Desperately Seeking Camila

Desperately Seeking Camila

by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo    /  April 30, 2012

This was not the Cuban remake of A Star is Born. This was the visit of the Chilean communist student leader Camila Vallejo to the Island at the beginning of April. She is “the world’s most glamorous revolutionary,” according to the New York Times.

Despite her power as a leader of the masses and a person who to opposes the establishment in Chile, Vallejo was a submissive phantom in Havana, never straying from the iron itinerary of her Cuban guides. Her speeches at various universities and on television were conducted behind closed doors for an intellectual elite and trusted government officials. Even some official journalists complained that spontaneous questions were not allowed during the debates.

On the social networks of the limited local Internet, activists, protesters, and other bloggers tried to communicate with this vice-president of the University of Chile’s Student Federation via her account @Camila_Vallejo. But this beautiful, 23-year-old proletarian, with the arrogance of a diva in the middle of a presidential campaign, discredited them in the style of the Cold War, both in interviews and in her blog, essentially saying that it is neither “necessary nor relevant” for the Latin American left wing to deal with the “mercenaries” of “imperialism.”

As a colophon, Vallejo and her cheerful smile were presented alongside the solemnness of the eighty-year-old Fidel Castro, who was so involved with the Chilean radicalism that ended with the coup d’état against President Salvador Allende (September 11, 1973). Those photographs, so approving of the authoritarian patriarch, are the “kiss of death” that belies the democratic thinking of this popular leader. (Even the spokesperson of the Chilean government called Vallejo’s statements of loyalty to Fidel “retrogressive.”)

Camila Vallejo, out of naïveté or ignorance, insisted on an idyllic idea of Utopia, while the Cuban political police made sure that no citizen of the Island could debate with her freely. Paradoxically, she seemed much closer and more credible protesting on the streets of Santiago de Chile than in our country. Now we will have to recognize her again in the headlines of the international press.

Translated by Jason Burrows.

Tags: bloggingCamila VallejoChileCubadissidentFidel CastroOrlando Pardo Lazopoliticssocialism

Un mundo feliz

Brave New World

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

January 7, 2013

2013, año nuevo en Cuba post-comunista: el número 55 de una Revolución fosilizada, desde sus líderes hasta su retórica de Guerra Fría.

Los primeros de enero en Cuba son días muy silenciosos, mudos. La medianoche anterior es tradicional tirar cubos de agua hacia la calle. Así el pueblo pretende exorcizar las energías negativas y limpiar los caminos que deberían abrirse, aunque nunca nada se abre del todo en este país.

El 31 de diciembre la gente cena en familia y escucha música bailable a todo volumen. La ciudad no se engalana apenas para esta fecha. Sólo recientemente se ven gorros de Santa Claus en las tiendas y arbolitos de Navidad en los hogares. La ilusión del cambio ya no habita en La Habana.

Hay escasos fuegos artificiales, pues desde hace décadas esta técnica está bajo control militar. Entre fiesta y fiesta, muchos se aburren frente al televisor, hasta que a las 12:00 ponen el Himno Nacional y un locutor solemne lee un Comunicado Oficial a la nación: el Estado siempre habla de “confianza en la Revolución de cara al futuro”, pero desde 1959 el futuro permanece secuestrado como un espejismo en el horizonte. Tal vez por eso miles de cubanos se exilian cada año, para vivir de verdad y no dentro de una burbuja que combina paternalismo con represión.

Entonces cesa la música. Los familiares se abrazan y besan. Hay lágrimas por los seres queridos ausentes. Los últimos borrachitos regresan solitarios a casa. Desaparece el tráfico. Y el primer día del año amanece como si la ciudad fuera un paisaje desierto, desertado.

Es sobrecogedor. Cada nuevo aniversario de la Revolución se tiene la impresión de sobrevivir en un museo o un mausoleo, idea teórica de Octavio Paz sobre los totalitarismos del siglo XX, profecía que en la Cuba de hoy se cumple puntualmente cada primero de enero (días muertos muy silenciosos: más que mudos, de mármol).

Brave New World

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo  and translated by Alex Higson

January 7, 2013

After 55 celebrations of the Revolution, change has not yet come to Cuba.

2013 marks yet another new year in post-communist Cuba. To be exact, it is the 55th celebration of a Revolution that has become fossilized from its leaders all the way down to its Cold War rhetoric.

In Cuba the first days of January are very quiet, practically mute. Though, before this, there is some festivity. At midnight on New Year’s Eve it’s a tradition to throw buckets of water out onto the street. With this tradition people hope to exorcise negative energy and clean the streets, opening them up to the people—although nothing ever completely opens up in this country.

On December 31 families also have dinner together and listen to dance music at maximum volume. But the city hardly dresses up for the occasion. Only recently have we seen Santa hats appear in shops and Christmas trees in people’s homes. The illusion of change has not yet come to Havana.

During the celebration there are also very few fireworks, as that equipment has been under military control for decades. So between a party here and there, many get bored sitting in front of the TV, until at midnight they broadcast a recording of the National Anthem and a solemn announcer reads an Official Speech to the nation. At this time the State always speaks of “confidence in the Revolution while facing the future,” but since 1959 this future has remained hijacked, like a mirage on the horizon. It is perhaps due to this situation that thousands of Cubans go into exile each year, to live for real and not within a repressive, paternalistic bubble.

Then the music stops. Family members hug and kiss. Tears are shed for absent loved ones. The last merry-makers return home alone. The traffic disappears. And the first day of the new year dawns on the city’s empty streets as though upon a desert landscape.

It is startling. Each new anniversary of the Revolution gives the impression of it having survived in a museum or mausoleum—Octavio Paz’s theoretical idea on the totalitarianism of the twentieth century—a prophecy that is fulfilled punctually in Cuba each January 1. We are living very silent, dead days: More than mute, they are made of marble.

Los Tres Reyes

Three Kings Day in Revolutionary Cuba

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo  and translated by Alex Higson

January 6, 2014

In Cuba, it’s not uncommon for children to say: “The Three Kings are Fidel, Camilo, and Che.”

Ask any Cuban child the question: “What are the names of the Three Kings?”

I still don’t even know them myself. I always forget one of them. Or pronounce their names badly.

Of course, ignorance is far preferable to insanity. Or rather, to the audacity with which I’ve heard more than one young kid (and even some that aren’t so young) say: “The Three Kings are Fidel, Camilo, and Che.”

Even our Catholic traditions seem to begin at that chapter of Genesis 1:1959, marked by the triumphant January of the Cuban Revolution. However, religious persecution on the island wasn’t satisfied with its history of expropriations, prisons, concentration camps, lifelong exile, shootings, and other barbarities. Right from the start, God fought a losing battle against Castroism, which is now in decline. But yet another defining phase is rearing its head: The phase of forgetting.

In a country without religious teaching in schools, where not a single clergy member has appeared in the media for more than half a century, there’s no point in waiting for a miracle.

In fact, it’s pointed out from time to time that on January 6, 1959 it was Fidel Castro himself who flew in a small plane over the Sierra Maestra, throwing down toys to the poor peasant children like manna from heaven.

“Without magic and without legends, but with struggle and with love, the Revolution will come without star-covered saints,” sang Pablo Milanés in one of the most beautiful ballads of the revolutionary epic.

How long has it been since anyone in Cuba reprinted or imported the Bible, even for profit?

Let’s not ask the Cuban children any of these questions. They are the future, and it’s not their fault that their predecessors have robbed them of so much.

Perhaps Pablo Milanés was right in his forgotten theme song “Día de Reyes” (Three Kings’ Day) when he sang: “Save your laughter for tomorrow and dry your tears, while freedom comes.”

Three Kings Day in Revolutionary Cuba

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

January 6, 2014

Pregúntenle a un niño cubano al azar: ¿Cuáles son los nombres de los Tres Reyes Magos?

Yo mismo no me los sé todavía. Siempre se me olvida uno. O lo pronuncio mal.

Claro, siempre es preferible la ignorancia antes que el disparate. O más bien el desparpajo con que he oído decir en La Habana a más de un chiquillo (o ya no tan chiquillos): Los Tres Magos son Fidel, Camilo y el Ché.

Hasta nuestras tradiciones católicas parecen hoy comenzar en ese Génesis 1:1959 que fue el enero triunfante de la Revolución Cubana. La persecución religiosa en la Isla no se conformó con su historia de expropiaciones, cárceles, campos de concentración, exilios de por vida, fusilamientos, y demás barbaridades. Dios perdió desde el inicio esa guerra contra el castrismo, ahora ya en decadencia. Pero amenaza aún otra etapa definitiva: la de la desmemoria.

En un país sin escuelas de inspiración religiosa, y donde hace más de medio siglo ningún pastor aparece en los medios de comunicación, tampoco sería lógico esperar un milagro.

De hecho, lo que se recuerda a ratos es que el 6 de enero de 1959 fue precisamente Fidel Castro quien voló en una avioneta sobre la Sierra Maestra, lanzando como maná del cielo muchos juguetes a los niños del paupérrimo campesinado de aquella zona.

“Sin magias y sin leyendas, y con lucha y con amor, vendrá la Revolución sin santos llenos de estrella”, cantaba Pablo Milanés en una de las baladas más hermosas de la épica revolucionaria.

¿Desde cuándo en Cuba no se reedita o importa la Biblia, incluso con fines comerciales?

Mejor no le pregunten nada a un niño cubano al azar. Ellos son el futuro y no tienen la culpa de lo que sus antecesores le robaron.

Tal vez sea el propio Pablo Milanés quien tenga razón en aquel mismo olvidado tema Día de Reyes: “Guarda tu risa para mañana y seca hoy tu llanto, en tanto llega la libertad”.