A Surrealist Island

As the world sees it, Cuba seems to have emerged from the realm of surrealism. Why compare it to the literary and artistic movement founded in France at the beginning of the 20th century? Because surrealist works were often reproved for being incomprehensible, irrational expressions of objective reality, just as articles written by Cuban independent journalists are thought to be.

It’s true that these articles tell stories that can resemble a surrealist work (or, perhaps even a work of magical realism) but the fact is that Cubans have been forced to resort to surrealism in order to fight the economic, political and social crisis in their country.

Carlos, a 50-year old father of the family, who has followed all possible occupations, both in the private and state sector, from the administrator of the Cuatro Caminos market in Havana to a tanner, has recently come with the news: He has found a new job at a house of a Canadian. As he was telling me about it, his voice revealed the euphoria of a person whose daydream has become a reality. I asked him what the new job involved and he answered that he worked as a gardener. Twice a week he had to tidy up the garden and clean the pool. He was paid forty dollars and in addition to that, he could pick up leftovers in the kitchen. The family also gave him a pair of shoes, several shirts and a bike for his son. All of these were second-hand things, but in a very good condition. In the changed tone of his voice and his gestures I could hear and see the Canadian talking.

I had another friend, Mandy. He came to live to Jaimanitas from Guantanamo and his dream was to leave Cuba for any country, even in the condition of a slave. He died in his third attempt to cross the Straits of Florida. His wish was that his ashes be thrown into the sea, to see if the waves would carry them to the other side of the sea where he would reincarnate. In his second attempt to escape from the country, he lost his teeth when his raft crashed against a reef near Santa Cruz. In spite of all the effort he made, he wasn’t able to gather enough money to pay for a dental prosthesis. Private dentists would charge him a fortune and the State wouldn’t provide healthcare to him unless he changed his permanent residence to Havana, which was an extremely troublesome administrative procedure that he had been unsuccessfully trying to carry out for years. So, Mandy stopped smiling to avoid showing his empty mouth. He suffered from severe stress and finally decided to try to cross the sea again, this time on a fragile styrofoam board, which was unfortunately not hard enough to withstand the power of the waves. He got drowned, only God knows where.

Antonio Medina, alias Rasta, who holds the national record for the number of failed attempts to illegally leave the country (20), even started to build a submarine made of two aluminium tanks and an engine taken from a washing machine. He intended to use the submarine to cross the Straits of Florida to get to the USA. However, he had to abandon the project because he wasn’t able to find a way to store oxygen. As Rasta never gives up, he then built a raft made of jute bags stuffed with empty plastic bottles. It was sufficiently strong and safe to serve its purpose, yet, the Police confiscated it. Rasta is now collecting pieces of nylon fabric to build a balloon.

Cuban reality offers a so-far unexplored source of writing material that could by used by fiction writers. They wouldn’t have to do anything but objectively record the true stories they would hear. One could argue that official reporters can make use of the same multitude of surrealist perspectives that the island generously offers. Yet, they must carry out assignments given by their employers, who keep insisting that they glorify the achievements and the progress of the Revolution and socialism.

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