Hatuey* in Flames…

[Translator’s note: This post apparently got posted in the original missing the beginning… whether it starts in the middle of a sentence, a paragraph, we don’t know, as we haven’t been able to get in touch with Henry.  If he adds the rest, we’ll add it here… but given internet access in Cuba… or lack of same… readers are advised not to hold their breath.]

but without the Catholic clergy or the heroism: the town where my father and grandfather were born has been consuming itself for years in that bonfire of miserable and faded Macondos, which for almost a half century have been sizzling and crackling throughout this island.

Alcibiades’ store was the most prosperous in town.  Of the three or four there were, it was the best stocked:  fine canned fruit-preserves from Europe, wines, spicy sausages and hams, crackers, and soft drinks of the best domestic and international brands… you didn’t even have to go with the exact amount of money: no matter how poor the buyer was, it was enough to be a person of your word to take home all that was necessary, and pay later, with no hurry.

With that method of honest work and duty, which did work back then, my grandfather made up for his almost nonexistent academic education.  Long before the era of eternal promises had arrived, Alcibiades Constantín was already a respected member of the Order of Caballero de la Luz and the people of the region, who trusted in then President Grau San Martín’s sense of Cuban identity, had elected him to represent them.  His discreet economic prosperity allowed him to help the local 26 of July Movement rebels.  While he lived in Hatuey, he never ceased to work as a laborer in the Najasa sugar mill.

A short while ago, I returned to his town, the first one crossed by the central railroad line – to which it owes its existence – that goes from Camagüey to Oriente.  Of course, all dust and teetering wooden houses.  There’s nothing to eat on the streets, because there’s nothing to buy, except little government sandwiches surrounded by flies.  Every night, every evening, every weekend, bored men and the remaining youth get together in any old place, in a doorway or under the trees in the plaza to drink rum, talk about the lives they don’t lead, and drink rum.

An obedient creature showed up that morning in 1968 in my grandfather’s store, with a piece of paper in hand: “Alcibiades, starting today this is owned by the people.  Only thus will we all have a better future.”

* Translator’s note: Hatuey was a Taíno chieftain who has attained legendary status for having led an indigenous resistance in Cuba against the invading Spanish colonialists, thus gaining among Cubans the historical distinction of “First Rebel of the Americas”.  He was eventually captured by the Spaniards and burned at the stake.  There is also the Cuban town of the same name (presumably named after the chieftain) featured in this post, which the author makes use of as a pun.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

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Of Flesh and Laws

I took a look around that place, because they had already told me about its crowd.  And I saw them.  One of them could not have been more than fifteen years old.  The others, who were not more than 25, gave off subtle signals, between smiles, of having lived much more.  Except for the youngest they all had tattoos, Bucanero beers in their hands and cigarettes.  They looked at the arriving modern cars with ecstasy.  Before dawn, they gradually settled next to the newly arriving, robust gentlemen who would immediately ask for hollywood cigarettes and more beer, or for the chauffeur of one of the three parked cars.  The youngest and a girlfriend got into an Audi with tourist plates heading for Las Tunas.

It’s not pleasant to go to Guáimaro, the town with the most history in the Camagüey region, since the private buses that operate on the route from Camagüey take much more than an hour to arrive, and if one leaves from Las Tunas it’s almost the same.

I always passed through there in a hurry, headed somewhere else.  And that is what this town has always been, a place for passing through. Guáimaro is almost at the border that divides two very discordant regions, culturally and economically: Camagüey and Oriente (the East).

Guáimaro is well-known for the abundant livestock that has always roamed its plains. Although in the newspaper Adelante, the official voice of the Party in the province of Camagüey, it is prohibited to publish how much livestock there was in Camagüey prior to the Revolution, everyone knows that today only a shadow remains.  The milk, the meat and the cheese that comes out of here keeps a good part of the country alive.

What I related in the beginning, I saw on a Sunday, in the rápido that’s in front of the town’s terminal.  A rápido, anywhere in Cuba, is a type of cafeteria that is open 24 hours and is outdoors, with little tables covered by an awning and of course, alcoholic beverages sold in divisas (foreign currency); in other words, it’s not a place for the normal Cuban.  Later, I was told about the long, useless list that the authorities have compiled to track and monitor the teenagers who frequent the place.

The Guáimaro museum also opens at night. It is close to the road. It is the only house in Cuba where two constitutions have been signed, possibly the two most democratic. There were no more visitors. A few pieces of furniture, and graphics with brief information is all the visual tribute to the men who tried to turn a fertile farm into a country with civil liberties.  The cold that comes off the huge house is incapable of reviving the bitter sessions of 1869 and the jubilation of 1940.

Late at night I returned to the terminal, to wait for some type of transportation.  Meanwhile, the couples who had already been formed at el rapido began to slip apart.  Sleepy, I managed to get out of there aboard a truck at three in the morning.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

The Final Earthquake

Without wielding any of the thousand of lethal objects that embellish our museums, Gullermo Fariñas finished extinguishing the scent of jail from a hundred or so brothers. And he gave hope to thousands of others. This July 26th, while the country wore a mask of red and black slogans to conceal the national apathy, and in Artemisa, Santa Clara and Havana our rulers and their panegyrists extolled for the umpteenth time the bloody impatience with which they attempted to solve the Cuban problems 57 years ago, Fariñas was resting at the Arnaldo Milián Castro Hospital of Villa Clara, marked by the fate of the new era of nonviolence that he has just consecrated in Cuba´s political history.

I have seen him on three occasions. On the first one, he smiled all the time: already his hunger strike, to demand Internet access for Cubans, had left its mark on his extremely lean body. He was cordial, although we didn’t know each other. A good man.

The second time – October or November 2008 – it was I who carried the load of my sincerity. I arrived at his house, the only one opened to me in Santa Clara, after being expelled with threats and violence from my Journalism studies at the University. A feverish Fariñas received me. “Tell me what we can do for you; we’ll go wherever you want.” The plural implied a courage that, just at that moment when I had been isolated, had the force of multitudes. In the improvised receiving room of his house in Condado, in one of the most modest and dreadful neighborhoods in Santa Clara, I breathed in the same straightforward determination that one senses in history books when reading about the bold men who at some point have wanted to make Cuba a better country.

The news of my preposterous second expulsion, signed by him, a hard-working, decent and respected journalist, resonated in hundreds of webs.

The third encounter was a very short time ago, behind the glass of the intensive care unit. The hunger strike for the political prisoners’ freedom has finished. I didn’t go very close – any germ on my clothes, in which I had just traveled more than three hundred kilometers, could be fatal to him. His gaze is lucid, amidst this era of geriatric dark clouds. He smiles thankfully at the visits of friends and acquaintances. His elderly mother takes care of him as if he had just been born; her alarm carries as much weight as her son’s tremendous decision. Fariñas takes advantage of the meager offerings on national TV; his mind is not that of a man who is ignorant of his environment, and even less of one indifferent about the future. Fariñas is full of ideas regarding what is happening in the country and what must happen so that the island where he insists on living – but living with dignity – will stop being the most incredible people-exporting paradise and the fief of one of the few governments in the western hemisphere – along with the African dictators of Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea, and the sultan of Morocco – obstinately asserting its own infiniteness.

The way out is guarded by copious and optimistic government propaganda.

More than fifty years ago, Che was among those who imposed their ideas amidst rivers of young blood from friends and enemies, of blasts and the smoke of gunpowder. Santa Clara, the city where comandante Guevara achieved his greatest glory, is full of tributes to the military man. But under those colossal monuments to violence, something has failed. An imperceptible crack, a tenuous and deep fissure that no one knows where it ends, goes around these streets: it starts under a hospital bed… and loses itself in the distance.

Translated by: Espirituana