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Tending Bridges

December 11, 2010 Leave a comment

A contagious song by a Cuban salsero asks in its chorus for a long bridge to be built between La Havana and Miami. Perhaps in the not so distant future the engineers and architects will consider such a possibility.

The so-called City of the Sun appears to be an appendix of Latin America. In jest, it is said that the next Congress of the Communist Party, expected for April 2011, will designate Miami ‘a new Cuban province’.

In Florida live more than 800 thousand Cubans. That number of inhabitants is more than that of ten of the fourteen provinces on the island. While the politicians in Cuba and the United States carry on with their cold war language, the common people, musicians and intellectuals, have broken dikes that only a few decades ago were a minefield set by the Castro government.

In Havana it makes news each time important musicians appear in comedy programs or debates from Miami. Thanks to the illegal satellite antenna, for which families pay the equivalent of 12 dollars a month, it is known that orchestras like Adalberto y su Son, La Charanga Habanera, Bamboleo or the songwriters Silvio Rodriguez and Amaury Perez, among other musicians, have participated in television programs from the other side of the puddle.

Segments conducted or directed by distinguished humorists and presenters like Alexis Valdes or Carlos Otero, who decided to emigrate a while back. A few years back, if you spoke in public or private with Cuban ‘deserters’ they would label you as a ‘traitor to the homeland’.

The politics of tending bridges is not applauded by all Cubans on either shore. In Miami, compatriots that have suffered the typhoons of Fidel Castro’s radical politics, have burned or taken axes to the CDs of musicians from the island who have performed in Florida.

I can understand their pain. I know exile is hard. I have my family and friends far away. I know from firsthand accounts, of the rigors of the jails for those that have dissented publicly. I think of the hundreds who were shot by the regime during the first years of the Revolution.

All that happened and can not be thrown in the garbage. But there should be a before and an after. A turning point in the way we reason. Try dialogs, not monologues. Hate affects lucidity. Also in Cuba we have ideological Talibans. And there is good reason behind those who shout for the flow of a cultural interchange in both directions.

The Cuban government kicks and screams when an intellectual, academic or musician is denied their visa by the  American authorities. Of course this is wrong. Just like I think it’s a cruel joke to list Cuba among the other countries that practice terrorism. But Castro is also intolerant.

I don’t see the hour when Willy Chirino or Gloria Estefan will be allowed to sing in Havana. The Cuban authorities should apologize with their heads lowered and build a mausoleum for that giant of the guaracha that  was Celia Cruz, censored by the national media.

Before we speak of democracy and of what kind of society we Cubans want in the future, the Castro brothers should abolish the perverse permission required for people born in Cuba to enter and leave the country.

The politicians dictate laws and decrees that later burn their hands. They become a boomerang. You can’t divide what’s united. And all Cubans, regardless of where they live, were born of the same homeland. And the dinosaurs of the cold war can like it or not.

Photo: Cubans dance with Adalberto Alvarez y su Son at ‘La Casa de Tula’, in Miami.

Translated by: Yulys Rodriguez

We Were Few and Grandma Gave Birth

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment


When Raúl Castro assumed the presidency in 2008, it was rumored among the population that the general carried a fistful of changes up his sleeve. The most desirable, the elimination of entrance and exit permits for traveling to and from the country. Cubans on the island already saw themselves getting passports and boarding planes to visit their families in other countries.

It was also said that he would allow free access to the Internet. There were days of speculations and euphoria. And what they were able to buy were cellular phones, DVD players and computers, old and expensive. Nationals were allowed to stay in hotels exclusive to foreigners. Paying in foreign currency, of course.

Two years later, many Cubans have cell phones and DVDs in their homes and some have stayed in nice hotels. It’s certain that employment has grown on its own accord, and certain measures have benefited certain sectors, like hairdressers, taxi drivers and the rural population.

But today the topics of conversation in Cuba are very different. “When your job is what’s in play, the internet and the ability to travel outside the country become secondary,” says Lorenzo, 42-years-old and employed.

In Havana, nothing else is discussed: Massive layoffs, taxes, private businesses and the rationing book. The latter is what bothers Caridad — 78 and retired — the most. “My boy, you know what it is at these heights with a pension of not quite 200 pesos, old and sick, they’re taking more products out of my ration book. They took cigarettes from me, which I traded with a neighbor for sugar”.

The disappearance of the ration book keeps awake the older people who have low pensions, those who have it rough to stay alive. The stronger of the old folks go out on the street to earn a living, selling cigarettes, peanuts, plastic bags or newspapers.

For the laboring population what keeps them awake are other issues. “For me, the worse is not knowing exactly what the government is planning. I worry, a lot, what’s been said, that we will be paying very high taxes”, says Ignacio, 46-years-old and a mechanic.

“Rough stream, better for the fishing”. Like in all crises, there will be those who will be able to play along. Especially all the vermin, unscrupulous people, experts in the art of cheating.

It happened during the 90’s, during the hard years of the Special Period. Roberto, 48 years old, had a brilliant idea of rounding up empty containers from shampoos, creams and deodorants….he would wash them out and would refill them with his own concoction, he would put in a few drops of cheap cologne and would sell then for a few pesos. “I am thinking of doing that again”.

Could be that during these desperate times, some would take advantage of the people’s frustration. “But I think that the majority is going to try to improve themselves honestly. At least that’s what I will ask the Lord for when I go to church this Sunday”, confesses Lourdes, 61 and a housekeeper.

In the midst of many questions and suspicions, discouragement and uncertainty, a few rub their hands, plotting how to cheat others. Or dreaming of establishing small businesses, even if they have to pay abusive taxes.

But the majority pulls their hair out and visits the babalaos. This new Special Period could turn out to be darker than the one twenty years ago. Now with almost one million unemployed and with the same speeches and slogans as always.

Translated by Yulys Rodriguez

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