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    Forbidden Magazines for Cuba’s Higher-Ups

    Forbidden Magazines for Cuba’s Higher-Ups
    June 9, 2014
    Martin Guevara*

    HAVANA TIMES — I was allowed to return to Cuba in 1986. They had told me
    I didn’t have permission to study, that I had to work. I had profound
    knowledge about books and rum and – arbitrarily, it seems – they gave me
    a job at the Ediciones Cubanas publishing house.

    There, I was tasked with receiving and distributing the magazines and
    newspapers destined to high-ranking Party members, from Fidel Castro,
    through the Central Committee to all of the members of the Politburo. I
    was surprised at the number of sensationalist magazines I had to include
    in the packages sent to the highest officials.

    Fidel only received US medical journals. At the time, he was sincerely
    interested in the field and followed research as though he were a
    medical doctor. There’s always been a widespread habit of exaggerating
    all of Fidel’s aptitudes (and to invent some), but the claims that he
    was an extremely studious person is true.

    Whenever he had the time, he was either reading or asking someone about
    a topic of interest to him. If his interlocutors were Cuban and had the
    misfortune of working in a field of particular interest to him, they
    knew he’d ask them all sorts of questions for hours, and do so, of
    course, without tolerating any question put to him. No, only he spoke,
    only he had concerns, and only his concerns were valid. That’s how
    things were with Fidel.

    Many others in the Politburo, however, received such magazines as Hola,
    from Spain, and Paris Match. I had no problem with this, even if the
    magazines were for them and not their wives, as the section chief told
    me in his efforts to indoctrinate me. I thought people should be able to
    read what they please. What I didn’t consider right is that the rest of
    the population should be denied access to this kind of gutter press and
    that it should be demonized and attacked as an ideological tool of
    capitalism.

    Looking down on people as idiotic, clumsy and unprepared for the
    materials that higher-ups read and enjoyed was one of the constant
    attitudes of the revolutionary leadership. At home, the children of
    high-ranking military officers or ministers could watch films such as
    Rambo or Chuck Norris movies (the most coveted ones at the time), while
    Cuban cinemas and television did not show these, labeling them
    imperialist garbage and a distortion of reality. They, however, felt
    that their families (and themselves) were at a higher level and could
    thus access such materials safely.

    This was more or less the situation when it came to travelling abroad.
    In fact, with the exception of athletes and some scientists (under close
    watch), no one other than Party members were allowed to travel.

    A woman and six balconies. Photo: Juan Suarez
    There was a clause in my contract clearly stipulating I could make no
    mention of where the magazines were coming from. I imagine they only
    hired people that were trustworthy, as the possibility of placing some
    kind of poison in those magazines was so real that I always felt there
    was a camera on me at all times.

    I began to doubt this when I saw the long naps that my superior took,
    placing his arms on the desk and his head on top and merely closing the
    door to his office as a precaution. Perhaps, in much the same way
    everyone knew that people slept, skipped work or left the premises to
    drink coffee or rum during working hours, the surveillance person
    operating my imaginary camera simply knew all this, and it was logical
    for the section chief not to care about this in the least. The only
    person that couldn’t take a nap, then, would have been the camera operator.

    Ediciones Cubanas was located on O’Reilly Street, in the old town. One
    had to get there early in the morning (to later take a nap, hunched over
    the desk), because what was important at all Cuban workplaces was
    punching in on time. After that, one could go home and return before the
    end of the work day to punch out.

    The neighborhood was a marvelous place at the time. Even though I knew
    Old Havana well, I had never before taken note of the hectic and vibrant
    life of its streets. In a way, these streets reminded me of Cecilia
    Valdes’ passages in Cirilo Villaverde, the crowds of people, the din of
    the city, the small coffee shop at street level, the pastries, newspaper
    vendors vociferating the names of the official periodicals and the
    weekly comic strips Palante and Dedete, the conversations between
    elderly people who ran into one another on the street. The idle hours.

    The fact I enjoyed walking down Old Havana a lot didn’t keep me from
    having a premonition when I knocked back some grape brandy with my
    friend Evelio after arriving in Cuba, after having spent two years
    without drinking a drop of alcohol. Shortly afterwards, I was getting
    wasted every night and began arriving late or skipping work altogether.
    So I began asking a doctor friend to write up medical certificates for
    me (just as in school, one only needed a doctor’s note to justify one’s
    absences).

    In exchange for some bottles of rum, my doctor friend would write up the
    “I certify” notes that I would later fill in with three different
    illnesses I had learned some years back, to justify my absences at
    school: acute pharyngitis, chronic sinusitis and an ankle sprain. None
    of this was very novel or original. All of my superiors knew it was
    bull, but they only cared about having some official document that would
    keep them out of trouble for tolerating this.

    They did the same thing, when they took off in a company car and headed
    to a beach house with their lovers. There were no consequences. Even the
    general manager skipped work this way. I am not saying they didn’t look
    for better excuses than those illnesses, I am saying it was the same
    procedure.

    The higher the position, the more common was the practice of skipping
    work to take a “titi” (as young women were colloquially referred to at
    the time) to a beach house, accompanied by their large bellies, a
    baseball cap, a roasted pig and a few crates of ice-cold beer.

    Source: Forbidden Magazines for Cuba’s Higher-Ups – Havana Times.org –
    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=104156

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