Monday, December 31, 2007

Columbia Expansion Approved In NYC

Columbia Expansion Approved In NYC
Published On Thursday, January 03, 2008 10:03 PM
Crimson Staff Writer


Columbia University has won approval for a $7 billion, 25-year expansion of its Manhattan campus just as Harvard enters the first phase of its even more ambitious plan to enlarge the University’s presence in Allston.

The Columbia plan, approved by the New York City Council last month, offers ammunition to local critics who say that Harvard isn’t doing enough to provide benefits to the Allston community that will be affected by the expansion.

As part of a deal to build a state-of-the-art, four-building science complex in Allston, Harvard has pledged $25 million in benefits to the community. Meanwhile, Columbia’s entire 25-year plan is accompanied by a $150 million community benefits agreement including a new Columbia-assisted public secondary school.

“In the Columbia plan, there is no question of public or private—it is very clearly public space that is much more welcome to use,” said Harry Mattison, a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, which was created by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

In Harvard’s plan, Mattison said, “you put the walls on the outside and keep the nice grassy courtyard for people that are part of really only the Harvard community.”

Harvard officials say they are taking the Allston community’s concerns seriously. “There have been more than 70 community meetings both on the master plan and on the first science buildings,” said Lauren Marshall, a Harvard spokeswoman. “All of that discussion and dialogue goes to inform our planning as projects shape.”

Columbia’s project will rezone part of the Manhattanville manufacturing zone in West Harlem into a 17-acre addition to the university’s main campus. Plans call for it to include more than 6.8 million square feet of space for education, research, and cultural facilities.

Harvard’s Allston expansion, by comparison, will cover about 200 acres of Allston. “Universities all over America are now finding they have to plan expansion and growth, particularly in science,” said Kathy A. Spiegelman, Harvard’s chief Allston planner.

Despite its large benefits package, Columbia has also faced opposition from community groups as it lobbied New York for approval of its plan. Columbia says it will not use the power of eminent domain on residential properties but reserves the right to request the state to consider using eminent domain on commercial properties.

Mattison claimed that Columbia is making a more tangible investment in the community than Harvard is in its expansion. He said that the secondary school to be built by Columbia will enroll an equal number of children who live in the community and children whose parents are affiliated with Columbia. He also pointed out that Columbia’s Web site offers an explanation of the expansion in both English and Spanish, while Harvard’s does not. According to a 2007 survey by the Boston Public Health Commission, 8.5 percent of Allston/Brighton residents speak Spanish at home.

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Moylan Tavern

The City

F. Y. I.
Going Up?
Published: December 30, 2007

George Drank Here

Q. George Carlin used to star in a television show set in a Manhattan bar called the Moylan Tavern. Was it real?

A. Yes, though it was a memory.
The Moylan Tavern, on Broadway between La Salle Street and Tiemann Place in Morningside Heights, was torn down several decades ago. Its name was kept alive on “The George Carlin Show,” a sitcom that ran in 1994 and 1995 on Fox. Mr. Carlin played George O’Grady, a sarcastic Irish-American cabdriver who hung out there with other misfits.

Mr. Carlin, who grew up on West 121st Street, spent a lot of time in the real Moylan Tavern.
Maitland McDonagh, a granddaughter of the bar’s founders, remembers some things about the tavern’s past. Her grandparents Winifred Tierney McDonagh (1899-2004) of County Clare and Francis McDonagh of County Sligo came to the United States in the 1920s, married and later opened the tavern, naming it after Moylan Green, a park across the street.

“When my grandfather died in 1962, my grandmother decided she didn’t want to run a bar alone and sold it, I believe to a bartender who’d worked there for years,” Ms. McDonagh wrote in an e-mail message. It “limped on as a real old-man bar” until the 1970s and then closed, she added.

The General Grant Houses, a public project, replaced Moylan Green.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Preparations Begin for Mansion Move in Harlem

Preparations Begin for Mansion Move in Harlem
Friday, December 28, 2007, by Lockhart

Preparations Begin for Mansion Move in Harlem
Friday, December 28, 2007, by Lockhart

The Friends of St. Nicholas Park (on the Hamilton Heights/Manhattanville border) email, "Should be interesting cutting a colonial home in half and moving it across the street." Uh, yeah? The move won't happen until this spring—and the resuscitated house won't open to the public until 2009—but it's not too soon to start getting excited about this. Right? (Okay, maybe.) They've just fenced off the area of the park where the house will move, and groundbreaking is slated for January 11. · Preparations for Hamilton Grange Move Begin [Friends of St. Nicholas Park]

Posted in Manhattan: Harlem/Morningside Heights, Manhattan: Inwood/Washington Heights, Real Estate Miscellany

Comments (7 extant)

Hasn't that house already been moved about five times?

Comment #1, left at 12/28/07 04:09 PM.
Zach's stats. Zach: 19 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.

Why would they intentionally move it into Harlem?

Comment #2, left at 12/28/07 04:24 PM.
Larry's stats. Larry: 10 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.
It already is in Harlem. It's being moved, basically, across the street.

Comment #3, left at 12/28/07 04:27 PM.

The house was moved once already - from it's original site in Harlem ("Hamilton Heights" to be exact) a few blocks from where it sits now. Hamilton owned the whole area, and it's new home in St. Nich park is actually part of his original estate.
Comment #4, left at 12/28/07 08:52 PM.

It's about time this landmark had some breathing room. Congrats!
Comment #5, left at 12:28 AM.


The park itself is actually full of historical sites. (I guess that is where the Friend's call it "Harlem's Historic Green." The north part where the Grange will be moving to is part of Hamilton's original estate. The southern part contains the "Point of Rocks" where Washington stood his ground over British troops before finally retreating upstate. I believe a monument to this event is in the planning stages as well.
Comment #6, left at 11:12 AM.

True enough, the Hamilton Grange was moved once before and when moved to St. Nicholas it will still be within the original land owned by Alexander Hamilton.

St. Nicholas Park is located within Hamilton Heights and on the border of WestSide Harlem and Central Harlem two disticnt and separate communities.

There is a great disconformity with the move as National Parks made agreements with the Community 1i 1995 regarding the relocation and the use of the vacated site and now are claiming not to have the funds to fulfill the 1995 Agreement and the orientation of the grange house within St. Nicholas is not as originally agreed and many community leaders are in disagreement with National Parks on that issue as well.

The 1995 agreement permitted the transfer of the St. Nicholas Park land from the City to the Federal Government for the relocation of the Grange.

Community Board 9 which covers all of WestSide Harlem has taken these issue with Congressman Charles B. Rangel who originally brokered the arrangement between National Parks and the Community and funded the project.

WestSide Harlem encompasess the three historical neighborhoods of Morningside Heghts, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights.

Sugar Hill, Vinegar Hill and Carmanville are sub-neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights.
Cathedral Heights and University Heights are sub-neighbohoods of Morningside Heights.
Manhattanville is also usually referred to as West Harlem.
Comment #7, left at 04:31 PM.
Reysmont's stats.

By the way I would not call the Grange House a Mansion even by today's standards and was most definitely not a Mansion when Alexander Hamilton and his wife lived in it in the late 1790's early 1800's. It was a confortable farm (grange) house.
Comment #8, left at 05:03 PM.
Reysmont's stats. Reysmont: 2 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.

Reysmont - what disconformity are you talking about? The whole community is excited about this project. The orientation debate is ridiculous. It has taken 17 years to get to this place and all you want to do is stop it. Congressman Rangel has fought hard to secure the funds to move this house. Its current place is beyond unacceptable. But you would rather stall this progress still than move it into an open area that it deserves. Unbelievable. As for the promises made in 1995 - THAT WAS 17 YEARS AGO. Things change - like National Parks budgets.

The empty lot (so small it actually should be left vacant) should be a Hamilton Historic visitor and education center if anything.

If you are complaining about affordable housing - I can list you dozens of larger lots owned by churches that refuse to develop the land and rather leave it vacant.

Get real - be appreciative that we have someone like Charlie Rangel who finally has funded a plan to respect one of this country's founding fathers. And for once be happy about a positive thing in Harlem!
Comment #9, left at 12/29/07 09:52 PM.

when will they put some of the massive Harlem projects on wheels and move them away from the area???
That would be a story!!!!
Comment #10, left at 12/31/07 12:56 PM.

getridoftheprojects's stats. getridoftheprojects: 13 comments, 0 followers, 0 ignores.

Re Comment #9 - Dear Sir or Madam you must live a very sheltered life.

CB9M and I in particular, are very appreciative and proud of our Congreesman, Chairman Rangel.

The fact is that an agreement for a consideration was made signed seal and delivered, that makes it a contract and that contract between the community and National Parks is being broken by National Parks 13 years after it was made regardless of the funding obtained by Chairman Rangel.

What is objectionable is that breach that will leave a hole in the ground on Convent Avenue and as it belongs to the Federal Government the most that will happen is that it be seeded for a lawn without further care or attention.

Perhaps some developer will get that piece of land and the empty lost next to it and erect a towner on Convent Avenue for housing the homeless or turne it into another Condo take your pick.

I personally agree that the orientation of the house in the Park is a ridiculous fight not worth the effort, but those people who feel that way have a right to express their opinions and be heard and hopefully reason will prevail.

I respect your opinion but obviously in this case you are sorely short of information.
Comment #11, left at 12:52 PM.
Reysmont's stats

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Preparations for Hamilton Grange Move Begin
A chain link fence (photos below) has been installed around the construction perimeter of the park where the Hamilton Grange will be moved into St. Nicholas Park. Preparations of the area include taking down the large trees where the house will eventually be reconstructed. Ground breaking on the area for the foundation may take place on Alexander Hamilton's Birthday - January 11th.

The National Parks Service presented their plans to the Friends and Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro during a meeting in November and then once again during a public meeting in Shepard Hall at City College.

For the move, the Grange will be cut in half and transported from its current spot on Convent Avenue (between 141st and 142nd streets) to the area of St. Nicholas Park within the boundaries of Hamilton's original estate land.

The move will take place along Hamilton Terrace and across 141st street into St. Nicholas Park.

The house move is expected to take place in the spring of 2008. Street closures are expected along Convent, Hamilton Terrance and West 141st Street for 1-2 days. The house will be transported by backing it out of its current location down to Hamilton Terrace (where a few trees might need to be removed) and across the street into St. Nicholas Park.

Once the house is moved and secured, a renovation will take place where contractors will rebuild the original porches which had to be removed in order to fit the house in its current space (between St. Luke's Church and an Apartment Building).

Landscaping around the Grange's new home will include tree plantings, a stone wall and paths. The Grange will have security detail during the day and possible video monitoring during the evening hours.

Above is a rendering of the placement of the Grange in the park. (Click to make the image larger) On the right side is the Grove School of Engineering at CCNY.

The house is expected to open to the public in the Spring of 2009.

The Friends are hard at work trying to obtain some renderings to place on this site. Please check back for updates in the next few months. For up to date photos of the Grange's move please check our Hamilton Grange Flickr photo set.
Posted by William_Guffman at 10:24 AM

Friends of St. Nicholas Park said...
Please leave a question or comment on the Grange by filling out the comment box. During the Grange's move and reconstruction we will be fielding questions on this forum. Thank you!
12:32 PM

cadboy said...
Hello FriendsAt this time there is a proposal to "jack up" the house 20 feet and move it in one piece out onto Convent St. I have been given the job to "model' this move on 3D cad for there approval. This computer model will include all of the superstructure built to support the jacks, the rails to roll the house on as it is moved out to the street and the final placement of the house on the moving dollies. I will heep you all up-to-date as we procede.
10:27 AM

Anonymous said...
True enough, the Hamilton Grange was moved once before and when moved to St. Nicholas it will still be within the original land owned by Alexander Hamilton.St. Nicholas Park is located within Hamilton Heights and on the border of WestSide Harlem and Central Harlem two distinct and separate communities.

There is a great disconformity with the move as National Parks made agreements with the Community 1i 1995 regarding the relocation and the use of the vacated site and now are claiming not to have the funds to fulfill the 1995 Agreement and the orientation of the grange house within St. Nicholas is not as originally agreed and many community leaders are in disagreement with National Parks on that issue as well.

The 1995 agreement permitted the transfer of the St. Nicholas Park land from the City to the Federal Government for the relocation of the Grange.Community Board 9 which covers all of WestSide Harlem has taken these issue with Congressman Charles B. Rangel who originally brokered the arrangement between National Parks and the Community and funded the project.

WestSide Harlem encompasess the three historical neighborhoods of Morningside Heghts, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights.

Sugar Hill, Vinegar Hill and Carmanville are sub-neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights.

Cathedral Heights and University Heights are sub-neighbohoods of Morningside Heights.

Manhattanville is also usually referred to as West Harlem.
4:49 PM

EDC president to succeed Doctoroff

crain's new york

EDC president to succeed Doctoroff
Robert Lieber, who was seen as a long shot for the post, will become Deputy Mayor for Economic Development on Jan. 8; Daniel Doctoroff resigned earlier this month.
December 27. 2007 3:34PMBy: Anne Michaud

Robert Lieber, president of the city’s Economic Development Corp., has been promoted to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, succeeding Daniel Doctoroff. Mr. Lieber, who was seen as a long shot for the post because he has been with the city for just a year, begins Jan. 8.

At the same time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that some of Mr. Doctoroff’s operational oversight duties will be taken over by Deputy Mayor for Administration Edward Skyler, who will take on the new title of deputy mayor for operations.

“As EDC president, Bob Lieber helped reshape our City with an unprecedented range of projects in all five boroughs,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. “His skills and experience in the private sector and in city government will serve him well as he fills some very big shoes here at City Hall.”

Mr. Doctoroff announced on Dec. 6 that he would leave City Hall after five years to become the president of Bloomberg LP, the financial news and information company founded by the mayor.

Mr. Lieber said he is “extremely thrilled about – and grateful for – the chance to come to City Hall at this exciting moment in the city’s history.”

Among other duties, he will lead the city’s economic development efforts and oversee and coordinate the operations of the Department of City Planning, EDC, the Department of Finance, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the Business Integrity Commission, the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation, the Department of Small Business Services, and the Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting.

Mr. Lieber will also serve as a liaison with city, state and federal and other agencies, including: NYC & Company, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corp., the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Moynihan Station Development Corp., the Hudson Yards Development Corp., and the Coney Island Development Corp.

As deputy mayor, he will continue his work on the development of Moynihan Station, the river-to-river rezoning of 125th Street in Harlem, the transformation of the Kingsbridge Armory, and the development of the site of the former US Naval Homeport in Staten Island.

The mayor appointed Mr. Lieber to head the EDC in January 2007, after he led a team from Lehman Brothers that advised the city, pro bono, in its successful effort to renegotiate the World Trade Center site lease.

At the EDC, Mr. Lieber helped shepherd the Jamaica, Queens, rezoning to completion, in one of the largest rezonings that New York City has ever fashioned. He helped develop the comprehensive rezoning plan for Coney Island and helped steer the city’s efforts to create a new mixed-use neighborhood in Willets Point.

Nat Leventhal, chairman of the Mayor’s Committee on Appointments, is leading the search with Mr. Lieber for a new EDC president.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007



December 26, 2007 -- LAST week's vote by the City Council to rezone a large area in West Harlem (sometimes referred to as Manhattanville) was a good decision. For too long, this area has been subject to an antiquated designation as a manufacturing zone. Thanks to this rezoning, much of West Harlem can now smartly be revitalized into a vibrant mixed-use community. I believe most of West Harlem and Columbia University are in agreement on this zoning change.

However, the basic disagreement between those parties remains open - that of Columbia's threatened use of eminent domain and forced relocation in order to achieve its stated goal of a total takeover of the entire area.

For more than three years, Columbia has been effectively muscling small property owners, businesses, residents and even churches out of Manhattanville. Its means of coercion: the threat that hangs over every independent's head that he or she will be forced to move in the near future, by the state power of eminent domain - a power that Columbia has always insisted is necessary to its expansion plan.

I've seen first hand how many owners, believing that they had only two choices - sell their property to Columbia now, or risk condemnation and a forced sale at a court-determined rate - have "voluntarily" sold. It's no wonder that the school already owns about 70 percent of the property.

If Columbia is successful with its "we must have it all" expansion plan, the entire West Harlem community from 125th to 134th Streets and from Broadway to 12th Avenue will be wiped out - forever.

A community with a long history - which is actually already experiencing an economic rejuvenation without the "help" of Columbia - will be eliminated. This is wrong.

I expect that the Empire State Development Corp. (the state agency empowered to use eminent domain) will soon declare this part of West Harlem "blighted" - the first necessary step to condemnation. It will do so in order to take private property from one owner and give it to another private owner - Columbia.

For the last three years, in fact, Columbia has given a blank check to the ESDC - agreeing to reimburse the agency for all costs expended in this endeavor. In effect, the state agency has allowed itself to become a "hired gun" for Columbia. This, too, is wrong.

I remain steadfast that Columbia has met its match in me. I will not back down; I'll do everything I can to show the ESDC and the courts why eminent domain should not be used here. If need be, I will litigate this matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Columbia needs to learn what every well-adjusted child learns at a very early age: The fact that want something doesn't give you the right to just take it. If Columbia's administrators continue to refuse to voluntarily learn this, then they must be "taught" it.

Nick Sprayregen is the president of Tuck-It-Away Associates, L.P., a West Harlem commercial business.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Deals that lead to lost property taxes

From: MDDWhite
Date: Tue, 25 Dec 2007 23:03:15 EST
Subject: Fwd: another way city losing property taxes

You are probably aware of this by now but- (Nice to get your own personal coverage like today- Always scary about how much the press will get right though.)

Michael D. D. White

Deals that lead to lost property taxes
Thursday, December 20th 2007, 4:00 AM

New York City lost more than $100 million in property taxes last year because of privately negotiated deals with some of the world's richest companies.

The companies - including behemoths like JPMorgan Chase, Pfizer and NBC - have paid a fraction of their normal property tax bill for years through these little-known deals, commonly called PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes).

An internal Bloomberg administration report obtained by the Daily News shows:
The giant American International Group paid nothing in PILOTs for fiscal 2007, saving $4.1 million on its annual property tax bill.

The American Stock Exchange, that symbol of the free market, paid a mere $1,070 in PILOTs - far less than a South Bronx homeowner would pay in taxes. The exchange's tax break from City Hall saved it nearly $1.5 million.

JPMorgan Chase paid just $1.9million in PILOTs, 20% of the $9.6 million in property taxes it normally would be assessed.

Most New Yorkers are aware of the outrageous $10 million property tax exemption Madison Square Garden has enjoyed for decades, courtesy of the state Legislature.

So why haven't we heard much about these other tax giveaways in, say, the liberal New York Times? Maybe because the newspaper of record is feeding at the same trough.

The Times paid $219,000 in PILOTs last year for its new printing plant in College Point, Queens, the report said. That's a paltry 13% of the $1.7 million assessed tax on the Times plant.

The undisputed king of PILOTs is real estate developer Bruce Ratner. His Forest City/Ratner firm paid the city $9.7 million last year for half a dozen commercial buildings the company owns in downtown Brooklyn. That sounds like a lot of money - until you realize it's only one-third of the company's actual $26.3 million property tax bill.

That doesn't even count PILOTs that have yet to kick in for Forest City's Atlantic Yards mega-project.

Forest City spokesman Loren Riegelhaupt defended the company's success at landing PILOT subsidies.

"A lot of those buildings in MetroTech were constructed when downtown Brooklyn was not what it was today," Riegelhaupt said. "Many businesses were fleeing to New Jersey in the 1990s, and we were willing to invest in that area when others wouldn't."

City Hall has routinely doled out these PILOT deals for decades, usually as part of a larger incentive package to get companies to stay in town or expand their business.

Government watchdog groups say the absence of uniform standards makes the whole PILOT program open to abuse, because each company gets to negotiate its own private deal. In addition, companies that fail to meet their original job creation promises rarely get penalized.

Until recently, no one knew exactly how much the tax breaks were costing the city. Then in 2005, after city Controller William Thompson released an audit blasting the city's poor monitoring of PILOTs, the City Council passed a law requiring the mayor's office to supply the Council speaker with a report of all PILOT revenues and expenditures.

The News recently obtained copies of those reports, which are sent quarterly from the city Office of Management and Budget to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

They reveal that some 300 companies and nonprofit groups enjoy long-term PILOT deals. A few of those deals date back to the Koch and Dinkins eras, but most were arranged under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Bloomberg.

Last year, discounted PILOTs amounted to $107 million in lost revenue to the city, with abatements averaging a whopping 60% per company.

It should come as no surprise that some of the city's powerhouse companies landed the juiciest deals. Just 15 companies enjoyed more than two-thirds of the total tax savings in fiscal 2007, the report shows.

Besides Forest City, AIG, Chase and The Times, top beneficiaries include Morgan Stanley, Bear Stearns, NBC, Pfizer, McGraw-Hill and the Hearst Corp. In NBC's case, the company has received three separate PILOT deals over the past 20 years from Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg.

"New York City lost more than $100 million in property taxes last year because of privately negotiated deals with some of the world's richest companies.";

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JTDietrich Dec 20, 2007 6:38:39 AM Report Offensive Post I think a lot of cities across the country give property tax breaks to businesses - especially wealthy businesses - because it gives the business an incentive to stay, form jobs, keep talented money-making people local, and ultimately enhances the NY City tax income. If JP Morgan stays in NYC because of a tax break, then the story in NY should be "thank God." But leave it to a liberal city like NY to see it no other way than "tax cuts for the wealthy." You need those jobs to stay local. JT, Fargo, ND

lefty58 Dec 20, 2007 10:30:07 AM Report Offensive Post You have to take what Juan Gonzalez writes with a grain of salt. If it were up to him, we would be all living in a Socialist State like Cuba. Don't know why he is still employed by the NEWS, he's a waste!

Frunkus Dec 20, 2007 10:44:35 AM Report Offensive Post Wow, what a waste of internet space, Juan doesn't factor in that these companies also pay some of the highest rent in the WORLD, these breaks are an incentive to stay in the city instead of taking all their jobs to Jersey. Juan is a idiot.

Kewylewy Dec 20, 2007 12:25:59 PM Report Offensive Post If JTDetrich was paying attention they would know that Jpmorganchase outsourced more than half that company starting two years ago so the People of NY are not reaping the benefits of them staying here. Most of that company is in Ohio and Chicago remember they merged Mr. Dimon is the CEO now. (BAnk One) Alot of long time Chase/Chemical/Jpmorgan/ employees lost their jobs. You see they do not even have 2CMP anymore. Layed off and moved a whole building. Try their site at 1985 Marcus in LI. Whole site wiped out including the cafeteria. So all Jpmorgan in NY is mostly branches. No major operations. Mr. Dimon does not even live here. All they hire is part timers and consultants. How does that help NY?

Desiderata Dec 20, 2007 8:19:19 PM Report Offensive Post Right and they probably lost twice that much in handouts to Illegals

BigJake Dec 20, 2007 8:24:45 PM Report Offensive Post To put the tax breaks in perspective, this columnist or the NYC City Council need to compare the tax dollars lost through PILOTs with the revenues gained through city income taxes on the job either created or saved by the tax breaks. Kewylewy says that half the jobs at one company were outsourced. That does not answer the question about current revenue for NYC from the remaining jobs. Whoever is negotiating these tax breaks should balance them against related revenue streams & factor the amount of the break against the alternative income tax revenue.

marceloalexi Dec 21, 2007 12:25:54 AM Report Offensive Post first of all there is no way in God's green earth that JPMorgan is going to Iowa! The jobs they create are almost worthless to the city because most of their employees live outside the city(NJ,LI,Westchester) These companies make more than enough and should have to pay their fair share. Private homeowners should not be paying more property tax than fortune 500 companies. This is exactly the kind of corporate robbery that will continue to take place with businessmen posing as politicians(Mr. Bloomberg). You look down on socialized Cuba but at least they care enough about their citizens to provide health care. Or maybe you enjoy paying more for the MTA. Give me a break this is wrong. Kudos to Mr. Gonzalez and the news for reporting it and allowing it to be printed!

marceloalexi Dec 21, 2007 12:38:03 AM Report Offensive Post just wondering what does this have to do with immigrants? Or are they also to blame for the Knicks, Jets, and the fare hike. Hey let's go all the way with it and blame everything on illegal immigrants. It's funny how nobody complains about illegals that cook your food in every restaurant you go to. These kind of crooks are the reason you have illegal immigrants. This is an outrage!

Desiderata Dec 21, 2007 7:25:50 AM Report Offensive Post To Marcel... Who the " H " do you think cooked our food before those illegals swam, waded, across the river, or took a truck acrosss the desert ? To listen to you illegal supporters, you'd think we Americans were all sitting on our hands waiting for you to come here and rescue us , from our siestas. Where did the Industrial Revolution start , in Mexico ? Who invented the cotton Gin, Pancho Villa ? Did Vincente' Fox put the first Airplane, or car together ? Get real. They're not undocumented workers. They're illegal. They'r felons and they're breaking the law. They are committing crimes, stealing , causing car accidents, raping , and commiting drug related crimes. Plus bringing in illegal drugs... When they clean up their act, and when Mexico cleans up all the corruption down there, and creates it's own jobs and pays a living wage, we will all live a lot better, and be a lot happier.

mrbeachy Dec 21, 2007 9:35:43 AM Report Offensive Post Kewylewy you are completely correct; I know of 3 jp morgan/chase employees who lost their jobs. One is still unemployed after close to two years;the second went to work at a credit union for much lower pay;and the third is now attending graduate school. If i had my way, unless a company keeps a certain amount of its employees and its operations in nyc,they should lose the tax exemptions and any other deals as well.

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Christmas at Arlington

Arlington at Christmas
Rest easy, sleep well my brothers.

Know the line has held, your job is done.

Rest easy, sleep well.

Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held.

Peace, peace, and farewell...

Readers may be interested to know that these wreaths -- some 5,000 -- are donated by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington , Maine The owner, Merri ll Worcester, not only provides the wreaths, but covers the trucking expense as well. He's done this since 1992. A wonderful guy.

Also, most years, groups of Maine school kids combine an educational trip to DC with this event to help out. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Harrington is in one the poorest parts of the state.Please share this with everyone on your address list. You hear too much about the bad things people do. Everyone should hear about this.

Monday, December 24, 2007



A colorful leader in West Harlem lost a major development fight last week - but says it only reinvigorated his appetite for public life. > By Sarah N. Lynch

City Limits WEEKLY #619

At a City Council hearing earlier this month, Community Board 9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc and Pat Jones spoke for tempering the impact of Columbia's West Harlem development plans.
Photo by Richard Caplan

Jordi Reyes-Montblanc testifies at a City Council committee hearing on the Columbia proposal in mid-December. Photos by Richard Caplan
West Harlem resident Jordi Reyes-Montblanc was reading a book on the subway headed home one day nearly 20 years ago when he overheard a conversation and was launched into community activism.

“I’ll never forget the date: May 3, 1988,” recalled Reyes-Montblanc, now the chairman of West Harlem’s Community Board 9. “I was in the Number 1 coming up and there were three guys talking … They were talking about a building that they were going to take over as of the first of June.”

He put the conversation behind him as he departed the train, never guessing they were talking about the city-owned building on 136th Street where he, his relatives and other Cuban emigres lived. But when he got home, the same men stood in his lobby announcing the sale of the building to private owners. Reyes-Montblanc felt he had to stop it. And with the help of other tenants, he did.

Thus began Reyes-Montblanc’s immersion in public life. He’s been a member of Community Board 9 – which covers the Morningside Heights, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods of western Manhattan, from 135th to 155th Street – since 1994. He was elected chairman in 2003, the same year Columbia University announced its plan to redevelop 17 acres of Manhattanville and expand the campus into the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood. CB9 took exception to many aspects of the plan, and the ensuing struggle against the powerful institution landed Reyes-Montblanc squarely in the political spotlight.

On Wednesday, following a series of hearings this fall, City Council approved Columbia’s expansion plan, to the dismay of much of the community. And on Dec. 31, Reyes-Montblanc’s term as chairman ends (though he’ll stay on as a member). With years of fighting the Columbia-led transformation now past, another community board member will become chair – most likely second vice-chair Patricia Jones – and lead the district into years of dealing with it.

Reyes-Montblanc, who was in attendance in Council chambers on Dec. 19 when the members voted – 35 in favor, 5 against (Tony Avella, Charles Barron, Lewis Fidler, Vincent Ignizio, Leticia James), with 6 abstentions (Helen Foster, Eric Gioia, Rosie Mendez, Hiram Monserrate, Peter Vallone Jr., Thomas White Jr.) – does not consider it a defeat.

“You can only be defeated if you surrender, and we never give up,” Reyes-Montblanc said the day after. He’d been considering a run for the City Council seat that Robert Jackson, a Democrat representing Harlem since 2001, will leave empty because of term limits in 2009. But the Council vote made him sure he’ll run.

“I’m starting right now. I have no party affiliation, I have no money, no staff and no volunteers” – but he does have determination to make City Council start heeding the will of community boards. “Once I’m there I’ll be the biggest pain they’ve ever seen in City Council,” Reyes-Montblanc said.

From Cuba to the Columbia campus

In late October, several of CB9’s 49 members arrived at Reyes-Montblanc’s office to preview a video they hoped to show to City Council and eventually air on public access television. The movie, prosaically titled “Community Board 9 Manhattan 197-a Plan,” was the board’s latest offensive in fighting certain elements of Columbia’s rezoning request and touting the alternate vision expressed in its “197-a” plan.

That plan, whose completion Reyes-Montblanc considers a highlight of his chairmanship, lays out recommendations for the district’s future development. In a move some consider paradoxical, Council also approved that on Dec. 19 (though in a modified form).

Tall and burly, the 64-year-old spoke out against Columbia’s plans over the months, publicly criticizing what he considers the university’s “patronizing attitude” toward the community. He fears some aspects of the expansion are incompatible with residents’ vision for the neighborhood, and worries that Columbia will resort to eminent domain to acquire some of the properties in the area. He says he doesn’t want to see residents forced out.

Reyes-Montblanc at City Hall.“I’m looking for reasonable settlement with Columbia,” Reyes-Montblanc said the week before Council’s vote. “I can see lots of benefits of the expansion, but I don’t go into them because I’m not fighting for Columbia. ... I’m fighting for the community, so I have to emphasize the negatives and try to correct those negatives.”

But while he has gone head-to-head with Columbia officials in his capacity as chair, even figures such as Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, who guides the expansion project, have acknowledged Reyes-Montblanc to be an “effective advocate” for the neighborhood.

Kasdin said in a statement, "Although we have at times disagreed on specific issues, we have shared a love of our community and commitment to its future."

At CB9 and, he hopes, on City Council, Reyes-Montblanc plans to keep up that commitment. While it remains to be seen if he’d even have a chance of winning an election in this predominantly Democratic neighborhood – where Democratic Assemblyman Denny Farrell is favored for the seat – the fact that Council “ignored” CB9, in Reyes-Montblanc’s own description, hasn’t necessarily tarnished his reputation.

“It’s been very good to have Mr. Reyes-Montblanc’s leadership through all this,” Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Manhattanville, said Thursday. Kooperkamp has been a public Columbia-plan critic, and sat next to Reyes-Montblanc at the Council vote. “Quite frankly, I think he deserves a very long vacation after this. He’s left the community board in a good place.”

“This was never a level playing field,” Kooperkamp said of the battle between community activists and an Ivy League university with a $6 billion endowment. “I’m amazed it went as well as it did.”

Another local pastor, Rev. John L. Scott of Saint John Baptist Church on 152nd Street, who once served on a local police coalition with Reyes-Montblanc, says “He’s brave – you’ve got to be brave when you’ve got such an establishment like Columbia that you have to go up against.”
But Reyes-Montblanc knows a thing or two about fighting.

He fled his native Cuba as a teenager after stray .50-caliber bullets from an anti-Batista rebel attacking a nearby police station riddled his grandmother’s house. He arrived in Miami on a Pan American flight on the morning of July 25, 1958 where he joined his exiled parents. He can still remember watching the executions of people he knew in Cuba on television.

Reyes-Montblanc said he served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1960s and then arranged to attend the University of Zaragoza in Spain so he could complete the credits for his bachelor’s degree and pursue another degree in international law. (His distinctive name is Catalan, he says.)

But the 24-year-old never made it to law school. With his trip to Spain six months away, he headed to New York City for a vacation. The price of New York living, however, forced him to get a job and he found work in the mailroom of a shipping company. Within two years, he became a general manager in the division. It was there that he met his wife Kathleen, and today he still works as an international shipping consultant, providing advice to companies on everything from customs and regulatory problems to actually chartering ships.

A little chutzpah

And then came that fateful day in May of 1988. It is a story well-documented in the photo albums Reyes-Montblanc keeps at the building where he still resides on 136th Street, and his eyes light up to tell it. He points to the images depicting his younger self sitting with other tenants around a table as they executed plans to save their building, known as the Saxonia.

The day he found out about the city’s plans, he discovered a city program that allowed tenants' associations to convert their city-owned buildings into cooperatives. Within just four days of the sale announcement, he and the others launched a massive letter-writing campaign and formed an association. "We the Tenants..." his new charter began. The original copy is also in the album, along with photos of older residents who lived there, some of whom are now gone.

The city’s housing department "was in fear of us,” Reyes-Montblanc said. “My eyes were opened at the time. I said a little organization and effort and chutzpah goes a long way.”

In less than a month, he managed to convince the city to sell the building to the tenants. For the next five years, he saw to it that the city performed major repair work on the building before the deal was sealed. When they finally purchased the building on May 7, 1993, the photos in the album get cheerier. They show smiling faces of mostly seniors sitting in a bus the tenants rented to take them down to the city’s housing office for a celebration of their newfound homeownership.

His success led him to form the Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) Council – an advocacy organization which to this day still helps tenants create, organize and manage co-ops. Soon, people in the community were coming to him with housing questions.

“He’s the guru on housing,” says Diane Wilson, a fellow CB9 member who served on the community board’s housing committee with Reyes-Montblanc and frequently comes to him with landlord-tenant questions. “He knows it all …He’s fought in the trenches.”

A voracious reader, Reyes-Montblanc can recite Shakespeare and even the old Castilian lines of the famous Spanish epic poem “El Cid.” His admiration for the adventures of the 11th century Spanish nobleman and conqueror El Cid, a picture of whom hangs in his office, has an echo of sorts in his own life. In his early 30s, he traveled to Arizona with a few friends to search for a hidden treasure of gold which, according to lore, is untouched somewhere inside the Superstition Mountains. During the trip, the trio of men experienced everything from dehydration to getting shot at, possibly by rival treasure hunters.

“We were deep in the desert ... and we were shot at,” he recalled. “I carried an M1 Carbine that belonged to another of the guys who had never used it. I was the only one with experience with firearms, so I shot back.” He and his friends returned to New York empty-handed.

Over the years, between his housing activism, shipping work, and his love of history and literature, Reyes-Montblanc has amassed a wealth of knowledge that impresses many of his friends and acquaintances. He’s known for bombarding people with all kinds of e-mail, whether it pertains to a West Harlem issue or an interesting news story.

“He sends little bits on history,” said Robert J. Titus, who met Reyes-Montblanc more than two decades ago through the shipping business and now works as a ship broker with a small company in Tarrytown. “It’s not the type of e-mails you get from everyone else where all the jokes are passed around.”

Broad interests, knowledge and activism helped Reyes-Montblanc land a recommendation for an appointment to the community board in 1994 by then-City Councilman Stanley Michels. Since then, he’s only taken one year off from public service.

Although the Columbia issue has been the most prominent one during his years as chair, it’s not been the only major development in the district. In 2005, Reyes-Montblanc stood by as Mayor Bloomberg and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel broke ground on the $18.7 million dollar West Harlem Piers project which will connect West Harlem to the rest of the Manhattan waterfront greenway. That project is now close to completion, Reyes-Montblanc said.

Michel’s former housing specialist, Martin Smith, who today serves as Councilman Robert Jackson’s director of constituency services, has known Reyes-Montblanc since his early days in housing work. More than a decade later, Smith said Reyes-Montblanc’s style has not changed at all.

“He’s just as forceful, aggressive, to some obnoxious, to others, the very strong and clear-minded person he’s always been,” Smith said. “He’s no-nonsense. He’ll tell you exactly what he thinks. You may not like it, but that’s his position and he’ll lay it out in as respectful a way as you’ve earned it.”

“If he’s not feeling you, he will let you have it,” Smith added.

Solo efforts

Throughout the Columbia fight, Smith said Reyes-Montblanc has often found himself in the difficult position of trying to remain neutral and objective while still expressing his concerns about Columbia. At times, that struggle to keep emotions from bubbling over worked against him, with some saying he should have been more forceful, Smith said. But overall, most people appear satisfied with his approach.

“He probably at times could have been a little more lenient with people’s needs to vent. He doesn’t have a lot of patience for hyperbole and bull," he said. “Sometimes I think he could have handled a couple situations a little better, but as a whole in the face of a lot of adversity, he did a pretty damn good job.”

But Reyes-Montblanc’s public involvement has come at the expense of his personal life – a life he keeps to himself. His office in the Saxonia, which is a separate unit from his co-op, does not reveal much of his private life. A few framed proclamations and certificates of appreciation hang on the wall as well as some Christmas lights on permanent display. Since the 1980s, he has commuted between West Harlem and Virginia Beach where his wife and son Jeffrey, 30, reside.

Those trips have become less frequent as the increasing demands of his civic life keep him anchored at his office. He's been married 35 years, but wears no wedding ring. A photo of him with his two grandkids on his lap adorns the screen of the computer where he creates his blog. His wife knows little about his civic activities, he said.

Titus said Reyes-Montblanc first moved to Virginia when his shipping company transferred him, but he later returned to New York after the Virginia office closed. At that point, Reyes-Montblanc and his wife had already purchased a house in Virginia Beach.

“He just stayed up here for the longest time,” Titus said. “He grew to live here, she grew to live there.”

Reyes-Montblanc says he leads a compartmentalized life, and he likes it that way. Even some fellow CB9 members know little of his family life.

“I don’t remember him speaking about his son until the birth of the grandbaby,” recalled Patricia Jones, the up-and-coming chair of the board. “I guess it doesn’t occur to him to tell you [about the family], but with the …first grandson, he was so excited he didn’t want to keep it to himself.”

But spending less time with his family has not been his only sacrifice. His business as a shipping consultant has also suffered.

“Being the chair these four years has cost me dearly,” he said. “People don’t realize the amount of time and effort you have to put into it, and that when you work by yourself and when you depend on one-time-only type of contracts and you are not able to take them, eventually those people … don’t offer you them anymore.”

Forty years after he gave up his ambitions to study law to pursue a shipping career, he has now abandoned shipping for what appears to be his true love – life in the public realm. Between the buildings he’s helped convert to low income co-ops, and the fight to preserve his neighborhood's character, it appears Reyes-Montblanc has made as much of an impression on West Harlem as it has left on him. - Sarah N. Lynch

NB - I thank CityLimits and Sarah Lynch for the beautiful and flattering article, but must clarify a few points:

1. Community District 9 goes from 110th Street to 155th Street from roughly St. Nicholas Ave/Morningside Ave/Manhattan Ave to the Hudson River. Hamilton Heights goes from 135th Street to 155th St. Manhatanville from 135th to 122nd St. and Mornigside Heights from 122nd down to 110th Street.

2. Although the completion of the 197-a Plan was possibly the highest achievement of my 4 terms as Chairman, it was the hard work and dedication of Patricia Jones, Walter South, and so many others, board members and residents like Tom DeMott, Tom Kappner, Ruth Eisenberg, and so many others, that made it possible, I'll take credit for appointing them to the task but the accomplishment is theirs exclusively.

3. The fight for saving The Saxonia for the residents was not mine alone but fully shared my friends, my New York family - so to speak, William and Michael Palma, Cecilia Calderon, Lorraine Latuf, Daniel Paulino, William Morales, Silvi Cevallos, the late Mike Latuf, Alida Palma, my uncle Tito and my aunt Yrma and all of our partners of The Saxonia for their sweat, hard work, confidence, dedication and patience.

4. The opinions of my good friends is biased by ther affection for me and they see more than the reality.

5. The WestSide Harlem community has given me the opportunity to be of some small service and for that I am grateful. My Commitment is to the West Harlem community and my District. I hope that past confidence will translate into efforts to help me get into City Council to represent their interest as best as I might be able to do. - JRM

Cuban Revolution - Yoani Sánchez fights tropical totalitarianism, one blog post at a time

Cuban Revolution
Yoani Sánchez fights tropical totalitarianism, one blog post at a time.
December 22, 2007; Page A1
Havana, Cuba

On a recent morning, Yoani Sánchez took a deep breath and gathered her nerve for an undercover mission: posting an Internet chronicle about life in Fidel Castro's Cuba.

To get around Cuba's restrictions on Web access, the waif-like 32-year-old posed as a tourist to slip into an Internet cafe in one of the city's luxury hotels, which normally bar Cubans. Dressed in gray surf shorts, T-shirt and lime-green espadrilles, she strode toward a guard at the hotel's threshold and flashed a wide smile. The guard, a towering man with a shaved head, stepped aside.

"I think I'm able to do this because I look so harmless," says Ms. Sánchez, who says she is sometimes mistaken for a teenager. Once inside the cafe, she attached a flash memory drive to the hotel computer and, in quick, intense movements, uploaded her material. Time matters: The $3 she paid for a half-hour is nearly a week's wage for many Cubans.

Ms. Sánchez has done this cloak-and-dagger routine since April, publishing essays that capture the privation, irony and even humor of Cuba's tropical Communism -- "Stalinism with conga drums," as she and her husband jokingly call it. From writing about the book fair that blacklisted her favorite authors to the schoolyard where parents smuggle food to their hungry children, Ms. Sánchez paints an unflinching, and deeply personal, portrait of the Cuban experience.

While there are plenty of bloggers who dish out harsh opinions on Mr. Castro, most do so from the cozy confines of Miami. Ms. Sánchez is one of the few who do so from Havana.
For seven months, Yoani Sanchez has been publishing an often highly critical blog about Cuba -- from Havana. And her writing has become important for those trying to understand Cuba in Castro's twilight years.

"What makes her so special is that she is fresh, observant and on-the-scene," says Philip Peters, a former Latin America official at the State Department who now studies Cuba at the Lexington Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "Almost all of the Cuba blogs are written by people who travel there occasionally, or by people who haven't seen the island in 40 years, if ever," he says.

Not only does she write from Cuba, she even signs her name and posts a photo of herself on her Web site. Most Havana bloggers are anonymous. "Once you experience the flavor of saying what you think, of publishing it and signing it with your name, well, there's no turning back," she says. "One of the first things we have to do, a great way to begin to change, is to be more honest about saying what you think."

The problem is, saying what you think in Cuba can be dangerous. In 2002, Cuba imprisoned dozens of journalists who declared themselves dissidents and published criticisms of the regime -- many are still there. Most Cubans are so afraid of being labeled a critic that they are reluctant to utter the words "Fidel Castro" in public. Instead, they silently pantomime stroking a beard when referring to their leader.
Direct Writing

Ms. Sánchez's writing is direct. On Oct. 5, she wrote about Mr. Castro's regular newspaper editorials, which usually focus on international politics rather than the problems of Cuba.

"The sensation of losing fear, of risking, is a sensation that is normally irreversible. After you cross certain lines, there is no way back." Read more from the interview with Ms. Sanchez.

"The latest reflections of Fidel Castro have ended my patience," she wrote. "To try to evade or distance oneself from our problems and theorize about things that occurred thousands of kilometers away, or many years ago, is to multiply by zero the demands of a population that is tired, disenchanted and in need today of measures that alleviate its precariousness."

The fact that Ms. Sánchez has avoided jail is a source of great intrigue for global Cuba watchers and the Cuban exile community in Miami. Some experts say it signals new tolerance by Raúl Castro, who has taken over day-to-day leadership from his brother because of Fidel's deteriorating health. Since taking temporary power in July 2006, Raúl Castro has called for an "open debate" on the country's economic policies, and promised agricultural reforms to bolster the food supply. Cuba experts debate whether Raúl's promises suggest a true re-examination of Cuba's economic model, or are simply rhetoric.

Others, especially the exile community, can't quite believe Ms. Sánchez gets away with what she does. They wonder if she is an unwitting dupe -- or a complicit agent -- in a campaign to make Raúl Castro appear more tolerant as he seeks greater foreign aid.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want her blog to be legitimate and be the seed that grows into something in Cuba," says Val Prieto, a 42-year-old Miami-based architect who edits an anti-Castro blog called Babalu. "The reason the exile community is wary is that we've been bamboozled time and time again. You never can tell when it comes to Castro."

There may be a simpler explanation. Some experts say Cuban authorities are mainly concerned about what people on the island think, and since the vast majority of Cubans don't have Internet access, the government is less alarmed by a Web site available primarily to outsiders.
Taken Aback

Ms. Sánchez seems surprised by the debate. "It's funny, but it seems that the only way some people will believe I am authentic is if I am thrown in jail," she says. "I'm not sure I want to provide that kind of proof."

It's easy to see why Ms. Sánchez is such a mystery. In a place known for bombastic gesticulation, she makes her points with subtle wit. She is passionate about Cuban culture, but doesn't care for signature elements like baseball and cigars. Though a critic of the government, she hasn't affiliated with the island's official political opposition. Perhaps most surprising on an island that many risk their lives to flee, she left Cuba in 2002, only to return two years later.

Her blog is called Generación Y ( The title refers to a fad for names starting with "Y" that began in the 1960s. Cuba's boxing team, for instance, has members named Yoandry, Yuciel, Yampier and Yordenis. Roughly between 25 and 40 today, people in this generation are the offspring of the revolutionaries. Weaned on Soviet cartoons and Communist slogans about a "luminous future," they came of age amid shortages of food, clothing and soap as the economy crumbled.

This group will play a critical role in forging a new Cuba once Mr. Castro is gone. Many expect a showdown between Ms. Sánchez's broadly disillusioned generation and an older group of hard-liners who will try to keep a version of the Castro model going after he dies. Her writing has become required reading for Cuba experts seeking insight into the psychology of this group. Her blog received a half-million hits in October.

The blog reads like her interior monologue as she goes through her routine in Havana: Collecting the daily ration of bread (one bun per person per day), taking her son to school, and running errands -- often trekking on foot to avoid riding the "camel," a bus pulled by a soot-belching tractor-trailer cab.

Rundown Houses

Walking through the city on a recent day, she became lost in thought looking at graffiti and later at a market stall where oil and vinegar are sold in plastic bags. She noticed growing numbers of canine police on Havana's streets, and concluded crime is rising, though statistics are seldom reported. Away from the brightly painted tourist center of "old Havana," Ms. Sánchez walked along streets where once-impressive homes lie in disrepair. She commented on how few new buildings have been built since the 1959 revolution.

Born at the height of the revolution, she was a "pioneer" -- Cuba's answer to the Scouts -- and recited its pledge: "I am a pioneer for Communism, We will be like Ché."
"The homes in this city speak for themselves," she said. "They are the best example of how things have functioned in reality, despite all the political propaganda."

A recurring feature is her 12-year-old son's school. Recently, he participated in a military shooting exercise there. Her son enjoyed playing soldier, but she was outraged. In another entry, she described how parents congregate at the schoolyard at lunchtime to secretly pass food to their children who don't get enough to eat. She described her sadness at seeing children whose parents who don't turn up and will go hungry.

An Oct. 22 entry talked about how her son's teacher told the class that one student had been secretly designated an informer -- charged with keeping a list of good and bad kids that the teacher could use to mete out punishment.

"So young, and these children experience the paralysis generated by the feeling of being watched," she wrote. "I look around me and confirm that the successive irrigations of paranoia have worked. Our fears are populated by CIA agents and members of the secret police."

Fear and Paranoia

Ms. Sánchez believes fear and paranoia are key elements in the Castro government playbook to stay in power. Fear of Cuba's own secret police and fear of an imminent U.S. invasion are perennials. Fear leads Cubans to restrict what they say and do, Ms. Sánchez says. For instance, while Cuba's hotels and resorts are for tourists only, there is no law that a Cuban citizen can't walk into a hotel and use the Internet cafe. Hotels, however, generally bar Cubans from entering, to avoid running afoul of authorities.

Writing her blog is one way to shed her "internal policeman," Ms. Sánchez says. "I am trying to push the limits, to find the line where the internal limits end and the real limits begin." She thinks more Cubans are pushing nowadays too. Lately, in bread lines and other informal gatherings, she's witnessed Cubans publicly complaining about things like corruption, low wages, or the decaying health system.

She recounts how eight strangers in a pre-1959 taxi began to talk freely of their discontent. But the complicity ended abruptly when the taxi arrived at its destination.

"Perhaps it's just wishful thinking that things are changing that has me noting a certain tendency toward collective catharsis," she wrote on Sept. 30. "Whereas once there were shrugged shoulders and turned faces, I now see fingers pointing out the problems, and mouths emanating inconformity."

The reason people feel more confident about openly complaining is economic, she says. The downturn of the early 1990s forced Cuba to allow some private enterprise, such as letting people open small restaurants in their living rooms or rent out rooms. That, plus cash transfers from Cuban exiles, has made locals less reliant on the government for jobs. A measure of economic independence has brought a measure of political independence, she says.

But there are limits. In a May 22 entry, she recounts how eight strangers in the anonymity of a pre-1959 Chevrolet taxi began to talk freely of their discontent. But the complicity ended abruptly when the taxi arrived at its destination. The passengers departed, ignoring each other and resuming their public silence.

Ms. Sánchez grew up in Havana, the daughter of a railroad worker and a housewife. As a girl, the egalitarian future of economic equity envisioned by the revolutionary Ché Guevara seemed in reach. She was a "pioneer" -- Cuba's answer to the Scouts -- and recited its pledge: "I am a pioneer for Communism, We will be like Ché."

The family was plunged into poverty by the collapse of Cuba's economic sponsor, the Soviet Union. In 1991, Mr. Castro declared a "special period" of drastic reductions in food and other rations. Average daily caloric intake fell by 40%. Eventually, optic neuritis, a rare eye disease caused by poor nutrition, swept the island.

When friends got together during those times, Ms. Sánchez recalls, a single topic dominated conversation: food. To stave off hunger pangs, Ms. Sánchez gobbled spoonfuls of sugar. Scarcity of soap, shampoo and sanitary napkins added to the trauma for an adolescent becoming aware of her body. Many basics were scarce.

"You wanted to go out, but you had no shoes," she says.

The special period transformed Ms. Sánchez from true believer to cynic. She recalls witnessing her parents fall into despair -- a shared experience for many in her generation.

"It was a deep psychological blow for our parents, because they'd given their best years to the revolution and things weren't as they'd imagined," she says, "My parents suffered the desperation and panic of not being able to give their children enough to eat."

Ms. Sánchez attended one of Cuba's revolutionary rural high schools, created to forge a new generation in the atmosphere of farm life. The school was named for the Socialist Republic of Romania -- even though Romania's socialist government had fallen by the time Ms. Sánchez arrived in 1990. At school, students hoarded scraps of food under their mattresses, attracting rats to the bunks at night, she says.

Ms. Sánchez says she was eventually admitted to the University of Havana's Faculty of Philology -- the study of language and literature -- where she nurtured a love for Latin American writers. But her thesis topic -- dictatorships in Latin American literature -- caused a scandal. Her academic career ended before it began.

"The thesis wasn't overly critical, but the mere act of defining what a dictatorship is in an academic paper made people really nervous, because the definition was a portrait of Cuba," she says.

She met and fell in love with Reinaldo Escobar, a Cuban journalist nearly three decades her senior. In the 1980s, he was forced out of journalism after trying to publish a few critical articles. He began a new career teaching Spanish to tourists, and developed a network of friends in Germany and Switzerland. Ms. Sánchez and Mr. Escobar had a son in 1995.

In 2002, Ms. Sánchez obtained government permission to leave and moved to Switzerland, thinking she'd never return. She was later joined by her son and husband. Cuba allows some people to leave the country each year.

But the family decided to return to Cuba in 2004, after Ms. Sánchez's husband, who recently turned 60, had trouble finding work. "It's much easier for someone my age to start over," she says. "I didn't want to condemn him to a life of informal labor at that age, and breaking up the family was unacceptable."

Returning to Cuba was a difficult decision says Ms. Sánchez. What made it possible, she says, is a deep attraction to the beauty of the island and the energy of its people. "I came to some kind of internal understanding that I am going to go back, but I am not going to accept things as they are," she says. "I am going to try to do something."

In addition to publishing her blog, she talks freely about taboo subjects. She tells neighbors that she doesn't vote, a shocking admission in Cuba. She isn't a member of any of Cuba's quasi-compulsory political organizations.

"There are many ways to pretend in Cuba: you can say things that you don't believe, or you can stay quiet about the things you don't like," she says. "I have the tranquility of being able to look at my son and he knows that I don't fake it."

At the same time, she tries not to cross a line that will give the government a reason to shut her blog down. She uses only public Internet sites, instead of trying to set up an illegal Internet link from home, as some Cubans do. The family lives on between $20 and $60 a month, she says, earned from working with tourists. She confines her writing to the Web. Critiques published on paper are considered propaganda, while the Internet is a gray area.

Still, there is no guarantee that Ms. Sánchez's activities won't land her in legal trouble. Even if jailed, Ms. Sánchez says she would find ways to publish her blog. "You have to believe that you are free and try to act like it," she says. "Little by little, acting as though you are free can be contagious."

Write to the Online Journal's editors at

Generation Y
Generation Y
Generatión Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start or contain a "Y". Born in the Cuba of the 70s and the 80s, marked by the "schools to the countryside", the Russian cartoons, the illegal exits and the frustration. So, an invitation goes especially to Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky and others that drag their Ys, to read me and write back.

You too, Carlos?
12 de Diciembre, 2007

We spent Tuesday between the phone ringing and friends coming over to tell us that Carlos Otero -the best know pressenter in Cuban TV- had asked for assilum in the United States. This has been the news that has circulated the fastest “vox populis” in the last few months, maybe because it was about a Media man. He had got to be the only one who, in our sleepy programming, had a space with his own name: “Carlos y punto”.

Used as I am to see leave each year some of my friends, I am not
surprised that this “man of success” had chosen the way to exile. His decision looks like that of many that have understood that here they have no future, that have come to realize that Cuba is not a country where were dreams can come true. I confirm this every time I ask between my acquaintances about their plans and I receive -more than half the times- the phrase “what I want is to leave”. This answer grows alarmingly when we ask those of younger age.

This continuous bleeding that every month takes away the youngest, the boldest and, why not say it, the most talented, is a proof that the wellbeing of the people is not the center of attention of the Cuban government. Political and ideological elements, and loads carried from the past are prioritized above the “here” and “now” of our needs. While “up there” they don’t recognize that they haven’t been able to build a country where people want to stay and use their energies, the problem of emigration will not be solved.

How many will have to leave so that we can hear the phrase “we
failed”, we haven’t been able to give a future to Cubans. I suspect -because I know how hard head that comes with too many years in power- that not even the desolated stamp of an island of people aged and tired, with their sons living in other latitudes, will make the Cuban government come to reason. I imagine the accusations of “sold to imperialism” and “traitor” that will be heard these days in the Institute of Radio and Television, while talking about the exiled pressenter.

They don’t know that with the exit of Carlos Otero, those who stay here, feel the island increasingly empty and terribly boring.

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Coming out of the closet
12 de Diciembre, 2007

My friend Miguel, gay and dissident, feels hope with the new measures pushed by Mariela Castro, that will allow him access to sex change surgery. He dreams with having an I.D. card with an identity that is “She” and not “He” and with been treated as the woman he feels to be. He knows, however, that he’ll have to wait a lot longer to affiliate legally to a social-democratic party, to demonstrate in a picket for his labor rights or to vote -in direct elections- for another president.

With his new name, which for years is decided to be Olivia, he’ll not get rid completely from intolerance. Maybe he’ll get to be accepted in his differences, as long as this is about his “sexual preference” and not of ideological tendency. Coming out of the closet of his political opinions will take him time and they will remind him, at its due time, that this Revolution has allowed him the dream of his transexuality.

I can’t understand completely how we can invoke a tolerance which is isolated and not concluded. How can we be in the cutting edge in the subject of gay marriage and not allow -on the other hand- that we “marry” another political tendency or social doctrine. All of the thousands of Cubans locked in their closets of double morality, repressing their true opinions -as if they were an effeminate gesture- are waiting for a Mariela Castro to publicly say: “These too we have to accept and tolerate in their difference”. Miguel will be then the social-democratic woman that he has always dreamed of being.

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Of TV classes and other absurdities
12 de Diciembre, 2007

Teo -that’s my son’s name- doesn’t belong to “Generation Y”, and nonetheless is an unlimited source of anecdotes for this Blog. His school stories give me smiles, concerns and one or other post (which he’s never interested in reading, because is “old people stuff”). Being up to date with what they say in his classroom, the music that he dances to, and the words that he invents connects me with those teenagers that some day will blame us for “this” which we are leaving to them.

A few weeks ago, my son came home with a Geography homework. “What are the portions in which Central America is divided?”, said the question, which got us to search in our memories and the dictionaries. I attempted to explain to Teo that in my time in high school, they used some other categories like “zones” or “areas” or “ecosystems”, but no this definition that reminded more of a piece of a pie than a stretch of land. So I inquired with him about the origin of such a novel category and I got as an answer: “They said it in the TV class”.

For those not up to date with the “new educational methods” of the Cuban medium education, I must explain that TV set in each classroom plays the role of teacher 60% of the school time. The youths get bored, can’t say “teacher, please repeat, I didn’t understand”, and copy without pause whatever they dictate in the screen. With this new pedagogic technique they attempt to alleviate the lack of teachers, caused by low salaries and little social or institutional recognition.

With the doubt of the “portions”, I went to school and asked a teacher (the flesh and blood one, not the virtual one in the screen) what meant that new geographic definition. I heard something familiar: “Ah, I don’t know, they said that in the TV classes”. So I decided to seat every morning to listen and take notes from the educational programs transmitted by TV. If I don’t do it, I won’t be able to review and evaluate Teo’s questions.

Into the role already of interpreting for my son the boring chit-chat of the “TV teacher” I have even got a VHS tape. Tomorrow I will start recording the TV classes!

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Under construction
10 de Diciembre, 2007

Friends, as you will realize, I have just changed some things in the Blog. Amongst the most important of new functionalities, is the possibility of leaving comments.

Little by little, I’ll have to remake the archive of previous posts, so I ask you for patience.

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Open up!
10 de Diciembre, 2007

Here I leave you this picture from last Saturday at the entrance to the Acapulco Cinema, to see the film “The Life of others”. I think that it has been the biggest mob seen in that festival. Those of us outside were yelling “Open up!”, after seeing that they were closing the doors, in reaction to the stampede that wanted in. I imagine that such scream was not limited to pass the entrance to the Acapulco Cinema, but it was a call to “Opening” with capital letters. I yelled it, also, thinking about the dams, the limits and the borders that have to yield and let us through.

Open up! We yelled outside the cinema and one hour later we could hear the character in the film saying “the wall has fallen”. “Open up!” -we said with faces against the glass, while we were pushed back-. “Open up!” -we continued thinking, even when we were already in the comfy chairs, the lights about to go off. “Open up!” -They were the words that I kept from that night, and I repeated them the next morning.

So, the movie, renamed here “Our lives”, allowed us to yell openly, right in the middle of 26th st, a verb that concentrates all of our desires: “Open up!”.

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Those who don’t show their faces
7 de Diciembre, 2007

The film “The life of the others”, which will be shown on December 8th in the Acapulco Cinema, will put before the Cuban public scenes more than well known. The sample of German cinema, organized into the Festival of the New Latin-American Cinema, will bring us a story that could well be that of a neighbor, a friend or our own. It will confirm that the sensation of feeling observed is not a paranoid delirium of our minds, but the clear evidence of a spying machinery that acts in the shadows.

Those who are able to get a seat, will be able to identify in the face and the attitude of Wiesler (the Stasi captain) the agent “Moises” or “Erick”, “Carlos” or Alejandro. They will understand that the business of interfering telephone lines, fill a house with microphones, or blackmail someone with their darkest perversions, are techniques of which the boys of the Ministry of the Interior have no copyright.

I learned, long time ago, that the best way to fool the “safetists” is to make public everything that one thinks. By signing with the name, while saying aloud the opinions, and by not hiding anything, we disarm their dark maneuvers of vigilance. Let’s save them, then, with our “guts in the air”, the long hours of listening to recordings, the undercover agents, the priceless gas of the cars in which they move and the long shifts searching in the Internet our divergent opinions.

Let’s know also the these -the ones from here- are not German. So from time to time they neglect their work in order to look the moving hips of a girl passing; they also loose the papers or fall asleep while watch us through our windows. Regardless of that, they are
similar to the Teutonic agents in their inability to show face, to tell their real names or to sign and publish all of what they say –to the ear- in the impunity of the shadows.

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The Venezuelan election
3 de Diciembre, 2007

When I went to bed past midnight, I already guessed that the NO option had won in Venezuela. How did I know? Because I’m used to read -with more attention- the omissions and the silences that the news themselves. So the little enthusiasm from the Cuban news media during Sunday, had already foretold me the results of the referendum in Venezuela

At six thirty in the morning today, the program “Buenos Dias” of Cuban television, gave a first news the message of the Minister of Health on the Day of the Medical Professionals. Shortly after, and obviating the journalism paradigms of “What, How and When”, they announced in the second headline that Chavez encouraged to continue deepening Socialism. -Ufff… The exercise took me a few seconds until finally I understood that the option of NO had won.

Even me, who have never taken part in a referendum and in most elections increase the number of the abstentions, understand the reach of the decision taken by the Venezuelan electorate. With their negative answer the Cubans have learned -it’s a shame that can’t apply it- that a simple monosyllabic word can be the dry stop that the authoritarians deserve. A brief word can stop the verbal incontinence of the politicians.

Today I’ll go out and try to insert in each phrase a “no”. I can already imagine the rain of understanding winks that will accompany each negation.

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The other Havana
27 de Noviembre, 2007

There’s a city that happens besides us without touching us. It is a Havana that talks of “Parmesan cheese” of “lawn centimeters” and “weekends in Cancun”. It’s another town that barely mixes with ours and looks nothing like the scenario of landslides and lacking that forms our environment.

Both “Havanas” coexist and at the same time negate each other. Those who live into one can’t imagine -in all its extension- the other city that completes it. One happens rapidly over wheels, while ours ages in the stops, waiting for the bus. The sweet Havana of opulence displaces itself west, specially towards the Miramar zone, Cubanacan, Atabey and Jaimanitas. Mine, grows by jumps towards San Miguel, Diez de Octubre, El Calvario and Fontamar.

When both cities coincide and collide, they can’t comprehend each other: so far are the realities where they live. While one complains of its old Ikea furniture and of the difficulties in transporting the “moving container from the port”, the other one rocks in the aged chairs inherited from the grandparents and submerges in the black market.

My deteriorated Havana buys retail, talks softly and smells like sewage waters, while that city where ministers, high officials and diplomats dwell, moves amongst canapes, receptions, and exhales a delicate aroma of moisturizing creams. I prefer, however, the decrepit city that I haunt everyday, since at least it is coherent and transparent like what remains in it. I’ve made it to our image and likeness, or rather, we are the ones that imitate it in its resignation and its misery.

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The new Mathematics
27 de Noviembre, 2007

Cubans are preparing ourselves for the inflated number of GDP growth that will be announced at the end of the year. Without having swallowed -yet- the 12.5 that was publicized at the end of 2006, we are hallucinating with the big number that will be informed in December. (If this time we get to the uncomfortable “thirteen”, then indeed there will be material to feed a rain of jokes during 2008).

We are still trying to find evidence to back the surprising index of economic development from last year. I, particularly, have looked in my wallet, in the kitchen and especially in the refrigerator, but the economic progress doesn’t seem to show around there. Neither is in the network of services or commerce, where we suffer a decrease in the offerings and a noticeable hike in the prices. I don’t perceive it, even, in the limited boom in construction and even less in the depressed agricultural production. Just by visiting my hospital or entering the closest school I discard that it is in those areas where we can find the effects of the economic dynamism.

Without letting that stop me, I have oriented my search to the part of the basic product basket that is composed by the products of rationing. However, the inflated GDP doesn’t show its positive effects in that direction either. The same reduced quantities and the well known empty aisles remain in that subsidized market.

Where is the shining recovery that such economic index seems to show? What complicated method of calculation have the specialists used, so that we can’t verify it with our own reality? Something has happened to mathematics, and I’m afraid that this year the tricky abacus of triumphalism will again calculate our meager development.

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Kabbalah and Politics
20 de Noviembre, 2007

It is rumored that starting on January there will be a package of measures that would alleviate some of our daily difficulties. It was even predicted that there will be 17 or 25 new resolutions, amongst which are included the possibility of buying a car, opening a cell phone contract or traveling without the current exit permit. Such precise details shown in this street speculations barely surprise me, since desires get to project themselves frequently, with all of their complexities.

I don’t know if this rumors are part of another “lullaby” to keep us asleep for another three months, or if really something is cooking “upstairs”. Beforehand, I believe that if something is indeed announced in the first days of 2008, it won’t bring the structural changes that we need. The desired economic openings will come conditioned by ideological factors and the state property over the means of production will continue predominating in our economy.

The expected measures could only end all of our problems if they were discussed and approved by the majority of the people. As long as this doesn’t happen we’ll continue being “the mass”, to which it is necessary to “deliver guidance” without previous consultation. This current rumor, which the press and the media don’t reflect, is the palpable evidence that we are not the ones making the decisions. We are left, only, with the possibility of speculating.

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« Entradas anteriores

Yoani Sánchez (1975)

Licenciada en Filología.
Reside en La Habana y
combina su pasión por
la informática con su
trabajo en la
Revista Digital Consenso.

Diciembre 2007
Noviembre 2007

General (13)

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Generación Y
Generación Y es un Blog inspirado en gente como yo, con nombres que comienzan o contienen una "y griega". Nacidos en la Cuba de los años 70s y los 80s, marcados por las escuelas al campo, los muñequitos rusos, las salidas ilegales y la frustración. Así que invito especialmente a Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky y otros que arrastran sus "y griegas" a que me lean y me escriban.

Versión al ingles

Una silla vacía
24 de Diciembre, 2007

Hoy voy a celebrar la noche buena con mi familia y mis amigos. Armaremos una improvisada mesa con las viejas puertas del ascensor y sobre ella una sábana hará las veces de mantel. Cada uno traerá algo para festejar. No tendremos las uvas, la sidra o el turrón, pero estaremos juntos y en armonía -lo cual es ya un lujazo-. Los niños tendrán su refresco garantizado, mientras que un roncito con limón o miel será el néctar para los adultos. Mi mamá contará lo complicado que fue comprar los tomates en la mañana y mi sobrina me recordará que el martes 25 actuará como angelito en la misa de su Parroquia.

A la cabeza de la mesa mantendremos una silla que permanece sin su ocupante desde la Navidad del 2003. Es el lugar de Adolfo Fernández Saínz –condenado en la Primavera Negra a quince años de prisión-. Será triste comprobar, por quinta vez, su ausencia. Si se lo permiten los carceleros, podremos escuchar su voz en el teléfono dándonos ánimo (¡Qué ironías tiene la vida! Él, que está en la cárcel, tiene fuerzas aún para infundar aliento).

Recuerdo el día en que le contamos a mi hijo que él estaba preso. Mi marido le dijo: “Teo, tu tío Adolfo está en la cárcel porque es un hombre muy valiente”, a lo que mi hijo respondió con su lógica infantil: “Entonces ustedes siguen libres porque son un poco cobardes”. ¡Qué manera más directa, de decir las verdades, tienen los niños! Sí, Teo, tienes razón: en esta Navidad calentamos aún nuestras sillas porque somos “cobardes”, deseamos en la intimidad de la familia un nuevo año de libertad, pues no logramos hacer de esos deseos una realidad. Nos conformamos con el mito de la fatalidad nacional, porque nos hemos dado por vencidos en el acto de cambiar las cosas.

La vacía silla de Adolfo será el territorio más libre de nuestra improvisada mesa navideña.

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Concierto para cerrar este agotado 2007
24 de Diciembre, 2007

Apretujados en el patio del Centro Pablo, hemos vuelto a escuchar a Pedro Luís Ferrer. La noche del sábado 22 de diciembre nos cayó encima mientras oíamos sus poemas y canciones, alegres de que estuviera aquí –de vuelta entre nosotros- el Gordo de la guitarra. Pedro ha llegado distinto y a la vez igualito. Tiene temas nuevos que nos transportan a las calles de Madrid y los intercala con sus conocidos acordes guajiros, sones y décimas.

La canción dedicada a su amigo Jesús Díaz donde confiesa que “si no me voy de Cuba, no entiendas que me quedo”, me confirmó en mi locura de permanecer aquí para “apagar la luz del Morro” (o para encenderla otra vez, ¿quién sabe?). Eso y mucho más le debo a este trovador, que después de siete meses en Europa llega ante su público –que ya tampoco es el mismo- y nos hace reír y lanzarnos miraditas cómplices con aquello de: “abuelo tiene un revolver y un cuchillo,/ y mientras no se lo quiten abuelo ofrece peligro (…)/ aunque pienses que no, dile que sí/ si lo contradices peor para ti”.

Pedro, tú has sido lo mejor de este aburrido y descolorido fin de año. Mucho más real que los tostones, que la yuca con mojo o que la limitada porción de carne de cerdo (sé que esta comparación te gustará, porque lo de goloso se nota en tus canciones y en tu talla). Tomaré, entonces, como propósito para este 2008 -que se nos viene encima- un par de versos tuyos: “tenemos que construir la democracia plena,/ que nadie me obligue a decir lo que no quiero”.

Los dejo con el texto de la canción que aparecía en el programa del concierto y que da título al mismo:
Canción de fin de añoAhora que permiten criticar:¡Qué bellos son tus ojos, vida mía!Me gusta tu manera de bailarY el fuero peculiar de tu alegría.

Ahora que permiten criticar:Me voy al Malecón y espero el día;Me quiero dedicar a descansar;Las flores del jardín son tan bonitas…

Ahora que permiten criticar:Estreno un pantalón y una camisa;Pusimos una hamaca en el portalY un timbre que parece campanita.

Ahora que hasta el mudo quiere hablarY está de moda el grito y la querella:Tus piernas, las quisiera devorar,El modo en que caminas y te sientas.

Ahora que permiten:La calle está repleta,Las bolas y los chistes,El cielo y las estrellas.
Ahora que permiten criticar:Compré un ordenador y una cazuela;Mi amigo preguntó para variar:La luna está redonda y placentera.

Pedro Luís Ferrer

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Sin pedigree
24 de Diciembre, 2007

Entre los centenares de mensajes que recibo cada semana hay ciertas preguntas y dudas que se repiten. A muchos les intriga “¿para quién trabajo?”, “¿de quién soy hija?” o “¿quién me paga por hacer esto? Sin intentar convencer a nadie (porque eso de exponer “mi verdad” es lo que más recuerda a un mea culpa) quiero aclarar algunas cosas:

- Nací en un solar de Centro Habana, en una de las esquinas de mi calle
decía “Jesús Peregrino” y en la otra “Jesús Pelegrino” (de manera que desde niña
he aprendido a convivir con la multiplicidad de formas con las que se puede
nombrar a una misma cosa).
- No tengo ningún pedigree familiar que me avale para nada, como no sea la
habilidad para apretar tuercas y reparar equipos eléctricos heredada de mi
padre, maquinista de trenes que en la crisis de los noventa cambió su uniforme
azul y blanco por un puesto de ponchero de bicicletas.
- Muchos de los que me conocen creen que tengo “guayabitos en la azotea”,
“me falta un tornillo” o “estoy ida del coco”. Todo lo que he hecho en esta
vidita (meterme en problemas, escribir una tesis sobre la literatura de la
dictadura en Latinoamérica, unir mi vida a un periodista en desgracia, regresar
a mi país y postear en este Blog) bien podría ser visto por un especialista como
manifestaciones de un desorden psiquiátrico. Todo es posible…
- A los que afirman –bajo la impunidad de un seudónimo- que soy del G2,
quiero aclararles que muy pocos en Cuba lo siguen llamando así. Ahora le decimos
“la seguridá”, “el Aparato”, “la maquinaria”, “el Armagedón”, “la trituradora”,
“los muchachos” o solamente “ellos”. Si alguien le preguntara a un joven “Oye
¿tú sabes qué cosa es el G2?” quizás respondería que se trata de un grupo de
Rock o de una marca de zapatos.
- No pienso dar ninguna prueba que niegue esas acusaciones de “infiltrada”.
A los que les alivia y les quita la culpa creer que “me atrevo porque estoy
protegida o que me han mandado a decir todo esto”, pues adelante. Cada cual –al
menos en el pequeño espacio de este Blog- puede pensar y comentar lo que
- En relación con el dinero, la base material o el salario, me gusta citar
a mi marido cuando dice que tengo “alma de fakir”. Me visto con lo que aparezca,
hace años que no tengo más que un par de zapatos y como una vez al día. Una sola
obsesión de “consumo” recorre ahora mi vida: postear. El dinero que me gano
traduciendo del alemán, enseñándole la Habana a un par de turistas o vendiendo
mis viejos libros de la universidad, lo invierto –cuando puedo- en pagar media
hora de Internet. Por eso mis apariciones en “Generación Y” son a saltos y no
con la frecuencia de una bitácora.
- ¿Por qué yo tengo un Blog y otros no? Porque soy de una generación que ha
aprendido a moverse en el mundo de la tecnología, incluso teniendo que armar su
propio PC con piezas compradas en el mercado negro. Una de las contradicciones
que se está dando en la Cuba de hoy, es que los que tienen cosas más
interesantes que contar, son en su mayoría analfabetos informáticos. O sea, que
los asiduos lectores de blogs tienen que conformarse con gente como yo, sin
pedigree, pero para quien el mouse es una prolongación del propio cuerpo.

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De tele-clases y otros absurdos
12 de Diciembre, 2007

Teo –que así se llama mi hijo- no pertenece a la “Generación Y”, no obstante es fuente ilimitada de anécdotas para este Blog. Sus historias escolares me generan sonrisas, preocupaciones y algún que otro post (que nunca le interesa leer porque eso es “cosa de viejos”). Estar al tanto de lo que se dice en su aula, de la música que baila y de las palabras que inventa me conecta con esos adolescentes que algún día nos echarán en cara “esto” que les estamos legando.

Hace un par de semanas mi hijo llegó a casa con una tarea de Geografía. “¿Cuáles son las porciones en las que está dividida América Central?” decía la pregunta, que nos puso a indagar en la memoria y en los diccionarios. Intenté explicarle a Teo que en mi época de la secundaria, se utilizaban otras categorías como “zonas”, “áreas” o “ecosistemas”, pero no esta definición que más bien recordaba a un trozo de pastel que a una franja de territorio. De manera que lo interrogué sobre el origen de tan novedosa categoría y obtuve como respuesta: “Eso lo dijeron en la tele-clase”.

Para aquellos que no están muy actualizados en los “nuevos métodos educativos” de la enseñanza media cubana, debo explicarles que un televisor -en cada aula- hace las veces de profesor alrededor del 60 % del horario docente. Los jóvenes se aburren, no pueden decir “Profe, repita que no entendí” y copian sin parar lo que les dictan desde la pantalla. Con esa nueva técnica pedagógica se intenta paliar la crisis de maestros, motivada por los bajos salarios y el poco reconocimiento social e institucional.

Con la duda de “las porciones” me fui hacia la escuela y le pregunté al profesor (al de carne y hueso, no al virtual de la pantalla) qué significaba aquella nueva definición geográfica. Escuché entonces algo conocido: “Ah, no sé, eso lo dijeron en las tele-clases”. De manera que he decidido sentarme cada mañana a escuchar y tomar nota de los programas educativos transmitidos por la televisión. Si no lo hago así, cómo podré ayudar a repasar y evacuar las interrogantes de Teo.

Metida ya en el rol de interpretar para mi hijo la aburrida perorata del “profe televisivo” he conseguido hasta un cassette VHS. ¡Mañana mismo, comenzaré a grabar las tele-clases!

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Salir del armario
12 de Diciembre, 2007

Mi amigo Miguel, gay y contestatario, se siente esperanzado con las nuevas medidas impulsadas por Mariela Castro, que le permitirán acceder a una cirugía de cambio de sexo. Sueña con tener un carné de identidad que diga que es “ella” y no “él” y con ser tratado como la mujer que se siente. Sabe, sin embargo, que tendrá que esperar mucho más para afiliarse legalmente a un partido socialdemócrata, para manifestarse con un cartel por sus derechos laborales o para votar -en elecciones directas- por otro presidente.

Con su nuevo nombre, que desde hace años tiene decidido que será Olivia, no se librará del todo de la intolerancia. Quizás llegue a ser aceptado en su diferencia, siempre que está sea “de preferencia sexual” y no de “tendencia ideológica”. Salir del armario de sus opiniones políticas le llevará más tiempo y le recordarán, en su debido momento, que esta Revolución le ha permitido el sueño de su transexualidad.

No entiendo muy bien como se puede convocar a la tolerancia parcelada e inconclusa. Cómo se puede estar a la avanzada en el tema de los matrimonios entre homosexuales y no permitir –por otro lado- que nos “casemos” con otra tendencia política o doctrina social. Todos los miles de cubanos encerrados en sus armarios de doble moral, reprimiéndose sus verdaderas opiniones –como si de un gesto afeminado se tratara- están esperando porque una Mariela Castro diga públicamente: “A estos también hay que aceptarlos y tolerarlos en su diferencia”. Miguel será entonces la mujer socialdemócrata que siempre ha soñado.

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¿Tú también, Carlos?
12 de Diciembre, 2007

El martes lo pasamos entre el teléfono que sonaba y los amigos que venían para contarnos que Carlos Otero -el más conocido presentador de la televisión cubana- había pedido asilo en Estados Unidos. Esta ha sido la noticia que más rápidamente ha circulado vox populi en los últimos meses, quizás por tratarse de un hombre de los medios. Había llegado a ser el único que, en nuestra somnífera programación, tenía un espacio con su propio nombre: “Carlos y punto”.

Acostumbrada como estoy a ver partir cada año a varios de mis amigos, no me sorprende que este “hombre de éxito” haya escogido el camino del exilio. Su decisión se parece a la de muchos otros que han comprendido que aquí no tienen futuro, que han llegado a darse cuenta que Cuba no es un país donde realizar los sueños. Eso lo confirmo cada vez que pregunto entre mis conocidos sobre sus planes y recibo -más de la mitad de la veces- la frase “yo lo que quiero es irme de aquí”. Respuesta ésta que aumenta alarmantemente cuando se interroga a los de menos edad.
Esta continúa sangría que cada mes se lleva a los más jóvenes, a los más atrevidos y, por qué no decirlo, a los más talentosos, es la demostración de que el bienestar de la población no está siendo el centro de atención del gobierno cubano. Elementos políticos, ideológicos y cargas arrastradas del pasado son priorizadas por encima del “aquí” y el “ahora” de nuestras necesidades. Mientras por “allá arriba” no se reconozca que no han logrado construir un país donde la gente quiera quedarse y emplear sus energías, no podrá resolverse el drama de la emigración.

Cuántos tendrán que irse para que escuchemos la frase de “hemos fracasado, no hemos podido darle un futuro a los cubanos”. Sospecho -porque ya conozco la testarudez que trae tantos años en el poder- que ni siquiera la desolada estampa de una isla de gente envejecida y cansada, con sus hijos viviendo en otras latitudes, hará entrar en razón al gobierno cubano. Me imagino las acusaciones de “apátrida”, “vendido al imperialismo” y “traidor” que se escucharán por estos días, en el Instituto de Radio y Televisión, al hablar del asilado presentador.

No saben ellos que con la salida de Carlos Otero, los que quedamos aquí, sentimos la isla cada vez más vacía y terriblemente aburrida.

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En reparaciones
10 de Diciembre, 2007

Amigos, como se darán cuenta acabo de cambiar algunas cosas en el Blog. Entre las más importantes, de las nuevas funcionalidades, está la posibilidad de dejar comentarios.
Poco a poco, tendré que rehacer el archivo de los post anteriores, así que les pido paciencia.
Clasificado bajo: General 49 comentarios »

10 de Diciembre, 2007

Aquí les dejo esta foto del pasado sábado a la entrada del cine Acapulco para ver el filme “La vida de los otros”. Creo que ha sido la “molotera” más grande que se ha visto en este Festival.
Los que estábamos afuera gritamos ¡Abran!, al ver que cerraban las puertas ante la avalancha descontrolada que quería entrar. Intuyo que aquel grito no se reducía a pasar el umbral del cine Acapulco, sino que era un llamado a la “Apertura” con mayúsculas. Yo lo grité, también, pensando en los diques, los límites y las fronteras que tienen que ceder y dejarnos pasar.

¡Abran! Gritamos fuera del cine y una hora después oíamos a un personaje del filme decir “El muro se cayó”. ¡Abran! Dijimos con las caras pegadas al cristal, mientras nos empujaban desde atrás ¡Abran! Seguimos pensando aún cuando ya estábamos en las mullidas butacas, a punto de apagarse las luces. ¡Abran! Fue la palabra que me quedó de esa noche y la que repetí al otro día en la mañana.

De manera que la película, rebautizada aquí como “La vida de nosotros” nos permitió gritar a viva voz, en plena calle 26, un verbo que concentra todos nuestros deseos: ¡Abran!

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Los que no dan la cara
7 de Diciembre, 2007

El filme “La vida de los otros” que se proyectará el 8 de diciembre en el Cine Acapulco, pondrá ante el público cubano escenas más que conocidas. La muestra de cine alemán, organizada dentro del Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, nos traerá una historia que bien podría ser la de un vecino, la de un amigo o la nuestra propia. Nos confirmará que la sensación de sentirnos observados no es un delirio paranoico de nuestras mentes, sino la clara evidencia de un aparato de espionaje que actúa en las sombras.

Aquellos que logren atrapar una butaca, podrán identificar en el rostro y la actitud de Wiesler (el capitán de la Stasi) al agente “Moisés”, a “Erick”, “Carlos” o “Alejandro”. Comprenderán que eso de intervenir las líneas telefónicas, llenar de micrófonos una vivienda o chantajear a alguien con sus más oscuras perversiones, son técnicas de las que los inquietos muchachos del Ministerio del Interior, no tienen el copyright.

Aprendí, hace tiempo, que la mejor forma de burlar a los “segurosos” es hacer público todo lo que uno piensa. Al firmar con el nombre, al decir por lo alto las opiniones y al no esconder nada, les desarmamos sus oscuras maniobras de vigilancia. Ahorrémosles pues, con nuestras “vísceras al aire”, las largas horas de escuchar grabaciones, los agentes encubiertos, la preciada gasolina de los autos en los que se mueven y las maratónicas jornadas buscando en Internet nuestras opiniones divergentes.

Sepamos también que “estos” -los de aquí- no son “alemanes”. Así que de vez en cuando descuidan su trabajo para mirar las cimbreantes caderas de una joven que pasa; se les pierden los papeles o se quedan dormidos mientras atisban por nuestras ventanas. No obstante, se parecen a los agentes teutones en su incapacidad para dar la cara, para decir sus verdaderos nombres o para firmar y publicar todo aquello que nos dicen –al oído- en la impunidad de la penumbra.

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La e-Lección de Venezuela
3 de Diciembre, 2007

Cuando me acosté pasada la medianoche, ya intuía que en Venezuela había ganado la opción del NO. ¿Cómo lo sabía? Porque estoy acostumbrada a leer –con más atención- las omisiones y los silencios que las propias noticias. De manera que el poco entusiasmo de los medios informativos cubanos, durante el domingo, ya me había adelantado los resultados del referéndum venezolano.

A las seis y treinta de la mañana de hoy, el programa “Buenos Días” de la televisión cubana, dio como primera noticia el mensaje del ministro de Salud Pública por el día del Médico. Poco después y obviando los paradigmas periodísticos de “el qué, el cómo y el cuándo” nos anunciaron, en el segundo titular, que Chávez exhortaba a continuar profundizando el Socialismo. Ufff… el ejercicio de extraer la información de tan sofisticada elipsis, me llevó algunos segundos hasta que finalmente comprendí que el NO se había impuesto.

Incluso yo, que nunca he participado en un referéndum y que en la mayoría de las votaciones engroso el número de las abstenciones, comprendo la envergadura de la decisión tomada por el electorado venezolano. Con su negativa los cubanos hemos aprendido –lástima que no podamos aplicarlo- que un simple monosílabo puede ser la parada en seco que se merecen los autoritarios. Una breve palabra puede detener la incontinencia verbal de los políticos.

Hoy saldré a la calle y probaré a intercalar en cada frase un “no”. Ya me imagino el aluvión de guiños cómplices que acompañará a cada negativa.

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Yoani Sánchez (1975)
Licenciada en Filología.
Reside en La Habana y
combina su pasión por
la informática con su
trabajo en la
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