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Image taken from the Internet

Chronic shortages in Cuba are extending their tentacles with renewed vigor. The cycles of absence of numerous products are ever more frequent, even in the markets that trade “in hard currency.” Lately toilet paper has disappeared (for the umpteenth time in recent months), and similarly there have been short “gap” periods in which there have been no toothbrushes, toothpaste, wheat flour, powdered milk, soaps and detergents, sanitary napkins, etc. Nothing seems to be safe from the black hole that is Castro’s socialism, in which life is reduced to “not-dying,” while running a perennial pilgrimage after those articles which, anywhere in the civilized world, are a part of the most common reality.

With regards to food, it’s better not to talk about it. It’s enough to see the Dantesque scenes offered to us by the lines that form at dawn whenever someone announces that this or that farmers market “is going to have potatoes.” The police in Central Havana are practically on a war footing attending to the brawls that occur in the crowds who aspire to buy the longed-for tuber.

Now it turns out that the shortages have reached condoms, those attachments needed for the safe practice of what some call “the national sport.” Things have reached such an extreme that it has come to the point where drugstores and pharmacies have mobilized staff to change the expiration dates that appear on this product–already expired–to “update” it and be able to sell it. There is testimony that in some of Cuba’s interior provinces this task has been assigned to recruits doing their military service: a strategy of total combat in the face of the alarms set off by this small and humble latex object. According to the authorities, this is being done “because the dates on the containers were wrong.”

Consumers, however, are wary. In a country where corruption and deceit are part of the reality, no one feels safe. Some paranoiacs go to the extreme of suspecting it’s part of an official conspiracy to promote births in Cuba… What it really does is lead to an increase in abortions.

At the moment, a friend tells me, half-amused half-worried, that if in the 90s she had buy condoms to use as balloons at her son’s birthday party–today a young man of twenty-something– now she will have to buy balloons to practice safe sex.

31 March 2014

Photo taken from the Internet

The Cuban media, experts at manipulating jingoistic sentiments and fabricating nationalist trash, is using the anti-Cuba signs wielded by demonstrators against Nicolas Maduras’ government to manage at will national public opinion in the interior of the island. The task is simple, given the great disinformation of the natives here and the impossibility of accessing sources other than those offered by the Castro press monopoly. As a consequence, the most ignorant or naive, not to mention the ever-present useful idiots, walk around talking about how “ungrateful” the Venezuelans are, with the number of doctors and aid that “Cuba” has given them… As if it weren’t about a simple transaction of renting out slaves between masters, already generously paid for with petrodollars which are, in short, a treasure that belongs to the Venezuelans and not to the governing regime.

However, the most surprising thing is that these signs, along with the public burnings of Cuban flags, have been another touch that triggers outrage, not among the poor disinformed within Cuba, but among the Cubans of the diaspora, some of whom are speaking on behalf of “all” those born on this island, to attack the protesters who are every day risking their lives and liberty publicly and bravely protesting in the streets of several cities in their country.

I certainly understand the reasoning of susceptible Cubans: they feel alluded to when “Cuba” is insulted, and it’s no less true that directing the outrage against “Cubans” and not against the government would be, at least, erratic. Personally, however, I understand that it is not the intention of the opponents to Maduro and his cronies to insult Cuba, but to direct their rejection to the Castro’s regime, the outrageous interference of Cuban agents in Venezuelan intelligence and the army, the parasitism on the Venezuelan economy, the Castro control over national policy.

That’s why I do not feel alluded to in these acts. In fact, Cuba is for me something beyond the textile symbol of a flag. Venezuelan protesters are doing much more for their country than many Cubans, who today are offended by them, are willing to do for theirs. Believe me, my compatriots, with all due respect for their ideas, which as far as I’m concerned they can burn all Cuban flags they want, if this is the price to lift their own spirits and gain freedom. The day on which they fully regain their rights, and Cubans and Venezuelans sit down to talk together, I am sure that we will understand each other on the best terms. Until then, I offer them my deep admiration and respect.

24 March 2014

Mass demonstrations in Venezuela. Image taken from Internet

The news agencies don’t have a moment’s rest these days: a satrap in Ukraine has been overthrown through demonstrations and street protests amid the harsh winter, people stand on long lines to see with their own eyes the pomp and pageantry in which the ex-ruler, an ally of Russia, lived.

In Venezuela, student demonstrations continue, supported by opposition leaders finally came together to confront the Maduro government. In Ecuador, the opposition has just delivered a commendable blow to the government authorities by winning an unquestionable majority vote during local elections this Sunday February 23rd in important places like Quito and Guayaquil, putting the brakes on the rampant President of the “citizens’ revolution.”

The world is moving at breakneck speed, changing scenarios and uncovering new players, while we in Cuba remain in the political Jurassic era, with a government of dinosaurs perpetuated in power.

Judging by the official Cuban press, external reality does not seem to exist, so the “events” may be a gray “syndicate” congress in a country where no syndicates exist, a few “reforms” that do not reform anything, or whatever is dictated by a government that misgoverns a colony of ants that spends its days striving for sustenance, untouched by the joy of the liberated, ignorant of the will and courage of the opponents of Nicolas Maduro, the civility of Ecuadorians who opted for the polls to control the excessive power ambitions of a thug vested as president, and of everything that happens in the world beyond the reefs of a damned Island.

Venezuela hits us especially close, because of its shameless sponsorship by the Cuban dictatorship, obsolete and ruined, extending its evil shadow over a nation rich in natural and human resources. Fortunately for them and for us, Venezuela is not a country of zombies. Nevertheless, it causes sadness and apprehension all at once to see evidence that other peoples are capable of what we are not.

Pity our country, Cuba, whose children choose silence and flight instead of exercising their rights against the olive green satrapy that condemns them to slavery and poverty.

Translated by Norma Whiting
24 February 2014

Tula

The recent declaration of the birthplace of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-1873) as a National Monument on the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding, originally named Villa de Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, (today, Camagüey) awakens in me the evocation of a special woman who has always resonated in my spirit.

Tula is that great poet who once chose the pseudonym La Peregrina to publish her poems, never imagining that over 150 years later, this obscure writer would borrow her familiar name to use as the distinctive signature of my own work. Because Tula Avellaneda was my first pseudonym as citizen journalist, a personal way to hide my identity behind the name of a Cuban for whom I have great affection, admiration and respect, as if she were a close friend. The strength of her dynamism was a kind of symbolic shield in the process of exorcism against the demons of fear. Tula is, in short, the only woman for whom I secretly keep a friendly complicity not devoid of a trace of envy.

Because, you know what? I’ve always preferred the Tulas over the Marianas. The nineteenth century was rich in extraordinary Cuban women. Most of them, however, went down in history for their relationship with the wars of independence, and in particular for their link — either maternal or marital- – to men who were the protagonists of these military contests. A few were warriors themselves, so they transcended as patriots for a nation that, unfortunately, has always rendered greater worship to violence than to poetry, love, and literature.

To date, the women warriors are “Marianas” (after the Grajales saga, enjoining her youngest son to grow up to go to war for an ever bloodthirsty Motherland), but, by the same token, they were relegated to the perfect stereotype of the patriotic stoicism that offers the glory of the memory at the same time that it strips away humanity, to such an extent that I can’t recall any portrait of Mariana Grajales where she is smiling, or at least with a kind and loving facial expression. In fact, her effigy was built more on hate for the enemy than on love of any kind.

A similar fate befell on the portraits of other famous and respectable matrons of the nineteenth-century’s patriotic altar: hieratic expressions, frowns, pursed lips. Such rigid perfection that it becomes alien and distant. Accordingly, they have been stored in our memories, but not in our hearts.

Tula, on the other hand, transcended through her human essence which ran over in her literary work and in her disobedient character which defied the conventions of her time. An intense, passionate and creative life was her personal crusade, breaking gender taboos. A single mom, passionate lover, free spirit and controversial, her tempestuous character shows through even after the majestic serenity of her portraits. She never felt sufficiently loved by those she loved — although she outperformed all — never understood by her contemporaries, she was respected and feared at the same time, and often condemned by the moral values of her time, but she prevailed over adversity and was a successful woman in a world where success was an eminently masculine scepter.

Her talent as a poet, novelist and playwright was the liberating gift of femininity sentenced to containment and censorship for women of her time. That was her way of transcending and rebelling, so her legacy goes beyond the narrow confines of her Nation and of a time, and she is remembered with pleasure and nearness. Tula was (is) beautifully imperfect, therefore credible.

Now, two hundred years after her birth, few Cubans know of her life and her work, but her house in Camagüey has been officially declared a National Monument. I don’t know whether, had she ever imagined it, Tula might feel satisfaction over such a late tribute as part of her city’s half-millennium celebration. Knowing her personal genius, I suspect that when she died she knew that she had constructed her own monument with the flair of her pen and the fiber of her peculiar nature.

Either way, I appreciate the opportunity that has led me to write this poor tribute to La Peregrina, my old and eternal spiritual friend, who scored, with her strength of character and the grace of her verse, the young soul of this fan who’s already traveling through the twenty-first century and, with much less talent but with equal passion, disobeys other taboos in the Cuba of today.

Translated by Norma Whiting

7 February 2014

Act of Repudiation. Cuba

“Reagan wears a skirt, we wear pants, we have a commandant whose balls roar! (revolutionary slogan made famous by Felipe Pérez Roque)

Sunday, January 19, 2014 | Miriam Celaya

Havana wakes up early, and before 8:00 am and there is a swarm of voices and movement. Old cars and buses rattle around the city, people crowd at bus stops and at the curb, the new day of survival sizzles. Just one block from Carlos III, a main avenue, dozens of teenagers huddle around the “Protest of Baraguá” middle school staving off morning classes as much as possible. Regardless of gender, lively, haughty, irreverent, almost all speak loudly, gesticulating and shouting from one group to another, from one sidewalk to another.

A neatly dressed and beautifully groomed student stands on her toes while she places her hands on either side of her mouth, like a megaphone:

“Dayáááán … Dayáááán ! Hey, you, don’t pretend you can’t hear me…I’m talking to you, what the f… is it with you?!”

The kid in question, half a block away, turns to the girl and laughs:

“Hey, Carla, what’s the problem? Did you catch the hash? Now you can’t stop itching and I gotta go and “scratch” it?”

“Oh, honey, you wish! You aren’t man enough for that!”

The brief dialogue is accompanied by exaggerated, lewd gestures.

Dayán approaches and they greet each other with a friendly kiss and much fondling. They join an adjacent group of classmates chattering among themselves. Every once in a while, strong words fly, like the morning sparrows in nearby trees. I look carefully at the big picture. Greetings among these young people can be a spank on the bottom, a kiss, or an expletive straight from a tavern of pirates, with an ease borne of habit.

I approach the group and identify myself as a reporter. I want to ask them some quick and simple questions before they have to go through the school gates. I make it clear to them that I will not need their names, that I will not record their answers and that I will not take their pictures if they don’t want me to do so. Some move away a little, just in case, but stay in close range, as if to hear everything. None wanted to be photographed.

Where did you learn to express yourself like that? Do your parents allow that at home and your teachers at school? Have you been brought up in a violent family environment? What is your interpretation of rudeness or cursing? How would you define the language you use? Is your vocabulary found in any of your Literature or Spanish Language books?

After some hesitation, it’s Dayán himself who breaks the ice.

“It’s OK, nuttin’, auntie, it’s normal. Everyone speaks this way and everyone knows what those words mean. At home, you have to be careful, because parents get upset if you swear a lot, but they do it just like nuttin’. Teachers rarely butt in. There is nothing wrong with that. Look, at home, there is no violence like that. I have never been hit. OK, so maybe I got smacked when I was younger and did something bad, but ‘normal’ like everybody else”.

Then others jostle to talk and offer their opinions, interrupting each other. All agree that what is happening is that in “my era” they did not talk this way because they were behind the times and there was less freedom, but “that was before”. Cursing is now “normal” (let’s say very advanced). It is true that our vocabulary is not found in books, but books are one thing and real life is another. The same is true of TV, for example. I dig a bit more and discover that not a single one of them has ever read a novel. They don’t even know about poetry. To sum it up, vulgarity is not so vulgar for them, and foul-mouthed expletives are the norm.

The school bell warns that morning classes are about to begin, and the kids push each other as they go in, laughing, having fun. I am obviously “over the hill”, kind of a brief anachronism for that day. Some, very few, say goodbye to me before turning their backs and walking away.

But just as not all young people are vulgar, the vulgar are not all young. The epidemic of rudeness that has become endemic is not a generational thing, but a systemic phenomenon.

In the afternoon, I go to a nearby avenue and skirt the lateral passageway of the Carlos III Market, by Árbol Seco Street, where taxi drivers hang out to gossip daily between fares. They drink espresso or refreshments for their parched throats. Every once in a while, profanities sprinkle the talks, especially in the friendly, loud discussions about national baseball series or car prices, whose sales were recently allowed by the State. Adolescence is far behind them; many have some gray hair to comb, others have even lost their grays.

I ask the area’s septuagenarian parking attendant if the regulars always use such foul language or if it is only in the thrill of the moment. “That is normal here. They always curse, even in the presence of women and children.  There is no respect, and if you say something to them, it gets worse, so it’s better if you keep quiet”. I make it clear to him that I will not say anything to them.

Indeed, if I tried to complain to all those who express themselves using profanity, my whole day would be spent doing so, and would have gotten smacked more than once. In Cuba today, correcting someone’s manners and language is considered unjustifiable prudery: aserismo* prevails . But how and when did it all begin?

¡Asere, ¿qué bolá?!

Hey,you, wassup?

While it’s true that there have always been people who are vulgar and people without manners, only lately has rudeness invaded Cuban society, so much so that it is impossible to avoid. Contrary to the official discourse that advocates for education and culture of this society, vulgarity as a particular form of violence seems to be here to stay. From using the most foul language to the very masculine impudence to urinate in public and in broad daylight, our daily lives are becoming ever more aggressive.

If we were to explain the history of the empire of vulgarity on the Island using some of the prosaic words that have been incorporated into everyday speech at different times in these 55 years from vulgar egalitarianism imposed as state policy, probably only a Cuban brought up in this environment could understand something of the lexicon. Perhaps the story could be summarized as follows, and readers will forgive me, as I only intend to illustrate:

At first it was a guy who stormed a barracks with a group of ecobios, although when he left he was on fire when the shooting began. It became pretty bad and lacking in cold, and the ones who went to prison were better off. But, since they were such crazy dicks, at the end, they and the other cuties who joined them along the way took the bunch here, by their balls, gave Batista, who was a weirdo, a good poison, and that is how this dark affair began since here everyone is the same salsa, so whoever has an itch should scratch it, and if not….tump tu tum tump tum, bolá. Politeness and sentimentality ended, and shake it so it goes off* which one is it?

The spread of foul language and loss of good manners is already a feature of the Cuban society of the times, to the point that the general-president himself, Castro II, has publicly expressed alarm at such vulgarity. Social vulgarity, that sort of bastard child that the regime now refuses to recognize as its own, has passed out of the masses and reached the sacred threshold of its parents. And it scares them. What if one day such uncontrolled crudeness becomes violence against the throne?

Diligent criers, meanwhile, have responded immediately to the master’s whistle. Language, Did Good Manners Take a Trip? is an article where the official journalist Maria Elena Balán Sainz, after lamenting about the rudeness of speech and manners currently governing Cuba, especially among the young, delves into an analysis of the origin of the Spanish spoken in the Island and its lexical relationship with other countries in the region, on the evolutionary theory of language, its importance in human communication and care, about which she insists that, “Although it seemingly may fall on deaf ears, we cannot stop the battle for the proper use of our language, although there are marked tendencies in recent times toward popular slang language, occasionally with vulgar ingredients”.

Even she could not escape the clichés that in Cuba each issue becomes a “battle” and where all “official strategy” gets shipwrecked in sterile campaigns, though we can recognize the good intentions of her article. However, her article seems to imply that the vulgarity and crudeness emerged suddenly and spontaneously among us without cause or reason, as naturally as if it were fungi on animal feces in a pasture. Balán Sainz does not mention, even once, the coarse rusticity of revolutionary slogans, swearing in repudiation rallies, vulgarity in assaulting and beating by those who think as indicated by the olive-green creed, or rudeness stimulated and wrapped from power to try to nullify those morally different.

Those waters brought this mud …

Now, using my own words for the review, I’d say that, at first, it was the violence of a social revolution that came to power by force, which expropriated, expelled, sowed exclusions, for political reasons, of religious faith or sexual preferences, which imposed egalitarianism, condemned traditions, separated children from their parents’ home in order to indoctrinate them, fractured families, condemned prosperity, kidnapped rights, stifled the creative capacities and independence of individuals, standardized poverty, pushed an infinite migration that plagues and cripples us. I cannot imagine greater vulgarity.

Now, when Cuba looks like a scorched land, her economy ruined and her values misplaced among old slogans and constant disappointments, the regime is perturbed by the rudeness and poverty of speech, which move along proportionally with the system’s general crisis.

But Balán Sainz is somewhat right when she reminds us that our lexicon is a reflection of our social reality. Lowly, vulgar and violent language belongs in an impoverished country, where each day we can feel more and more the frustration, the precariousness of survival and the tendency for violence. It is part of the anthropological damage, so masterfully defined by Dagoberto Valdés.

Are there solutions? Of course, but they will not be spontaneous. Only the end of the rude Castro dictatorship could mark the beginning of the end of aserismo in Cuba.

*Kimba Pa’ que Suene : a raunchy Reggaeton (Latin Reggae) glorifying masturbation.  Such music is currently outlawed by the government of Cuba.

By Miriam Celaya, translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 19 January 2014

Although several days late, I take advantage of a brief opportunity to connect to wish all readers a happy New Year and to wish them every success in 2014. As a special note, this blog is turning six years old around these days, so I intend to renew it in the coming weeks. I have been a bit away from this website due to other work commitments.

I was very busy during 2013 but greatly satisfied, including seeing the book Cuba in Focus published, which was co-edited by my colleagues Ted Henken and Dimas Castellanos and has come out in its English version. We aim to have it published also in Spanish, for better circulation in Cuba.

At any rate, we will continue move forward with our work, hopes and optimism.  I wouldn’t know how to face life in any other way. I will return soon, eager with new passing pursuits. Thanks and a big hug.

3 January 2014

Photograph from the Internet: No Comment.

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

13 December 2013

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