Reason to Bid Farewell to 2011

This is about a beautiful clip a reader of mine in Brazil sent to me.  In it, you see Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist.  He is playing his Stradivarius in the New York Subway while the hurried crowd ignores him. This act, and what is newsworthy about it, is that we don’t appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.  Read whatever you want into this. I wish everyone: friends, acquaintances, detractors, enemies and those of you who are unknown, happiness.  (Oops!  I hope I didn’t sound corny, I still mean it.)  Until next year.

Translated by:  Hank

December 30 2011

Two Views of Juan

The Movie Poster

My son and I both saw Juan of the Dead at different times.  This is a Cuban movie that has just been awarded a Popular Award at the 33rd Latin American Movie Festival. Rafael loved the profusion of bad words, with the “role” of the female blogger played by White Rose White; the “little groups of dissidents at the service of the government of the United States” and the humorous scenes throughout the footage.  For Rafael, Juan of the Dead was a lot of fun.  Rafael’s mother, as you know, likes to look a little beyond what you see — in Juan of the Dead she saw a zombie country.

This is an unusual B movie within Cuban cinema, which is so focused on social issues. And from the co-producers, Oh, the co-producers! Who are almost always stuck on the inevitable topic of prostitution.  This work of Alejandro Brugués connects immediately with his audience and from this base filled with humor — the scene of the dance of the wives is memorable — (I’m not going to tell you the story of the movie so you will go see it), he constantly prods at our society. Look, I don’t go to see films to critique them, it’s an amusement, but brought to trial, Brugués would not be absolved. Although a spontaneous campaign would immediately be organized to call for his release.

Translated by:  Hank

December 14 2011

Wild Capitalism

Taxis in front of the Hotel Cohiba. Internet Photograph.

For those who doubt that things here will get worse, I inform you that the first to set up the Chinese Model have been some of those in the emerging private sector.  Since they are  obligated to pay high taxes for their operating licenses, in addition to salaries and benefits for their employees, they tighten things up by putting pressure on the people at the bottom.  Employees without a fixed salary are only paid a fraction of total revenues.  In that way, new businesses never lose.  Whoever doesn’t like it is free to leave because there will always be someone else desperate to take his place.

To my amazement, when I thought this post was complete, I found out that something very similar exists in the state sector.  The drivers of the new taxis that roll through the city, which are identifiable by their white and yellow colors, must pay a daily fixed tax — on top of the costs they pay for gasoline and maintenance.  If the driver fails to pay this tax two times, the taxi is handed over to another driver whose name is on a long waiting list.

Unwritten laws of a new labor scenario and an absence of labor unions to protect the interests of the least favored reminds me that a long time ago a revolution took place so that things like this would not happen.

Translated by: Hank

December 16 2011

New Graffiti

This grand wall at 19th and 42nd survived for a long time displaying the graffiti of El Sexto* with its pink criticism and his trademark star all the way to the walls of El Vedado.  Apparently, the pink lacquer he used has been extinguished because last week it was covered up — as you can barely make out in the photographic image.  Now, it is yellow over black and you notice it more than ever.  There’s nothing like censorship to get your attention.

*Translator’s Note:  “El Sexto” is a Cuban graffiti artist.

Translated by:  Hank

December 1 2011

Human Rights Day

Leave your comments here regarding the tweets that will appear over the course of today.  You can see them at @lamalaletra on Twitter, or on the right bar on the Spanish blog.  I want to especially mention Laura Pollan and the Ladies in White.  At four this afternoon I intend to go to the Estado de Sats.

Translated by:  Hank

December 10 2011

Lights and Shadows

In literature there are works of fiction in which everything is resolved at the end.  Art imitates life but the exception proves the rule.  There is a much revered Cuban writer, gossip has it that he liked to pass himself off as a Frenchman.   Well informed people who knew him declared that this was not the case, he only trilled his rrrr’s because he stuttered.  I am referring to Alejo Carpentier.

I love Alejo, there are people that can’t stand his style (baroque; over elaborate), I remember well how I felt after reading “El Reino de Este Mundo” (The World’s Kingdom). It was confusing to me since I was so young then, but I felt the grandeur. On the other hand, I did not feel the same when reading “Consagración de la Primavera” (Spring Blessings) though his prose dazzled me. One of my favorites is “Cuando llegué a los Pasos Perdidos, si se cayó el dinero” (When I arrived at the Lost Steps, I felt silence) I still have the first edition I ever had, even though I have given away subsequent editions of it.

But I would like to talk about his most famous novel, a novel that was made into a movie and translated into many languages.  “The Century of Lights.”  It is a passionate work, at least for people who like history.  You can follow the interesting story line between the Caribbean and France in the 19th Century.  But if you read the novel looking ahead, you’ll see the last 50 years of our history.

Maybe Alejo did not foresee the coming of the Cuban Revolution.  I began this by writing that there are times when life imitates art.  Read it again.

CLARIFICATION:  In my posting “Hotel Regina” I wrote that I had to get authorization to photograph the Campoamor.  But I did not need authorization to take pictures from the outside, which would be impossible to prevent.  I asked for permission to go in and then observed that behind the planks that cover the entrance there was access to the inside from an adjacent park.  That’s where they told me about the authorization, which I should obtain from the Teatro Garcia Lorca.  They explained to me that I could not go in because it was going to be restored and they already had construction materials there to do the work.  So, very sweetly, I asked the custodian of the park – who never understood a thing – if it was going to be restored before it completely fell apart.

Translated by: Hank, Mery y Irish Sam


The Cuban Government has no intention of engaging in a dialog or an opening.  This leaves the rest of us in a very tense situation that could last beyond the passing of Fidel Castro.  In the historic district of Havana, a ruling class formed after 1959.  They were much younger in those days and they didn’t have the weight upon them of having to make decisions.  Back then, they had access to political and economic information, and in their day, they wanted to construct a socialist society.  After the fall of the socialist camp, the ruling class was confronted with alarming similarities between the systemic defects of Eastern Europe and Cuba. What’s more, this ruling class has family and friends who support them to keep them updated on everything that is going on in the world; family and friends for whom, in many cases, the image of the Revolution is nothing more than something from a textbook and all they can do is repeat the tired ideological discourse.

Many children of the ruling class are well-educated professionals who have opted to emigrate, in search of better salaries and better professional opportunities.  The success of the majority of Cuban exiles abroad is one more difficult piece of evidence that confronts those who have stayed here in Cuba.

From deep in the hearts of the functionaries will come proposals of flexibility and openness – an attempt to regain their positions in the necessary reform administration.  But our economy is being strangled to death.  This Brezhnev-style paralysis should alarm the government economists.

The vast majority of people who live in any part of the world don’t care under what system they live, they only care how they live under that system.  Cuba is no exception.  What will it take for Cubans to get over the fear in their minds and want to try their luck in a market economy.  The experience of Eastern Europe tells us that the majority of people who live there are happier now than they were twenty years ago and, in spite of the difficulties, they don’t want to go back to the way it was.

The draconian measures that were taken here should have given the government a moment to deal with the disappearance of the socialist camp, but their loss of political power turned them into conservatives.  They took minor but essential stop-gap measures until the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, showed up.  With oil to consume and re-sell at a good price, the timid openings were paralyzed.  So here we are.

Since we have copied the Soviet system, we are beginning to see a new rich appear from the ranks of our functionaries.  There should be laws to prevent Cuba from becoming another Russia.  The argument justifying the thief who robs from another thief doesn’t work for me.

I am not interested in the project the government offers my country.  I want real participation of Cubans in their own destiny; I want my people to rid themselves of their fear; I want no one ever again to die crossing the Straits of Florida; I want the government of Cuba to be monitored by the people who elect it and I want the government to be subject to criticism by a free press.  I want to have a president who is elected by a direct and secret ballot; I want impartial technocrats who every 4 or 6 years deliver a budget surplus.

What’s good for all Cubans will be good for me.

I don’t use words unnecessarily, that is the reason for the title.

Translated by Hank

Hunger as a Weapon

One of the few advantages of having a blog without Internet access is that I don’t feel influenced by what people write on other opinion sites.  I don’t generate news, I only comment on what I have, more or less: television, the neighborhood, myself. These days many people must be talking about Guillermo Fariñas in a world where even the official media mentions him. I have become very suspicious every time some institution or some figure uses extreme adjectives whether for or against. For me, the most important thing in the case of Fariñas is not whether he has a criminal record, here it is easy to accumulate common crimes if you are an active member of the opposition; as there are no political prisoners, they make the laws fit to apply the punishments.

Purely coincidentally, while I was looking for information in the book, “The Dissidents,” edited in 2003, I ran across photos of a hunger strike held by various dissidents among whom appeared Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was identified by name.  Didn’t they say he was a common criminal making impossible demands?

Zapata and Fariñas share a trait: Will.  Categorizing people as mercenaries, people who are willing to sacrifice their lives for an idea, a slow and painful death, only denigrates those who characterize them as such.

Translated by Hank

From Yesterday to Today

Brian is a friend of my son, Rafael, who will complete high school this year.  He still does not know what he wants to study, maybe physical education or law.  But while Brian is deciding what to chose for his future, his parents are one step ahead of him, they are applying for Spanish citizenship for him on the basis if his being a grandson of an immigrant.  Brian doesn’t really understand what that might mean for his future, but his intuition is that it could make a difference when the time comes.

There are thousands of people chasing after documents related to their grandparents so they can obtain foreign citizenship, I doubt if such a thing happens in other places with the intensity that it occurs here in Cuba.  I don’t know if sociological institutions study this at all, but it used to be that in Spain, they valued having parents who were of native descent because in those days, it was Cuba that represented a destination for immigrants, a destination that today grateful grandchildren use to obtain Spanish passports.

This phenomenon has caused such repercussions that the core of the Party — a little late for sure — has shifted its analysis to those militants who have applied for the coveted citizenship.  The militancy has to determine if the causes are justified or not.  This has provided a place for familiar justifications.

This would be only an anecdote if it were not for one small detail.  For a Cuban citizen to accept possession of other citizenship, the government of Cuba could not require a ‘Letter of Invitation,’ a passport and permission to leave, which cost approximately 350 CUC per person.  It is interesting because the Cuban Constitution does not recognize dual citizenship.  They would also lose a valuable source of income from Cuban residents living abroad and citizens in their respective adoptive countries, who feel obligated to pay the Cuban consulates to renew their passports which they only use to travel back here.  The state will do anything not to lose a single penny.

In the meantime, Brian, unaware of these subtleties, philosophically commented to my son that it has only been a little more than a hundred years since the Mambises struggled not to be Spanish. And now.

Translated by: Hank