All posts by Yoani Snchez

A day without the black market


I try to imagine an incredible twenty-four hours in which I wouldn’t have to rely on the informal market. What about a day without the milk from those who knock on my door, replacing the absence of dairy in the rationed market for those of us who are older than seven and younger than sixty five? I can’t conceive of a day without immersing myself in the black market in order to buy eggs, cooking oil or tomato paste. Even to buy some peanuts, I must cross the line of illegality.

If I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, most likely I’ll have to take an unlicensed taxi.  Not to mention the wide spectrum of underground workers to whom I go when my washing machine breaks, my gas stove clogs or the shower stops working. All of them, in the shadows, sustain me day-to-day and supplement the limited services offered by the State.

Even the newspaper I must buy overpriced, from the seniors who, awake since dawn, acquire all of the copies of Granma and Juventud Rebelde and resell them to make up for their reduced pensions.  And let’s not even talk about the “unmentionables” that are provided to us by the black market or the numerous “open sesames” that we can get by slipping a bill into the right hands. But the most surprising is the infinite capacity of regeneration, shown by the informal vendors, after one of the frequent raids against them.

I don’t know about you, but me, I can’t live a day without the black market.

Photo caption:  Old people who sell products in the “black market” to supplement their meager pensions.

My limitations


Friends, despite some recommendations, I’d rather keep the discussions generated by these posts inside “Generation Y.”  I appreciate those who created the discussion forum in Yahoo! to ease the excessive amount of comments in this Blog but, as it happens, my access to the Internet is so complex that it would help me a lot to have the opinions consolidated on this site and not dispersed among a bunch of pages that I won’t be able to read.

Because of the insistent proposals for help, which are always welcome, I’ll activate a Pay Pal button on the site, but it won’t be ready until the end of January.  You already know, mine is the Internet in slow motion…

I can’t respond frequently to this or that question, as my time in the Net is barely enough to download the recommendations that have been left for me. That is why I don’t intend to play judge and referee in the comments.

Anyway, I’d like to repeat a phrase from Diego, the main character in the film Strawberry and Chocolate: “Be good, and if you’re going to be bad, wait for me…”

Blogger platform


If I’m absent for several days from cyberspace, don’t worry.  Right now, I’m mounting a Blog service for people from inside Cuba who want to write their own posts.  Let’s see the nut cases who want to participate… so far I have about seven people convinced…

The subjects will be varied: culture, society and personal rants like the ones I do. The comments: open and democratic, even for those who send their insults.  The objectives: plurality, exercise of opinion and the therapy of saying what one thinks.  Sounds good, right?

Do we arrive or not?


A sensation of tensed string, of collective asphyxiation, is what I feel these days in the streets.  Strange December this one, in which I don’t hear anyone make predictions for the New Year.  Not even the shy prediction that 2008 maybe bringing us “better things.”   These expectations we spent on the previous New Year’s Eve, when we speculated that with the 2007 would come the desired economic openings and the needed political changes.

By the end of July, it was clear that things were going a lot more slowly than we thought.   The last weeks of December have left us the conviction that “up there” they are “buying time.”  Announcements of all-day drinking water, repaired roads and new buses circling the city are the repertoire of what is promised to us.  All of these goals remind me of the desired conquests of forty of fifty years ago, but how limited, late and false do they seem to me now.

Lacking shared hope and announced resolutions, I am going to make my own list of wishes, a simple and clear enumeration of desires for this leap year that starts tomorrow.   At the head of these endeavors will be that, by next December, we don’t have this sensation of “another year gone without bringing us that which we desire so much.”

Happy 2008!

Photo caption: Expectant face

An empty chair


Today I’ll celebrate Christmas Eve with my family and friends. We’ll assemble an improvised table with the old doors of the elevator and over them a blanket will play the role of a tablecloth. Everyone will bring something to the party. We won’t have grapes, cider or nougat candy, but we’ll be together in harmony which, by itself, is a big luxury. The children will have their guaranteed soft drinks, while a little rum with lemon or honey will be the choice for the adults. My mother will recount how complicated it was to get tomatoes in the morning and my niece will remind us that on Tuesday the 25th she’ll play a little angel in the mass at her parish.

At the head of the table, we’ll keep a chair which remains unoccupied since Christmas 2003.  It is the place of Adolfo Fernández Saínz, condemned in the Black Spring* to fifteen years in prison.  It will be sad to see, for a fifth time, his absence. If his jailers allow it, we’ll be able to listen to his voice on the phone, cheering us up.  (How ironic is life! He, who is in jail, has the strength to impart resiliency.)

I remember when we told my son that he was in jail.  My husband told him: “Teo, your uncle Adolfo is in jail because he’s a brave man,” to which my son replied with his innocent logic: “Then you are free because you’re sort of cowards.”  What a direct way of telling the truth children have!  Yes, Teo, you are right: this Christmas we warm our chairs because we are “cowards.”  We wish, in the intimacy of our family, a new year of liberty, but we can’t make those wishes a reality. We content ourselves with the myth of national destiny, because we gave up on the act of changing things.

Adolfo’s empty chair will be the freest territory at our improvised
Christmas table.

Translator’s note:

Black Spring = In March 2003, coinciding with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Cuba arrested about 75-90 people including about 25-35  journalists (reports vary).  The majority of these people remain in prison.

Concert to close this tired 2007


Squeezed in the backyard of Centro Pablo, we listened again to Pedro Luis Ferrer. The night of Saturday, December 22nd fell upon us while we listened to his poems and songs, happy for him to be there –back amongst us- the “Fat Boy with the guitar.”  Pedro has come back different and simultaneously the same.  He has new themes that take us to the streets of Madrid and he mixes them with his well known “guajiro” chords, sounds and couplets.

The song dedicated to his friend Jesús Díaz, where he confesses  “if I don’t leave Cuba, don’t assume that I stayed,” confirmed me in my folly of staying here to “turn off the light in El Morro” (or to turn it back on, who knows?).   That and much more I owe to this troubadour who, after seven months in Europe, comes before his public – which isn’t the same, either – and makes us laugh and throw conspiratorial looks with that business of “grandpa has a revolver and a knife/ and until somebody takes them from him, he’ll be a danger (…)/ even if you think no, say yes/ if you contradict him it’s worse for you.”

Pedro, you have been the best at this boring and discolored end of a year.  Much more real than the fried plantains, the yucca with gravy or the limited portion of roast pork (I know you’ll like this comparison, because your appetite shows in your songs and in your size). I’ll take, then, as a resolution for this 2008, which is coming over us, a couple of your verses: “We have to build a full democracy/ so no one can make me say what I don’t want”.

I’ll leave you with the text of the song that appeared in the program of the concert, and which gives the title to it.

A Year-End Song

Now that I’m allowed to look askance:
What allure is in your eyes, my dear!
I like even the way in which you dance
And the peculiar fire of your cheer.

Now that I’m allowed to criticize:
I walk the Malecón and wait for dawn;
I want to dedicate myself to rest;
The flowers of the garden are so fair…

Now that I’m allowed to criticize:
I put on new pants and a new shirt;
We put a hammock on the porch
And hung in the door a little bell.

Now that even the mute aspires to talk
and is in vogue to yell and to complain
Your legs, I wish I could devour,
The way in which you walk, and you settle.

Now that I’m allowed to criticize:
I bought a new computer and a bowl;
My friend asked me for a change:
The moon is full and nice for a stroll.

Pedro Luís Ferrer

Without pedigree


Amongst the hundreds of messages that I get each week, there are certain questions and doubts that repeat themselves.  Many are curious: “Who do I work for?” “Who are my parents?” “Who pays me to do this?”  Without trying to convince anyone (because the business of exposing “my truth” is the closest thing to a mea culpa), I’d like to clarify a few things:

  • I was born in a tenement in Centro Havana.  In one of the corners of my street it said “Jesus Peregrino” and in the other “Jesus Pelegrino” (so since I was a child I have learned to live with the multiplicity of ways in which you can name the same thing).
  • I don’t have any family pedigree that certifies me for anything, except the skill to fasten bolts and repair electrical equipment, inherited from my father, a train machinist who, in the crisis of the nineties changed his blue and white uniform for a post as bicycle repairman.
  • Many of those who know me, think that in me “the elevator doesn’t go to the last floor,” or that I “have some screws loose” or that I’m “nuts.”  Everything I have done in this little life, (get in trouble, write a thesis about literature in the dictatorship in Latin America, join my life with a disgraced journalist, return to my country and post in this Blog), could well be seen by a specialist as manifestations of a mental disorder. Everything is possible…
  • For those who assert – under the impunity of a pseudonym – that I’m from the G2, I’d like to clarify that very few in Cuba still call it that.  Now we call them “security,” “the Apparatus,” “the machinery,” “Armageddon,” “the crusher,” “the boys” or simply, “Them.”  If someone asked a youth, “Hey, do you know what the G2 is?” maybe he’d answer that it’s a Rock group or a shoe brand.
  • I don’t intend to give any proof that denies these accusations of “infiltration.”  To those who are relieved and feel less guilty by thinking that “I dare because I’m protected” or because “I have been ordered to say this,” go ahead. Each one – at least in the small space of this Blog – can think and comment whatever he wants.
  • In relationship to money, the material base or salary, I’d like to quote my husband when he says that I have “the soul of a fakir.”  I dress with whatever is available, for years I’ve never had more than one pair of shoes, and I eat only once a day.   Only one obsession with “consumption”crosses my life now: to post.  The money I make translating from German, showing Havana to a couple of tourists or selling my old books at the university, I invest – when I can – in paying for half an hour on the Internet.  That’s why my appearances in “Generation Y” are jumpy and don’t have the frequency of a Log.
  • Why do I have a Blog, and others do not?   Because I am from a generation that has learned to move in a world of technology, including having to assemble my own PC with parts bought in the black market.  One of the contradictions happening in the Cuba of today, is that those who have interesting things to say, are, as a rule, information technology illiterates.  So, the habitual readers of the blogs have to be content with people like me, without pedigree, but for whom the mouse is an appendage of our own body.

Photo speech balloon:  For the G2 or for the CIA?  That alone seems to be the question.

Of TV classes and other absurdities

Teo, that’s my son’s name, doesn’t belong to “Generation Y,” but nonetheless is an unlimited source of anecdotes for this Blog. His school stories generate smiles, concerns and another post (which he’s never interested in reading, because is “old people’s stuff”).  Being up to date with what they say in his classroom, the music that he dances to, and the words that he invents, connects me with those teenagers who some day will blame us for “this” which we are leaving to them.

A few weeks ago, my son came home with Geography homework. “What are the portions into which Central America is divided?” said the question, which got us to search in our memories and the dictionaries.   I attempted to explain to Teo that in my time in high school, they used some other categories like “zones” or “areas” or “ecosystems,” but not this definition that reminded me more of a piece of a pie than a stretch of land.  So I inquired of him about the origin of such a novel category and I got as an answer: “They said it in the TV class.”

For those not up to date with the “new educational methods” of the average Cuban education, I must explain that the TV set in each classroom plays the role of the teacher 60% of the school time. The students are bored, they can’t say, “Teacher, please repeat, I didn’t understand,” and copy without pause whatever is dictated on the screen.  With this new pedagogic technique they attempt to make up for the lack of teachers caused by low salaries and little social or institutional recognition.

In doubt about the “portions,” I went to the school and asked a teacher (the flesh and blood one, not the virtual one in the screen) what does  that new geographic definition mean.  I heard something familiar, “Um, I don’t know, they said that in the TV classes.”  So I decided to sit every morning to listen and take notes from the educational programs transmitted by the TV.  If I don’t do it, how will I be able to help and review Teo’s questions.

Already put in the role of interpreting for my son the boring chit-chat of the “TV teacher” I even got a VHS tape.   Tomorrow I will start recording the TV classes!

Coming out of the closet

My friend Miguel, gay and dissident, feels hope with the new measures pushed by Mariela Castro that will allow him access to sex change surgery.  He dreams of having an I.D. card with an identity that is “She” and not “He” and of being treated as the woman he feels himself to be. He knows, however, that he’ll have to wait a lot longer to affiliate legally to a social-democratic party, to demonstrate in a picket line for his labor rights or to vote, in direct elections, for another president.

With his new name, which for years he has decided will be Olivia, he’ll not be completely free from intolerance.  Maybe he’ll come to be accepted in his differences, as long as this is about his “sexual preference” and not about ideological tendency.  Coming out of the closet of his political opinions will take him more time and they will remind him, in due time, that this Revolution has allowed him the dream of his transexuality.

I can’t understand very well how we can invoke a tolerance that is parceled out and unfinished.  How can we be on the cutting edge in the subject of gay marriage and not allow, on the other hand, that we may “marry” another political tendency or social doctrine.  All of the thousands of Cubans locked in their closets of double morality, repressing their true opinions, as if they were effeminate gestures, are waiting for a Mariela Castro to say publicly, “These too we have to accept and tolerate in their difference.”  Miguel will be then the social-democratic woman that he has always dreamed of being.

Those who don’t show their faces


The film “The Lives of the Others,” which will be shown on December 8th at the Acapulco Cinema, will put before the Cuban public scenes more than well known. The sample of German cinema, organized into the Festival of the New Latin-American Cinema, will bring us a story that could well be that of a neighbor, a friend or our own. It will confirm that the sensation of feeling observed is not a paranoid delirium of our minds, but the clear evidence of a spying machinery that acts in the shadows.

Those who are able to get a seat, will be able to identify in the face and the attitude of Wiesler (the Stasi captain) the agent “Moises” or “Erick”, “Carlos” or “Alejandro.”  They will understand that the business of bugging telephone lines, filling a house with microphones, or blackmailing someone with their darkest perversions, are techniques on which the boys of the Ministry of the Interior have no copyright.

I learned, a long time ago, that the best way to fool the “security” is to make public everything that one thinks. By signing our names, while saying aloud our opinions, and by not hiding anything, we disarm their dark maneuvers of vigilance.   Let’s save them, then, with our “guts in the air,” from the long hours of listening to recordings, the undercover agents, the pricey gas of the cars in which they move and the long shifts searching the Internet for our divergent opinions.

Let’s know also that these, the ones from here, are not German.   So from time to time they neglect their work in order to look at the swinging hips of a girl passing by; they also lose the papers or fall asleep while watching us through our windows. Regardless of that, they are similar to the Teutonic agents in their inability to show their faces, to tell their real names or to sign and publish all of what they whisper in the impunity of the shadows.