Jokes from Argentina and Other Cold Cuts / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 25 November 2015 — There is a joke that goes, in short, if Napoleon had owned a newspaper like Granma and lost the Battle of Waterloo, the newspaper would have acted like it never even happened. So true. Something similar occurred on Sunday evening with the presidential elections in Argentina and the victory by “the billionaire Macri,” as the Cuban media likes to describe him. Oddly, they never showed any curiosity about Mrs. Kirchner’s fortune.

It took the Venezuelan broadcast network Telesur half an hour to report the results. After the losing candidate acknowledged defeat and Marci addressed the Argentine people, the news anchor was “informed” that “preliminary polls indicate the possible winner to be…” when there were neither polls nor fortune tellers saying any such thing.

Cubans have nightly news shows, news magazines, news every ten minutes, a twenty-four hour radio news channel, print and digital newspapers, and national, provincial and even municipal television stations. Yet, except for North Korea, we paradoxically remain the worst informed people in the world.

There is a rumor going around that Etecsa’s Nauta* internet service was unavailable not because of technical problems but because of a decision to cut off communication between Cubans stranded in Costa Rica and their relatives on the island in order to suppress information about a mass protest intended to raise awareness in Cuba, and by extension throughout the world, of the humanitarian crisis.**

Whether true or not, the fact that people without Communist Party affiliation are casually discussing this serves to illustrate the lack of transparency in our news media. It should be added that the visit by the Cuban foreign minister to Ecuador and Central America was reported in a way that suggested a trip scheduled some time in advance, one in which emigration was to be only a tangential topic of discussion. The visit by the president of the International Red Cross was reported in a similar way.

This is nothing new. Quite the contrary. Once again the press has managed to turn conferences, workshops, meetings and seminars into crumpled paper. It shows a lack of self-respect, but even less respect for citizens, whom it is trying to keep uninformed. It is an accomplice to a political decision that interferes with a right as basic as the right to information.

Translator’s notes:

*Nauta is service by Cuba’s state telecommunications monopoly that offers wifi internet access in public spaces such as parks and hotels throughout the island. Accounts can be refilled from overseas at a cost of roughly US$2.00 for every two hours of access.

**Thousands of Cuban migrants trying to reach the United States by first passing through Ecuador have been stranded in Costa Rica after the government of Nicaragua denied them passage through that country.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 28 September 2015 — Since the words respect and reconciliation are so popular these days — both were mentioned in the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States as well as in the recently concluded papal visit and in the agreements to end of the war in Colombia — I would like to share with readers the story of my neighbor, Oscar Casanellas, a researcher at the Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (INOR), commonly known as the Oncology Hospital.

After graduating with a degree in biology in 2004, Oscar joined the staff of INOR as a researcher in molecular biology. After winning a scholarship, he studied at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics from 2009 to 2011, becoming a specialist in the use of information technology in the field of immunological research related to cancer.

From 2011 and to the present, Casanellas has also taught courses and lectured at the center and at the Department of Biology at the University of Havana. He also served as executive secretary of the Forum of Science and Technology between 2011 and 2013.

Given all this information, it should be clear that there is no question as to this young man’s level of professional competence. His workplace troubles began in December 2013 after a friend, Ciro Diaz Penedo, came home during the Christmas break from his doctoral studies in Brazil and Oscar threw a party for him. Besides working with numbers, Ciro also belonged to a punk band known as Porno for Ricardo. The “official who overseas” the oncology institute brought this and other equally damaging information to its assistant director, Dr. Lorenzo Anasagasti Angulo.

Dr. Anasagasti carried out the order to isolate and constrain the wayward Oscar. Casanella’s arguments that he had never discussed his political views while at work or committed the sin of using the public health ministry’s email server (Infomed) for personal business were to no avail.

In his zeal Casanella’s boss limited his access to laboratories, excluded him from any projects involving Havana’s Polo Cientifico research center, and banned him from teaching at INOR or acting as a thesis advisor. A bio-information course that the director general of INOR had already approved was cancelled by Anasagasti under the pretext that it had to offered by the Department of Biology. Using veiled or explicit threats, he then “dissuaded” INOR workers from participating in the course.

Dr. Anasagasti’s threats led to strains in the workplace. He tried to prohibit other workers from having any interactions with Casanellas. The pressure was strongest on those closest to him, who are were torn between preserving the friendship or keeping their jobs. Some of them could not handle it and requested transfers out of the institute.

Oscar Casanellas has gone to his union and to the hospital management. He has written letters to the Ministry of Public Health, to the head of the department of the Central Committee which handles such mattes and even to the Cuban president, all without receiving a reply from any of them. When he tried to take legal action by filing a police complaint, the response from the national police force was that, since this was a personal matter, he should take it up with the police chief in his area. Casanellas knows all too well that it is not personal but work-related. Until the visit by the State Security agent, his interactions with Anasagasti were cordial.

This period of professional limbo has gone on for over eighteen months. They do not want to fire him because there is no evidence of poor workplace performance, so their intention is to make conditions so suffocating that he resigns.

Casanellas himself provides the key: “They don’t know me very well. For years I have been preparing myself and have run a lot of long distance races. If there is anything for which I am well-trained, it is endurance.”

Farewell Letter From El Sexto / Regina Coyula

Valle Grande Prison

From the “cell” (of punishment)

September 16, 2015…

Where I am there is little light and I am in my underwear because I do not want to wear the prison uniform. They give me a mattress for 5 or 6 hours at night. I only drink water and there will be no ability to respond (from you to this letter) because they don’t allow contacts.

Thanks to Lia, Gorki, Antonio and everyone for helping my mother manage things. Thanks to Aylín for the beautiful and encouraging letters. I read them as many times as I could, I would like to write you a thousand letters like you deserve but now I do not think I will have the light, the paper, nor the energy to do it.

This may be my last letter from here in the punishment cell and if I survive you will hear more from my lips. So I want to tell everyone that I waited too long for this moment to do a hunger strike, we Cubans have wanted too long to expel these scoundrels.

Now that I have started, I feel my faith, determination and self-esteem go through the roof for having decided. I feel proud of being the artist that I am and of doing the art that I do for the Cuba I represent. So I am willing to give my life a hundred times if necessary.

He who lives without finding out what to die for, has not found the essence of life. A man with ideals of peace, love and one who does not carry a weapon to assert his opinions is the man of the future. Because with his faith, his hope, he builds an Eden here on earth.

Thank you all for trusting me and know that if I die I will die happy to carry with me a tattoo of my time like Laura Pollan, Oswaldo Paya, who left traces of their existence, of their generation, of their responsibility to leave behind then a legacy for their loved ones, one lesson: love what you do and devote your life to it.

I was born in a poor neighborhood, Nuevitas, Camagüey. My family is very humble: I lived in Arroyo Arenas from age 4; in Chafarinas, Guira de Melena; in Covadonga, Las Tunas: a village still without electricity; Guáimaro, Camagüey and Arroyo Arenas, La Lisa. And I was lucky to live in Vedado often, there I have my daughter Renata María, who was born in England.

I am a wanderer and I have gone here and there getting to know my country, my culture, that I love and so I raise my voice to denounce what seems wrong to me. I visited Holland for three months, I lived in The Hague, 45 minutes by train from the fabulous Amsterdam. I studied and lived at Miami Dade College in the United States for three months as well. All these places taught to me relate quickly to my surroundings, that the most important thing is to have friends, to love, to respect and not to do to anyone what we do not want them to do to us. I learned how to stand up to the powerful.

My art is respected today, more than anything because I believe in it. I respected it and gave it—and give it—all my strength, perseverance, affection and love. Although I was misunderstood and perhaps by others I still am, when those around you see so much love and how much you are able to give and how much you respect your art, then they begin to value it. But first we must build an altar of consecration in our chest and others, little by little, will begin to respect you for what you do: this knowledge is my legacy.

Someone said that all of humanity will part when we see a man who knows where he is going. This might be my last work and I have named it “Drawing Attention” or “The Awakening of the Inner Magician.” Each one of us has an inner magician. May my Gothic existence touch your hearts and light your flame and awaken your internal leader, being conscious of this gift of life and standing up against evil. Someone said, “The world is not this way because of those who do evil but because of those who allow it.”

This work is dedicated to my mother, my little daughter Renata María, to all those who support me, all those who added a grain of sand to achieve freedom for Cuba. To all the Ladies in White in the world and especially in Cuba: no more beating of women! To the memory of Laura, Oswaldo, Zapata.

This work is dedicated to my mother, my little daughter Renata María, to all those who support me, all who put in a grain of sand to achieve the freedom of Cuba. To all the Ladies in White of the world especially those in Cuba: no more beating of women! In memory of Laura, Oswaldo, Zapata.

The day I grabbed a spray can in my hand I decided what to do with my life.

So be it.

I am with faith and conviction: Liberty or death, to die for art is to live.


Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto.

Please sign for his freedom at < click there

El Sexto has been on a hunger strike since September 8th. He is demanding his freedom because he has been imprisoned since December 25th (of last year) for thinking to release some pigs with the names of Fidel and Raul, which he never released because he was imprisoned. He is in prison without trial or sentence or justice.

Giving Life to a Park / Regina Coyula

La Rampa in Havana

La Rampa in Havana

We are receiving with curiosity and joy teaspoons of internet fro wi-fi points in different cities of the country; here in Havana, the most widespread of these points is located on La Rampa, the heart of the city.

Beyond the adrenaline that many feel on connecting with the world for the first time, and those who come to these zones as if they were true digital natives, all that happens on La Rampa, with a wireless signal from the Malecon to the corner of the Coppelia ice cream stand at 23rd and L, does not have the conditions for comfortable navigation.

It has become part of the landscape to see every kind of person (most of them young), sitting on some stairs, leaning against a doorway, avoiding the sun under a scrawny tree, or defiantely challenging the sun and defying the cars, positioned on the curb with their feet in the street and absorbed in their mobile device. It is a rare sight to see that technological overcrowding in the shadows, which in now way embellishes the landscape.

1441386198_100_4684-1The idea occurs to me of giving them the use of the park built on the corner occupied by the Alaska Building at 23rd and M, demolished for security reasons, but not so much the security of its residents as that of Fidel, from when he went almost daily to the ICRT studios for those interminable Roundtable shows that nobody misses.

This park, unlike the one located at Galiano and San Rafael where another important connection point operates, knows neither the scampering of children nor furtive kisses, now that no one will plot an attack from its heights, it should be offered to the internauts as a comfortable and secure zone, this vindicating its condition, giving it life and meaning.

Taxes and "Glamor" / Regina Coyula

Paris Hilton and Fidel Castro Jr, in Havana

Regina Coyula, 7 August 2015 — The mindless display of opulence bothers me ethically and aesthetically. But I have nothing against enrichment from legal sources and from the effort, talent, or ability of the individual.

The Cuban government takes a hypocritical position. On the one hand it is trying to prevent at all costs the personal enrichment of the emerging private entrepreneur class, subjecting them to restrictions and imposing inordinate taxes. On the other hand—not having ever experienced any of the restrictions suffered by the average citizen—it now aims to attract fresh foreign capital (accumulated in their home countries thanks to the absence of restrictive regulations like those imposed in ours) and also the tourism of the rich and famous, some of whom we have already seen parading through Cuba.

Translated by Tomás A.

Debut and Dismissal / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 8 July 2015 — A note about this work by Juan Carlos Cremata arrived by mail. The final phrase is not mine:

Regrettably, the National Council of Performing Arts has decided to take down the poster of Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King by El Ingenio theater group after its first two inaugural performances last weekend.

They will make the announcement public and official.

Once again it is evident that “Censorship does not exist.”

The Secret To Good Frijoles Negros / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 19 June 2015 — Indispensable to any feast, everyone adds his or her own secret ingredient to the basic recipe for tomato-less sofrito*: the proportion of cumin, the cooking time over a low flame to congeal the bean, the sprinkle of dry wine, the pinch of sugar–in short, there are as many secrets as there are recipes.

I love black beans but, when in Barcelona I was invited to lunch at the Frijoles Negros Restaurant, I was alarmed: It didn’t seem proper to travel so far to eat what is routine fare here. However, Jorge, my nice host, managed set my mind at ease.

A semi-hidden location at No. 146 Carrer de Bruc street, almost at the corner with the busy Avenue Diagonal, houses this exquisitely designed spot that in no way recalls the accompanying themes of Cuban cuisine. White is the predominant color, with black/gray and red touches here and there, reproductions of Xavier Cugat posters, and that’s it.

But the food, which is what makes one return to a restaurant–or not, even when it boasts Picasso originals–is very good. Without trying to come off as a gourmet, I very much enjoyed the mix of dishes from international cuisine with a wink towards Cuban flavors, and vice versa. Thus the domestic salad of lettuce and tomato is enhanced by cut-up strawberry, and the very aristocratic salmon shares the billing with yucca and mojo [a garlic-and-sour-orange-based sauce or marinade].

The complement is a wait staff who are attentive at just the right degree to make you feel good.

The culprit of all this is Juan Carlos Puig Bretons, a Cuban of Catalan heritage with ideas to spare. In the evenings, live jam sessions and, if I’m not mistaken, the place even serves (or will serve) as a discotheque on weekends.

The longing in Juan Carlos flirts with opening a place in Cuba, now that he’s told that this can be done, but he hasn’t decided yet. Many requirements and few guarantees make him feel cautious, and so he waits. Besides, he is still quite involved in Frijoles Negros, his work-in-progress.

Now you know, the secret of good black beans lies not only in the cooking time.

As a conversation piece, I leave you with a little-known recipe–let’s see if Juan Carlos will dare to include it in his fusion cuisine.

Black Beans a la Menocal

(from La Cocina en el Hogar [The Kitchen in the Home] by Dr. Dolores Alfonso)

1.5 cups black beans

30 medium tomatos, peeled and seeded

3 onions

1 cup oil

1 bay leaf

5 tsp sugar

4 garlic cloves

4 liters water

1 large bell pepper

Salt and pepper

Cook the beans in the water with the bay leaf. When softened, add salt and the sofrito made from the onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic and pepper. Later add the sugar and let simmer over a low flame until they thicken. They are left to rest for one day and reheated at serving time.

Yields 6 servings of 396 calories each.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison, among others

Translator’s notes:

*Sofrito is a stir-fry of aromatic vegetables, herbs and spices used as the base for many Cuban dishes. It may or may not include tomato.