The New Microphones

For a long time the only way to get one’s hands on that gadget called a microphone was to pass through many ideological filters. Given that same paranoia, to this day few programs on our national channel are broadcast live, so that no one can deliver–to the eyes of the viewers–opinions contrary to the system. And although in recent months criticism has been timidly allowed to pass in the official media, the doors remain closed to those who do not agree with the official discourse. Hence, we have had to find other microphones, other sets, other cameras. Improvised and less professional, yes, but indisputably more free than those of the studios at 23rd and L, at Mason and San Miguel, or at the provincial broadcast centers.

From the terrace of a house, with a sheet hung as a curtain and lights borrowed from a musician, one can make films without the boring triumphalism of the Roundtable show. One example of these new spaces that are emerging is the SATS project, where “art and thought come together,” directed by Antonio Rodiles. In a broad framework for debate, guests expound on a theme and then, later, respond to questions from the public. They analyze, equally, the trajectory of a hip hop musician, the work program of an outlawed legal association, or civil society from the viewpoint of a doctor of philosophy. Afterward, each day’s filming is distributed by the same alternative networks within which blogs, films, documentaries and opinions circulate.

Still missing, it’s true, from these space of SATS and also Citizens’ Reasons, is the presence of the “other.” Of those who defend the official versions of events and who are willing to come together with us and say so in front of a camera. But however much invitations have been extended to these people from State institutions, calling on them to debate and present their arguments, they prefer not to bestow on us the belligerence of their presence. I remain hopeful, however, that one day they will arrive. Sooner rather than later they will come, perhaps before they offer us their own spaces and allow us to speak from “their” microphones.

Mangos Every Summer

The branches bend under the weight and children throw stones and shake the limbs trying to knock down the fruit. It’s mango season. Like a cycle of life that transcends the crisis, the lack of vision, and the failed agricultural plans, the mangoes come again, the filipinos and bizcochuelos. We are at exactly the moment when the most humble courtyard in a forgotten hamlet can compare itself with a meticulously tended garden in Miramar. It is enough that the old mango tree planted by the grandparents is bearing fruit for the whole family to begin to revolve around it.

Right now, while cutting some mangoes given to us by Augustine, I think of how my life is marked by the memories associated with this smell and texture. The little ones, preserved in syrup, that we ate during my vacations in the village of Rodas, the green tart ones that we salted at the schools in the countryside, and those others that we stole–driven by hunger–from the Experimental Farm in the municipality of Guira during the dark days of the Special Period. And after one bite, the strings caught between my teeth, the juice dripped down my chin and dirtied my clothes, I sucked the seed until it was white, and threw the rind on the floor where it was as slippery as a banana peel.

Mangoes evoke every stage of my existence, each one of the periods we have gone through lately on this Island. I remember the free market known as Central–in the years of the Soviet subsidies–where I first tried Taoro brand mango nectar. Then came the process of “rectifying errors and negative tendencies,” with its sweeping away of the petty bourgeoisie; and when Taoro nectar reappeared ten years later it was sold only in convertible currency.

This fruit has the merit of having proved its incredible resistance to State farms, to the blunders that absorbed thousands of acres of land, like the 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest, the plan to grow microjet bananas, and even the unwanted advances of the marabou weed. The stubborn mango is still here, marking our lives with its flavor, making any poor yard a haven of prosperity, at least as long as summer lasts.

Twelve Men in Brief

Image taken from Diario de Cuba gallery

As a child whenever I heard the name of Perico*, a town in Matanzas Province, I ended up with a pain in my stomach from laughing so hard. Until I learned that a part of my father’s family was from that area and the joke didn’t seem so funny to me any more. Last Saturday I was invited to go back and see its dusty embankment and dilapidated train station once again, but the departure of my sister left me paralyzed here on the fourteenth floor, not wanting to go anywhere. I very much regret not going, because twelve of the ex-prisoners of the Black Spring were waiting for us there, hosted by a good-natured hard-working peasant named Diosdado Gonzalez, who offered his home and his table for this important meeting.

Initially it was to be a get together to strengthen friendships, meet each others’ families, share of piece of that more than seven years the Cuban government had seized from them. However, Guillermo Fariñas’ decision to begin a hunger strike, totally changed the tenor of the day. The idea of relaxation was transformed into concern and the stools that were meant to support the festivities bore, instead, the weight of their worries. In brief and between sips of coffee–refilled from time to time by Alejandrina–the reunion became a civic staff council, where rather than maneuver plastic soldiers on a war map, they rearranged ideas on an historic statement.

Afterward, Pedro Argüelles read over the phone to me the approved text of that day, and once again I regretted not having been there. Among their demands, the signatories called for a serious investigation into the cause of death of Juan Wilfredo Soto. Also they call for avoiding the death of Fariñas and–in my judgment the most difficult to achieve–the cessation of repression and acts of repudiation against opposition activists. But this time the ears of power seem more reluctant to listen than they were a year ago. My fear, also, is that the body of the Sakharov 2010 Prize winner will not survive another prolonged fast. Hopefully life will surprise me and something will be done, and Perico will cease to be a village with a delightful name and become the place where words, civic conscience, and unity won over a stubborn and long-standing authoritarianism.

El Roque, Perico, Matanzas
Saturday, June 4, 2011


Given the high centralization of power and decisions in our country, we hold the Cuban president, Army General Raul Castro Ruz, responsible for meeting the three related demands as follows:

1. To allow an international multidisciplinary team, immediately, to exhume and examine the corpse of peaceful activist Wilfredo Soto Juan Garcia and impartially rule on the actual causes of death. This would help all parties.

2. To prevent the imminent death of the peaceful activist and Nobel Andrei Sakharov prize winner, Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, from the hunger strike he is undertaking.

3. To cease the repression, beatings, acts of repudiation and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against peaceful pro-democracy and Cuban society activists.

In expectation of an appropriate response, according to current circumstances, the undersigned endorse this document:

Pedro Argüelles Morán
Eduardo Díaz Fleitas
Iván Hernández Carrillo
Librado Linares García
Angel J. Moya Acosta
Guido Sigler Amaya
Oscar Elías Bicet González
Diosdado González Marrero
Arnaldo Ramos Lausurique
Hector M. Maceda Gutiérrez
Félix Navarro Rodríguez
José Daniel Ferrer García

The original of this document was delivered to the Ministry of Justice of Cuba on June 6, 2011.

*Translator’s note: “Perico” means “parakeet” but is also a slang for people who are very humorous and tell a lot of jokes.

Citizens’ Reasons 6

A Part of Me

Emigration has taken my friends, my childhood acquaintances, neighbors from the place where I was born, and people I greeted once or twice in the street. One day it grabbed my paternal uncles, cousins, classmates with whom I shared the joy of graduation, and even the shy mailman who brought me the paper once a week. And, as if still unsatisfied, now it has come back for more, taking also the part closest to me, the most intimate of my life.

I remember when my sister told me she’d entered her name into an international visa lottery. Yunia was always very lucky in games of chance, so I knew what to expect from the outset. My mother tells of the day she gave birth to her, the doctors and nurses crossed themselves seeing a baby emerge from the womb with its amniotic sac almost intact.

“You came into the world in a bag,” they told her, as if this guaranteed prosperity, love, happiness. Hence, this Island seemed too narrow to contain the good fortune of my older sister. And more than twenty years ago she reached the same conclusion as the majority of my compatriots: How can one set down roots in a country where so few can bear fruit? I didn’t even try to convince her, I just watched her in a blur of paperwork here, a line waiting for permission there, meanwhile knowing that the moment of parting was near.

Finally, on Friday, her plane took off, taking also my only niece, my brother-in-law, and a little stray dog they could not abandon. My mother cried the day before, “I’m not ready! I’m not ready!” while my father hid the tears of one for whom “a man who is a man doesn’t cry.”

Nothing prepared you for the separation, Mami, for knowing that the ones you love are only ninety miles away but in an abyss of immigration restrictions.

You are right to mourn, Papi, because this distance should not be so definitive, so harrowing, so conclusive.


Image taken from:

It’s been almost two years since I’ve been seen at a hospital. The last time was in that November of beatings and kidnapping when my lower back was in very bad shape. I learned a hard lesson on that occasion: given the choice between the Hippocratic oath and ideological fidelity, many physicians prefer to violate the privacy of their patients–often compared to the secrets of the confessional–rather than to oppose, with the truth, the State that employs them. The examples of this pouring forth on official television in recent months have strengthened my lack of confidence in the Cuban public health system. So I am healing myself with plants that grow on my balcony, I exercise every day to avoid getting sick, and I’ve even bought myself a Vademécum–a Physician’s Desk Reference–should I need to self-prescribe at some point. But despite my “medical revolt,” I haven’t failed to observe and investigate the growing deterioration of this sector.

Among the recent hospital cuts, the most notable have to do with resources for diagnostics. The doctors receive greatly reduced allocations for X-rays, ultrasounds and MRIs which they must distribute among their patients. Anecdotes about fractures that are set without first being X-rayed, or abdominal pains that become complicated because they can’t do a scan, are so common we’re no longer surprised. Such a situation is also vulnerable to patronage, where those who can offer a gift, or surreptitiously pay, obtain better medical care than do others. The cheese given to the nurse and the indispensable hand soap that many offer the dentist noticeably accelerate treatment and complement the undervalued salaries of those medical professionals.

A thermometer is an object long-missing from the shelves of pharmacies operating in local currency, while the hard currency stores have the most modern digital models. Getting a pair of glasses to alleviate near-sightedness can take months through subsidized State channels, or twenty-four hours at Miramar Optical where you pay in convertible pesos. Nor do the bodies who staff the hospitals escape these contrasts: we can consult the most competent neurosurgeon in the entire Caribbean region, but he doesn’t have even an aspirin to give us. These are the chiaroscuros that make us sick, and exhaust patients, their families, and the medical personnel themselves. And that leave us feeling defrauded by a conquest–long brandished before our faces–that has crumbled, and they won’t even let us complain about it.

Join, Silence, Kill

I could barely sleep last night. A book left me tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling grid in my bedroom. “The Man Who Loved Dogs,” the novel by Leonardo Padura, shaken by his sincerity, by the corrosive acid he throws on the evasive Utopia they wanted to impose on us. No one can remain calm after reading of the horrors of a Soviet Union we were made to venerate as children. The intrigues, purges, assassinations, forced exiles, even though read in the third person, would rob anyone of their sleep. And if, on top of this, we watched our parents believe that the Kremlin was the guidebook for the world proletariat, and knew that the president of our country, until recently, kept a photo of Stalin in his own office, then the insomnia becomes more persistent.

Of all the books published on this Island, I dare say that none has been as devastating as this one to the pillars of the system. Perhaps that’s why they only distributed 300 copies at the Havana Book Fair, of which barely 100 reached the hands of the public. It’s hard, at this point, to censor a work that has seen the light of day from a foreign publisher and whose author is still living on his dusty road in Mantilla. Because of the visibility he’s achieved beyond the Island, and because it is nearly impossible to keep subtracting names from the national culture without its becoming sparsely populated, we readers were lucky enough to get to peek at his pages. Trotsky’s assassin is revealed in them as a man trapped by the obedience of the militant, one who believed everything his superiors told him. A story that touches us very closely and not just because our country served as a refuge for Ramón Mercader in the last years of his life.

Padura puts in the mouth of his narrator that his was the generation “of the gullible, of those who romanticized and accepted and justified everything with eyes focused on the future.” Our generation, however, was bitterly touched by the frustration of our parents, seeing how little they’d achieved, those who once went on literacy campaigns, who gave their best years, projecting for their children a society with opportunities for all. No one emerges unscathed by this, there is no social chemistry that holds up before such a stubborn reality. The long night tossing and turning gave me time to think, not only about the garbage swept under a doctrinaire carpet, but also about how many of these methods are still being applied to us and how deeply Stalinism was instilled in our lives.

There are books–I’m warning you–that open our eyes, such that we can never again sleep in peace.