Archive for January, 2010

Regina Coyula’s good handwriting

Regina Coyula is one of the newest bloggers to make an appearance. Her blog Mala Letra (Bad Handwriting) started last November, with a very simple and beautiful hand-made logo, and, immediately, the frankness and spontaneity of her writing have captured many readers, among whom, though somewhat embarrassingly late, I am now included.

I confess that I often allow myself to be carried away by the stifling activities that the mundane and my complicated situation impose on me, a mixture of the independent-professional and the familial-domestic, functions that bring me equally great satisfaction and leave me in the strongest shackles. In fact, because I am always so clueless, I only found out Mala Letra existed after it had been online for several weeks. But in either case, the truth is that I allowed two months to pass before facing the enigma of a blog that successfully manages to overcome the cold solitude of a web encounter.

I am not going to apologize to Regina Coyula (in the final analysis, I was the one who was missing out), so I want to thank her instead. Thanks for the intelligent, sensitive and funny spark of her posts and for the unequaled power of her anecdotes, thanks for being in a place where so many can enjoy her creativity and learn from her. And finally, thanks for having chosen this virtual crafts fair of writers of the Island’s alternative blogosphere – the one not requiring “permission” or special lists – to generously reward us with the fresh novelty of her good handwriting.

Illustration: The banner from Regina’s Blog

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Betting on the Wrong Horse

Nothing is as instructive as history, or as truthful as life itself. In recent months, we Cubans have been experiencing if not an outright awakening, at least some cracks in our dreams. The lack of faith on the Island’s social project that had begun to take over the general opinion has started to give way to new questions that signal a defining point in the current Cuban reality: people are finally questioning the system. For a lot of Cubans, what the government and its press say are simply falsehoods. It’s enough to just listen to the talk on the street to understand that the capital of popular confidence that the government was counting on to remain in the arena indefinitely is reaching its end. It’s taken us half a century to attend to the unusual phenomenon of turning inward and begin discovering that we placed all our bets on a losing horse, and, in addition, that some cheating has gone on.

Cuba’s economic collapse, the dispersal of families and widespread poverty are only part of the closing balance of such a risky gallop: not even one of the many races the homo-equine ran was ever crowned with success. The results are all there, of economic macro plans, of dozens of failed experiments, of exported wars, of political intrigue at the international level, of bad alliances and of good but unrealized prophecies, which are the hardest lessons for Cubans. At this juncture and in these crucial circumstances, there is no point in masking our reality behind the misfortunes of others, as the servile government press tries to do: neither the catastrophe in Haiti, the “coup” in Honduras, the global economic crisis, the alleged capitalist decline nor the eternal and worn-out evil of American imperialism may hide the unquestionable truth about the failure of this system.

In the triumphant era at the beginnings of the Cuban revolution, the quintessential leader per excellence of this adventure was coined in popular parlance as “The One”, equivalent to the figure of the horse in the Cuban charada.* When “The Horse” was mentioned, no name or rank had to be specified, it was about – beyond doubt – the number one in Cuba, the idolized one, the feared one, the undefeated commander-in-chief. For a very long time now, nobody seems to remember that nickname. In truth, today it would amount to a sick joke to assign the moniker to the formerly proud sorrel, among other reasons because we have learned that races are not won merely by simply neighing. Today, the accumulation of too many defeats and Cuba’s total decline does not leave even a small share capital with which to cover the bets.

*Translator’s note: Distinct from game of charades, the Cuban charada, with its roots in Cuba’s Chinese population, is a simple numerological system of dream interpretation used for the divination of numbers in gambling and all sorts of basic popular cryptography. Each number, from one to one hundred, has a name assigned to it. Number one is the horse.

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The right to solidarity

Perhaps those readers who are less familiar with Cuban everyday life might consider it’s late for a post about solidarity with Haitians, who these past few days are suffering the tragedy of more deaths and more misery after the violent earthquake that struck them on January 12th. The limited possibility of (internet) connection for many of us results in the posts getting published days after having written them, and generally -as in my case- we seize whatever chances we get to send several items all at once to friends who support us outside of Cuba, so that they can upload them online, and this is the reason a blog such as SinEvasión cannot be of an informative nature: I cannot react to the immediacy of a news item with a post on the subject, except on the rare occasions when the news and the connection coincide.

However, I have learned that several alternative bloggers have been able to express support for Haiti, and there are also those who have contributed their own money, unassumingly, and on behalf of all of us, to help, wherever possible, to mitigate the harsh effects of such a great catastrophe. Such was Mr. Iván García’s gesture, among others. Generous readers who often visit our blogs have also been so kind as to make donations to the Haitians on our behalf. Unfortunately, Cuba does not have an institution that allows us to raise funds and send our donations to that nation, shaken by such a catastrophe that our own misfortunes disappear in comparison. Without a doubt, many Cubans would offer to give from their own sensitive shallow pockets if it weren’t because here, even the right to practice solidarity and humanitarianism is controlled by the government: we don’t even have the freedom, as independent citizens, to help other people in the world.

The misfortune of a severe natural disaster in a nation marked by secular evils that have turned it into the poorest in this hemisphere, these days has been the pretext for a disgraceful display of politics by the official media in Cuba, as if the sensitivity and spirit of cooperation were the absolute legacy of the Cuban government and its allies. While all of Haiti cries over thousands of deaths and material losses that are enhanced by the country’s generalized poverty, while the violence engendered by the need for survival in this extreme situation aggravates the tragedy, unscrupulous politicians exploit the occasion to criticize their enemies and capitalize on “solidarity”; free of charge and directed from above, conceit that stops being assistance and becomes reprehensible arrogance.

For that reason, and perhaps because of the sad circumstance that Haiti and Cuba are beggar countries, many Cubans are ready to grasp the magnitude of Haiti’s tragedy, and to experience the suffering of our Antillean neighbors as our own, a solidarity that grows in our core as part of the human family that we lost in this event. Cubans can imagine, more than ever, what a destructive impact an earthquake of such magnitude could have on any of our own flimsy and impoverished cities, especially after having suffered the blows of a permanent catastrophe for over half a century.

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Message on another anniversary

Just a short note to celebrate the first two years of this blog of ours with my readers. Although, by some unknown technical mystery, the first post listed was that of January 28th, 2008, it actually began in the first half of January, with a toast and some reminiscing about all the friends I’ve seen leave for overseas, some of whom I have longed to find among the comments. I have heard from several of them, not always commenting on the posts, though many do visit the blog, and, on occasion, send me messages. But I have also found new friends, all those who, whether they share my criteria and standpoint or not, are part of those of us who believe in the need for changes in Cuba and in everyone’s right to democracy, freedom of expression and hope.

On this occasion, I want to make public my gratitude to my translator, a Cuban living in the United States, who spends valuable hours of her time translating into English all the blunders or successes that I pour into this space, and also to my “godmother” who, from outside Cuba and with all her kind motivation, updates the site with posts that I have been sending her since the Cuban authorities slowed down the two websites where this and other alternative blogs are published, preventing me from managing the process by myself. Both have been -and hopefully will continue to be- an essential support and invaluable friends to me.

The year 2009 provided me with the additional surprise reunion of a part of my father’s family, scattered through various parts of the world’s geography and through the very geography of the Island. Thanks to the Internet and to this blog, we have become acquainted and are now able to correspond with each other. It’s been a rewarding experience.

Two years ago, I could not imagine that this space would become so dear and essential to me. I must honestly admit that this effect is not the result of my work, but of the welcome you have given to it. Thanks to all of you for your support and let’s keep in touch.



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Obsessed with “unity”

In response to comments arising from the “I, an irreversible emergence” post dated January 4th, 2010, I can corroborate the persistence of an almost unhealthy obsession for what they have nicknamed “unity” in some. This is not the first time that a reader is outraged against me for the alleged attitude of “disunity” that threatens the potential achievement of freedom for Cubans. It seems that someone is attributing extraordinary powers to me. Since I do not intend to apologize, to follow the wise proverb “he who makes excuses for himself, accuses himself” I will choose to clarify (once again) my views and my position.

In the spirit of finding a consensus so we can have a civilized dialogue, I searched through the dictionary Aristos from my high school days for the meaning of such a controversial term. Here is what I found:

Unity. f. Property of every being, which cannot be divided without destroying or altering its essence //Union or conformity //Uniqueness in number or quality //Quality of literary or artistic work in which there is only one main thought or topic to which everything is subordinated //Quantity by which others of its kind are measured //Component of an army which can operate independently under orders from a superior. (Aristos Dictionary, pp. 616)

I verified that the natural tendency in Aristos is to reaffirm my rejection of the unitary attitudes, however, I also researched that eternal friend of anyone who writes, the dictionary of synonyms and antonyms (FC Sainz de Robles). There, among a short list of synonyms, I found these words: unity, conformity, unanimity … and below that, a very significant antonym: plurality.

Having arrived at this point, I insist that I do not approve of what they usually call “unity” for I consider it deceptive, misleading and, above all, extremely dangerous, the opposite of pluralism. And what about the synonym “unanimity”? I was truly horrified. Suffice it to recall each session of this country’s Parliament, a sublimation of unanimous submission, to want to bury such a buzzword. The worst atrocities have been committed here against individual rights for the sake of unity, so often invoked, and it ultimately has resulted in the enslavement of all.

But beyond the dictionary, what is “unity”? Judging by those who reprimand me, it means to applaud or approve proposals, based on the good intentions they suggest, rather than on the essence of their contents, or to subscribe to a figure or group because, in a country where nothing ever happens, any document-of-the-day with “reformist” makeup on is conjectured to be a promissory advance. It grieves me to find so much conformity after half a century of accumulating “reforms” that have turned out to be more disappointments than results.

Unfortunately, the Cuban reality finds itself today at such a difficult and urgent crossroads of change, there are so many and so serious ills that affect us, that we can’t afford the luxury of wearing ourselves down in innocuous details. Less than a month after the publication of the intellectuals’ open letter, on the night of January 9th, 2010, the city of Pinar del Río was the scene of repression and of strict police controls against a cultural activity: the blockade of the performance of Yamilia Pérez, wife of Pedro Pablo Oliva. The authorities filled parks with chairs and sound equipment, while Maikel Iglesias, physician, poet, and a member of the editorial board of the independent digital magazine “Convivencia”, was literally dragged out, in order to prevent his participation. This, from my point of view, is the government’s response to the “protest” letters of the intellectuals, though it might well be that the organizers and participants did not classify as “revolutionaries”.

The vice of over-measuring also thins criteria with the apparent mission to distort and lie: everyone knows I’m not an “official blogger”, but an alternative blogger. And indeed, the alternative blogosphere is inspiring the respect of the regime. At least it has demonstrated that they are considering us, and that they know the scope of our work; it is not by chance that they pester, jaunt, threaten, repress and stalk us. To deny it would be obtuse.

On the other hand, at least many of the signers of the intellectuals’ open letter (they call it a denouncement) are indeed party-liners, beginning with Mr. Pedro Campos, ex communist and ex Cuban government official who lately has fallen from grace, and who has generated several projects that have only the “socialist revolutionaries”, and they alone, slated to chart the future of all Cubans. Does this sense of “unity” ring a bell? It does to me too, and I reject it. These intellectuals’ letter is a plaintive complaint, a mere wail that just states what a vertical position of questioning the regime doesn’t mean, as if they are ignoring that the problem in this society is the system, rather than isolated cases. Too much dust has accumulated: sweeping it under the rug is no longer enough. When given the role of “denouncing”, their list turned out to be wanting, and, what is worst, it could become much longer in the next few months if we consider the growing repression tendency of the gorillas. Those who preach the “respect for diversity” are hypocrites, practicing the exclusion of those who profess a different ideology and political criteria.

As for me, and unlike some “reformers” that I know, I stand for a future Cuba where even the Communists will have the right to speak and to exist, although I very much detest that ideology that diminishes man to the status of slave. At least in my future utopia, a slave would be only one of the choices.

I don’t feel the call to “sow the unity and harmony”, nor to divide or authorize anyone to assign such a mission to me. This likely role, in addition to not whetting my appetite, is beyond my limited capability. I am not resigned to the messianic fatalism that they insist on hanging on this Island’s fate. As to “dividing”, it is an action that presupposes the existence of what’s “united”… in this case, pure imagination. Maybe some of what we really need in the Cuba of tomorrow (and I say just “some”) is to learn that expressing ourselves will have a counterpart. There will be consensus and dissent, and that would be the reflection of a healthy society of individually free men, who are the only ones capable -as a whole, and not as a unit- to sustain an equally free nation. I do not want unity; I want plurality. I want a Cuba as varied as the aspirations and expectations of Cubans, not meaning for anyone to be excluded. I know it’s an idealistic aspiration, but, at least, it is INCLUSIVE. So much so, that it also respects the rights of the signers of the referenced letter, and my right to not sign alongside them. Anyone with a modicum of wisdom would understand that those who break Cubans asunder are precisely those who curtail their rights, depending on whether they are “socialist revolutionaries” or not. That, in itself, is a genuine implementation of division.

Finally, I would have liked it if disagreements to my post had been based on my critical points, using arguments instead of passion. I am very glad that the infant intellectuals are finally learning to walk. It is quite a pathetic picture, but it is still wise, when we consider who the actors are. And, since it appears that the defense of the “valiant” intellectuals is based more on tender feelings than on the pure and hard reality of these days, I prefer to leave the job of holding their little hands to avoid tripping to their cronies. Oh, and incidentally, don’t forget to check their diapers.

Illustration: Photo by Orlando Luis

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Forced landing

Last December 15th, in the late afternoon, junior high school “José Martí”, located at San Lázaro and Belascoaín, right in Central Havana, was the scene of a singular mini-drama: a meeting called by school administrators inflicted surprising information on the parents: they should discourage their children from continuing their studies. It would seem like disparate madness on the part of this blogger if they incited not to study at a school, or if this were an isolated incident, but it just so happens that this is a “mandate from on high”, one of those that, without warning, as if it were one of the very rays from Zeus of the Olympus, fall on mere mortals who can’t do anything to avoid them or to overcome its effects.  Little by little, it has transpired in the popular gossip that the same call and identical “guidelines” have been given to all parents of high school students, who, in some cases using more moderate language, perhaps in the interest of prudence, have been informed of the same thing.

“This is no time to dream, nor can you think about studying” says Rolando Edgar, director of the “José Martí” school. Raúl (Castro) and the country need construction and agricultural workers, turners, welders, trade people. We have to land, come down from the clouds and set our feet on the ground”. So, parents should take on the task of contradicting themselves: if, until now, they have encouraged their children to strive in school, to specialize and pursue academic careers because it was the right thing, this is the time prove to them the opposite is true: it is best not to study. It is all a Jesuit exercise.  According to the data released, only between 30 to 40% of high school students will become part of pre-college enrollments, to later on aspire to higher education options that the leadership of the revolution may offer them. Talent, intelligence and vocation are bourgeois remnants that must be banished from our minds … and only from our minds, because “the sons of dad” are always something else.

It is not that parents have kept quiet their discontent, it’s just that the responses from the ineffable Edgar Rolando were almost more astonishing than the very provisions that he reported. Faced with the protest of one of the parents, who commented about the possiblity of an increase in the corruption, since there would be those who would be able to buy the pre-university posts for their children, the school principal calmly replied that “those who have $100 to make a deal do not need to attend the parent meeting. The audience was perplexed.

And while all this is going on, like a true monument to absurdity, the “Universitarian Municipalization” programs remain in place, under which any functional illiterate may get a graduate degree in higher education. “University for All programs”, viewed by almost no one, continue to be aired on TV. “University for the Elderly” still exists, to show official concern for the more decrepit citizens, and a High School diploma is required to dispense aspirin at a drug store as much as to get a job as a clerk in a foreign currency store.

A famous and old phrase of the former president, the Conqueror Commander, stated literally that “Cuba’s future would be that of a country of men of science”. To think that there were those who believed it…at least until now.

Illustration: Photograph by Luis Orlando

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I, an “irreversible emergence”

An open letter, written by some intellectuals, artists and Cuban academics, has just surfaced at a website during the final weeks of 2009 stirring varied opinions. “Denouncement”, “turning point”, “support for the opposition”, are some of the most audacious adjectives with which the document in question has been evaluated, maybe in a somewhat hyperbolic manner, through certain means and individual opinions. And it isn’t wrong, of course, that, at last, a group of intellectuals from government sectors has understood that punches that have been dealt out might also reach them –such fortitude that is obvious from the quotation from Niemöller leading the write-up, by far the best part of the letter- but we must not overstate the fact.

Without wishing to counteract the ever-present inordinate enthusiasm, or to cancel stances that, by virtue of not being vague, at least cease to be rare in terms of totalitarianism, we must not throw ourselves into the arms of frenzy. Already, the title of the useless object is responsible for cooling off the most passionate of them: “Letter in opposition to the current obstructions and prohibitions of social and cultural initiatives” (emphasis by this blogger). That is, the obstructions and prohibitions that are “denounced” stay carefully bounded in time (only the “current ones”) and in the types of initiatives of those that are affected (only “social and cultural ones”). And this would not be completely reprehensible either if it weren’t for the enigmatic official language that was used throughout the speech, or for having displayed such childish naiveté that it might have inspired either a spanking or an applause for its authors and signers. I will summarize some of the elements that, in my personal opinion, obscure the good intentions that -however- I would like to grant this document:

– It fails to assign responsibility to people and institutions in the events listed. Since these are such events that, in some cases, have even been presented in the official media, it is incredible that the authors intend to ignore who their “universal” leaders are.

– It suggests the legitimization of social and personal initiatives only from socialist positions, i.e., ideologically “correct”, negating the supposed inclusiveness and “anti-hegemonic” character of their leaders.

– It defines as a “possibility” that facts, delicately denominated by them as “silent repression”, “develop into mainstream” in our society. But repression is not just a trend, it is a fact has dominated all aspects of life in Cuba for decades; not by chance did the General himself call on the people to “speak without fear” in the so-called “popular session” that has not been published in the media so far, devoid of any sincerity, arising from a chronic cynicism that publicly assumes the existence of social fear, the result of the systematic repression against dissidents or the restless.

– It contributes to the demonization of the word “dissident” and, at the same time, regrets that “the deserved respect for diversity” is not practiced which, according to what they say, cracks “the unity of the revolutionary process”. Such an attitude is markedly hypocritical.

– It calls for a “cultural dialogue”, avoiding, through bias, the political nature underlying all social conflicts inside Cuba. On the other hand, it ignores politics (and by extension, the political dialogue) as a fundamental component of culture.

– It suffers from general ambiguity, by omitting the definition of concepts mentioned in the text, e.g. “real counterrevolution”, “supportive autonomy”, “silent repression” and the like. It also should have established who are considered ” Cuban cultural-political actors” who should act against “the irreversible emergence of new social facts, such as digital technologies”.

It is just at this point that my doubts reach their summit, because such an “irreversible emergence” (and it truly is) seems to allude tangentially and euphemistically to the blogger phenomenon, the one that -using digital technology- has been persistently breaking the isolation that protected the idyllic and virginal image of Cuban totalitarian socialism, the isolation that was set up with treacherous intention by the same revolution that the signers of the letter of yore intend to safeguard. It leaves me breathless to see that the most advanced of “revolutionary” thought, always surprisingly ready to give birth to a new theory from air, might consider the use of the internet not as a sign of freedom and progress or as a means to link and disseminate culture, among other advantages, but as a necessary and unavoidable evil, a sort of disease with which it will have to deal, since we bloggers have made it impossible to keep the country under the protective “glass urn” of not having computer communication.

Ah, our naive official intellectuals, with their warm government positions and their eternal dedication to climb the ladder! So many efforts and toil, just to evade the root of all evils! Determined and busy fishing in muddy waters without actually getting their behinds wet, they find themselves once again halfway between submission and freedom: just in the undefined line of the timid. I can almost understand what little or no respect at all they arouse in the regime.

Illustration: March against violence carried out on November 6th, 2009 on Avenida 23. (Photo by Eugenio Leal)

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A blogger year

In the final few weeks of 2009, the New Year heralds just as intense or more than this one. These past twelve months have been full of hard work and promising results for the alternative blogosphere. We have grown and matured, and the best thing is that we have multiplied. Just over two years ago, at the experimentation and trial and error stage, nobody could have foreseen the flurry of activity to be deployed months later and the speed of the blogger contagion: an epidemic so feared by the dictatorship that it has already enlisted an army of obedient and repetitive cyber lackeys to try to combat the virtual freedom virus.

In spite of, and because of that animosity, every day, more and more Cubans become aware of this controversial, spontaneous and irreverent phenomenon which, without trying, has put the government on the defensive, forcing it to train and adopt cyberspace sentinels who pathetically wave their tattered flags in defense of the outdated system. The newly sponsored are given orders to slander and demonize the alternative bloggers, and to this end, they are provided with formal support and every resource. However, their paid services, their free dedicated or permitted connections and their proxy scripts will be of no use, they will always be several steps behind.

To their dismay, the first Cuban blogger platform was the alternative, and it continues to attract Cubans of all walks of life to participate and debate, and nothing is as exhilarating as the fresh breath of freedom of those who can voice opinions without conditions. The blogosphere of slogans cannot rid itself of the persistent musty odor of the tired triumphant speeches, simply an opportunistic window-dressing. We are setting the pace, so they rush to imitate us, and now they hastily organize blogger events, workshops and classes in trying to counteract the rise of the independents. Good for them! Their freedom of expression is acknowledged! Only that they always arrive “after”, with the unfortunate burden of their scripts, carefully reviewed and approved by the Ministry of Slogans.

What these guys, so docile and not too swift on their feet, fail to understand is that free will is carried on the inside, it is something that nobody doles out, you don’t get it at any school … not even in an advanced Internet program. Nothing is so tragic as the lack of spirit. It is futile to give prop wings to those who don’t have an ounce of will to fly by themselves.

Photo by Luis Orlando. Blogger Academy

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