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.


Snipped / Regina Coyula

Like anyplace else, a successful business has many ingredients. Here many have failed because they engaged in activities they knew nothing about. But others prosper, become very visible, and then fall under the evil gaze of those who would give up an eye if they could see a neighbor get screwed over.

A quiet street of Nuevo Vedado had frequently become jammed with people, all wanting to buy at La Fontanella, a bakery that began modestly but then put up an eye-catching lighted sign. What began as a business in part of a house became exclusively a factory and sales outlet, with rotating shifts, open to the public from nine in the morning until nine at night.

Such prosperity drew attention and/or aggravation, and Monday dawned this week to find the business closed. The commentaries are various: stolen flour; workers walking off; problems with the ownership of the old family home, now converted into a bakery. The truth is that La Fontanella had become a troublesome twig on that bonsai which Minister Murillo, and the updating of the economic model, had designed to be kept well pruned.

Translated by Tomás A.

7 March 2014

Letter to Willy Toledo

Havana, May 14, 2010

Mr. Willy Toledo:

Your name made headlines for reasons apart from your profession; it was because of your statements following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. I think at that point you were ignorant of the fact that the Cuban Policy Publishers published a book in 2002 called The Dissidents in which Zapata appears in two photographs, and in one of them he is identified by his full name, an ignorance that explains your claim that he was just a common criminal.

I don’t criticize you for giving an opinion. For that I envy you! But when you give controversial opinions, it is natural that detractors will appear. Especially when you are a well-known figure.

An interview with you appeared in today’s news in which you stated that you had been demonized by some biased statements in the press on the occasion of the death of Zapata. The media often spin the news in order to sell papers. But I would think that things are going very badly for your country if you were ostracized because of your way of thinking, if your neighbors organized an act of repudiation because of your solidarity with the government of Cuba, if you were denied work because of your political affiliation. I hope and pray that this never happens, and I also hope that the government of Spain doesn’t deny you an exit permit for travel.


Regina Coyula

Translated by: Tomás A.


Bottle #1

I throw out this bottle to help me contact the poet MANOLO DÍAZ MARTÍNEZ, whom we have known for some time, a dear friend to me, and like a brother to my husband. When we wanted to contact him, his address had changed. Manolo and the dog Dandy were our hosts at Palmas de Gran Canaria in their sunny apartment, which is like being on the bridge of a ship. His daughter Claudia works as an architect in the Islands, and another, Gabriela, has a bookstore across from the Royal Palace in Madrid. Many thanks.

Bottle #2

In 1993 I had to be admitted for a lengthy stay in Glez Hospital. They prescribed complete bed rest because I was at risk of losing my pregnancy. There I met NÉLIDA CASTILLO, a chemical engineer who worked at CENIC. The first thing we did was to clean our room and bathroom, and we had to launch a crusade against the cockroaches. Despite the obstetric risks, we both agreed that the place where we would be for months had to be “habitable.” We became great friends. Nelida had a little portable radio.  We listended to Radio Martí without interference and talked of thousands of things when we weren’t reading or sleeping. My son was born first.  When she learned that her pregnancy was nearing full-term, Nelida came to say goodbye. She told me that she and her husband were traveling to Russia, but in Spain they took another plane to Miami. She falsified the time of her pregnancy because she would not have been allowed to travel if they had known her true due date. I knew that the whole adventure turned out well and a few days after arriving in U.S. she had a child whom she named Liberty. Can anyone do me the favor of delivering the message in this bottle?

Bottle #3

My husband and I had a dear friend, a boy half mad with the madness of artists. He had been attached to the Special Troops, and he served as a sort of bodyguard for Carlos Varela, when Carlos’s concerts had a subversive air and he was an idol of the youth. RAFAEL DIEGUEZ studied at San Alejandro and the ISA, was a wonderful writer, and with an ambition to make his name he went to Spain and we have not heard from him again. His family lived in Lawton and he was married to a girl named Meiza who emigrated to the U.S. I don’t know where to direct this bottle because many years have passed without news of Rafa.

Bottle #4

PEDRO ALBERTO ASSEF, of Ciego de Avila.  Assef must be in his forties, and had written very good poetry as a young man. The last time we heard of him he was in North Carolina, but we lost track of him several years ago, so I don’t know where to direct this bottle.

Translated by: Tomás A.


A very dear person came to my house, concerned after having seen a video of mine on the internet in which I was described as “the Cuban dissident blogger.” I was amused because it must be a video that I recorded for my cousin Amy and I thank the Miami bloggers for putting my family in California in touch with my blog. Nothing political, as I recall. After the visit, the term “dissident” left me thinking.

In Cuba there is no opposition. No well-intentioned, well-born person could depart from the official line. Only people without scruples, selfish and ambitious, are capable of setting themselves apart and choosing a different path.

It amounts to a social handicap. You become invisible to many friends and neighbors, your family counsels you. You are under scrutiny by the political police.  Low intensity scrutiny like CDR reporting on persons entering and leaving, and the license plates of cars that visit you, things like that. Intensive scrutiny that includes being followed, having the telephone tapped and mail opened, official summonses and arrests. And if you become a well-known figure, they will outline a plan to discredit you, to delve into your past, and if they don’t find anything they can use, they can always fall back on the old standby: The CIA pays its mercenaries.

I knew all this. So no advice from people close to me could change my decision. It is ridiculous to hear that “the enemies of the revolution” intend to return the country to the situation of 1958, as if the world had stopped then.

Will the dissidents head up the change? I don’t think so, but thanks to them (or to their blame) the trail will be blazed, the keys will be clearer, and we can, finally! attempt a country with all and for the good of all.

Translated by: Tomás A.

But it Moves

In this Gothic version of Sleeping Beauty that is Cuba, a secret sap is infiltrating the social fabric and contaminating it. Modern information technologies are to blame. Radio Bemba* with images that propagate from hand to hand in geometric progression. Two unrelated neighbors told me that they had seen me. And in both (one woman, one man) I detected joy, complicity. But I also noticed fear.  Fear has been the greatest achievement of totalitarianism. Because of fear, the average citizen overestimates the possibility of being monitored, reaching heights of science fiction. Such paranoia achieves a goal. My neighbors read me, admire me for what I do, agree with me even when I “raise the stakes”; but when I invited them to emulate me they used this line: “You can Regina, because you have nothing to lose.”  All of us always have something to lose, but I said nothing. I also used to be paralyzed, not that I have become reckless, but I write, and in my space of freedom I feel good about myself. A reader told me here on the blog that the Cuban is not a coward, but has lost hope. But the secret sap spreads.

*Translator’s note: “Radio Bemba” is Cuban slang for “the word on the street” or “the rumor mill” but is used in this instance in a high-tech context.

Translated by: Tomás A.