Work


Photograph by L. Diversent

If you did the homework I gave you months ago (Noisy Bell, Elusive Cat…), the new labor market situation can’t have taken you by surprise. The concern of state employees about the “reduction of inflated payrolls” hasn’t diminished, and rightly so.

At school they taught me that economic crises were a feature of the capitalist mode of production because, unlike socialist planning, its way of producing is anarchic. In the socialist economic order, it was unthinkable to have excess workers because there would always be jobs satisfying the necessary and growing demands of society.

Here, where an economic crisis is called “Special Period in Time of Peace,” where workers will not be unemployed but “available,” it is no surprise that it was the Union, and not the Labor and Social Security Ministry, that was charged with divulging the bad news, in the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee’s official journal no less!

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Weekend Movies

cortesía Orlando LuisThis weekend I saw on TV two very different movies, both very perturbing because of what they show in regards to the relation between reality and fiction. The movies were Agora, on the Friday time slot for movies, and The Experiment on Saturday.

The movie Agora takes place in Alexandria during the final years of the Roman Empire when Christians, after many years of persecution, win the streets and obtain power. We had seen the suffering of Jesus’s followers, the cruelty and spite which they suffered at the hands of the pagans. But, what happens when Christians obtain power? They mimic and even surpass those who had the power before them, they desecrate the symbols of the past: temples, statues, and in what will be a sign of the dark centuries ahead, they destroy the Library of Alexandria.

The other movie, with superb acting by Adrien Brody and Forest Whittaker, tells the story of a group of people who volunteer for an experiment on the conditions experienced on a prison setting, who are surprised to find out that a few of them will act as guards while the rest will be the prisoners. What happens when regular men obtain power? Cruelty, sadism. The experiment ends, predictably, when the prisoners rebel.

So much time has gone by, and things still do not improve when it comes to human relations.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Bitter Cakes

This evening, I wanted to buy cakes from the man who hawks his goods in front of my house. I can’t remember the conversation verbatim, but this is the essence of it.

He built a house of masonry with a roof of light materials in Marianao, behind the Military Technical Institute. In 2004, coming back from the hospital together with his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son, he found his house had been demolished while their belongings where still inside. Some neighbours protested and tried to stop the abusive measure, considering the residents of the house were not home, and according to my pastry man, they were beaten and arrested. Since then they have appealed to the Popular Power, the Party and the Police, the latter being the one who demolished the house, without having received from them any document justifying the arbitrary measure taken against him and his family. The only explanation received – verbally – after his protests is that “it was illegal.” Astonished, I asked what they had done with the lot where his house used to be; I was flabbergasted when I heard it was now a garbage dump. Since he is accusing the three big aforementioned institutions of being responsible, no lawyers from the Legal Cooperative dare to bring the lawsuit, so I suggested he to turn to the Asociación Jurídica Cubana for help with his case. He thanked me, but he wants to wait and see if the process he is undertaking with a “pincho” will work for him.

Whatever the results, he is not going to get his house back, nor his baby’s crib, nor his cabinet, nor his kerosene kitchen, nor the years he’s been laboring trying to get an answer.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

I Tell It Like It Is

caricatura de Garrincha

I remember how surprised I was in 1990 when I read in the newspaper Granma some of the letters exchanged between Fidel and Khrushchev during the October 1962 Missile Crisis. It was clear to me that Fidel encouraged the leader of the now extinct superpower to get ahead of their adversary and strike the first powerful blow, and he doesn’t mention the possibility of talking first. Even though he now derides the former leader of the USSR as a drunk, the truth is that the Russians handled the crisis as if it were a Chess match; trying to predict plays in advance, they obtained the withdrawal of missiles Turkey and a moratorium for Cuba. Fidel swallowed his pride and only after the fall of the sister republic has he expressed his displeasure at not being invited to the negotiating table back then. He wrote what he wrote, even if now he would like to spin it differently.

Fidel “amuses himself” seeing how the same American journalist who gave him the opportunity to reinterpret his intentions expressed in the letters from 1962, quotes him verbatim when he says the Cuban model doesn’t even work for Cuba anymore. But no, Fidel of course meant to say the opposite.

To sum up the little we know in Cuba about his interview with Goldberg, it’s possible that here in our country the capitalist model will not work as Fidel says; but I’m sure, since I live under it, that socialism, as we know it here and any other place it has been tried, doesn’t work either.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Queenside Castling

I have a friend, who is an International Chess Master with the title of Grandmaster, whom we consider almost as part of the family, but I hadn’t heard from her since she got a contract to work in Costa Rica last year. Last May I went to the Capablanca in memoriam tournament and, being in the right place, I asked about her. I was surprised by the fact that everyone I asked grinned, looked at each other if they were a group of people, but no one dared to tell me anything about the whereabouts of my friend Tania Hernández. One thing did seem clear among all the evasive responses: Tania was not coming back to Havana.

There was no self-censorship or questioning from the part of those I asked, since Tania is a very lovable person. Despite her career in the sport of Chess, after twelve years as part of the National Chess Team, Tania still lived with her parents and grandmother in the same block in Central Havana where she was born, a home to which improvements were made thanks to the travel stipends she saved from each trip. When her results left her out of the team, they “turned off her lights”, and Tania had to leave her sporting career, give lessons, sell her Chess books, all of which I know was very hard for her.

I suppose she used the contacts she had made while participating in international events to obtain the contract to work in Central America. In this new chapter in her life, Tania will work as a coach or teacher, activities for which she has as much talent as she had for playing; her work will allow her to pay the rent for a cozy little apartment, and also to help her family in Cuba. Now that everyone knows her decision, the Sports Institute (INDER) will not forgive her. Branded as a deserter, she will be forbidden to re-enter Cuba for at least the next five years. Of course we are talking about five years counting from 2010, so I expect to be able to hug my friend in Havana before the sentence, sanctioned by public officials who know nothing about what it’s like to live in a small overcrowded room, expires.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Old Wineskins

Most people I know didn’t sit in front of the TV to watch the special session of the National Assembly called by Fidel Castro in order to analyze current international events; it seems they didn’t care about it. But it was interesting. It allowed me to see Fidel almost live. Almost, because the broadcast must have been delayed by a few minutes to fix any unexpected blunders. Nevertheless some gaffes couldn’t be edited out; always a risk when broadcasting live.

We have heard very often about the subject of this session, even before the caller’s reappearance, but always under his aegis. The subject was that war that Obama has delayed just to make Fidel look bad. But our fiery ex-president doesn’t give up: If the war doesn’t begin, it will be thanks to the immense, international and intense campaign started by him with his historical letter last week to the American president.

After Fidel read his message, some of those present “spontaneously” intervened to read prepared written statements, always starting with a compliment to the top leader. Then, as if they were in school, deputies were given three questions as homework. Questions they will have to answer using a new angle defined by the former president. I couldn’t help thinking of storing new wine in old wineskins.

War and the environment are his concerns. (In his crusade for the environment, he always references the French documentary Home, which is good, but very inferior to An Inconvenient Truth, the overwhelming documentary presented by Al Gore.)

After seeing what I have seen since his resurrection, I have no doubt that Fidel’s race for the Nobel Peace Prize should be taken seriously.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Sui Generis

I don’t know what lesson to draw from this boring celebration of the 57th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes military bases, an action which is considered something of a Genesis for neohistorians. Beginning at midnight, in the first moment of July 26, I was very surprised they didn’t stop the regular programming on TV to read the usual congratulatory statement for this date. At seven-thirty in the morning, amid choral singing, the official event started. The showings of local culture continued with a poem declaimed and some troubadours. And then the Party Secretary for the province hosting the event remarked on the achievements and the tirelessness of the locals, and president Raúl Castro handed rewards to the winning provinces; the high point of the event was the speech by Venezuelan minister Rodríguez Areque. Thanks to this speech I found out that the next war will not be in Asia, but in our own backyard, between Venezuela and Colombia. At the end, the speech by Vice-president Machado Ventura, clearly written by himself, demanding more sacrifice and exalting the unshakable friendship between Cuba and the Bolivarian Republic… does it sound familiar ? Yes, it sounds familiar!

At eight-fifty-five, after the July 26 anthem, it was over. It was the first time we’ve seen such a brief and lackluster celebration. As I said before, I don’t know what lesson to draw from this. Should I try to see anything new in the loquacity of Fidel and the terseness of Raúl ?

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Binomial of Three

Frank Delgado and Buena Fe have made a record together. I like the chemistry of these artists a lot, they have a very good eye for looking and for making music which is catchy and makes you think at the same time. The first song, Extremistas Nobles, from which the record gets its name, is a statement of intentions. The songs of love (and loss) are excellent, Retazos de amor, and especially the bachata song Loco por ti have beautiful lyrics. I have always been a fan of Frank Delgado, a rebellious singer who hasn’t been broadcast as much as he deserves precisely for that- he answers back. The duo of Israel and Joel, who are also among my favorites, have had a successful career starting with Sicología al día, and even though they have been marketed, broadcast and received several awards, some of their songs have been censored; but beware: the young crowds still sing their songs and fill their concerts.

This new record is a mix between both styles, which makes it very unconventional. Lacking any pictures for this post, I post here the lyrics for Cubannolito.

Please visit rockason.wordpress.com. I wanted to post some audio from the song here, but I didn’t know how to do it.

Hey, my brother, how come nobody wants to be Cuban anymore

And everyone is busily searching for their ancestors

Do you remember the black Marcelo, all dark and with long grelos

He got a blue passport*, yes, because he’s got a Basque great-grandfather.

Patriotism comes with many strings attached, I’ve been a Cuban for four generations.

The Spanish are achieving what the Gringos couldn’t

Maybe next year we’ll already be subjects of King Juan Carlos.

Nor was it that the Bourbons managed to be a panacea

But they got into the parade and now they’re the door to the European Union.

Perucho Figueredo** points his arrow up. It so happens the Spanish anthem doesn’t have lyrics.

I say what I think: Little Spaniard, say pal what’s up, or low grade Cuban.

And so I find many acquaintances, practicing this new sport, running with the whole family to make sure nobody ends without a passport.

And since it comes with the right to vote in spanish elections, their candidates will be coming to campaign in Cuba.

The good things and the bad things. Fighting to paint or to fade the flag.

If you’re Cuban they will bust your balls (with a stone). The voice of command has a Spanish accent.

When you finally get to be a Spaniard you’ll feel important, you’ll finally be able to travel and even open an elegant restaurant.

What I would like the most is a trip to Spain, but everyone is going from the slum to luxury, it’s becoming a crowd. To the Nigerian embassy!

Translator’s Notes:
* Spanish passport.
** Composer of the Cuban national anthem

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Telephone

Since I started this blog I’ve felt like never before the isolation produced by not having a phone line. It’s not that I didn’t want one. If blame needs to be apportioned to anyone or anything besides the boycott and the imperialist menace it should be to my husband who never wanted a phone line when he was still an active member of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC for its initials in Spanish). His reasoning was that the telephone ring, the same as the door ring, would upset the state of grace in which he needed to immerse himself in order to write. By the time he knew about answering machines he was already a “writer on hiatus” as he likes saying, and despite my begging he didn’t want to ask for a letter from UNEAC avowing his condition as a founding member of the institution. For those who are lost at this point of the story, I have to clarify that the telephone company is in charge of deploying new lines, but only after being authorized by the Poder Popular Municipal, which is more or less the equivalent of a city government.

Somewhere around six years ago, and without my husband knowing, I went to UNEAC’s literature section and filed a written application for e-mail service, to be “anchored” to the telephone line from my mother’s house. I was told back then that it would take some time because of upgrades on the CUBARTE server taking place at the moment, and I never got an answer afterwards. It seems that my husband doesn’t meet their criteria on reliability, or they knew beforehand that he wouldn’t accept the signed user agreement included in the contract, which implies that no information criticizing the government may be sent or received.

I’m considering now applying for a mobile phone, but I haven’t decided yet, for as long as there are no fixed tariff plans, which is what I really want, a mobile phone may be a luxury or a necessity depending on circumstances.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer