Irony

A fine irony is my having seen the documentary Gusano* (Worm) the same day I heard the news that this Monday the European Union could take definitive steps to lift its Common Position on Cuba.

The measures adopted by the European countries in 1996 have to do with respect (or rather disrespect) for Human Rights in our country, and in essence little has changed.

No one doubts the diplomatic success of the Cuban government which, in addition, less than two weeks ago, brought together 33 Latin American and Caribbean presidents and the secretaries general of the Organization of American States and the United Nations respectively, without the issue of Cuban Human Rights going beyond a formal mention.

Now the European Union will go on a tangent, and all this without any advances in the area of civil liberties. Clearly, this isn’t Syria or Chad; it’s not even North Korea, they will say on Monday in Brussels.

Ah! the economy, how many crimes are committed in your name!

*Translator’s note: This video will be available with English subtitles in the coming week.

7 February 2014

Dear Readers

I intend to take a vacation from the until the second week of January. If circumstances permit as everything indicates they will, I will devote myself to putting my house in order, an enormous task for me under the mountain of fabric that has accumulated on the sewing machine, and at night, like grandmothers of old, I will knit while watching television, an almost useless labor in the winter (?!) that we experience.

You can always find me on Twitter (@lamalaletra), reporting whatever happens to me in 140 characters.

I’ve told this anecdote many times, but I don’t remember if I’ve told it here. Just before the start of the Panamerican Games in Havana in 1991, my husband turned on the TV waiting for the news that the government, as we knew it, had fallen. In the face of that obsession, without giving it much thought, I said one day that it wouldn’t happen until 2013. He started laughing at me like a crazy person, he’d look at me, point his finger, and go off into more fits of laughter. When he calmed down he said to me, “You’re crazy.”

Well readers, not even a prediction as conservative as mine has come true. Or perhaps it has, and with that unnatural bureaucracy and the usual secrecy, we’re still doing the paperwork.

I have no plans, so I will enjoy the lovely parties to come.

May 2014 be a better year for everyone.

22 December 2013

Comrades and Factors

I was convinced that my former G2 comrades wouldn’t trouble themselves with me. A little poking around in this blog is enough to convince them that I’m a hopeless case. But it wasn’t the blog that made the comrades who “serve me,” pay me a “prophylactic visit” yesterday morning. It was to advise and warn m not to participate in the Estado de SATS program on December 10 and 11.

They were emphatic: they would not allow us to hold the event. Arguments that banning it would just give it more visibility were useless, with the consequences that would result from bringing the power of State Security down on a group of people who are holding meeting and who are not going to overthrow the government.

I reminded them of the truth expressed by Esteban Morales when he said that the cancer that would defeat the government would be corruption and not the dissidence. It was a civilized conversation because I believe in dialog and not confrontation; indeed, I made clear my interest as a citizen and activist in the ratification of the United Nations Covenants.

I don’t know if they believed me when I assured them I do it for free. On their part there was respect, but also a very clear message: If you go, we will arrest you.

That was interesting. What happened in the afternoon I don’t know how to describe. In the midst of a late lunch, five neighbors showed up at my house, four of them from right by my house and the fifth a stranger. The stranger spoke on behalf of the group which she presented as “the factors of the community.”

I was surprised. The visit of the factors seemed to me to be a neural short-circuit after the morning’s visit. For my neighbors I’ve been either with “the Human Rights People” or a Lady in White, but on this opportunity I had been promoted to a counterrevolutionary leader organizing an activity.

When the others spoke they talked about martyrs, about the revolution and the imperialist threat, and topped it all off with they couldn’t allow me to carry out this activity. They felt a little disconcerted when I told them they’d been lied to, that I wasn’t a member of any organization nor did I organize anything, but I was in favor of democracy, free expression, freedom of association and information, and that’s why I strongly believe in the need to ratify the UN Covenants.

I had the very strong impression that my neighbors didn’t know what I was talking about. They retired in silence, only the unknown neighbor repeated, “Know that we won’t allow it.”

I have lived in this neighborhood all my life, if one day we they organized a repudiation rally against us they would have to import the repudiators. Except for the unknown neighbor who lives in the next block and received the “orientation” to call together “the factors,” the rest were uncomfortable, and I even reassured one who apologized later for the position she had taken as a Party member.

To my visitors of the morning and the afternoon: we are on opposite sides, but let everyone think and act according to their conscience, I don’t engage in the fame of hatred and revenge that I detest from both sides. As said Nicolás Guillén said: the master should be ashamed.

6 December 2013

Twenty-five Cents / Regina Coyula

I do not like beggars. I was raised on the idea of begging as a holdover from the past, a scheme to get an income without working. From the time of the Special Period here, I have changed my point of view. I’ve seen extremely old people begging, almost with regret, with a dignity that has nothing to do with the act of begging. As a counterpart, professional beggars have appeared in tourist areas. Young women begging to be able to buy milk for rented babies they carry, or gullible foreigners approached with a false colostomy.

Yesterday, I encountered a beggar in my path. As I advanced towards her, I figured she was two parts scheming and one part crazy. She was sitting on the doorjamb of an interior street at 5th and 42nd, one of the busiest hard currency stores in the city, her strategic position enabled her to address everyone who entered or left via 40th Street, especially those using the parking log. The car in Cuba continues to represent a certain status, even if it’s a Palaquito (Fiat). As is my usual custom, I passed at a distance. I was alone and there wasn’t anyone else, so if she was talking to someone, it was to me.

“This is communism.”

I went back to the woman’s side, and to buy time, looked again in my wallet without finding any change.

“Why do you say that my dear? Do you think that in communism you weren’t there?”

The beggar didn’t look at me, nor had she looked at me before. Her gaze wandered from the half-empty bowl of coins at her feet to the opposite wall. Terse and forceful, she earned the chavito (Cuban Convertible Peso, ~one dollar U.S.) this post cost me.

“I worked 35 years and here I am. This is communism.”

2 December 2013

Kokuba / Regina Coyula

Image from ElPais.com

Kakebo notebooks. Image from El Pais.com

The kakebo comes from Japan and is a hybrid between a calendar and an accounts book.  It is said that Tomoko Hina, the first Japanese woman journalist, was the one who at the beginning of the 20th century developed the first kakebo in order to arrange and record household expenditures.  Housewives adopted it in order to organize the family economy and optimally administer resources.  Now its application has extended and there are kakebos of all kinds and all varieties and models, for big families to singles.  And for the first time here the year 2014 will feature Kakebo, book of accounts for household savings, published by Blackie Books (17.9 Euros).

With this news*, I eat breakfast with which, for years, my family’s economy has passed through a Kakebo.  A school notebook with the grid paper that they hand out freely, have been our expense control.  The page, divided in the middle to reflect the Cuban pesos on one side and the convertibles on the other.  Before, we had tried to manage our accounts by dividing our money into four parts corresponding to the money for the month destined for food each week, only to invariably violate the envelopes before the immediacy of an unexpected expense.

We resigned ourselves then to record expenses until the day on which we open the drawer and now there is no money; for a brief stage, with variable success, pockets, wallets and old ashtrays are checked, today often earmarked. Now it is known that it is time to eat the pseudo-bread of the notebook, I cannot buy coffee and the oil must be stretched.  Extravagances like beer, beef (including hash), or butter, a short while ago became harmful options, and not precisely to one’s health.  Must-have luxuries?  Coffee and hair dye.  That of bars, tobacco and meals out is a misplaced concern.

I’m dying to know what kind of welcome the sale of these Japanese philosophy notebooks will have in Spain.  I don’t know about the rest, but I can’t get it out of my head that whoever has to keep accounts, does not spend eighteen Euros on some other consumer object. For my part, I am about to abandon the daily notes, because I have arrived at the conclusion that everything has come to everyone in Cuba: on the topic of expenses and income, this film is backwards.

*Translator’s note: The link is to an article in El Pais about Kakebo notebooks

Translated by mlk

6 November 2013

A Sentimental Education / Regina Coyula

Phrases and slogans are often survival strategies, empty expressions that are repeated time and again until they form a part of the landscape.  The University is for Revolutionaries is one of these phrases that nevertheless makes sense when we can peek inside a protest rally or act of revolutionary reaffirmation such as that held last week against the Ladies in White.

I will not dwell too much on the potential risk of filming, so evident in the distancing of Luz Escobar from what is going on all around, especially seeing and hearing the demand of some of the participants beating on the door for entrance to Laura Pollán’s house; she wasn’t disposed to let these battle-hardened classmates discover and enemy among them.

I want to call attention to the use of university students in these demonstrations of hatred. They are brought in deceitfully, taking into account the importance of gregariousness among the young, and from there, the behavior expected of them. Spontaneous or induced, the fear of showing a lack of ideological firmness which has repercussion on their professional future, to be clever and/or charismatic for different purposes.

The students are taken there during school hours, for a curricular activity that counts as attendance, they are saddled with a badly told story, and between the generalizations and omissions each constructs their own version. Later it is the individual attitude that becomes collective (again, the gregariousness).

Meanwhile, they continue singing songs, which could be annoying but not threatening, but there are always the spontaneous or the indoctrinated who want to excel, raise the stakes, and in this enervated environment these young students, those good kids who worry about the environment and look after their grandparents, I don’t say they don’t think twice, no; they don’t think to commit any vandalism in the name of THEIR revolution, a revolution that is neither theirs nor a revolution (again, emptied of content).

The Ladies in White represent a part of what in any democratic country makes up the opposition to the government. Systematically demonizing them increases their visibility, and however many videos are edited to make them appear evil, their peaceful march continues to garner sympathy.

The fairs of hatred mounted by the repressive apparatus with the government’s permission in Neptune Street, very close to the University, should be incompatible with the current campaign for economic optimization, austerity and savings. The buses and fuel to take the students from the distant universities such as CUJAE or Varona Pedagogical, snacks, a screen mounted in the middle of the street for audiovisuals, a meeting point at Trillo Park where they distribute the troops …

These fairs of hatred should also be incompatible with the current campaign to eradicate antisocial conduct and bad habits and to recover civic discipline, given the shortcomings of the New Man to perform in his environment. They serve, however, the complete opposite: recalling the shameful episodes of the eighties, Jewish children in Nazi Germany, spurring on the worst of each university compelled to scream, as you can see so well in the video.

Many will allude to individual responsibility. Every young person is already grown and knows what they are doing. And therein lies the subtlety of government repression: it doesn’t matter what you think, just scream and nothing will happen to you. The road to democracy will have as one of its biggest challenges to mend the anthropological the damage of such “subtleties.”

23 October 2013

Prehistoric Technology / Regina Coyula

The so-called digital natives are those born after 1970. Not only am I not a digital native, but I must wait for citizenship because I was born much earlier and come from a disconnected planet. In Cuba that date must run with generosity to the late ’80s because of the Blockade and the Imperialist Threat (and rumor has it also because of our former Sister, which bet the future entirely on socialism and not on the technological revolution).

But all mixed together, we Cubans in general came to familiarize ourselves (from afar) with personal computers from the ’90s: before that, some demigods called “micro operators” were the only ones with access to those machines of the dark green screens, there were some who experienced a Caribbean television as a screen.

My first encounter was in 1987, a NEC with a floppy disc reader. As the micro operator of the NEC of my account was my “team” and in the interim I married and went on maternity leave, I learned the management of the exclusive apparatus and when Ana Gladys was absent, Regina took command, most royal at the helm of an ocean liner. In addition, in this office of the micro, the air conditioning never failed, as it was said that the machine could not live without it.

Ana Gladys and I could have a conversation in front of anyone, others would think we were speaking another language: “The command is control-alt-M” (or it seems, but I’ve already forgotten MS DOS), “I left the program on the floppy,” what do I know, things like that.

At that time I did not need to study anything, I learned the commands by heart, and printed for my colleagues some precious theses with an academic program; not forgetting the variety of sources that came later.

A clever technician working in Copextel put together a Frankenstein. It was 1994 and the boy did not charge me, preferring to climb on a raft in the summer of that year. An XT with the text editor Wordstar or Wordperfect that my husband, the poet Alcides, didn’t touch for fear of the electricity.

It wasn’t until 1995 that we bought, secondhand, a 486. With Windows cam happiness. I convinced the poet that a PC was much better for his work. With more fear than conviction, he clung to his old Underwood, claiming not to know that symbiosis with mechanical apparatus, but as the immortal Stevenson said: Technology is technology, and I managed to convince him to step forward, to modernity. He is not a seasoned user, but he bangs on the keys and his drafts are flawless, an argument that was like a coup de grace to decide it.

As in this world of technology obsolescence is relentless , the 486 did not break, but it was incompatible with many peripherals, and in 2004, through the son of a friend (ooops … also today in exile), we bought a Compaq Pentium 3! brand new in its box and continued with the magnificent Magnavox SVGA monitor we “settled” for the 486. Alcides worked with him until four months ago he lost his memory (not Alcides, he enjoys an excellent memory) , and I have a friend from Miami engaging in archeology to see if he can retrieve it, because here the old RAM is more expensive than if it were new. I would prefer it not appear, so Alcides doesn’t regress to Windows 95.

Faced with the possibility of being left without work, I connected the keyboard and monitor (of the LCD) to a tiny Lenovo that I won in a contest on Twitter. At first , this was a disaster, because jumping from Windows 95 to Windows 7 for him was a leap of faith, but he has grown accustomed, and sometimes whole days pass without hearing that deep Rrregina … when the PC locks up.

The Internet has been an experience apart: familiarizing myself with browsers, optimizing the little connection time, getting into social networking, dealing with the downloading and installation of software. Much studying of booklets, manuals and tutorials, the years do not go for nothing; now I challenge myself to learn how to make a webpage from WordPress. In the end, more than curiosity, I think what keeps me studying like a madwoman is the fear of losing my memory, not just the RAM.

7 October 2013

Epidemic / Regina Coyula

A great concern for public health is the epidemic of urinary incontinence that has been plaguing us for a while. It cannot be attributed to the endemic lack of public toilets, given that the public toilets disappeared long before the first cases appeared; on the contrary, now with private businesses there are many bathrooms, which are required to be clean, have running water, soap and toilet paper, a requirement that was never present in the bathrooms of the State restaurants. So, this troubling epidemic worries me, but cannot be linked in any way to the lack of sanitary facilities.

At first they were nocturnal cases, anonymous overnight emergencies, only recognizable by ammonia odor in the atmosphere, but the advance of the epidemic has changed the knowledge of the ill. In its etiology it is described a loss of modesty, so that those infected can be detected with the naked eye in public and in broad daylight discharging their urination. Also, it more frequently attacks males under forty years.

Given this proliferation, it’s no longer just the area around the Capitol or the doorways of the Hotel Cohiba’s mall that are affected, now may be an innocent hibiscus in a planting strip, the entrance of a private garage, the side of a bakery.

My mother often repeats a phrase and I surprised myself several times repeating it also: “In my day …” And in my day, readers, people did not so blithely piss in the middle of the street.

30 September 2013

Sense and Sensibility / Regina Coyula

Translator’s note: At the end of this post is a video (without subtitles) of the State Security operation around Estado de Sats during the event Regina appeared in (shown in the above photo). It is this type of operation that she is referring to in the opening lines of her post.

It seems the Estado de Sats setbacks will become an ordinary thing: discouraging apocryphal messages, intimidating operations, unnecessary detentions. They are trying to prevent Estado de Sats from achieving a quorum, by my impression is that it has come to stay, satisfying a need not met by any institutional space, however open it pretends to be.

Invited to speak about self employment, I shared the panel presented by Antonio Rodiles with the journalist Orlando Freire and with Antonio Ocampo and Francisco Valido, engaged in private dining and transport respectively.  

I believed that my foray as an "expert" on the topic would make me nervous, but not at all.  A relaxed air connected with those present for more than two hours. Questions, opinions, laughter, and in the end, more questions and many compliments.  

I had the pleasure of meeting in person a Cuban who lives in Spain whom I already knew virtually.  All would have been very fine except for several people being prevented from coming.

At home, after breakfast, I undertook (or took on) the kitchen.  A thorough cleaning, of the kind not done every day, in order to put the ego in its place, to remind myself that it’s not about speaking well on a panel, that I continue to be one more citizen.

 

Translated by mlk

2 September 2013