We spent Tuesday between the phone ringing and friends coming over to tell us that Carlos Otero, the best known presenter on Cuban TV, had asked for asylum in the United States. This has been the news that has circulated the fastest by word of mouth in the last few months, maybe because it concerns a man of the media. He had come to be the only one who, in our sleepy programming, had a space with his own name: “Carlos y punto.” [Carlos and full stop.]
Accustomed as I am to seeing some of my friends leave each year, I am not surprised that this “man of success” has chosen the road to exile. His decision looks like that of many who have understood that here they have no future, who have come to realize that Cuba is not a country where dreams can come true. I confirm this every time I ask my acquaintances about their plans and I hear, more than half the time, the phrase, “What I want is to leave.” This answer grows alarmingly when we ask those who are younger.
This continuous bleeding that every month takes away the youngest, the boldest and, why not say it, the most talented, is proof that the well being of the people is not the center of attention of the Cuban government. Political elements, ideology, and past evidence of loyalty are prioritized above the “here” and “now” of our needs. As long as “up there” they don’t recognize that they haven’t been able to build a country where people want to stay and use their energies, the problem of emigration will not be solved.
How many will have to leave so that we can hear the phrase, “We failed, we haven’t been able to give a future to Cubans.” I suspect, because I know the hardheadedness that comes with too many years in power, that not even this desolated postage stamp of an island full of tired and aged people, with their children living in other latitudes, will make the Cuban government come to reason. I imagine the accusations of “sold to imperialism” and “traitor” that will be heard these days in the Institute of Radio and Television, while talking about the exiled newscaster.
They don’t know that with the exit of Carlos Otero, those who stay feel the island to be increasingly empty and terribly boring.
Friends, as you will realize, I have just changed some things in the Blog. Among the most important of new functions, is the ability to leave leaving comments.
Little by little, I’ll have to remake the archive of previous posts, so I ask you for patience.
Here I have posted a picture from last Saturday at the entrance to the Acapulco Cinema, to see the film “The Lives of Others.” I think that it has been the biggest mob I have seen in this festival. Those of us outside were yelling “Open up!” after seeing that they were closing the doors, in reaction to the stampede that wanted in. I imagine that such a scream was not limited to passing through the entrance of the Acapulco Cinema, but it was a call to “Opening” with capital letters. I yelled it, also, thinking about the dams, the limits and the borders that have to yield and let us through.
Open up! We yelled outside the cinema and one hour later we could hear the character in the film saying, “The wall has fallen.” “Open up!” we said with faces against the glass, while we were pushed back. “Open up!” we continued thinking, even when we were already in the comfy chairs, the lights about to go off. “Open up!” They were the words that I kept from that night, and I repeated them the next morning.
So, the movie, renamed here “Our Lives,” allowed us to yell openly, right in the middle of 26th Street, a verb that concentrates all of our desires: “Open up!”
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 “safeties” 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 say, to the ear, in the impunity of the shadows.
When I went to bed past midnight, I already guessed that the NO option had won in Venezuela. How did I know? Because I’m used to reading, with close attention, the omissions and the silences of the news itself. So the little enthusiasm from the Cuban news media during Sunday, had already given me the results of the referendum in Venezuela
At six thirty in the morning today, the Cuban television program “Buenos Dias,” gave a first news the message of the Minister of Health on the Day of the Medical Professionals. Shortly after, and obviating the journalism paradigms of, “What, How and When,” they announced in the second headline that Chavez encouraged people to continue deepening Socialism. Ufff… The exercise took me a few seconds until finally I understood that the option of NO had won.
Even I, who have never taken part in a referendum and in most elections increase the number of the abstentions, understand the reach of the decision taken by the Venezuelan electorate. With their negative answer the Cubans have learned. it’s a shame we can’t apply it, that a simple monosyllabic word can be the full stop that authoritarians deserve. A brief word can stop the verbal incontinence of the politicians.
Today I’ll go out and try to insert in each phrase a “no.” I can already imagine the deluge of understanding winks that will accompany each negation.
Cubans are preparing ourselves for the inflated number for GDP growth that will be announced at the end of the year. Without having swallowed -yet- the 12.5 that was publicized at the end of 2006, we are hallucinating with the big number they will tell us in December. (If this time we get to the uncomfortable “thirteen” then, indeed, there will be material to feed a rain of jokes during 2008).
We are still trying to find evidence to back the surprising index of economic development from last year. I, particularly, have looked in my wallet, in the kitchen and especially in the refrigerator, but the economic progress doesn’t seem to show around there. Neither is it in the network of services or commerce, where we suffer a decrease in the offerings and a noticeable hike in the prices. I don’t perceive it even in the limited boom in construction and even less in the depressed agricultural production. Just by visiting my hospital or entering the closest school I discard that it is in those areas where we can find the effects of the economic dynamism.
Without letting that stop me, I have oriented my search to the part of the basic product basket that is composed by the products of rationing. However, the inflated GDP doesn’t show its positive effects in that direction either. The same reduced quantities and the well known empty aisles remain in that subsidized market.
Where is the shining recovery that such an economic index seems to show? What complicated method of calculation have the specialists used, so that we can’t verify it with our own reality? Something has happened to mathematics, and I’m afraid that this year the tricky abacus of triumphalism will again calculate our meager development.
There’s a city that happens besides us without touching us. It is a Havana that talks of “Parmesan cheese” of “centimeters of turf” and “weekends in Cancun.” It’s another town that barely mixes with ours and looks nothing like the scenario of landslides and deficiencies that forms our environment.
Both “Havanas” coexist and at the same time negate each other. Those who live in one can’t imagine -in all its expanse- the other city that completes it. One runs quickly on wheels, while ours ages at the stops, waiting for the bus. The sweet Havana of opulence moves itself west, especially towards the area of Miramar, Cubanacan, Atabey and Jaimanitas. Mine, grows by jumps towards San Miguel, Diez de Octubre, El Calvario and Fontamar.
When both cities coincide and collide, they can’t comprehend each other: so far apart are the realities where they live. While one complains of its old Ikea furniture and of the difficulties in transporting the “moving container from the port,” the other one rocks in the aged chairs inherited from the grandparents and submerges in the black market.
My deteriorated Havana buys retail, talks softly and smells like sewage waters, while that city where ministers, high officials and diplomats dwell, moves between canapes, receptions, and exhales a delicate aroma of moisturizing creams.
I prefer, however, the decrepit city that I haunt everyday, since at least it is coherent and transparent like what remains in it. We have made it in our image and likeness, or rather, we are the ones that imitate it in its resignation and its misery.
It seems that after many years of paralysis, the clock on the Central Railway Station is working again. Of course this does not mean that now the trains leave on time, but at least passengers can verify the extent of the delay…
Below is a picture of the facade of the Market of Commerce, to see if they will also repair it and we can begin to time the slowness of our economy.
It is rumored that starting in January there will be a package of measures that will alleviate some of our daily difficulties. It is even predicted that there will be 17 to 25 new resolutions, amongst which are included the possibility of buying a car, having a cell phone contract or traveling without the current exit permit. Such precise details shown in these on-the-street speculations barely surprise me, since desires get to project themselves frequently, with all of their complexities.
I don’t know if these rumors are part of another “lullaby” to keep us asleep for another three months, or if something is really cooking “upstairs.” Beforehand, I believe that if something is indeed announced in the first days of 2008, it won’t bring the structural changes that we need. The desired economic openings will come conditioned by ideological factors and the state ownership of the means of production will continue to predominate in our economy.
The expected measures could only end all of our problems if they were discussed and approved by the majority of the people. As long as this doesn’t happen we’ll continue being “the mass,” to whom it is necessary to “deliver guidance” without previous consultation. This current rumor, which the press and the media don’t reflect, is the palpable evidence that we are not the ones making the decisions. We are left, only, with the possibility of speculating.
Photo caption: Museum of Wrecks in Alamar
Yesterday night, Monday, the program “Open Dialog” confirmed for me the idea that debate, when is not free and spontaneous, remains a monologue of several voices. It was precisely the absence of controversy that characterized the guests of Loly Estevez, among whom were Alfredo Guevara, Eduardo Heras Leon, Desiderio Navarro, Roberto Fernandez Retamar and Corina Mestre. A certain call to “not dissent” before the cameras could be guessed behind the descriptive and generic tone of the speeches. They didn’t even allow the possibility of taking calls from the audience, which in other broadcasts of the same program had elevated the temperature of the discussion.
The omissions, as almost always, were more significant than what was expressed aloud. Desiderio Navarro was the only one who mentioned, very subtly, the intellectual controversy from the months of January and February. As a “media slip” Navarro characterized the appearance of Pavon, Serguera and Quesada on Cuban TV, a fact that acted as a trigger for the exchange of emails questioning the cultural policy of the Revolution.
“Open Dialog” yesterday was a deposit of triumphalist phrases used to characterize the current debates that precede the Congress of the UNEAC (Cuban Artists and Writers Union), which contrast with the corrosive assertions made in those meetings by a good portion of the Cuban intellectual class. The “polemicists” repeated phrases like “a nation can’t live with its back turned to debate,” “we can’t yield the issues to the enemy,” “we need to include more of the Youth in constructive criticism.” All of this was said under the watch of Fidel Castro and Jose Marti who, looking on from two Raul Martinez paintings, formed part of the decoration of the set.
Of course, none of the participants dared say that “debate must be between all Cubans, regardless of the political affiliation or ideological preferences.” Nor did they question why is it that culture must be discussed between the pundits, when it belongs to everybody. What “the email skirmish” (also known as Words of the Intellectuals) left us has evidently been absorbed and re-arranged by those in charge of the culture. Last night, instead of fuel to continue debating, the audience was shown the inflexible limits of a “debate between revolutionaries.”