I heard an old joke the other day while I waited at the bus terminal in Havana. It was about the ex-president Fidel Castro Ruz, who returned to the media during the last weeks of July, despite his deteriorated state of health. Such an appearance was subject of much irreverence. However, the official press of the island only pointed out the tragic, yet comical, declarations made by the veteran commander.
In the joke, Fidel comes out of hell and explores the island, where he confirms that nobody remembers him. He also notices that there are no statues, monuments, plazas, or institutions that evoke his name or his work. Finally, he arrives at the National Library and after he searches around for a while he finds an encyclopedia that includes this in the index card: “Fidel Castro Ruz, Cuban dictator who reigned during the era of “Los Van Van.”*
I only hear Fidel Castro’s (and his brother Raul’s) names every once in a while in jokes. Up to now, there are certain comparative relations between taunts and the supporting media of the mandarins, whose figures surpass the popular imagination, especially Fidel, who is bent on giving off the notion that he is healthy and well, while warning about international catastrophes as if he did not live on the island, or as if it were impossible for him to get out of his state of limbo.
Such jokes prove that not even excessive power can free a man from being made fun of. At the bus stop and in the buses, their names are barely ever mentioned. In public areas like parks, waiting rooms, and in long lines outside stores, there are more than enough allusions made to unleash the criticisms, especially among young people, whose irreverence shatters the limits of respect.
Trapped in the time of the Castros, with so much propaganda about heroes, wars, blockades, productive methods, historic anniversaries, and social promises, people who lack agendas express their opinions with jokes and brief phrases that demystify the rhetoric and confirm the hopelessness; as if all the scarcities and tensions of immediacy bring to the forefront the narrow interests and petty passions of official discourse.
The more Fidel Castro tries to confuse or misinform Cubans (like a gas lamp in the middle of a dark cave), the more their indifference grows in regards to his “historical legacy.” The jokes replace the “veneration” that the people show him. For many, he is no longer the Commander, but instead he is the Mummy, the Ghost, the Deceased One, the Prophet of War, the Risen Devil, or the Old Hag.
Raul Casto, who is less historic and less popular cannot avoid the list of retired demons, which includes Ramiro Valdes Menendez, the triad of Jose Ramon (Balaguer, Machado Ventura and the Spaniard Fernandez), Ricardo Alarcon (spokesperson for the heroes), and semi-gods like Abelardo Colome Ibarra (aka Furry), Casas Regueiro, Ulises del Toro (General Marabu), and other uniformed figures who head all sorts of ministries and make up the Political Bureau of the Communist Party.
*Los Van Van — a popular Cuban musical group
Translated by Raul G.
During May, a Spanish friend of mine brought me three books. One was from Xavier Rubert de Ventos about the book of Aung Suu Kyi (leader of the Burmese opposition), and two others were published by Cubanet in 2006; the first was about the essay The Power of the Powerless from the Czech writer and politician Vaclav Havel, and the second was How The Night Came, written by the ex-commander Huber Matos who tells about the Cuban revolutionary process and about the installation of the Castro dictatorship.
They are three different works that differ and converge in regards to the subject of totalitarianism, and which offer some key suggestions on how to confront fear and repression. Since they are books that are banned in Cuba, I will briefly comment about the one least smuggled throughout our island, the one written by Aung Suu Kyi entitled Free from Fear, edited in Barcelona in 1995 by Galaxia Gutenberg.
Aung Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The previous year she had won the elections in Burma, while heading the National Democratic League, but the military prevented her from taking power. Despite the deprivation and confinement she still is under, she analyzes the essential problems of her country. They are general reflections that reach out to readers of various interests, and they do not harm the sensibility of those whose opinions differ.
In Free from Fear, which contains a prologue by Vaclav Havel and Maria Luisa Penela, the leader of the opposition movement of the Asian archipelago describes the corruption in her country, the most intimate of mechanisms used by those who hold on to despotic power, and the need to overcoming fear- that emotion which deforms the soul and bends willpower, gives way to oportunism and other attitudes that favor domination over the masses, which we can relate to here on this end.
She highlights that “Fear turns us into complices of oppression, just like bravery makes us allies of the truth” She then warns that, “In order to reach that truth we should free ourselves from the debilitating virus known as fear, which erodes our reason and conscience, eclipses us, hurts us, and humiliates us.”
The vital experience of the author allows her to appreciate the fact that “Servitude is not only a condition, but also a passion,” a passion previously described by Hegel and Goblot, and later analyzed by Canetti and H. Arendt, according to X.R. Ventos, who assures that Suu Kyi, like Havel, “inverts the logic of distinction between a deprived morale that refers to sentiments or convictions, and a supposed public morality, that should be a secretive, astute, Machiavellian, and full of historic Missions or of Universal Destinies, or Utopian revolutions. This mix of cynicism constitutes the current political “common sense” that Suu Kyi denounces as a variant of fear itself.”
The Burmese fighter is demanding an intimate moral compromise before prudence or political knowledge: “Less ideals and more principals, less ideology and more integrity.”
In closing, we must point out that: “One of the most harmful forms of fear is the one that masquerades as common sense or prudence, and rejects as thoughtless or frivolous small acts of courage that maintain the sense of dignity and respect for oneself. ”
She appeals for a “heroism without illusions” recalling that “saints are sinners who continue on with the struggle.” A struggle… more heroic when conscience holds that its objectives are as unreachable as they are unrenounceable.
Aung Suu Kyi’s book, like the generalizations made by Vaclav Havel in The Power of the Powerless, acquires a value thanks to its universality, its accurate perceptions about totalitarianism, and because it differs from traditional politics and the electoral discourses offered by Justice, Freedom, or Abundance, but without freeing us from the fear that keeps us from reaching those goals.
Translated by Raul G.
A Spanish friend of mine who has come twice to Cuba told me that she read the official press while in the airport, and according to that paper it makes it seem as if, despite all the problems, deficiencies, and tensions she witnessed when she met with a wide range of people, there are no problems in the island.
“It’s as if there was no dirty laundry, or as if there were laws against washing it in public. The newspapers I read did not mention anything about the crisis, the lack of material things, or about all the collapses in Havana. Instead, they all pointed out success stories from the country and all the disasters that have occurred, and are occurring, in the rest of the world, which seems very exaggerated, just like the talk about victories against the enemy. Which enemy are they referring to?”
Upon finding it impossible to avoid the subject, I told my friend that this was all part of the vertical structure imposed by the single Party which carries out orders from a department that monopolizes the control over the media, while saying that they speak the truth, from a headquarters in the capital which lashes out orders from top to bottom. In addition, there are also radio stations that do the same thing.
“But it is the final straw in censorship.”
Yes, the media is gagged in favor of a propaganda plan that emphasizes historic celebrations, political indoctrination of the personnel who write for the media and who are required to be loyal party members and to fabricate a social mirage of an attainable utopia.
“But then it is a planned fraud…”
Yes, but masked by columns of smoke. In other words, they over-value the importance of pre-determined productive results, they present what is theoretically possible as something imminent, and to top it off they shuffle around the desired values as if they were facts…
Machiavellian and authentic, for the information data, like testimonies by heroes and functionaries, outweigh what people actually should hear. And in that manner, everything we lack is attributed to the hostility of the enemy and to the foreign problems that affect our state.
“In a way where public expression in regards to the problem belongs to the discourse from those in power.”
Of course. The rest is done by the auto-censorship practiced by communicators, who praise the success of health, education, and economic sectors, even though these same sectors reflect the crisis of the system and of the style of rule and law practiced by the Maximum Leader for a very long time now.
For decades now, the government has suffered from loss of vision — which can’t be cured — towards the reality that the Cuban people face. In medical terms, this is known as glaucoma, a disease which can end in blindness. The rulers of this nation can be diagnosed with such a sickness.
“But aren’t there worthy reporters?”
Yes, the most worthy or ingenious ones “criticize” from their positions of political militancy, while they lose credibility and join forces with the simulators who comply with orders coming from the apparatus, and they do not defy the higher-ups.
“Can one speak of alternatives?”
The alternative lies in the independent press and in the civic journalism carried out by blogs and Twitterers. They are the ones who write without censorship, they denounce the crimes of the regime, and they debunk myths about the supposed social homogeneity mentioned by the ideologists of an apparatus that perceives sees the country through the dark lens of the government.
Translated by Raul G.
August 1 2010
Last month, Yoani Sanchez, the creator of Generation Y, invited some of her friends to contribute to the diffusion of micro-blogging through the group known as “The First Tweet-up on the Island.” In regards to such a meeting, I asked when and where.
Although I have not followed the chronogram of the next meeting, I bet it will be successful and occur soon because Yoani’s summoning power is supported by more than 50 thousand followers on Twitter and millions of readers of her personal blog. If she was able to establish the Blogger Academy in Cuba, she will also be able to set up this web of interchange between those who use that tool of brief and current messages that travel from an individual to the masses.
According to Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, his invention is not a social network, instead it is a communication platform that has grown, worldwide, from 44.5 million users in December 2009 to 100 million users just this past June.
Some considered Twitter to be a trend used by celebrities – Al Gore, Barack Obama, Ashton Kutcher – and it was abandoned during the first month by 4 out of 10 users, and that is a bet in favor of micro texting, conciseness, and brevity, which adjusts itself to the urgency of the times and to the desire of reading about those lives parallel to ours.
The phrase “What are you doing right now?” is what dominates this technology, but it also serves as a source of social information, civic activism, and also provides a space for denouncing crimes. We must recall that in 2008, a tweet from China reported an earthquake 7 minutes before the media of that country did. One year later, thousands of youths in Iran used Twitter against the electoral fraud that shook up the power of the Ayatollahs. Meanwhile, in Cuba, Yoani Sanchez posted about the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the start of the hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas.
The virtual inhabitants of Twitter respond by what they publish, and the velocity of micro-journalism functions as a network which channels the anxieties of the population, which warns and limits power for those in the press and in the government.
Up till now, it is not possible to know exactly how many Cubans have access to the twittering in cyberspace. We know that many alternative bloggers and also state functionaries use this nanotechnology novelty. We have yet to see if rivers of public and private messages will occur, similar to the situation which occurred with drivers in Mexico City which created a Twitter network to alert drivers about blood alcohol level tests.
Perhaps we have other priorities in Cuba, but if Yoani Sanchez already decided to organize “the first tweet up on the island”, such an organization would not lack members who would create profiles, upload web applications to the computer to transfer messages onto their phones, or to create accounts for people who wish to use the website http://twitter.com/ to reach that new communication platform through messages and projects that would ultimately save free expression.
Translated by Raul G.
Amidst Cuban flags, famous boleros, and white flowers, thousands of exiles and hundreds of Latin Americans bid farewell to Olga Guillot on Monday, July 12th. On Friday Guillot checked in to the Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami, that city where she lived in and occasionally performed ever since the 60’s, although Venezuela and Mexico were her first sanctuaries after leaving Cuba in 1961, while her voice still filled all the radios of the country.
Olga Guillot was dubbed the Queen of the Bolero, the Actress who sang, and the Latin-American Diva, among other titles awarded in her 60 year career, half a century of CDs – 14 of which went gold and 10 platinum- roles in dozens of movies, numerous tours around the world, and her nostalgic declarations about the freedom of her native island, where she achieved success at only 16 after performing on the show called The Supreme Court of Art. She also was part of such vocal groups like the Siboney Quartet, until she debuted as a solo artist in 1945. She achieved her first international hit when she recorded “Mienteme” (‘Lie to Me’), a song by the Mexican Chamaco Dominguez.
Olga Guillot, who was born on Trocha street in Santiago de Cuba on October 9, 1922, took the bolero all over the world and to new levels with her brilliant interpretations of such classics like “Mienteme”, “Tu Me Acostumbraste”, “La Gloria Eres Tu”, “Lagrimas Negras”, “Soy Tuya”, “La Noche de Anoche”, “Palabras Calladas”, and “Eso y Mas“. During her artistic career she shared stages with such names as Rita Montaner, Beny More, Nat King Cole, Sara Montiel, Edith Piaf, Armando Manzanero, and Jose Jose (who always referred to her as his artistic Godmother).
Like Celia Cruz, Cachao, and other legends of popular Cuban music, Guillot did not get to return to the island, a subject which always came up in her success and in her frustrations. Nostalgia marked her human and creative existence, but such artists like Malena Burke, Annia Linares, Vicky Roig, Emilio Estefan, Tito Puente Jr., Meme Solis, and Roberto Lozano, continue evoking her charisma and solidarity through their art.
Despite all the international fame and success achieved by this great artist, her name and her music were both erased from the Cuban music scene. The state censorship was so deep that for three generations of Cubans, the recordings of the Queen of Bolero is limited to nostalgic references made by parents and grandparents.
While in Miami they are saying goodbye with flowers and flags to the first Hispanic artist to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall, in Cuba some of us music lovers are starting to search through our old acetates of Guillot and we ask our relatives in exile to please send us some recording of that one and only Diva, similar to Rita Montaner, Beny More, and Celia Cruz.
The death of the female voice behind the bolero could serve as an excuse to retrieve the musical and human legacy of Olguita Guillot and pay tribute to her on the other shore of this island divided by foreign passions of national art and culture.
Translated by Raul G.
Upon mentioning the death of the Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) published, on Saturday June 19, fragments of the interview carried out by Saramago with Rosa Miriam Elizalde (2003) when the writer ignored the repressive Castro wave against the peaceful opposition within the island.
The excerpt concludes with the advice of the novelist for the parties of the left, at the request of the interviewer, who asked to be referred to with terms such as Human Rights, the Left, and Freedom.
“I’d tell the left-wing parties that everything that could be proposed for the people is contained in a bourgeois document known as The Declaration of Human Rights, approved in 1948 in New York. Don’t get tangled up with any other programs. Everything is written there. Do it. Abide by it”.
At the edge of the honesty of Saramago and of the current journalistic impunity of the interviewer, the suggestion of the old narrator remained. In Cuba, however, the government continues violating the most elemental rights of the people, and considers members of the peaceful opposition as agents of the enemy, which justifies persecution and political apartheid.
The author of Up from the Ground, The Stone Raft, and Blindness, considered himself a “libertarian communist” and believed in the ideals of the left, whose tenacious propaganda steals the dreams and hopes of humans, which enslaves people in the name of freedom. If Saramago would have lived under the dictatorship of the proletariat, perhaps then he would have understood the horrors of a socialist utopia, far from promoting and applying civic liberties.
Saramago, like many other left-wing intellectuals clinging to the umbilical cord of the Cuban dictatorship, did not understand that the ends touch. If the Castro regime survived the collapse of the Soviet Union it was, precisely, because it eliminated freedom of expression, press, and association, in addition to penalizing any contrary opinions, abolishing rights to property, and creating a state system that controlled and subordinated the individual.
Since the rulers of Cuba are more leftist than Jose Saramago, until now it has not even occurred to them to heed the suggestions of the Nobel prize winner in Literature. If they, by chance, ever read the articles of the Declaration of Human Rights, they’d have the alternative of tossing it to one side and damning the writer. Taking them into account is equivalent to renouncing power and changing the social model to one that is less revolutionary and more in accordance with human nature.
Either way, the suggestion is worth it. How do you create a better world if you don’t respect the achievements reached and pre-established by society?
Translated by Raul G.
On Wednesday, July 7, while the guests over at the President Hotel in Vedado enjoyed the soccer game between Germany and Spain on the lobby’s screen, I struggled with the internet on one of the computers located in front of the bar. In a matter of an hour I only managed to check my e-mail and respond to three messages, into one of which I simply copied and pasted a piece of writing I had stored on my Flash Memory stick.
Since I couldn’t attach documents nor view the images sent to me, I called for the specialist of the hotel — young mulata of very few words — who told me that the newly installed program made it difficult to attach, which meant that instead of losing more time and money, the user should instead just open their flash drive and copy and paste on Word what he/she would send, and then just copy it on to the message.
Before these new obstacles I decided to search for other alternatives, although I know that the “Avila Link” installed on various Havana hotels is a malicious program, conceived with the purpose of acting like an agent of the political police, as it forbids the uploading of web sites from The Exile which are censored by the government.
Perhaps that is the reason I cannot access my blog from the hotels in the capital. Which also explains why I can’t even see Generation Y, Octavo Cerco, Penultimos Dias, or any other blogs written from within or out of the island. Such installations present risks for tourists and Cubans as they run the risks of possibly having their writings monitored, their passwords recorded, and the use of certain software prohibited. Even worse — the danger of spam that damages the efforts of so many alternative bloggers and communicators.
We know that running risks is a constant, but it is such madness having to confront these malware products which try to control your servers and install secret programs that record your messages. Hotels are properties of the State, but the people are neither basic pieces of media nor dogs with muzzles.
If the owners have the right to protect their properties and secrets, we citizens deserve respect for our public images and what we wish to publish. Adding on to the cost of establishing a connection, we must also point out all the cyber-vigilance we face, all the “gifts” brought to us by spam, and all the combing of our passwords and personal matters. I think it would be better if they denied us internet altogether in hotels and cyber-cafes, or that they would just abolish all the absurd limitations and authorize connections from home, as is seen in more than half of the world.
That same day Yudeisi, a girl who was not able to chat with her boyfriend in Spain, told me that he had actually bought her a Chinese computer on Paseo and Malecon, and “since he is an expert in computing,” he checked the system inside and out, for “they say that Cuban officials ordered their Asian counterparts to install the filter software known as Green Dam Youth Scort on all computers sold here.”
I barely know any of these new technologies, but my experiences in hotels and cyber-cafes lead me to suspect that information media censors and supervisors still insist on controlling those who search for, and share, information from within Cuba.
Translated by Raul G.