The Smell of Metal on Metal, Life Has the Aroma of Pig Iron

The railroad in Cuba ended up collapsing, the locomotive of our lives remained still. (Archive / TV)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 18 September 2021 – I was stopping the train. This is not a metaphor. I would arrive at the platform with my mother and sister in the middle of the morning. The station and switchboard workers told us there were no longer scheduled departures. This was true for others, but we were not ordinary mortals: my father drove the locomotive, guided the iron serpent that would end up slavishly braking before our feet.

I was the daughter of a hero. He did not carry a shotgun, but rather drove the metal monster that populated every child’s fantasy. The difference is that I had him at home, I didn’t need to fantasize. They dreamed of an engineer, I lived with one every day: his long and agonizing days without getting home, the celebration of his return, and the fear that a bad crossing would end his life.

There is nobody on a platform at four in the morning. Just you and the belief that someone is going to pick you up. But we had no doubts. Whatever happens, no matter what they say… shortly, a snorting monster will pull up. Who made us believe that? My father: he assured us he would be there, despite the near misses, the unexpected and the derailments. He gave us confidence.

And there we were without hesitation. My mother, my sister and I, holding hands in that mixture of humidity and the sound of cicadas that are the train stations in the middle of “Cuban nothing.” Knowing that fate had given us our own titan of iron and steel, with a whistle at hand.

First it was just the belief, then a light wind came that tousled the hair behind our ears as the scent flooded us. It smelled of pig iron. This is what “perfume” is called when it comes from the friction of metal against metal when a convoy full of wagons stops on the line… it smells like pig iron, a word widely used in the rail industry, although to most people it sounds rare and novel.

My maternal grandmother knew this well because she had to incessantly wash the uniforms of her husband, also a railway employee.

Ana knew very well the “stink” that is left when, from the cabin, someone “puts the brake” on a locomotive that is dragging dozens of wagons screeching along the rails. It also creates some very peculiar crusts; they are black and when you remove them from your face with your fingers they feel very hard. They are the waste, on the human body, of the railroad.

It was the time when clothes were starched, which Ana did so well. She was the best. I ironed the edges of my grandfather and father’s shirts. They had an emblem in their pocket, on the gray cloth, that captivated us; it was a white rectangle embroidered in black of a locomotive giving off smoke. I always wanted (and managed it several times) to drive a train.

My paternal grandfather had a “doll’s hand.” One day, faced with the imminent crash, he threw himself from the locomotive but his ring got caught on a metal ledge. Then, like a magician, he would show us his four-fingered hand and we naive girls would laugh. They were the war wounds of our people. The killings of a railway clan.

But not everything was jokes or anecdotes. One day they started calling home to give condolences. Supposedly I had died in a train accident. It was my first and last name, but it was not me, but a younger, homonymous cousin who had been trapped by the crash in his early teens, accompanying his father, also an engineer. The scars accumulated on us.

In the mid-nineties, my father came home with a grimace on his face and a jacket that smelled of blood. His locomotive, failing to stop, had run over a herd of goats. We daughters jump on the feast; we were very hungry and he knew it. He was a provider; in those pieces of flesh and bone he gave us his “last hunt.” Then the railroad in Cuba ended up collapsing, the locomotive of our lives remained still.

However, the aroma lingers. My family smells like pig iron. My father died a little over a week ago and I returned to the symbolic platform of waiting. First the wind came and shook my short hair. The railwayman’s daughter knows only one perfume. It is the balm of existence, the same one I felt when I stood on the line in the middle of the morning and unknown voices assured me that the train was not going to stop, but I knew it would: I smelled what was coming.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Diaz-Canel in Mexico, the Invitation That Never Should Have Been Extended

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, during an official visit of the former in 2019. (Presidency of Cuba)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 15 September 2021 – salsa dancing or smiling with several Hollywood actors, this was Miguel Díaz-Canel’s look three years ago during a visit to New York. Now, cornered by the complaints after violently repressing the July 11th protests, the Cuban president finds himself isolated on the international scene, a repudiation from which Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s invitation to Mexico attempts to extract him.

When the citizens of that neighboring country celebrate the date of the Grito de Dolores on Thursday, a graying and grim figure will be among the guests at the commemoration. In just two months — since he insisted on national television that he was ready “for anything” and that “the combat order is given,” in a call to crush the protesters – the official-propaganda-imposed image of the pragmatic engineer has been shattered.

Although, since his occupation of the presidential chair, Díaz-Canel has been surrounded by criticism of not having been elected at the polls, the president came to enjoy the sympathy of those who were relieved that, at least, “his name is not Castro.” The political cabals mention him as a man from a generation with less guilt and “without bloodstained hands,” unlike his predecessors.

However, the same headlines of the newspapers that until recently called it a respite in the long family dynasty that has controlled this Island for more than half a century, now broadcast images of the police beating unarmed citizens, their fists raised in the cry of “libertad” – freedom – that has spread throughout the entire country, and mothers with tear stained faces whose children are locked up in cells without any respect for their legal procedural guarantees.

The entire publicity arsenal aimed at showing Díaz-Canel as an efficient, popular and modern administrator was inoperative after that day that divided contemporary Cuban history into two parts. Since then, the leaders who used to shake his hand, smile with him for the family photo or pat him on the back in meetings of international organizations, now flee from him and rebuke him.

Only López Obrador has extended an invitation to this president whose people told him loud and clear that they do not want him and who responded with the arrogance of one who feels that he should not apologize, amend his course or give up his position to another. What is this gesture of the leader of Mexico’s Morena Party about? Is it in payment of an old ideological debt? Is he looking to inconvenience his political adversaries or a neighboring government? Was the request born in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana and the Mexican could only say “yes”?

Aware that his trip raises criticism and suspicion, the man who is also the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party has preferred keep the details of his agenda under a cloak of secrecy. Information on the place or time when he will participate as a speaker in the Mexican national holidays has not even been offered. A mystery that seeks to avoid public rejection not only by hundreds of Cuban emigrants who are already organizing to reject his visit, but also by many other Mexicans who are in solidarity with the cause of democratic change on this island.

From the main focuses and starring lights of his tour of Russia, Ireland and Belarus a few years ago, Díaz-Canel will avoid journalists, and escape from public presentations and rope lines to prevent the uncomfortable image of another invited guest who shuns his greeting or leaves him with his hand in the air. It is a dangerous choreography, because rudeness and protest can await one anywhere.

The warmth and sympathy that his host professes will also clarify much of this trip: whether it is a simple formality or a resounding political endorsement of a dictator rejected by his people, a man who called for a fratricidal confrontation for which, hopefully, one day he may be tried in national or international courts. The number of yards that separate the two rulers in the main act, whether or not López Obrador mentions the Cuban, even the number of hours that he spends in Mexican territory, will all be very revealing. We will have to be attentive to each of these rituals.

But also, we will have to look towards the interior of the island in the absence of Díaz-Canel. His unpopularity is not unrelated to the “wolves of the pack” who are vying for power in Cuban. As soon as they feel that keeping him in the presidential chair endangers their control over the country, they will dispense with this Villa Clara engineer, a man unable to string three sentences together without making it sound like a boring litany dictated by others.

This trip may be designed to clean up his image outside of national borders, but it also risks things getting out of control at home. Be that as it may, López Obrador has chosen the sad role of supporting a man who will go down in Cuban history as a puppet who, on the day he could have cut the strings and acted with the greatness of a statesman, preferred repression. The old practice of the Castros, of the blow and the gag.

The Sounds of the Crisis in Cuba

There is a soundtrack of the disaster that is barely mentioned, but that surrounds us on all sides. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 24 August 2021 — Dawn breaks and the sound of some chickens from a nearby patio can be heard throughout the neighborhood, when midday comes we can hear the shouts of a neighbor letting us know there are bananas in the market on Tulipán Street and, in the afternoon, the squeaking of a wheelbarrow with two little kids nostalgic for the amusement park.

Although the images of long lines, unsmiling faces and empty shopping bags are the most recurrent when it comes to describing the current situation on this Island, there is a soundtrack of the disaster that is barely mentioned but that surrounds us on all sides. Some of the sounds echo what we heard in the 90s during the Special Period, as if the needle on the record player of our lives had skipped and went back to playing the same music.

These times remind me of that period when some neighbors in our building raised a pig in their bathtub and, so it wouldn’t bother everyone too much, they operated on its vocal cords, leaving the animal to emit a hoarse breathy sound much more disturbing than its original grunts. Now, on a nearby balcony, someone has a cage with several turkeys that cluck all the time, a practice intended to guarantee protein for families fearful there are worse times ahead.

But there is also another permanent ringing and it is that of irritability. The swearwords of domestic fights, fueled by the lack of resources and the forced confinement the pandemic has brought to families with positive cases of covid-19; the crying of children who do not understand why they can’t go out to play; and the sobs of the son whose mother died for lack of oxygen or medicines.

A suffocating resonance, the chorus of a city and of a desperate country.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

When Repression Knocks at Your Door

For me, it doesn’t matter that you have defamed me without knowing me, attacked me without arguments, or raised a fist in an act of repudiation against me or my loved ones. (Screen capture from a video taken at a violent act of repudiation against Yoani’s husband, Reinaldo Escobar*, the person on the left who is looking forward.)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 21 July 2021 — A little more than ten days ago, violent repression was for many Cubans an alien experience, a story told by others that they doubted when narrated by government opponents or independent journalists. So it seemed until July 11th when some confirmed, firsthand, that the arbitrary arrests, the beatings, the strip searches and humiliations in police stations, and the silence on the part of the authorities regarding the whereabouts of a detainee, were not the fantasies or hoaxes of a few.

Many of those who previously doubted and questioned the victims, saying that they made everything up and that something like this could not happen on this island, now have a son or a niece locked up awaiting a summary judgment just for going out on the streets asking for “libertad!” or trying to record the popular revolts with their cell phone camera. The testimonies are coming to light, including excesses, outrages, lengthy interrogations, overcrowding in the cells and threats, many threats.

None of this is news for the part of the Cuban population that has spent decades denouncing such events. But, sometimes, you have to feel it to believe, experience it in your own flesh to empathize with another victim, or stick your finger in the wound to convince yourself it exists.

Personally, it is not worth me now to return skepticism with skepticism, deafness with deafness, sarcasm with sarcasm

Personally, it is not worth it to me now to return skepticism with skepticism, deafness with deafness, sarcasm with sarcasm. It is time to lend a hand and support the new victims of direct repression, regardless of whether they once doubted the horrors experienced by others.

Count on me to shout for the liberation of your children. I don’t care if you mocked me or didn’t believe it when I was kidnapped and beaten in November 2009;* I don’t care if you lent yourself to watching my little boy on his way to school and yelling at him that his mother was a “mercenary”; I don’t care if you reported on people visiting me and laughed when I spent long hours in a jail cell. It doesn’t matter if you joined in the execution of my reputation and the attempt to kill me socially.

For me, it doesn’t matter that you have defamed me without knowing me, attacked me without arguments, or raised a fist in an act of repudiation against me or my loved ones. I am on your side for the release of that family member you love. I do believe you.

*Translator’s notes:

See also Blame the Victim

For a video of the event shown in the photo, see here.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

____________

Now They Are the Ones Who Are Afraid of Us

“Freedom does not fit in a suitcase,” warn many on social media. (Screen capture)
14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 16 July 2021 — In the line, nobody speaks. A woman stares at the toe of her show and a young man taps his fingers on the wall. A few days have passed cine Cubans took to the streets in a protest without precedents in the last 62 years and outrage pervades every space. As images of police brutality emerge in the media, with more testimonies of mothers with their children who have disappeared since that Sunday, and videos of militarized cities, popular irritation grows.

Anyone who, before that already historic date, did not know this island might say that the authorities have managed to control the situation and that calm reigns again in the Cuban streets. But, in reality this apparent tranquility is just fear, anger and pain. In Havana, the tension in the air can be cut with a knife and everywhere there are police, military and civilians associated with to the Government with improvised clubs in their hands. Inside the houses the discomfort increases and the tears flow. Few have slept through the entire night.

Thousands of families are looking for someone in the police stations, while many others wait for the uniformed men to knock on their door to take away a relative suspected of participating in the protests. Some new sources of disagreement explode in different parts of the national geography and are drowned with blows and shots by special troops, the dreaded “black wasps.” Many independent journalists are detained, others are under house arrest, and internet access has been censored on several occasions since the first popular demonstration broke out.

The people whom the authorities showed as completely faithful to the system, docile and peaceful, no longer exists. In its place, there is a country full of screams, some loud and some silent, so it is not possible to calculate exactly when it will explode. The real Cuba has distanced itself even more from the nation that inhabits the official press. The former feel that they have recovered their civic voice, massively tested their strength in the streets, and tasted shouting the word “freedom” aloud; while the headlines controlled by the official press speak of conspiracies coming from outside, of small groups that demonstrated, and of criminals who vandalized markets. Both stories are mutually exclusive and cannot coexist for long.

Miguel Díaz-Canel tried to shade things with the first words he spoke before the microphones that Sunday when, practically every hour, a new focus of protest came to light. “The combat order is given” and “we are ready for anything,” he threatened then, and the ghost of civil war flew over the archipelago. Now, without retracting those words, he intersperses concepts such as “harmony,” “peace” and “joy” but fails to convince, because along with those syrupy phrases hundreds of buses throughout the country continue to discharge their shock troops in squares and neighborhoods.

So far, the only announced easing, in an attempt to quell the protests, has been to cancel the limits on travelers bringing medicine, food, and toiletries to the Island. But the measure comes late, after years of demands it is seen as a crumb before the strong social demand that the system be dismantled, its main figures resign and a transition to democracy begin as soon as possible. “Freedom does not fit in a suitcase,” many warn on social networks, just as rebellion is not stopped by a police shield. “We were so hungry that we ate our fear”, can also be read everywhere. But now we have so much anger that they are the ones who fear us, and it shows.


This text was originally published on the  Deutsche Welle website  for Latin America.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.



If It Weren’t For The Mango

Empty pallets in the EJT (Youth Labor Army) market on 17 and K streets in El Vedado (Havana, Cuba). (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 6 July 2021 —  Of all the horrors experienced in Cuba during the crisis of the 90s, there was one that was announced as a possibility but that did not materialize: the dreaded Option Zero, in which the country would be totally shut down due to lack of fuel, families would be relocated to camps, and the collective pot would become the sole supplier of the little food that we would put into our mouths.

In my adolescence, I imagined a future of skeletal people around a campfire where water with some scraps was boiling, while the loudspeakers continued transmitting the speeches of the leader, a picture of health, with his calls for the sacrifices of others. Fortunately, before reaching that scenario, in the worst style of Cambodia under Pol Pot, a timid economic opening took place that saved us from the community soup pot. The fears did not stop with the flexibility measures, but were just temporarily put on hold.

This Tuesday morning, I toured various markets in Havana. The practically empty stands and the long faces of the customers brought those fears back to me. Are we on the brink of Option Zero? “At least we have the mangoes,” a neighbor replied when I shared my concerns. With the summer and the arrival of the rains, the trees are loaded with that fruit that “Castroism has not managed to destroy,” added the man.

However, the mango season lasts only a few weeks. After the last fruits fall from their branches, with what are we going to fill the hole left by those slices, yellow and sweet, that we now put on the plate? I fear that the humanitarian crisis that has been circling us for months is here. Every day that passes without the authorities recognizing the severity of the collapse is lives that are lost, and not only because of a resurgence of Covid-19, which the regime has let get out of hand, but because of the lack of nutrients and medicines.

These are moments to put aside arrogance and political pride and to ask for urgent international aid, to stop making up headlines and to put an end to the tactic of inflating the statistics of national production. The countdown has begun and we barely have the time for the last mangoes hanging from the bushes to ripen.

____________

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

What Denigrates the Cuban Peso the Most?

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchéz, Havana, 2 July 2021 — Before he was arrested and taken to the State Security barracks in Havana, the artist Hamlet Lavastida had been accused by government voices of promoting the writing of phrases on the Cuban peso (CUP) bills circulating on the island. Now, locked in Villa Marista, investigators seek to turn these incriminations into a crime that puts him behind bars. But, the indictment limps at several points, some legal, others ethical and many monetary.

The national currency, those banknotes that bear the faces of various heroes of independence, have long been systematically tainted by the very authorities that issue them. The peso was dishonored when it was condemned more than a quarter of a century ago to be second-rate money, which was not used to buy in the well-stocked stores, popularly known as shopping malls, which were opened in the midst of the crisis. A coin that is stained by its little value and that condemned to misery whoever carried it in their pockets.

I remember seeing workers in shabby clothes approach a market cash register and not be able to pay for the merchandise they were carrying. “This is in dollars,” the clerk would say almost reluctantly. Our money was not used at that time to contract for a mobile phone line, pay for a night in a hotel or buy a ticket for a trip abroad. They humiliated the Cuban peso so much that taking those bills out of one’s pocket is still more a source of shame than pride.

It is enough to read the three letters CUP to know that what we will receive in return will be impaired service, a lot of abuse of the customer, and  low quality merchandise. Our every-day peso has been disdained by the Central Bank of Cuba, which created a more colorful and powerful emulator, which for more than 25 years overshadowed what should have been the country’s main currency. The so-called chavitos – Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) – were a greater offense to the national currency than any phrase, even an expletive, that an indignant citizen might stamp on their watermark.

Lavastida’s idea of ​​writing 27N, next to the face of José Martí, is not what tarnishes or insults paper money. It has been the terrible management of the economy, the official historical disregard for the Cuban peso, the segregation between those who can access the stores that take payment only in freely convertible currency – where prices are expressed in US dollars – and those who only have CUP, along with the little signs that say “payment exclusively with Visa or Mastercard” – at the gates of certain state offices – those who have smeared blood and shit on every bill that circulates on this Island. This, indeed, is an outrage, a tremendous crime.

The Cuban Baseball Federation Suffers From Historical Amnesia


Kiele Alessandra Cabrera during her intrusion on the field of the Palm Beach stadium during the game between Cuba and Venezuela. (Screen capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 June 2021 — The writer Eliseo Alberto Diego, known as Lichi, used to say that “history is a cat who always falls on her feet.” The Cuban Baseball Federation should be warned about this ability of the past to stand up, a way of avoiding silence and manipulation.

The official entity has protested the events that occurred in this Monday’s pre-Olympic baseball game between the teams from Cuba and Venezuela. In an exalted note, it describes as “unacceptable that characters contrary to the spirit of a sporting event attempt against the team’s concentration.”

The tantrum is in response to the posters with the phrases “Homeland and Life,” “Free Cuba,” and criticisms of Miguel Díaz-Canel, that were displayed in the stands of the West Palm Beach stadium during the live broadcast of the game, displays that Cuban State television was unable to prevent from sneaking into the Tele Rebelde channel. But it turns out that what happened yesterday is part of a civic tradition of baseball field protests that the regime itself praised when they occurred in Republican era Cuba.

On December 4, 1955, a group of young people threw themselves onto the field of the Cerro stadium while a game was being played between teams from Havana and Almendares. They carried a banner with demands against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, with the moment captured by the television cameras broadcasting the ballgame, allowing the images to reach the screens of thousands of spectators throughout the island.

According to the official Cuban discourse, that action was more than justified, and they constantly recall it as a revolutionary feat. But with regards to what happened this Monday, they reproach the Florida stadium guards for not having acted “as established by the security protocols”…

The story is nothing other than a feline with a penetrating gaze that flips in the air and ends up landing with its nails on the susceptible skin of those who want to hide and distort it.

Stubbornness and Inefficiency Go Hand In Hand in the Cuban Leadership

“My generation already has a couple deep material wounds, to its cost.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 29 May 2021 — A few days ago in the middle of the night they removed all the light bulbs that illuminated the corridor on the 14th floor where I live in Havana; a friend’s cat was stolen and shortly afterward she found the remains of what was evidently the sacrifice and feast that some neighbors made with her pet; in a line to buy frozen chicken, the crowd went wild as the door was opened and trampled on two old women who fell in the stampede.

All these scenes and many others have returned to populate the lives of Cubans, as they once did during the crisis of the 1990s that, in an excess of putting makeup on the language, the regime dubbed “The Special Period.” For those who were born in this century, the current social and economic disaster is the most serious of their lives, but my generation already has a couple of these deep material wounds, to its cost, while for my parents’ generation we must add the rigors suffered in the 70s.

The return of these vignettes of misery is part of a stubborn cycle that has touched the existence of everyone on this Island. Faced with so much repetition, some honest statesmen concerned about the country’s well-being would have redirection the national course, abandoned the practices that led to constant scarcities suffered by the population, or ceded their positions to more capable executives. But stubbornness and inefficiency go hand in hand in the Cuban leadership .

A few years ago, an analyst and writer asked an interesting question during a conference held at a study center in the capital: “How many more times must the implementation of Marxist economic ideas fail to conclude that failure is it inherent in the model?” If we apply that doubt to Castroism, then it is worth asking how many more crises will Cubans have to suffer so that officials understand that the system does not work? How many “special periods” must accumulate for the leaders of the Communist Party to recognize their inability to provide us with prosperity and freedom?

Yesterday I saw a girl break a chocolate cookie in two. “I’m going to eat half today and save the other for tomorrow for breakfast,” she said. My eyes watered. It reminded me of a scrawny and hungry teenager in a very long line to buy some little chicks that we had to raise in our apartment in the San Leopoldo neighborhood. After an hours-long line, plus blows and shoves, that young woman returned home with some tiny yellow animals, none of which survived her inexperience in raising poultry or lack of food. 

Of those images from the 90s there are some we have yet to see. I hope they do not arrive: The rafts loaded on shoulders crossing the streets heading towards Havana’s Malecón; the friend who embarked on one and was never heard from again; the kerosene-flavored pizza that was the only food for a couple of days; the Numantine leader asking us for more sacrifices from the dais. How much longer must a people endure to conclude that conformity is inherent in their character?

The Most Closely Watched Patient in the World

Members of State Security patrol the hospital where Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is admitted. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 May 2021 — It is easy to spot them: they wear their hair short and closely observe everyone who passes near the Calixto García Hospital in Havana. They are the members of the State Security who patrol the hospital where the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the most closely watched patient in the world, has been admitted since May 2. Since he was taken to the hospital by State Security, he has only been seen through crude, highly edited videos that the political police themselves disseminate.

Otero Alcántara’s friends insist on speaking directly with him but they have not been allowed to visit him, nor does the artist have access to a telephone to communicate without intermediaries. The days are accumulating and the official version is becoming more and more untenable, according to which, after more than a week on a hunger and thirst strike in protest of the repression, this 33-year-old Havanan arrived at the hospital in perfect condition and with some enviable health indicators.

If he is in good physical shape, why has he been held there for more than two weeks? What is really happening in the long days that the artist spends between the four walls of a hospital room? All the answers that come to mind when asking such questions are, to say the least, disturbing. The official medical apparatus’s complicity with the repression has a long history on this Island. The publication of medical records of dissidents in the official media without consulting them, and the confinement in asylums of people who protested peacefully in public places are part of this worrying collusion.

If, to that, is added the strict surveillance operation that surrounds the Calixto García Hospital since Otero Alcántara’s arrival at one of its pavilions and the arrest of several activists who have tried to get closer, then the concerns grow even more. Among those who could gain access to the place, surrounded by some protection, are the most important figures of the Catholic Church, members of the foreign diplomatic corps and foreign media correspondents whose job it is to report what is happening on the island. But none have done so.

It is unknown so far if there have been efforts by any of them to access the room where the artist spends his days, but it is most likely that most of these bishops, ambassadors and accredited reporters have weighed the cost of making a request of that nature to the Cuban authorities. For the moment, their paralysis suggests that they have measured the price of interceding or reporting on the situation in Otero Alcántara and, after evaluating the pros and cons, they have chosen to keep their distance and not bother Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

While the accomplices are silent and the undecided remain in the shadows, the life of a man who until recently was pure energy may be falling over the precipice into a dark abyss. The irreverent artist who organized an independent art biennial, protested the removal of the bust of a communist leader and carried the Cuban flag over his body for several days, now looks quiet and bony in the images filtered by the ruling party: a patient with a dull gaze dull and debilitated body.