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Archive for June, 2013

Diez de Octubre Street

Diez de Octubre Street

This past Tuesday June 12th was for me a personal errands day in the hot Havana sun, the thick smog of the avenues and the usual dirty streets. It was one of those days that are doubly exhausting because of the slow pace at which life moves on the Island, the mundane nature of any movement, and the irritation of the people under the scorching summer that makes us wish we hadn’t left home. So I felt almost blessed when, at the end of the day, I managed to board a full almendrón*, on my way back home.

As is custom and folklore, the passengers were doing their daily catharsis with complaints about all small and great evils: our lousy public transportation service, the sweltering heat, the cost of living, the bad potato harvest, no one can live in this country, etc. Our driver, however, seemed determined to maintain a good mood and had an optimistic and comprehensive response for each complaint. He was a man of about 50 and seemed to know everything, as if he possessed the gift of universal philosophy. Heat?? “But ma’am, we should be happy for this climate. Don’t you know that there are countries where people are dying due to heat waves or, conversely, cold waves?” Transportation is bad? “Yes my friend, but in a pinch, at least ten little pesos seem to appear to pay for a car, right?”  The potatoes? “There are potatoes, but they are being kept in refrigerators so they won’t rot this rainy season in the fields.” Are the prices high? “Well, they’re doing a study to raise wages, you know.” The country? “It’s the best in the world. Here, anyone will lend you a hand and people will help.  In other countries, you can die and no one will lift a finger to help.” It seemed that this driver, in addition to being a philosopher, was a noted expert traveler and knowledgeable about the world.

But I was definitiely amazed about the man’s infinite capacity to appease hotheads and his ability to spread a positive atmosphere inside the vehicle. I think that, deep down, I even thought he was right.  It must be awful to spend your whole day listening to complaints and disagreements, however profitable being an almendrón’s driver might be.

So we went on like this, balancing between the disgruntled and the peacemaker, until we got to the Esquina de Tejas and we had to stop for a red light. Then the driver noticed, on the porch of a nearby house, a group of street dogs: a female dog in heat and a gang of eager suitors wishfully sniffing at her, while a male dog was busy, in turn, sniffing the other dogs, loftily ignoring the female. Unexpectedly, the driver exploded and started yelling at the dog in question: “Sniff the female, you queer, the female!” And turning to the astonished passengers, red with anger, he almost shouted at us: “It turns out that being gay has become fashionable, and even dogs are trying it out! And I will not put up with that! What’s this country come to?” He snorted in a real fury, and accelerated violently when the light turned green.

Suddenly, the quiet philosopher was gone, and in his place emerged an irate homophobe, able to tolerate any of the many problems that plague the lives of ordinary Cubans, but not the right of the people (or dogs, obviously) to choose their own sexuality. Fortunately, none of the passengers backed his opinion and a heavy silence descended in the car until, with great relief, I got off at the corner of Infanta and Carlos III. I didn’t say goodbye.

Believe me, dear readers, this is my testimony, faithfully taken from real life.

*An Almendrón is a taxicab that operates as a small bus.

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In Stockholm, May 20th , 2013

I’ve just returned from a short trip to Stockholm, Sweden, where I was invited by the government of that country to participate in the Stockholm Internet Forum, Internet Freedom for Global Development, which met on May 22nd and 23rd. While there, I had the opportunity to meet up with other Cuban activists living on the Island, with whom I participated on a Cuba seminar that took place at the Swedish Parliament, and a panel on freedom of the press in Latin America, at the press room attached to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Neither one of these activities were related to the event program.

In just a few days in Stockholm we visited a local newspaper, the headquarters of Reporters without Borders, the offices of ECPAT, a nongovernmental organization fighting against child prostitution and pornography and the trafficking of children, and the headquarters of The Civil Rights Defender. We were also invited to the launching of the book We Must Take the Police Out of Our Heads, edited by the International Liberal Swedish Center, a report on the Island’s reality between 1998 and 2012 and the peaceful struggle for democracy, from the perspective of the analyst Erik Jennische.

Of course, I managed to walk around and learn something about the city, its people and places.

Some regular readers have written to me, asking me to comment on this blog what I consider my most important impressions in this experience, and how they could be used in the struggle for rights in Cuba.  Personally, I was pleasantly impressed with the reception of Cubans who manage the magazine Misceláneas de Cuba, headquartered in Sweden, with whom we had the privilege of sharing through various meetings they set up for us, and I also met others whom I knew only through the mail up to then (as in the case of Hugo Landa) and the dozens of Cuban residents there and in other European countries that showed extraordinary solidarity with our Cuban struggle. Verifying the bonds that unite Cubans of all points of the diaspora is a source of inspiration and hope in the midst of the totalitarian drought in which we live.

Among Misceláneas de Cuba friends and other Cubans and Swedes

In front of Parliament

Mileydi, of Misceláneas de Cuba, was our interpreter in Parliament

Collection of Swedish souvenirs on a boulevard

On the other hand, the event’s sessions highlighted the technological backwardness and computer weakness in Cuba. In addition, many of the delegates expressed their solidarity with the cause of freedom of expression, information and news that Cubans are demanding. Some work strategies of various organizations and institutions in Sweden could be useful in the Cuban case, and we established links with them to implement proper agendas, in accordance with our reality.

A few yeomen of the guard were present among participants of this area, questioning our right to demand freedom when “Cubans have guaranteed free health care and education”. I will not repeat our answer to them, but suffice it to say that we did not see them again, nor did they try to boycott our public presentations, for their own good.

To those who have been so concerned about the funding of this trip, I will personally answer, not because they deserve it, but for the sake of transparency. I was invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Swedish government, which generously assumed all costs for travel, accommodation and food. I take this opportunity to publicly thank from this space the many attentions received from all Swedish organizations I had contact with, and in particular said Ministry.

Finally, I hope that, in future editions of this Forum, Cuban participants will have the opportunity to tell a different reality than we have at present. As for me, I will continue to do everything possible to contribute to make it so.

31 May 2013

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