Birthday / Regina Coyula

I can’t forget the first time I saw my blog. I’d gone several weeks making posts through friends, but thanks to a web-connection gift card, finally I could feel the vertigo that comes with peering out from the abyss of the internet. The two hours of that memorable connection were consumed by a virtual onanism; I spent them looking at my own blog, …from the outside.

I couldn’t remember my password in my nervousness. Nervousness joined with the feeling of transgressing a very real internet access restriction which in those days was enforced discretionally and arbitrarily. Nervousness, also and above all, for doing something suspect; that stamp in the Cuban psyche that says that what is not expressly authorized must be prohibited.

It is now five years since those experiences. I’ve become, if not a privileged user, at least an able and avid user of the tools of the web. The blog I began with an urgent feeling is today more sedate, but it has granted me two important things. The first, to take myself on as citizen –which to anyone can be inferred, but we are in Cuba– to learn of projects like the Asociación Jurídica Cubana (Cuban Law Association) or the campaign for the signing of UN covenants on basic human rights. The second, to receive invitations for collaboration with online news sites, particularly with BBC, on the subject of Cuba.

Malaletra (Bad Handwriting) has paid the consequences. I post sporadically and I have lost readers. The comments section, once effervescent, now languishes with one or two notes (which I am grateful for and take into account as I did since the first day).

I also have the impression that after the boom of the Cuban blogosphere, the water level has sunk, but these details I leave to the specialists, because the importance that this virtual space has had for freedom of thought and expression (or quite the opposite) will be part of the history of this strange age in which we’ve been thrown.

Five years later, I continue imagining myself before a screen into the future, always ready to supply opinion.

Now I blow out the little candles.

 Translated by: Ana Diaz

14 November 2014

"Equality"; Together But Not Intertwined / Regina Coyula

That equality is still a concern in our society is yet another sign of failure in our society, no matter that organizations are created or laws promulgated to promote it. For the 77% of the population — born after 1959 — formal measures have been one thing and practical applications something else.

That which is supposed to function for preventing discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference and religion, should also be valid for avoiding political discrimination.

Equality is not decreed — it occurs. Respect for differences should be inculcated as a value. As part of such an education, when making a promotion to a higher position or job, the important thing is the candidate’s ability and not meeting some quota of supposed equality that results in the selection of the most “correct” candidate, rather than the best one for the job.

Nobody says this is easy to accomplish, but it is imperative.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

29 October 2014

Indifference (With Background Music by Juan Formell)

I just wrote a text for the BBC where I used my own experiences to illustrate how, faced with everyday situations, the questionable breeding of the citizenry is on display. Either I have very bad luck and ride buses where trouble breaks out, or this is so widespread that it happens to anyone.

The Chinese-made Yutong buses have a platform facing the back door on one side which, according to the original design, is for baby strollers and other impediments, but here they are occupied, almost without exception, by passengers. In one of these buses whose problems haunt me, a full but not crammed Route 69, there was a passenger with a huge sack which he had placed on a corner of the platform.

Across from the Clinical Surgical Hospital on the 26th, a couple got on by the back door with a disabled woman in a wheel chair, and the man accompanying her cheerfully asked the man with the sack if he could make space for the wheelchair so that the disabled woman could use the rail to help lift her weight.

The reaction of the man with the sack was defensive: there wasn’t any room, the wheelchair would only fit sideways, etc. An older gentleman who was riding standing up, ignoring his partner pulling on his sleeve, intervened to accuse the man with the sack of being insensitive.

The disabled woman and the couple with her were silent, but their discomfort was obvious. The man with the sack turned to the gentleman, “Insensitive, me? Don’t fuck with me, I rode this same bus yesterday with my two-year-old son and no one gave me a seat or held the boy, so mind your own business, it’s got nothing to do with you.”

Silence, even from the gentleman whose lady companion had successfully counseled him not to respond. The disabled woman got off at Santa Catalina and Vento and the two couples further on. The man with the sack continued his soliloquy. I imagine he was trying to justify himself.

Only after alighting on the street, two riders exchanged meaningful glances as if to say, one to the other, “In this country we have lost the capacity to care,” and the other replying, “Yes, nobody cares about anyone anymore.”

Translated with considerable help from Alicia Barraqué Ellison

8 October 2014

The Camera Says More than "Cuba Says" / Regina Coyula

For several months now the Tuesday evening television news has featured a series called “Cuba Says.” The reporter, Thalia Gonzalez, and her team seem to have been given the go-ahead to bring up — only to bring up — the actual problems of average citizens. Yesterday’s subject was employment. What struck me more than the shallow discussion of this topic were the opinions expressed by the respondents.

Notable was the widespread acceptance that anything coming out of Ministry of Labor offices is of interest to no one, the aspirations these people had to work for a private firm or to own a personal business, the ease with which the they spoke about money and the repeated use of the verb “to resolve,” along with all that implies for us Cubans.

The camera revealed what neither the interviewers’ questions nor the interviewees’ answers could: the indifference with which the young respondents on the street looked into the camera. Having a job is not enough to get by. Salaries are not enough to live on.

22 October 2014

Lost War / Regina Coyula

The war against the weekly audiovisual package is a lost war. The television programming is an inestimable help. And the way these things are usually synthesized with examples, I have my next-door neighbors’. I wouldn’t have heard that they are “package” customers it if weren’t for the discussion between the eighty-something father, militant and member of the Cuban Revolution Combatants Association, and the thirty-something daughter, a civilian employee of the Ministry of the Interior, MININT.

“That’s ideological diversionism,” thundered the father, undoubtedly repeating some “orientation” he received at the core of the party.

“But papi, what if what we watch is the soap operas!”

“Still diversionism!”

And they kept on like this until the wife of the retired combatant and the mother of the active combatant intervened.

“You, you watch your Telesur and your ballgames and leave me alone with the soap operas, and if it’s ideological diversionism, at least it’s nice.”

15 October 2014

Accessories and Sandwiches / Regina Coyula

The school year has just begun, the first for many children. Filled with enthusiasm and wonder, these little ones are unaware of the disruption their new status as students creates for many Cuban families.

Along with the canasta basica,* the school uniform is the last holdout of the ration book as far as manufactured goods are concerned. It is provided to each student upon enrollment in the form of a ticket to buy subsidized uniforms, which he or she must treat with great care since there won’t be any more given out until the fourth grade.

As everyone knows, education in Cuba is free but other expenses related to a child’s schooling come directly out of the family budget. I am not referring only to shoes, a backpack or a lunchbox. The first parents’ meeting will confirm what families already know from their own experiences or those of others.

There are always parents who offer to buy paint and others who offer to paint. There are always collection drives for cleaning supplies and sign-up sheets for mothers to clean bathrooms. It is now standard practice to start the school term every year by collecting five CUC per child to purchase fans.

Teachers and administrators adopt a stance of giving in to these family initiatives in a game of role playing in which it is assumed that the Ministry of Education will provide everything that is needed to do the work and that the family wants what is best for its children.

All this and other things that follow are part of an unwritten but demonstrably effective methodology, which only gets better from one school term to the next The youngest children must not bring backpacks, only luncheras (lunch boxes). If they bring soft drinks, they must be in plastic containers, even if they are in cans. Everything must be able to be kept at room temperature.

Special emphasis is given to the lunchtime sandwich. No roast beef, ground meat or fish. Chicken must be shredded, ham sliced. Even better if it is the ever popular perrito (or hot dog).

Every pre-schooler must bring a sturdy shoebox to store all his or her projects for the entire school term. They must also bring scissors for cutting paper, crayons, an eraser — all items available only in hard currency.

The classroom is a place where the disparities that have become entrenched in society are there to be seen. Every student has a right to education but equality ends there.

From the moment they arrive at school, even before morning classes begin, their footwear and accessories tell a story of which the students themselves are ignorant protagonists and about which their parents will speak in private with cynicism or shame, depending on their personal ideas about what constitutes success.

Translator’s note: The “basic basket” is an allotment of foodstuffs intended to provide Cubans with a minimum of 3,100 of calories per day. The items include beans, rice, sugar, cooking oil and coffee. There is also a monthly allotment of meat, chicken, and eggs. Prices for these goods are heavily subsidized but the items themselves are often in short supply.

5 September 2014