Citizens-in-waiting / Regina Coyula

Photo: Luz Escobar

My country is so devoid of citizen initiatives, citizens live convinced that the “citizen” itself is a pejorative and almost criminal term used by the police, so how can they imagine that the word is not only beautiful, but that it has erotic overtones: the citizen-sovereign is he who elects his representatives and removes then if he is not served by them. In this “democracy” that we suffer we have managed to reverse the terms, so these “whatever” slogans and others in disuse lacking a rhythm and the name of the actual leader come into play.

And so, sick to death of these ever repeating slogans, the ailing citizen continues on not knowing who he is, braving the incessant drip of problems that define his life, where he is a victim, hero, anonymous or villain; not understanding, submerged in the everyday, that he will be the star of the democratic transition.

Standing in front of a shop window, looking in a mirror, or facing an abuse of power, the citizen ends up realizing who he is.

Between the cryptic and the serious, I wanted to greet the appearance of the Constitutional Roadmap, which is complementary to the Campaign for the signing of the UN Covenants (without tarnishing other proposals I don’t know of or that don’t interest me: more is better) they seem to me to be good fertilizer for the citizen-in-waiting.

26 February 2014

A Comfortable Home (something spoken of in the Constitution) / Regina Coyula

Image: jimdo.com

The journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez on his show on the Havana Channel yesterday referenced several complaints about the quality of newly built or repaired housing, which soon begin to show signs of deterioration. Last week on the show Cuba Says, on the TV news, there was an amazing report on the housing offered to people who remain in shelters, some of the for 40 (!!) years.

And what did I see? A rough and crude property, without plaster, exposed pipes. no slabs on the floor in the kitchen and bath. Some of the “beneficiaries” might even say they were happy, and it’s understandable for anyone who has to live with strangers: no privacy, no space, no sanitation, and no respect for others.

When it’s about supplies, Daddy-State didn’t exert too much effort to resolve the problem of housing, which has become critical, especially in the capital, where the number of people living in shelters, in the last year, reached  number similar to the population of Matanzas.

And not only has the State not resolved the problem of housing, but it weaned its babies transferring the problem to them. Those affected should now solicit loans, become hounds on the trail of construction materials, learn the trade, establish working relationships with people with similar interests, as it should always be, I think; only that those who today live badly should do it for themselves.

They were educated in the idea that good labor, political and social behavior would result in their being awarded housing through having earned credits at their workplace.

The dozen slums inherited from the government before 1959 were quickly eradicated. The same government that took them over is entirely responsible since then for the current number of 160 neighborhoods and settlements lacking facilities. Creating these favelas has nothing to do with the blockade or the imperialist threat; it’s one more demonstration of the inefficiency in administration and production from the same group that insists on convincing us that they can do it now.

14 February 2014

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

An Undignified Old Lady / Regina Coyula

This weekend I devoted to music. I had told my friend Karen, a likeable Brazilian twentysomething, that I like watching films knocking around the house, but it was Karen’s last night in Cuba, and under the influence of a forecast cold front which never arrived, we went with Rafa as chaperone to the Yellow Submarine. We saw the performance of Tierra Santa, (Holy Land) a cover group with a singer who is a cross between Ozzy Osborne and Geoff Tate, and a voice which, while not approaching that of either of those performers, has a good shot at it.

On Friday, now without Karen, Rafa took me to Maxim Rock to see Ánima Mundi (Soul of the world). It is a privilege to see this group, never mind that the sound system is not very good. In the first part they did interpretations of some of their original material. While waiting for the second part, I heard Miel con limón (Honey and lemon) and the band La vieja escuela (The old school). I sang along to famous songs, the stranger in that place where everyone seems to know everyone, and with everyone else singing from memory. I enjoyed both bands, especially the second, a forward preparation for what came next.

Shine on you, crazy diamond was the start of a short trip through Pink Floyd. Only musicians like Ánima Mundi would also take on Money, Another Brick in the Wall, and Wish you were here; a little of EL&P with Lucky man, to finish off in an amazing way with Rick Wakeman’s Arthur.

After this lavish dose of rock; Saturday blend in El Sauce. I persuaded my son to take me, as my husband is impossible in matters musical. Rafa argued with me because for me present day Habana Abierta (Open Havana) is like a cover group for the original Habana Abierta, but what are these young kids going to know about that concert in the Salón Rosado nightclub of el Tropical? I enjoyed the enchantment of the live music and, despite my son’s scolding, I was able to make myself look silly without any bother.

… And don’t ask me any more about the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Summit (CELAC) which doesn’t affect me one way or the other.

Translated by GH

3 February 2014

The Curse of the Evil Eye / Regina Coyula

I don’t belong to the nomenklatura, I don’t receive remittances, I’m not self-employed, I don’t work in any foreign firm not in the tourist sector, I don’t operate in the black market, for me the New Year celebration is as modest as for the majority of my countrymen. But when one thinks things couldn’t get worse, the Devil shows up and breathes on you.

Do you remember in the previous post I had strictly domestic plans? Right. My mom at 97 tried to stand on leg that went to sleep; she fractured her femur, operation included, and I became a nurse. A brief stay between 20-24 December at the Fructuoso Rodriguez orthopedic hospital let me see the lights and shadows of the healthcare system first hand.

And for three weeks I moved to my mom’s house. She didn’t have to worry, it was divine, walking from the second day after the operation, and up and down the stairs of the house. All under the supervision of the little old people who are the candle that creates things and when they come and have to go back to the surgeon it’s for being intrepid.

I didn’t feel well on  24 December and was sick the whole week, but at with both my mother and all because my sister — also — had a blood pressure crisis and had osteoporosis so she couldn’t lift even a bucket of water and my niece was traveling.

Dragging my feet and dying of fever, I took care of my mother and crawled back to lie down in bed. On the 30th my son, extremely worried, insisted on taking me to the doctor and it turned out I had dengue fever.

Tremendous alarm, I didn’t want to infect my mother, but without mosquitoes there is no infection, and in my mother’s house there are no mosquitoes. When my niece got back from her trip I went home, on January 14. Can you imagine a house with two adult (and unconscious) males adrift for three weeks?

In a fit (having nothing to do with the state of the house) I grabbed the scissors. With hypothyroidism, menopause, and red dye, all mixed up, I made my hair a dull crown on a brilliant mind. Now, in addition to ugly hair, it’s badly cut. In the meantime, I broke a tooth and haven’t been able to go to get it fixed. More? Yes, more. The refrigerator, that essential, stopped chilling, and for 25 CUCs, in less than half an hour, the mechanic opened it and injected gas. I think I’m beat.

Plans for this year? Visit the endocrinologist and the dentist and measure the view for new windows. That’s what I want, I leave the rest to you.

24 January 2014

Different Strokes in Havana / Regina Coyula

I would like not to commit a blunder and put myself in tune with the times, and instead of talking about layers of the onion, say that any city, any society, resembles also a multi-system disc where the tracks spin and re-write themselves without affecting the various files among them.

After this rhetoric, Havana these days is a city whose manifest decay has cross-dressed into a vintage beauty; tourists, with cameras that a Cuban doctor could not buy with an entire year’s salary, wander around taking a picture of a ’54 Chevrolet here, a collapse there or a smiling, chubby, dark, cigar-smoking woman with the sound track from Chan Chan or Guantanamera.

Another refined and glamorous Havana perfumes the air conditioning of trendy new places open to the heat (warmth, no need to exaggerate) of the Raulist reforms. With restaurant licenses, operating in practice as bars open until dawn, the celebrity has found there an ideal space; also firm managers, successful private workers.  Foreigners do not make up the majority in these places.  A happy and unworried gathering of women without any ugly, fat, old or poor ones, accurately calculate at a glance the value of their potential companions.

My son, a very worthy specimen of masculinity, was “disqualified” at Esencia Habana, one of these places in Vedado where, for a bottle of Smirnoff vodka that sells in a Miami liquor store for 20 dollars, they charge without a blush 63.2 CUC (more than $65 US).

A friend of Rafa who lives there came for four days to the wedding of a friend of his girlfriend.  It was the girlfriend’s first visit after her departure as a girl, and she was reunited with her childhood friends, almost all university students, and they suggested the place.

Rafa was the rare one with his casual attire among those long-sleeved shirts tucked into the pants, the dress shoes and the catwalk dresses.  The girls danced to the rhythm of Justin Bieber, Pitbull or Gente D’Zona, while they made faces before their latest generation iPhones and Samsungs whose only advantage in Cuba is the flash.  My son felt the separation, but it did not matter to him because he and his friend had a ton of things to talk about.

They next day they were to meet again, this time at a more calm place but based on the advice of the friends of the girlfriend, they went to Espacios, another of these places in the “miky” fashion*.  Rafa said goodbye after a while: “Bro, it’s not my scene, I’m leaving.” His friend understood, and I, though they who aspire to a life of luxury may criticize me, I felt very comfortable with the idea that, in the rewritable disc of Havana, my son is in the file of the rare.

*Translator’s note: A comment from a Lonely Planet site defines “miky” (or “miki”) as follows: Miki is the opposite of “freaky” (friki). It’s Cuban youth slang for go-with-the-flow youth following trends, meaningless fashion music (salseros, regetoneros etc) and are not really “special” or doing anything thoughtful. Freakies on the other hand see themselves as “deeper”, with opinions, “quality” and more rebellious. Mikis are deemed by their “adversaries” are shallow, uneducated and daft, while freakies are seen by mikis as snobbish intellectual brats.

Translated by mlk.

17 December 2013

Pachanga* and Repression / Regina Coyula

vista-desde-la-azotea-de-sats

The schoolchildren brought to “repudiate” the Human Rights Conference at Estado do Sats

Organizing my version of this two-day International Conference on the UN Covenants, I keep coming back to the final images of the movie Godfather II. Over in South Africa, the world mourns one of the best politicians I’ve ever known. Our General-President, invited to speak at the mournful event, exalts the forgiveness and reconciliation that define the greatness of Nelson Mandela. While in Cuba, an impressive police and vigilante operation conscientiously lends itself to the task of criminalizing differences, of fracturing our broken society a little more.

As I have decided to behave as a free person, and my visitors last week sought to prevent my attending, advanced my arrival at the venue of the Estado de SATS by twelve hours. It might seem exaggerated, but around midnight a perimeter was established with access controls and by the early morning and there were people who could not come. The few who managed to evade controls reported on the numbers of people who had been arrested, and through text messages and other means we learned of more actions and arrests.

On the morning of December 10, the street in front of Antonio Rodiles’ house, the site of Estado de SATS, was closed to traffic for about 25 yards, and elementary, junior high and high school students began to arrive for festive activity on Human Rights Day, a reactive move by the government since five years ago when the opposition gained the initiative for this celebration.

The government’s ‘celebration’ was as hard-edged as are all such unspontaneous events; the children delighted to be at a pachanga (party) with music ranging from Silvio to Marc Anthony, and not in school. When the moods are warm under the cloudless sky of this December that denies winter, reggaeton or Laritza Bacallao can get the kids moving.

I imagine they were summoned for a celebration, or at best an act of revolutionary reaffirmation, and I wonder how many parents were consulted about the use of their minor children, among those who assumed they were in their classrooms.


Among the blare of the loudspeakers and the concern as reports came in about more arrests, the panel on Journalism and New Technologies was held. All the theory expressed by the panel is what we are living in practice and we also experience the lacks: Communication via text messages with Twitter and with friends and family, contact with media, documenting everything via audiovisuals, doors within and on the street; the lack of internet connections — once again — that tool that will not free us but that allows us to express ourselves freely.

By noon on the 10th, it was clear they would not allow anyone else to arrive, always creative in managing things, but if I left, I would miss Boris Larramendi on the following day.

The night was very peaceful thanks to the absolute closure of the Avenue in front of the house. From dawn on the 11th it was clear they were going to repeat the spectacle in the street. For those who believe in energy, I can assure you that the atmosphere in the house was admirable: some unknown only the day before, heterogeneous from any point of view. Scaling mountains makes men brothers, a Cuban dissident said.

The fright came at 11:00 in the morning when Ailer María González — artistic director of Estado de SATS– left the house to walk among the small children who had been encouraged to paint on the street in front of the house. Camera in hand, Ailer walked among them without distracting or bothering them.

Immediately, to political police paparazzi surrounded here and Antonio Rodiles and Gladys, his mother, approached from one side and a group of plainclothes and uniformed police from the other. They exchanged words in the midst of the music and it seemed everything would be fine, but in front the sidewalk door to the house, Kizzy Macías, from the Omni-Zona Franco artistic project, was filming and a woman dressed in plainclothes came up quickly from behind and snatched the camera.

Like in the movies, everything seemed to slow down. The videos show it better and I hope they have been distributed on the web thanks to the solidarity of five surprised students from the Semester at Sea who were thinking about an art project and came face to face with the face of the wolf disguised as Little Red Riding Hood.

Ailer sat down in the street as a protest and Antonio’s phone rang on the table. I answered the calls from whomever, because of the arrests of Rodiles, Kizzy, the journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez and the computer whiz Walfrido López went viral on the social networks. And then I went to the kitchen to make lunch for more people than I’ve ever cooked for in my life, me, who is a very lousy homemaker. Being busy kept me calm.

The poster exhibition and the concert began under major uncertainty. Arnaldo and his Talisman and Elito Reve with his orchestra threatened a thunderous night and they played with enormous amplifiers from the street. What can I tell you. I must have been in a ridiculous state singing along with Boris on all the songs and rapping with David D’Omni. At my age I don’t often feel myself to be young, but last night I sang for my son and for all who couldn’t be there.

If prayer has any value, it had it last night, because the prayer of many was that the concert would end without incident and a total downpour, what we call a “water stick,” canceled the activity planned for the street. In closing, our arrested friends showed up at 8:00 at night, and I have no idea what time it was when we took the photo that informally closed this eventful meeting.

After the return of those arrested.

I was afraid. Afraid for Ailer advancing against the crowd in an image that will stay with me when I have forgotten many thing, afraid for my arrested friends who had been treated with the violence born of hatred, afraid for Gladys, the owner of the house, a woman of steel but not a healthy one, afraid because that was the preamble of more, and afraid for myself, not even having a phone at that moment to communicate with my family, who knew nothing of the situation.

Afraid because it’s one thing to be told about it and another thing to see it, and something very different entirely to experience it first hand, which was not what happened in my case. I had a glimpse of the dirty face of repression. But just that. This fear set off an enormous rush of adrenaline, which is certainly bad for my physical health; but for my mental health, there has been a before and an after.

*Translator’s note: Pachanga is a “festive, lively style [of Cuban music] and is marked by jocular, mischievous lyrics.” (From Wikipedia). The word also applies to the party itself.

13 December 2013