The literature of Mario Vargas Llosa has been the source of several key turning points in my life. The first was 17 years ago, during a summer marked by blackouts and the economic crisis. With the intention of borrowing The War of the End of the World, I approached a journalist expelled from his profession for ideological problems, with whom I still share my days. I keep that copy, with its cracked cover and yellowed pages, as dozens of readers have found their way with it to this Peruvian author banned in the official bookstores.
Then came the university and while I was preparing my thesis on the literature of the dictatorship in Latin America, he published his novel The Feast of the Goat. My including an analysis of his text on Trujillo gave no pleasure to the panel that evaluated me. Nor did they like the fact that of the characteristic of the American caudillos, I highlighted only those displayed by “our own” Maximum Leader. Thus, the second time a book by today’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature marked my life, because it made me realize how frustrating it was to be a philologist in Cuba. Why do I need a title — he told me — that announces I am a specialist in language and words, when I may not even freely assemble sentences.
So Vargas Llosa and his literature are responsible, in a direct and “premeditated” way, for much of who I am today: for my matrimonial happiness and my aversion to totalitarianism, for my betrayal of philology and approach to journalism.
I am preparing myself now, because I fear that the next time a book of his falls into my hands its effect will last another 17 years, and once again slam the door on my profession.
Under the seat one could see a patched grab bag, like those given to people who went on missions in the 1980s. Every time the bus jerked over a pothole, many eyes fixed on it to see if its contents had come spilling out through the broken zipper. Nearby, on the road to the town of Candelaria, a police patrol stopped the trip and ordered everyone out with their belongings. At the end of the aisle, along with others equally orphaned, was the mended valise of a one-time State security officer who had been in Europe or some country in Africa. No one made the least move to pick it up.
Two officers searched each row and piled the packages no traveler had claimed on the steps. They opened them with great care, cutting the corners, pulling out the staples, to expose contraband more pursued than arms and drugs: milk,.cheese, lobster, shrimp and fish. A sheep dog, trained to detect seafood, milk products and beef, searched among the packages people had consigned to the ditch, under the sun. “Everyone will be detained until the owners of these packages come forward,” shouted one of the higher-ups as he starts to fill the trunk of the police car with the confiscated goods.
Although they questioned and threatened the travelers at the station, they could not impute any crimes to them as there was no way to prove who owned the pounds of food surely intended for the black market. It was impossible to connect the suitcases “traveling alone” with any individual. Oddly, the buses that cross the country are loaded with these possessions no one wants to claim as their own. Autonomous bags, sacks and boxes who will only find an owner if they make it to their destinations, if they manage to make it safely through the check points, the searches and dogs’ noses.
The Water Seller of Seville: Diego Velázquez
The man in the threadbare suit, bowler hat and huge shoes carried pieces of glass on his back. His sidekick, a boy of about five, tossed stones through the windows of shops and houses so the glazier could sell his services to desperate clients. Together they formed a duo of survival, an “emergent” work team, that still yielded barely enough to keep the fire burning in their home. The story, described in the 1921 Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid, has returned to pass in front of my eyes as I read the list of self-employment activities published in the newspaper Granma. Like a repertoire of destitution and dependency, this enumeration of private work seems more in tune with a feudal village than a 21st century country.
Reading through it in one sitting — containing my disgust — it is obvious that there are hardly any occupations directly linked to production. Entrepreneurs would need to be able count on a wholesale supplier to provide raw materials, and the possibility of access to bank loans has barely been mentioned, and without any details about what interest rates would be. Nor is there any talk of the self-employed being able to import merchandise directly from outside our borders, as this continues to be an absolute monopoly of the State. Of the 178 eligible activities, many are already carried out without a license, so being included in this list changes only one thing, being required to pay taxes. Hence the skepticism that accompanies the announcement of these “flexibilities” to let private ingenuity contribute to solving the serious problems of our economy.
What will come as a consequence of this slowness in applying the necessary changes? Citizens will continue to swell the long lines in front of consulates so they can leave the country, or they will fully immerse themselves in illegality and the diversion of resources. If our authorities believe that this trickle of transformations will keep the system from falling apart in their hands while they try to update it, they are underestimating the sense of urgency that runs through the Island. Such a half-hearted approach to applying long-delayed openings weakens the social situation and no one can predict how the frustrated “kids” — those disadvantaged by the massive layoffs and lack of expectations — will react. Hopefully they won’t end up breaking out all the windows.
It’s two in the afternoon at the Department of Immigration and Aliens (DIE) on 17th Street between J and K. Dozens of people are waiting for permission to leave the country, that authorization to travel that has been given the name “white card,” although it might better be called “the safe conduct,” “the freedom card,” or “the get out of prison order.” The walls are peeling and a notice to “be careful, danger of collapse” is posted next to a huge mansion in Vedado. Several women — who have forgotten how to smile and be pleasant — wear their military uniforms and warn the public that they must wait in an orderly fashion. Now and then they shout a name and the person called returns some minutes later with a jubilant face or a strained pout.
Finally they call me to tell me of the eighth denial of permission to travel in barely three years. Specialists in stripping us of what we could live, experiment, and know beyond our borders, the officials of the DIE tell me that I am not authorized to travel “for the time being.” With this brief “no” — delivered almost with delight — I lose the opportunity to be at the 60th anniversary of the International Press Institute, and at the presentation of the Internet for the Nobel Peace Prize in New York. A stamp on my file and I was obliged to speak by telephone in the activities of Torino European Youth Capital, and to communicate with the publisher Brûlé to launch Cuba Libre in Montreal without my presence. The absurd immigration has inserted itself between my eyes and the full shelves of the Frankfurt Book Fair, between my hands and the compilation of my texts which will see the light at the Nonfiction Literature Festival in Poland. I will not go to the Ferrara Journalism Fair nor to the presentation of the documentary in Jequié, Brazil, much less be able to participate in the Congress of Women Leading the Millennium based in Valencia, nor in Cuneo, during the City Writers event. My voice will not be hear at LASA, which sent me an official invitation, and I will have to enjoy from a distance the appearance of my book Management and Development of Contents With WordPress.
All this and more they have taken. However, they have left me — as if it were a punishment — along with the basic raw material from which my writings come, in contact with that reality which would not forgive me were I absent.
The radio I got for my last birthday rests on a bookshelf, covered in dust. Because if I turn it on I can barely hear a thing. Not even the national broadcasts can be heard well in this area full of government ministries and the antennas they use to block the shortwave broadcasts that come into the country. I had the illusion I would be able to listen to Deutsche Welle to keep my German language alive, but instead of the hoped-for “Guten Tag” all that comes out of the speaker is a buzzing noise.
We live in the midst of a real war of radio frequencies on this Island. On one side we have the broadcasts of the station called Radio Martí — banned, but very popular among my compatriots, they are transmitted from the United States — and on the other side the buzzing they use to silence it. The radio receivers sold in the official stores have had the module that allows you to hear these transmissions removed, and the police are in the habit of searching the roofs for the devices that help to better capture these signals.
Meanwhile, inside their houses, people look for the place — it could be a corner, near a window, or stuck to the ceiling — where the radio manages to ignore the annoying beeping of the interference. It is common to see someone lying on the floor while they locate the exact point where local programming is overshadowed by what comes from abroad. It doesn’t matter what they’re sending from the other shore, whether it’s a boring musical program, the news in English, or a weather report from somewhere else in the world. What matters is that it is a balm for the ears, that it sounds different, that it is something other than that mix of slogans and prose without freedom that is transmitted daily on Cuban radio.
How do I connect a mobile phone to Cuban Twitter?
1. First you must connect to the Internet and and get an account at http://www.twitter.com
2. Keep the user name and password you are given in a secure place.
3. Add to your mobile phone address book a new contact named Twitter with the number 119447624801423.
4. Send four messages to that number. Each message will include a command and it is important that you send them in the order listed below, without spaces in front of or after the words, and without putting accents and “ñ”. If you make a mistake you must start again, from the beginning:
5. Of course, where it says “username” put your Twitter username.
6. The four messages must be sent one after another. Before you begin you must verify that you have enough credit on your phone to send all four message.
7. As soon as you are done, you may send text messages (SMS) of no more than 140 characters to the number 119,447,624,801,423 which is already added to your cell phone address book.
8. Every text message sent to that number, once you have completed the procedure above, will be published on the Internet automatically.
9. Each text message sent to Twitter will cost 1 convertible peso, so prepare your wallet.
Source of text: http://twitpic.com/2pqj3q
Excerpt from documentary by Fabian Archondo and the Foundation for New Latin American Cinema.
My son is at that age where he could eat the columns of the house if we didn’t keep an eye on him. He opens and closes the refrigerator door, as if he believes that this appliance could produce — just for him — food. His appetite is so insatiable and so difficult to satisfy, in the midst of shortages and high prices, that we’ve nicknamed Teo after that voracious fish, “La Claria.” His ravenousness reminds us of this species which some bright person brought to our country to promote fish farming, and which is now a pest in our rivers and lakes. Of course this is just a family joke, because even our fretful adolescent is incapable of wolfing down the things that enter the mouth of this walking fish.
Blue-gray, with a pronounced mustache and the ability to survive up to three days out of water, this African Catfish has already become a part of our country, both rural and urban. One of the few animals that can survive in the polluted Almendares river, it has managed to displace other, tastier, specimens in the fishmongers’ freezers. Not even its ability to adapt, nor its ugliness, however, have aroused as much alarm as its extreme predatory nature. Clarias eat everything from rodents and chickens, to puppies and every kind of fish, frog or bird.
As a solution to the food problems of the so-called Special Period, after the collapse of the Soviet block, our authorities imported this foreign species and so precipitated colossal damage to the ecosystem. Similar irresponsibility had already occurred with the introduction of tilapia and tench fish, but the results were incalculably more dramatic with this dark and elusive creature which today reigns in our waters. Whether nestling in the mud, emerging from a manhole in the middle of the city, or crawling along the side of the road, its spread demonstrates the fragility of nature when faced with ministerial directives. I have no doubt that this fish will be with us for a long time to come, long after those who introduced it into the country are only a memory, as fleeting as crumb in the mouth of a claria.