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

Vacations / Regina Coyula

With the heat, my summer option is to sit in front of the TV, but not in front of the summer programming which doesn’t interest me, rather to decide what I watch because in the end I have a TV for the halfway intelligent.

“24” with its thrilling season has been the thriller. And it’s not that I don’t know that later in the third season Jack Bauer will save the world once again with the help of Chloe alone, but he’ll still end up screwed; it’s that in this tacit agreement, I’m disposed to believe in Super Bauer if it’s told well.

Also the action movie, Die Hard, 5? 6? 7? Bruce Willis, Bauer’s putative uncle, does his thing in a Moscow unrecognizable for those left in the USSR.

Not everything is banal. movies like “Siberian Education” or “The Map in the Clouds” have added the dramatic note. Light humor comes at the hands of “Modern Family”; thanks for not putting canned laughter in “Breaking Bad,” excellent black humor, the best of the summer. “The Hammer and Tickle,” a Canadian documentary about USSR and Eastern European humor, made me laugh and made me think of copies, and the current drought of good jokes, in great measure due to the fact that so many of these jokes were island adaptations of the originals beyond what you see, over there.

But the best has been the arrival of Piura, the new puppy in the house. Perky, smart, loving, she’s already the boss of everyone. And like all my dogs, rescued. It’s an odd vacation idea to spend my days cleaning up pee and a good part of the night consoling a little puppy who’s afraid of the dark, but the dogcatcher understands me.

That’s been my vacation. It’s a really nice personal project that has grabbed my attention.

29 August 2014

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?


To Frank Abel Dopico 

The rock-and-rollers love the nocturnality of trains


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