Virgilisms

I’ve been reading Virgelio Piñera a lot in this, his centenary year, and I’ve even written a couple of works about him. But Virgilio “might have given himself a banquet” with national absurdity. We have signs of this through tall tales and gossip, and also through Granma, which despite cherry-picking his works and the letters they receive, they have regaled us with this Virgilian story that adorns the Letters to the Editor section of this past Friday.

Unknown registrations continue in my house

Before I start, my sincere thanks for having published my letter this past August 3, 2012. In that letter, I denounced my situation about having two people registered in my house who’ve never lived in it, at the same time they appear as “transients” in their mother’s house, with whom they’ve lived since birth.

Following the publication of my letter, inspectors from MININT [Ministry of the Interior] investigated the truth of my claim, but nothing has come of it. The prosecutor’s office, after declaring that I’m in a “legal limbo”, has left me submerged in it.

The order that has the CIRP — the ID card — only under willing and express request of the person involved, is the equivalent in my view, of arguing that the thieves will only be caught if they willing present themselves to a unit of the National Revolutionary Police. When a person acts in bad faith, as in the case of those enrolled in my house, of course they will not give themselves up spontaneously.

It’s really inconceivable that such a simple and obvious case hasn’t found a solution after two years of all levels of effort.

A. Marín Rodríguez

After things like that, and as a tribute, we could rephrase that to say, If Kafka had been Cuban, he would have written of local customs to say: If Kafka had been Cuban, he would have written Virgilisms.

Translated by: JT

October 17 2012

Voting

Only when I heard unusual noises next to my house, still before daybreak, did I remember that yesterday they were holding elections for delegates to the People’s Power.  The doorway of the house next to mine was restored as a school in order to open from seven in the morning.  Without need of knowing the votes, I knew it would turn out that the same delegate was re-elected, who I think is going for her third or fourth term.  She is a single mother who adds this additional burden to her work and raising a teenage son, because no one else wants the post.

The nomination assemblies around here were meteoric; hardly any took longer in search of an impressive alternative candidate.  My attention was drawn also to the fact that from my neighborhood, in all the places where I saw candidate photos, there were two, in contrast with previous years where there appeared a sizeable group of pictures with their corresponding political biographies, but — and this is characteristic nationally — no candidate reveals a plan, outlines a job, displays a concrete program on being elected.

As I stopped believing in the project of the government years ago, I do not vote. Yesterday, my neighbors from the polling station will have detested us a little (a little more?) because through our fault they kept the college open until the closing deadline. I am one step beyond those who void their ballots or leave them blank, but this year, my son for the first time, was of the requisite age to choose. He has just entered the university as you already know, that’s why I thought he would feel compelled to vote. It was treated as a very personal decision that we did not influence. He decided not to do it, but not for the civic reasons of his mom and dad:  As it is a right and not a duty, it does not interest me.

At some point that indifference will stop. That will be when he feels represented, or feels that his vote can make a difference.

Translated by mlk.

October 22 2012

Disagreement

In the Friday edition of the Granma newspaper, editorial letters are printed. Despite the filter through which they are submitted, (my friend Fernando has submitted letters since the editorial section started, but his letters have never been published, probably for not having the “correct” focus: the way Fidel taught us…, in accordance with the actualization model…,to comply with the rules…) nevertheless, there are still some interesting letters that get published.

Today it is a letter that alludes to two letters from last week. One is about the responsibility of bosses, and the other is about disagreeing with the boss. In today’s letter, the sender H. León Báez asks himself when the right to disagree with the boss’s opinion was lost. Very good for León Báez for bringing attention to a forgotten right. I invite readers to remember when between your peers, or on your own, you tested the boundaries with your boss. Right away I remember famous cases such as Borrego, who was the Minister of the Sugar Industry during the seventies, and more recently Doctor Terry, Vice Minister of Public Health, and Marcos Portal, Minister of General Industry.

In another part of his letter, León Báez refers to the popular practice of anonymous criticism, and agrees that this practice is free of reprisal, which tacitly acknowledges that disagreement is commonly met with punishment.

The day that Cubans are able to express our ideas without fear, our country will turn into  the Babel of opinions. Until then we will continue with agreement and silence.

October 19 2012

A Homemade October 10th

Although October 10 marks the beginning of Cuban’s struggle for its colonial independence, and is a holiday, the celebration has been reduced to a few ads and billboards. The same is true for February 24, but no one mentions May 20 any more, it has gone from being our national day to the execrable beginning of the Republic. The important anniversaries are the assault on the Moncada barracks and the day Batista fled.

My son’s History textbook summarizes it like this: … the energy of the Manzanilleros, led by the attorney Carlos Manuel de Cespedes… determined the beginning of the Cuban Revolutionary process on October 10, 1868… Cespedes’ uprising from his La Demajagua refinery, inaugurated, in national history, the use of the path of armed struggle to achieve independence.

Besides being carelessly written, the book is full of generalizations that prevent young people from identifying with the events and characters they study. My son’s face became attentive when he learned that Cespedes was a notable chess player of this time, that he was in love and liked to write poems to the ladies of his affection, that La Demajagua refinery had a steam machine many years before the famous “Cry of Yara” for independence, and that the help of the slaves, rather than productive, was onerous.

He was amused, believing a joke, when I told him that the head of the uprising wasn’t Cespedes, but rather Francisco Vicente Aguilera, and that Cespedes had not resigned the command to him when he moved forward the date of the uprising to October 10, as the story goes, by a telegram intercepted by a sympathizer, where he let slip to the Spanish authorities about the imminent uprising. I’m sure my son won’t forget any of this detail that doesn’t show up in his book.

I clarified, before his rapid conclusion, that it’s not about a history of the good and the bad, that Cespedes was wrong many times, but he was great despite his flaws. In the patriotic plan I told him about La Bayamesa written Cespedes and Fornaris, of Aguilara whom I’d already talked about, the patrician who even gave a theater to Bayamo and died poor and in exile.

About Perucho Figueredo and his nervous verses that he wrote in the saddle and that today we sing as the national anthem. What can I do! I’m from before, from those who still get emotional about certain symbols; my son, on the other hand, belongs to his era of disbelief. At least I try to be less cynical. At least I try.

October 11 2012

The Triumph of the Mediocre

What we are most worried about is the vulgarity of Cuban music. Caricature of Garrincha taken from the Internet

By email, this second and efficient manner that we Cubans have a receiving information, I have received a brief text that is attributed to various authors, but that jumps into the ring anonymously.

The triumph of the mediocre is the title and it refers to the situation in Spain. Removing some paragraph or some local reference it fits us perfectly. I will be returning to an old critique, but I don’t get too excited by what I see all around me. The bad taste and the vulgarity are not only in the lyrics of danceable music: the patterns of dress, the design (or the absence of it) that proliferates in the environment, social behavior, the deterioration of services, the bad functioning of education and health, the one time workhorses of the battle, the grayness of politics and politicians; the list where everyone who fills it, has something to do with the fact that mediocrity wins.

I don’t have the cure. There are no magic potions. But in our case, the enclosure in which we live and the exodus that has divided us must be taken into account. A Pyrrhic victory.

The Triumph of the Mediocre

Perhaps the time has come to accept that our crisis goes beyond the economy, beyond this or that politician, the greed of the bankers or the risk premium. To assume that our problems will not be changed by one party or another, by another battery of emergency measures, or a general strike. To recognize that the principal problem of Spain is not Greece, the euro, nor Mrs. Merkel. To admit, to try to correct, that we have become a mediocre country.

No country comes to such a condition overnight. Nor in three or four years. It is the result of the chain that starts in school and ends at the establishment. We have created a culture in which the mediocre are the most popular students in high school, the first to be elected to office, those who have the most to say in the media and the ones we vote for in elections without caring what they do. Because they are us. We are so accustomed to our mediocrity that we have ended up accepting it is a natural state of things. Its exceptions, almost always reduced to sports, serve us to deny the evidence.

Mediocre is a country where its inhabitants spend on average 134 minutes a day in front of the television that shows principally garbage. Mediocre is a country that in every democracy has not had a president that speaks English or had the least knowledge about international politics. Mediocre is the only country in the world that, in its rancid sectarianism, has managed to divide even the associations of victims of terrorism. Mediocre is a country that doesn’t have a single university among the 150 best in the world and forces its best researchers into exile to survive.

Mediocre is a country with a quarter of its population unemployed yet it finds the greatest motives for outrage when the puppets of a neighboring country make jokes about its athletes. Mediocre is a country where the brilliance of another provokes suspicion, creativity is marginalized — if not stolen with impunity — and independence is punished. The country that has made mediocrity the great national aspiration, pursued without complexes by its thousands of young people who look to occupy the next place in the Big Brother contest, by politicians who insult without coming up with an idea, by bosses who surround themselves with the mediocre to hide their own mediocrity and by students who ridicule a classmate for his hard work.

Mediocre is a country that has fostered the celebration of the triumph of the mediocre, cornered excellence until it is left with only two options: to leave the country or to allow oneself to be swallowed up in the gray sea of mediocrity.

October 5 2012

Ballots and Balloons

Our television was well into playing its role as Hugo Chavez’s political sergeant dedicating so much space to the Venezuelan election as if it was its own. No television-broadcast-informed Cuban could physically identify Capriles, let alone give an opinion about his program. He was only mentioned as the “far right candidate” and his “neoliberal agenda.” The continuity of Chavismo is vital to the continuity of Castroismo. I write this post at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon, while anticipating that there will be reelection by a small margin; my doubts are nevertheless with the president’s ability to survive until his new term, which raises the bigger question about the continuity of the so called XXI Century Socialism, which like North Korean’s Juche idea, no one really knows what it’s all about.

After the war of polls that preceded today’s election in the neighbor country, I do not pretend to establish a state of opinion with my impressions of two hours ago, born just behind a diverse group of young men that were exchanging white T-shirts for those of Barcelona, and heading towards a small hotel nearby where, for 2 CUC, they would watch the classic Spanish soccer league on a big-screen TV, in an air-conditioned room.

Excitement — and at times, animosity — defined these fans, to whom I asked, in a moment of courage, if they knew something about the elections in Venezuela.

A martian. That is what I must have looked like to them, at my age and with my dark glasses. Not one responded using words. The most they granted me was a shoulder shrug. Some will be happy with juvenile political apathy, not me. The great majority, going with the flow, will go and vote in our next elections, voiding their ballot or complacently casting it, but not one of them will be able to articulate a solution to a problem in their job, school or neighborhood. They belong to a society in which everything was thought about and decided way before their birth; in those young men, the initiative chip is defective.

I walked to the top of a street where one begins to descend a steep street that I plan not to retake on my return. From the top, I saw the fans wearing the colors of their favorite football club gather in front of the small hotel’s sidewalk. I do not want pay 2 CUC for something that is not food or soap, so I bought bread at the bakery and returned home to not miss the game, since I too have my little heart.

Translated by: Eduardo Alemán

October 8 2012

Some Notes Without too Much Value About Values

The launch last Thursday of the latest issue of the Cuban magazine Temas dedicated to the question “Values in Crisis?” brought together a heterogeneous audience that, in addition to its habitual followers, also included to my enjoyment young faces, perhaps attracted to the presence among the invited guests of Israel Rojas, the popular singer from the duo Buena Fe.

A consensus arose among those present. “Crisis de valores” — crisis of values — is a term that has been used for a long time, and it is one that not always carries a negative connotation. But another consensus also took place, that some values are timeless. My impression from that disparate meeting was that, independently from any personal perspective on the issue, almost everyone agreed that our society is indeed suffering from a crisis of ethical values.

Some presenters and a few in the audience got close to the bone: white-collar corruption was mentioned; professor Teresa Díaz-Canals gave the example of the discrepancy that exists between what she teaches in her Ethic classes and what college students assimilate from the national press. Desiderio Navarro pointed out the difference between proclaimed values and values as they manifest. Several people spoke about the “double moral” or moral double standards.

My cousin Mayito Coyula intervened with a botanical simile: the “bourgeoisie” values were defoliated after 1959, and with no further cultivation, weeds began covering the vacant land. Rafael Hernández claimed that the idea of equality was cultivated, even though he conceded that such an idea is more and more unattainable. Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Laura Domínguez offered wise opinions from opposite sides. Israel Rojas offered his non-academic, but welcoming fresh observation that honesty is no longer valued. It was mentioned that more space for debate is needed, and that ethical values are not strengthened by decree.

Even though I followed procedure by writing my name on a piece of paper and sending it to the panel, I was not called to intervene, due to lack of time. I would have referred to the role that education and the media play, I would have also disagreed with the remark that certain negative stereotypes about emergent teachers* are unfounded.

I would have also referred to the government’s responsibility in these issues. Without retelling too much, I remembered the notion of “caballerosidad proletaria” — proletarian chivalry — as a twist to the idea of gender equality. The existence of television commercials contrasting positive behaviors to widespread public and private misconduct are an effort to straighten a tree that has grown crooked.

The impression I gather from attending these spaces is that almost all participants are capable of identifying what the problems in our society are and their respective responsibility. It is something that is always in the air. Yet no one has the courage to call the people responsible by their name, for fear to be branded as a provocateur by any of the hotheaded ones. Another impression I have is that government officials implicated in the issues being discussed neither attend nor stay informed (or do not care) about what is said during these events.

There are citizens for whom, even from different ideological perspectives, these issues are a matter of concern. Any society is capable of organizing spontaneously to discuss and find answers and solutions to their problems. One more time, it is evident that our society lacks such freedoms.

*Translator’s note: So-called “emergent teachers” was a program to quickly mint more teachers, which relied on “an army of teenagers” as some reports put it, to fill vacant positions and reduce class sizes.

Translated by: Eduardo Alemán.

October 1 2012