Archive for August, 2009

Agosto 30, 2009 at 11:54 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión


A little while ago, a colleague who works at a foreign radio station asked for my opinion about the popular singer Juanes’s announced, possible, and very controversial concert in Havana. At that time, I explained that, while the official press published a brief note about it, the matter has not been mentioned any further in the slightest, and very little anticipation has been created among the people: no one is sure that the concert will take place in the end. As for me, I explained to my dear colleague that I don’t consider myself among Juanes’s thousands of fans on the Island, not because I snub his music, but –simply- because I have not listened to it. I must confess that I do not usually look for the “the most contagious” stuff here on the radio (TV is not worth mentioning, plagued with bad clips and worst music shows), perhaps because the “reggaeton”, which I reject completely, has invaded the waves of most of the sound spectrum in recent years. Therefore, I have unconsciously done something I have always criticized, “tossing the couch”: I don’t listen to the radio or watch musical shows. But, beyond my preferences or habits, the truth is that Juanes is known and liked among young (and not-so-young) Cubans, and I am sure that his show here would receive a warm welcome from his audience.

However, Juanes has stopped being a mere “musical” event for Cubans -especially for those in exile- since he decided to do a concert on the Damn Island, and no less than the most symbolicly onerous title of the decadent Cuban revolution was ascribed to him. So much, and in so many tones has been already said about the subject that –though I include myself among those who approve of his appearance in Cuba as a positive factor that breaks the isolation and extends cultural bridges between Cubans in this prison and the outer world- I will limit myself to clarify to Juanes certain peculiarities that will color his Havana concert which he has never found on any stage in his artistic career for sure. These quirks are:

The places closest to the platform where he will perform will not be occupied by his truest admirers, but by the contingents of young people from the University of Informatics Sciences, communist militants of all graduate schools faculties, students from the Interior Ministry schools, the Latin American School of Medicine, that is, all who are somehow involved with this government, in order to prevent some civic initiative of the protesters (“counter-revolutionaries”, as we are called) that –since it would be sufficiently close- might be captured and disseminated throughout the media.

The entire plaza will be controlled by repressive forces, not to monitor the order, but to prevent undesirable manifestations or unauthorized slogans (something as simple as “Freedom”, for example) and any other spontaneous expression from the crowds. Most likely, although the artist has already stated that it is not a political act, he will see –in addition to the scowling and giant face of Che in front of the monument to the Apostle-, numerous posters of “revolutionary reaffirmation”, with praises to the commander and allegorical images. Some of his guest(s), with prior coaching from the highest power, will introduce the Castrist-communist chanting ritual, or some or other soppy morsel (“I dedicate this song to five brothers unjustly imprisoned…”, etc.). Have no doubt: they will politicize his show.

In short, it is true that art can be an effective tool for peace, for uniting wills and dreams, for shattering ideological fences, for cradling hope. It is also true that Cubans, an extraordinarily warm and loving public, deserve some entertainment, but the effect of a concert should not be overstated: If the Juanes show in Havana takes place on Sept. 20th, the authorities will take advantage of the media event to “demonstrate” the youth’s commitment to the revolution, the disobedient who dare to express themselves will be suppressed -just as what happened during an appearance by Pablo Milanés on the protestdrome- and everything will be as before. It remains to be seen, then, if Juanes has enough aplomb and command of the stage to deal with such demons without contamination. My best wishes to Juanes, with all sincerity.

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Notice to readers

August 30, 2009 at 11:26 · Sorted in Sin Evasion


August 30th,  2009 is the deadline to participate in the “A Virtual Island” Blogs Contest, convened since December 19th,  2008 by a team of the magazine “Convivencia” and the editorial board for the Desdecuba.com portal, for Cuban bloggers located in the national territory. The competition aims to promote the Cuban blogosphere and to motivate those who use the Internet to express ideas, information, and testimony. Although a panel was organized for awarding prizes in different categories, the active participation of our readers is important, so we invite you to collaborate with our contest by voting online through http://unaislavirtual. com /, by selecting your favorite blog. Make this your first Island blogosphere contest on the Island.

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Remembering Annia

Agosto 27, 2009 at 18:15 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión


My friend Annie left Cuba over a year ago. She had to leave behind a teenage son in the care of a father too obtuse to grant him his freedom, too committed to this system to be able to withstand the official punishment he would receive for allowing the flight of his young wings. Annie is still a young woman who, after the failure of her first marriage, from which Adrián was born, found a new love and rebuilt her life. Eddy, her new husband and a true friend to her son, never concealed his intention to emigrate, and years later, when the time came, he parted with a promise of a reunion before long.

Every once in a while, Eddy would manage to come to the Island by different channels, and would spend several days of idyllic happiness in the company of Annia and her son, during which they projected the life they wanted for themselves outside of Cuba; together through thick and thin, working, dreaming, waking up each morning, safe from ideologies and mottos, having forgotten speeches and slogans; newly born not to an easier of more pious world, but where they expected to be free once and for all. The three of them were determined to defend, beyond the possible, the future they had devised.

It would not be a simple endeavor. Annia tried to leave illegally with her son almost ten times and always failed. Eddy paid for the cost of each of those distressing failed attempts that took place at various points of the island She was stopped at every occasion, her exit thwarted, treated as a common criminal, it was a miracle that the child’s father did not find out about such intentions: clear evidence that not even repression is a perfect machine. Finally, Annia decided not to risk Adrián to such a dangerous adventure and devised an alternate way that her son agreed to: she would leave legally –or at least “normally”- seated in an airplane, with a passport and previously issued invitation-letter visa. Her teenage son would remain in the care of his father until the age of majority, when he could rejoin his mother. Thus, they planned in secret, carried it out and –finally- Annia left.

Some “judges” of the people, of whom there are so many, have sought to prosecute her for the so-called abandonment of her son. I know what it took for Annia to make her decision, I know how much it hurt her to be separated from her son, and I can guess how she suffers everyday for the absence of who was –in spite his youth- the safe keeper of such trust and friendship on his part. She wanted to defend their right to happiness without further exposing her beloved son: she did not condemn him, she absented herself temporarily from him. Maybe that would not have been my decision, but those are also not my circumstances. I also know that she won’t rest until she has him close to him, I place all my faith and my good wishes for her to attain it.

Annia’s drama is not an invention, but a case (one more of so many) from real life, someone I know personally. Here I use false names because I don’t have the actors’ authorization to reveal their true identities; the day will come when that will be possible for all the Annias of this Island, when it will not be necessary to be separated from some of your loved ones in order to be happy and free. Whatever judges, executioners and lawyers say, emigration is the greatest rupture for Cubans, many emotions have been crushed due to it, and family feelings have been extorted; also, powers have nourished and are nurturing from it, turning us into hostages and, at the same time, sustaining their policy.

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Illiteracy III

Agosto 24, 2009 at 18:08 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión


Walking the streets of any town in Cuba is not just a healthy exercise -and unavoidable for many- but also a source of direct observation in order to get first-hand information or to perceive the clear reflection in society of the national situation. The signs and posters a stroller may stumble upon at any point in the insular geography are a valuable asset to confirm the high degree of cultural disaster because of decades of poor educational background. The Orthography of the Spanish language is in crisis here… I am not referring to a simple little error anyone could commit, more or less. No, this is about true monuments to disrespect for spelling rules.

This is not a new phenomenon. I have anecdotes dating from the early 80’s, when I was a Spanish teacher and felt a moral obligation to assist in the correct use of language. I remember one day, when I explained to the clerk of a coffee shop in the Havana municipality of La Lisa that “café mesclado” (blended coffee) should not be written on the tablet, but that “café mezclado” was correct. Casually, the manager, who was nearby, came out of his office and, a bit annoyed, asked me: “do you understand what it says on the board?” and, at my “yes” answer declared: “that’s good enough for me” and turned away, very satisfied with his own stupidity. It was the last battle I waged against ignorance of the language beyond my classroom. I could cite plenty of examples that almost make a knot in my stomach on hundreds of posters I’ve seen since then. “Se reparan colshones” advertises an uphosterer in El Cerro, instead of “colchones” (mattresses repaired) while in Neptuno, very near the University, a “hierrero” instead of “herrero” (iron forger) offers to make you whatever fence you need, while a private coffee shop in Centro Habana sells a “delisioso kokito” instead of a “delicioso coquito” (delicious cocoanut candy).

Knowing of my interest in the subject, many friends bring me information or pictures of these findings, which, labeled in dissimilar ways and styles, abound everywhere. By this means a real gem has arrived, which illustrates the heading of this post, a picture taken by my friend Dimas Castellanos on a trip he made to the city of Bayamo. This is an ad for the association of drivers in front of the railway station in that city. I transcribe verbatim what the poster says to those who -like me- have “short” vision problems:

Associate Comrades
To make documents at the A.S.S. you (respect form) must (llebar instead of llevar) have two -photos- if you (familiar form) have a license (carne* instead of carnet) one for the (espediente instead of expediente) one.
Keep your bag and double-bag in -good condition. Take care of your city’s (limpiesa instead of limpieza) cleanliness.
“Thank you”

Four misspellings and an error in word agreement in such a short message. Presumably, the second part of the poster refers to the bags used by the typical carriages of that dear city to collect the horse excrement, and it seems that the warning is at least observed, because Bayamo is indeed a clean city.

But what are we asking of the amateur sign makers, when even some journalists make their blunders, and style editors miss an occasional typo in the tedious review of such an “informative” snafu. Behold, the newspaper Granma of August 12th, 2009 proudly shows in its final page a caption that reads: “Teams from Camagüey’s construction companies proceed to the unobstruction of the river’s course (“cauce”, mispelled: “cause”) in the city”. Since then, I have checked every day, to see if there is a disclaimer to amend the misprint. Nothing. Probably not even the editor of the newspaper reads it, or maybe he doesn’t know that the Hatibonico river doesn’t have “cause”, but “cauce”. In short, it seems that it is useless to insist.


*Translator’s note: the pronunciation of “carne” is presumably the same as “carnet”, in which the last syllable is stressed. Since there is no written accent on the word “carne”, (words ending in vowels whose last syllables are stressed must show a written accent mark) then it must be pronounced like the word for meat, which adds unintended humor to the sign.

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Agosto 22, 2009 at 18:01 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión


We are entering the final stretch of the “vacation” period and the shortages have begun to become more pronounced: the transportation crisis has started to worsen –including the private “gypsy-cab” service- the blackouts are becoming recurrent in some areas of the capital, many hard-currency store shelves are exhibiting an alarming lack of basic necessities and even supplies assigned to the entertainment sites (like the camping areas) have diminished considerably when compared to the first weeks of summer.

With ever-increasing frequency, it is difficult to acquire such basic products such as detergent, toilet paper, or a simple toothbrush, while the ration card has begun to shrink (more) with the elimination of additional grains (legumes), and the halving of the salt allowance. The agricultural markets, meanwhile, haven’t yet demonstrated to us the niceties of the productions that overwhelm us on TV reports, while prices generally remain above the purchasing power of the majority of the population.

Any casual observer would shrug his shoulders indifferently, discounting the importance of this bleak picture, and perhaps would even point out that these crises are cyclical, that there have always been “bumps” with the supplies and “soon it will be resolved”. However, a closer look would discover that in the labyrinth of national poverty, doors have been closing and there is no longer any saint left to whom one might entrust oneself. Many companies with foreign capital have withdrawn due to defaults by Cuba, allies of the regime are mired in pretty complex situations in their respective countries, there is a global economic crisis, a great part of the Cuban population of working age refuses to join the state workforce due to the absence of attractive wages, while those with formal employment mostly belong to the sphere of services, which -more that an input- is a tax on the economy.

The last quarter of the year may offer a more somber scenario, especially if the misfortune of a hurricane befalls us to finish crushing the remains of this unfortunate island. The people, meanwhile, continue their daily ramblings, as if waiting for half a century were not enough and they were giving themselves another chance, “to see if things improve”. The only difference in these times is that now we are not alone: For the first time in decades it seems that the government is also awaiting something, perhaps a miracle, or the emergence of naive new investors who dream of ensuring their economic destiny in the tropical paradise in order to be securely fastened in the post-Castro era (such as dreamed the fools who took the bait in the previous decade), or even for “the capitalist world crisis” to end and for an increase in family remittances from which to take their juicy slice.

The truth is that the last carrot that the biggest asses here were waiting for, in order to keep treading on, was the once-again postponed congress of the communist party. Now all that remains are the sticks.

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Pánfilo’s mistake


Agosto 20, 2009 at 18:00 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

The news of the recent arrest and “prosecution” of Pánfilo, about which is being said that he was finally sentenced to two years in prison for the “crime” of pre-delinquency dangerousness, has spread quickly through Havana. The general opinion is that this man has been used by Cuban authorities as a scapegoat, a kind of lesson to be learned by those who may feel encouraged to offer their opinion (criticism) about some aspect of the reality that exists in Cuba. And it is not a matter of disregarding your point of view: let’s imagine the huge number of alcoholics we have on the streets of the capital denouncing their penury.

However, Pánfilo’s case suggests other wrinkles and twists that show how the news is often the product of circumstances. Only in Cuba could reports of a boozer transcend as an event, because –though his declarations in that first video that caused him to be discovered before public opinion were true- what’s peculiar about the event is that, among so many material and spiritual shortages, a common character would dare to express himself publicly and freely only under the effects of alcohol. The second statement of Pánfilo’s, a sort of self-criticism where he declared “not remembering anything” about what he said before, was generated –not by chance- after he was hospitalized to bring about his “detoxification”. We know where these centers are that deal with “health”, and who the specialists are. 

But for some unknown circumstance which could be related to a certain amount of money received by our character (and that, according to informal sources, was quickly diluted in alcohol), Pánfilo returned for a comeback appearance a third time before the cameras and he reaffirmed his initial statement: “Hunger and OK!” and was immediately removed from the scene by the owners of the property: apparently, this time he will have to survive in the miserable prison property and, moreover, without the possibility of evading the harsh reality by consoling himself with the neighborhood’s “chispa ‘e tren”* which, for him, has the odd effect of clearing up the mind. 

It occurs to me, after all, that maybe Pánfilo was not arrested for what he said, but for retracting once what he said in his first rapture of drunken sincerity. He is truly a three-time victim: of the system, of alcohol, and of himself, because he didn’t (the poor bastard couldn’t know) calculate that in Cuba, when they squeeze you, you have to scream louder and clearer than ever, and that, once you have fallen into the path of freedom of expression, if only by chance, as in his case, there is no possible return. 

*translator’s note: *cheap alcoholic drink which when translated literally means spark of the train.

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North Koreanizing of Cuba?

Agosto 10, 2009 at 17:44 · Clasificados en Sin Evasiónunidad-firmeza-victoria 

General Raúl Castro’s speech at the closing of the recently concluded session of the so-called Cuban Parliament has raised more expectations than answers to the difficult national situation. The usual speculation about what he said- or rather, what he did not say- has become the routine exercise of the people, who had awaited some signal after the empty verbiage of last July 26th. To try to decipher in this space another version of the General’s cryptic messages would be long and tiring, so I prefer to speculate about the events that have been setting the pace of the intentions reflected in his speech before the National Assembly.

In recent times, the country has been militarized. All key economic posts have been occupied by members of the war oligarchy who answer to Raúl Castro. In retrospect, his assumption of this government was preceded by a reputation (justified or not) of a good administrator, born from his years in the Sierra and based today in both, military companies that collect foreign exchange, and agricultural cooperatives managed and manned by the military. Somehow, that aura had many supposing that economic reforms would begin to be introduced which would ultimately grant a respite to the critical plight of Cubans. That did not happen.

Clearly, Raúl Castro plans have not figured on any reform. Rather, he has tightened controls and has entrenched their positions, as shown by the extreme militarization, the new Law of the Comptroller as a State organ of control and monitoring that “will play an essential role in raising the order, the economic discipline, the internal control and determined confrontation against any manifestations of corruption…” as well as his clear threats, brandishing the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior in order to do this. Without doubt, the General -acquainted with the insolvency of the country and the imminent escalation of the crisis within the Island- is planning to carry out the domination even through the use of force.

Meanwhile, under the threatening specter of the rifles and the uniforms, calls to work and food production are repeated, while announcing the increase in controls in a nation where corruption reached soaring heights and whose children survive only thanks to contraband. The image that the youngest of the Castros has forged for himself in order to “govern” Cuba is one of a North Korean commune. Will he be able to accomplish it? 

Perhaps the Second Front, far back in the Sierra guerrilla years, was the most organized and productive property in the rebel army, but today the General is forgetting that Martí sentence in which the Apostle censured Máximo Gómez, making it clear to him that a Nation is not founded the same way that a camp is run. We are not North Koreans, so, in the very repression that is forged from the Palace of the Revolution comes the germ of the destruction of its powers. The consequences of militaristic delusions could be dire… not just for us.

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Another literary novelty

Agosto 8, 2009 at 17:53 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión



The Granma newspaper announced a literary novelty on Tuesday, August 4th: the “Fidel Castro’s Dictionary of Thoughts” (Political Publishing) to be presented next Saturday, August 8th, at the Palacio del Segundo Cabo. The publishers and author, Salomón Susi Sarfati, a senior lecturer at the School of the Party (“Ñico López”) will be there. The paper adds, “this is about a selection of Fidel’s ideas from those propositions that hold the political and more fundamental philosophical and educational dimension, as explained in the foreword. Believe me, that is what it says. 

It won’t be necessary to hide from the readers that this note from the “most serious” newspaper in Cuba has made me laugh heartily. I won’t ask myself what mysterious inspiration may have led the author of the book -who curiously has a wise man’s name- to dive into a font as twisted as Castro’s thoughts, in addition to somebody calling that a “political and philosophical dimension”. Castro has been many things, (none good) except a philosopher. Not for naught, but apparently the “anti-muses” also exist. But, since we always must seek the positive side of human deeds against the grain of the effort that such endeavor often involves, let’s see it the following way: with luck, this dictionary could serve to understand some of the convoluted and ill pro-Castro thought, though it arrives 50 years too late, at least it will be useful for those still interested in it. I have a friend who collects dictionaries and can vouch for the usefulness of that hobby, because even I have availed myself of some of them. Perhaps he will be interested in the editorial rarity I am commenting on today. 

As for me, I will try to get myself a copy of the booklet, because having a printed record of what our grandchildren may not believe tomorrow will not be redundant. Besides, I am convinced that if the note from Granma made me laugh, the “philosophic” stagnation of the undefeated, as seen through the “Solomonic” perspective of its author, should be a real feast, yes sir!

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Illiteracy II

August 8, 2009 at 09:22 Clasificados en Sin Evasion 

pioneros-por-el-comunismoHowever dramatic the picture of Cuba’s education is presented today, as well as the evident decline in quality of education and hence, learning in general, it would be naive to assume that this has been a sudden phenomenon or that it could be attributed to the crisis in the ’90’s, when Soviet subsidies disappeared and the Island was plunged onto the bottom of the well (which we continue digging through today).

It is true that that period was marked by the exodus of teachers for better-paying jobs or whatever jobs offered additional income or fringe benefits, however, poor education policies implemented long before then pointed to the deteriorating process of the educational system.

For a better analysis, I propose the separation by education levels, starting with primary education. At this level, the creation of teacher training schools which, in just a few months, prepared educators who should cover the growing needs, but not always met the future teachers’ minimum requirement necessary for admission to the same teaching schools. It must be noted that this profession has traditionally not attracted most young students, so the authorities came up with –then and now- certain “bribes” to stimulate the electing of education as a way to get certain benefits.

One of the first experiences of the revolution was the creation of schools called “Anton Makarenkov”, named after a Soviet pedagogue, which would mark the beginning of the consecration of the communist doctrine to be taught to Cuban students. Clearly, that was not enough: the lack of teachers was notorious, and government efforts continued in order to capture “educators” for training in the new socialist values.

During the 1972-1973 school year, in a junior high school I was attending, there was a call for registering in a crash course for primary teacher training. The “hook” was mainly that men who benefited from this program would be exempted from the then 3-year compulsory military service. That call was echoed by a number of eighth-grade students who had not yet passed seventh-grade subjects, many of them with a two and three-year gap in schooling (because then, if a course was not completed successfully, it was repeated) who found a way to avoid two burdens at the same time: regular schooling and military service. Not even a minimum of vocation, nor a psychometric test to measure their abilities, nor a reference to their moral and family status. Thus, for the most part, the weakest and less qualified students joined in.

The experience proved so disastrous that it forced its path to be partially corrected. The “Salvador Allende” Primary Teacher Training School was then created, which recruited average students, but with certain basic requirements. From this emerged many mediocre teachers but also –it must be acknowledged- many others with genuine educational vocation. For a time, the specialization of primary teachers became a real official concern: a “degree plan” was developed in order to revamp those teachers who were trained in emerging workshops but had remained teaching and had acquired, through practice, enough teaching experience. A licensed primary education degree was established, as well as teachers specializing in defectology, graduates from the former Soviet Union, to attend to educators with (teaching) disabilities.

The collapse of socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe had a tsunami effect on the Cuban education system. Overnight, teaching means, material study base, and, worse, teachers themselves, became scarce until they almost disappeared. The official response was lying, the masquerade to conceal the true extent of the damage: for every teacher with a degree who left, a makeshift, ill prepared and poorly paid individual was placed, who would systematically take it upon himself to warp the children. Flunking was prohibited, despite the poor quality of teaching and the overwhelming lack of knowledge of teachers and students, no Cuban child would repeat a grade in elementary school. They appeal to resources ranging from slacking to fraud to ensure the promotion of the lie. Children without parents at home sufficiently qualified and responsible enough to fill in for the inabilities of teachers, are doomed to ignorance. Thus, curiously, as the quality in the education system has plummeted, promotion rates have gone up. We need to appear that we are now even better than before, when the Soviet Union provided us with books, paper, pencils and whatever reading material was required for school, to demonstrate the superiority of State socialism.

More recent history is known: the emerging teachers are the summit of the failure of the official system. Thus, without the knowledge base, without guidance from a true master to instruct and educate them, and with great distortions of their values, children pass with the most minimal effort and with the approval of teachers and parents to another level of education, where they will live out a similar process. The State has discovered a system capable of making man inept from the standpoint of education, but also intended to debase from the moral point of view, a situation that has dragged out to date, and for which there is no clear solution in the short or medium term.

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August 6th, 2009 at 17:43 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

The Cuban authorities are no longer content with their own events and have decided to bilk their neighbors’. Such is the case of Granma on Wednesday, August 5th, which devotes its prime front-page space to the 15th anniversary of the events of August 5th, 1994. If it weren’t too cynical, it could almost be said that this is good: never before did the official press mention those events. Now, inexplicably, has taken up the subject again to lie most brazenly and distort history though those of us who know how to remember know that everything was very different to what the media reflects. 

On August 5th, 1994, the popular discontent was spontaneously expressed: those who met there were not ordered by anyone. True that those Havana citizens seeking to emigrate, protest, and show their dissatisfaction were not looking to overthrow the government. Cubans who concentrated on the Malecón were not encouraged by the US government as they would have everyone believe, but were propelled by their lack of hope, their frustration and their powerlessness; leaving Cuba has been the most visible expression of this system and its government in the past 50 years. 

Now the spokesmen of the regime have the audacity to take credit for the glory of what should constitute its shame and they even present F. Castro as the hero who “headed” those who confronted the ones who were in disagreement, as if we forgot that he appeared on the scene of the events acting like a peacock, when everything was under control by his repressive forces, because he has never had the courage to take risks. Many Havana citizens and I witnessed the magnitude of the strength that was applied to suppress the rebels of the “Maleconazo”: I personally saw the special forces trucks go by, filled with uniformed armed hominids, armed with those special helmets, their arms covered in padded armor, transparent shields that were shockproof, hitting batons, guns. Never before had I seen in Cuba a deployment of anti riot troops… the most impressive and terrific show that I every witnessed. They were the core of the “outraged people” who repressed the dissidents. 

Fifteen years ago, I was not on the Malecón, but I remember that day as a sign of the rebellion of many Cubans that raised the expectation of change in many of us. On that day, we thought the end of the dictatorship was near. I have never wanted to leave the Island; I have believed (romantically, I know) that I am more useful here, that I belong to this place and that my resistance is also my special homage and respect to the Cuba we all love, including those who rebelled on that day. Wherever they are, they are an example of dignity. I like to think that we are more than 110 thousand square kilometers of geography and a lot more than 11 million sheep. They said “enough”; it doesn’t matter now how effective their action was: it was the last show of massive popular rebellion that Cuba remembers.

The shameless Granma overview about the date makes me insist on a right that belongs to us: January first is still his; August 5th is (and will be) ours.

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