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For lack of the Journal of Columbus in my shrinking personal library, I have been unable to verify this, but I think it’s true. They say that the Grand Admiral, having had the opportunity to meet the aborigines who populated the island, wondered: “What makes these Indians laugh?”
Unaware of the fact that laughter, inherent joy, is as common to us as tree rats and sunrises, some observers of the surface Cuban reality argue that everything is going well. The irrefutable proof? People laugh. These visitors forget that on the night of Saturday, July 25, 1953, while hundreds of young idealists prepared themselves to die in the crazy assault on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, the rest of Santiago laughed and enjoyed the music of conga drums, as they got themselves drunk on as much beer and rum as they could afford on their wages.
During the 14 years I worked at the magazine Cuba International (1973-1987) there were many times when I witnessed how the photos were done and especially how they chose which to publish, including the title photos. The best photographers of the time captured these images (Ivan Reeds, Ernesto Fernandez, Figueroa, Pablo Fernandez, Christopher Pascual and others). They were so good at getting their subjects to laugh that sometimes I myself would cooperate, monkeying around behind the photographers while they composed a portrait.
Not that we wanted to lie, rather it seemed that in Cuba a photo is not complete if its subjects are not smiling, whether they are the students of a newly opened school in the countryside, or the macheteros who have just cut their third millionth arroba of sugar cane, or the unsleeping soldiers guarding the skies of the fatherland. And it was so easy to make them laugh, and so natural for them to want to please us, that over time we were shaping the contours of a country where laughter appeared as a heritage of the new times, a result of the revolution. I have to assume responsibility for my part in this. I made the jokes, but they were the ones who laughed.
What the apologists coming from other latitudes do not know is that we also laugh at them, at their imperturbable naivety. A bus in Havana where people make jokes, share their lives and maybe get a bit lascivious, is not the Metro in Berlin where the passengers avoid each other’s gaze and everyone competes to seem the more sullen.
Oy, foreigner, take my photo and give me a dollar, and you will see how I can laugh!
Machetero: Someone wielding a machete, a sugar cane cutter.
Arroba: About 11.5 kg or 25 pounds.
The former president Fidel Castro has just published a foreword to the book Fidel, Bolivia and Something More in which he discredits the internet blog, Generation Y, written by my wife, the blogger Yoani Sanchez. From the first day, she has put her full name (which he omits) and her photo on the web, visible to readers, to sign the articles which she writes with the sole purpose – as she has said several times – of “throwing up” all that is nauseating about our reality.
The ex-president disapproves of the fact that Yoani accepted this year’s Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism, arguing that the prize is something that imperialism favours to blow its own horn. I recognize the right of this gentleman to make this comment, but I allow myself to observe that the responsibility implied in receiving a prize is never comparable to that of bestowing one, and Yoani, at least, has never awarded a medal to a corrupt person, a traitor, a dictator or a murderer.
I clarify this because I remember perfectly that the author of these reproaches was the one who placed (or commanded to be placed) the “Order of Jose Marti” on the lapels of the most terrible and undeserving men possible: Leonid llyich Brezhnev, Nicolae Ceausescu, Todor Zhivkov, Gustav Husak, Janos Kadar, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Robert Mugabe, Heng Samrin, Erich Honecker and others that I have forgotten. I would like to read, in light of these times, a Reflection” that justifies the award of these inadmissible honors – to blow the horns of others – that so tarnished the name of our apostle.
It is true that the philosopher Ortega y Gasset can be connected to elitist and perhaps reactionary ideas, but at least, unlike those decorated by the prologue writer, he never launched tanks against his nonconforming neighbors, nor built palaces, nor imprisoned those whose opinions differed from his own, nor left his followers in the lurch, nor amassed fortunes from the misery of his people, nor built extermination camps, nor gave orders to shoot those who, to escape, jumped the fence from his own backyard.
*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s column in the daily newspaper Granma, is titled “Reflections of Fidel”
It is difficult to see a barefoot child in Cuba, unless they are playing on the beach or some other place where they have taken off their shoes.
Foreign tourists (locals already understand) who have traveled to other impoverished third world nations (which locals cannot do) are surprised and tell you to your face, seemingly as a reproach to your protests and criticisms, ‘’I haven’t seen any children going barefoot here.” Sometimes the indulgent tour guide on a politicized excursion calls their attention to it, ‘’Nobody in this group has seen a barefoot child, eh?’’ and then smiles smugly as if he, himself, from his position as the last link in the chain, was personally responsible for this miracle.
Nobody is barefoot, but is it thanks to the system or in spite of the system?
Since the end of 1991, when the subsidized rationing system ended forever for shoes, clothes, and other industrial products, it has not been possible for Cubans to buy a pair of shoes for less than two weeks’ salary. No one forgets that the high salary of five hundred Cuban pesos is equivalent to twenty convertible pesos (CUCs), and it is difficult to find a pair of shoes in the stores for less than 10 CUCs. How do people who earn 300 Cuban pesos and have two teenagers manage?
Cuba has two currencies, Cuban pesos, or moneda nacional (national money), in which people are paid, and Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) which are used by tourists and which Cubans themselves must have to buy many products. The exchange rate is about 25-to-1, with one CUC being roughly equivalent to one Canadian or American dollar or roughly half an English pound.
When they run out of excuses, the final answer used to justify any repressive measures is, “We can’t disarm in front of the enemy.” Like the shrimp washed away by the current while it sleeps, revolutions that lay down their arms are disarmed, that is to say, they collapse. This is a direct consequence of the way revolutionaries take power. That which is conquered by violence must be maintained by violence.
Why can no one be permitted to freely express their opinions? Why can’t Cubans join together freely in political parties, unions, or the independent organizations of civil society? Why is it so complicated to allow people to move freely within the country or to leave it?
These questions have only one answer: Because it would disarm them.
But the reality is much more complex. We have all seen the gangster movies that repeat the same scene over and over: The bad guy points the gun at the head of the good guy’s sweetheart and demands that he drop his gun. The good guy puts his gun down and the bad guy takes advantage and shoots him. Moral: In the face of evil, you can’t disarm.
The question is: Who is the bad guy and who is the good guy in this movie? Who is aiming at the girlfriend’s head?