Extremes Meet / Regina Coyula

I am not Argentinian nor did I lose someone during that country’s military dictatorship, but I am appalled to learn about the agreement between Jorge Videla and Fidel Castro as well as by the selective memory of the mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. What would Stella Caloni, someone always in the Cuban media, say about this? Or the current Argentinian president, Cristina Fernandez, in her crusade for human rights?*

On Telesur last night I saw Juan Carlos Monedero, one of the leaders of the new left-wing Spanish political party Podemos (We Can), demanding to know what Spain’s democratic leaders had done to counter the excesses of Latin American dictatorships while showing a photo of none other than King Juan Carlos together with Videla.

Fidel Castro seems to be in no position to explain anything. Emilio Aragonés, Cuba’s ambassador to Argentina at the time, died incognito years ago. (His death did not merit even a brief obituary on page 2 of Granma.) One of our shrewd journalists should get to the bottom of this.

And I personally believe someone from the government should provide an explanation and issue an apology.

*Translator’s note: The author is referring to recently released secret cables indicating that in 1977 Cuba asked Argentina’s right-wing military government, then led by Jorge Rafael Videla, to support its admission to Executive Council of the UN World Health Organization in exchange for the Cuba’s support of Argentina’s continued membership in the UN Social and Economic Council. 

Stella Caloni is an Argentinian journalist and writer. In an introduction to a recently published biography, Fidel Castro described her as “a recognized expert in communication” who “untangles the objectives in the counterinsurgency’s media war.”
24 November 2014

Audiovisual Education / Regina Coyula

The concerns of cultural and UNEAC officials over the potentially dangerous ideological content of the paquete* (package) is also causing me some concern. I am not an avid consumer of either the paquete or of television in general, but a furtive look, a stolen glance, a scan across the horizon raises serious doubts about the ammunition these Cuban organizations have to counter the barrage of audiovisual material coming from this package.

Are they trying to educate us with soap operas like Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue), in which the growing middle class does not make the connection between economic prosperity and good manners or good taste?  Or, alternatively, is Paraíso Tropical (Lost Paradise), which is currently being broadcast, now considered to be the model?

Are they betting on Cuban soap operas, rejected as “ugly” because they portray the current reality or labeled as “sci-fi” because they sugarcoat that same reality?

Do the latest South Korean soap operas (where nothing is ugly and everybody is an idiot) have some deeper meaning that escapes me?

Are they thinking of getting rid of many of their musical programs in which triviality, vulgarity, sexism and bad taste exert a pull over producers as well as musicians?

Is education going to be achieved through interview programs, whether they deal with politics, addiction, entertainment or public services?

Will cinematic education disrupt the profile of their programming, turning the Saturday Movie into a different version of the Sunday Matinee and Midnight Cinema by replaying B movies?

All of this is making me wonder if officials are really as concerned about quality as they are that the paquete continues its expansion unchecked by state supervision. Nah! it doesn’t matter how many operations they carry out. Like the Hydra, for every distributor that is eliminated, two more show up. And if they are trying to counteract its effects with the above-mentioned content or other similar programming, the education of the citizenry will continue to decline. On the other hand, the future success of the paquete, in which everyone chooses what he or she wants, is guaranteed.

Translated by Corriver

*Translator’s note: The paquete, or package, is a selection of foreign entertainment programs distributed informally throughout Cuba. In July, 2014 the national television broadcaster, TVC, admitted it could not compete with its selection of programming. UNEAC is the Spanish abbreviation for the Artist’s and Writer’s Union of Cuba.

17 November 2014

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

A Survey from Granma / Regina Coyula

In its Friday edition, the newspaper Granma has asked readers to fill out a questionnaire with the laudable goal of improving its quality. I’ve had some great times with Granma, but this survey marks one of the highpoints.

Among the questions is whether the news presented is timely, if the way it is presented is original, if articles create an information vacuum because they lack insufficient (I assume they mean sufficient) data, if topics are repetitive and if there is follow-up. This is a joke; the first thing readers who get their news exclusively from Granma or any other national news outlet need is references.

People more serious than I will take the time to analytically answer the survey in question, but if one were to ask how the newspaper is doing, there are several possible answers: 1) Very good, 2) Good but could use improvement, 3) Bad — certainly one that would have to be included — and 4) Very bad.

Granma is not the worst newspaper in the world. That would have to be Rodong Sinmun.* Remember that we are talking about the official media outlet of the Communist Party, which is almost like saying the only news outlet since all the others parrot its editorial line.

With or without the survey, Granma will continue to be in high-demand for the subsidiary role it plays in personal hygiene and home care.

An anecdote: My son once asked a friend to read the above-mentioned publication and if there was anything interesting in it. Tossing aside the newspaper and dragging out his response for emphasis, the friend gave a very enlightening answer:

“Nothing. It’s all a Granma.”

*Translator’s note: Worker’s Newspaper, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of  North Korea. 

3 November 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