Home > Iván García, Translator: RSP > Iván What’s-his-name

Iván What’s-his-name

January 26, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In October 2009, in tandem with Max Lesnik, the Cuban journalist based in Miami,  I started writing a blog, called 90 miles, for El Mundo, one of Spain’s national dailies. Plus some notes, articles, features, and stories about what life is like for Cubans and my perceptions of the Castros’ government. Within a few days, I was approached by various people I consider friends (and others I don’t). After congratulating me, they gave me some free advice.

An experienced and foxy old reporter told me in confidence and in a hushed tone, “What you want is lots of curveball and not much fastball. Try and come up with colourful stories which won’t cause you any problems. That way you get paid and life’s good. If you go about with an AKM machine gun at the ready, the government will call you to account.”  Such was this long time journalist’s advice. Opportunistic, cynical, someone who enjoys life, like a lot of people in Cuba who just want to have a decent salary paid in hard currency and not rock the boat.

The old reporter, who knows how much I love the sports pages, made a point of using some baseball jargon. When you cover the island “curveball” means sticking  to subjects like the history of the Malecón, Havana’s Chinatown, or the Capitolio; talk about curiosities or explain how a parcel containing copies of Granma was thrown out of an airplane over the mountains in the East and knocked dead a cow when it landed. In short, his advice was that I should write about unimportant “news” and steer clear of critical articles.

If it meant writing colourful stories and throwing curveballs, I would give up writing for El mundo. I say what I think and tell it like it is. You have the chance as readers to express disagreement in the comments section. I’m very far from thinking that what I write amounts to any kind of absolute truth. Perhaps I get things wrong. But these opinions about an event, theme, or personality are mine.

I’m nearly 45 years old and at this stage in my life I’m not going to be afraid to defend my perspective. Being imprisoned for many years, which is the prospect held out by Cuba’s laws for all those voicing public dissent, does scare me. I don’t have a vocation to be a martyr. But I’m not going to change my ideas. Even if I end up bricked up in a state security cell or in a dirty Cuban prison block.

Disagreement is healthy. And so is debate about ideas and dialogue with people who think differently. But in Cuba, when someone in the media criticises you or attacks you, be afraid. The message is: “What goes around comes around”. In other words, shut up or you’re mincemeat.

We know that the beginning of a vigorous offensive on the part of the state apparatus portends further actions. Ranging from acts of repudiation and even threats and humiliations for your family. Or, in an extreme case, detaining you, penalising you, and locking you up in jail.

I would like to ask a journalist of Max Lesnik’s calibre, or José Pertierra, the lawyer, if at any time they’ve felt paralysed by the US secret services breathing down their necks, or if they’ve ever had their arms twisted by the Yankee government because of holding critical views about the system in the North or for showing admiration towards the Cuban Revolution.

I suspect the answer is no. It’s true that in Florida, in the ’70s or ’80s, a group of intolerant Cubans, terrorists more than anything else, went as far as assassinating people who supported Castro. But in this, the 21st century, things in Little Havana must have changed. And it goes without saying that no US administration has ever instructed its official media, like the Voice of America, to intimidate its political rivals.

The United States is capable of the best and the worst. If he happens to be having a bad day, any madman with a rifle slung over his shoulder and whistling along to a Bruce Springsteen song can rub out a dozen people as if he were at a shooting gallery in a fairground. I have a feeling that Lesnik and Pertierra and their compatriots on the other side of the pond have all the freedom in the world to write and to say what they think.

Not in Cuba. And that’s the point. Since I was born, in 1965, I’ve never known what is called democracy. And before I die, I would like to live in a pluralistic society where you as a person aren’t of the slightest interest to the State.  And where, if the powers that be don’t appreciate me, thanks to certain Constitutional laws, I’m not locked up in prison.

I don’t mind who’s in power. They can be communists, liberals, greens, social democrats, right wing, centrists, or left wing. Just so long as they’ve won an election. I ask myself if this is an impossible dream. I don’t think it is. That’s why I write what I think.

I remember that on a cold and gray afternoon in February 2003, Raúl Rivero, the Cuban poet and journalist, typed with two fingers on his Olivetti Lettera-25: “No decree can stop me writing in the country where I was born and where my grandparents were born. I’m a man who writes.” So am I.  Even though I could lose a lot.

Albeit with my fears and the paranoia typical of those who live under threat, I will send stories, articles, and news about the reality of my country. Written from my untidy apartment in the Víbora district, my neck of the woods. I’m not going to follow the experienced reporter’s advice.  My writing is going to be lots of fastballs, few curves.

Iván García

Translated by RSP

  1. Auto Post
    January 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    To RSP and whoever it was who helped you — This really is a fantastic translation, very well done — I always know when I see your initials it’ll be a good job. I myself tend to look right past “Britishisms”, having lived in both the US and GB, but I did edit them in favor of “Americanism” in a number of places. As for British spelling… go for it… this is an international effort! With regards to the title… I’m not sold on any of our choices and open to other suggestions.

    Signed, The Person Who Is Temporarily Checking and Posting the Translations — a job intended to be handed off to different individuals for each blog! Volunteers welcome. (Ivan’s blog already has one and I’m just helping out.)

  2. January 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    “It’s true that in Florida, in the ’70s or ’80s, a group of intolerant Cubans, terrorists more than anything else, went as far as assassinating people who supported Castro.”

    De verdad? Nombres, por favor.

    In the sixties, castro ran assassinations on prime time TV in Cuba.
    In teh seventies, castro began infiltrating the strengthening Cuban exile community in Miami.
    In the eighties, castro opened his prisons and flooded Miami with criminals.

    Aclaremos quienes son los terroristas, por favor.

    if you grew up in a country where the press was controlled by the state – and which is the theme of this well written editorial – how can you make such a bold statement like the one I quoted above and expect us to take it at face value?

  3. RSP
    January 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Many thanks for the feedback on the translation. Much appreciated. My knowledge of baseball is minimal but an online dictionary of SpanishEnglish baseball-speak was useful. It’s a language unto itself!

    Talking of baseball, there’s a public service announcement on Cuban TV about a guy who guys into a shop and stands up for his consumer rights: when the assistant tells him they’ve run out of Pinar del Río T-shirts in his size, she offers him Industriales instead. Since the shirts cost 80 pesos, it seems to be set in a fantasy land where all you have to worry about is choice, not having the money in the first place.

    I had a look at Max Lesnik’s response to ‘Un tal Iván’ (which also appears on 90 millas)


    and in light of this and of Iván’s mother’s comments on Lesnik’s reply, I went for ‘Someone-or-Other’ to translate ‘tal’. It’s tough without being able to ask the writer! Is it about playing down one’s family name, or imagining that the CDR etc are figuring out what to do following reports about ‘Some guy called Iván Something or Other’? How about Iván What’s-his-name?

    Max Lesnik’s post includes this:

    “Alguien que conoce a mi contradictor habanero me dice que de muy joven el “tal Iván” fue comunista de carnet- y nada malo había en ello-… ,

    [Someone who knows my antagonist and co-blogger from Havana tells me that from when he was very young “Ivan What’s-his-name” was a card-carrying communist- there was nothing wrong with that…”

    Even if that’s true, aren’t people allowed to change? A problem in Cuba seems to be not that individuals *are* capable of change or of adapting to new circumstances, but that what Luis Felipe Rojas calls in a recent post on ‘Cruzar las alambradas’ (with a great Cabrera Infante touch), the ‘vejetocracia’, refuses to change. The people reading the “news” on TV in Cuba, the government, prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso: they’re fossils. There’s no age-ism implied here, but the clinging to the past must be hard to bear, especially for younger Cubans.

    ‘Para escribir crónicas de color y tirar curvas, renuncio a escribir en El Mundo’ was also tough to translate. Literally, you’d get: ‘In order to write colourful stories and to throw curves, I’m giving up writing for El mundo’ which doesn’t fit the gist of the article. Hence the use of a conditional tense. I hope it’s right. Its surprisignly confusing the way that the present indicative in Spanish can cover both the simple and continuous present in English.

    I put ‘thruppence ha’penny worth of advice’ to express the disparaging diminutive of consejillos. In Britishese at least, although these pre-decimal coins don’t exist anymore, it’s a way of saying, disparagingly, that something is diminutive. Saying that, ‘free advice’ is clearer.

    There’s a real immediacy to Ivan Garcia’s writing and it’s very interesting not just to translate, but also to read. The recent post on travel restrictions made a strong impression on me, bringing to mind the indignity that Eastern Europeans felt when they were behind the iron curtain and unable to travel.

    Ex-communists like Schabowski (formerly the editor of East Germany’s answer to Granma and the one who made the slip up at the press conference which sent droves of people to the wall thinking the borders were open) recognise now that travel restrictions were one of the measures that most set East Germans against their government.

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