Myopia and astigmatism

I put on the glasses of optimism and glance out over the collapsing city where I live.  With these shimmering crystals of hope, my heart beats more peacefully, without turning somersaults.  Thanks to them, I understand that I’m not climbing fourteen floors thanks to an inefficient state—incapable of installing an elevator after five months—but rather I am a fervent ecologist, determined to consume only my human fuel.  With this new glass through which I see everything, I see that my plate lacks meat not because of the super high prices in the market, but rather because I love animals and avoid the suffering of slaughter.

I don’t have an Internet connection at home, but the rosy lenses reveal to me that this service is only for officials and resident foreigners.  Perhaps they want to protect me from the “perversions” of the web, I tell myself, as would Voltaire’s ridiculous Candide.  So I’ve tried, for the briefest moment, to see palaces instead of ruins, leaders who carry us to victory when in reality they lead us to the precipice, and men who are hypnotized by my hair, even though I know they continue to watch me.

The problem starts when I take off the glasses of innocence and look around me, at the real colors of the crisis.  The pain in my calves returns in response to the long flights of stairs; I start dreaming of steak; and a blinking modem becomes an almost erotic desire.  I toss the glasses of optimism from my balcony, maybe there’s someone down there who still prefers to use them, who would even like to distort the truth with them.

Third time is not a charm

This time they’ve been more direct: “You are not authorized to travel,” the woman told me quietly, almost nicely, dressed in her olive-green.  My attempt to get permission to leave ended without much delay and with the same negative response.  I demanded an explanation from the officer, but she was only a wall of contention between my demands and her hidden bosses.

While they were telling me “no,” I recalled the declarations made by Miguel Barnet* a couple of months ago.  The president of the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC) affirmed that all Cubans can travel, except those who have a debt to the justice system.  I spent the day looking for some legal reason hanging over me, but nothing came to mind.  Even the rice cooker that I bought on credit at the ration store I paid for in full, even though it only worked for two months before completely breaking down.

I have never been charged in court yet I am condemned not to leave this Island.  This restriction has not been dictated by a judge, nor could I have appealed it to jury, rather it comes from the great prosecutor—with full rights—in which he’s set himself up as the Cuban State.  That severe magistrate determined that the old woman sitting next to me in the office at 17th and K would not receive the ‘white card’ because her son ‘deserted’ from a medical mission.  The boy who waited in the corner couldn’t travel either, because his athlete father plays now under another flag.  The list of the punished is so long and the reasons so varied, that we could establish a huge group of forced islander “stay-at-homes.”  It’s too bad that the vast majority are silent, in the hopes that one day they’ll be allowed to leave, as one who receives compensation for good behavior.

One of the first places of pilgrimage for those who don’t get the exit permit should be the office of the naive president of UNEAC.  Maybe he can explain to us the crime for which we’ve been condemned.

To augment the papers in my collection of negatives, here is the latest document received from SIE (Immigration and Emigration Section).  I am also posting my visas, to record the fact that my problems are not about entering another country, only about leaving mine.

Translator’s note:
The opening paragraphs of the article about Miguel Barnet read, in English translation: 

The writer Miguel Barnet criticized, today, those who believe his countrymen cannot freely leave the island as he, who has traveled widely, does and says the only ones who can’t travel are those in prison.  “People believe that we Cubans can’t travel and I’ve been to more than 47 countries,” Barnet said during a meeting with the press  in a bookstore in Panama City.  “Cubans are traveling,” he stressed, “the only ones who don’t travel are those in prison,” affirmed Barnet, considered one of the Cuban writers most published abroad.

The shredder

When you read this post I will be sitting in the waiting room of the Plaza Municipality Office of Immigration and Emigration.  Among military uniforms, my passport waiting for a permit to travel that has been denied me on two occasions.  During the last year, the obedient soldiers dedicated to limiting our freedom of movement have not permitted me to accept international invitations.  In their databases next to my name there must be a mark condemning me to island confinement. The possessive logic of this Daddy-State sees it as normal that I, as a punishment for writing a blog, like a box on the ears for having believed myself to be a free person, will not receive the “white card.”

The least I desire on this Friday of bureaucracy and expectation, is that it ends with someone putting their hand on my shoulder to tell me, “We were wrong about you, you can leave.”  I do not think they will amend “the error” of blocking my travel, nor do I nurture the slightest hope of boarding the airplane on March 29.  I will sit in the crowded lobby of the mansion at 17th and K for only two reasons: to inconvenience them with my pigheadedness and to claim my rights.  To show them the visa document that authorizes my entry to many parts of the world, while “they” curb my travel.  I will be there, confident that one day all this machinery to extract profits and generate ideological loyalties—which the exit permit has become—will cease to exist.

I confess that I do not want them to allow me to travel as if it were a gift, rather I fantasize that—this very day—while I am waiting for the third “no”, someone will come out and announce that this regulation that is such a violation was just repealed.  I have a feeling that I will leave Cuba when everyone can do it freely, but in the meantime,  I will continue besieging them with my demands, my posts and my questions.

Here are links to the two forms I had to fill out to request permission to leave:  Form 1 and Form 2.  [An English translation of the form is available here.]

Added Friday, March 20, 2:15 pm.
Response to the application: Again, the answer is No.

Of equinoxes and grandchildren

They took Adolfo one morning six years ago, after raiding his home as if it were that of a dangerous terrorist.  There were neither weapons, nor chemical substances in his poor home in Central Havana, but his papers bore witness to many opinions, written without permission.  They indicted him with the same urgency that—in those same days—they shot three young men for hijacking a boat to emigrate to Florida.  It was near the equinox but to all of us it seemed so dark that we could only call it one thing: The Black Spring of 2003.  Not even the war in Iraq managed to obscure the news for the families and friends of the seventy-five prisoners.  The old trick, so often and successfully repeated, of taking advantage of everyone looking the other way, didn’t work.

From his prison in Ciego de Ávila, he called this week to tell us that his daughter Joana is going to have a baby.  He probably won’t be able to see this baby get its first tooth, due to the stubbornness of those who condemned him to fifteen years.  His release has been converted into a bargaining chip, saved for a political game that no one knows how or when it will be played.  Only one man, dying and therefore stubborn, seems to have the ability to decide his release from prison.  For that fading old man, the future of Adolfo—free and living in a plural Cuba—must hurt more than the needles of the serums and injections.  Despite the enormous power of this octogenarian patient, he cannot prevent the grandchild of this humble English professor from seeing him only as one more name in the history books, as the capricious caudillo who put his grandfather behind bars.

March has not turned out to be the month in which the days last as long as the nights, because a persistent eclipse of freedoms has settled itself on all of us.  I look and look but it continues to seem that we are in the midst of the solstice and the penumbra.  Far ahead, I manage to see my children and those of Joana under a persistent light, calling to us.

Hobbit Hole

I left high school in the countryside feeling that nothing belonged to me, not even my body.  Living in shelters creates the sensation that your whole life, your privacy, your personal possessions and even your nakedness has become public property.  “Sharing” is the obligatory word and it comes to seem normal not to be able—ever—to be alone.  After years of mobilizations, agricultural camps, and a sad school in Alquízar, I needed an overdose of privacy.

I’d read, for the first time, the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the warm home of Bilbo Baggins was my ideal of a refuge where I could hide myself.  I missed having a place to put my books, hang my clothes, decide which photo to tack to the wall, and being able to paint a sign on the door saying, “Stop.”  I was exhausted by having to bathe in showers without curtains, eat off aluminum trays, and share the lice and funguses of my dorm mates.  The illusory world of The Hobbit offered me this warm and quiet home that reality had never allowed me to enjoy.  It was to this fictitious hole in a tree that I escaped, when the indiscriminate cohabitation became unbearable.

The beleaguered individual that I carried inside understood, in these years, that it was not only the camps and the boarding schools that disrespected the privacy of the individual.  My Island is, at times, like a sequence of bunks where everyone knows what you eat, who you spend time with, how you think.  The grim glance of my high school director was replaced by the vigilance of the CDR.*  I’m asked to iron my uniform, shine my shoes, and expected to maintain a certain ideological posture.

The impression of being a “public good” or a “socially useful object” has not disappeared, rather the years have confirmed that I live in an enormous shelter controlled by the State.  In it, one hears the bell calling you to come and eat—now disrupted by the shout of a neighbor announcing a new product is available in the ration market.  Faced with that call, however, I don’t jump immediately from my bed, but take the time to hide something under the mattress. It’s a strange and dangerous book, where a dwarf with tufted feet smokes his pipe and enjoys a warm and intimate haven in a tree.

Translator’s note:

CDR = Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the ubiquitous block watch groups that keep tabs on every Cuban.

Back

“The first holiday in two years,” I told myself—almost ten days ago—when I announced the repairs on this blog.  However, the last thing I’ve done is rest.  Generation Y has generated successive headaches among many technicians who have wanted to help me remodel it.  After several attempts, we have not been able—yet—to implement the discussion forum that is so needed.  In any event, the time dedicated to the redesign has served to confirm how necessary this space is for me.  Without the personal exorcism of writing my posts, reality would overwhelm me in a crushing and paralyzing way.  Nothing looks the same if I can’t tell you about it in these brief virtual texts.

I still need to overcome some technical challenges and certain disasters in the design, but I will continue to publish even if the blog looks like Havana after the Special Period.*  So, watch out for the holes, the leaking sewers, the buildings about to fall down and the power lines looming from the corners.  Generation Y will take less time to recover than this dilapidated town, I promise you.

Translator’s Note: 

Special Period = The 1990s in Cuba, a very difficult time after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its support.

Notice of repairs

Just this once I am going to adopt the vocabulary of the dais and the worker meetings, to say to you that, “marking the second anniversary of Generation Y” I will try to implement some important improvements in the blog.  The start of this work resulted in a technical accident.  As I can’t promise that the maintenance work will be fast or efficient, I can only announce a forced vacation for the commentators.  So that no one will panic, let me say that something wasn’t working, but nothing has been lost.

I intend to create a participatory forum, where those who want to discuss issues that don’t relate to the posts can do so.  I will also try to connect this blog to the social networks that have become indispensable in recent months.  For this I rely on a slow and censored internet connection from the hotels in this country, and the invaluable assistance of colleagues around the world.

Once the blog is accessible again, comments will be temporarily closed, to be able to optimize the data bases without losing anything.  For now, I invite you to continue the debates at:

http://vocescubanas.com/generaciony/ or

http://generaciony.posterous.com/.

I appreciate advice about possible improvements, suggestions for software and utilities for the forum and, especially, the call to use this time to renew ideas, sharpen arguments and to renounce—once and for all—verbal violence.

Fidgeting on Mount Olympus

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Yesterday, with my lunch half eaten, a friend called to ask if I had seen the 1:00 pm news.  No, I never chew while watching this type of program, it’s fatal to the digestion.  Mixing red beans with the announcement of the changes in the Council of State and Ministers, would have resulted in a mortar of incalculable consequences.  Even so, it bothered me to have missed the news and to find out—in bits and pieces—the changes that happened up there.

The “official notice,” published in the newspaper Granma, is long and full of language that puts me to sleep.  In short, various ministers and members of the Council of State have been replaced; this fall from grace has been rumored, even in the streets, for some months.  It didn’t even surprise me that one of the replacements, Carlos Valenciaga, was not mentioned, or that the military uniforms ended up with a greater presence at the highest level of the administration.

People are trying to find, in these changes, the depth and wisdom of a game of chess, but to me it seems like a game of “blind man’s bluff.”   I don’t believe the wished-for and necessary reforms that people were waiting for, were to have new ministers installed.  If the intention was to stimulate progressive measures, no functionary in charge of a ministry could have slowed them down.  The intention, however, has been to delay the changes, to dull them, to buy time in the game of politics, while we lose months and months of time in our lives.

Who will convince Marcos, who already has GPS for crossing the Straits of Florida, that the new ministers will pave the way to enable him to fulfill his dreams in his own country?  The announcement yesterday did not shorten the long lines to get a new nationality in front of the Spanish Embassy, nor the number of young girls who offer their bodies in exchange for a way out of here.  Calling the new chancellor Bruno instead of Felipe has little influence on the degree of hopelessness.  Changing the instruments doesn’t mean much, if the symphony being performed, and the director of the orchestra, are the same as before.

Ready for Everest

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We’ve already been four months without an elevator.  Fourteen stories down, fourteen stories up, and there’s no clear date for when the contraption will be ready.  The installation goes at a Cuban pace, which seems like that of one of those Galapagos tortoises that needs hours and hours to advance a few meters.  Something always happens to extend the date for inaugurating the new Russian elevator, and meanwhile my legs are like those of an alpine mountain climber.

If you see that at times the blog has the rhythm of the eight steps that form each flight of my stairs, no need to worry; Generation Y will survive this too.