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If an imaginary group of Cubans, isolated from all information since 1984, had been shown the movie Conduct today to bring them up to date on reality, they’d have escaped the theater sure that the film falsified the situation: that it was trying to show a pessimistic and counterrevolutionary version of their country.
But that’s not how the people reacted coming out of the theaters, wiping away their tears, their hands red from so much clapping. Especially those Havanans who saw projected on the screen the reality that hits them: their own neighborhood in ruins, the alcoholic neighbor with a child practically abandoned, the lack of ethical values, the police corruption, the discrimination against Cubans from other provinces, the physical misery on every corner, the moral misery in every opportunist.
Fortunately Carmela remained, the retirement-age teacher who, despite having seen her children and grandchildren emigrate, preferred to remain alone on the island, and in her classroom “as long as I can climb the stairs,” because she’s convinced she has the strength to help those kids in need of love and understanding.
Splendid cinematography and excellent editing support a script whose author, Ernesto Daranas, also served as director. Nowhere do the hackneyed topics of Cuban cinema appear: the mockery, the jokes with double meanings, the rain, folkloric touches, sexual exhibitionism and official messages.
But the biggest absence in Conduct is “the New Man,” whom those hypothetical Cubans, asleep or in a coma, conceived even up to the mid-’80s and who they would have expected to see incarnated in this work bringing them up-to-date. The children that those imaginary viewers would insist on finding in the film would be educated children and not those foul-mouthed coarse bullies; the schools would be equipped with laboratories and the houses would appear comfortable and safe.
There would be no dog fights, nor strung out women prostitutes, much less the drama of Carmela facing an attempt to fire her for protecting a student threatened with being sent to a reform school for defending a girl who dared — let’s hear it for audacity! — to place an image of Cuba’s patron saint on the wall of a classroom.
The producers didn’t create an artificial space in the studio in the style of The Truman Show, nor was there some antique store where they found the school desks and blackboards, nor did they make a citadel out of cardboard. The director didn’t have to carefully teach the actors — kids, teenagers or elderly — linguistic models and formulas far from their own personal experiences. Perhaps it was because of this that the audience, after long lines to get into the theaters where Conduct is showing, so identified with it, felt so excited. Because of this and because those present in the movie theaters haven’t spent the last 30 years sleeping, but rather starring in this tragedy.
21 February 2014
Overwhelmed by the flood of information about Venezuela, we Cubans are hanging on everything that’s happening. We tune in to shortwave radio stations, try to find something moderately objective on the Internet, listen to what someone who has a relative on a “mission” there says, and try to catch on the fly some detail that has escaped the news on Telesur. Venezuela concerns us as if it were all happening in Holguín, Cienfuegos or Pinar del Río.
Cuba’s fate is intimately tied to what is happening in Caracas not only because of the threat that its subsidy to Cuba will disappear, or that some Cuban, a doctor, or sports instructor, or soldier, could die in the midst of the confusion. We are mixed up in these events because, saving a few differences, we are filled with the feeling that we are looking in a mirror.
In this reflection of delusions we are finding everyone: the opposition, the ruling party, those who have nothing to lose and those afraid that the blackouts will start again, the persecution and the repression, civic and military… everyone.
The storm could pass in a few days or unexpectedly worsen. The echo of either situation will reach us and not by the fluttering of the butterfly’s wings, but because, like a poet said, “We are sewn to the same star,” one to the other.
17 February 2014
As of ten days ago, according to the Chinese horoscope, we’re living in the year of the horse, more precisely, the wooden horse. Many are the prognostications perceived by specialists in different spheres of life and for distinct signs.
Like the good pig that I am I see everything more relaxedly and, although I am not attempting any kind of international contamination between the East and West, the first thing I think is of the most famous of the wooden horses: the Trojan!
In this 2014 that began with the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, when the European Union is preparing to lift the restrictions of the Common Position, now that millionaires of the exile feel inclined to invest in Cuba, one wonders if the wisdom of Odysseus will bear fruit in this Caribbean Troy, if the walls will have to be partly demolished to let the artifact through.
As a curiosity, I have to add that throughout this whole process initiated in 1959 it is the first time that we have had a Year of the Wooden Horse.
10 February 2014
Following the best tradition of Cuban humor, based on mockery and desecration of the human and divine, we have baptized the Cuban Telecommunications Company SA (ETECSA) with a different interpretation of its initials: We are Trying to Establish Communications Without Trouble*.
The assignment of the nickname is based on the slow, deteriorating, negligence and other known evils of the State sector that weren’t left behind with the old “13th of March Telephone Company” which, despite the clarification, it was never explained to the people why the entity was stripped of its patriotic name referring to the date a group of revolutionaries attacked the Presidential Palace in 1957.
However, I have to confess that we fall short in the joke because ETECSA goes far beyond technical failures and human forgetfulness. Whenever some event is held in the country that attracts international attention, whether it’s the arrival of the Pope of the holding of a high level meeting, the fixed-line and cellphones of certain people begin to suffer from unexplained interruptions. For example, they can’t get calls from abroad, they lose the ability to send text messages, and in extreme cases the line goes down.
This method of repression leaves no physical mark on the victim and so is practically unprovable for the purposes of a complaint and demand. It’s so slight that it’s barely worth complaining if we compare it with beatings, raids, repudiation rallies, arbitrary detentions, and other variables to which opposition leaders, civil society activists, independent journalists, bloggers and the whole family of protestors have become accustomed.
At the moment there is nothing nice that occurs to me to rename ETECSA once again, perhaps We are Trying to Establish Communication Without Authorization, but it doesn’t sound original and, what’s worse, it’s not funny.
*Translator’s note: Following the Spanish initials it is Estamos Tratando de Establecer Comunicación Sin Apuro.
7 February 2014
The host country of the Second CELAC* Summit proclaims on its public billboards the principle of accepting diversity within unity. The invited guests should know that the main purpose of the Cuban government is that the other members of the Community should accept a peculiar feature of Cuba which makes it different from the rest: that within the Island political diversity is not accepted, and much less are those with political positions distinct from the ruling party able to meet in an Alternative Forum to debate in a parallel way the issues of concern to the Summit.
*Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
27 January 2014
The official media recently reported on the situation in Thailand where the authorities have declared a state of siege, prohibited meetings, established censorship and eliminated several citizen rights. Without the slightest shame, the announcers on Cuban Television News declared themselves shocked by these horrors.
Right now in Cuba, on the eve of the celebration of the Second CELAC Summit, no official institution has decreed any type of special situation, however they have unleashed a wave of arrests and threats against all those who try to gather between the 28th and 29th of January, which are the days the great event will take place.
With complete certainty, the Cuban delegation will happily show its guests a peaceful country where no one protests about anything, even though there is no decree of a state of siege or anything like it.
The truth is, it’s not necessary to take any kind of extraordinary measures. Here there is a permanent Thailand (as that country is now), and if the leaders attending the Summit support fighting against poverty they will admire the Cuban example where not a single beggar will be seen (they’ve all been relocated), nor will they encounter any prostitutes or pickpockets.
I dare say they can be sure that they won’t even see a teenager wearing the school uniform incorrectly, because here we have all been warned… be careful of what you say in the bread line, don’t even dare sneer at a police officer, nor sell anything on the black market. If you suffer from gas, hold it in, knowing that any alteration to the public order could be extremely suspicious.
24 January 2014
On an imprecise date in the ’70s, a rumba teacher tried to explain to a group of Scandinavians how to move their shoulders. He failed until — with the help of a translator — he said the phrase “What do I care?” while rhythmically moving his shoulders up and down. A young redhead captured the essence better than the rest of the group, and while repeating the phrase in a really funny accent, he said to his colleagues, “Now I look like a Cuban!”
I’ve remembered this scene for more than 30 years and it always produces the same mix of amusement and annoyance. Is laziness an essential part of our nature?
State paternalism, coupled with the deliberate intention to favor obedience over creativity, has favored the installation of citizen indifference as an apparently permanent part of Cuban conduct. “What do I care?” says somebody, while tearing out the steel framework at the base of a high tension power line tower to make a pig pen. “So what?” thinks the guard who sees someone throw over the fence of his business products that never get to people. “Makes no never mind to me,” says a third, without a hint of shame, looking away while a few meters in front of him they insult and trample a Lady in White…
Those who rule Cuba continue to believe that inertia is organized with discipline, order and demands, and they shout from their platforms, fists raised high, without noticing the slight but significant movement in the shoulders of the troops.
That rumba teacher died in Finland where he stayed after abandoning a Folklore group while on a tour of Europe. The redheaded Nordic may be a grandfather by now… and us? We’re here, satisfied as the Cubans we are, proudly displaying our laziness and apathy to the beat of the rumba.
10 January 2014
It’s rare that one finds a paragraph with so much substance with which to disagree. I would start by clarifying that what is countered should not be the efforts to disseminate specific ideas — something relatively easy to achieve with the traditional methods of confiscating books at the airports, blocking Internet pages, suspending telephone service or, as a final resort, unleashing the brutality of the rapid response brigades. No, the real challenge would be countering the ideas in question.
But the paradox is that, to reaffirm the vitality of the ideology that has “scientifically” proven the inevitability of socialism, one has to find a creative conception capable of theoretically sustaining the viability of socialism under current conditions in Cuba. Perhaps these paradigms of the century before last have lost their vitality and are now insufficient.
So as not to be too long-winded, I’ll pass quickly over the affront of equating the poet José Martí with Vladimi Ilych, which is like confusing love with hate or tolerance with resentment. What should not be passed over is that this pig in a poke is trying to set itself up as the only alternative offering equality and justice for all; and knowing the kind of equality and justice we can expect from such a system, we should be even less inclined to ignore it.
This is the second occasion on which the general who rules the country has launched an appeal to the intelligentsia in order to generate a foundation for what is already approved in practice, in this case the Guidelines of the 6th Congress. This should have been the work of the Party Conference (!) which, by the way, should have been held before the Congress.
This is forcing the master chef to swallow a rancid and badly chosen sauce and then asking him to write the recipe, as if it were an innovation, and all this to prevent the diners from enjoying the pleasures of new flavors.
6 January 2014
Six years ago I published a text titled “Disqualified for Dialogue,” where I related what occurred in a police station with some State Security agents. Since that date they haven’t returned to attempt one of these semi-friendly conversations in which “they” try to make me believe that they are keenly interested in hearing my concerns, differences or discrepancies with politics of the Party. Since then I have made the decision never to talk to them again. Why?
Because talking with State Security signifies rewarding the belligerence of a repressive institution that has no legal, political nor moral right to engage in making economic or ideological decisions for the country. Because the main purpose of these conversations is to draw out information from us that will affect other civil society opponents and activists.
Because those are the occasions they also take advantage of to cause trouble, to make us believe that others are selling themselves to a foreign power or collaborating with the intelligence agencies, and are people of low moral stature, lacking in ethics and principles.
Because they try to manipulate us saying that we are salvageable, not mercenaries like the rest, and they misinform us with false hopes, as if they were the ones who were in command of all the destinies of the nation and had the power to be the appropriate vehicle to channel criticisms and complaints.
Because the conditions in which these conversations usually occur involve our going to a site, saying our names and showing our identity cards, while they only introduce themselves using pseudonyms.
Because we do have not opportunity to terminate the dialogue and they are the ones who decide how long to continue listening; we can barely gesture or use appropriate terminology without their saying that we are showing a lack of respect or contempt for authority.
Because we are not allowed to record what they say, nor to invite a witness, while they, for their part, can film and edit the conversation, putting their arms around us or putting a pen in our pockets to give the impression that we are their collaborators.
Because we shouldn’t let them convince us that they know everything: our sexual preferences, the routes our children take to school, the private weaknesses of our friends, the money we have at our disposal, the people we see…
Because nothing of what they say, none of the threats they make or the prohibitions they establish, is delivered in writing, with letterhead, stamp, name, grade, title, signature, appealing to the terms and articles of established laws, as these official institutions should express themselves; rather everything is left on the plane of what these anonymous subjects say “personally,” perhaps because they believe themselves to be “more of a man” (or more of a woman) than any of us.
I don’t talk to them any more, because I am a free man and do not have to give an accounting to anyone of where I go, who I meet, or what projects I have.
- See more at: “Disqualified for Dialogue.”
30 December 2013
Ever since the time, now remote, when dollarization was introduced in the Cuban economy the freebies have been fading away, along with the subsidies and other gifts from the public treasury that our government makes in their inordinate desire — as a poet from the romantic era said — to anticipate the future.
“The invisible currency has disappeared,” we said, surprised and shocked to realize that we could no longer buy refrigerators, washing machines and TVs through merit obtained in our workplaces and that, from then on, it would only be possible to buy those home appliance paying with a currency which, until recently, was known as “the money of the enemy.”
Then came the CUC — the Cuban Convertible Peso — which made the substitution lose some of its obvious symbolic value. The bottom line, however, was not the color of the bills but that, since that catastrophe, it was no longer necessary, in order to acquire useful things, to do voluntary work, attend assemblies, or to participate in a harvest, a microbrigade, or an international mission. Quite the opposite: options include diverting resources, doing things under the table, engaging in some business and in extreme cases selling what one possesses simply because one has a body.
Right now another base (will it be the last?) of the corrosive custom of taming loyalties with privileges is collapsing. The “letters” are over!
Indeed, because when a few years ago the government had “the audacity” to allow Cubans to legally participate in the purchase and sale of private cars, it remained clear that those on display in the agencies, be they new or used, would be sold only to those who could prove that their convertible pesos had been earned in some officially blessed way on some honorable mission backed by the state. Remittances sent from abroad or earnings from a private restaurant or renting rooms to tourists didn’t qualify.
It was then that “the letters” appeared, which at first could only be signed by Carlos Lage — then vice president of the Council of State — and which later were issued by the Ministry of Transport, where the ability of money to be converted into cars rested on a signature.
I’ve been told that there were some seven thousand authorizations to acquire cars that their holders hadn’t yet been able to use, when the order came down from the highest authorities to end this procedure.
Everyone knew that many of the cars bought through this means, at subsidized prices, were immediately resold at market prices, that which a capricious — but not blind — invisible hand, allocated to each commodity; and that the state will now consider it fair to freely sell the vehicles they have in their warehouses.
Those who had the cunning idea of buying the letters before they had been turned into cars have lost their money; those who earned the right to a letter through their diligent work or through flattering their bosses, have lost their illusions. Of what value to them is their noble sacrifice or cowardly silence, their loyal obedience, their abject betrayal?
The next deepening of the Raul reforms could be directed at the buying and selling of home. We are already seeing real estate businesses selling houses and apartments at a competitive or abusive price. But let us have no illusions: those who are waiting in line to receive handouts will not rise up. The old dilemma between applause and desertion will always remain.
20 December 2013