Monthly Archives: January 2010

A Government With Any Shame Would Resign

After the events in the Havana psychiatric hospital (Mazorra), and under pressure from the international press coverage, the State admitted in a brief press release that twenty-six patients had died from hypothermia (doctors and family members believe the figure exceeds forty). The press release was silent about the hunger, desolation and overcrowding they endured in their windowless pavilions, and about the food.  Generally they had soup or oatmeal, with any luck it was hot, at five o’clock in the afternoon; this was dinner, the last food until breakfast.

Days earlier, at the Superior Institute of Art (ISA), the students rioted because of starvation.  Enduring the hardships in exchange for graduating became a distant, perhaps impossible, goal; their organisms demand food.  And these are the children nobody wants, young, inexperienced and defenseless, in many ways like the mental patients and the rest of the Cuban population, with only one weapon: art.  They rebelled and demanded better attention.  They ignored the Rector and the rest of the faculty who demanded they return to their right minds.  They had, in fact, been a little crazy to confront the machinery of the State.  These young people, literally, were crazy from hunger.  But they used whatever sanity their hunger had left them to launch a protest; perhaps, had they not seized the moment, today they would be a cipher, cold and forgotten like the twenty-six mental patients.

There would have to be a study done to know whether hunger makes us crazy, or crazy people are hungry.  Cuban society has become crazy hungry people, or vice versa. the truth is that starvation touches the people more and more strongly.

In both cases, something happened.  The day following the riot at ISA the food improved as did the interior lighting in the buildings.  And at the Mazorra hospital, they also began bringing in trucks with supplies: food, blankets, medicines, maintenance workers, etc.

And everything coincided with our planes providing doctors, field hospitals, food and medicine for our Haitian brothers.  What one can infer is the existence of warehouses with these supplies, saved for use only the case of emergencies.  Like when a baby cries: it is given the breast.

In fifty years, the Cuban “Revolution” has been more concerned with its image abroad than, in reality, the welfare of its people.  The internationalist policies have been no more than a justification for attracting converts to the cause, a positive and humanitarian image with a huge dose of hypocrisy and deceit, rather than a selfless endeavor to help others.

Ultimately, a State that respected itself could not bear the weight on its conscience of not having saved the mentally ill; the only honorable course is to resign.  And those who support it, its ministers, repressive forces and acolytes in general should have the moral obligation to resign and give up their perks; but of course this alone would make them fear ending up on the list of the unprotected.  Those who are afraid to pay the same price as the mental patients.

And in this government, I for one, fail to see the selfless, those who are disposed to give up their advantages out of shame.  Perhaps we will wake up one morning to find eleven million Cubans dead of hypothermia and hunger.  Though something makes me believe that a great part of these people have already lost their neurons to hypothermia and Statism–that is the State’s determination to exercise complete control over all things Cuban.

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The Treasure

It was my neighborhood and in 1992 I cruised the streets on my motorbike like a Caribbean Quixote. One afternoon I turned the corner by my house and noticed a neighbor on his bicycle, not moving. One foot on the curb, the other in the street, one arm across the handlebars, his head resting across his forearm like on a pillow. He seemed like a rag doll. I sensed something rare in this gentleman who, since I was a child, I’d seen go into a house near mine, so I turned the wheel of my bike around to go back. When I came up beside him I could see that despite the noise of the engine he didn’t raise his head. I asked him if I could help. He said something I didn’t understand, I turned down the throttle of the bike and came closer, he leaned over and I could see his pale face, “Hold me up,” he said. I quickly shut off the motorbike and took his arm, “I’m dizzy,” he said again, and I could feel his body shaking like the page of a book. I suggested he breathe deeply. He could barely do it. At times his legs would buckle. I discovered that in spite of his weakness, he was protecting something in his other hand, holding his closed fist against his chest. I offered to take it and he refused with a gesture. He gathered his strength and raised his head to look at me.

I continued holding him. He said he knew he shouldn’t have done it, but he didn’t have any other choice. For lunch he’d only had a little rice, he went to his sister-in-law’s to see if there was at least something that his wife could have to go with it. He, no. He’d gone a week with only rice and he wasn’t complaining. But he knew that she, though she tried as hard as she could, couldn’t eat it. So his sister-in-law had given him the last one she had, and he looked at his closed fist. Then, with great care, he opened his hand and I saw a chicken egg.

Image: Ivan Arocha

My Uncle Pepe the Unemployed

MY UNCLE PEPE SCALED the hills of the Sierra Maestra as a rebel, before he had shaved for the first time. It was said he was precocious or clairvoyant and knew, or so he and the rest of my family thought, when to jump on the bandwagon of the future winners.  In any event, he did it for his conscience, dreaming of a revolution.

On coming down from the hills in January of ’59, he brought a thick black beard, several Santajuanas necklaces, and a Thompson machine gun carried across shoulders sporting the rank of captain.  He belonged to the group of Commander Camilo Cienfuegos who, months later, would fall into the sea in a small plane. And strangely, later, his officers were discharged; in some way they, too, went down with him.  “My only Commander,” my uncle would repeat, and for fifty years he maintained a silent act of insubordination out of loyalty to his late leader.

From that time my uncle learned to wait, like the Arab proverb: he sat at the door of his cabin to watch the triumphs, for which he had sacrificed, pass by.  Continuing to help “the process,” because it had nothing to do with his personal interests, he was sure that the political changes had been for the benefit of the people.

My uncle’s bushy beard turned gray, and later sparse, his teeth went missing, and scoliosis prevented him from continuing the long wait.  He barely spoke.  He stopped attending the meetings of the war veterans.  A few months ago we found him crying, feeling ashamed, he told us he could not understand how we would soon tally fifty years of “victory” and yet the people find themselves worse off.

Finally, we buried my Uncle Pepe without military honors.  They denied his daughters a flag for his coffin or the right to display his well-earned medals because the head of la Casa de los Combatientes, the veterans’ association, said that by putting a rope around his neck he had surrendered; he was no longer a worthy son of the fatherland.