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Benedict XVI’s visit to our country brought to mind the days when hard and pure atheism was imposed as official policy. In a great deal of paperwork the question of religious faith frequently appeared with the purpose — should the answer be affirmative — to make decisions with that in mind. In job applications or to apply to a university, for a promotion, a trip abroad or to enter the militia.
“Do you have any religion? Which? Do you practice it?” were more or less the questions. The most honest believers (or the most naive) affirmed their faith, often without anticipating the consequences. Others, imbued with the idea that religion is carried within and there is no need to display it, said no or left the response blank.
I recall the days when we finished the construction of the “microbrigade” building where I still live. I was chosen by the workers to form a committee that would analyze who had the greatest right to occupy the housing. If I remember rightly, I was the only committee who was not a member of the Communist Party. They gave us a form where we had to carefully note the data for every one of the people aspiring to live in the new building: names and surnames, sex, age, workplace or school, level of education, membership in Revolutionary organizations, if any member of the family had left the country or been convicted by any court.
We also had to know if they owned any domestic appliances, the furniture they had, and other details about the state in which we found their housing at the moment of the inspection. Indeed, because we members of the committee had to inspect and in the end put our ratings in writing.
On the last page of the form, in Subsection B of Section II, an open space was left to mention and describe the religious objects that were visible in the inspected house. In the hundreds of homes we visited not a single Heart of Jesus appeared, not a single little card of the Virgin, not one corner to Elegguá, no pot of Oschún.
Since then 26 years have passed since those evaluations and now, in our building’s lobby there is a sign inviting believers or non-believers to the Mass that Benedict XVI will hold on Wednesday in Havana. Luckily none of those who then believed committed the naiveté (the honesty) of leaving in sight those “religious objects” that we were supposed to ferret out. They hid them, I kept the checklist.
28 March 2012
On the ninth anniversary of the Black Spring of 2003, and in the environment leading up to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, the Cuban political police have intensified their repressive activities against the Ladies in White.
It is at least paradoxical that State Security acts as if it has the conviction that the ecclesiastic authorities are not going to protest. It gives the impression that an understanding has been reached, or is being reached, between the government and the Catholic church, under which the police have a free hand to repress, and the religious to expand their prerogatives with regards to worship. There will be more processions, more permissions to rebuild churches, seminaries and convents, in exchange for a commitment to look only to heaven.
Luckily, faith does not depend on these blunders. What will be damaged over the long term is the influence of the Catholic church in a future without a dictatorship. At the ninth station of his Calvary Jesus fell for the third time. Judas had already betrayed him, Pontius Pilate had already washed his hands of him, and Peter had already denied him three times before the cock crowed.
19 March 2012
On a day like yesterday, thirty years ago, the Carlos J. Finlay Medical Sciences Detachment was formed. In front of 3,800 young medical students, gathered in the Karl Marx Theater, Fidel Castro warned then that the University was for the revolutionaries, a condition more demanding for those who were responsible for people’s health. In commemoration yesterday, the Minister of Health, Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda received a certificate addressed to the Cuban president.
At the same time that the ceremony was taking place in the auditorium of the Public Health Ministry, about 35 miles away in Guanajay, Dr. Jeovany Jimenez was finishing his first week on a hunger strike. The young doctor is protesting to demand that his right to practice his profession be restored; it he was barred from medicine in September 2006 after having sent a letter complaining about the insignificance of the salary increase for health care workers. Now, after sending a total of 20 letters over five years with no reply from the Ministry of Public Health, Jeovany is resorting to a hunger strike.
The arrogance of the former Minister, Jose Ramon Balaguer, made that demand for a wage to be seen as a reprehensible act. Revolutionaries do not demand more money for their work. The indifference of the current Minister is surely based on the belief that Revolutionaries must have a blind confidence in their leaders, even when they are apparently wrong, and do not go around with appeals to demand justice. According to these deep ideological principles, Jeovany is not a good revolutionary and obviously can not be a doctor.
16 March 2012
For many years March 8, International Women’s Day, meant for many of us the opportunity to conclude out work duties before the official time and the promise of a little party in the workplace. On leaving home, in the bus, or arriving anywhere, one offered a Congratulations! half formal, half authentic.
I would love to have a Day of Men, among other reasons, so that the idea of equality made more sense. But until someone finds a suitable date for the masculine celebrations, I want to congratulate today all the women and especially the women bloggers. If I had a talent for poetry would take a stab at a “Triumphal March of the Cuban Alternative Bloggers,” but I will not even try.
What would I say, then? I would mention Miriam Celaya, that flagellator of tyrants, with acute ideas and the precise word; Rebecca Monzo, our carnival star with her bittersweet and fun humor; Lía Villares, so playful, so creative, so herself; Regina Coyula, who left “the intelligence” for what an intelligent and good person she is; Esperanza Rodriguez, who always reminds us of our rights and teaches us to defend them; Claudia Cadelo, despite her already long vacation; Ana Luisa Rubio and her moon full of dreams and kindnesses; Laritza Diversent, showered in the law and in architraves; Rosa Maria Rodriguez, for her barefoot roses without thorns; Katia Sonia Martín, bellicose and happy with her twin girls; Wendy Iriepa, who fought so hard to celebrate this blessed day; Liliane Ruiz, recent and ancient, premiering the word in a luminous form; and of course, the skinny one, the multiple-prize-winner, “the worst of them all,” who initiated us into the guts of WordPress, to Yoani Sanchez, whom I had the enormous pleasure of waking up with a kiss this morning.
8 March 2012
The news that Abel Prieto, minister of culture had been ousted from his job has been suggested for more than a month by the blogger Yoani Sanchez. All indications are that Abel was given the opportunity to close the Book Fair where he shared, with the former Cuban president, a meeting with numerous intellectuals.
Abel Prieto will be remembered for being the only man with long hair in the upper echelons of government. Like any public man he had friends and enemies, these latter said that the literary genre in which he was most successful was that of writing letters to approve travel and authorizations to buy cars. His greatest success was perhaps to protect the economic interests of artists, and his greatest blunder, that I remember, was to have suggested to the poet Raul Rivero that he should be grateful to the Revolution for not having ended his days as a corpse thrown into a ditch.
We knew each other from a distance when we were both studying at the University and whenever we passed he was kind enough to say hello. I think he might have been the only minister who shook my hand.
My greatest wish for him is that he dedicate himself to writing and in particular that he recount all those things that occasionally made him doubt whether he was doing the right thing.