‘Doctor Zhivago’, An Old Acquaintance Opens In Cuba

Screenshot of ‘Doctor Zhivago’, inspired by Boris Pasternak’s novel. (CC)

Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 25 January 2018 — The book was part of the private collection of a writer who went into exile and even though the title did not appeal I chanced it, bored in the midst of the publishing drought of the ‘90s. Its pages narrated a country I knew, but described a different place, convulsed, unjust and harsh. Doctor Zhivago came into my hands when the Soviet Union had disappeared and in it I found a part of the answers to explain that disaster.

A quarter of a century later, Cuban television finally broadcast the well-known film inspired by the novel, directed by British director David Lean. Released in that long ago 1965, the movie was absent from the screens of the island until 22 January of this year, though before the airing the program’s commentator warned about the picture’s ideological distortions.

An unnecessary clarification, because the story of Yuri Zhivago is well known on this island thanks to the infallible formula “there is nothing more attractive than the forbidden.” For decades, the work written by Boris Pasternak circulated from hand to hand – its cover wrapped in the boring state newspaper Granma to avoid indiscreet eyes – or, in recent years, in that elusive digital format that easily mocks the thought police.

Unlike George Orwell’s 1984Doctor Zhivago was not banned for predicting a totalitarian future that lined up along many points with our socialist Cuba, but because it described an uncomfortable past for those who wanted to present Russia as a country where the proletarians had achieved a Parnassian state of equality, comradeship and justice.

Instead of the Manichean vision taught in Cuban schools, Pasternak’s work focused on a tormented individual, shaken by social vagaries and more concerned with emerging unscathed from his circumstances than in sacrificing himself for a cause. He was an antihero far-removed from the “New Man” and the Soviet ideal.

The adventures the book had to circumvent also served as an argument to those who wielded the scissors at the Island’s publishers. Its publication in Italy 1957, the Nobel Prize it won Pasternak and the official pressures that forced him to reject the award contributed to the denial of Cubans’ right to read it.

The “camaraderie” in the Communist Bloc was filled such actions. An author censored in one of the countries that made up the vast red geography also made the blacklist in the other nations orbiting the Kremlin. Havana did not ignore that maxim and was faithful to its national stepmother, depriving its citizens of one of the twentieth century’s anthological works.

They censored it in Cuba not only out of ideological complicity with the country that economically sustained all the eccentricities of Fidel Castro, but because in its pages the Great October Socialist Revolution came out badly; it was a mass of informers, police, pressures of all kinds and lies. A suffocating scenario where the individual could barely protect her privacy and herself.

They say that when he was expelled from power, in 1964, Nikita Khrushchev read Pasternak’s novel. “We should not have banned it. I should have read it. There is nothing anti-Soviet in it,” he acknowledged then.

The Cuban censors, however, have not drafted an apology, nor is it necessary. History sounded the vigorous trumpet: the country they tried to protect from the supposed calumnies of the writer ceased to exist almost three decades ago; but Doctor Zhivago remains a vibrant and unforgettable novel.

Letter to a Threatened Journalist

Luz Escobar has worked for 14ymedio since its founding in 2014. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 17 January 2018 – Luz, you have had an incredible “privilege”: To see up close the true face under the Fantômas mask.

In your police interview this Monday those State Security agents showed you, with complete self-confidence, who they really are, what is hidden behind the discourse of supposed ‘Revolutionary ethics’ and ‘defense of the country.’ In reality, under their clothes they are ‘mafioso’ whose methods mimic the worst style of the Camorra.

They have threatened you, they have warned you that the people closest to you will pay the consequences, they have even asked you to become one of them to betray your colleagues. All this, using the only tool they know: repression.

Your life will become more difficult from now on. Many friends will stop calling you, others will cross to the other side of the street when they see you, dozens of acquaintances will say you’ve gone crazy or that you are brainwashed, others will advise you to leave the country as soon as possible, to shut up, to stop writing. Some relatives will tell you to think about your daughters, while the fence around your house, your neighborhood, your person, will become suffocating.

They themselves, with the characteristic abuse of power, will spread the word that you are a ‘mercenary’ or, in the worst case, that you work for the ‘apparatus’ as an ‘undercover agent’. Distrust will rise like a wall around your work. These campaigns of defamation and demonization will affect every detail of your existence, from who knocks on your door to sell you a little milk, to the phrases the teachers repeat in your daughters’ classrooms.

However, from today, you will also feel a strange lightness, as if a weight you had been carrying on your shoulders for years has been lifted. They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans.

Welcome to your new life. Enjoy it and be free.

The Departure Of Raúl Castro, The End Of An Era

The vice president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, listens to Raúl Castro (Havana, May 1, 2016). GETTY

14ymedio, Generation Y, (Politicaexterior.com), Yoani Sanchez, 9 January 2017 — “Six decades are a lifetime,” says Facundo, a Cuban retiree who sells the official press in Old Havana to supplement his low pension. Born shortly before Fidel Castro came to power, the man is suspicious of the appointment of a new president next April. “That’s going to be like learning to walk,” he says, while hawking the pro-government daily Granma.

Like Facundo, a good part of the Cubans residing on the island today were born under Castroism or barely remember the country before January 1959. Raúl Castro’s departure from the government [first announced for February 2018 and then postponed until April] for them has the connotations of the end of an era, regardless of the rupture or continuity shown by the successors installed in the national command room.

A few weeks before the presidential transfer becomes effective, indifference gains ground among the inhabitants of a nation that has the longest serving family dynasty in power in all of Latin America. A moment that should be a source of expectation and speculation is diluted by apathy and the island’s complicated economic situation.

Unlike other countries on the continent that have experienced regional or general elections in recent years, the Cuban electoral process does include polling to measure the electorate’s inclinations or to motivate media debates. The sensation is one of “follow the leader” with everyone working together to preserve control in the hands of one group.

The boredom also comes from the fact that the current electoral law prohibits political campaigns, nor are candidates allowed to present their programs, which might excite some or scandalizes others. Without this essential component, the process is one more of confirmation than selection; more of a tacit appointment than of a competition.

Only in April, when the new Council of State becomes public, will it be known who has been chosen for the highest office in the country. So far, the outcome is only a matter of speculation, that moves according to official attention focused on one person or another, as functionaries move in and out of the spotlight. Thus, political divination is a very inaccurate art in these parts.

On top of that, the candidates to sit in the presidential chair will enjoy their status as aspirants for an extremely short time, perhaps hours or minutes between the time the National Candidacy Commission reveals their names to the new Parliament that body’s vote to approve a candidate. The trajectory to the presidency could be no longer than a sigh.

This has been the case since the first National Assembly of People’s Power was constituted in 1976, when Fidel Castro proclaimed that the “provisional period of the Revolutionary Government” ceased and the socialist State adopted “definitive institutional forms.” In 1992, the new electoral law modified some details, but maintained the single-party essence of the system along with its armor against any kinds of surprises.

The end of a family dynasty

However, the novelty of the current elections does not lie in what may happen outside the script, but in the fact that for the first time the person occupying the presidential chair is very likely not to have the surname Castro. The possibilities that the office holder will belong to “the historical generation of the Revolution,” formed by a small group of octogenarians, are also minimal.

Along with the new president, figures that will replace the hard core of gerontocracy will come to sit on the Council of State. A cabal where the excess of years has been justified by the argument of accumulated experience, when in reality the permanence of these veterans is based on their proven loyalty to Fidel Castro, and now to his brother Raúl.

Biology, in its pragmatic task, seems to have imposed new rules and the time has come for the relief team, but there are no signs that the renewal of faces implies a political transition. In fact, anyone who has been projected as a reformer will not appear in the fleeting list of candidates that, in a predictably unanimous manner, will be approved by Parliament in April.

As was noted before focusing the cameras of the last century “anyone who moves does not appear in the photo”; anyone who has shown traits of thinking with his own head or wanting to mark his mandate with a new imprint will be out of the picture. This is what happened in 2009 with then Vice President Carlos Lage and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, who had been seen as possible heirs but instead were unceremoniously ousted.

If this is the case, it is worth repeating Galileo Galilei’s  mythical “and yet it moves.”  After six decades of the country being governed by a regime that is not only totalitarian but also family based, those who assume leadership roles will have to do it in a collegiate way, in the absence of a figure that combines historical ancestry, command capacity and the consensus of the leadership to rule without supervision.

During the almost 50 years that Fidel Castro held power on the island, he did it based on his own will and caprice. At that time councils of ministers hardly existed and the country was governed from the door of a Soviet jeep from which the maximum leader appeared to impart his “clear guidelines.” His omnipotent power led him to decide everything from the fabric and cut of school uniforms to the way housewives cooked beans.

When he participated in the sessions of the Parliament, the only one who spoke was him and he did it relentlessly for hours, wasting in the practice the participation of the more than 600 deputies. He hoarded all the portfolios, imposed his desire in each sector and emptied the institutions of any possibility of decision making. Fidel Castro led the country with the tip of his index finger, without anyone else influencing the national course.

There are many testimonies that narrate the occasions in which he met with his immediate subordinates, where the curses and the threats would rain down if his designs were not fulfilled. His pounding the table buried every possible disagreement and assent or applause were the only possible answers. “Yes, Fidel.” “Of course, Chief.” “At your orders, Commander.”

When Fidel Castro fell ill and was forced to withdraw from public life, in July 2006, Raúl introduced the habit of consultation. During the 10 years that he has governed he held more meetings of the councils of ministers and summoned a greater number of plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) than all of those held for the previous nearly half a century.

That proclivity to teamwork does not make the younger Castro a democrat, but at least he gave the impression that, although he did not renounce imposing his will, he was in the position to or in need of sharing decisions. His calls to make “incremental” and “gradual” changes to improve the country’s economy earned him a reputation contrary to that of his brother. The former was like an unreflecting hurricane, the latter a lackluster drizzle that was neither wet nor cool.

However, it fell to the younger Castro to lead the diplomatic thaw with the United States. The milestone of his mandate and the one for which he will go down in history was not — ironically — the long-awaited democratic transition on the island, but rather to have settled the problem with the great neighbor of the North. A conquest that dissolved in the last months with the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House and the outbreak of the scandal of the acoustic attacks supposedly suffered by US diplomats in Havana.

To make matters worse, the great Venezuelan ally has also clouded the final days of the Cuban president. The plummeting of oil imports to the island, along with the growing loss of prestige of the so-called “Bolivarian revolution” and the departure of several political allies in the region have made the scenario of the “farewell” very different from the one that was planned.

In the midst of this adverse context, the entire weight of Cuba’s future lies in the decision that will be taken when the moment comes to transfer power. Although the ruling party tries to show that it has everything “well under control,” a system so based on the will of a family clan has serious problems with new faces. A dynastic regime is not inherited by or delegated to others, it only survives if it remains anchored to a family tree.

Hence, speculation about the possible rise of Alejandro Castro Espín, son of the current president and a dark figure responsible for the police control of the country and the management of the feared State Security. Despite this possibility, his father is trapped in wanting to present an image of institutionality before genetics. He knows that a relief based on blood would protect him, but that also it would end up burying any narrative of the revolution in favor of emphasizing the character of a family dynasty.

Beyond the individual who will assume the highest office in the country, the person will be obliged to agree with others and to govern under the inquisitive gaze of third parties. He will have no choice but to argue to reach consensus, in a scenario where no one will have the right to pound the table with his fists or to throw a threatening look when asking if anyone disagrees with his opinion.

A future for Miguel Díaz-Canel?

The great unknown remains the name of the man – or woman – who will be graced with the position, although all bets point to Miguel Diaz-Canel, currently Cuba’s first vice-president. Born in 1960, the possible heir is a faithful product of the laboratory of political cadres, someone suckled on the udder of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and attached to the official script, with not a single mis-delivered line.

The Cuban dauphin can be considered a gray man, without charisma or a will of his own, someone who projects the image of continuity. He has come to where he is thanks to that projection and is unlikely to expose himself as a Mikhail Gorbachev or as a Lenin Moreno, once he reaches the presidential chair. Instead, his rise is surrounded by questions and suspicions that rain down on him from the opposition.

A sector of the outlawed dissidence maintains that “until what has to change has changed, nothing has changed” and that the transfer of power will be a theatrical representation to show the world, although nothing will move even a millimeter with regards political repression and the lack of freedoms.

This point of view is based on the fact that Raúl Castro will continue to be the first secretary of the PCC, which, according to the Constitution, “is the leading force of society and of the State.” Although biology suggests that it is unlikely that he will remain in that position until the eighth congress is held, in 2021, when he would be about to turn 90.

So, in order to continue the tradition of the socialist countries of concentrating in one person the highest governmental and partisan positions, it is more than foreseeable that before the end of his term at the head of the political organization he would convoke an extraordinary congress to unify the controls.

It may also happen that, for the first time in decades, the person appointed to head the PCC could be different from the person who holds the presidency. A bifurcation that weakens the system and will generate more than one collision of authority.

Between the slight optimism of a few, the distrust of the opposition and the indifference of most of the population, we just have to wait and see what is decided in April. Whether the date becomes a watershed or a new chapter of “more of the same.”

What is not discussed is how difficult it will be for the relief team to complete the pending tasks left by the current government. Perhaps the greatest difficulty is that of undertaking the essential reforms in the economy, while fulfilling the promises of continuity that, as a mandatory reverence, they will have to make when assuming their positions.

More complex will be to introduce political changes. Maybe they should wait for probable new elections in which, if everything works out, they will have to compete with the platforms of other candidates, of those possible presidents who remain hidden in the Cuban reality, waiting for a future legal framework that will allow them to emerge, waving their own government programs.

Hemiplegia, The Sad Case Of Ignacio Ramonet

At the same university where Ramonet (right) presented his book on Tuesday, a journalism student was expelled a few months ago for her involvement with an independent opposition group. (UCLV)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 November 2017 — When Ignacio Ramonet’s interview with Fidel Castro was published in 2006, many citizens did not miss the opportunity to mock the title. “Why should we read One Hundred Hours With Fidel if we have spent our whole lives with him?” people were saying on the streets, but the journalist did not even notice.

That volume, marked by journalistic meekness that led it to be cataloged as an autobiography of the Maximum Leader, earned more than just laughs. Accusations of having used the “cut and paste” method, to make answers out of the content of old speeches, also rained down.

Without having given a convincing explanation of such issues, Ramonet has returned to the charge with another book being promoted this week by several universities on the island. This volume has, also, has one of those titles that set off smiles of ridicule: The Empire of Surveillance.

Last Tuesday, Ramonet, a professor of Theory of Communication, spoke at Marta Abreu de Las Villas Central University during the presentation of the book, which was brought out by José Martí Publishing. It was a bitter diatribe against the global surveillance network that the United States has woven to obtain information about citizens, groups and governments.

The book puts special emphasis on the complicity of companies that manage user data, adding them to that web of espionage, commercial interests, control and subordination, a tangle in which modern society is trapped and from which it must urgently escape, according to the analyst.

On this point, he doesn’t differ from what so many of the planet’s cyber activists are denouncing, but Ramonet suffers from an ethical hemiplegia when it comes to sharing responsibilities and commenting on other governments that invade the privacy of their citizens every day.

The fact that he traveled to such an Orwellian country as Cuba to point the finger at Washington shows his position when investigating topics such as Big Data, the legalization of surveillance on the web and the compilation of user data to predict behavior or sell products.

Cuba, where State Security (the Big Brother in this case) monitors every detail of the lives of individuals, is not the best place to talk about indiscreet eyes that read other people’s e-mails, policemen who observe every piece of information that crosses the network and data intercepted by powers that use them to subdue human beings.

This nation, where the Plaza of the Revolution maintains an iron grip on information and only allows public dissemination of discourses in agreement with itself, should be among the regimes Ramonet denounces in his book. But, curiously, for the journalist there is “bad” and “good” surveillance, with that carried out by the Cuban government among the latter.

At the same university where Ramonet presented his book on Tuesday, a journalism student was expelled a few months ago due to her connection with an independent opposition group. The Empire of Surveillance sees no shades of gray and trashed her with the complicity of some coerced students and student leaders.

A few days later, the cyberpolice that make up that army of control launched a campaign of defamation against the girl on social networks. To denigrate her they used information taken from her emails, her phone calls and even private conversations. Our Big Brother acted without regard.

A few years ago, national television showed the contents of several private emails that had been stolen from the personal account of an opposition member. All this without the order of a judge, without the lady being prosecuted for a crime and, of course, without having sent a request to Google to provide the content that supposedly should be published.

Ramonet cannot ignore that the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) maintains a strict filter on each text message sent by its clients. The state monopoly censors words like “dictatorship” and the names of opposition leaders. Although senders are charged for the messages, they never reach their intended recipients.

Nor has Ramonet, former director of Le Monde Diplomatique, gone to a Wi-Fi zone to access the web among those that the Cuban government opened after years of citizen pressure. If he had tried any of them, he would know that on this Island the Chinese firewall model has been copied to censor innumerable pages.

Does Ramonet know that a good part of Cuban Internet users use anonymous proxies, not only to access these filtered websites but also to protect their private information from the indiscreet eye of the State? Has he noticed that people lower their voices to talk about politics, put covers on forbidden books or shield their computer screens with their bodies when they visit a blocked newspaper like 14ymedio?

Has he ever wondered about the agreement between Havana and Moscow to open a center in Cuba under the name of InvGuard, which will implement an alleged protection system against network attacks? Just when the Kremlin is accused of having manipulated, through the internet, everything from Brexit to the Catalan crisis to elections in the United States.

The reader can find answers to none of these questions in Ignacio Ramonet’s most recent book, because, like his autobiography of Fidel Castro that he tried to pass off as an interview, this book raises questions among Cubans from the title alone: Why should we read The empire of Surveillance when our entire lives are under its control?

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Art Of Turning Artists Into “Enemies”

Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on a park bench in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 November 2017 — He scribbled on a wall and they detained him for several months; he founded an opposition party and they accused him of buying some sacks of cement; he opened an independent media outlet and they denounced him for treason. Every step taken to be free ended with a disproportionate repression that can only be explained through the fear that the ruling party feels towards its own citizens.

The case against the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has once again exposed the fear that beats in the highest spheres and spills over onto everyone who leaves the assigned fold. The police officers who entered his house last Monday went in search of any evidence to incriminate him, because they are the executors of a punishment policy that is systematically applied against the system’s critics.

The sacks of construction materials are just a pretext to “show him the instruments” and to embroil Otero Alcántara in an infinite legal process. What is coming now is a movie we already know well: the trial at full speed, the sentence that allows him to be removed from circulation until after the date scheduled for the independent event and, meanwhile, a “good cop” who will whisper in his ear the advantages of emigrating and avoiding such imbroglios.

The artist will feel every kind of pressure. On the one hand, State Security will say that his call to participate in an independent event is a provocation that will not be allowed, and on the other hand the official artists’ guild will distance itself and its members from his proposals. Some of those who said “yes” to participating in the #Bienal00 will no long respond to the emails or will communicate that they will be unavailable due to an unforeseen trip.

Some will accuse him of wanting to attract attention, others will tell him he could have gone through official channels before throwing himself into organizing a parallel event. There will be those who will reproach him for having crossed the red line between art and activism, or for having dabbled in politics. The most caustic will whisper that now he can include his own face in the next Game of Thrones video he creates about the candidates for the Cuban presidency.

However, solidarity will also rain down upon him from those who, in recent days, have been expecting the imprisonment of the author of ¿Dónde está Mella?, a performance held in the former Manzana de Gómez, in Havana. His case will help show the world that Raúl Castro’s government has a similar modus operandi to attack opponents, artists and journalists.

The ruling party does not care if the “daring” report human rights violations, work with metaphors or investigate information. From up there, anyone who does not follow orders deserves only one word: enemy. Now, for them, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has fallen into that category.

Navigating Among the Travel and Immigration Nonsense

A Cuban rafter who emigrated seven years ago now wants to return on his yacht, but he has been told that his family in Cuba cannot go out for a ride on his boat from the Hemingway Marina. (umbrellatravel)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 November 2017 — Three days and thirty calls, this is how Carla summarizes the time immediately after the announcement of the new travel and immigration measures. “I dialed all the numbers I had on hand,” she says, with a cup of tea in her hands at her home in Centro Habana. The nursing graduate is anxiously awaiting a reunion with her brother who left Cuba on a raft and has been based in Tampa for seven years.

However, in the complex skein of prohibitions in Cuba’s travel and migration policy, the relaxations that will take effect as of the first of January in 2018 have introduced more uncertainties than certainties. “He wants to come on his yacht so our family can take the boat along the Cuban coast and even fish,” she explains.

Several calls to Marina Hemingway have crash-landed the nurse’s dreams. “Your brother can arrive on his boat, but Cubans living on the island can not yet go out for a ride on the boat,” a voice told her from the other end of the line. Thus Carla came up against that part of the legislation that still hasn’t budged an inch.

For decades, Cubans have been locked in successive boxes. Some compartments are designed to hobble their ability to decide who governs the country and what newspapers they can read. In the last decade, some of those restrictions have become obsolete, or been repealed or changed, but their “hard core” still stands.

At the center of so many limitations is the government’s conviction that if it allows citizens to have greater spaces for decision and action they will end up overturning the current regime. A trip on a yacht along the Cuban coast could make Carla’s family wonder why they have been denied that pleasure for so long and increase their discontent.

What this hypothetical long-awaited journey can trigger has long-term connotations for the family.

The mother, with a monthly pension that does not exceed 15 dollars, will cry for joy when she sees, before dying, the face that has been hidden from her by el Morro, something that few Havanans have been able to enjoy. She may even stuff down a lobster tail freshly pulled from the water by her son, “the enemy who escaped the Revolution,” as he was described by the president of her local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on learning of his departure.

When the earth recedes and they find themselves in the safe discretion of the immense blue, it is probable that Carla will tell the former rafter how she steals medicines from the hospital to sell on the black market and that she dreams of an immigration process based on “family reunification” that will get her out of the country.  “No one can stand it, my little brother,” she will confess, protected by the waves and the sky.

If that maritime route were to open, a partition of the sealed compartment in which they have been enclosed will collapse and will not be able to rise again. An interior wall, of fear and lack of opportunities, will be seriously damaged. Aware of that, for the moment, the ruling party must be meditating on all the costs of allowing such a thing.

Until now, and as things are going, everything seems to indicate that next year, the nurse’s rafter brother will be able to enjoy, in his status as an emigrant, something his relatives on the island are denied. Half-changes provoke these contradictions, but complete changes unleash fear at the highest levels.

With her cup of tea, Carla continues to dial phone numbers so that someone will answer a simple question: “Can we get on that yacht and walk the deck?” No one risks answering with certainty, but many wait for a slip that tears down that and other walls.

José Martí from New York, Without a Visa and With Mistakes

The equestrian statue of the Cuban hero José Martí, that has been living in Central Park in New York since 1950, has a replica in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 October 2017 – We see him leaning over, a lost look in his eyes. He is mortally wounded and the bronze captures the second that separates him from immortality. The replica of the José Martí statue that has been in New York’s Central Park since 1950, now has a place in Havana. On Thursday afternoon, under an intensely blue sky, we can see his contours sparkling and the pedestal shine. Also noteworthy are the unpardonable mistakes on the commemorative plaque.

On the commemorative plaque of the monument of José Martí there are two spelling mistakes. (14ymedio)

City is spelled ”cuidad”– similar to the word for “care” – instead of “ciudad.” Nacío – an ugly attempt at “he was born” – misplaces the accent and almost flirts with “I was born,” but in fact is not a word at all. These are two of the “pearls” carved into the shining black granite that, as of this week, thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors will read on the monument. The devils of misspelling and lack of grammatical rigor have played a trick on the man who loved words and cultivated them with a venerable passion.

More than fifteen feet high and weighing three tons, the piece has been placed a few steps from the old presidential palace. Its lovely lines are a copy of the work conceived by the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington that stands in a small area at the southern end of the New York City park, along with monuments to Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín.

The mistake-plagued inscription on the Havana piece – no one has clarified whether it came with the statue or is a local production – is an insult to the poet of Versos Sencillos, Simple Verses. To write on a piece of paper a phrase that has not been carefully reviewed is one thing, but to sculpt it in stone is to make a monument to improvisation and to display a huge disdain for the language.

Some will say that they are only small details, but a graduate in Philosophy and Literature deserves – at the very least – that a good editor check his lines.

Nor does the equestrian statue come at an easy time. Forged in Philadelphia, it was carried to the Island in the midst of a growing escalation of tensions with the United States. The figure that should represent the confluence between two nations, as Martí did during his life, is now a reminder of a diplomatic meltdown that fell short and of a time that was irretrievably lost.

A man in a United States flag T-shirt gave the finishing touches to the monument in Havana. (14ymedio)

Thus, during its placement there was no lack of jokes from the nearest neighbors about whether the man we Cubans call the “Apostle” had asked for a visa to enter the country. The humor never fails, nor the sad jest that evokes the difficulties that Cubans currently face to travel to their northern neighbor, after the scandal of acoustic attacks about which there are more questions than certainties.

As an irony of life, one of the workers who finished some details around the monument proudly displayed a T-shirt with the banner of stars and stripes. As with the spelling mistakes, no one saw it, no official came to check on what was going on.