Prosperity and Personal Well-being: “Completely contrary to the principles of our society”

The response of the General Customs of the Republic to my complaint about the confiscation of ten copies of the book Cuba Libre is incredible. See with your own eyes their motivations for declaring these daily vignettes “dangerous.”

Translation of “facts” on second page of letter:

  1. Fact: I am the Inspector of Customs Control and of the Postal and Shipment Customs.
  2. Fact: It was the acting inspector who issued the Resolution of Forfeiture No. 409 of March 25, 2010, which provided for the administrative forfeiture of ten books entitled “Cuba Libre,” published by Marea, Yoani Sanchez author, and a blank publishing contract.
  3. Fact: The contents of the book “Cuba Libre” are against the general interests of the nation, since it argues that certain political and economic changes are required in Cuba so that its citizens may have more material benefits and achieve personal fulfillment, ends completely contrary to the principles of our society.
  4. Fact: The shipments constitute a unique and indivisible whole, a reason to also apply the sanction of confiscation to the publishing contract with “Marea” Publishers.
  5. Fact: The fundamental facts taken into account to apply the sanction of confiscation were not recorded.

Cultural Dysgraphia

Claudia CadeloClaudia Cadelo is still waiting to hear from the Provincial Prosecutor about her complaint of cultural apartheid at the recent Young Filmmakers Exhibition. Agent Rodney never showed his face to confirm or deny the sad events of November 2009. And plainclothes police surround the home of Luis Felipe Rojas, without any court order to do so. My complaint to the court for the beating and false arrest I suffered last February has met only silence from the legal institutions… while Dagoberto Valdés is still waiting for an explanation of why they will not let him travel outside of Cuba. We are surrounded by a repression that does not sign papers, show its face, or place a stamp next to each act that violates its own laws.

Punishments that leave no evidence, detainees who do not appear on the inmate log of any police station, threats from voices that leave no trace. A culture of intimidation without a written language, imposed by pseudonymous agents who use coercion to avoid leaving evidence. When we demand that they put in writing the phrases they scream at us, far from the cameras and microphones, they tighten their lips and boast about the power that allows them to remain anonymous. If we file a complaint, appealing to the law that they themselves have created, then thirty, sixty, ninety days pass, and nothing. No judge will hear a complaint against the olive-green institution that rules this country.

So vainglorious from the dais, they use words like “courage,” “sacrifice” and “fortitude,” as they hide behind their own fear and avoid putting their names, their faces, and their convictions next to the atrocities they commit.

The Prodigal Friend

He returns speaking softly, knocking cautiously on the door of that friend he hasn’t wanted to see for more than a year. For a long time he doesn’t talk about what happened when he didn’t come, or why, but the way we look at each other says everything. Fear, that element that puts affection to the test and throws corrosive acid over declarations of loyalty, has kept him away. Now he’s back for just a few minutes. While he’s in our house he speaks in a whisper, pointing to the tiny hidden microphones he imagines in every corner. We invite him to share a couple of fried eggs, a piece of taro, and some rice, not a word of reproach. We act as if we’d seen him yesterday or as if we’d talked on the phone just this morning, as if he’d never been away.

Nevertheless, something is broken beyond repair. So we only tell him about family things, about Reinaldo’s granddaughters who grow bigger every day and Teo’s new interest in playing the guitar. Not a single word from this side about the gratifying and painful side of our lives that comes from expressing ourselves freely in a country full of masks. When we seem to have run out of things to say, we extend the conversation by mentioning the rain or the stories of violence that seem to become more common every day in this city. To fill the void created by distance we tell him about our inability to find cooking oil, and the detergent one has to tease out from the hidden stores in the shops. We avoid, of course, future plans, daily worries, the police cordon, and how sad we feel about those who leave.

After a while the friend goes and we’re convinced he won’t return for a year or two, an eternity or two. Who knows, he might be here sooner than we think, patting our backs and telling us that when everyone fled from us in terror he wasn’t infected by the fear and from his room, at a safe distance, he was with us every step of the way.

The Mandarins Come by Boat

It is a mesh bag, a reddish woven net with five mandarins inside. They’ve been carried here — from Europe — by a reader who discovered where I live thanks to the tracks left in the blog. After I brought him a glass of water, he took the citrus fruits out of his backpack — a little embarrassed — as if he’d come to give me something too common on this island, even more common than the invasive marabou weed, or intolerance. It’s inexplicable, then, why I grabbed the bag and buried my nose in every fruit. Within a few seconds I was shouting for my family to let them know about the orange globes I was already beginning to peel. Sinking my nails into their skin and smelling my fingers, I have a celebration of orange zest on each hand.

A trail of peels covers the table and even the dog is enthusiastic about the scent that is wafting through the whole house. The mandarins have arrived! The almost forgotten scent, the extravagant texture, have returned. My niece celebrates their appearance and I have to explain that once these fruits did not arrive by boat or plane. I avoid confusing her — she’s only eight — with the history of the National Citrus Plan, and the large expanses on the Isle of Youth where oranges and grapefruits were harvested by students from other countries. Nor do I mention the triumphalist statistics thrown out from the dais, or Tropical Island brand juices, initially made from pulp extracted from our own crops, but now made from imported syrup. But I do tell her that when November and December rolled around, all the children in my elementary school smelled like oranges.

What days those were! When no one had to bring us, from a far off continent, what our own land could produce.

The Children

Glancing at the TV I was caught by a phrase from Zenaida Romeu, director of the chamber group that bears her name. It’s Tuesday and the energy of this woman, a guest on the program With True Affection, Two… had me sitting in front of the screen while the potatoes burned on the stove. She answered the questions skillfully, with a language far from the boring chatter that fills so many other spaces. In a few minutes she told of the difficulties in creating an all-woman orchestra, how bothered she is by the lack of seriousness in some artists, and of the day when she cropped her hair to appear with the maestro Michael Legrand. All this and more she told with an energy that calls forth an image of her, baton always in hand, score in front of her.

It is not her own story, however, that has me thinking when I return to the pot on the stove, but that of her children. She is the third or fourth guest on Amaury Perez’s program who has admitted that her children live in another country. If I’m not mistaken, Eusebio Leal* also spoke of his emigrant kids, and a few days earlier Miguel Barnet* described a similar experience. All of them speak about it naturally. They discuss it without thinking that it is precisely this massive exodus of young people that is the principal evidence of our nation’s failure. That the children of a generation of writers, musicians and politicians — including those of the Minister of Communications and of the director of the newspaper Granma — have chosen to leave, should make them doubt themselves, make them wonder if they have contributed to building a system in which their own descendants don’t want to live.

This migration is a phenomenon that has left an empty chair in almost every Cuban home, but the high incidence of among families who are integral to the process, is very symptomatic. The number of children of ministers, party leaders and cultural representatives who have relocated abroad seems to exceed that of the offspring of the more critical or discontented. Could it be that in the end the dissidents and nonconformists have transmitted a greater sense of belonging to their children? Have these famous faces noticed that the babies born to them are refusing to stay here?

I look at Teo for a while and ask myself if someday I will have to talk to him from a distance, if at some moment I will have to confess — in front of a camera — that I failed to help create a country where he wanted to stay.

*Translator’s notes:
Eusebio Leal is the Havana City Historian, director of the program to restore Old Havana and its historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Miguel Barnet is a Cuban writer.

Mustard Colored

A sequence of roofs, avenues and narrow streets, reproduced with plastic and paint. A small scale city, locked in the Model of Havana room in the Miramar neighborhood. Yellow glasses let you travel, at a glance, along the streets, around the corners, up the little elevations and along the serpentine coast. The same magnifying lenses help us to enjoy the Capitol dome seem from above, or the dark face of El Morro. A model in miniature of a city that from any tall building seems to go on forever, but here it is, captured in a diminutive duplicate, trapped in a few square yards of cardboard.

The guide to this peculiar museum explains — once you enter — that the representation has been painted in four different colors: brown is for the constructions of the colonial period; mustard for the buildings from 1902 to 1959; bone-colored for the buildings erected in the last five decades; and white — striking and distant — for monuments and future projects. All the visitors and tourists end up saying the same thing, “Havana is mustard!” And I can see that yes, it’s true, while explaining a detail here, some twist or turn there.

Yes, my city is mustard, spicy and sour, seasoned by the old, increasingly distant from modernity. A sample at natural size, where there are days in which one would it like to be — like in the Model of Havana — made of plastic, or cardboard, but not suffering from so much ruin.

The Art of Speaking Without Speaking

When you grow up decoding each line that appears in the newspapers, you manage to find, among the rhetoric, the nugget of information that motivates, the hidden shreds of the news. We Cubans have become detectives of the unexpressed, experts in discarding the chatter and discovering — deep down — what is really driving things. The Draft Guidelines for the Communist Party’s VI Congress is a good exercise to sharpen our senses, a model example to evaluate the practice of speaking without speaking, which is what state discourse is here.

Its more than thirty pages of text contain only economic proposals, more appropriate for the Ministry of Finance than for the compass of a political party. It’s true that it lacks the language of the barricade, resolving everything based on slogans, but it suffers from being a sugar-coated list of what could be done if the system really worked. For those who think my skepticism is exaggerated, take a look at the points from past congresses and check to see how many of them really came to pass.

Scrutinizing the verbiage, one positive is that the “state-budgeted sector” — this colossal blood-sucker that feeds on me, on you, on all of us — is going to shrink. Expanding the stage for self-employment is also comforting, but whenever I ask someone if they’re going to take out a license, they tell me they don’t think they’ll “take the bait” to start paying taxes. It’s hard to overcome the distrust, and a government that sinks the national economy with its voluntarism and its idiotic programs has little credibility when it announces a rescue plan.

It is disappointing that not a single line refers to the expansion of civil rights, including the restrictions suffered by Cubans in entering and leaving our own country. Nor is there a word about freedom of association or expression, without which the authorities will continue to behave more like factory foremen than as the representatives of their people.

The Party will meet in April, will approve some guidelines very similar to those in the pamphlet and, within a year or two, we will all be wondering what happened with so much ink on so much paper. What happened to that program where it said “perfect and improve” instead of “change or end”?