Message for Yadira / Regina Coyula

I’d like to be able to have a conversation with the Cuban-American Yadira Escobar. The photo in her blog tells me that she is young, and the information she provides about herself indicates that she emigrated when she was very little. I have read much about how Yadira would like to return to Cuba, and I have also read about what her dream Cuba is.

Yadira is a self-proclaimed lover of freedom. Neither the Marxist collectivism nor capitalist individualism agree with her idea of what Cubans want; however, she missteps in inciting our academics, university students, and specialists of all kinds to be at the ready to plan the national course.

I can assure young Yadira that there is an intellectual contemplation coming from many places and many walks of life on Cuba, but their mark cannot always be found in official channels; it needs to be sought out in alternative sites, and in many cases, it is plagued, silenced and demonized.

The desires that this young woman echoes should be permanent in the different forms of broadcast and in the spheres of thought and debate that exist or that are trying to emerge in our country; that is, not only the virtual, but the physical as well.

I don’t know what optimism that escapes my understanding makes Yadira think that nationalism can create a harmonization. According to what I see, the overdose of misdirected nationalism has been a source of social friction and has divided us into communists or anti-patriots, team-players or apathetics, the right or the left, revolutionaries or defectors, and other always antagonistic comparisons.

Nationalism is one of the tricks that Cuban government propaganda has used to try to convince everyone that all thinking contrary to what is official is unpatriotic. The fatherland is another thing; it is something intangible that goes with someone and manifests itself in each person in a different manner; it is an emotion and sometimes an aroma, and is, above all, an unbearable taxonomy.

In effect, a large percentage of the population voted for an eternal socialism. I, who see how the people vote and later see how it is justified, who knows the way in which the vote is controlled from the electoral system down to personal decisions–including intimate ones–would allow myself to doubt the sincerity of the counts and the sincerity of the voters.

I cannot decline to comment on Yadira’s vision of the March 13th ferry tragedy. She was very tiny when the terrible events occurred, but with a little information about the fateful night, no one can talk about an accident. An accident implies an involuntary action; Yadira seems to not know the survivors’ story. On the contrary, she accepts as valid the version that the Granma newspaper provided.

The drowned children did NOT fall from the boat as in the happy little simile that she uses. The boat was attacked; with powerful water jets it was flooded and sank. I leave the details of the nightmare to her investigation. Such an act cannot be classified as anything more than criminal. Since then, the decision for adults to subject minors to a dangerous journey has vanished.

To live in Cuba gives me a little more of a view of the country. People don’t escape because of the constraints of the Embargo; people escape because the ruinous economy doesn’t allow for prosperous opportunities, because in a government of 55 years, they keep talking about experimental economies.

In the sickness of the administration, the corruption and the squander, the effect of the Embargo has been minimal. I invite Yadira to see the guidelines of the economic policy laid out in the Party’s latest congress. The words embargo or blockade aren’t there. And if the motivation to abandon the country at first glance appears economical, political decisions have put us where we are.

If popular sovereignty were sacred, the labels of Cubans from Cuba or Cubans from Miami would have disappeared a long time ago; I don’t dare imagine what we might have been; but I’m sure that the Cubans that work, govern, and opinionate, and among them I picture Yadira, could have done better in the last 55 years.

And without appealing to the generous and disinterested help of any world power–we already know how interested you are and the privileges that you’ve enjoyed in the name of sovereignty–the search for democracy is a problem among Cubans.

Translated by John Daniels

15 August 2014

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet / Regina Coyula

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet…

…or thought I was, which is worse. In keeping with this, I would have become a “fine poet of felt verses,” as literary criticism says when it has nothing better to say. Common sense and love of writing have left me here, where I feel so comfortable. I found a very yellowed piece of lined paper bearing this text typed by an Underwood, following an interminable train ride from Santa Clara to Havana taken along with a group of youths who were returning from a rock festival. Speaking of Frank Abel, does anyone know what has become of him?

HEAVY METAL

To Frank Abel Dopico 

The rock-and-rollers love the nocturnality of trains

then

the rockers run away from home

they beg for money at the station

and they go to another province

to imagine what it’s like to travel.

In the parks

the rockers are blue

they make love and urinate in the solitude of sidewalks

all pleasure they find in the cross-eyed hands of Jimmy Page.

They have a calling to be cops, the rockers

they raise the decibels

exorcism by percussion

it’s the train and it’s Led Zeppelin

there is a monastic silence in the rockers

they tear their hair and they huddle to weep in the corner of the car.

They don’t think of the following day

they clasp their hands and kiss the crucifix.

The sweet rockers

rehearse with amphetamines and other complications

to imagine how it is

to travel.

(June 19, 1990)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 July 2014

Postcard from a Journey (3) / Regina Coyula

Nuevitas is my third and last stop on this whirlwind of a trip. The Santiago/Nuevitas journey takes eight hours, two of them in the 16-kilometer stretch between Manatí and Camalote. My trip is the next to last before this itinerary is suspended, pending the repair of the roadway. A passenger who appears to be a regular suggests making the round through Guáimaro, but the driver informs him that around there the roadway is worse. The news spreads through the bus, almost all the passengers know each other and the crew, complaints are heard, but there is nothing to be done.

It is a monotonous journey, a plain copped with trees — and notice I say trees — of the marabou weed variety. I see cows, the only ones during the whole trip; a slender herd, beige spots against the green pasture.

I’m startled by the ghost of the Free Algeria sugar mill in old Manatí. Some rickety structures and two chimneys testify to it. I grew up hearing the phrase “without sugar there is no country,” it was something so understood that to bump up against the ruins of the industry that gave us the title of “the sugar bowl of the world,” inevitably causes me to think of who bears the responsibility for a disaster of such proportions.

Nuevitas, seaport… I don’t manage to distinguish the port, the nitrogenized fertilizer factory releases a yellow smoke and there is threat of a rainstorm. The cloud cover is refreshing, there are no trees; Nuevitas is an industrial city, irregular but monotonous. The “mini train” is the substitute for the bus, an open wagon thrown over a tractor, horse-drawn carriage and bicycle-taxis.

An unexpected event turns out to be amusing. My visit coincides with the police citation given to the lawyers of the Cuban Law Association. A man wearing a cap and dark glasses take photos of us, to which I return the gesture, which disconcerts him, causes him to cross the street quickly and disappear from sight.

It’s almost 4 pm and I’m dying for breakfast. The only restaurant in the city is Nuevimar, where we are the only diners besieged by a legion of flies. The water in the glass looks cloudy and tastes bad. The service is slow, I’m hungry but also apprehensive. I make up for all this in a privately-run bakery that features a varied selection. I’ve had no coffee, and the deprivation is giving me a headache.

The lawyers are very sorry for the unexpected police intrusion; I’m exhausted, sleep-deprived, having traveled more than 19 hours in less than three days; and the trip to Havana is still ahead and due to my lack of experience I’m going to be cold in the Chinese-made Yutong bus. So, I prefer to sleep a little in the bus and train station until the 7pm departure of the bus.

From the window I manage to see a bit of the coast, I don’t see a port nor ships. Nuevitas reminds me a little of Cojímar, but without the charm of Cojímar.

I arrive in Havana at 5 in the morning. A boatman asks me for 7 CUC to take me, then reduces the fee when I threaten to find another taxi. At 5:30 I’m already at home, sleeping.

Click here to view the slideshow

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

2 July 2014

Postcard From a Journey (1) / Regina Coyula

Like Silvio, I think the people are screwed; unlike him, however, it didn’t take me so much time to realize it, but traveling outside Havana let me see it first hand.

The domestic terminal at Jose Marti Airport is the original airport building. After checking your luggage you have to go up an escalator.  “It’s almost always broken,” a regular traveler told me. Upstairs you  get in another line to pass through a little door in groups of five. Behind this is the x-ray control and then you enter a large area of souvenir shops, closed at five in the morning, with a snack bar at the end where there’s nobody, all of which leads to a large waiting room.

Neither the poster of Santa Lucia beach looking like paradise, nor the other two that you sit against, managed to overcome my claustrophobic impression of that room without even one window.

I discover another snack bar which, unlike the one at the entrance, sells in national currency. Bread with mayonnaise and mortadella or a hot dog (served cold), soft drinks on tap or in cans, and coffee.

I head to the bathroom which, although clean, smells dirty.

I return to the waiting room and, luckily, to divert your attention from such an ugly place, there are several televisions. I concentrate on an Animal Planet program until they call my flight.

Another little line between a plasterboard half wall facing an open door, but the employee still makes us wait fifteen minutes until we go through; we have to go down a staircase to the final boarding pass check and then, finally, walk to the plane.

A trouble-free trip and the Holguin airport, much more agreeable than Havana’s. At the exit of the building we’re accosted by many drivers, all trying to “fight” for fares to the city. So many options facilitates price haggling.

I’ve heard so much talk of Holguin as “the city of parks” that I assume from its name the Garden City neighborhood will be a garden. Mistake. It’s a suburb of little houses constructed by people’s own efforts with whatever resources they could come by. There are better and worse, but the architects didn’t come here; there are no sidewalks, well, there are barely streets, and there are no trees. This explains why men and women protect themselves from the sun with umbrellas.

Urban transport doesn’t seem bad, there are also a lot of biketaxis and carts pulled by horses. Unlike Havana, the “almendrones” (1950s American cars in use as shared taxis) are prohibitively expensive.

The center is more amicable, there are the parks that give the city its nickname, there’s a boulevard full of life, and at a local concentration businesses run by the self-employed I find the replacement part for my mixer that I’ve been seeking for months. When the seller tells me the price is 180 pesos I ask him if the mixer is included.

Instead, we eat at an air-conditioned restaurant with a decent menu, which costs a lot less than the part for the mixer. I ask my friend if satin is made there, because it’s the fabric of choice in the decor. Missing no details, the restaurant has red satin tablecloths and curtains, and the seats are white with red bows. After that Christmas decor, I enjoy the beer we have at “The Cave,” a local tribute to the Beatles.

The interprovincial bus terminal is a dark and dirty place. The loudspeaker voice is incomprehensible. I know the announcement is for my trip because there aren’t any others at that time.

Holguin reserved this ugly surprise as a goodbye; I prefer to think of the good impression made by all the people I had the chance to meet.

30 June 2014

The Deluded / Regina Coyula

There are those who walk without watching who walks behind, if they seem mysterious speaking on the phone it is for the purpose of mortifying a little the listening elves, they take for granted that some neighbor(s) take(s) note of their movements and visits, but it does not interest them. They live with the decision to behave as free beings without allowing the government’s barriers, within which all that is not expressly authorized is prohibited, to constrain them in the least.

Others prefer a stealthy attitude, they communicate with signals, they have designed an alternative vocabulary and they live under the conspiracy theory in the category of major players.  They sleep with one eye open, they see ulterior motives in everything.

Not many of the first group are free, nor are many of those controlled by paranoia watched.

Translated by mlk.

18 June 2014

A Chronicle Owed / Regina Coyula

To Carlos and my traveling companions

To Carlos Ríos and Juan Carlos Linares, my entertaining and courteous travel companions, and to the people of Piura.

When someone asks me what I thought of Lima, I amswer that I was not in Lima but in Miraflores, an area of the city located along the seacoast where the green spaces are impeccable, and the traffic-filled streets are clean and crowded with the Toyotas and Kias. Even the dogs and cats are looked after by the local government. There are tall buildings, enormous stores and restaurants. That’s Miraflores, a district of Lima where anyone would enjoying living, even in spite of high walls and electrical fences.

I was invited by the Institute for Freedom to participate in a seminar on digital journalism and communication technology. These were luxurious conferences, attended by people highly-qualified in their fields. I went to learn and I learned a lot. I also had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. It felt strange to be treated so cordially in the markets, restaurants, stores and when asking for directions on the street.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne sees a different Lima in Gamarra, an impressive commercial perimeter whose counterpart — if there is one — might only be found in some Asian megalopolis. In Gamarra you can hear money growing. This pedestrian-oriented rectangle produces more wealth than many countries. All the activity can make you feel dizzy. Not far from here I can see a hill encrusted with little houses, which arouses my curiosity. It is a poor area where the police do not dare enter, where the recipe for material success goes unfulfilled. We have to leave Gamarra before nightfall.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I would have liked to check out the bar frequented by Zavalita and Ambrosio in Conversation in the Cathedral, or to walk through the University of San Marcos and see if there is a bust, at least a plaque, commemorating Vallejo’s time there.* I had to settle for a bridge and the Chabuca Granda shopping mall in Barranco — a beautiful old area — and a delicious ride on a double-decker tour bus to the city center.

We Cubans always end up talking about food, but to go to Peru and not talk about its food would be a crime. The seviche — which is also spelled with a c and a b — in the food market is unforgettable, as are the huancaína fries and the enormous sweet corn kernels.

mirafloresI must admit that I never dreamt that in a such busy week I would make new friends who will forever stay with me. And there was the city itself, which I pretended to recognize even when Miraflores did not resemble the opulent and modern residential area of Vargas Llosa’s novels.

 

Translator’s note: A reference to a novel, Conversation in the Cathedral, by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa. The plot revolves around the lives of Santiago Zavala and Ambrosio — one the son of a government minister, the other his chauffeur. A chance meeting leads to a conversation between the two at a bar known as the Cathedral. Zavala is a student activist at the National University of San Marcos who opposes the Peruvian dictatorship of the 1950s.

13 June 2014

Prosperous and Sustainable (2) / Regina Coyula

My troubles did not end with the molars. Thinking myself clever, a month ago I bought a combined ceiling fan and light fixture at the Plaza Carlos III shopping mall. From an initial price of 120.00 CUCs, it had been reduced to 35 because it was missing its shade. I did not think twice because the phallic bulbs they have been selling since the “energy revolution” will not fit inside any shade anyway. But to paraphrase a popular saying, when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I should have thought twice and walked away.

The electrician installing the new appliance pointed out that the screws used to attach the blades were not original. There was also evidence it had been repainted, indicating that the fan had been installed and for some reason uninstalled. He recommended that I return it.

With the item still under warranty, I went back to Carlos III to ask for a refund. The same employee who had sold me the fan told me that, although it was Wednesday, the day they handle returns, I would first have to go to the studio several blocks away where they would give me the paperwork authorizing the return.

The box the fan came in was bulky and quite heavy. As everyone knows, I am a certified expert in public transport, so I had the foresight to call to my brother, who owns a car, to help with the transaction.

It exhausts me just thinking about all the neurons I wasted trying to explain this to the employee, more neurons than she ever had. Fearing I would have a heart attack, a young man, clearly someone of importance in the chain of command there, came to my assistance. He understood and simplified the issue:

“I don’t know why they told you to come here,” he said, “because the problem is with the store, not with us.”

Back again to Carlos III. The same employee reiterated that this was not her problem, pointing to a faintly printed piece paper on the wall behind the counter. Even with perfect vision a customer could still only guess that it had something to do with the store’s return policy. But I had my own plan. I put the fan in the middle of the counter and asked to speak to the floor manager. Since this was preventing her from attending to the other “users” — at this point you will have noticed that being a customer in Cuba is highly unusual and no doubt considered unpatriotic — the employee told a young man to go get Alain. Upon hearing my explanation, Alain told the employee, “Give her a refund.”

And with money in hand I could not help but blurt out a well-worn phrase:

“That is why this thing must fail.”

At a minimum I enjoyed the gestures and words of affirmation from the line of people behind me.

11 May 2014