lying, and corrupt, primarily those from the Housing Division, whom they blamed as being responsible for their predicament and accused them of fraudulent dealings of the housing fund by engaging in the illicit sale of empty dwellings because their inhabitants emigrate abroad.

“Reasoning” was to no avail, neither was ideological same-olds about the country’s difficult plight, the global crisis, last year’s hurricanes, not even the much worn-out embargo. People were downright furious. They probably remembered that the crisis of the 90’s did not prevent the massive waste of tons of construction materials for the “peoples’ tunnel fever” to face the “all the peoples’ war”, a recourse used by the government to nauseate the people so they would forget their hunger and how well the materials could have been put to use to maintain thousands of city dwellings. Perhaps they remembered the four magnificent mansions in El Vedado (M Street between 23rd and 25th), the headquarters of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party, a lair of demagogues and bureaucrats. It is also possible that the more lucid of them thought bitterly about the many reinforced concrete posts across from the American Interests Office, at Monte de las Banderas, recently constructed in haste, at a very high cost and in record time, to satisfy the whim and vanity of the Great Nincompoop, who was determined to hide certain neon signs that caused him to have an intestinal itch.

The truth is that, in the days following the event in Centro Habana, trucks have begun to unload materials of all kinds, to repair the building of “the great protestors”. Evidently, the authorities were called to account, for is not good to corner those who feel they have lost everything. Something tells me that, here, things are not as they used to be.

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The planters speak

Septiembre 20, 2009 at 12:18 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

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The Carlos III Plaza, located on the avenue by the same name in downtown Havana, is perhaps the most popular of the hard-currency stores (shopping) in the capital, and possibly one of the best known in the island. It is visited every year by tens of thousands of Cubans from almost all parts of the island. Conceived as a farmers’ market since before 1959, it was renovated and reopened as a shopping center over ten years ago, when the possession of dollars was decriminalized and they began to circulate alongside the national currency.

Every morning before opening, until just a few days ago, people would gather at the main entrance, as much to be among the first to shop as to listen to Tomasito, a blind man who would show up every day since the creation of said Plaza to tell jokes and make speeches to the people, who afterwards would extend his hand and appreciate the coins people gave him. Tommy, of medium to small stature, chubby, bald and light eyed, was part of the landscape and the neighborhood. Residing at a nearby street, he was more popular than the market itself… that was his lifelong rock and no one ever argued about his space. But his popularity was his undoing.

On Friday, August 28th, Cuban TV channel Habana, in a program that usually deals with Havana scenes and personalities, aired a report where Tomasito appeared in various scenes, joking, going into his very humble home, walking around the streets of the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo…holding out his hands, palms up, ready to receive some coins from “his audience”. The clinch of the TV piece, which provided public opinion with proof of the existence of begging in the Castros’ revolutionary Cuba, was the protagonist’s own statement: “I do this in order to survive”. That was the end of him. In the blink of an eye, the poor blind man’s career as an artist-beggar ended. Immediately, Tomasito failed to appear at the large open air space of the Plaza Carlos III, in his place they have installed large planters, as if to justify such a remarkable absence.

Tomasito made no political statements or jokes against the system, he did not steal or importune anyone, nor did he get a lot of money from his mornings’ performances, but –confident in his insignificance- he allowed the eye of Sauron to discover him. Presumably, one of those officials who are zealous watchmen of the regime’s ideology was shocked by such a showy display of the fallacy of the system. How could it be allowed for a handicapped, one protected by the revolution, to openly proclaim his helplessness and poverty? How can it be tolerated, in addition, for him to shamelessly declare that he begs “in order to survive”? Behold! To offer pretexts to the slandering enemies! No one knows exactly what happened; the blind man has not made any statement and refuses to speak of the incident or be photographed. He apparently was duly cautioned, as the lesson in Panfilo’s case was learned, to keep the poor devils muzzled.

The rest of the story is easily inferred: the manager of the shopping plaza was called to account, reprimanded, and urged to take action. He, in turn, must have ordered Tomasito to disappear from the scene and to quit the “unlawful practice of begging” and -finally- the TV producers of the report must have gotten their slaps on the wrist, because there have been no reruns of the show despite the repetitive nature of our TV.

And there they are, the new potted plants at the Plaza, almost louder than Tomasito himself, suffering the punishment of the blazing sun with no customer offering them even a little water

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Septiembre 15, 2009 at 10:08 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

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A well-known Cuban nursery rhyme written by Teresita Fernández urged children to find beauty hiding in ugly places. I even think the song is called “The ugly”, and among what Teresita considers ugly with beauty is a garbage dumpster: “Garbage dumpster, garbage dumpster that nobody wants to look at…but if the moon comes out, your cans are going to shine” Anyway, now Havana is chock full of beauty, since, in recent weeks, the garbage collection cycle has been stretched out, and the image of the overflowing garbage dumpsters is a constant in the landscape of our streets. People say that “there are no trucks” or “that truck fuel is scarce” or that “comunales” (community property service) doesn’t have enough staff to ensure the daily collection of garbage,” and blah, blah, blah. It is thus that, unintentionally, the comunales people are contributing to the beautification of the city.

My sense of aesthetics, however, differs from Teresita’s, especially if each corner offers any passerby an overflow of refuse that must be dodged from a reasonable distance, or if we add to this the fact that the circumstance of institutionalized egalitarianism has contributed an added-value to the “beauty” of the garbage this week: the arrival of the “peoples’ fish” distributed through the ration card. Can you imagine the fish waste of thousands of families accumulating for several days in the city’s overflowing rubbish heaps, rotting under the hot September sun? Nobody is calculating how much stench 11 ounces of fish waste per capita are able to generate in such a densely populated municipality as Centro Habana. The garbage-collecting dumpsters now appear as some other snipers, pointing directly at each Havana citizen’s pituitary.

But, nothing, sometimes I don’t quite understand the meaning of art. I don’t find beauty in the rampant lack of hygiene in my city, especially if I don’t even have the slightest consolation that, when the moon rises, the dumpsters’ tin cans might shine: by that time, the divers, the only serious recyclers here, would already have carried them away

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Concert without frontiers?

Septiembre 13, 2009 at 19:14 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

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It finally seems that Juanes and the organizers of his controversial concert in Havana have come to an understanding, and a press release has just been published confirming the performance of the highly controversial event on September 20th,with performances by 15 participants, among whom are Orishas and X Alfonso, long absent from the Cuban stage, as well as the singular Carlos Varela, all with a wide range of popularity among the local public.

A cast as varied as the one that has been publicized indicates that there will be a feast for all tastes (or almost all) and it also suggests that Juanes -signer of the official statement, along with the Cuban Institute of Music- has been well advised by an organizing team that has succeeded in extracting some concessions to the Cuban side: as far as I can remember, this is the first time that the official press literally announces that something that is celebrated in Cuba “will not have political messages of any kind”, quite an accomplishment… if it really happens. Of course, the forces of evil are covering their backs with this too, but it’s OK, for once, it will not be the silence of the lambs, but of “civilized” Cubans in the interest of a peaceful concert.

The Granma newspaper (Friday, September 11th, 2009), includes brief statements from some of the artists participating in the concert, appearing to enclose a cryptic message in some cases, including that of Juanes himself, who hopes that “this Peace Without Frontiers concert may serve to extend a bridge for better understanding in the relations among all Cubans…” or Miguel Bose’s very succinct and challenging message, who said, “I am going to Cuba because I want to”, as if that simple fact would only depend on him (he forgot to add that, if he is coming, it’s because Cuban authorities are allowing it, something that was always denied to our Celia Cruz).

But these are only details, fleeting trifles. As for me, the only thing that left me somewhat confused is the part that says “Entry to the concert will be free and without charge”. If the event is to take place at the Plaza, opposite the National Library, in an open and large space, why do the say “entrance to the concert” and not “attendance”? Could it be that there will be an “entrance”, marked by barriers or some other kind of restriction? Perhaps, to avoid mistrust, what was missing from the press release was a statement indicating that the Cuban public’s attendance to the concert will be just like peace: without frontiers.

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Voices out of the silence

Septiembre 12, 2009 at 11:54 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

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As our readers know, the digital portal Voces Cubanas, which Cubans inside the island were able to access, has suffered the same fate as the website Desde Cuba: a filter has been installed to slow down the page to the point that it is impossible to open. The fact would not be a surprise to anyone if it weren’t so hard to conceive such a dumb action on the part of the Cuban regime. The authorities were not able to learn from experience, they do not take into account that when they blocked access to Desde Cuba in February-March of last year, they only succeeded in awakening the interest and solidarity of thousands of people through our blogs, many of these friends have been supporting us since then in the most diverse ways. 

Another immediate consequence of trying to silence our then unknown voices was to contribute to publicize us, multiply the readers’ participation and push other Cubans to join the nascent blogosphere. By trying to silence them, they have only succeeded in strengthening the voices. A regime that has all the media, all the resources and all the capacity for repression under its control, shows a morbid fear before the sudden emergence and development of a civil society that has chosen cyberspace to attain the freedom that reality denies us. They have power to spare, but they lack imagination. The government puppets spend so much energy only to show off its fragility! What a shameless display of impotence!

We will not keep silent. For every door that closes, many more are opening for us. The good health of the blogger phenomenon, applications from those who are still coming closer, interested in opening a blog, and the respect that many Cubans here have towards us demonstrate it. The strong will of young Pablo Pacheco (Voz tras las Rejas), expresses it. He is a prisoner from the Black Spring, whose imprisonment has been insufficient to override his will to be heard. We are not alone. The regime has lost the ability to learn and create, they repeat themselves again and again in reproducing the politics of fear: an unequivocal way of projecting its own. 

Note: at the close of this post I learned of two alternative bloggers’ arrest in the province of Holguín. I will try to get more information to the readers. I suggest following the news through Generation Y and Twitter.

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Septiembre 10, 2009 at 23:37 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

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Just as was previously announced, on the evening of September 9th, 2009, awards were given for “A Virtual Island”, the first Cuban blogger contest. Claudia Cadel, of the Octavo Cerco blog, who already had risen to first place in online voting, was the First Prize winner; Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was doubly rewarded: for Best Photography and Best Design Blog (Boring Hme Utopics). My blog and yours, Without Evasion, won the award for Best Journalistic Informational Blog, a prize shared with the newspaper group of the Association for Freedom of the Press, a joy that I want to convey to the readers, who also enthusiastically supported me in the online voting where Without Evasion came in second place. Without your participation, my job would be only a sterile effort.

It was a pleasure and a privilege for me to participate in the first blogger contest being held in Cuba, and to get such a coveted distinction among the 66 finalist blogs. But, more importantly, I am honored to be part of this phenomenon, the alternative blogosphere, as spontaneous as it is free, which is building bridges between Cubans of all shores and making a small, but constant breach in the fearful silence in Our Island.

A big hug to you,

Eva-Miriam

Illustration: Claudia Cadel, Orlando Luis Pardo and I.

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