“If I had someone to sponsor* me…” / Cubanet, Rafael Alcides
Posted on May 25, 2015
Cubanet, Rafael Alcides, Havana, 19 May 2015 – This morning I woke up
pessimistic. There was no milk in the house, and the kind they sell at
the “shopping” [hard-currency* store] is priced out of reach for anyone
who is not an executive at a firm or who does not have relatives out
there who love him very much and are well-off.** But at the bakery where
I purchase the bread allotted to me via the libreta [ration book], I ran
into somebody who today was more pessimistic than I am. He is a retired
teacher and, without taking into account his age, one of those
characters who pride themselves on being well informed. He said that the
ration book is about to be discontinued, that in fact it would be
eliminated before August.
The teacher understands that this book weighs heavily in the pocket of
the government, but he also thinks that instead of taking it away, the
government should make it selective. Neither the powerful musician, nor
the executive, nor he who receives remittances from abroad, nor any
other characters of the New Bourgeoisie, need the ration book. The
teacher, however, retired on a pension of nine dollars per month (that
is, less than 30 cents a day), and with no one abroad—what would he do
without this small assistance? There are just four little items that the
ration book now subsidizes, but these four little items keep him from
begging in the streets. The teacher spoke to me very badly of the
Revolution, to which he had dedicated his life.
To console him, and because I don’t believe that, for now, the
government intends to abolish the ration book—a costly burden, yes, but
an even greater psychological benefit—I advised him to relax. “Don’t
believe in rumors,” I told him.
“This was the only life I had,” he replied.
I let him vent.
Have you considered leaving the country?” I asked him.
He sighed heavily.
“If I had someone to sponsor me*…”
I purchased my three little rolls of 20-something grams each, and
perhaps because an evil shared among many is easier to bear, I returned
home feeling better. On the way back I compared the disenchantment of
this teacher—a fragile but dynamic man who used to dress in his militia
uniform festooned with all his decorations—with the latest hobby of a
certain neighbor. This is a widowed doctor who grew old dreaming of
leaving the country, and who, now that he could do so without major
paperwork and without losing the house he inherited from his elders,
refuses to go. Neither his children nor his nieces and nephews (all of
whom are abroad) are able to persuade him otherwise. Of these, one who
was visiting in January, told me, grinning, “Imagine, with the
remittances we send him, he’s living like a king, with a maid, lots of
Viagra, and three, 20-something doctor-girlfriends to keep him busy.”
They seemed to be saying—that disenchanted teacher who wouldn’t know how
to live without the ration book, and that doctor who has discovered
that, with money, even being widowed and very elderly one can be
happy—that the Cuban exodus would not have been so massive had the
socialist government been able to provide a privation-free life for the
citizen. However, the end of Pinochet, even though he left Chile off the
charts in terms of a First-World standard of living, or of Franco,
despite the vertiginous development achieved by Spain during the
Generalísimo‘s last two decades, demonstrate that the issue is not just
an economic one. As I read somewhere once, without freedom there is no
lasting splendor. Nor is there ground that can withstand the cathedral
placed upon it.
It has always been thus. Rome, once the ruler of the world, that mighty
Rome of patricians and slaves where, moreover, the Christian was
persecuted, eventually disappeared. A comparable lack of freedom ended
Spanish colonial domination of lands in Our America, as well as the
English, Portuguese and French. Vanished from that former America were
Juan Manuel de Rosas, and Gaspar Rodríguez Francia, and Rufino Barrios
and Porfirio Díaz and Gerardo Machado. In the America of my time, that
America from when I was young, we saw the last of Trujillo with his
braided uniform, and Somoza, and Stroessner, and Pérez Jiménez, and the
Brazilian Joao Goulart, and Cuba’s Batista…
In recent times, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world has
continued lightening up. No longer are there even Hussein, Milosevic,
Gaddafi, nor now, finally, that odious fellow in Yemen. With efficiency,
in each of these cases, the lack of liberty—that secret gift of the
oppressed—has done its fatal deed.
I do not surrender, and therefore do not give up the dream that today or
tomorrow—that is, sooner or later (and these things almost always happen
when one least expects them)—I and others like me, who number 11
million, including the glum teacher from this morning, will see
solutions to our problems putting food on the table—as well as the slum
housing, our city falling apart, and everything else that we know too well.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
* To obtain a visa to immigrate to the U.S., a Cuban national must have
a sponsor. This page from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana explains.
** Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, also called moneda nacional
(national money), abbreviated CUP; and Cuban convertible pesos,
abbreviated CUC. In theory CUCs are a hard currency, but in fact, it is
illegal to take them out of Cuba and they are not exchangeable in other
countries. Cubans receive their wages and pensions primarily in CUPs,
with wages roughly the equivalent of about $20 US per month, and
pensions considerably less. The CUC is pegged 1-to-1 to the American
dollar, but exchange fees make it more expensive. The CUP trades to the
CUC at about 24-to-1. See here a concise description of Cuba’s
dual-currency system and an announced plan to unify it.
*** The average Cuban citizen relies on “remittances”—material help—from
relatives abroad. A Cuban blogger explains it here.
About the Author
Rafael Alcides was born in Barrancas, municipal district of Bayamo
(Cuba) in 1933. A poet and storyteller, he was a master baker in his
teen years. He has worked as a farmhand, cane cutter, logger, wrecking
crew cook, and manager of a sundries store in a cane-cutters’ outpost.
In Havana in the 1950s he worked variously as a mason, broad-brush
painter, exterminator, insurance agent, and door-to-door salesman. In
1959 he was the chief information officer for the Department of Latin
American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and spokesman of
this agency in a daily television program in which he hosted and
interviewed foreign political personalities. He was chief press officer
and director of Cultural Affairs in the Revolutionary Delegation of the
Among his most recently-published titles are the poetry
collections, GMT(2009), For an Easter Bush (2011), Travel Log
(2011), Anthologies, in Collaboration with Jaime
Londoño (2013), Conversations with God(2014), the journalistic Memories
of the Future (2011), the multi-part novel, Ciro’s Ring (2011), and the
story collection, A Fairy Tale That Ends Badly (2014).
As of 1993, he had been employed by the Cuban Institute of Radio &
Television for more than 30 years as a scriptwriter, announcer, director
and literary commentator when, at that time, he ceased all publishing
and literary work in collaboration with the regime in Cuba. As a
participant in numerous international literary events, Rafael Alcides
has given conferences and lectures in countries in Central and South
America, Europe, and the Middle East. His texts have been translated
into many languages. He was honored with two Premios de la Crítica, and
a third for a novel co-written with another author. In 2011 he received
the Café Bretón & Bodegas Olarra de Prosa Española prize.
Source: “If I had someone to sponsor* me…” / Cubanet, Rafael Alcides |
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