Monthly Archives: December 2011

Cuba: A Country Being Auctioned

Emilio's Daughter (1974), by Servando Cabrera Moreno, one of the works being auctioned off by the Cuban government.

These days the Cuban nation should be crying and writhing in its own betrayal. It gives the sensation of a country winding down, that sells quickly, like someone trying to extract every possible benefit before leaving.

For years it has been auctioning off its cultural heritage on the Internet. Works by leading artists who are not even alive to replace them. Creations that would be difficult to return to our country. This year important works by Servando Cabrera Moreno have been auctioned off for more than 600,000 dollars: A 1957 painting, “Figure with Bird,” “Cocoon” (1945), “Emilio’s Daughter” (1974), and “Kisses” (1966). Also “Last Journey” (1979) by Wilfredo Lam. Among the 44 artists were Tomás Sánchez, Mario Carreño, René Portocarrero, Amelia Peláez and Raúl Martínez. In recent years we have lost an important part of the pictorial wealth of the nation.

In other countries, when private collectors decide to sell, government regulations to preserve the cultural heritage, which is untouchable, establish that the State has priority over cases of interest. Owners have to accept three propositions. They can keep the work but not sell it. They do not have the right to take it out of the country. Also, if they keep a work considered to be part of the nation’s heritage in their house, an annual tax must be paid to the State. This seems a laudable idea to me. I believe that the place for the best paintings of every nation is in its museums, so that they can be admired by both nationals and visiting foreigners.

Theft and demagoguery

Yet lately we hear denunciations from Cuban government spokespeople lamenting the “thefts in the museums by the Allied troops when they entered Iraq.” Also, the world still mourns for the cultural works destroyed and sacked by the Nazi hordes in the invaded countries, a great part of which remain hidden.

But in Cuba it’s like we don’t have the ability to look at ourselves. Education was required for the sake of protecting the supposed Revolution of 1959, and that was no more than a way of allowing Fidel Castro to commit his outrages without being criticized. I realize that to try to do so would have been a grievous mistake. Confronting him would have immediately led to a fierce punishment. Trying to criticize, even constructively and for “revolutionary” honesty, is seen as suicide.

Few of that generation, none of those who today live in the country and participate in the official social life, confronted the designs of Tsar Fidel Castro, and in cowardice they remained silent so they would not be considered eligible for punishment. They preferred to be slaves, silent accomplices, incapable of dissent. They considered this appropriate for survival, and they forgot their place before their own consciences and before history, which will remember them as they were and still are today.

And they tried to transmit that education to the three generations that followed them. And because we don’t accept it they brand us as traitors, saying that we are complicit with an enemy we don’t even know, one that hasn’t tried to “buy us,” “capture us,” or whatever other accusations the spokespeople make on that insufferable Round Table TV show. They don’t still believe in the consciousness of Marti. Later, in personal conversations, they acknowledge that there are problems with the system, and on occasion they even discover a certain admiration for the opposing positions that their fears, in moments of rebellion, don’t let them develop.

Beneficial Intellectuals

So what can remain of a cultural milieu whose Cuban Book Institute sent a group of intellectuals to a Book Fair in Mexico without guaranteeing them economic support? Especially since they were sent to represent Cuba, to obey the orders of the officials who sent them,   and to attack whomever opposed the State. They looked like a “delegation of famine,” and as official writers they were willing to wave the little flags so they could continue being considered “trustworthy” by the regime and keep receiving handouts as mercenaries.

Outside Cuba I have attended the National Literature Awards, to beg from the organizers of international events, with the excuse that “Cuba is poor,” so they will assume that its people are as well, and they bury their pride and decorum. The “Revolution” asked so many to sacrifice; there were times when it made them grovel to ask for pardon for words or actions committed, and the politicians were not grateful and made them lose their shame. I would have to quote the Indian Hatuey, “If that is the revolution, then I’d rather not be a revolutionary.”

Intellectuals, despite not sharing political views, are immeasurably respected for their creative and spiritual work and, in many cases, for their social mission. But they assume an attitude of silence, despite having their souls wounded by seeing how the cultural riches of a nation are lost. The Historian of Old Havana himself, Eusebio Leal, who has returned to the historic center the pride and respect it deserves, is silent before the government’s robbery. The great poet, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Director of the House of the Americas, also remains silent before the depredation, and will leave this life with the blood on his soul of the young men shot for trying to escape in a boat. The President of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), the ethnologist and writer Miguel Barnet, also is silent, as he has always known how to be. They, among many who are respectable voices, should join together to defend the cultural treasures of the nation.

What shall we do with the yacht Granma? Sink it into the sea?

Why doesn’t the Government of Cuba sell the yacht Granma? I know some who would buy it, to destroy it or worship it – the fate of that barge would be their choice. Why not sell all the possessions of the Argentine Ché Guevara? He has many fans in the world who would buy his weapons and uniforms with economic generosity. Let them strip those heroic museums throughout the island, filled with their materials of war. They could be auctioned off! But the egoism of the regime and their lack of respect for the culture has been constant. They get rid of art because they underestimate it. It bothers them because it doesn’t reflect their epic or because its authors are homosexual. They see it only as a source of wealth, and before the economic crisis they prefer to lose the nation’s heritage rather than the symbols that support their ideology, its great farce and fraud. And all this happens before the cowardly silence of the voices called to guard this heritage.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats.

Translated by Anonymous and Regina Anavy

December 22 2011

Leaders Die in the Land of Good and Evil

Two political leaders have died only a few hours apart. But aside from the timing, they were also incompatible in their ways of seeing life, acting and delivering for their people. One represented Justice on earth and the other personified evil. The first, Václav Havel, was a born fighter, an intellectual and politician by nature, one of those who did not wait for more suffering to oppose one of the most ferocious dictatorships of mankind. For this he was persecuted, humiliated, put into prison and tortured. At the end he died from the after-effects caused by his daring to face a dictatorship that suffocated its people. But at least his people knew how to reward him, and today they mourn him, because he gave them the gift of a free and prosperous country. He was President for the time he needed; he served his term and then watched as his country took off and developed.

The other death, of the dictator Kim Jong Il, we can’t call “human loss,” because for that we would have to have feelings that justify that category. He was no more than a tyrant, the most perverse and egomaniacal that ever lived. After his death, he left behind only the suffering that all of his kind guarantee: punishment, famine and death.

Václav Havel was not content to see his country sovereign, but also fought for the freedom of other nations such as Cuba. In his personal geography the Cuban archipelago occupied a central place. His interest in the Cuban reality and conditions for the Cubans was constant, and from the seat of his country in Havana, we felt the support of his Government for free thought, individual rights and national independence. In us he saw himself in the years of dictatorship, in the current totalitarian state that we suffer. He felt at one with us Cubans.

Kim Jong Il did not stand out in life other than having been the prince of this new type of dynasty shared by North Korea and Cuba, the family legacy. His father, the dictator and mythomaniacal Kim Il Sun, guaranteed the delivery of power to him, which his grandson also received, then is great-grandson. No matter that his country lacks food and freedom; the only requisite is that which coincides with the rest of his autocrat lineage: to maintain power. And before the general disgust of the civilized world, the Cuban government decrees national mourning for the vile tyrant.

At some point, maybe very soon, we will erect the monument that Václav Havel deserves. We will lay flowers there for the rest of our lives, one generation after another. While in North Korea, they would tear down the statues of the Il family, given the opportunity.

We Cubans hope the Korean people will soon get their freedom, like we also want, and we wish them happiness. We offer the Czech people our sincere condolences, and we mourn their leader, a friend who understood and accompanied us at all times. And we will mourn him for more than 72 hours.  We will mourn for eternity.

Farewell, President Václav Havel.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translated by Regina Anavy

December 24 2011

A Little Report about Governmental Fraud

The last thing able to survive from our Cuban heritage is housing, owing to the totalitarian will of Fidel Castro, who dictated for more than 50 years that everything was his property and only he would decide what was whose and when it stopped being so. Fortunately or unfortunately, the family home was the only thing that couldn’t be sacrificed to survive the debacle that has lasted over 50 years. Soon that ban on the sale of real estate will be a memory.

In the 1980s, the Cuban people were robbed of jewelry inherited from their ancestors; the elderly, to satisfy their children and grandchildren and alleviate their extreme poverty, handed over their goods in exchange for a few “chavitos” [Cuban convertible pesos], which had value only in hard-currency stores, where the prices of the items were laughable. And everything worked like a robbery because there were no other stores where they could get these products, which were nothing special, other than the opportunity to acquire them.

Having dollars in those days could send you to prison for many years. People were confronted with the perfected gears of a governmental blackmail, which left some in bad shape, those who refused to sacrifice the memory of their ancestors for their family. In the end, the old women who gave up their engagement rings, relics that they exhibited on their hands as a window into profound feelings, did it with a mixture of pain and satisfaction, to please their families. They were left with the perception that they were duped like the Indians at the arrival of the Spanish, when they traded gold nuggets for stained glass.

The State also bought their porcelain vases, silver and gold, paintings that their ancestors hung on the walls to admire, design furniture, wealth that went into the coffers of politicians or their families and that now rest in safe deposit boxes in foreign banks. If I may say, it reminds me of the Jewish Holocaust, where they even removed gold teeth by force.

Our people are like the sugar cane: squeezed.

Cuban society has been sacked spiritually and materially, like the cane, which is repeatedly passed through the mill, where it loses consistency, becoming bagasse and powder. What’s painful is that everything happens in total silence, under the auspices and complicity of Cuban officials and intellectuals, who don’t comment because of the fear that always accompanies them in their artistic souls. They remained silent before the grand theft that exchanged jewelry for bread. For once they didn’t fulfill the role, so vaunted, that makes intellectuals the voice of society, its defender, its living memory. Instead, they preferred to turn their backs on the people, and history will recognize this in its righteous assessment.

But circumstances have changed so much for the ruling elite, that it has no choice but to revise its extreme methods and wave the flag, always for the sake of its benefit, ignoring the repeated and lengthy speeches that claimed that “private property will never return to Cuba.” Have you ever wondered how much pain it must cause Fidel Castro to see how the whole house of cards he forced us to visualize is crumbling? He wanted us to believe it as if it were true and palpable. What must be happening and what plans do they have for beginning to return some small freedoms that they took away before and that makes them feel they are losing their valued power? Surely it’s the same feeling of helplessness  the masters felt when they were forced to free their slaves. For let’s not deceive ourselves, no measure of this Government will ever improve things for the people, not even to restore the freedoms and rights that correspond to being human.

The right to be born….in the wrong place?

Now the government has approved the sale of houses, something that had already been announced. But it’s also been more than a year, as “by chance” they began in Cuba, after 50 years of stagnation, to update the property registrations. Everything has been done with the utmost urgency. It has been a so-called mandate for the state enterprises, with the inescapable management of citizens for any procedure involving their homes. In each municipality offices were opened to enter into the books the names of the current owners, with extreme urgency and pressure. They know that time is running out. The locals have handed over premises for these offices, given training courses, printed flyers that have been corrected, and delivered computers, files and office supplies. Visits by the Provincial Director of Justice and political officials are constant. They also are pressured with other requests. They have to answer for how much the total climbs when they get an entry on the books. The first person who began this task, as part of his duties as Prime Minister (Mayor of Havana), Juan Contino Aslan (may his small power rest in peace), was dismissed and now is on the “pajama plan,” (like his predecessors and political mentors, who allotted houses to their mistresses).

The Government of Cuba never makes a move that will not bring it compensation. But in this case, all the trappings lead us to the true intent, which is to take back the properties belonging to the old owners, who have left the country or died in Cuba.

The goal is to erase the past. When the State gets in its possession all the old properties, it will make them disappear and, with the registration, only the updated properties will remain. No property owner whose property was “nationalized” beginning in 1959, nor their heirs, will be able to reclaim something that doesn’t exist and that they can’t prove officially.

Perhaps some have conveyed their properties from exile, but they were the minority. And you might think it’s a commendable gesture of the Castros to assure Cubans that they will not be thrown into the street when the inevitable political change appears, but that would be naive. The real reason is that the power elite is trying to hide the family estates that were seized or inventoried after the departure of their original owners. Inside the great mountain of paper that contains the entries, the personal properties will be lost. By the way, this will reassure the generals and acolytes that they will not lose the confiscated property given to them when they came to power.

The country is bleeding 

The Cubans, in this carnival of small, unknown freedoms, in their desperation to change their reality, in the desire to fulfill some dreams, especially that of emigrating, now can sell their homes. Those who wish to stay on the island immediately think about how that money will solve all their pressing needs: eating, dressing and sleeping without the torture of not knowing what you will eat the next day. The government is already warning that it is “not responsible for the bad decisions of owners who spend the money and end up in homes in poor condition that may fall down, or for those who are wandering around without a roof over their heads.”

Once again, we wonder what function this supposed revolution had, which presumably was made to guarantee people a secure life with equal rights. What do we gain from suffering a dictatorship for more than 50 years, if at the end we find ourselves selling the only things we posses, the only things we could keep? And what’s worse, it’s a “socialist” state that has nothing to do with its people, who were its only standard and justification in this long march of agony.

 The Comandante‘s bag

As a child, we thought the “coconut” would come for us, for our body; it would come to take us away for not eating all our sweet potatoes, or for not going to bed on time. After growing up we knew that the man with the bag, the bogeyman, had passed through our lives, and he took in his bundle more than wealth and family belongings. He took the lives and dreams of my grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, those relatives who still grasp me with their nails and their teeth so they won’t be snatched, and already he controls my children and now, if we permit him, our grandchildren.

The Cuban State, for more than half a century, has held up the monster of “capitalism,” which it constantly criticized, to children who were frightened that the “coconut” would come, and by studying so thoroughly the original, it now has become the reflection and has converted itself into the image of “the bogeyman who is coming to take us away,” in order to frighten us with capitalism as communist propaganda.

We Cubans have been scammed. The socialist State is slowly giving way to ideas with which they can perpetuate the dictatorship, a frank regression to capitalism. With the difference that now it will be more vulnerable, because there is no knowledge of either family or social infrastructure, which is necessary to meet and sustain a dignified life.

The big difference is in who wins at the considerable sacrifice of millions of Cubans in this more than half a century. The Castro family lives in luxurious mansions They own several cars and yachts. They travel constantly and have prosperous businesses, fortunes and properties in other countries. They definitely enjoy an income that allows them to live like millionaires.

The beginning of the 21st century has begun to be their end. They sense that they are running out of time. The only thing I don’t know is how and what they will develop for the family to maintain its status and wealth, and to ensure, of course, that it will not be returned later to the Cuban people.

While they prolong the strategies for usurious benefits for the Castro family, the Cuban peoples’ dreams of freedom and a prosperous economy are put off and continue being deferred.

Ángel Santiesteban Prats

Translated by Regina Anavy

November 16 2011

Art Versus Political Speeches and Promises

A few weeks ago I wrote a response about a naive comment on my blog that they signed under the name “Lori” where the following was recommended:

“It is my desire to improve myself, read books by writers who have had to leave my country. Read the bloggers of Vocesdecuba.com, come to Cuba and take the bus, walk the streets. Leave the tour guide and talk to people on my own, those who don’t give a learned speech that protects them from being persecuted. I wouldn’t stay in the hotel pool, but would walk along the malecón and learn about the Cuban reality. I wouldn’t waste my time with the shows at the hotel. I would go to the theater, to see the dilemmas facing today’s society. I wouldn’t buy only traditional music, which they recommend, but also the music that is not promoted, and whose songs are passed, thanks to Bluetooth, from cell phone to cell phone.”

This afternoon I remembered the many “Loris” who hide behind a nickname, either by ingenuity, opportunism or because they are actually cybernetic soldiers in the service of the Cuban state. I invoked them while attending the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Centre for the performance at the Vital-Theatre, of Four Less, by the playwright Amado del Pino, which won the Carlos Arniches International Award (2008) in Spain.

When the Director-General Alejandro Palomino said to light up the stage, on opposite sides appeared two small and humble rooms. In the center, a park bench, the kind that are scattered throughout the island and where Cubans still go to give flight, incredibly and with that stubborn calling, to their dreams and hopes for a dignified life.

The work, intense from the start, which builds to a crescendo from which the story breathes and takes shape, and, well, without being trite, could be called empty-nest syndrome, proposes a journey through a family’s destinies. Generations that harbor different and conflicting illusions. Andrés, the typical old father, a destroyed leader, expelled from the Communist Party, the usual stubborn and honest character that nevertheless needs to continue clinging to utopias, to promises that fade like clouds, who persists in his blindness to the present time and the changes that are imposed for a society lacking the most objective necessities, although he survives in a miserable reality, where fear, opportunism, spite and the abuse of sexual rights converge in an environment that doesn’t help heal the wounds.

Tamara: And that is your job? Do those who run things love you? Look, the worst is that there is no room even for a guy as romantic as you, who holds on to being revolutionary. (spoken with emphasis) Re-vo-lu-cio-nary, not to repeat the same litany…

Ania is Andrés’ daughter, who as a minor requires his signature to emigrate and definitively leave behind their home, and a country that is falling apart without mitigating the imposed conditions of extremism, which her generation doesn’t accept or understand or consider relevant. The mother, the ex-wife, begs him not to agree, that he not allow her to go.

Ania: I can’t take any more speeches, papá.

Tamara: … and at this rate we will have asylum in America!

Pollo: I had a professor who said you have to give up the past for the young. Not out of kindness but because if you only go half-way, they will knock you over and and go by on top of you.

Tamara: This is the only country where people don’t retire, where ministers are 70 years old. If there is no retirement, everything gets confused and you reach your forties receiving treatment as if you had  young promise, with tender certainty of tomorrow.

Andrés:We have become a marriage agency. Here the “uncoupled” Europeans meet partners who are healthy, educated, enthusiastic and even passionate. An entire nuptial prostitution!

In addition, Andrés has a son from a previous marriage, Saul, and because he did not give him legal authorization to leave the country, he separated Saul from his mother, who decided to give custody to the grandmother, so Andrés has a guilty conscience.

Saul: I never knew if you refused to sign to protect me or so you would not have your own problems, and that doubt was certainly the worst part of all.

Andrés: Now would be the time to answer you but I have no answer. Nor do I know; I was mixed up by convictions, by fear ….

Saul: Don’t go looking for answers, papá. They’re not needed. I want to learn to live without asking so much.

As if that were not enough conflict, Tamara, Andrés’ current wife, 15 years younger than he, is expecting her first child and has received a job offer abroad with the possibility of his accompanying them and which he refuses to consider, because leaving is treason, and also because he feels ashamed about his son Saul, who he separated from his mother and who, after all, has had the chance to emigrate, because he works on a cruise, but always returns.

Tamara: What can you offer your next child?  Maybe you’re denying him the possibility of a better life!

All the pros and cons of life as seen from different angles and options, accompanied by the characteristic humor that Amado del Pino places in his works, and that makes us feel like we’re there listening, a mental game of sympathy that infects us with brief sparks of cubanía.

Pollo is a gay friend and work colleague of Andrés. He has refused to join the Communist Party, because it’s the same people who berated him for his courage and honesty in living openly with his partner.

Pollo: It’s fashionable now to save us, to claim us, to enfold us, but neither am I going to ride – as old as I am – in that “triumphal” car. The boss called me on Monday to tell me that they offered me membership in the Party, now. If that means being in the vanguard, they should have given it to me a long time ago.

Andrés is discussing his doctoral thesis, which has been rejected because it was a study showing the low birth rate in the country, considering that young people emigrate at the time when they would normally be having children, and which would have given him his degree.

Tamara: Condemning those who leave or go away is shitty. Some do more damage by staying. My uncle watches the Round Table every afternoon and believes 100 percent of what they say on TV, but he dresses, eats and fixes up his home with what my cousins, who left, send him. I know he’s not rude, he still believes his ideas are true, but it seems to him that it’s too much to continue loving them, to pick up the phone and accept that they aren’t traitors. And that we are in the 21st century, because he buried his younger sister alive when she left for Puerto Rico.

Andrés: I suffer with the defects of this Revolution precisely because it’s mine.

Tamara: That’s the worst part of your thesis.

Andrés: If the young people leave, who are we going to work with? Who are we going to convince?

There’s a moment of greater anguish when Andrés accompanies his daughter to the airport, and she sings a verse of Fragancia. Then the sound of the plane taking off until a light goes out and leaves the stage dark.

The public swallows its suppressed tears because most of us suffer a similar separation.

Next comes a light that reappears like the birth of dawn.

Andrés: Fuck whoever invented the airplane – an agonized sentence because he can still hear the rumble of the engines.

Final theme song: “Thinking, thinking, tell Fragrance that I love her, that I cannot forget her, that she lives in my soul, go and tell her… tell her that I think about her, although she doesn’t think about me.”

Sometimes we doubt if life is different from theater, novels, conflicts that we writers invent and cast to the streets like a virus which then mutates and adapts to the environment to achieve greater damage. How do we measure the influence of our Art on the times, in the actual context of social life? And to what extent can we warn the next generations so they won’t be deceived like us?

I congratulate the playwright Amado del Pino for helping to disseminate with his art the hardships of the Cuban people, which are the same. A reality so alive and Cuban these days, like the royal palms. A denunciation of the social conflicts in today’s Cuba with respect to human feeling, regardless of their place of origin, language and geographic latitude. A perfect canvas that spreads, like rays of light to dark and unknown corners, with the technical and precise colors of Art in its fullness.

I counted the seats that were occupied and came up with 484, and because there were no more, they used the stairs and some chairs around the edge of the stage. Outside there were, like there have been for several weeks, two times that number of spectators who welcomed the news that the run would be extended until October 23.

I wish the Cuban communities scattered throughout the world could enjoy this work, inviting the group Vital-Theatre to book fairs and theater festivals, or by having it put on by artists in other cities. How is not important. The urgent need is to spread the work to get a greater understanding by other spectators about a national reality that has condemned us for over 50 years.

And paraphrasing a text of the play, I would like to remember that 50 years is two times 25. It is five times 10. That means 10 multiples of five. Fifty percent of a century. The full life of a man. A time and space where three or four generations converge, and that the most advanced has not been able to improve the fate of the last, in which coincide the fears and cause hair to fall out and wrinkles and furrows to appear on faces worn out by tears at seeing the departure of our children, siblings and friends. Several descendants who face the same abyss. They lose their teeth and their illusions. We have always been “four less,” up to a hundred less, thousands and millions less who walk scattered around the planet and whose spaces await them on this island of all.

Now it’s time to return. To retake the reins of a runaway country. To be able to spread hope in a land that doesn’t know that crop, so that eventually it serves as gratitude to all those who, in the past 200 years, have given their life for the Cuban nationality, free and authentic. This we owe to them who knew how to die for us, without having earned on our own a minute of that bitter agony.

Let them live in glory!

Translated by Regina Anavy

October 11 2011

Production Line for Cuban Robots

Cuban Television puts forth, in its horrible primetime schedule, another program of manipulated news coming from Telesur, with a Venezuelan ideologue-manipulator-agent-“journalist,” Walter Martinez, who has forgotten ethics and the first rule for a reporter: to report news without adding his personal opinion, which in all cases is linked to an ideology that he represents and that pays him, and therefore has a particular interest (like a pirate without a hook he appears every night on Cuban screens sniffing the rear ends of Chávez and Castro).

I would have to ask how much is the monetary gain in this matter, and the advertising benefit received by the president of his country, to lend his face and impudence to defend a socialism that, be it either from the 20th or the 21st century, is the same scam. Like a virus, it ruins the economy of our nations, and if Venezuelans want to be sure, go for a ride around the island, but not by those hospital-hotels that make it easier for their treatments, which I have nothing against, let alone healing a human being from any country, but the mass-media function for which they later are used. Let them go out on the streets, visit homes, hospitals almost in ruins, without doctors, medicine or surgical tools, etc.

To make matters worse for the Cuban people, in trying to educate us across generations like automatons, remember that there are dozens of programs that daily accommodate the official news chosen for political censorship, with the exact narration for all media information, and which are repeated as a torture for the rest of our existence. With two hours a day, deploying the best technology and the highest production costs, the inadvertent Roundtable show, which goes about building a militarized anti-logic, attacking everything that smacks of capitalism, its star attraction being the United States, then the right-wing presidents. Before it was Aznar, now Sarkozy and Berlusconi, among so many, while defending the Latin American Presidents who have allied themselves with Chávez.

To this we must add the three newscasts, the kings of media disinformation, who also go about justifying the international disasters of their ideological peers. The ineptitude and excesses of the abysmal administration of the Castro brothers of the weak national economy for half a century. The constant radio news. The famous Radio Reloj, which from minute to minute puts out the most incredible and unjustifiably manipulated news. The written press: read six pages of one and you’ve read all the rest. The daily Rebel Youth, which is no more than the journal of the oldies in rebellion who are in power. The publication of Workers, which is nothing other than the voice of betrayal of the Cuban working class in the service of the tyrannical masters.

Throw in the printed organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (the only party), the mother of all news, which picks and chooses what the people of Cuba should know. The magazine Bohemia, that not in the worst moments of past dictatorships was submissive or official. The provincial papers governed and monitored by the regional Communist parties. The digital news bulletins, also like parrots, copying what is accepted at the request of political superiors.

It’s as if they put speakers in our ears and shouted at us again and again what we should think, memorize and perform, and, as an exercise in boredom, start counting from 1 to 53, the years of dictatorship, to corroborate the emptiness that lights up that space. And last but not least, this Mr. Official Walter Martínez appears, and with each image, chosen also for its censorship, he gives us pre-processed news, underestimating the intelligence of viewers, and all this does is guarantee that we have the worst news program, not even the “Democratic” Republic of North Korea’s are worse.

There is a reporter who is not silent for a minute, with a know-it-all air of God Almighty, who will hang posters, use nicknames, with the constant irony of always rowing toward the benefit of Chavez’ and Castro’s shore. In the past he would come to Cuba to record an interview with Fidel Castro, which was nothing more than an ode to the old Comandante, a chorus of criticism of his political enemies, a suck-up to the great leader. The only thing this man has achieved, is that in Cuba we have silent movies again. The viewers, with the volume at the minimum, guarantee the elimination of the interruption of his submissive voice so they can enjoy the images that the Cuban government censors of the national news. What he doesn’t know, or perhaps does and doesn’t mind, is that his program is also reviewed and edited before being aired, so that after censorship, there is another more refined Cuba where he at times appears to be too much of a “journalist “and becomes a spokesperson at the service of the enemy. Not even he, an official voice for both countries, has emerged unscathed from the arrogant and extremist ideology of Fidel.

And as usual, the mouthpiece Walter Martinez, when he comes to the end of his journalistic farce, says “You may turn off the camera, Mr. Director,” and he removes himself. The camera, before going dark, takes in his image, and with the gallantry of the frustrated official he wished he had been, he walks down the aisle to get closer to the screen as a symbol of the nightmare and the danger it represents, and then with greater impudence and cynicism makes a military salute to the camera that reaffirms what we already know, which is that he is at the service of the military in Venezuela and Cuba.

One day, I’m sure very soon, Mr. Walter, you will lose the benefits with which you have been bought and hopefully won’t find yourself on the roster that hands out paychecks for spies.

Translated by Regina Anavy

November 23 2011

Marabana Marathon: Tribute to Laura Pollan

Angel at the marathon.

Freedom costs dearly,
and it is necessary either to resign yourself to live without it,
or to decide to pay the price.
José Martí

I have always enjoyed running. It is the supreme moment where literary creation, personal desires and political struggle come together (yes, I definitely have to include this when I talk about  personal opinions and the right to self determination). That space where the organism renews its cells, expels fat, where blood flows quickly and removes the residue of cholesterol and triglycerides: I would call it time spent in the office, where work problems are solved and future plans are made. When I practiced at the Martí, the sports field at G and Malecón, when I passed the curve across the street from the Casa de las Americas, I imagined how I would feel on the night of my possible award. I wanted to have an irreverent attitude, and the other three quarters of the track, I continued to prepare the plot of some creation in which I would be immersed.

On the day I won the award, the full staff of cultural officers were assembled on the stage, and I climbed up with my children holding each hand. I was pleased to pass in front of them and leave with an outstretched hand. Everything happened before two thousand people who watched carefully. I remember only approaching a university professor of history who was on the jury and embracing him with admiration. The funny thing is that I remember with more pleasure and clarity the moment when I planned all that running by the curve of the track than I do the night of the award.

Now, when I was ready again to run the 21 km marathon, I felt that I should not do it just for the pleasure that athletics brings. That personal need to exercise should go beyond me, reach other collective purposes (Freedom is not pleasure itself, it should extend to others. José Martí). I needed to defend a national cause. I wanted to run with a sweatshirt that would say so many things. I thought of writing the vocescubanas.com address, GeneraciónY.com, to remember the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata, the Black Spring, something allegorical to the Ladies in White, just to say FREEDOM, to defend the bloggers who proclaim the free right of all Cubans to the Internet, that would criticize censorship, the power of bringing together what each considers most appropriate, necessary and just. Also to remember the stampede of Cuban intellectuals who now live scattered around the world, and the millions of Cubans who have fled the misery, the sacrifice in vain and the bad politics of the Castro family. In particular the 11 rafters of my neighborhood who recently drowned trying to reach Florida. I would like to say so many things. I realized that one T-shirt would not be enough for everything I needed to denounce.

And I called Yoani Sánchez and we agreed to meet at her home. When I explained my wish she didn’t answer. Only after listening to me, she got up to go to her room; when she came back she had a Laura Pollan T-shirt in her hands. Then I realized that this image contained everything it was necessary to scream, demand, display.

I hugged her and Reinaldo and we agreed that on Sunday beginning at 7 am, she would be watching closely to see what would happen to me.

On Sunday I could hardly sleep. Anxiety, as every year happens on the night of the Marabana marathon, tortured me, but this time it was different. I felt a greater responsibility, especially since I barely had time to prepare for the competition. At 5 a.m. I was exercising my muscles. I went to pick up friends, brother Masons that would be watching me at several points along the circuit.

I kept the card with my number on top of Laura’s photo almost until the start. I didn’t want to run the risk that in the midst of the crowd they would drag me away to stop me. Two minutes before the starting signal, I took off the card displaying the number and the photo of Laura Pollan shone like the sun it is. Several young men from military schools immediately realized my intention and spread the word, but now it was too late. With the announcement of the start of the competition, they lost the chance to spoil my plan. And an exciting run began, with convulsive movements, a wave that gained momentum and announced the danger from those pushing behind who wanted to start running, a moment when you can fall down and be trampled in a stampede similar to one by wild horses.

At first you have to be careful not to step on the person in front, or get kicked by those struggling behind. Don’t get carried off by others who pass you, because a bad strategy could put you out of the competition. Keep up the pace; breathing is vital. The professionals are always out front, members of national teams, sports schools, and some badly-placed innocents, who usually end up lying on the edge of the street with scrapes on their knees, elbows and faces from the pushing. It starts at the Capitolio, then down along the Prado, where children are perched on top of the lions.

Two miles later and everyone has their own space. The entrance to the Malecón is the best gift. The vast open sea, dangerous, and I can’t forget the 11 Cubans from Luyano who took to the sea a month ago and disappeared.

An organizer of the event notices Laura’s photo on my chest. Fifteen minutes later, a little white bus with open doors and two men hanging out slowly approaches. When they find me they alert the driver to keep pace with me. I’m afraid they will pull me inside the minibus, and I decide to get near the edge of the Malecón wall and thus prevent them from approaching. Understanding my strategy, they leave. Half an hour later they come back on the same minibus but with a digital camera, and they spend 15 minutes taking my picture with the photo of Laura on my chest. They turn back.

I also saw that to the right they were handing out water and soda, and that several men were suspiciously grouped together, so the possibility existed that they would take me. Then I started running in an S-shape to outrun the minibus and the water delivery points. Yoani Sanchez called me to ask about my state of mind and my safety. So far so good, I answered. “I don’t think they’ll bother you,” she said. “Go on, boy, have strength for the goal. I am here for you. You know, the support is amazing, I saw a picture of you on the Internet, and the number you have on your chest happens to be the year of birth of Laura Pollan (13-2-1948). Good luck.” I did not know what to say. It seemed incredible that her own spirit might have chosen it.

Upon arrival at the restaurant 1830, we no longer saw the sea because we began to enter the city. We climbed the hill of Calle 12 in Vedado, which is the first major test of endurance. When I passed Línea Street, I found an operational unit that tried to hide, pretending they weren’t waiting for me and didn’t notice me, but at the same time, they couldn’t hide the importance or concern I caused them. I looked behind me twice. It seemed to me they had some plan, and I thought that they had aborted it because of the number of people who were in the way. But 100 meters higher up, just at 13th Street, the street where Celia Sánchez lived and where the personal guard of the Castro brothers continues to reside, I discovered that they were waiting for me. Then, frightened and weakened, I took out my cell phone to pretend I was talking while I approached two Canadian marathoners who ran nearby, and I kept them close in case they tried something. I was afraid, of course. But I never had another choice; knowing that at least was encouraging. They seemed undecided, waiting for an order to start the action. As I continued pretending to talk on the phone, I raised my voice, saying that everything was quiet, I was up the hill of 12th and 13th, just at the station of one of the President’s barracks.

It was the tensest minute of my life. They let me go by. But the fear that the slow down was to detain me more easily made me maintain my pace at the top, something that after all I am grateful to them for. From that moment a motorbike stayed behind me. And we turned on 23rd street, and they were waiting by the little bus with cameras in hand. I retreated a few meters. And to reach Jalisco Park we did 10 km; many runners stopped there to comply with the registration distance. Manuel Fernández called me from Madrid to say “Brother, we are aware of what might happen to you, you are not alone.” My sister Mary called from Miami, scared because of what might happen to me. “Nothing worse than living without freedom,” I answered her.

We followed 23rd to 26th Street, where we turned toward la Ciudad Deportiva, Sports City. At this part of the circuit the marathoners performed the “cachumbambé” because of the many curves and hills. From this point an ambulance kept close to me. From its interior several men looked at me and smiled cynically. I ignored them. The motorbike remained behind.

As we began the ascent of the hill from the zoo, my legs began to waver for the first time. A pain went up from my ankle as if they had introduced a cold screw into my blood. I was ashamed of being unable to go on. And a voice said, “Don’t weaken; Laura’s spirit is with you. Let her carry you to the goal.” I looked, and there was a sweet old man who wanted to say hello. I tried to smile but don’t know if I succeeded. I only remember that my strength came back, and the screw in my ankle began to recede. And I felt a hymn inside me. I imagined Laura Pollán walking beside me with her gladiola fastened to her chest. My eyes got teary. And that force continued to emerge from the depths of my being, an explosion of light struggling in my veins. My legs began to stretch out, the muscles relaxed, and an organizer told me when I passed by the Calzada del Cerro and 26th that I was keeping up a good pace.

In the following segments of the race, several “civilians” who looked like security forces were waiting on the sidewalk, and some took photos as proof with their cameras or cell phones. The siege of the microbus was more sporadic. When we arrived at Carlos III, I felt close to the goal, although there were still a few kilometers. Several friends called me, concerned and supportive, from Miami, including the writers Daniel Morales, Zilmar from Spain, Gume Pacheco, Torralbas, Amir from Panama. Lilo Vilaplana called from Colombia to yell that he was proud of me, of being my brother.

Passing by the building of the Grand Lodge I was greeted by some Masons who didn’t understand what I was doing. Immersed in exhaustion, I experienced transcendental moments over the history of the institution. I raised my arm in a sign of happy celebration.

Going down Reina St., a woman told me that Laura looked prettier than ever. I touched her photo on my T-shirt, which was completely wet. I continued the descent, and my personal energy bulb flickered. Brotherhood Park seemed beautiful as never before. “Come on, you made it,” they shouted at me. “You brought it home like the Virgin, la Caridad del Cobre, the mambisa virgin,” said another. Some congratulated me. And all that cheered me up. Although I still worried about the end, if they were waiting to arrest me, but really now it was not important. Which meant that the fear had passed. My body was worthless; I had run at least a distance of 21 km. Radio Martí asked me a question, and I even had the strength to express that I was paying tribute to Laura Pollán, trying to cry out for a FREE CUBA.

The last meters are the worst. Imagined emotion is frustrated by fatigue. When I pass the goal, a doctor asks me if I need assistance. I say no. I get the medal. And they tell me to walk through a dark corridor that intersects the many-sided Kid Chocolate Sports Hall. I pretend I’m going to enter and break through the lobby of the Payret cinema and escape.

My friends were waiting for me. We sat in Central Park at the foot of José Martí, and I read the text I kept in my pocket.

 A son of Cuba I am, I bind myself to her,
a powerful fate, impossible to overcome;
with her I go; inevitably I follow,
down a path that is horrible or pleasant, 
With her I go without hindrance or hobbles,
biting the yoke or vibrating with vengeance.
With her I shall go while the slave weeps,
With her I shall go when she sings freely.
José Jacinto Milanés

(Letter sent from José Jacinto Milanés to the Mexican poet Ignacio Rodríguez Galván)

Footnote:
That same Sunday of the marathon, in the afternoon, State Security visited my home. But two years ago I decided to abandon it when they began the first “acts of repudiation” in front of my house. I sought shelter in different places. I’m an itinerant, with a laptop and a toothbrush. Since then I never sleep a week in the same place. Always when they cite me or arrest me they insist on the exact location I spend the night. And I show them the address on my identity card. After Sunday they have been looking for me at my girlfriend’s and two other places I usually visit. So far they have been unable to find me. Before they arrest me I at least need to finish a post to repudiate the regime and expose its atrocious dictatorship.

But they can’t stand the news that I’ve never been happier.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translated by Regina Anavy

December 1 2011

Fidel Castro: Guilty of Murdering the Cuban Nation

The Cuban dictatorship criticizes the possibility offered by the U.S. government of accepting Cubans who cross the Florida Straits in a bid to achieve their dreams. They write lengthy manifestos to disguise the reality of the island, and blame the ones who suffer the problem. Which means looking at the result and forgetting the cause.

Of course, who in Cuba would question this required view of the problem? Who would dare to question the “cause” when no name other than the Castro brothers can come up? What have they done with this country? Where is the success at the cost of the slain under their orders? What is the price of human and material losses in the last 50 years? Why does Fulgencio Batista now not seem so tyrannical? Who took charge of surpassing him, to be a more extremist dictator? Who filled the prisons and shot the young people who were dissatisfied, desperate, dissident, and every one who opposed them? How many years in prison did they get for attempting to leave the country illegally? They punished them with the same sentence imposed on Fidel Castro for attacking the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

In 1967 my godfather received a letter from a cousin in Miami, trying to convince him to emigrate with them, and in which he warned that a government like Fidel Castro’s could become a communist and totalitarian one. They arrested him and sentenced him to 10 years in prison, which he served to the day. They had opened his letter, which he never received. When he came and saw me after almost 11 years, he started to cry for all the time lost unfairly. He hugged my mother, and pleading with his gay gestures, said he never wanted to see a man at his side again. He spent 10 years of being used by the beasts, he told my mother in the middle of crying.

Who has been more of a dictator, Batista or Castro?

We know, according to the story that they told us themselves, that the Batista government abused, tortured and secretly killed the young people, then left them lying on the roadside. Which we considered horrendous. But didn’t Fidel Castro shoot them in front of people?! Desperate young people who tried to steal a passenger launch in the bay of Havana to go to Miami in order to work, to fulfill their dreams that were more urgent than a “revolution” that didn’t know how to support them? And who were deceived, after being stranded at sea for lack of fuel and being towed by the Cuban Coast Guard to the Bay of Mariel and negotiating with the authorities, who spoke on behalf of Fidel Castro, after being guaranteed that nothing would happen to them, and if they surrendered, in exchange they would receive a minimum punishment?

Their own companions in the boat, among them foreigners who testified that they were not mistreated nor did they understand that their lives were in danger at some point, even if things were tense, asked for leniency for the young men. But they were executed in front of Cuba and the world. Without a trial. Hours after their capture. They waited for their mothers to leave to get clothing and toiletries for them to clean up, and before they got home they were informed that their sons had been shot by strict order of the State Council. Of course, Cubans remained silent, and some intellectuals and artists were left with dirty hands, so much so that not even their own poetry will save them from Hell. And all because of cowardice, by thinking about their own welfare. And now they repeat like parrots that they had to do it because there was a real threat that the U.S. fleet would invade Cuba, to complete the practice of violating the sky and waters. That has never been proven. But if it were true, it still would have been murder. They did not think about their children, their grandchildren. Would they have done the same? Surely not.

Intelligence at the service of mega-malignancy

We can’t deny that Fidel Castro has been of uncommon intelligence, only that he used it for personal gain, and for family purposes. Others would say in the service of the Devil. But what would have happened if Fidel Castro had done what he promised from the Sierra Maestra? If he had fulfilled all those dreams of a better Cuba, without departing from democracy and the principles of the most advanced civilization? Perhaps he even would have accepted, in the style of King Juan Carlos of Spain, being the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Cuba, but without intervening in the affairs of state. Alone he could have been in charge of a human revolution, destined to improve the lot of all Cubans, regardless of race, creed or political affiliation.

But those who have a bit of common sense know that Fidel Castro would never have been satisfied with ​ overseeing the rules and rights of the Cuban nation. He wanted more. He always wanted more. In fact, he left Cuba — too small, like Cinderella’s glass slipper was for her sisters — and began looking for expansion in other continents, so that he forgot about Cuba. We alone were the means of sacrifice for his mega-dreams, his mega-revolution, his desire to be a mega-president, a mega-leader. To this he dedicated his life, trying to hoodwink us in his delight with words of principles and tenderness, to deceive others and add them to his purposes with patriotic, heroic, “internationalist” locutions. Fidel has served as a great magician of the word, I always picture him blowing a flute to make the snake dance, and in this case the snake is in the mirror, it is his own image that dances with his own interpretation, hence the great trick that he has exercised for over half a century: “the enchantment.”

And many fell asleep under his enchantment, are still sleeping, the minority, because the majority feign sleep, but it’s nothing more than fear that keeps them pretending compliance with the orders of the magician-dictator.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Translated by Regina Anavy

10 December 2011

The Mathematics of Dictators

Photo: AP

What mystique surrounds “power” for tyrants, that the obsession of keeping it leads to sacrificing their people, their family and their own lives?  They disguise their obstinacy with ideals, which require constant sacrifices, with those whom they have betrayed and they pursue no other real intention except continuing to “command” the nation. All dictators create totalitarian government structures, where democracy is stifled so that fair elections are not even remembered, which undoubtedly would cause the loss of their regimes.

When the riots started in Libya, I realized what the final result would be for the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, although I imagined the legal variation with which the absolutist Saddam Hussein was condemned. The leaders, after appropriating power, executed those who opposed them, and determined to do everything to keep in power.

History has shown that you can not hold a people in rebellion. You do not get to lie and frighten several generations without being punished for that. No political machinery and repressive, even Cuban, which I consider the most effective of the many that have existed, can contain the right to freedom for all Cubans.

Fidel Castro has lived like a king  who demands that his subjects the sacrifice their lives. Several generations in the twentieth century have dedicated their existence as ritual human sacrifices offered to the supreme god. Lives lost that did not receive anything in return. not even their children and grandchildren have understood what they were offering. They understand that they were deceived, martyrs in vain who did not manage to change or improve the present nor the future.

Fidel Castro knows that time of life left to him is no longer  “important”, if we estimate what he has accomplished in his years of full and vital life, it has not been enough to recall it as a happy past (meaning “important,” given his proven incapacity to contribute to the ailing economy or to democracy). Nothing of what he promised my grandfather, then my father, as he also tried to do with me, with my children, and if we let him right now with my grandchildren, has been achieved. Ideals are to empower people, not vice versa. Ideologies can not devour a country. And that great forgery of Fidel Castro, his big scam.

His brother Raul Castro, now President of the nation by appointment of the dynasty, who realizes that his presence is like a bus stop along a route where the bus will soon continue on its route after half a century of dictatorship, tries to delay as much as possible a natural evolution of the society which will oust him from power. He tries to fool us with   the unattainable carrot, false political strategies, which are nothing more than dikes that try to contain the force of water beating against the iron gate that blocks our way to the future, to social, intellectual and economic development. His political inexperience leaves a bad taste making us feel undervalued.

What is sad is that it is probable that lives will be lost. The amazing thing is that the Castro brothers know it, as Hussein and Gaddafi knew it, and they do nothing to avoid it. They came to power violently, and will leave it in a bloodbath similar to the one they committed in 1959. Disgracefully the color red will stain the streets and the history of their country will be, in their departure, as it was in their arrival.

I still have a hope, that they will listen to reason and think of their descendants. They say they love their grandchildren more than their  children. Fidel has never been affectionate not even with his children even (they say so themselves), then why is he going to be with his  grandchildren? His egotism leaves no space to think of another being that is not himself. But Raul Castro is known for his filial attachment. We know that somehow he has managed to situate his offspring in several countries. It could be interpreted as a choice of flight, or at least an attempt to save his offspring, which is why I suspect they also expect a revolt.

We must make the Castro brothers and the rest of their lineage aware that, if they definitely decide to cling to power and provoke a civil war, they will expose the lives of their descendents. They will leave a rancor on this earth that will not allow sharing anything with their offspring. Their bank accounts and property will be frozen and returned to the coffers of the State, whose leaders, by then, will be democratically elected.

Of the expressions delivered by Fidel Castro himself, I remember one very clearly, when the dictator Pinochet was arrested in England. At that moment he revealed that he always traveled with a grenade to avoid being captured alive. It’s known that when the time come, usually they shake hands (and not just because of Alzheimer’s), as we already saw with Hussein and Gaddafi, influenced by cultures more prone to suicide, who didn’t have the courage to shoot themselves, nor even to chew a cyanide capsule; we can suppose that Fidel Castro will not have the courage to pull the pin on the grenade; and perhaps, after avoiding a popular lynching, the brothers will face a legal process, overseen and assisted by an International Court, where their final days will not be dignified. Paraphrasing Jose Marti, it’s worth noting that “men don’t look at on which side it is better to live, but on which side it is better to die.”

As we’ve heard since childhood: informed war doesn’t kill soldiers; it’s high time for the Castro rulers and their entourage, after resigning from power, to sense and weigh the intelligent possibilities of a peaceful outcome; so that in the end, aided by the Great Architect of the Universe, all we Cubans will have, for the first time and forever, a republic with progressive civic and democratic development.

God help us and support us in this endeavor.

November 9 2011