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Signed in Havana

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

The blog Desde La Habana is an adventure that today, January 28, is two years old. It has not been easy to get here. The idea of creating a blog came to me in the winter of 2006.

From the end of the 90s, I had been collaborating regularly with the online site of the Interamerican Press Society and the digital version of Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana, a project of the deceased Cuban writer Jesús Díaz that was launched in Madrid in 1996. Also with the Revista Hispano Cubana, funded in the spring of 1998 in the Spanish capital.

But there were difficulties for un-official journalism. In the spring of 2003, as is well known, Fidel Castro’s government unleashed a raid that put 75 dissidents in prison, among them 27 alternative communicators.

Between the fear that some late night the guys from State Security would knock on my door and arrest me without words, and the desire to try new paths, I decided to try my luck with other tools.

In an issue of Newsweek in Spanish I had read an incredible report about the blogger phenomenon. Just what I was looking for. An instrument where I would be writer and editor. But to make it a reality cost more than I’d hoped. I didn’t know the techniques to create a blog. Nor, at that time, were there public sites to connect to the Internet in Havana.

I didn’t lose faith. Three people signed on to the idea of my having my own blog. On March 25, 2007, my mother, Tania Quintero, an independent journalist and also a neophyte in the management of technology, Magia, and a Cuban living in Spain, opened a blog. Since November of 2003 Tania has lived in Switzerland as a political refugee. Her computer is old but it has 24/7 DSL.

Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar were essential for enabling me to open my blog. Through a Swiss journalist I met the Sánchez-Escobar couple in December of 2004. On certain crisp and starry nights, in their apartment on the 14th floor, drinking Guayabita from Pinar del Rio and eating pizzas made by Yoani, several of us friends would talk about the state of things in Cuba.

And then Escobar, with his degree in journalism, had the idea for the magazine Consensus, he was thinking could be produced by our own effort. He invited me to write about sports, but I wanted something else.

Over the end of the year I continued visiting the couple now and again, and Yoani told me about the blog she had opened in April 2007. But it wasn’t until December of 2008, when Yoani lent me a hand. By this date in Havana one could navigate the Internet, paying a lot and in hard currency.

In my personal project, for the collaboration with me, I involved Luis Cino, in my opinion the best independent journalist on the island at that time, and Laritza Diversent, a recently graduated young lawyer. From Madrid my mother would write and from Madrid would come the stories of Raul Rivero published in El Mundo.

I remember going crazy managing a webmaster who charged $ 60 for designing a page layout and $ 5 extra every time he hung your posts. In a café in central Havana I met with Reinaldo and Yoani and they told me I didn’t have to spend a dime. On 28 January 2009 they were thinking of opening a platform they were thinking of calling Voces Cubanas — Cuban Voices.

I joined the party. To ease my ignorance in the management of a blog, they invited me to participate in an accelerated course that Sánchez offered twice a week in her house. I was in the first of six bloggers inaugurating Voces Cubanas.

For me, it was easy to write the posts. But I needed a person abroad to post them for me, because the rising cost of doing the task was unaffordable. Tania talked with Ernesto Hernandez Busto and he accepted. But the blog wasn’t going as I wished.

Starting on 1 January 2010, an extraordinary Portuguese friend, Carlos Moreira, despite having a lot of work, incredibly took on this function in his free hours. Like my mother, who spends up to eight hours a day in front of the Computer, revising texts, verifying dates, selecting photos and videos for the posts written in Havana that I send.

On 22 October 2009 I started to collaborate with the Spanish digital newspaper El Mundo/América. They pay me for my work and topped off with what my family sends with a million sacrifices, they help me to pa the 60 Cuban Convertible pesos I spend each month in Havana hotels to connect to the Internet.

I’ve had bitter moments. After cyber attacks against my blog and the disappearance of the archive with all the posts published in 2009, after I was thrown off Voces Cubanas without a convincing explanation.

Even today, the only argument I’ve been given as a cause for my exclusion as been articles critical of Guillermo Fariñas written by my mother (see the final note). I don’t share this argument. Personally I disagree with the form and content of some of the work written by Tania.

But at her 68 years, living in exile with more than thirty years of experience in journalism, first official and then dissident, she is completely within her right to publish what she thinks in my blog.

We talk enough about democracy and freedom of expression. A discourse in vogue. But in practice, we behave like bigots and censors. An basic evil we Cubans don’t manage to pull out at its roots. Neither those on the island nor those abroad.

I still don’t know if Voices Cubana threw me out because of my mother or if the one to blame is me. During the time I was a part of this platform I never had a serious incident with any blogger, to the point of spoiling the deal we kept. If I had enemies in this group, I didn’t know it.

If I’ve addressed this topic it is because many friends, Cubans and foreigners, have asked me and I don’t know what to say. The one who knows is Yoani.

I hope for an honest answer. I appreciate Yoani Sanchez, and more her husband, Reinaldo Escobar. I have nothing against Orlando Luis Pardo and Claudia Cadelo, two of the most active bloggers.

This adventure of creating a blog is marvelous, like raising a child. I have many material limitations and to top it off I can report enmities to you. But I don’t do journalism to please anyone. That’s the point.

Either way, 2011 appears promising to me. I have a ton of ideas to grow the blog in quality and content. For now, my posts from Havana will continue to appear on time.

*I took the title from a poem borrowed from Raul Rivero (Editorial Sibi, Miami 1996)

Photo: Stathis, Panoramio. Central Park in Havana where the principal statue dedicated to José Martí inHavana is found. The colonial style building is the Hotel Inglaterra, founded on 23 December 1875.

Translated by RST

January 27 2011

The Cachita of Central Havana

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

In September, Havanans venerate three virgins: on September 7 the Regla virgin; the following day the Virgin of the Charity of  Cobre, and the Merced virgin on the 24th. Regla and Charity are mixed race, and one of them, Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, is the Patron Saint of Cuba.

Rain or shine, Havanans gather on September 8 at the church that bears her name, a construction from the 19th century, painted white and yellow. For some time, a procession passes through the streets outside on this day.

The temple is located in Los Sitios, a neighborhood of poor, black, marginal people in Central Havana. It is a few miles around and from everywhere you can see overflowing trash containers, sewage running in torrents, and a frightening odor of shit that emerges from the cracked and filthy tenements.

The area is one of the most densely populated in the city. In miserable shacks, and high houses propped up on stilts with twisted iron balconies, innumerable families live crowded together, many consisting of “Palestinians,” citizens who come fleeing the extreme calamities of the Eastern provinces.

Almost all are living in Havana illegally. On the day of Cachita, as Cubans call their patron saint, the easterners carry the devotees in their bike-taxis. And they charge double.  And they aren’t the only ones making a killing. One woman in dark glasses reads the cards for one convertible peso (less than a dollar). Other neighbors sell roasted peanuts, homemade candy, and bread with thin slices of ham and cheese.

With so many people crowded together the “choros” (pickpockets) take advantage of the least chance to grab a wallet from a pants pocket or a backpack, looking for money or anything of value. A black-haired young woman flies into a rage at an older man who for some time, according to her, had been pressing his penis into her ample buttocks. She threatens to call the police and the guy disappears.

The police, of course, flood the area around the church. The State Security agents keep their distance with their short hair, Motorola cell phones and Suzuki motorcycles.

Tourists usually show up with video cameras. A well-built black boy hugs his Spanish girlfriend. Hookers dressed in the latest styles try to make it inside the church to put a roll of coins on the altar.

The priest announces that the procession is starting. The figure of the virgin is taken out in a class case and mounted on a convertible car.

The crowd starts to move. Some are praying and some are drinking rum and beer. Others eat peanuts and chew gum. They take photos and record videos. Although perhaps only once in their lives, Cubans go to this church to pay tribute to Cachita. It doesn’t matter that her Havana temple is surrounded by poverty.

Fortunately, her real home, in the Cobre Sanctuary, in Santiago de Cuba, is located on a beautiful place surrounded by mountains.

Translated by RST

September 15, 2010

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